Obama must now decide whether to commit thousands of additional American forces or try to hold the line against the Taliban with the troops and strategy he has already approved. Mr. Obama made clear in television interviews Sunday that he is reassessing whether his narrowed focus on countering the Afghan insurgency is working and will not be rushed into a decision about additional troops.
"Resources will not win this war, but under-resourcing could lose it," Gen. Stanley McChrystal wrote in a five-page summary of the war as he found it upon taking command this summer.
McChrystal's confidential 66-page report, sent to Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Aug. 30, is now under review at the White House.
"Although considerable effort and sacrifice have resulted in some progress, many indicators suggest the overall effort is deteriorating," McChrystal said of the war's progress.
It is not an entirely bleak assessment, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin. McChrystal says "success is still achievable" and that the U.S. and its allies have at least one advantage: "The majority of Afghans do not want a return of the Taliban."
Mr. Obama approved 21,000 additional U.S. troops earlier this year, on the advice of Gates and other senior defense and military leaders. That will bring the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to a record 68,000 by the end of this year, working alongside 38,000 NATO-led troops.
The question now is whether to divert troops from Iraq or make other adjustments to expand that force significantly early next year. Gates and others have repeatedly warned that too large a force would do more harm than good in a country hostile to anything it sees as foreign meddling. But Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress last week he thinks more troops are probably necessary.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said in a statement that the McChrystal assessment "is a classified, pre-decisional document, intended to provide President Obama and his national security team with the basis for a very important discussion about where we are now in Afghanistan and how best to get to where we want to be."
While asserting that more troops are needed, McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, also pointed out an "urgent need" to significantly revise strategy. The U.S. needs to interact better with the Afghan people, McChrystal said, and better organize its efforts with NATO allies.
"We run the risk of strategic defeat by pursuing tactical wins that cause civilian casualties or unnecessary collateral damage. The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves," he wrote.
In his blunt assessment of the tenacious Taliban insurgency, McChrystal warned that unless the U.S. and its allies gain the initiative and reverse the momentum of the militants within the next year the U.S. "risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."
The content of the report was The Washington Post first reported by The Washington Post, which said it withheld publication of portions of the document at the government's request.
Morrell confirmed the report, but said the Pentagon would not release McChrystal's assessment.
"While we would have much preferred none of this be made public at this time we appreciate the paper's willingness to edit out those passages which would likely have endangered personnel and operations in Afghanistan," Morrell said in an e-mail statement.
The Pentagon and the White House are awaiting a separate, more detailed request for additional troops and resources. Media reports Friday and Saturday said McChrystal has finished it but was told to pocket it, partly because of the charged politics surrounding the decision. McChrystal's senior spokesman, Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, told The Associated Press on Sunday the report is not complete.
On Monday, another Pentagon spokesman said he cannot predict when the request will arrive, and said McChrystal's depiction of the war is one tool the administration will use to choose its path.
"The way forward in Afghanistan ... is more complex than just the security aspect of it," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. "There are political aspects, developmental aspects, economic, a range of things you have to look at."
A spokesman for Afghanistan's Defense Ministry said Sunday the Afghan government would not second-guess international military commanders on the need for more troops, but said that the greatest need is on the other side of the Afghan-Pakistan border, where the insurgency is infiltrating Afghanistan.
In Congress, the war has taken on a highly partisan edge. Senate Republicans are demanding more forces to turn around a war that soon will enter its ninth year, while members of Mr. Obama's own Democratic Party are trying to put on the brakes. Mr. Obama said in the Sunday interviews that he will not allow politics to govern his decision.
The president would not tell Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer whether he would approve a potential recommendation from Gen. McChrystal to send tens of thousands more American troops into that Afghanistan.
"I'm not considering it at this point because I haven't received the request," the president said during a taped interview.
Mr. Obama left little doubt in the interviews for Sunday morning's news magazine programs that he is re-evaluating whether more forces will do any good.
"The first question is, 'Are we doing the right thing?"' Mr. Obama said. "Are we pursuing the right strategy?"
Schieffer asked the president whether it would be difficult for him to deny a request for more troops from McChrystal.
"The only reason I send a single young man or woman in uniform anywhere in the world is because I think it is necessary to keep us safe," Mr. Obama replied.
"Didn't you say on March 27th that you have announced a comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan?" Schieffer asked. "I thought you already had a strategy."
"We did," the president explained, "but what I also said was that we were going to review that review that every six months."
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The war has taken on a highly partisan edge. Senate Republicans are demanding an influx of forces to turn around a war that soon will enter its ninth year, while members of Mr. Obama's own party are trying to put on the brakes.
"No, no, no, no," Mr. Obama responded when asked whether he or aides had directed McChrystal to temporarily withhold a request for additional U.S. forces and other resources.
"The only thing I've said to my folks is, 'A, I want an unvarnished assessment, but, B, I don't want to put the resource question before the strategy question,"' Mr. Obama said. "Because there is a natural inclination to say, 'If I get more, then I can do more."'
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress last week he expected McChrystal's request for additional forces and other resources "in the very near future."
McChrystal found security worse than he expected when he took command this summer to lead what Mr. Obama described as a narrowed, intensive campaign to uproot al Qaeda and prevent the terrorist group from again using Afghanistan as a safe haven.
In the interviews taped Friday at the White House, Mr. Obama said he's asking these questions of the military: "How does this advance America's national security interests? How does it make sure that al Qaeda and its extremist allies cannot attack the United States homeland, our allies, our troops who are based in Europe?"
"If supporting the Afghan national government and building capacity for their army and securing certain provinces advances that strategy, then we'll move forward," the president continued. "But if it doesn't, then I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan."
Mr. Obama has ordered 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan, increasing the number of U.S. forces there to a record 68,000, and watched as Marines pushed deep into Taliban-controlled districts ahead of Afghanistan's national elections in August.
The disappointing outcome of the voting - no definitive winner weeks later and mounting allegations that the incumbent President Hamid Karzai rigged the election - is coloring both Mr. Obama's view of the conflict and the partisan debate.
Sen. Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has told Mr. Obama he wants no new troop requests - at least until the United States makes a bolder effort to expand and train Afghanistan's own armed forces.
On Sunday, Levin addressed the give-and-take over McChrystal's report.
"I think what's going on here is that there is a number of questions which are being asked to Gen. McChrystal about some of the assumptions which have been previously made in the strategy, including that there would be an election which would be a stabilizing influence instead of a destabilizing influence," said Levin.
The Senate's Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said Mr. Obama should follow the military's advice. McConnell said Petraeus "did a great job with the surge in Iraq. I think he knows what he's doing. Gen. McChrystal is a part of that. We have a lot of confidence in those two generals. I think the president does as well."