KABUL - The Afghan war will be lost unless more troops are sent to pursue a radically revised strategy, the top U.S. and NATO commander said in a confidential assessment that lays out stark choices for President Barack Obama.
In the assessment, sent to Washington last month and leaked on Monday, Army General Stanley McChrystal said failure to reverse insurgent momentum in the near term risked an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.
A copy of the 66-page document was obtained by the Washington Post and published on its website with some parts removed at the request of the government for security reasons.
Resources will not win this war, but under-resourcing could lose it, McChrystal wrote.
Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure.
McChrystal, who commands more than 100,000 Western troops, two thirds of them American, has drafted a separate request spelling out how many more he needs but has not sent it to the Pentagon, which says it is considering how he should submit it.
Opinion polls show Americans and their European NATO allies turning against the nearly eight-year-old war.
A request for more troops faces resistance from within Obama's Democratic Party, which controls Congress, but refusing to give McChrystal what he wants would open Obama to criticism from Republicans who say he should act quickly.
In a series of interviews on Sunday Obama said he would not rush to a decision and wanted to first review his strategy for the region before considering whether to send more troops.
I just want to make sure that everybody understands that you don't make decisions about resources before you have the strategy ready, he told ABC.
Obama does not even expect a request for more troops for a little bit, because there's an assessment ongoing of where we are right now, spokesman Robert Gibbs added on Monday. The president is going to focus on getting the strategy right.
McChrystal's spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Tadd Sholtis, said that while McChrystal does not believe he can defeat Afghanistan's insurgency without more troops, he could carry out a mission with different goals if Obama ordered it.
The assessment is based on his understanding of the mission as it was presented to him. If there's a change in strategy, then the resources piece changes, he said. He said McChrystal had no intention of resigning if Obama denies his request.
In his assessment, McChrystal painted a grim picture of the war so far, saying the overall situation is deteriorating.
He called for a revolutionary shift putting more emphasis on protecting Afghans than on killing insurgents.
Our objective must be the population, he wrote. The objective is the will of the people, our conventional warfare culture is part of the problem. The Afghans must ultimately defeat the insurgency.
In a methodical critique of the war's conduct over the past eight years, he said NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops often lacked basic understanding of Afghan society. He also strongly criticized the Afghan government as having lost the faith of the country's people.
The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF's own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government, McChrystal said.
Among the failures: Afghan prisons had been allowed to become sanctuaries where al Qaeda and Taliban fighters recruit more followers and plan attacks.
Even the West's multibillion dollar development aid programs came in for blunt criticism: Too often these projects enrich power brokers, corrupt officials or international contractors and serve only limited segments of the population.
In the weeks since the assessment was written, Afghanistan has held a disputed election, which makes it more difficult to persuade Western countries to send additional troops.
European allies, whose governments support the war often over public opposition at home, have begun openly wavering.
Britain has suffered its worst combat casualties in a generation, German troops called in an air strike that killed scores of people, and last week six Italian soldiers were killed by a bomb, all events that sapped European support for the war.
Thousands of Italians packed the streets of Rome on Monday for a state funeral for the soldiers, amid mounting calls for Italy to pull its troops out.
Tim Ripley, a British analyst for Jane's Defense Weekly, told Reuters fixing the war effort would be a problem far more complicated than even that faced by U.S. commanders in Iraq.
Think of all the parts. You've got America, the president, Congress, the Pentagon. You've got the Afghan government and security forces. NATO: all the different countries. Pakistan. And that's just the people who are supposed to be on our side.
It's one thing coming up with a smart plan. It's another thing having the ability to put it into practice. Is it beyond the reach of one individual to pull it all together? (Additional reporting by JoAnne Allen and Andrew Gray and in Washington, and Deepa Babington in Rome, editing by Philip Barbara)