Taliban Now Winning
According to General Stanley McChrystal, who commands the NATO troops in Afghanistan, the troops must make a cultural shift from conventional warfare to protecting Afghan civilians. If troops are under fire from the enemy, and if there's any chance of creating civilian casualties, and if the troops can withdraw from the situation without firing, they must do so. The measure of effectiveness will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence, not the number of militants killed.
What the above means is that, for all intents and purposes, troops cannot return enemy fire if there is any chance at all of harming an Afghan civilian. In other words, NATO troops are, essentially, under the same constraints that a typical police department, in the U.S. is under, whenever hostages are involved.
The Taliban have gained the upper hand in Afghanistan, the top American commander there said, forcing the U.S. to change its strategy in the eight-year-old conflict by increasing the number of troops in heavily populated areas like the volatile southern city of Kandahar, the insurgency's spiritual home.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned that means U.S. casualties, already running at record levels, will remain high for months to come.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the commander offered a preview of the strategic assessment he is to deliver to Washington later this month, saying the troop shifts are designed to better protect Afghan civilians from rising levels of Taliban violence and intimidation. The coming redeployments are the clearest manifestation to date of Gen. McChrystal's strategy for Afghanistan, which puts a premium on safeguarding the Afghan population rather than hunting down militants.
The militants are mounting sophisticated attacks that combine roadside bombs with ambushes by small teams of heavily armed militants, causing significant numbers of U.S. fatalities, he said. July was the bloodiest month of the war for American and British forces, and 12 more American troops have already been killed in August.
The Obama administration is in the midst of an Afghan buildup that will push U.S. troop levels here to a record 68,000 by year end.
The U.S. war effort in Afghanistan is costing American taxpayers about $4 billion a month.
"How many people do you bring in before the Afghans say, 'You're acting like the Russians'?" said one senior military official, referring to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. "That's the big debate going on in the headquarters right now."
Gen. McChrystal said his new strategy had to show clear results within roughly 12 months to prevent public support for the war from evaporating in both the U.S. and Afghanistan.
"This is a period where people are really looking to see which way this is going to go," he said. "It's the critical and decisive moment."