NATO ministers back McChrystal assessment
Obama's war councilAs the war goes on in Afghanistan, so too does the strategic debate in Washington. Stripes' interactive graphic looks at the influential leaders advising President Barack Obama on the way forward.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — There is “broad support” among NATO defense ministers for Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s overall assessment of Afghanistan and its suggestion that a full counterinsurgency strategy is the right way forward in Afghanistan, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday.
“Many allies spoke positively about General McChrystal’s assessment,” added Defense Secretary Robert Gates, following a morning session kicking off the summit on the banks of the Danube River.
“There were a number of allies who indicated they were thinking about, or were moving toward, increasing either their military or their civilian contributions, or both. And I found that very heartening.”
McChrystal, who arrived unannounced early Friday morning, offered the ministers a 15-minute update on the war and his overview of how to win it. The ministers did not ask any questions or have any reaction during the closed-door lunch meeting, a U.S. defense official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the meeting more candidly.
Gates said he was “in listening mode” at the morning meeting, giving U.S.-allied defense chiefs an opportunity to weigh in on Afghanistan.
“This wasn’t a session for any kind of formal endorsement,” Gates said. “We are here to consult and one of the things that I think the president is expecting from me is to bring back the views of our allies.”
Earlier on Friday, the U.N.’s top diplomat in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, said, “I do believe that additional international troops will be needed,” endorsing McChrystal’s assessment for the first time publically.
In Washington, the White House war council is continuing to debate the way forward in Afghanistan, ranging from adding tens of thousands of troops in support of a fuller counterinsurgency operation to a limited counterterrorism model that focuses on targeted operations with a much smaller military footprint and a greater use of unmanned aerial vehicles.
But in Rasmussen’s recounting of the ministerial meeting, the secretary indicated strong NATO agreement that Afghanistan needed more of its own security forces, which would require more trainers and money from international coalition, and a greater civilian effort that is better coordinated to the military goals.
“You cannot separate counterterrorism from counterinsurgency,” he said. “Ministers agree that it does not solve the problems in Afghanistan just to hunt down and kill individual terrorists. What we need is a much broader strategy.”
Meanwhile, a document provided to The Associated Press outlines formal NATO approval of plans to eventually give Afghan army and police officials control over a war that is in its ninth year.
The plans specifically do not require any withdrawal of the 104,000 U.S. and NATO troops that will be in Afghanistan by the end of the year, the AP reported. Instead, they officially affirm NATO’s intent to shift from being in charge of security and rebuilding in the war-torn nation to taking a backup role to Afghan officials, according to the document. It described a gradual transition of power to Afghan forces even as U.S. and NATO troops continue to battle the Taliban and other insurgents.
Gates said he heard no concerns from NATO defense chiefs about the length of the White House’s deliberative process and debate over McChrystal’s assessment, which was handed in at the end of August.
“There wasn’t a word said about it. Not one,” said Gates. “I think the analytical phase is coming to an end. Probably, over the next two or three weeks we are going to be considering specific options and teeing them up for a decision by the president.”
Several defense chiefs had told reporters prior to Gates’ arrival Thursday that they would not commit to troop increases before President Barack Obama decides on the war strategy or before the Nov. 7 Afghan presidential election runoff.
Several White House officials also had suggested earlier in the week that they would wait for a runoff before deciding on a strategy. But Gates responded on Monday by telling reporters traveling aboard his plane that he felt a strategy decision should not wait for election results or any other preset indicators of the nascent Afghan government’s credibility.
On Friday, Gates said that he did not share that view with his NATO counterparts, and none raised the issue with him.
Though a ramped up counterinsurgency option would require significant troop increases by McChrystal’s estimate, Gates would not say whether he has endorsed that model — as have Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen — or if Rasmussen’s comments translated into NATO support for troop increases.
“I think drawing conclusions at this point is vastly premature,” he said.
The NATO meeting marks the end of a weeklong trip for the secretary, which circumnavigated the globe. Earlier this week he stopped in Honolulu, Tokyo and Seoul.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.