U.S. heading for failure in Afghanistan?

The top commander in the country says he needs more forces, and fast -- the leak puts the administration in a bind

Published September 21, 2009 10:25PM (EDT)

If you want Washington to sit up and take notice, there's not many better ways to accomplish that goal than by leaking to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward. Someone who evidently wants to see more U.S. troops sent to Afghanistan did just that recently.

Woodward reported in Monday's Post that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, put together a confidential assessment of the situation there in which says he needs more troops and warns: "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."

According to Woodward, in the document -- which was given to Defense Secretary Robert Gates last month -- McChrystal says that if he doesn't get more forces in the next year, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan "will likely result in failure."

Beyond the strategic and military implications here, this involves a serious political issue for President Obama and his administration. The leak could be a signal that military commanders are ready to battle the White House over troop numbers -- and with everything else on the president's plate, not to mention the traditional Democratic disadvantage on national security, that's not a fight the White House is likely to welcome. Plus, some officers have told McClatchy they believe McChrystal "would resign before he would stand behind a faltering policy that he thought would endanger his forces or the strategy."

The other problem is that Obama has already committed himself to Afghanistan, and to refocusing the country's priorities on victory there. He's previously sent additional troops to the country in an effort to turn the tide, and could run into problems if he's seen as ignoring the recommendations from his commanders on the ground there and seeming less than fully committed.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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