WASHINGTON — The top U.S. commander for Afghanistan called the situation there "serious" but salvageable, in a sobering assessment issued Monday that is expected to pave the way for a request for more American troops, additional funds for Afghan forces and other resources. White House and Pentagon officials, while welcoming the assessment, cautioned that there is no guarantee such requests would be met.
The report by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who has been tasked by President Barack Obama to implement a revitalized strategy for the war in Afghanistan, concludes that the Taliban insurgency in the country is stronger than previously realized, according to senior Pentagon and administration officials who spoke with the Washington Post.
To tackle the problem, McChrystal believes above all that the ranks of Afghan soldiers and police must be increased, and that they must be trained more quickly, the officials said. That training is expected to require more U.S. and allied forces, although the assessment did not provide specific requests. Obama has already ordered an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan this year.
"The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable," McChrystal said in a statement. He said progress will demand a revised strategy, greater "resolve" and "unity of effort" by the NATO-led multinational force.
Although the assessment, which runs more than 20 pages, has not been released, officials familiar with the report have said it represents a hard look at the challenges involved in implementing Obama's strategy for Afghanistan. The administration has narrowly defined its goal as defeating al-Qaida and other extremist groups and denying them sanctuary, but that in turn requires a sweeping counterinsurgency campaign aimed at protecting the Afghan population, establishing good governance and rebuilding the economy.
For instance, McChrystal thinks a greater push by civilian officials is vital to shore up local Afghan governments and to combat corruption, officials said. He is emphatic that the results of the recent Afghan presidential election be viewed as legitimate, but is also realistic in acknowledging that the goals of the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the coalition are not always as closely aligned as they could be, they said.
Multiplying allegations of fraud in the Aug. 20 presidential election have left Washington with little hope for a credible partner in the war once the results are final. The latest tally, with nearly half of polling stations counted, showed Karzai leading with 45.9 percent against 33.3 percent for his main opponent, Abdullah Abdullah.
McChrystal's appraisal comes amid declining U.S. public support for the war and growing tension between U.S. commanders in need of resources and a White House wary of committing to fresh troops. It echoes recent gloomy statements by top military officials such as Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the conflict is "deteriorating" and that the Taliban is far more sophisticated than it was just a few years ago. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday called Afghanistan "a mixed picture" and said "a very tough fight" lies ahead.
This year, tens of thousands of additional U.S. and allied troops have flowed into the volatile country, bringing the total to more than 100,000, of which 62,000 are American. Casualties among troops have risen to their highest levels since the U.S. military overthrew the Taliban government in the fall of 2001.
McChrystal, who took command in June after his predecessor was fired, is expected to follow his assessment with a formal, detailed request for forces.
McChrystal could request any additional non-U.S. NATO forces through a separate NATO chain of command.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that it is too soon to say whether Obama will authorize more troops for Afghanistan.
Information from the New York Times was used in this report.