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US calls for fresh Afghan plan

KABUL, Aug 31 – The US and NATO commander in Afghanistan on Monday submitted a review into the nearly eight-year war, calling for a revised strategy to defeat the Taliban and reverse the country’s "serious" situation.

General Stanley McChrystal’s review, compiled since he took up command in mid-June, has been widely anticipated under US President Barack Obama’s sweeping new strategy putting Afghanistan at the heart of his foreign policy.

The United States has for months called for new thinking in Afghanistan to counter record numbers of attacks since the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime and the Pentagon dismissed McChrystal’s predecessor last May.

McChrystal sent his strategic assessment to the head of US Central Command General David Petraeus for comment en route to the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the military said.

"The situation in Afghanistan is serious but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort," said McChrystal in a statement.

It said his assessment seeks to implement Obama’s strategy "to reduce the capability and will of the insurgents, Al Qaeda and transnational extremists" as well as develop Afghan forces and improve governance and development.

Already 2009 has become the deadliest year for foreign troops in Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime and implanted a new government, and August has been the deadliest month for US troops here.

McChrystal has not called for more troops in this review, but a second analysis, due to be presented to Obama in late September, was likely to call for more frontline troops, a foreign diplomat in Kabul said.

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McChrystal would call for a "deepening partnership" with other nations engaged in Afghanistan as the United States currently bears two-thirds of the military and civilian burden, he said on condition of anonymity.

The military commitment was likely to be rebalanced over the coming three to five years, he said, gradually moving from frontline engagement to training of Afghan security forces.

Military leaders in Afghanistan have said the gradual shift in emphasis from frontline foreign engagement to training of local army and police and development would allow a drawing down of international troops.

This would conform to McChrystal’s theory of counter-insurgency, outlined to troops in a seven-page document released last week.

McChrystal ordered the more than 100,000 Western troops under his command to change their mindset to win the fight against insurgents, who have become more virulent and deadly since stepped up NATO-led operations in recent months.

"It’s not about gaining ground, it’s about gaining the population," the foreign diplomat said, reflecting the core of McChrystal’s vision.

"Insurgents are becoming more and more asymmetric in their tactics. Where they used to be all about taking ground, now they are moving into terrorist tactics — IEDs (improvised explosive devices which claim most military lives), attacking the civilian population.

"They can deny security but they can’t provide it. The key issue is can we provide the ground and create enough security so that the population evolves in its allegiance," he said.

US military commanders in Afghanistan reportedly told the US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, this month that they did not have enough troops to do their job.

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Obama ordered an extra 21,000 troops to Afghanistan earlier this year and there are around 62,000 American forces now in the country.

Elections held on August 20 as part of Western-led efforts to put war-torn, impoverished and corrupt Afghanistan on the path to democracy were overshadowed by poor turnout and fraud, thanks to a systematic Taliban campaign.

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