History > 2009 > USA > War > Afghanistan (IV)
A Troop Buildup in Afghanistan?
5 U.S. Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan
September 26, 2009
The New York Times
By RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr.
KABUL, Afghanistan — A roadside bomb and assault-rifle fire killed four
United States soldiers and a Marine in three different attacks in southern
Afghanistan on Thursday, where new American brigades are pressing offensives
against a resilient and dug-in Taliban and other insurgents.
The attacks on Thursday in Zabul and Nimroz provinces pushed the number of
American military deaths in Afghanistan to 219 this year, already 41 percent
more than in all of 2008. The soaring toll, coupled with the Taliban’s growing
strength and fears that the Aug. 20 Afghan presidential election may have been
rigged in favor of President Hamid Karzai, have stirred increasing opposition in
the United States to further troop deployments.
British forces, who have also faced fierce Taliban resistance in Helmand
Province, have suffered 80 deaths already this year, nearly three-fifths more
than all of last year, according to data from icasualties.org, which tracks
coalition fatalities. Much of eastern Afghanistan is dominated by the
insurgency, and Taliban fighters have enlarged their influence in the north. But
most NATO and American deaths are in the opium-rich badlands of southern
Afghanistan, particularly in Helmand Province, where a United States Marine
expeditionary brigade launched a major operation in July, joining a British task
force already operating there. Marines are also fighting in neighboring Nimroz
Province, and the Marine who was shot Thursday was on patrol near the border of
Nimroz, Helmand, and Farah provinces, a United States military official said.
To the east, in the Taliban heartlands of Zabul and Kandahar, an American Army
Stryker brigade, so named because of its fast and agile armored vehicles, has
been fighting since the summer months to shore up the fight against a
strengthening insurgency. Three soldiers were killed in Zabul on Thursday after
their Stryker vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb, and fourth soldier was also
shot and killed during a separate attack in Zabul that same day, the American
military official said.
Additional details about their deaths were not available pending notification of
the soldiers families.
Countrywide, the biggest troop-killer has been what the military calls
improvised explosive devices, typically containers packed with rudimentary
ingredients found on many farms, such as nitrate-based fertilizers, diesel fuel,
aluminum shavings or kitchen ingredients.
These homemade explosives are buried along roads traveled by Western military
forces. They are often activated when the weight of an armored vehicle — or
sometimes just a soldier or Marine walking overhead — squeezes together a
trigger consisting of two buried slats, which closes a circuit that detonates
Despite their basic construction, many of these bombs are powerful enough to rip
open more lightly-armored coalition troop carriers.
5 U.S. Soldiers Killed
in Afghanistan, NYT, 26.9.2009,
Taliban Widen Afghan Attacks
From Base in Pakistan
September 24, 2009
The New York Times
By ERIC SCHMITT and MARK MAZZETTI
WASHINGTON — Senior Taliban leaders, showing a surprising level of
sophistication and organization, are using their sanctuary in Pakistan to stoke
a widening campaign of violence in northern and western Afghanistan, senior
American military and intelligence officials say.
The Taliban’s expansion into parts of Afghanistan that it once had little
influence over comes as the Obama administration is struggling to settle on a
new military strategy for Afghanistan, and as the White House renews its efforts
to get Pakistan’s government to be more aggressive about killing or capturing
Taliban leaders inside Pakistan.
American military and intelligence officials, who insisted on anonymity because
they were discussing classified information, said the Taliban’s leadership
council, led by Mullah Muhammad Omar and operating around the southern Pakistani
city of Quetta, was directly responsible for a wave of violence in once
relatively placid parts of northern and western Afghanistan. A recent string of
attacks killed troops from Italy and Germany, pivotal American allies that are
facing strong opposition to the Afghan war at home.
These assessments echo a recent report by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top
military commander in Afghanistan, in portraying the Taliban as an increasingly
sophisticated shadow government that sees itself on the cusp of victory in the
war-ravaged nation. General McChrystal’s report describes how Mullah Omar’s
insurgency has appointed shadow governors in most provinces of Afghanistan,
levies taxes, establishes Islamic courts there and conducts a formal review of
its military campaign each winter.
American officials say they believe that the Taliban leadership in Pakistan
still gets support from parts of the Directorate for Inter-Services
Intelligence, Pakistan’s military spy service. The ISI has been the Taliban’s
off-again-on-again benefactor for more than a decade, and some of its senior
officials see Mullah Omar as a valuable asset should the United States leave
Afghanistan and the Taliban regain power.
The issue of the Taliban leadership council, or shura, in Quetta is now at the
top of the Obama administration’s agenda in its meetings with Pakistani
officials. At the same time, American officials face a frustrating paradox: the
more the administration wrestles publicly with how substantial and lasting a
military commitment to make to Afghanistan, the more the ISI is likely to
strengthen bonds to the Taliban as Pakistan hedges its bets.
American officials have long complained that senior Taliban leaders operating
from Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province, provide money, military
supplies and strategic planning guidance to the Taliban in the south of
Afghanistan, where most of the nearly 68,000 American forces are deployed.
But since NATO’s offensive into the Taliban-dominated south this spring, the
insurgents have surprised American commanders by stepping up attacks against
allied troops elsewhere in the country to throw NATO off balance and create the
perception of spreading violence that neither the allied military nor the
civilian Afghan government in Kabul can control.
“The Taliban is trying to create trouble elsewhere to alleviate pressure” in the
south, said one senior American intelligence official. “They’ve outmaneuvered us
time and time again.”
The issue has opened fresh rifts between the United States and Pakistan over how
to combat the Taliban leadership council in Quetta. American officials have
voiced new and unusually public criticism of Pakistan’s role in abetting the
growing Afghan insurgency, reviving tensions that seemed to have eased after the
two countries worked closely to track and kill Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of
the Pakistani Taliban, in an American missile strike in Pakistan’s tribal areas
General McChrystal said in his assessment, which was made public on Monday,
“Senior leaders of the major Afghan insurgent groups are based in Pakistan, are
linked with Al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups,” and are reportedly
aided by “some elements” of the ISI.
The United States ambassador to Pakistan, Anne W. Patterson, said in a recent
interview with the McClatchy newspapers that the Pakistani government was
“certainly reluctant to take action” against the leadership of the Afghan
Pakistani officials take issue with that, adding that the United States
overstates the threat posed by the Quetta shura, possibly because the American
understanding of the situation is distorted by vague and self-serving
intelligence provided by Afghanistan’s spy service.
A senior Pakistani official said that the United States had asked Pakistan in
recent years to round up 10 Taliban leaders in Quetta. Of those 10, 6 were
killed or captured by the Pakistanis, 2 were probably in Afghanistan and the
remaining 2 presented no threat.
