McChrystal's advisors believe that the United States has essentially been tricked into focusing on the wrong target. He often compares the war to the jousting between a matador (the Taliban) and a bull (international forces), they say.
"The cape is what the insurgents want security forces to react to -- they fire from compounds in built up areas and we react by using overwhelming force, putting civilians at risk," said a senior advisor to McChrystal.
"We have been chasing the wrong target by going after the insurgents directly, because they know we'll create more insurgents by our actions," the advisor said. "The shift has to be population-focused, in effect separating the insurgents from the people without causing harm to the innocent civilians."
But to spread security, U.S. commanders in Afghanistan believe thousands of more troops are needed. Initially McChrystal's assessment team recommended sending an additional four to six brigades of troops to Afghanistan -- representing at least 10,000 troops, according to U.S. officials. But that suggestion received tremendous "pushback" from the White House security team, according to the officials.
Today in an interview with Bloomberg News, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said when he first saw a draft report earlier this year, he questioned McChrystal whether additional troops would help.
"One of the questions I asked him to address in the assessment was the implications of significant additional forces in terms of the foreign footprint in Afghanistan, whether the Afghans will see this as us becoming more of an occupier or their partner," Gates said.
Gates said he hadn't yet seen the final review.
"I think first we all need to look at the assessment and see how he thinks things are going, what things are needed and then we will turn our attention to whatever resource requirements he's put forward," the defense secretary said.
What is not controversial, according to U.S. officials, is a request to raise the training goals of Afghan soldiers and police to 250,000 and 134,000, respectively. The review calls for a transformation in how those forces will be trained. U.S. and Afghan officers, as well as enlisted men, will be physically placed much closer together.
"They're going to train together, eat together, sleep together," a McChrystal aide said.
McChrystal told Afghan officials last week that the Afghan army could be ready to assume primary responsibility for securing the country within three years, but that police would need much more time, according to an official who attended the meeting.
Although it's been widely discussed and accepted, the proposal to increase the forces will cost as much as $17 billion per year for the next five years -- nearly the same amount as the entire annual Afghan GDP, according to one of McChrystal's civilian advisors. And the costs could be questioned by a Congress increasingly aware of the slipping popularity of the war.
According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, even though approval of President Obama's handling of the war is still high, more than half of Americans now call it "not worth fighting" and support for reducing U.S. troop deployments there is up sharply.
Asked to assess whether the United States is winning in Afghanistan, just 42 percent said yes, while 36 percent said no.