An incoming adviser to the top U.S. general in Afghanistan predicted Thursday that the United States will see about two more years of heavy fighting and then either hand off to a much improved Afghan fighting force or "lose and go home."
David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency expert who will assume a role as a senior adviser to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has been highly critical of the war's management to date. He outlined a "best-case scenario" for a decade of further U.S. and NATO involvement in Afghanistan during an appearance at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Under that timeline, the allied forces would turn the corner in those two years, followed by about three years of transition to a newly capable Afghan force and about five years of "overwatch."
"We'll fight for two years and then a successful transition, or we'll fight for two years and we'll lose and go home," Kilcullen said.
"I think we need to persist," he said, but with "some pretty significant limits on how much we're prepared to spend, how many troops we're prepared to send, how long we can do this for."
Kilcullen was speaking for himself, and it is not clear that McChrystal shares his dark assessment. McChrystal is assembling what aides describe as a blunt summing up of a war his predecessor called a stalemate. That review is due within weeks and may lead to a request for additional U.S. forces beyond those President Barack Obama has already sent to Afghanistan this year.
The report is expected recommend changes in the way the United States and NATO organize and manage the war. Ahead of those recommendations, the Pentagon set up a new command center, an ultra-secure war room where a people from a mix of services and disciplines sit together. The command post is supposed to quickly process information for McChrystal and bulldoze some of the pentagon's legendary bureaucracy.
Separately, the Obama administration is developing new measures of success in Afghanistan, something top military leaders promised Congress months ago. Some of the yardsticks would apply to the Afghan government, some to its armed forces and police and some to the United States.
Obama announced a retailored war strategy in March, with a streamlined focus on ensuring that Afghanistan cannot be used as a harbor for al-Qaida. He has committed 21,000 additional U.S. forces for Afghanistan this year, roughly doubling the U.S. footprint to 68,000 in a year.
Counterterrorism a low priority
The United States does have compelling reasons to continue the fight, Kilcullen said, but Obama's counterterrorism mandate isn't "at the top of my list."
His top reasons: The United States and NATO have promised protection to the Afghan people; the future of the NATO military alliance could hinge on perseverance in Afghanistan; and if Afghanistan crumbles, nuclear-armed Pakistan would probably follow.
Kilcullen, formerly an adviser to Gen. David Petraeus and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said the Taliban-led insurgency is pursuing a classic strategy in which a militarily weaker force avoids direct warfare and sits back to "wait us out 'til we get tired and go home."
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