“Pakistan has said it’s willing to act when given actionable intelligence,” said
the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not
authorized to speak publicly on the matter. “We have made substantial progress
in the last year or so against the Quetta shura.”
Pakistani officials also said that a move against militant leaders in Quetta
risked inciting public anger throughout Baluchistan, a region that has long had
a tense relationship with Pakistan’s government in Islamabad.
Mullah Omar, a reclusive cleric, recently rallied his troops with a boastful
message timed for the Muslim holiday of Id al-Fitr. In the message, he taunted
his American adversaries for ignoring the lessons of past military failures in
Afghanistan, including the invasion of Alexander the Great’s army. And he
bragged that the Taliban had emerged as a nationalistic movement that “is
approaching the edge of victory.”
A half-dozen American military, intelligence and diplomatic officials said in
interviews that the Taliban leadership in Baluchistan, which abuts the portion
of southern Afghanistan where most of the fighting is taking place, is
increasing its strategic direction over the insurgency.
“The Taliban inner shura in Baluchistan is certainly trying to exercise greater
command and control over the Taliban in Afghanistan,” said one American official
in Afghanistan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because his assessment
involved classified intelligence.
The official said that Mullah Abdullah Zakir, a former inmate at the American
military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who is now a top Taliban lieutenant,
was involved in replacing Taliban shadow governors and commanders, as well as
reorganizing the Taliban throughout the country. “The Quetta shura — you can’t
knock on their clubhouse door,” a Western diplomat said. “It’s much more of an
amorphous group that as best we can tell moves around. They go to Karachi, they
go to Quetta, they go across the border.”
American officials grudgingly acknowledge the Taliban’s skill at using
guerrilla-style attacks to manipulate public impressions of the insurgency. “We
assess that the primary focus of attacks in northern provinces such as Kunduz is
to create a perception that the insurgency is spreading like wildfire,” the
American official in Afghanistan said. “But I think it’s more of an ‘information
operations’ success than a substantive one of holding any territory.”
Another American intelligence official who follows Pakistan closely said the
insurgents had sought to exploit allied countries’ political vulnerabilities,
like elections in Germany on Sunday. “The Taliban have proven themselves capable
of strategic planning,” the official said.
General McChrystal said in a telephone interview on Wednesday that he had been
surprised by “the growth of the shadow government, the growth of its coercion
and its growth into the north and west.”
Germany, which has suffered 33 combat deaths in Afghanistan, has remained
committed to the Afghan mission, although it has placed strict limits on where
its soldiers can serve, refusing to send them to the south.
But that commitment is now being hotly debated in the coming parliamentary
elections, after an airstrike called in by a German commander this month. The
NATO airstrike, directed at two tanker trucks carrying alliance fuel that had
been hijacked by the Taliban, killed scores of people; the number of dead
civilians remains unclear.
Other allies are also rethinking their presence in Afghanistan. A bomb that
killed six Italian soldiers in Kabul last Thursday prompted Prime Minister
Silvio Berlusconi of Italy to declare that his nation had begun planning to
“bring our young men home as soon as possible.” Italy has 3,100 troops in
Sabrina Tavernise contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.
Taliban Widen Afghan
Attacks From Base in Pakistan, NYT, 24.8.2009,
General Calls for More U.S. Troops
September 21, 2009
The New York Times
By ERIC SCHMITT
and THOM SHANKER
WASHINGTON — The top military commander in Afghanistan warns in a
confidential assessment of the war there that he needs additional troops within
the next year or else the conflict “will likely result in failure.”
The grim assessment is contained in a 66-page report that the commander, Gen.
Stanley A. McChrystal, submitted to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Aug.
30, and which is now under review by President Obama and his top national
The disclosure of details in the assessment, reported Sunday night by The
Washington Post, coincided with new skepticism expressed by President Obama
about sending any more troops into Afghanistan until he was certain that the
strategy was clear.
His remarks came as opposition to the eight-year-old war within his own party is
General McChrystal’s view offered a stark contrast, and the language he used was
“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,” General McChrystal
A copy of the assessment, with some operational details removed at the
Pentagon’s request to avoid compromising future operations, was posted on The
Post’s Web site.
In his five-page commander’s summary, General McChrystal ends on a cautiously
optimistic note: “While the situation is serious, success is still achievable.”
But throughout the document, General McChrystal warns that unless he is provided
more forces and a robust counterinsurgency strategy, the war in Afghanistan is
most likely lost.
Pentagon and military officials involved in Afghanistan policy say General
McChrystal is expected to propose a range of options for additional troops
beyond the 68,000 American forces already approved, from 10,000 to as many as
General McChrystal’s strategic assessment could well fuel the public anxiety
over the war that has been fast increasing in recent weeks as American
casualties have risen, allied commanders have expressed surprise at the
Taliban’s fighting prowess, and allegations of ballot fraud Afghanistan’s recent
presidential elections have escalated.
In a series of interviews on the Sunday morning talk shows, Mr. Obama expressed
skepticism about sending more American troops to Afghanistan until he was sure
his administration had the right strategy to succeed.
“Right now, the question is, the first question is, are we doing the right
thing? Are we pursuing the right strategy?” Mr. Obama said on CNN. “When we have
clarity on that, then the question is, O.K., how do we resource it?”
Mr. Obama said that he and his top advisers had not delayed any request for
additional troops from General McChrystal because of the political delicacy of
the issue or other domestic priorities.
“No, no, no, no,” Mr. Obama said when asked on CNN’s “State of the Union”
whether General McChrystal had been told to sit on his request.
Mr. Obama said his decision “is not going to be driven by the politics of the
In an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Mr. Obama said his top priority was
to protect the United States against attacks from Al Qaeda and other terrorist
“Whatever decisions I make are going to be based first on a strategy to keep us
safe, then we’ll figure out how to resource it,” the president said. “We’re not
going to put the cart before the horse and just think by sending more troops
we’re automatically going to make Americans safe,” he said.
Mr. Obama and his advisers have said they need time to absorb the assessment of
the Afghanistan security situation that General McChrystal submitted three weeks
ago — a separate report from the general’s expected request for forces — as well
as the uncertainties created by the fraud-tainted Afghan elections.
“General McChrystal’s strategic assessment of the situation in Afghanistan is a
classified pre-decisional document, intended to provide President Obama and his
national security team with the basis for a very important discussion about
where we are now in Afghanistan and how to best to get to where we want to be,”
Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said Sunday night in a statement.
