U.S. General Sees "Slow" Afghan Win

U.S.-led forces are achieving a "slow win" in Afghanistan, but the less-than-decisive approach must be accelerated soon, a key American commander there said Friday.

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, in a video conference with reporters at the Pentagon, said he remains hopeful that the Bush administration will send him more combat troops and other resources by winter.

He mentioned that Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said the U.S. effort in Afghanistan is by necessity an "economy of force" mission, meaning it is under-resourced because the war in Iraq is considered a higher and more urgent national security priority.

"We need to get away from that, over time," to make a stronger push in Afghanistan, Schloesser said.

The current approach, he said, is making headway, but not at a rate that he considers satisfactory.

"It's not the way that I think ... the Afghans, the international community and the American people would like to see us conduct this war," Schloesser said. "It will take longer the way we are doing it right now, as far as the level of resources that we have. I'd like to speed that up. So it's a slow win. I'd want to make it into a solid, strong win" by committing more resources.

There are now about 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, compared with about 146,000 in Iraq.

Schloesser, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, leads a contingent of international forces responsible for an eastern sector of Afghanistan, which includes a volatile area bordering Pakistan.

He predicted that insurgent activity would not fall off as much as usual this winter, when snow usually limits the fighting season.

"I do believe that the level of significant activities, maybe violence, will be higher than any previous winter since 2002," he said. The war began in October 2001 in response to the 9/11 attacks launched by Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, which at the time used Afghanistan as a haven.

Schloesser declined to say exactly how many additional U.S. combat troops and support forces he thinks are needed in his sector, but said he was optimistic that they would be provided in the next several months.

"The numbers are going to be a couple thousand - some series of thousands," he said.

In addition to combat troops there is a need for more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance units of the type that currently are being used on missions in Iraq, he added.

In some areas of eastern Afghanistan there simply are too few U.S. or coalition troops to decisively defeat the Taliban, he said.

"I can come in and I can clobber the enemy but then I can't hold it and stay with the people," he said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Mullen on Wednesday recommended to President Bush that a partial shift of resources from Iraq to Afghanistan be undertaken early in 2009, but it's not clear whether that will provide the help Schloesser says is needed to deal with enemy forces this winter.

"If we don't do anything over the winter the enemy will more and more try to seek safe haven in Afghanistan rather than going back to Pakistan," Schloesser said.

On the other hand, he said, getting additional forces is not a make-or-break issue.

"We're not losing this war, and we won't lose (it) if those troops don't show up in the next several months," he said.

U.S. and NATO officials say militants cross into Afghanistan from Pakistan, where they rest, recruit, train and resupply in tribal areas along the frontier where the Pakistani government has little sway.

Schloesser said he is counting on executing a two-track strategy this winter for further eroding the insurgents' fighting prospects.

The first is an aggressive effort to hunt them down.

"We will pursue them wherever they run," he said. "We will intercept them, and we're going to destroy their resources. My intent is to eliminate the support areas within our sector to diminish the enemies' ability to operate next year."

The second is what Schloesser called a "development surge." That would be a variety of projects, such as construction and road maintenance, designed to keep military-aged males employed who otherwise could be recruited to join the insurgency.