The Washington Post published an article on Monday, written by acclaimed reporter Bob Woodward, detailing U.S. Army General Stanley McCrystal’s review of United States and NATO operations in Afghanistan. The report included a link to download the declassified version of the report so the public could read the general’s words without the filter of a reporter.
The 66-page assessment is full of background information that is critical to the General’s apparent call for an increase in the number of forces, and such background makes up the backbone of his reason for making such a request.
In the commander’s summary section of the report, McCrystal clearly lays out what he perceives the mission to be, namely to provide stability in that country so that it does not once again become a base from which Al Qeada can operate and plan attacks against the U.S. To achieve this single goal is not easy and the report warns that the U.S. could still fail to achieve the objective.
“The key takeaway from this assessment is the urgent need for a significant change to our strategy and the way we think and operate,” states McCrystal on page 1-1 of the report. Later in the report he elaborates by saying that U.S. and NATO forces must change their mind set from killing the enemy alone, to protecting the entire civilian population from the Taliban, Al Qeada, violent ethic extremists and internal criminals. The change in mind set would require U.S. troops to blend in with the population, getting closer than ever before and risking immense danger by trusting local leaders who may double cross them.
The General calls for a full counter insurgency which will require more “resources” than what the NATO and U.S. forces now have. The report does not make clear how many resources, a.k.a troops, it will take to launch this Iraq-like surge, nor does it make any suggestion that more “resources” will come from other NATO nations.
His three main points, listed on page 2-2, are that the Afghan security forces must grow significantly in a short period of time, government corruption must be rooted out, the U.S. needs to regain the momentum against the Taliban and extremist fighters, and the troops in the country must be deployed in a role that defends the civilian population more than it attacks the offenders. In other words, McCrystal wants a surge to protect the civilian population and convince them that America is committed to the fight.
It is this key element of the report that forms the crux of General McCrystal’s assessment of Afghanistan. He states on page 2-4, “The people of Afghanistan…are the objective.” His recommendations are all aimed at winning over the hearts and minds of the Afghan civilian population, earning their trust, gaining their respect, and making them believe that America, not the Taliban will ultimately win the war. He believes the Afghan people as a whole, do not support the Taliban or insurgents.
“The insurgents wage a ‘silent war’ of fear, intimidation, and persuasion throughout the year…to gain control over the population,” states McCrystal. His assessment indicates that if U.S. and NATO forces can protect average Afghans from this atmosphere of intimidation, they might abandon the extremists and help the U.S. gain the upper hand in the country.
In making his recommendation, the General also matches them against what he believes are the objectives of the Taliban and insurgents: “Controlling the Afghan people and breaking the coalitions will.” If they achieve these goals, the insurgents will have won the war for Afghanistan.
Part of the general’s recommendation on page 2-13 includes the possibility of negotiating a truce with the less extreme elements of the insurgency in return for reintegration into Afghan society.
McCrystal ends his assessment by simply stating, “Through proper resourcing, rigorous implementation, and sustained political will, this refocused strategy offers (the coalition) the best prospect for success in this important mission.”
The Pentagon is still reviewing the report and President Obama is not expected to act on all the military and civilians findings immediately. While many voices are still to be heard from in the debate about what the United States should do in Afghanistan, General McCrystal’s underlying points seems to be as clear as it gets in Washington: Refocus the strategy to winning hearts and minds and sends tens of thousands of troops to do this, or go home losers. Rather blunt, even for a Army General.