In his report, General McChrystal issues a withering critique of both his NATO
command and the Afghan government. His NATO command, he says, is “poorly
configured” for counterinsurgency and is “inexperienced in local languages and
“The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread
corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF’s own errors,”
General McChrystal says, referring to NATO, “have given Afghans little reason to
support their government.”
The general also describes an increasingly savvy insurgency that uses propaganda
effectively and is using the Afghan prison system as a training ground. Taliban
and Qaeda insurgents represent more than 2,500 of the 14,500 inmates in
Afghanistan’s overcrowded prisons.
“These detainees are currently radicalizing non-insurgent inmates,” the report
Mr. Morrell declined to comment on details of the assessment.
Until Sunday, details of General McChrystal’s report had not been made public.
Members of Congress were briefed on the reports and allowed to read copies of it
in secure offices on Capitol Hill, but the lawmakers were not allowed to take
General McChrystal has publicly stated many of the conclusions in his report:
emphasizing the importance of protecting civilians over just engaging
insurgents, restricting airstrikes to reduce civilian casualties, and sharply
expanding the Afghan security forces and accelerating their training.
The Afghan government has about 134,000 police officers and 82,000 soldiers,
although many are poorly equipped and have little logistical support.
General McChrystal has also signaled that he will seek to unify the effort of
American allies that operate in Afghanistan, and possibly to ask them to
contribute more troops, money and training.
Military officers said Sunday that General McChrystal had effectively completed
his formal request for forces, and was prepared to send the proposal up through
his hierarchy for review by Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of American forces
in the Middle East; Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
General Calls for More
U.S. Troops to Avoid Afghan Failure, NYT, 21.9.2009,
U.S. to Expand Review of Detainees
in Afghan Prison
September 13, 2009
The New York Times
By ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration soon plans to issue new guidelines
aimed at giving the hundreds of prisoners at an American detention center in
Afghanistan significantly more ability to challenge their custody, Pentagon
officials and detainee advocates say.
The new Pentagon guidelines would assign a United States military official to
each of the roughly 600 detainees at the American-run prison at the Bagram Air
Base north of Kabul. These officials would not be lawyers but could for the
first time gather witnesses and evidence, including classified material, on
behalf of the detainees to challenge their detention in proceedings before a
military-appointed review board.
Some of the detainees have already been held at Bagram for as long as six years.
And unlike the prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay naval base in Cuba, these
detainees have had no access to lawyers, no right to hear the allegations
against them and only rudimentary reviews of their status as “enemy combatants,”
military officials said.
The changes, which are expected to be announced as early as this week after an
obligatory Congressional review, come as the Obama administration is picking
through the detention policies and practices of the Bush administration, to
determine what it will keep and what it will abandon in an effort to distance
itself from some of the harsher approaches used under President George W. Bush.
Human rights groups and prisoner advocates cautiously hailed the policy changes
but said the government’s track record in this area had been so poor that they
wanted to see concrete results before making hard judgments.
The decision has an immediately pragmatic side, too, coming as the
administration is preparing to appeal a federal judge’s ruling in April that
some Bagram prisoners brought in from outside Afghanistan have a right to
challenge their imprisonment.
Some of the changes in the American detention policies are already under way.
The Pentagon is closing the decrepit Bagram prison and replacing it this fall
with a new 40-acre complex that officials say will be more modern and humane. In
a recent policy reversal, the military for the first time is notifying the
International Committee of the Red Cross of the identities of militants who were
being held in secret at a camp in Iraq and another in Afghanistan run by United
States Special Operations forces.
The Bagram prison has become an ominous symbol for Afghans — a place where harsh
interrogation methods and sleep deprivation were used routinely in its early
years, and where two Afghan detainees died in 2002 after being beaten by
American soldiers and hung by their arms from the ceilings of isolation cells.
Bagram also became a holding site for terrorism suspects captured outside
Afghanistan and Iraq.
Since July, the prisoners at Bagram have refused to leave their cells to shower,
meet with family members or Red Cross officials, or take part in other
activities, to protest their indefinite imprisonment, human rights advocates
Pentagon officials said the new guidelines governing each detainee’s custody
status reflect a broader shift to separate extremist militants from more
moderate detainees instead of having them mixed together as they are now.
“We don’t want to hold anyone we don’t have to hold,” said one Defense
Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the
guidelines have not been formally announced. “It’s just about doing the right
The official declined to estimate how many detainees might be freed once they
have new evidence and witnesses to testify on their behalf.
Sahr MuhammedAlly, a senior associate for law and security at the advocacy group
Human Rights First who in April interviewed several former Bagram detainees in
Afghanistan, called the proposed changes an improvement. But she said that “it
remains to be seen whether they’ll be able to prevent arbitrary and indefinite
Tina Foster, the executive director of the International Justice Network, which
is representing four Bagram detainees in a pending court case, expressed deep
“On paper, it appears they’re going to be changes that will allow detainees more
opportunity to present their side of the story,” Ms. Foster said in a telephone
interview. “But I think the procedures are just words on pieces of paper unless
someone is there to ensure they’re being followed and the detainee has the
ability to understand them and avail themselves of them.”
Military officials and human rights advocates also said there were questions
about how quickly and comprehensively the guidelines could be put into practice,
given concerns about shortages of qualified personnel to represent the
The changes have come as the administration is expected as early as Monday to
file a formal written brief explaining its opposition to a ruling by a federal
district judge, John D. Bates, in April. In it, he ruled that three detainees at
Bagram had the same legal rights that the Supreme Court last year granted to
prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay.
The prisoners — two Yemenis and a Tunisian — say that they were captured outside
Afghanistan and taken to Bagram, and that they have been held for more than six
years without trials. Arguing that they were not enemy combatants, the detainees
want a civilian judge to review the evidence against them and order their
release, under the constitutional right of habeas corpus.
The Obama administration, like the Bush administration, has rejected this
argument. Officials say the importance of Bagram as a holding site for terrorism
suspects captured outside Afghanistan and Iraq has risen under the Obama
administration, which barred the Central Intelligence Agency from using its
secret prisons for long-term detention and ordered the military prison at
Guantánamo closed within a year.
The new policy guidelines will bolster the government’s case, said the Defense
Department official, who added, “We want to be able to go into court and say we
have good review procedures.”
The Obama administration had sought to preserve Bagram as a haven where it could
detain terrorism suspects beyond the reach of American courts, agreeing with the
Bush administration’s view that courts had no jurisdiction over detainees there.
U.S. to Expand Review of
Detainees in Afghan Prison, NYT, 13.9.2009,
39 Afghans and 5 G.I.’s
Are Killed in Attacks
September 13, 2009
The New York Times
By RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr.
and SANGAR RAHIMIKABUL
Afghanistan — Five Americans were killed on Saturday amid a wave
of bombings, ambushes and killings that swept across Afghanistan and seemed to
emphasize the ability of the Taliban and other insurgents to carry out attacks
in most parts of the country.
