By Matthew Cole
Two Russian veterans of the Soviet Afghan war privately warned Gen. Stanley McChrystal last summer that the key to winning the war would be to pay off the Taliban. The official who wrote up a summary of two meetings between the Russians and U.S. military commanders also wrote that one of the "key take-aways" from the meetings was that extra troops were not the key to victory.
ABCNews.com has obtained a document summarizing the discussions between two veterans of the Soviet Union's failed Afghan war and McChrystal, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, during an August 2009 video teleconference. The document also summarizes a private in-person meeting in Moscow between the two Russians and American Brig. Gen. Henry Nowak.
The video teleconference was intended to give McChrystal the Russian perspective on how they fought the war against the Afghan mujahideen, and provide advice on how the Americans could fight a better war against the Taliban. One of the two Russians was Vladimir Shabanov, a former Soviet official who was stationed in Afghanistan for ten years, while the other was Soviet war hero Lt. Gen Ruslan Sultanovich Aushev, a Muslim from the Ingush ethnic group.
Chief among the Russians' advice to McChrystal was "money talks." The Russians suggested that the Americans build mosques for Afghans and pay mullahs to preach a Western-friendly form of Islam. "Tribal leaders and regular folks can be bought off," the Russians told their American counterparts.
The written summary of the meetings also says that one of the five "Key Take-Aways" was that "[m]ore troops won't make a difference."
"The Russians entered with 3 X divisions," said the summary, "and as 'thing escalated' would up with 120,000 in country, plus at least equal that number in the neighboring Soviet Republics."
Another "take-away" was that the international coalition was better positioned to win because it has international support and the Soviets did not.
The video teleconference came as Gen. McChrystal, who became commander of the international forces in Afghanistan in June 2009, was assessing the war and how to move forward. Just days after the video teleconference meeting, McChrystal submitted a classified report to Defense Secretary Robert Gates giving three options for the American presence in Afghanistan, two of which involved adding American troops. President Obama announced on Dec. 1 during a speech at West Point that the U.S. would be adding 30,000 more troops.
Lt. Col. Edward Sholtis, a spokesman for McChrystal, told ABCNEWS.com that McChrystal was nearing his decision on the assessment by the time of the meeting, but added that McChrystal "is an open-minded and voracious student of history."
Sholtis also asserted that the summary of the two meetings was not written by McChrystal or his staff, but seemed to be written by a Defense Intelligence Agency official, Bruce Fitton. Sholtis said that the "opinions and conclusions in the document appear to be those of Mr. Fitton and (to the degree that they're accurately represented) those of Lt. Gen. Aushev and Mr. Shabanov."
Fitton could not be reached for comment, but a Pentagon spokesperson asserted that Fitton was not the author of the summary, despite the heading, which states, "Summarized by Bruce Fitton." The spokesperson did not reveal who authored the document, but also did not dispute its authenticity.