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US open to reconciling with Taliban: commander

Amid growing speculation McChrystal will ask President Barack Obama for more US troops, the general said he could not rule out such a request.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Aug 11, 2009
The top commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan on Tuesday vowed coalition forces would prevail in the war and said he was open to reconciling with rank-and-file insurgents.

"We will win. The Taliban won't win. But we will also have to deal through good and bad days, and good and bad months," General Stanley McChrystal told US National Public Radio.

The US commander's comments came after he told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published Monday that the Taliban had momentum in the war and that NATO-led forces had to "stop their initiative."

The insurgency has reached its most deadly level since the 2001 US-led invasion that toppled the Taliban regime, with a record 76 coalition soldiers killed last month.

McChrystal said he supported President Hamid Karzai's view that many insurgents were motivated by money and not ideology.

"I would absolutely be comfortable with fighters and lower level commanders making the decision to reintegrate into the Afghan political process under the Afghan constitution," he said.

As for reconciling with higher level figures in the insurgent leadership, McChrystal said "that's clearly up to him (Karzai)."

Karzai, who took office after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 and is favored to win in elections on August 20, has so far failed in his bid to persuade large numbers of insurgents to lay down their arms and accept the country's constitution.

Asked about security for the elections in the volatile Helmand province, where thousands of US forces have deployed, McChrystal said most Afghans would have the opportunity to vote.

He said that "the vast percentage of voters in Helmand are going to have the option to vote" but added it was possible some would choose to stay away from the polls.

Amid growing speculation McChrystal will ask President Barack Obama for more US troops, the general said he could not rule out such a request.

And he said he would like to see more Afghan security forces though he said there was a misconception that Afghan troops were absent in southern provinces.

"The idea that there aren't Afghan National Army in there is incorrect," he said.

"Are there as many Afghan National Army as we'd like? No there are not. The Afghan National Army is still something that's growing in size," he said.

McChrystal, who is preparing a strategic assessment for Afghanistan due to be submitted by early September, is likely to urge a dramatic increase in Afghan security forces, analysts said.

Karzai said Monday he would double Afghanistan's security forces and push plans for Saudi-mediated peace talks with insurgents if he is elected for a second term.

There are more than 100,000 international soldiers in Afghanistan, with more than 60,000 from the US military.

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Afghan authorities said an insurgent attack on a military convoy Monday had killed at least five Afghan security personnel while the Polish army said one of its soldiers was missing. The attack in the central province of Ghazni comes amid a spike in insurgent violence that authorities fear could stop Afghans from casting their ballots in August 20 presidential and provincial council election ... read more

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