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 in the country said Friday.
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey 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.
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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 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-Qaida 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, he added.