General McChrystal’s report on Afghanistan and external influences


The Washington Post has leaked an unclassified version of General Stanley McChrystal’s long-awaited report on Afghanistan. The full report, all 66 pages, can be found here.

The Washington Post provides a good roundup of the report. In short, and it should come as no surprise, McChrystal calls for a change in strategy by ISAF, which has failed to properly implement a counterinsurgency program to defeat the Taliban and allied groups. ISAF must focus on securing the population, aiding in providing good governance, building and mentoring the Afghan security forces, and shifting itself away from an excessively defensive posture to enable the troops to engage with the Afghan people.

While McChrystal doesn’t say so in this report, he wants more troops. He repeatedly describes the Afghan effort as “under-resourced.” We won’t know the numbers of troops requested until the next report is released. And it should be soon, as McChrystal is clear that the Taliban have the initiative and time is of the essence.

There are a couple of redacted sections of the report that would have made interesting reading, such as information on Taliban operations and the groups’ command and control, and Taliban control throughout the country.

One part of the report that will get lost in the inevitable political debate on the Afghan surge will be McChrystal’s assessment of “External Influences” on Afghanistan. The assessments are brief but reinforce the available information on the safe havens in Pakistan and the ISI’s role in aiding the Taliban, as well as the role of Iran’s Qods Force in training and arming elements of the Taliban. The paragraphs on Pakistan and Iran are excerpted in full below.

External Influences

Pakistan. Afghanistan’s insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan. Senior leaders of the major Afghan insurgent groups are based in Pakistan, are linked with al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups, and are reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan’s ISI. Al Qaeda and associated movements (AQAM) based in Pakistan channel foreign fighters, suicide bombers, and technical assistance into Afghanistan, and offer ideological motivation, training, and financial support. Al Qaeda’s links with HUN [I assume this should be HQN, or Haqqani Network] have grown, suggesting that expanded HQN control could create a favorable environment for AQAM to re-establish safe-havens in Afghanistan. Additionally, the ISAF mission in Afghanistan is reliant on ground supply routes through Pakistan that remain vulnerable to these threats.

Stability in Pakistan is essential, not only in its own right, but also to enable progress in Afghanistan. While the existence of safe havens in Pakistan does not guarantee ISAF failure, Afghanistan does require Pakistani cooperation and action against violent militancy, particularly against those groups active in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, the insurgency in Afghanistan is predominantly Afghan. By defending the population, improving sub-national governance, and giving disenfranchised rural communities a voice in their government, GIRoA – with support from IsAF – can strengthen Afghanistan against both domestic and foreign insurgent penetration. Reintegrating communities and individuals into the political system can help reduce the insurgency’s virulence to a point where it is no longer an existential threat to GIRoA.

Iran. Iran plays an ambiguous role in Afghanistan, providing developmental assistance and political support to GIRoA while the Iranian Qods Force is reportedly training fighters for certain Taliban groups and providing other forms of military assistance to insurgents. Iran’s current policies and actions do not pose a short-term threat to the mission, but Iran has the capability to threaten the mission in the future. Pakistan may see Iranian economic and political initiatives as threats to their strategic interests, and may continue to address these issues in ways that are counterproductive to the ISAF effort.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Mr T says:

    8 years in and we need to change strategy? It seems to me that both AQAM and coalition forces put a lot of resources into Iraq and the battle in Afghanistan was just an afterthought.
    Now that Iraq is winding down, AQAM can not put the resources into Iraq and they have returned to Afghanistan to consolidate their activity there. It was quicker for them to make that transition. We responded too slowly for the current fighting season and are bearing the consequences. However, Pakistan has ratcheted up the heat on their side of the border so how could AQAM have the momentum? Whatever the challanges, we should be able to rise to the task.
    I hate it when our Generals say we are losing. We never implemented a good strategy? Who was in charge of that? With all our superiority in guns and planes and training, you would think we would be able to out think them as well.
    Did we just develop a bone headed strategy because we don’t know our enemy (see Sun Tzu) or did we just not make the strategic adjustments to our enemies plans.
    We really need to put a dent in their operations before the winter snows set in, then work hard at training the Afghan army to take charge during the winter months. It seems that training and preparing wold be harder in the snowy mountains than in other available places in Afghanistan. Not to mention attacking government corruption at all levels. It can be done, it will be done, in Iraq, as it is in Afghanistan.

  • MattR says:

    I’m honestly curious as to why it has taken two years to say there needs to be a change after a similar change in Iraq turned everything around. Did they just want to let things settle down in Iraq before saying we need to do it again? Or was it a lack of resources?

  • Don Bistrow says:

    If Iraq is now “winding down” some troops will require some down time and a new mission for them established.
    With change in an election year Bush was afraid to commit at the end of his term and Obama basically said the opposite of Bush policy for political purposes and must now placate his base and retreat. Obama promised to confront the Afghanistan issue head on but that is proving false. Imagine that!
    I don’t see the General’s are at fault, in the end the politicians make or break the war if they don’t fund it or demand withdrawal. Arguing about it publicly is even worse.
    McChrystal knows what he wants to implement but has the political class telling him not to put in his request. What is he to do?
    As the one link and article suggest he will resign because he’s into winning not politics and that is honorable and the correct thing to do.
    I have a son at an FOB in Afghanistan and the sudden shift does not please me to say the least. Being surrounded by the Taliban and not knowing who to trust is not comforting. Knowing the Beltway bums are hedging is difficult to swallow, especially if your on the ground prepared to fight.
    Gen. McChrytal was placed to solve Afghanistan. He has the report, it’s time to give him what he needs. Not in 10 months or never but immediately based on available troop strength.


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