At least 39 Afghan civilians and members of the Afghan security forces were also
killed in attacks that struck the north, the south and the east on Friday and
Saturday, Afghan officials said.
Three American service members died in western Afghanistan after they were
attacked with a roadside bomb and then came under small-arms fire, said Chief
Petty Officer Brian Naranjo, a press officer for the United States military
command in Kabul.
He said two more American service members were killed in eastern Afghanistan,
also by a roadside bomb. The military will not disclose the branch of service of
the five who died or the provinces where the attacks took place until next of
kin have been notified, he said.
The largest death toll in an attack came from a roadside bombing in Oruzgan
Province on Friday afternoon that killed 14 people in a minivan, including four
women and three children, Afghan officials said. The police chief of Oruzgan,
Juma Gul Himat, said in a phone interview that the high-powered explosive had
been planted by the Taliban.
But the most alarming attack came in the increasingly volatile northern province
of Kunduz, where some of the police in the northern district of Emam Sahib have
strong links to the insurgency.
Early Saturday morning, one of the district policemen poisoned the eight other
police officers assigned to a guard post about 12 miles south of the district’s
government center, said the head official there, Juma Khan Baber.
The turncoat officer killed his commander on the spot, and then called his true
comrades: the local Taliban. The militants entered the guard post and dragged
away the seven other policemen, who were beheaded or shot, the district chief
said. Then the Taliban burned down the guard shack.
Chief Juma Khan blamed the Taliban’s “shadow” district chief in the region,
Mullah Naimatullah, for the attack. Across large parts of the country, the
Taliban operate shadow governments, complete with appointed judicial and
security officials, that in many places are more influential that the official
government and security forces.
In a separate episode in northeast Kunduz, NATO-led forces said a raid conducted
with Afghan forces early on Saturday left “a number of militants” armed with
machine guns and rifles dead after they fired on the raiding party.
In Kandahar, the large southern city that spawned the Taliban movement, a trio
of suicide bombers tried to destroy the city’s intelligence offices on Saturday
afternoon. One blew himself up at the front gate, and the two others opened fire
but died before they could enter the building, said Zulmay Ayoubi, the spokesman
for the Kandahar provincial governor.
The bombers killed a 7-year-old girl and a security guard, he said. Dr. Mohammed
Dawoud Farhad, the director of Mirwais Hospital, said three other security
guards were treated for wounds from the attack.
Six civilians were also killed in Kandahar by roadside bombings, the Interior
Ministry said Saturday.
Four police officers were killed in Nangarhar Province late Friday when
insurgents attacked a checkpoint, news agencies reported. But a police spokesman
in Nangarhar said he was unaware of the attack.
In Kunar Province, five security guards were killed and 10 others wounded
Saturday morning when militants ambushed a truck carrying guards hired to
protect workers building a road in the Manogay district, said Idris Gharwal, the
spokesman for the provincial governor.
In Kabul, the Afghan Independent Election Commission said President Hamid Karzai
was leading with 54.3 percent of the vote from the Aug. 20 election, with votes
from 92.8 percent of polling stations counted, according to a preliminary tally.
While that percentage would be enough to secure his re-election without a
runoff, the election was marred by rampant fraud, and it remains to be seen how
many votes will be taken away from Mr. Karzai’s total during a review of voting
irregularities by the country’s United Nations-backed Electoral Complaints
Commission. If Mr. Karzai’s vote total fell below 50 percent, he would face his
most popular challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, in a
Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan.
39 Afghans and 5 G.I.’s
Are Killed in Attacks, NYT, 13.9.2009,
US Military Deaths
in Afghanistan Region at 746
September 10, 2009
Filed at 9:29 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
As of Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009, at least 746 members of the U.S. military had
died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the U.S. invasion of
Afghanistan in late 2001, according to the Defense Department. The department
last updated its figures Thursday at 10 a.m. EDT.
Of those, the military reports 569 were killed by hostile action.
Outside the Afghan region, the Defense Department reports 69 more members of the
U.S. military died in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Of those, three
were the result of hostile action. The military lists these other locations as
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba; Djibouti; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Jordan; Kenya;
Kyrgyzstan; Philippines; Seychelles; Sudan; Tajikistan; Turkey; and Yemen.
There were also four CIA officer deaths and one military civilian death.
The latest deaths reported by the military:
-- No new deaths reported.
The latest identifications reported by the military:
-- Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class James R. Layton, 22, Riverbank, Calif.; died
Tuesday in Kunar province, Afghanistan, while supporting combat operations;
assigned to an embedded training team with the Combined Security Transition
Command in Afghanistan.
-- Marine Gunnery Sgt. Edwin W. Johnson Jr., 31, Columbus, Ga.; died Tuesday in
Kunar province, Afghanistan, while supporting combat operations; assigned to the
3rd Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary
Force, Okinawa, Japan.
-- Marine 1st Lt. Michael E. Johnson, 25, Virginia Beach, Va.; died Tuesday in
Kunar province, Afghanistan, while supporting combat operations; assigned to the
7th Communications Battalion, 3rd Marine Headquarters Group, III Marine
Expeditionary Force, Okinawa, Japan.
-- Marine Staff Sgt. Aaron M. Kenefick, 30, Roswell, Ga.; died Tuesday in Kunar
province, Afghanistan, while supporting combat operations; assigned to the 3rd
Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force,
-- Army Sgt. Youvert Loney, 28, Pohnpei, Micronesia; died Saturday in Abad,
Afghanistan, when enemy forces attacked his vehicle using small arms and
recoilless rifle fire.
On the Net:
US Military Deaths in
Afghanistan Region at 746, NYT, 10.9.2009,
Seized Times Reporter
Is Freed in Afghan Raid
That Kills Aide
September 9, 2009
The New York Times
By ERIC SCHMITT
Stephen Farrell, a New York Times reporter held captive by militants in
northern Afghanistan, was freed in a military commando raid early Wednesday, but
his Afghan interpreter was killed during the rescue effort.
Armed gunmen seized Mr. Farrell and his interpreter, Sultan Munadi, four days
ago while they were working in a village south of Kunduz.
An Afghan journalist who spoke to villagers in the area said that civilians,
including women and children, were also killed in the firefight to free the
journalists. That report could not be independently verified, and details of the
operation itself were sketchy.
A British commando was killed in the raid, The Associated Press quoted a
military official as saying.
