1 Sep 2009

Top general urges change in Afghanistan strategy

5:55 pm on 1 September 2009

America's top general in Afghanistan has said the situation there is serious, but the eight-year-old war could still be won with a change in strategy.

General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of Western forces in the country, says the US and its allies must change strategy and boost cooperation.

He gave no indication as to whether he would ask for more troops but is widely expected to do so in the coming weeks.

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

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said any recommendation for more forces would have to address his concerns that the foreign military presence in Afghanistan could become too large and be seen by Afghans as a hostile occupying force.

General McChrystal has 103,000 troops under his command, including 63,000 Americans, half of whom arrived this year as part of an escalation strategy begun under George W. Bush and ramped up under President Barack Obama.

The Western force is set to rise to 110,000 including 68,000 Americans by year's end.

Election result awaited

The general's report comes as Afghans are still awaiting the outcome of the 20 August presidential poll.

New, partial results released on Monday showed President Hamid Karzai maintaining a lead over his main rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, but still without the outright majority needed to avoid a second round run-off.

The results, with nearly half of polling stations counted, showed Mr Karzai leading with 45.9% against 33.3% for Mr Abdullah.

Results yet to be tallied from the south, the heartland of Karzai's fellow ethnic Pashtuns, could put Mr Karzai over the requirement for a single-round win, but may be challenged by his rival, who has alleged ballot fraud.