Stanley McChrystal Raises Alarm Bells

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on September 21, 2009

This makes for stark, and exceedingly worrisome reading:

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict “will likely result in failure,” according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says emphatically: “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.”

His assessment was sent to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Aug. 30 and is now being reviewed by President Obama and his national security team.

McChrystal concludes the document’s five-page Commander’s Summary on a note of muted optimism: “While the situation is serious, success is still achievable.”

But he repeatedly warns that without more forces and the rapid implementation of a genuine counterinsurgency strategy, defeat is likely. McChrystal describes an Afghan government riddled with corruption and an international force undermined by tactics that alienate civilians.

This is all scary enough. But this–which I have had occasion to reference before–is really worrisome in the context of this discussion, because it appears to indicate that General McChrystal may not get the troops he wants:

During the briefing, [Marine Brigadier General] Nicholson had told Jones that he was “a little light,” more than hinting that he could use more forces, probably thousands more. “We don’t have enough force to go everywhere,” Nicholson said.

But Jones recalled how Obama had initially decided to deploy additional forces this year. “At a table much like this,” Jones said, referring to the polished wood table in the White House Situation Room, “the president’s principals met and agreed to recommend 17,000 more troops for Afghanistan.” The principals — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; Gates; Mullen; and the director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair — made this recommendation in February during the first full month of the Obama administration. The president approved the deployments, which included Nicholson’s Marines.

Soon after that, Jones said, the principals told the president, “oops,” we need an additional 4,000 to help train the Afghan army.

“They then said, ‘If you do all that, we think we can turn this around,’ ” Jones said, reminding the Marines here that the president had quickly approved and publicly announced the additional 4,000.

Now suppose you’re the president, Jones told them, and the requests come into the White House for yet more force. How do you think Obama might look at this? Jones asked, casting his eyes around the colonels. How do you think he might feel?

Jones let the question hang in the air-conditioned, fluorescent-lighted room. Nicholson and the colonels said nothing.

Well, Jones went on, after all those additional troops, 17,000 plus 4,000 more, if there were new requests for force now, the president would quite likely have “a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment.” Everyone in the room caught the phonetic reference to WTF — which in the military and elsewhere means “What the [expletive]?”

Nicholson and his colonels — all or nearly all veterans of Iraq — seemed to blanch at the unambiguous message that this might be all the troops they were going to get.”

In noting Jones’s extraordinary statement, Peter Feaver expressed his concern that Jones’s behavior could cause military commanders to censor themselves and refrain from giving President Obama their best advice on the issues of the day. It is nice to see that General McChrystal disregarded Jones’s clumsy efforts to keep military commanders from expressing their honest viewpoints, but it is terrifying to think that the deck has been stacked at the White House, and that General McChrystal may not get the troops he asks for.

Here’s hoping that I am wrong. But one thing is for certain: If the Obama Administration refuses to send more troops, and if Afghanistan goes to Hell in a handbasket as a consequence, it won’t be possible to use the phrase “George W. Bush is to blame!” as an excuse.

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