Mr. Farrell and Mr. Munadi were abducted on Saturday while they were reporting
the aftermath of NATO airstrikes on Friday that exploded two fuel tankers
hijacked by Taliban militants. Afghan officials have said up to 90 people,
including many civilians, were killed in the attack, which NATO officials are
In a brief telephone call about 7:30 p.m. New York time on Tuesday, Mr. Farrell
told Susan Chira, the foreign editor of The Times: “I’m out! I’m free!”
Ms. Chira said Mr. Farrell told her that he had been “extracted” by a commando
raid carried out by “a lot of soldiers” in a fierce firefight with his captors.
Mr. Farrell said he had also called his wife.
Mr. Farrell, 46, joined The Times in July 2007 as a correspondent in the Baghdad
bureau. He has spent many years covering the struggles of the Afghan and Iraqi
people and built a respected reputation for his reporting on the Middle East and
Mr. Munadi had worked regularly with The Times and other news organizations.
In a second phone call to a New York Times reporter in Kabul, Mr. Farrell gave
this account of what happened when he and his captors heard the thump-thumping
of approaching helicopters.
“We were all in a room, the Talibs all ran, it was obviously a raid,” Mr.
Farrell said. “We thought they would kill us. We thought should we go out.”
Mr. Farrell said as he and Mr. Munadi ran outside, he heard voices. “There were
bullets all around us. I could hear British and Afghan voices.”
At the end of a wall, Mr. Farrell said Mr. Munadi went forward, shouting:
“Journalist! Journalist!” but dropped in a hail of bullets. “I dived in a
ditch,” said Mr. Farrell, who said he did not know whether the shots had come
from allied or militant fire.
After a minute or two, Mr. Farrell, who holds dual Irish-British citizenship,
said he heard more British voices and shouted, “British hostage!” The British
voices told him to come over. As he did, Mr. Farrell said he saw Mr. Munadi.
“He was lying in the same position as he fell,” Mr. Farrell said. “That’s all I
know. I saw him go down in front of me. He did not move. He’s dead. He was so
close, he was just two feet in front of me when he dropped.”
Mr. Farrell told the Times colleague that he was unhurt.
Neither The Times nor Mr. Farrell’s family knew that the military operation was
Until now, the kidnapping had been kept quiet by The Times and most other news
media organizations out of concern for the men’s safety.
“We feared that media attention would raise the temperature and increase the
risk to the captives,” said Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times.
“We’re overjoyed that Steve is free, but deeply saddened that his freedom came
at such a cost. We are doing all we can to learn the details of what happened.
Our hearts go out to Sultan’s family.”
The rescue of Mr. Farrell came about 11 weeks after David Rohde, another
reporter for The Times, escaped and made his way to freedom after more than
seven months of captivity in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In that case as well, The Times and other news organizations kept Mr. Rohde’s
kidnapping silent out of fear for his safety.
Mr. Rohde, who worked with Mr. Munadi in Afghanistan, called him “an
extraordinary journalist, colleague and human being.”
“He represented the best of Afghanistan,” Mr. Rohde said. “It was an honor to
work with him.”
Mr. Farrell’s local Afghan driver, whom The Times did not identify to protect
his safety, evaded capture, and gave this account of what happened last Saturday
Around 8:30 a.m., Mr. Farrell, Mr. Munadi and the driver set out from Kunduz to
a small village to the south where the two fuel tankers had been attacked by
NATO warplanes on Friday soon after the trucks had become stuck in a riverbed
while trying to cross it.
As the three men sped toward the village, they discussed what to do if stopped
by militants along the way. Mr. Munadi had called a friend in the village Friday
night after the attack, and the friend had warned him that the villagers were
very angry about the attacks.
At the site of the attack, Mr. Farrell and Mr. Munadi got out to interview a
group of three or four people near the burned-out hulks of the fuel trucks.
Soon, though, a crowd began to gather, some arriving by car and motorcycle,
others by fording the river. The driver said that some were local villagers and
some appeared to be Pashtuns from southern province of Kandahar.
Mr. Farrell interviewed one man who recounted that he heard “the noise of planes
turning in the sky for three hours, and after that we heard the bombing.”
During the interview, an old man approached Mr. Farrell and Mr. Munadi and
warned them and the others to leave, as the shots of a Kalashnikov automatic
rifle rang out nearby. Again the old man warned the journalists to leave.
Just then, people started shouting, “The Taliban is coming!” Across the river,
the driver said he saw a group of about 10 militants with Kalashnikovs and
machine guns running toward them.
Pandemonium broke out, as people in the crowd fled. The driver said he dashed
for some tall grass and rice fields, and ran for 20 minutes with the two teenage
boys who had sounded the alarm about the approaching fighters.
The driver said he then got a call from Mr. Munadi on his cellphone. Mr. Munadi
told the driver that he and Mr. Farrell were being held by the militants, and
that if he came back, the militants had promised to release them all.
But the driver said he refused and continued running with the boys until he
stopped, exhausted and thirsty. One of the boys threatened to turn the driver
over to the Taliban if he did not give him his cellphone and some money. He did.
The driver eventually made his way to a road where a passing taxi picked him up
and took him to the police headquarters in Kunduz. He alerted Mr. Farrell’s
colleagues in Kabul at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Carlotta Gall and Richard A. Oppel Jr. contributed reporting from Kabul,
Seized Times Reporter Is
Freed in Afghan Raid That Kills Aide, NYT, 9.9.2009,
Suspected US Missile
Kills 5 in Pakistan
September 7, 2009
Filed at 12:19 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MIR ALI, Pakistan (AP) -- A suspected U.S missile struck a Pakistani militant
stronghold near the Afghan border late Monday, killing five people, officials
and a resident said.
The missile hit a compound in Machi Khel village in the North Waziristan tribal
area -- a region home to Taliban and Taliban-affiliated militant groups, some of
which are suspected in attacks on Western troops stationed in Afghanistan.
The U.S. has fired scores of missiles from unmanned drones into Pakistan's
lawless tribal regions over the past year, a campaign that it says has killed
several top al-Qaida and Taliban commanders.
An August missile strike killed Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud in
neighboring South Waziristan tribal region.
The identities of the people killed Monday were not immediately clear, said
three Pakistani officials, two of whom work for the intelligence service. The
officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized
to release the information.
Local resident Hikmat Ullah said Monday's strike caused ''a big blast.''
''We saw three planes flying in the sky before the missile strike,'' he said.
