"Taliban Are Winning: U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Warns of Rising Casualties." Thus ran the startling headline on the front-page of The Wall Street Journal. The lead paragraph ran thus:
"The Taliban have gained the upper hand in Afghanistan, the top American commander there said, forcing the U.S. to change its strategy in the eight-year-old conflict by increasing the number of troops in heavily populated areas like the volatile southern city of Kandahar, the insurgency's spiritual home."
Source for the story: Gen. Stanley McChrystal himself.
The general's spokesman in Kabul was swift to separate him from that headline and lead. They "go too far," he said: The general does not believe the Taliban are winning or "gaining the upper hand."
Nevertheless, in the eighth year of America's war, the newly arrived field commander concedes that U.S. casualties, now at record levels, will continue to be high or go higher, and that our primary mission is no longer to run down and kill Taliban but to defend the Afghan population.
What went wrong?
Though U.S. force levels are higher than ever, the U.S. military situation is worse than ever. Though President Karzai is expected to win re-election, he is regarded as the ineffectual head of a corrupt regime. Though we have trained an Afghan army and police force of 220,000, twice that number are now needed. The Taliban are operating not only in the east, but in the north and west, and are taking control of the capital of the south, Kandahar.
NATO's response to Obama's request for more troops has been pathetic.
Europeans want to draw down the troops already sent. And Western opinion has soured on the war.
A poll commissioned by The Independent found 52 percent of Britons wanting to pull out and 58 percent believing the war is "unwinnable."
U.S. polls, too, have turned upside down.
A CBS-New York Times survey in late July found 33 percent saying the war was going well and 57 percent saying it was going badly or very badly. In a CNN poll in early August, Americans, by 54 percent to 41 percent, said they oppose the Afghan war that almost all Americans favored after 9-11 and Obama said in 2008 was the right war for America to fight.
The president is now approaching a decision that may prove as fateful for him and his country as was the one made by Lyndon Johnson to send the Marines ashore at Da Nang in December 1965.
Obama confronts a two-part question: