Afghan Commander Calls For New Strategy

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan has submitted a report assessing progress in the war there. The report that Gen. Stanley McChrystal sent to top officials at the Pentagon and NATO asserts that the situation in Afghanistan remains "serious," but that "success is achievable."

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

We're going to look, now, at war and politics in Afghanistan. We still don't have a winner in last month's presidential election and the claims of fraud are rolling in. We'll get an update on that in a moment.

SHAPIRO: But first, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan completed a major strategic review of the war there. General Stanley McChrystal's report landed on the desk of Defense Secretary Robert Gates yesterday. It did not address one central question: are more U.S. troops needed? Gates said he made it clear he wanted an honest assessment of the war.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Department of Defense): We have been very explicit that General McChrystal should be forthright in telling us what he needs in order to accomplish the mission that he has been given, and we will look at his assessment and then we will look at the resource recommendations that he makes.

SHAPIRO: A request for more troops could come within a week. NPR Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman has been following this story and he joins us now. Good morning.

TOM BOWMAN: Good morning, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Well, Secretary Gates talked about what he called resource recommendations. How likely is it that there will be a request for more troops?

BOWMAN: Well, it seems likely General McChrystal asked for more troops. That's what we're hearing from a number of sources. And we're told that McChrystal will likely come up with several options, ranging from, let's say, one to two brigades to maybe four or more brigades. And a brigade is roughly 4000 soldiers. But what we're hearing is that any new troops probably won't arrive until probably next year, even if they are approved. Already you have a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division heading into Afghanistan to train Afghan forces. They're not even slated to arrive for a few more weeks. And also, Gates likes to point out that, listen, we've already approved a number of troops and they are still flowing in.

SHAPIRO: Well, if as you say he'll present a number of options, if there is a sense that if Washington chooses the low end, committing fewer troops, that that would make it harder to win the war in Afghanistan?

BOWMAN: Well, that's possible. I mean there are two things you keep hearing from Americans about. How many American troops are going to be needed? How long will it take to complete the job? And I think, McChrystal, in these options, will talk about risk. More troops means less risk, maybe faster training, a faster exit. Fewer troops means more risk and probably a longer war. But, clearly, you know, the Afghan army and police, they are just not ready to do the job yet of providing security. They don't have the numbers; they don't have the competence, according to U.S. officers. But Gates, you know, talking to reporters said he's worried about having too many foreign troops there, and how they'll be received by the Afghan people. This is also a concern they had in Iraq.

SHAPIRO: Well, you mentioned the Afghan army and police, what specifically does this new report say about what their role is and ought to be?

BOWMAN: Well, McChrystal wants to have a greater partnership with the Afghan forces; more mentoring from U.S. forces; putting more U.S. forces likely with Afghan military units as advisors; more operations together. And not a lot of detail yet, exactly how they want to pull this off, but one source tells me this is a fundamental shift. And of course part of all this is creating a much larger Afghan force, tens of thousands more soldiers and police.

SHAPIRO: But to train tens of thousands more soldiers and police requires a commitment of many American troops, wouldn't it?

BOWMAN: Absolutely. Yeah, they're going to need a lot more trainers and you keep hearing that from people over in Kabul and also people in Washington. If you want to double the size of the Afghan army and vastly increase the number of police, you are going to have to put a lot more trainers in there.

SHAPIRO: But just briefly, Tom, when you read this report what sense do you get of how the war is going?

BOWMAN: Well, clearly as McChrystal said it's very serious. He thinks it's achievable, but clearly a lot has to be done. More troops; closer working relationship with the Afghan forces; a lot more civilians going into help rebuild, that's another thing he is pushing for as well.

SHAPIRO: Thanks, that's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

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