KABUL, Aug 31 (Reuters) - The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, has sent his long-awaited review of strategy in Afghanistan to his bosses in the United States and NATO.
In a brief statement to announce that his confidential assessment was complete, McChrystal described the situation in Afghanistan as serious but said the 8-year-old war could still be won with a revised strategy. [ID:nISL129837]
Although the document has not been released, McChrystal has given recent interviews in which he has discussed his views of the war. Here are some of the findings likely to be in the review.
Q: What is it likely to say about additional troops?
A: The review itself does not spell out how many troops McChrystal thinks he needs to carry out his revised strategy, probably the single most politically fraught question at a time when the war is being questioned back in the United States. His estimate of troop requirements will come separately and are expected fairly soon. Some of McChrystal’s battlefield commanders have made clear that they want more troops but the White House is going to have to balance any request against the political fallout of escalating the war further, as well as the needs of its forces still stationed in Iraq.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has in the past noted that the Soviets had about 120,000 troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and said he was concerned that too big a force could alienate Afghans.
McChrystal now has about 103,000 Western troops under his command, due to increase to about 110,000 by the end of the year, about two thirds of them American.
Q: Where will he send his forces?
A: McChrystal has often spoken about the need to change the focus from hunting insurgents to protecting the population, the main tenet of the counter-insurgency approach developed for Iraq by General David Petraeus, now McChrystal’s boss at Central Command. This means pushing troops into more densely populated areas, such as the Helmand River valley — where thousands of Marines were already deployed in July — and Kandahar in the south. He may also reduce the presence in less-populated mountain valleys where there are fewer Afghans to protect.
McChrystal has also said the Taliban are spreading out of their traditional areas in the south and east and into the north and west, where NATO forces from European countries have traditionally avoided combat. He may deploy additional Americans to these areas.
Q: What about Afghan forces?
A: Afghanistan has much smaller and less well-trained army and police force than Iraq and McChrystal is expected to recommend accelerating plans to expand them as a principal goal. There are now between 80,000 and 90,000 soldiers and a similar number of police, but Western military and political leaders have discussed more than doubling their number to a total security force of about 400,000. This would require more foreign troops to serve as trainers.
Q: What about non-military goals?
A: McChrystal often emphasises non-military objectives and his review is likely to call for a beefed-up and more coherent civilian-military effort to improve how Afghanistan is run, with extra Western civilians deployed into provinces. This would probably involve greater effort to direct international aid through Afghan government channels at the central and regional level and more support for measures to fight corruption.
Q: What about drugs?
A: Afghanistan produces nearly all of the world’s crop of opium poppy, used to make heroin. U.S. commanders say the drug trade funds the Taliban and other insurgent groups. McChrystal’s report is likely to call for better measures to persuade farmers to grow other crops and to battle drug traffickers. The Obama administration has turned away from eradication programmes, which many U.S. officials say have not been effective.
Editing by Phil Stewart