The top US commander in Afghanistan, whose gloomy assessment of the war last summer prompted the White House to boost troop levels, said on Thursday that conditions are no longer deteriorating and predicted further improvements this year.
“I am not prepared to say that we have turned the corner,” Gen. Stanley McChrystal told a group of U.S. reporters during a NATO conference here. “I’m not prepared to say we are winning. I am prepared to say we are very much engaged, and I’m confident we’re going to see serious progress this year.”
Last August, shortly after taking command in Afghanistan, McChrystal took a darker view in a report that was sent to the Pentagon and the White House. He said that “the overall effort” in Afghanistan was “deteriorating,” that Taliban forces had momentum on their side and that the U.S.-led military campaign was at risk of failing without a significant increase in troops.
McChrystal repeated his warnings about the “deteriorating” war campaign on October 1 in a speech in London. His harsh assessments helped to persuade President Barack Obama to order the deployment of 30,000 U.S. reinforcements this year.
“I feel differently now,” he said on Thursday. “I think we made significant progress in setting conditions in 2009... and that we’ll make real progress in 2010.”
Asked why he thought the situation had improved, McChrystal said he could not point to specific measurements, but rather a general sense that security was better in some areas and that the mood among Afghan leaders was more optimistic.
For instance, he said, he recently accompanied Afghan President Hamid Karzai on a visit to the city of Nawa, a former Taliban stronghold in Helmand.
“President Karzai, with no body armour or anything, walked through the bazaar, talked to people, had tea,” McChrystal said. “He told me he had not been in a bazaar like that — he was there about 40 minutes — that long since he’s been in power, or at least for several years.”
Other U.S. officials have been reluctant to cite an overall improvement in the war effort. Testifying before Congress on Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said the Taliban-led insurgency “has become increasingly dangerous and destabilising.”
McChrystal joined Defence Secretary Robert Gates in Istanbul for discussions with NATO allies on Afghanistan and other issues.
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