In the past, Pakistan has publicly opposed the missile strikes, saying they
violate its sovereignty and spur anti-American sentiment. But many observers
suspect the two countries have a deal allowing the missile attacks, and
Islamabad appeared pleased that Mehsud, whom it considered a grave threat, was
Pakistan has waged its own offensives against militants in the country's
A military statement Monday said security forces killed 10 more suspected
insurgents in the latest operation in Khyber tribal region. Authorities say the
week-long operation has so far killed over 130 alleged militants -- a toll that
has not been independently verified.
Meanwhile, a roadside bomb killed two Pakistani soldiers and wounded two others
in South Waziristan, said two other intelligence officials and an army official.
The officials requested anonymity because they were not authorized to release
the information to media.
Associated Press writers Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail
Khan and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad contributed to this report.
Suspected US Missile
Kills 5 in Pakistan, NYT, 7.9.2009,
The Afghanistan Abyss
September 6, 2009
The New York Times
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
President Obama has already dispatched an additional 21,000 American troops
to Afghanistan and soon will decide whether to send thousands more. That would
be a fateful decision for his presidency, and a group of former intelligence
officials and other experts is now reluctantly going public to warn that more
troops would be a historic mistake.
The group’s concern — dead right, in my view — is that sending more American
troops into ethnic Pashtun areas in the Afghan south may only galvanize local
people to back the Taliban in repelling the infidels.
“Our policy makers do not understand that the very presence of our forces in the
Pashtun areas is the problem,” the group said in a statement to me. “The more
troops we put in, the greater the opposition. We do not mitigate the opposition
by increasing troop levels, but rather we increase the opposition and prove to
the Pashtuns that the Taliban are correct.
“The basic ignorance by our leadership is going to cause the deaths of many fine
American troops with no positive outcome,” the statement said.
The group includes Howard Hart, a former Central Intelligence Agency station
chief in Pakistan; David Miller, a former ambassador and National Security
Council official; William J. Olson, a counterinsurgency scholar at the National
Defense University; and another C.I.A. veteran who does not want his name
published but who spent 12 years in the region, was station chief in Kabul at
the time the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, and later headed the C.I.A.’s
“We share a concern that the country is driving over a cliff,” Mr. Miller said.
Mr. Hart, who helped organize the anti-Soviet insurgency in the 1980s, cautions
that Americans just don’t understand the toughness, determination and fighting
skills of the Pashtun tribes. He adds that if the U.S. escalates the war, the
result will be radicalization of Pashtuns in Pakistan and further instability
there — possibly even the collapse of Pakistan.
These experts are not people who crave publicity; I had to persuade them to go
public with their concerns. And their views are widely shared among others who
also know Afghanistan well.
“We’ve bitten off more than we can chew; we’re setting ourselves up for
failure,” said Rory Stewart, a former British diplomat who teaches at Harvard
when he is not running a large aid program in Afghanistan. Mr. Stewart describes
the American military strategy in Afghanistan as “nonsense.”
I’m writing about these concerns because I share them. I’m also troubled because
officials in Washington seem to make decisions based on a simplistic caricature
of the Taliban that doesn’t match what I’ve found in my reporting trips to
Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Among the Pashtuns, the population is not neatly divisible into “Taliban” or
“non-Taliban.” Rather, the Pashtuns are torn by complex aspirations and fears.
Many Pashtuns I’ve interviewed are appalled by the Taliban’s periodic brutality
and think they are too extreme; they think they’re a little nuts. But these
Pashtuns also admire the Taliban’s personal honesty and religious piety, a
contrast to the corruption of so many officials around President Hamid Karzai.
Some Taliban are hard-core ideologues, but many join the fight because friends
or elders suggest it, because they are avenging the deaths of relatives in
previous fighting, because it’s a way to earn money, or because they want to
expel the infidels from their land — particularly because the foreigners haven’t
brought the roads, bridges and irrigation projects that had been anticipated.
Frankly, if a bunch of foreign Muslim troops in turbans showed up in my hometown
in rural Oregon, searching our homes without bringing any obvious benefit, then
we might all take to the hills with our deer rifles as well.
In fairness, the American military has hugely improved its sensitivity, and some
commanders in the field have been superb in building trust with Afghans. That
works. But all commanders can’t be superb, and over all, our increased presence
makes Pashtuns more likely to see us as alien occupiers.
That may be why the troop increase this year hasn’t calmed things. Instead, 2009
is already the bloodiest year for American troops in Afghanistan — with four
months left to go.
The solution is neither to pull out of Afghanistan nor to double down. Rather,
we need to continue our presence with a lighter military footprint, limited to
training the Afghan forces and helping them hold major cities, and ensuring that
Al Qaeda does not regroup. We must also invest more in education and agriculture
development, for that is a way over time to peel Pashtuns away from the Taliban.
This would be a muddled, imperfect strategy with frustratingly modest goals, but
it would be sustainable politically and militarily. And it does not require
heavy investments of American and Afghan blood.
I invite you to visit my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook,
watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
The Afghanistan Abyss,
Magnifies Divide on Afghan War
September 5, 2009
The New York Times
By STEPHEN FARRELL
and RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr.
KUNDUZ, Afghanistan — A NATO airstrike on Friday exploded two fuel tankers
that had been hijacked by the Taliban, setting off competing claims about how
many among the scores of dead were civilians and raising questions about whether
the strike violated tightened rules on the use of aerial bombardment.
Afghan officials said that up to 90 people were killed by the strike near
Kunduz, a northern city where the trucks got stuck after militants tried to
drive them across a river late Thursday night.
The strike came at a time of intense debate over the Afghan war in both the
United States and Europe and after a heavily disputed election that has left
Afghanistan tense and, at least temporarily, without credible leaders.
Though there seemed little doubt some of the dead were militants, it was unclear
how many of the dead were civilians, and with anger at the foreign forces high
here, NATO ordered an immediate investigation.
Recently, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American and NATO commander here,
severely restricted the use of airstrikes, arguing that America risked losing
the war if it did not reduce civilian casualties.
Underscoring his concern, on Friday he recorded a video message, translated into
Dari and Pashto, to be released to Afghan news organizations.
The general began by greeting “the great people of Afghanistan, salaam aleikum.”
“As commander of the International Security Assistance Force, nothing is more
important than the safety and protection of the Afghan people,” General
McChrystal said in the brief message. “I take this possible loss of life or
injury to innocent Afghans very seriously.”
General McChrystal said he had ordered the investigation “into the reasons and
results of this attack, which I will share with the Afghan people.”
Two 14-year-old boys and one 10-year-old boy were admitted to the regional
hospital here in Kunduz, along with a 16-year-old who later died. Mahboubullah
Sayedi, a spokesman for the Kunduz provincial governor, said most of the
estimated 90 dead were militants, judging by the number of charred pieces of
Kalashnikov rifles found. But he said civilians were also killed.
