‘‘Starting now, you've got to step it up,’’ he said he’s now telling them.
Charlton and other U.S. commanders interviewed recently in Kabul and at several remote outposts in eastern Afghanistan said they see marked improvement in the performance and confidence of Afghan forces this year.
Roger Noble, an Australian brigadier general who is a deputy operations chief for the international coalition, said he sees ‘‘pockets of excellence,’’ but others see mediocrity and worse in the wider pool of Afghan forces. Noble acknowledged that Afghan soldiers are sometimes disillusioned with superiors whose corruption saps morale.
Some U.S. commanders express worry that no matter how much better the Afghan forces get before most Western forces go home in 2014, it could all be for naught if the Afghan government fails to strengthen its legitimacy in the eyes of ordinary Afghans.
Adding to a sense of unease is anger over a rising number of killings of U.S. and coalition troops by Afghan soldiers and police out of personal pique or in apparent sympathy with the Taliban. At least 57 coalition personnel, mostly Americans, have been killed so far this year in 40 ‘‘insider attacks.’’ The latest was Thursday, when two U.S. servicemen were killed by a gunman in an Afghan police uniform.
After a spurt of insider attacks in August and September, one of Congress’ most vocal advocates of pursuing the war, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was so fed up that he called for a re-evaluation of the Obama administration’s troop withdrawal plan, saying it might need to be speeded up. He later said that was a bad option.
American public support for the war has dropped precipitously during Obama’s term in the White House.
A Pew Research Center poll in early October found that 60 percent of respondents favored removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible, with 35 percent saying they should stay until the country is stable. That’s a nearly complete reversal from a September 2008 Pew Research poll that showed 33 percent wanted troops out as soon as possible and 61 percent said they should stay until the country has stabilized.
Robert Burns can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/robertburnsAP