The commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan called Monday for a new strategy against the Taliban in an assessment of the 8-year-old conflict, saying the situation is serious but victory was achievable.
NATO officials disclosed that Gen. Stanley McChrystal is expected to separately request more forces to fight an increasingly deadly insurgency.
Explosions killed two more U.S. troops, raising the record death toll in August to 47 — the deadliest month of the eight-year war for American forces.
Boosting the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is a hot-button issue that could ignite furious debate in Washington on the U.S. military's future in an increasingly unpopular war. Some Democratic senators have increased calls for a timeline to draw down troops.
McChrystal sent his strategic review of the Afghan war to the Pentagon and NATO headquarters Monday. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ordered the 60-day review to size up the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan as Taliban attacks rise and U.S. deaths spiral upward.
"The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort," McChrystal said in a statement Monday.
Request for more troops forthcoming?
A NATO statement said McChrystal's assessment seeks to implement President Barack Obama's strategy "to reduce the capability and will" of insurgents and extremists, including al-Qaida, and support the growth and development of Afghan security forces and Afghan governance.
McChrystal did not ask for more troops but is expected to do so in a separate request, two NATO officials told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the matter.
The United States already has some 62,000 troops in Afghanistan — a record number — and will have 68,000 by the end of the year. In total there are more than 100,000 U.S. and NATO troops in the country.
Thousands of U.S. forces moved into the Afghan south this summer after Obama ordered 21,000 more troops to the country this year, forces who helped protect the country's Aug. 20 presidential election. McChrystal, who took over command in Afghanistan on June 15, delayed the release of the review so that it would not interfere with the vote.
Karzai leads vote tally
New vote tallies released Monday showed President Hamid Karzai with a strong lead over top challenger Abdullah Abdullah. Karzai had 45.8 percent of votes counted, while Abdullah had 33.2 percent. Ballots have been counted from almost half of the country's voting stations, meaning results could still change dramatically. Karzai will need 50 percent of the votes to avoid a two-man runoff.
Hundreds of allegations of fraud and voter intimidation threaten to mar the election, and female turnout was low. Voters who cast ballots faced retaliatory attacks from militants who told Afghans not to vote. Results are not expected to be finalized until mid- or late September, after officials work through the fraud allegations.
In an example of the extreme threats that voters faced, an Afghan man said Monday that Taliban militants cut off his nose and both ears as he tried to vote.
"I was on my way to a polling station when Taliban stopped me and searched me. They found my voter registration card," Lal Mohammad said from a hospital bed in Kabul. He said they cut off his nose and ears before beating him unconscious with a weapon.
"I regret that I went to vote," Mohammad said, crying and trying to hide his disfigured face. "What is the benefit of voting to me?"
Bolstering troop levels
The U.S. strategy in Afghanistan hinges on increasing the number of Afghan soldiers and police so U.S. forces can one day withdraw. Some 134,000 Afghan troops are to be trained by late 2011, but U.S. officials say that number will need to be greatly increased, an expansion that will be paid for by U.S. funds.
Afghanistan has long been seen as the "good" war by many in the United States, especially in comparison with U.S. efforts in Iraq, where U.S. troops are now drawing down. But some Democratic senators are beginning to question whether U.S. goals in Afghanistan are achievable, and when U.S. troops will be brought home.