In explaining the civilian deaths, military officials speculated that local
people were conscripted by the Taliban to unload the fuel from the tankers,
which were stuck near a river several miles from the nearest villages.
But some people wounded by the strike said that they had gone to the scene with
jerrycans after other people had run through their villages saying that free
fuel was available.
“They were just telling us, ‘Come and get the fuel,’ ” Wazir Gul, a 23-year-old
farmer, said at the hospital, where he was treated for serious burns on his
back. He estimated that hundreds of people from surrounding villages went to
siphon fuel from the trucks before the airstrike.
Mr. Gul said his older brother Amir was among the villagers incinerated in the
blast. “When the tanker exploded and burned, I knew he was dead,” Mr. Gul said.
The wounded 10-year-old, Shafiullah, who like many Afghans goes by only one
name, said he had defied his father’s orders by climbing on the family donkey to
join the throng of villagers heading to pick up fuel.
“When I arrived there, I was on the donkey,” Shafiullah, wounded in his arms and
legs, said from his hospital bed. “I was not very close. I had not gotten the
fuel yet when the bomb landed and the shrapnel injured me.”
German forces in northern Afghanistan under the NATO command called in the
attack, and German military officials initially insisted that no civilians had
been killed. But a Defense Ministry spokesman in Berlin later said the ministry
believed that more than 50 fighters had been killed but could give no details
about civilian casualties.
The public health officer for Kunduz Province, Dr. Azizullah Safar, said a
medical team sent to the village reported that 80 people had been killed, and he
said that “most of them were civilians and villagers.”
But he said it was also clear that some of the dead were militants, noting that
the site was scattered with remnants of ammunition vests and other gear carried
A statement issued by the office of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, said
that he was “deeply saddened” and that he had sent a delegation to investigate.
“Targeting civilian men and women is not acceptable,” the statement added.
Afghan officials said the attack struck a collection of hamlets known as Omar
Kheil, near the border of the districts of Char Dara and Ali Abad. The district
governor of Ali Abad, Hajji Habibullah, said the area was controlled by Taliban
The Kunduz area was once calm, but much of it has recently slipped under the
control of insurgents at a time when the Obama administration has sent thousands
of more troops to other parts of the country to combat an insurgency that
continues to gain strength in many areas.
The region is patrolled mainly by NATO’s 4,000-member German force, which is
barred by German leaders from operating in combat zones farther south. The
United States has 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, more than any other nation;
other countries fighting under the NATO command have a combined total of about
40,000 troops here.
If a high number of civilian casualties is confirmed, it is likely to not only
deepen antipathy toward NATO forces in Afghanistan, but also further diminish
support for the war in Germany, where it is already unpopular. It could also
become an issue in the coming German election as Chancellor Angela Merkel tries
to win a second term.
A senior NATO official who had watched aerial surveillance video of the attack
site said the Germans who ordered the strike “had every reason to believe what
they were looking at was groups of insurgents offloading tankers,” a process
that went on for several hours.
The official said that the nearest villages were two miles away and that the
authorities “don’t know yet” whether the attack violated the rules governing the
use of airstrikes tightened this summer by General McChrystal.
According to the new rules, airstrikes are, in most cases, allowed only to
prevent American and other coalition troops from being overrun by enemy
fighters. Even in the case of active firefights with Taliban forces, airstrikes
are to be limited if the combat is taking place in populated areas.
From initial accounts given by NATO and Afghan officials, it was not clear
whether this strike met those conditions, regardless of whether the majority of
the dead were insurgents or civilians.
On Friday, Foreign Secretary David Miliband of Britain called for a “prompt and
“It is a vital time for NATO and Afghanistan’s people to come together,” he told
Reporting was contributed by Abdul Waheed Wafa from Kabul, Afghanistan;
Sultan M. Munadi from Kunduz; Judy Dempsey from Berlin; and Sharon Otterman from
NATO Strike Magnifies
Divide on Afghan War, NYT, 5.9.2009,
A Troop Buildup in
September 4, 2009
The New York Times
To the Editor:
Re “Obama to Weigh Buildup Option in Afghan War” (front page, Sept. 1):
“The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable,” Gen.
Stanley A. McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, is quoted as saying in
How does General McChrystal define success in Afghanistan? What would constitute
a win? And would this result, even if it is achievable, justify the commitment
of more American lives and money? Myrna A. Gottlieb
East Brunswick, N.J., Sept. 1, 2009
To the Editor:
Is it too soon to utter the “Q” word?
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal refers to a serious but winnable situation in
Afghanistan. Lyndon B. Johnson’s generals told him the same thing every time
they wanted him to increase troop levels in Vietnam. Unfortunately, he believed
them, and 58,000 American boys came home in boxes.
Is President Obama equally gullible? When does our war in Afghanistan qualify as
a quagmire? Tim Burke
Middletown, N.J., Aug. 31, 2009
To the Editor:
Winter will be coming in Afghanistan, and any further troop increase can wait
until spring. With the additional 21,000 American troops already ordered, NATO
forces are sufficient to defend major population areas and staff a few strategic
If Afghanistan’s central government has not improved in the next six months, we
should reconsider the entire mission. American soldiers must not continue to be
blown up by improvised explosive devices in a place we are not wanted to defend
a government despised by its people. John S. Moore
Concord, Mass., Sept. 1, 2009
To the Editor:
“Obama to Weigh Buildup Option in Afghan War” discusses the difficult political
and military choices that the United States faces in Afghanistan.
Fighting is now concentrated in the Helmand Province, where the military
circumstances, and prospects for success, are vastly different than in border
regions like Waziristan, between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Helmand is a river valley in south-central Afghanistan where an extensive
American development program turned desert into flourishing agricultural land in
the 1950s and ’60s. Arnold Toynbee wrote in 1961 that the region had “become a
piece of America inserted into the Afghan landscape.” The region was ceded to
the Taliban by NATO and is now being liberated by the United States.
The Helmand region, where most of the poppies of Afghanistan have been
cultivated in recent years, has a strikingly different terrain from the
mountainous regions along the Afghan-Pakistan border. While the border regions
have a history of independence from both Afghanistan and Pakistan and have been
the center of regional Pashtun nationalism, the Helmand has been an integral
part of Afghanistan.
History, an open battlefield and distance from Taliban recruiting camps in
Pakistan present a far more promising opportunity for the United States to expel
the Taliban and support humane social development in Helmand Province than in
the turbulent border regions.
Edward A. Friedman
Hoboken, N.J., Sept. 1, 2009
The writer, former director of the Center for Technology Management for Global
Development at the Stevens Institute of Technology, was the director of a USAID
program that established an indigenous college of engineering in Afghanistan.
