Taliban Now Winning
U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Warns of Rising Casualties
YOCHI J. DREAZEN and PETER SPIEGEL
AUGUST 11, 2009
The Taliban have gained the upper hand in Afghanistan, the top American commander there said, forcing the U.S. to change its strategy in the eight-year-old conflict by increasing the number of troops in heavily populated areas like the volatile southern city of Kandahar, the insurgency's spiritual home.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned that means U.S. casualties, already running at record levels, will remain high for months to come.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the commander offered a preview of the strategic assessment he is to deliver to Washington later this month, saying the troop shifts are designed to better protect Afghan civilians from rising levels of Taliban violence and intimidation. The coming redeployments are the clearest manifestation to date of Gen. McChrystal's strategy for Afghanistan, which puts a premium on safeguarding the Afghan population rather than hunting down militants.
Gen. McChrystal said the Taliban are moving beyond their traditional strongholds in southern Afghanistan to threaten formerly stable areas in the north and west.
The militants are mounting sophisticated attacks that combine roadside bombs with ambushes by small teams of heavily armed militants, causing significant numbers of U.S. fatalities, he said. July was the bloodiest month of the war for American and British forces, and 12 more American troops have already been killed in August.
"It's a very aggressive enemy right now," Gen. McChrystal said in the interview Saturday at his office in a fortified NATO compound in Kabul. "We've got to stop their momentum, stop their initiative. It's hard work."
In an effort to regain the upper hand, Gen. McChrystal said he will redeploy some troops currently in sparsely populated areas to areas with larger concentrations of Afghan civilians, while some of the 4,000 American troops still to arrive will be deployed to Kandahar.
The Obama administration is in the midst of an Afghan buildup that will push U.S. troop levels here to a record 68,000 by year end. There are roughly an additional 30,000 troops from North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries and other allies.
Gen. McChrystal's predecessor, Gen. David McKiernan, had a request outstanding for 10,000 more troops. Gen. McChrystal said he hadn't decided whether to request additional U.S. forces. "We're still working it," he said.
Several officials who have taken part in Gen. McChrystal's 60-day review of the war effort said they expect him to ultimately request as many as 10,000 more troops -- a request many observers say will be a tough sell at the White House, where several senior administration officials have said publicly that they want to hold off on sending more troops until the impact of the initial influx of 21,000 reinforcements can be gauged.
The U.S. war effort in Afghanistan is costing American taxpayers about $4 billion a month.