Does US commander's frank assessment of Afghanistan help – or hurt – war effort?

An attack near Kabul Monday seemed to reinforce Gen. Stanley McChrystal's claim that the Taliban is winning. Some say such comments hurt morale; others say his honesty inspires confidence.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The Taliban are winning.

That's the gist of comments made Monday by the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. As if to underscore the point, insurgents launched another audacious attack Monday, seizing a government building in a provincial capital near Kabul and killing five.

While many Afghanistan experts agree the war is trending against NATO, some question the wisdom of broadcasting it.

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"I think that's the kind of assessment better made privately rather than publicly," says William Maley, director of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at Australia National University.

"The danger of airing that kind of position is that it's heard by the Afghan public [and] that may disincline ordinary Afghans on the ground to align themselves with the coalition," he says.

Of course, incidents like Monday's attack in Logar Province also speak volumes to Afghans about the lack of overall security. Half a dozen Taliban entered the capital, Pul-i-Alam, and fired rocket-propelled grenades at the home of the governor and office of the police chief. Five police and two attackers are reported dead.

Honesty may inspire confidence

General McChrystal, who is preparing a strategic assessment of the Afghan conflict for the US administration, told The Wall Street Journal: "We've got to stop their momentum, stop their initiative... It's a very aggressive enemy right now."

For some analysts, McChrystal's comments reflect refreshing honesty and inspire confidence that the United States realizes the difficult realities on the ground.

"If McChrystal is this frank that means he is very realistic and sees what's going on," says Waliullah Rahmani, executive director of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies. "Those who want to support the Taliban, they will do that [regardless of] negative or positive statements from the [Afghan] government or the US."

Paving way for more troops

McChyrstal's comments are widely seen as setting the stage for a request by him for more US troops beyond the 21,000 extra approved this spring.

Part of the debate surrounding additional troops is whether a heavier footprint would provoke a wider Afghan backlash against the foreign presence. Both Mr. Maley and Mr. Rahmani say that civilian casualties are the biggest irritant, not the number of troops.

"I do think that we need a surge of troops in Afghanistan," says Rahmani. "The Taliban now think they can win the war, so why would they come to the negotiating table? … Military pressure is the only short-term way to do this."

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