Monday, September 21, 2009
By Martin Patience
BBC News, Kabul
This leaked report offers a blunt and bleak assessment of the challenges facing Afghanistan - and a timetable for possible failure.
Put simply, General Stanley McChrystal acknowledges that the US could lose this war in the next 12 months.
The US commander wants more boots on the ground.
He calls for a speeding up in the training of the Afghan security forces.
And, in the coming weeks, Gen McChrystal is expected to ask for as many as 30,000 extra US forces.
But after a deeply flawed election in Afghanistan which has yet to be resolved, there is growing opposition in President Barack Obama's own Democratic Party to the war.
The US president has said that strategy must be agreed first, before decisions on resources are made.
But Gen McChrystal's recommendation to speed up the training of Afghan security forces will be widely supported.
For the West, it ultimately offers an exit strategy. They will be able to reduce the number of troops deployed here as Afghan security forces grow in numbers and experience.
The recommendation will also be welcomed by the Afghan government, which has long called for greater training of its security forces.
The government will also welcome Gen McChrystal's renewed emphasis on protecting the Afghan population rather than focusing wholly on capturing and killing insurgents.
Risk for reward
Gen McChrystal heavily criticises the way Nato forces have operated until now, saying that they had been "pre-occupied" with their own security and have distanced themselves from the Afghan population "physically and psychologically".
"We could defeat ourselves," he writes.
The US commander wants more forces out on patrol and greater restraint in fire fights to protect the lives of civilians often caught up in the violence.
But that means putting troops in more danger - something that may not be necessarily welcomed by soldiers or some European capitals who have sold this as a state-building mission.
But Gen McChrystal also points out that this conflict will not be won by the military alone.
Yes, the military can provide security - but it cannot provide jobs, health facilities, and opportunities for children to go to school.
That is the job of the Afghan government, which, as Gen McChrystal points out, is riddled with corruption and commands little support from the Afghan population.
The UN and the international community know that they must do more to persuade, and help, the Afghan government to provide better services and rule of law of their people.
But it is a huge challenge, and some diplomats say it may take "generations" before the country sees effective governance.
And this issue is being successfully exploited by the Taliban.
The insurgents are growing in influence, control larger parts of the country, and are setting up "shadow governments" such as courts that offer quick justice.
And that is ultimately what this conflict will boil down to. Who will the Afghans themselves choose?
Will the Afghans decide to support their government backed by the West, or will they, in the end, decide to side with Taliban?
That is what Gen McChrystal means when he talks about winning and losing this war.