As tensions mount over the best way forward in Afghanistan, top aides say President Obama is adamant about coming up with a new plan before deciding on troop levels.
Rising violence and the resurgence of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan have put the Obama administration on defense as the war enters its ninth year. “Until the president’s review of this early in the administration, there hadn’t been a strategy, a coordinated strategy to deal with both Afghanistan and this very dangerous region of the world for many, many years. And that’s what the president’s intent on getting right,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. The president has received a document from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, officially asking for up to 40,000 more U.S. troops, aides said. Obama and his national advisers could start reviewing that resource request as early as Friday, Gibbs said. The discussion of troop levels appears to be a departure from the administration’s insistence that the Afghanistan strategy must be decided before any resources can be considered. But Gibbs said the discussion of troop levels did not mean that would be decided first. “The president is very content not to do this backwards. Not to pick a number of troops and devise a strategy, but to go through this in a rigorous way,” he said.
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“We are not prejudging the outcome of the discussion based on some range of resources.” Gibbs said that in the private meetings so far, Obama has already shot down the possibility of the U.S. pulling out of the war. McChrystal has taken his case for more troops to the public, much to the dismay of other top advisers who wish to keep the ongoing talks behind closed doors. “It is imperative that all of us taking part in these deliberations — civilians and military alike — provide our best advice to the president candidly but privately,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said earlier this week. Another top Obama adviser confided to CNN that the president has privately instructed aides to be “as vocal as you can in private and as mum as you can in public.” Gibbs insists there’s no tension between the parties in the discussion. But even among Obama’s inner circle, there’s a variety of opinions. Vice President Joe Biden has pointedly challenged McChrystal over his proposal to send thousands of more troops, administration sources said. Biden has intensely pushed his own proposal to keep U.S. troop levels where they are and to focus the mission more on rooting out al Qaeda and Taliban fighters with predator drones and special forces raids in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the sources said. But sources also say Biden has gotten pushback in the meetings from principals who said his ideas are problematic. As the Obama administration hashes out internal differences, top Republicans and some moderate-to-conservative Democrats are calling for the president to listen to McChrystal. “I really think that the president’s going to have to listen to Gen. McChrystal. He’s his man. He’s his pick,” said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Missouri. “This is a matter of national security.”
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.” The 8-year-old 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.