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Getting Fed Up

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser is the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in the eastern sector of Afghanistan, known as RC-East. That puts him in charge of an Afghan population of nearly nine million, spread out across an area about the size of Pennsylvania — if Pennsylvania were pockmarked by extremely high mountains and shared 450 miles of amorphous border with one of the most dangerous, jihadist-filled places on the planet, Pakistan.

He has about 21,000 troops under his command – the majority of U.S. troops in the whole country, along with 2,000 from Poland, Turkey, Australia, the Czech Republic, France, Egypt and New Zealand. He just gave an interview to Pentagon journalists, diplomatically saying that 21,000 troops for a population of nine million won’t cut it.

Here’s Schloesser, quoted in The Los Angeles Times:

Army Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, who took command of American-controlled eastern Afghanistan in April, said that coalition forces were at no risk of losing in Afghanistan without additional brigades. But he said that continuing with the current level of about 34,000 U.S. troops for an extended period would result in a “slow win.

It’s not the way that I think the Afghans, the international community and the American people would like to see us conduct this war,” Schloesser said in a video conference with reporters at the Pentagon. “It will take longer, the way we are doing it right now. . . . I’d like to speed that up.

“A slow win” is a delicate phrase. Schloesser clearly signaled his dissatisfaction with the paltry troop numbers at his disposal. In a few days, Gen. David Petraeus, co-architect of the Iraq/Afghanistan rotation, will take control at U.S. Central Command. It’s a safe bet that Schloesser’s comments are aimed at Petraeus, to remind him there’s another war that requires attention.

To give a sense of what’s at stake: in the West, the United Nations is reporting 90 civilian deaths from one of the bloodiest air strikes in the seven-year war. Today, in time for the morning rush at the chow hall, Stars And Stripes ran a front-page picture of an Afghan with his fist pumped over the headline “Fed Up In Afghanistan: Widespread Disillusionment With Government, U.S. Forces Resulting In Fear, Fury.”

The Associated Press got a preview of a non-governmental organization study of 15,200 citizens across all but one of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. It found that as many as 73 percent say “they cannot go to the government for help unless they have money or power.” Personal debt is 20 percent higher than in 2007.

It’s been widely pointed out that the Afghan people have welcomed the NATO presence in a nearly unprecedented manner for a famously xenophobic people. But patience depends on a sense of legitimacy, and legitimacy depends on a sense of competence and trust.

All that appears to be a diminishing resource here.

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