A day after meeting with congressional leaders from both parties, President Obama sat down Wednesday afternoon with his national security team, the third of five meetings on U.S. strategy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Rising violence and the resurgence of Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan have put the Obama administration on defense as the war enters its ninth year. The war has claimed the lives of 865 Americans and 570 allied troops, and U.S. public support for the conflict has slipped sharply in the past two years. There are 68,000 troops in the country now. The White House has been working with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, who is expected to call for 40,000 more troops to carry out a counterinsurgency strategy. It’s a proposal that top Republicans and some moderate-to-conservative Democrats who attended the meeting agree with. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Missouri, said Obama should approve the proposal. “I really think that the president’s going to have to listen to Gen. McChrystal. He’s his man. He’s his pick,” Skelton said. “This is a matter of national security.” Watch what congressional leaders had to say about the meeting
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Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Michigan, said Wednesday that whatever the president decides, he must lead “boldly in a mission that needs to be successful, outline his case to the American people and then align all of our resources … to execute the strategy that he selects.” But Republicans worry that time is not a luxury Obama can afford. “It’s pretty clear that time is not on our side,” said Sen. John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We need to act with deliberate haste.” Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, said Wednesday that delays and indecision leave troops “prey” to the Taliban. “Our troops are waiting for an answer. The Afghan people are waiting. Our enemy, the Taliban, is not waiting. They are encouraged by our inaction. They believe we will falter.” But the president faces deep divisions within his own administration as to which strategy to employ. Some including Vice President Joe Biden are advocating a counterterrorism strategy focusing on combating al Qaeda and the Taliban through the use of unmanned drones and special forces without involving additional troops. He also faces division within his party. Liberal Democrats oppose ramping up the war by sending more troops into the fight. Privately, a top House Democrat told Obama Tuesday that escalating the war could result in the United States being stuck in Afghanistan for another 20 years of open-ended conflict, according to Democrats and Republicans who attended the closed-door White House meeting. Two attendees said Rep. David Obey, powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, warned Obama that the United States could end up spending $1 trillion over the next 10 years in the war-torn country.
Obama made clear to Obey and other Democrats that pulling out of Afghanistan is not an option that’s on the table, even though that is likely to anger some fellow Democrats, the attendees said. A spokesman for Obey would not confirm or deny what the congressman said in the private meeting.