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Additional U.S. Troops Sought to Avert Afghan Failure

September 21, 2009 at 12:00 AM EST
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The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan said in a confidential report that the U.S. military risks failure there if more troops are not deployed. Kwame Holman reports.
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JIM LEHRER: The U.S. commander in Afghanistan is warning the war in Afghanistan could be lost without more American troops; that word came today after a confidential assessment was leaked.

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has our lead story report.

KWAME HOLMAN: General Stanley McChrystal delivered his 66-page assessment at the end of August. Today came confirmation he would seek more troops.

The Washington Post was first to obtain McChrystal’s assessment. In it, he said the overall war effort is deteriorating. He said the U.S. risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible, unless it regains the momentum within 12 months.

And he went on to warn, “Resources will not win this war, but under-resourcing could lose it.”

The general also repeated his previous calls for focusing U.S. strategy on reducing Afghan civilian casualties. Pentagon officials confirmed the details without formally releasing the report. And at the White House, it was unclear what response McChrystal will get.

On the Sunday talk shows, before the general’s assessment was published, President Obama said he’s skeptical about sending more troops, for now.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or, in some way, you know, sending a message that America is here for the duration. I think it’s important that we match strategy to resources.

What I’m not also going to do, though, is put the resource question before the strategy question. Until I’m satisfied that we’ve got the right strategy, I’m not going to be sending some young man or woman over there beyond what we already have.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president repeated that stance this afternoon, as he taped an appearance with David Letterman to air later tonight.

But on the Senate floor late today, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell urged the president to endorse more troops, and soon.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Senate minority leader: For the sake of our long-term security, we should support the McChrystal plan. Anything less would confirm al-Qaida’s view that America lacks the strength and the resolve to endure a long war.

KWAME HOLMAN: The U.S. force in Afghanistan now numbers 62,000 and already is on its way to 68,000 by year’s end.

And U.S. casualties also are rising, to 48 killed in August, the deadliest month yet; 29 more have died in September.

Meanwhile, the struggle continues over Afghanistan’s recent presidential election. Today, a U.N.-backed panel agreed to recount a sampling of thousands of suspect ballots.