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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


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 the bomb.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/26/world/asia/26afghan.html






Taliban Widen Afghan Attacks

From Base in Pakistan


September 24, 2009
The New York Times


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 last month.

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 insurgency.

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 Afghanistan.


Sabrina Tavernise contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.

    Taliban Widen Afghan Attacks From Base in Pakistan, NYT, 24.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/24/world/asia/24military.html






General Calls for More U.S. Troops

to Avoid Afghan Failure


September 21, 2009
The New York Times


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 security advisers.

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 growing.

General McChrystal’s view offered a stark contrast, and the language he used was striking.

“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 writes.

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 45,000.

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 moment.”

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 groups.

“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 culture.”

“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 concludes.

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 notes.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/21/world/asia/21afghan.html

    Related > http://media.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/documents/Assessment_Redacted_092109.pdf






U.S. to Expand Review of Detainees

in Afghan Prison


September 13, 2009
The New York Times


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 said.

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 thing.”

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 detention.”

Tina Foster, the executive director of the International Justice Network, which is representing four Bagram detainees in a pending court case, expressed deep reservations.

“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 detainees.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/world/asia/13detain.html






39 Afghans and 5 G.I.’s

Are Killed in Attacks


September 13, 2009
The New York Times


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 runoff.


Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan.

    39 Afghans and 5 G.I.’s Are Killed in Attacks, NYT, 13.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/world/asia/13afghan.html






US Military Deaths

in Afghanistan Region at 746


September 10, 2009
Filed at 9:29 p.m. ET
The New York Times


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, Okinawa, Japan.

-- 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, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/09/10/us/AP-US-Afghan-US-Deaths.html






Seized Times Reporter

Is Freed in Afghan Raid

That Kills Aide


September 9, 2009
The New York Times


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 now investigating.

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 South Asia.

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 taking place.

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 morning.

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, Afghanistan.

    Seized Times Reporter Is Freed in Afghan Raid That Kills Aide, NYT, 9.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/09/world/asia/09rescue.html






Suspected US Missile

Kills 5 in Pakistan


September 7, 2009
Filed at 12:19 p.m. ET
The New York Times


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 eliminated.

Pakistan has waged its own offensives against militants in the country's northwest.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/09/07/world/AP-AS-Pakistan.html






Op-Ed Columnist

The Afghanistan Abyss


September 6, 2009
The New York Times


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 Counterterrorism Center.

“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, NYT, 6.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/06/opinion/06kristof.html






NATO Strike

Magnifies Divide on Afghan War


September 5, 2009
The New York Times


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 by insurgents.

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 commanders.

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 urgent investigation.”

“It is a vital time for NATO and Afghanistan’s people to come together,” he told Sky News.


Reporting was contributed by Abdul Waheed Wafa from Kabul, Afghanistan; Sultan M. Munadi from Kunduz; Judy Dempsey from Berlin; and Sharon Otterman from New York.

    NATO Strike Magnifies Divide on Afghan War, NYT, 5.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/05/world/asia/05afghan.html







A Troop Buildup in Afghanistan?


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 a statement.

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 outposts.

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. Douglas Preston

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.

James Collignon

Saugerties, N.Y., Aug. 29, 2009

The writer is a retired Catholic priest.

    A Troop Buildup in Afghanistan?, NYT, 4.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/04/opinion/l04afghan.html






Groundwork Is Laid

for New Troops in Afghanistan


September 1, 2009
The New York Times


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 issues.

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 Studies.

“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 it.

“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 colleagues.

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, Afghanistan.

Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting from Washington.

Groundwork Is Laid for New Troops in Afghanistan, NYT, 1.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/01/world/asia/01military.html