A new report by the top commander in Afghanistan detailing the deteriorating situation there confronts President Barack Obama with the politically perilous decision of whether to deepen U.S. 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 U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan in June, did not request additional American troops, U.S. officials said, but they added that it effectively lay the groundwork for such a request in coming weeks.
While details of the report remained secret, the revised strategy articulated by McChrystal in recent public comments would invest the United States more extensively in Afghanistan than it has been since U.S. 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 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 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 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 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 word “under-resourced” six more times during his daily briefing.
The report comes after a sharp escalation of violence in Afghanistan, where more U.S. troops died in August than in any month since the beginning of the war. The military announced Monday that two U.S. soldiers died in separate attacks involving homemade bombs, bringing the total killed last month to 49, 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,” McChrystal said in a statement after sending his report to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of all Middle East forces.