To the Editor:
The widespread, systemic and institutionalized fraud by the Karzai government in
the recent Afghan election means that the Afghan war is no longer winnable by
any definition of the word.
This is the Vietnam problem all over again: how can we win a war if the side we
are supporting is illegitimate? At some point we will have to accept that we
cannot change Afghanistan’s culture of tribalism and corruption.
I hope that President Obama and Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal have a Plan B.
Round Pond, Me., Aug. 31, 2009
To the Editor:
Re “After Afghanistan’s Vote” (editorial, Aug. 29): Your editorial affords ample
reason for reconsidering your position that this is “a necessary war.” From
every point of view our efforts there are not working, and a war that cannot be
won can never be regarded as a “just” war.
We have already lost the “hearts and minds” of the local people.
We are the recruiters for the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The United States should get
out of Afghanistan.
Saugerties, N.Y., Aug. 29, 2009
The writer is a retired Catholic priest.
A Troop Buildup in
Afghanistan?, NYT, 4.9.2009,
Groundwork Is Laid
for New Troops in Afghanistan
September 1, 2009
The New York Times
By PETER BAKER
and DEXTER FILKINS
WASHINGTON — A new report by the top commander in Afghanistan detailing the
deteriorating situation there confronts President Obama with the politically
perilous decision of whether to deepen American involvement in the
eight-year-old war amid shrinking public support at home.
The classified assessment submitted Monday by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who
took over American and NATO forces in Afghanistan in June, did not request
additional American troops, American officials said, but they added that it
effectively laid the groundwork for such a request in coming weeks.
While details of the report remained secret, the revised strategy articulated by
General McChrystal in recent public comments would invest the United States more
extensively in Afghanistan than it has been since American forces helped topple
the Taliban government following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Taking a page
from the 2007 strategy shift in Iraq, he has emphasized protecting civilians
over just engaging insurgents.
For Mr. Obama, who already ordered an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan
this year, the prospect of a still larger deployment would test his commitment
to a war he did not launch even as it grows more violent by the month.
He already faces growing discontent among his liberal base, not only over the
war but also over national security policy, health care, gay rights and other
An expanded American footprint would also increase Mr. Obama’s entanglement with
an Afghan government widely viewed as corrupt and illegitimate. Multiplying
allegations of fraud in the Aug. 20 presidential election have left Washington
with little hope for a credible partner in the war once the results are final.
The latest tally, with nearly half of the polling stations counted, showed
President Hamid Karzai leading with 45.9 percent against 33.3 percent for his
main opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, Reuters reported.
But the White House left open the possibility that Mr. Obama would send more
troops. “There’s broad agreement that for many years, our effort in Afghanistan
has been under-resourced politically, militarily and economically,” Robert
Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said Monday. He went on to use the words
“under-resourced” and “under-resource” six more times during his daily briefing.
The report comes after a sharp escalation of violence in Afghanistan, where more
American troops died in August than in any month since the beginning of the war.
The military announced Monday that two American soldiers died in separate
attacks involving homemade bombs, bringing the total killed last month to 51,
according to the Web site icasualties.org. The number of such attacks has nearly
quadrupled since 2007, according to the Center for Strategic and International
“The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands
a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity
of effort,” General McChrystal said in a statement after sending his report to
Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of all Middle East forces.
A military official said General Petraeus immediately endorsed its findings and
forwarded it on Monday to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who will review it
before sending it to the White House.
The report coincides with an effort by the Obama administration to develop a
series of benchmarks, or metrics, to measure progress in Afghanistan, much as
was done in Iraq. Congress has insisted on evidence of improvement to justify
the additional troops, financial investment and civilian reconstruction teams
already committed by Mr. Obama.
Mr. Gates said Monday that despite the “gloom and doom” that has characterized
recent discussion, Afghanistan today is a “mixed picture.”
He said he would consider any troop requests in the coming weeks, but told
Bloomberg News that he was concerned about “the implications of significant
additional forces in terms of the foreign footprint in Afghanistan, whether the
Afghans will see this as us becoming more of an occupier or their partner, and
how do you differentiate those.”
Shortly after taking office Mr. Obama ordered 17,000 more combat troops and
4,000 more trainers to Afghanistan, and once they all arrive the American force
there will number 68,000. As the NATO commander, General McChrystal also has
40,000 additional foreign forces available to him, but some of their home
governments have placed restrictions on how they can be used.
General McChrystal wants a large expansion of Afghan security forces and an
acceleration of their training, according to American commanders. The Afghan
government currently has about 134,000 police officers and 82,000 soldiers,
although many of them are poorly equipped and have little logistical support.
Under the strategy described by General McChrystal and other commanders in
recent weeks, the overriding goal of American and NATO forces would not be so
much to kill Taliban insurgents as to make ordinary Afghans feel secure, and
thus isolate the insurgents. That means using force less and focusing on
economic development and good governance.
General McChrystal also intends to try to unify the effort of American allies
like Britain, Canada, Germany and France, and possibly to ask them to contribute
more troops, money and training.
With polls showing falling support for the Afghan war, critics in Congress have
grown increasingly vocal in calling for withdrawal.
Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, returned from
Afghanistan last week and said that despite the capable Americans now there, he
was pessimistic about the chances of success and did not even know how to define
“I have this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that we’re getting sucked
into an endless war here,” he said in an interview.
Some Afghanistan specialists said Mr. Obama might have to swallow his own doubts
and defy his base. “I think he’s going to have to tough it out,” said James
Dobbins, a former American envoy to Afghanistan. “The downside of a policy of
disengagement and what would happen for now would be more severe both for the
president and for the country.” Mr. Obama has said that deciding to send the
additional troops was the hardest decision he has made during his young
presidency. On Sunday, just before ending his vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, he
visited briefly at the Cape Cod Air Station with the family of a 21-year-old
Marine who was killed in Afghanistan in July.
Mr. Obama had met the Marine, Cpl. Nicholas Xiarhos, who was born in Hyannis,
Mass., in February when he visited Camp Lejeune, N.C., to announce his plan to
withdraw combat forces from Iraq. He told a story then of two Marines who stood
in the path of a suicide bomber’s truck and stopped it from entering a Marine
outpost in Ramadi, Iraq, losing their own lives but saving dozens of their
One of those saved was Corporal Xiarhos. He later shipped out to Afghanistan,
where he was killed in action in July.
Peter Baker reported from Washington,
and Dexter Filkins from Kabul,
Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting from Washington.
Groundwork Is Laid for
New Troops in Afghanistan, NYT, 1.9.2009,