The McChrystal Report saga continues its inexorable trend towards the pre-ordained conclusion. At the beginning of September, the report had not yet been made public, but there seemed to be a concensus that Gen. McChrystal really understood the need to change overall strategy. A week later, 34 pages of the report were made public, and from what we could read, the new strategy was to focus heavily on building up Afghani troops and heavily recruiting civilians, as well as a surprising and refreshingly frank assessment of a “political window” in which the war effort needed to make tangible gains before exhausting the American public’s patience. Missing from this excerpt was any mention of troop increases, though many suspected that this was inevitable.
Now, it looks like the full 66 pages of the report are public (with some redactions for operational reasons) and it looks like Gen. McChrystal is indeed asking for more troops after all:
General McChrystal’s view offered a stark contrast, and the language he used was striking.
“Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term (next 12 months) – while Afghan security capacity matures – risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible,” General McChrystal writes.
A copy of the assessment, with some operational details removed at the Pentagon’s request to avoid compromising future operations, was posted on The Post’s Web site.
In his five-page commander’s summary, General McChrystal ends on a cautiously optimistic note: “While the situation is serious, success is still achievable.”
But throughout the document, General McChrystal warns that unless he is provided more forces and a robust counterinsurgency strategy, the war in Afghanistan is most likely lost.
Pentagon and military officials involved in Afghanistan policy say General McChrystal is expected to propose a range of options for additional troops beyond the 68,000 American forces already approved, from 10,000 to as many as 45,000.
What is interesting however is that this coincided with remarks by Obama that seemed to express skepticism about whether more troops are indeed necessary:
In a series of interviews on the Sunday morning talk shows, Mr. Obama expressed skepticism about sending more American troops to Afghanistan until he was sure his administration had the right strategy to succeed.
“Right now, the question is, the first question is, are we doing the right thing? Are we pursuing the right strategy?” Mr. Obama said on CNN. “When we have clarity on that, then the question is, O.K., how do we resource it?”
Mr. Obama said that he and his top advisers had not delayed any request for additional troops from General McChrystal because of the political delicacy of the issue or other domestic priorities.
“No, no, no, no,” Mr. Obama said when asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” whether General McChrystal had been told to sit on his request.
Mr. Obama said his decision “is not going to be driven by the politics of the moment.”
In an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Mr. Obama said his top priority was to protect the United States against attacks from Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
“Whatever decisions I make are going to be based first on a strategy to keep us safe, then we’ll figure out how to resource it,” the president said. “We’re not going to put the cart before the horse and just think by sending more troops we’re automatically going to make Americans safe,” he said.
Mr. Obama and his advisers have said they need time to absorb the assessment of the Afghanistan security situation that General McChrystal submitted three weeks ago – a separate report from the general’s expected request for forces – as well as the uncertainties created by the fraud-tainted Afghan elections.
It should be noted that McChrystal is extremely critical of the Afghan government and military. And yet there is a huge expectation that the Afghan military will fill the security void, even though there may not actually be an Afghan army after all:
Ann Jones at Tomdispatch.com suggests, based on her own experience in Kabul, that the Afghan army may not actually exist, and may, in fact be a scam whereby an Afghan joins, takes the basic training pay, and then disappears. Some may even go through it two and three times.
She points out that when 4,000 Marines went into Helmand Province this spring, they were accompanied by only 600 Afghan troops, and she wonders where the others are.
She has a dark suspicion that no such army tens of thousands strong even exists. The US may even have trained persons who then defected to the Taliban.
So, we cant recruit enough civilians, the Afghan army is useless (and may not exist), and now the military wants to send more troops in, not because more troops will guarantee victory, but because too few will guarantee failure. And we still have a 18 month window to achieve “success” which also happens to be the timeframe for the midterm elections. I have a bad feeling about all this. I think we will see the Administration try to sell a “surge” in trops to meet the military’s requests in the short term, conditional upon success within the political window. Of course, Obama will get hammered politically no matter what he does, by lefties if he keeps the troops in and by conservatives if he pulls them out. Which in a strange way is a good thing; given that there are no “safe” political options, Obama might as well make as apolitical a decision as he can.
I am reminded of a meeting then-candidate Obama had with General Petraeus in Baghdad during the Presidential campaign. As TIME’s Joe Klein tells the story, Petraeus made a spirited, vigorous Powerpoint presentation making the case for “maximum flexibility” in Iraq (ie, stay the course, etc). After the presentation had concluded,
Obama had a choice at that moment. He could thank Petraeus for the briefing and promise to take his views “under advisement.” Or he could tell Petraeus what he really thought, a potentially contentious course of action – especially with a general not used to being confronted. Obama chose to speak his mind. “You know, if I were in your shoes, I would be making the exact same argument,” he began. “Your job is to succeed in Iraq on as favorable terms as we can get. But my job as a potential Commander in Chief is to view your counsel and interests through the prism of our overall national security.” Obama talked about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, the financial costs of the occupation of Iraq, the stress it was putting on the military.
A “spirited” conversation ensued, one person who was in the room told me. “It wasn’t a perfunctory recitation of talking points. They were arguing their respective positions, in a respectful way.” The other two Senators – Chuck Hagel and Jack Reed – told Petraeus they agreed with Obama. According to both Obama and Petraeus, the meeting – which lasted twice as long as the usual congressional briefing – ended agreeably. Petraeus said he understood that Obama’s perspective was, necessarily, going to be more strategic. Obama said that the timetable obviously would have to be flexible. But the Senator from Illinois had laid down his marker: if elected President, he would be in charge. Unlike George W. Bush, who had given Petraeus complete authority over the war – an unprecedented abdication of presidential responsibility (and unlike John McCain, whose hero worship of Petraeus bordered on the unseemly) – Obama would insist on a rigorous chain of command.
There’s definite cause for hope. and maybe even change.
Here’s the complete 66 page McChrustal report (PDF) from the Washington Post. Agree or disagree with the Afghanistan War, this is essential reading.