August 31, 2009 / 9:18 AM / 10 years ago

Commander delivers Afghan review, no word on troops

KABUL (Reuters) - The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is delivering his long-awaited review of strategy on Monday, a spokeswoman said, but there was no hint in public as to whether he would ask for more troops.

A U.S. soldier from the 3-71 Cavalry fires his weapon during a gun-battle with Taliban fighters in the village of Bargematal, Nuristan province, August 25, 2009. REUTERS/Oleg Popov

Lieutenant Commander Christine Sidenstricker, media officer for U.S. and NATO-led forces, said the document was being sent to U.S. Central Command (CentCom), which is responsible for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. She gave no details of its contents.

The review is expected to spell out a completely revised strategy for conducting the war, which Barack Obama considers the main foreign policy priority of his young presidency.

U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal has been working on the review of strategy in Afghanistan since Obama put him in charge of forces there in June.

The review is not expected to make firm recommendations about future troop strength but will form the basis for any such changes to be made in coming weeks — a politically fraught decision that could mark a turning point in the Obama presidency.

McChrystal now commands more than 100,000 Western troops in Afghanistan, including 63,000 Americans, more than half of whom arrived this year as part of an escalation strategy begun under outgoing President George W. Bush and ramped up under Obama.

Since taking command, McChrystal has adjusted the focus of Western forces from hunting down insurgents to trying to protect the Afghan population, borrowing in part from U.S. tactics in Iraq developed under CentCom commander General David Petraeus.

His review is expected to suggest concentrating forces in more heavily populated areas, and also stepping up efforts to train Afghan soldiers and police.

The existing force is set to rise to 110,000, including 68,000 Americans, by the end of this year, under plans for reinforcements requested by McChrystal’s predecessor, General David McKiernan.

Speculation has swirled about whether McChrystal will conclude he needs still more troops to achieve the objective, or whether U.S. commanders and political leaders will agree to allow a further escalation.

The additional U.S. forces that have arrived so far have pushed out into formerly Taliban-held territory, especially over the past two months.

Along with British troops, they have been taking by far the biggest casualties of the 8-year-old war, leading to political pressure back home.

This year has already become the deadliest for foreign forces of the war. More Western troops have died in Afghanistan since March than in the entire period from 2001-2004.

Some U.S. Congress members from Obama’s Democratic Party have already said that it is time to consider drawing down forces, and leaders of other NATO countries also face skepticism back home over the mission.

Editing by Paul Tait

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