Top US general calls for new strategy in Afghanistan

General Stanley McChrystal calls for focus upon civilian hearts and minds

General Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, yesterday called for a new military policy in the country, saying that "serious" change was needed to achieve victory.

In a report sent to the Pentagon and Nato headquarters, McChrystal acknowledged that the last eight years had been disastrous, and said that the focus should be upon winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan population, not direct engagement with militants.

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

The recommendations came as it was announced that two more British soldiers had been killed, bringing to 19 the number of British troops killed in August alone. 2009 has been the deadliest year for foreign troops since fighting began in 2001.

The report is expected to pave the way for McChrystal to request more troops, in addition to the 108,000 international troops already there. It is not thought that Britain will announce a major increase, regardless of what the US does.

He has already ordered his troops not to drop bombs where there is a high risk of civilian casualties, and has shifted the focus from destroying poppy fields to attacking drug traffickers.

However, there is still a long way to go in the battle for hearts and minds. Yesterday it was reported that Western and Afghan officials have admitted that widespread and systematic fraud during the presidential election has undermined the legitimacy of any future government.

David Kilcullen, counter-insurgency expert and advisor to Nato, said that the Afghan government has failed to provide basic services such as hospitals, security, and courts, allowing the Taliban to establish its own. He said: "A government that is losing to a counter-insurgency isn't being outfought, it is being outgoverned."