US commander warns change needed in Afghanistan tactics

In Kabul yesterday, dozens of Afghans protested the possibility of widespread fraud in August’s presidential election outside the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. In Kabul yesterday, dozens of Afghans protested the possibility of widespread fraud in August’s presidential election outside the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. (Musadeq Sadeq/Associated Press)
By Gregory Katz
Associated Press / October 2, 2009

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

  • E-mail|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

LONDON - US General Stanley McChrystal called yesterday for a dramatic change in tactics in the faltering war against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and said it would be wrong to lower military goals there, despite recent setbacks.

Warning that time is running out as the insurgency gathers strength, he said there is a “huge risk’’ Al Qaeda terrorists will again find safe haven in Afghanistan unless new tactics are put in place in the near future.

McChrystal, commander of both the US and NATO war effort, said conventional military tactics have proved counterproductive and are costing coalition forces support among Afghan civilians who doubt whether the Americans will stay long enough to bring security.

“We don’t win by destroying the Taliban,’’ he said. “We don’t win by body count. We don’t win by the number of successful military raids or attacks, we win when the people decide we win.’’

McChrystal is reported to be seeking an additional 40,000 US troops for Afghanistan and is lobbying European leaders to send more soldiers as well. He said the rules of conventional warfare do not apply in Afghanistan, which has become a counterinsurgency campaign. The four-star general spoke to a group of British academics and security specialists at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, one day after taking part via video link in a White House Situation Room review of Afghan policy chaired by President Obama.

McChrystal has made waves in Washington and London with his downbeat assessment of the eight-year effort to keep Afghanistan from becoming - again - a safe haven for Taliban extremists and their Al Qaeda allies, who used it as a base while planning the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Asked by the audience if it would be sensible to lower America’s military goals and limit the war effort to eliminating the Al Qaeda presence, McChrystal said it would be wrong to give up on the idea of bringing some security to the Afghan population.

“A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a shortsighted strategy,’’ he said.

With the support of top Pentagon officials, McChrystal is seeking additional troops for the war effort. He said more troops would “buy time’’ as Afghan military and police forces are improved with an eye toward taking control of security by 2013.

But it is not clear if Obama backs this plan, even though he chose McChrystal to lead the war effort earlier this year. He has begun a series of top-level meetings to review all policy options, including those recommended by McChrystal.

Mike Williams, a foreign policy specialist at Royal Holloway University of London who once advised the Obama campaign on Afghanistan, said it is not yet clear who will win the struggle over Obama’s Afghan policy, especially because much-touted national elections have been badly tainted by charges of fraud and vote-tampering.

“The argument is what to do politically versus what to do on the ground,’’ he said. “They put so much into the Afghan elections, and the elections have obviously gone terribly, so they’re being very careful about what to do next.’’

A group of Afghan lawmakers called yesterday for criminal investigations into alleged fraud in the country’s disputed presidential election, saying a probe by a UN-backed panel has been tainted because some United Nations officials are biased in favor of President Hamid Karzai.

The appeal by about a dozen lawmakers who support Karzai’s main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, was issued after the top American UN official here, Peter Galbraith, was fired after a dispute with his boss over how to deal with fraud charges in the Aug. 20 balloting.

Preliminary results show Karzai won the August election with 54.6 percent of the vote, but a pending recount could push down those numbers and force a runoff with Abdullah if Karzai’s total falls below a majority.