WASHINGTON — The top US military commander in Afghanistan has warned that more forces are needed within the next year or the war against the Taliban will be lost, the Washington Post reported on Monday.
General Stanley McChrystal wrote in a classified report: "Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) -- while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."
The grim assessment of the eight-year conflict, obtained by the Post, was presented to US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on August 30 and is being reviewed by the White House.
McChrystal, who is widely expected to make a formal request to increase the 62,000-strong US force, noted the campaign in Afghanistan "has been historically under-resourced and remains so today."
As such, he wrote "inadequate resources will likely result in failure."
The weak resources "also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure."
The 66-page document -- a declassified version of which is published at www.washingtonpost.com -- describes a strengthening, intelligent Taliban insurgency.
McChrystal also slams the corruption-riddled Afghan government and a strategy by international forces that has failed to win over ordinary Afghans.
"The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and (the International Security Assistance Force's) own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government," wrote McChrystal.
International forces, he said, "have operated in a manner that distances us -- physically and psychologically -- from the people we seek to protect... The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves."
The general, who Gates nominated to take over operations because "new thinking" was needed as President Barack Obama attempts a new strategy for the war-torn country, also warns that hardline insurgents reach systematically into Afghanistan's bloated prison system for recruits.
The prisons have become "a sanctuary and base to conduct lethal operations" against the Afghan government and coalition forces, he said.
McChrystal however does maintain a cautious optimism for long-term outcomes in the conflict, insisting: "While the situation is serious, success is still achievable."
Obama weighed in Sunday on the debate over more troops in Afghanistan.
"We're going to test whatever resources we have against our strategy, which is if by sending young men and women into harm's way, we are defeating Al-Qaeda," the president said in an interview with ABC.
"(If) that can be shown to a skeptical audience -- namely me, somebody who is always asking hard questions about deploying troops -- then we will do what's required to keep the American people safe," Obama said.
Gates said this week that the president needed time to assess US strategy and should not be rushed over such an important decision. "We need to take our time and get this right," he told a news conference on Thursday.
Earlier, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services committee that more soldiers would likely be needed to subdue the Taliban.
"A properly resourced counterinsurgency probably means more forces and, without question, more time and more commitment to the protection of the Afghan people and to the development of good governance," Mullen said.
By coincidence, McChrystal's report was revealed on the UN's International Peace Day, when Kabul's defense ministry said foreign and Afghan troops will pause offensive operations.
Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, purportedly a Taliban spokesman, was quoted on the ReliefWeb website as suggesting the insurgency may do the same, saying: "Our forces will remain in defensive position, as usual."
Foreign forces in Afghanistan, experiencing their deadliest year since the war began eight years ago with more than 350 deaths so far in 2009, are sceptical the rebels will keep their word.