Obama, Top Officials Meeting To Debate Afghan Strategy
September 30, 2009
By Heather Maher
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is convening a top-level meeting of his national security team at the White House to discuss the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and a request from the top U.S. and NATO commander there for as many as 40,000 additional troops.
The request from General Stanley McChrystal comes after a three-month review of the security situation in Afghanistan that McChrystal began in June when he was appointed to replace General David McKiernan.
McChrystal delivered a confidential, 66-page assessment on August 30 that, according to a leaked report, said more troops are needed before the end of the year or the U.S. mission would end in failure.
He noted that "while the situation is serious, success is achievable."
The September 30 White House meeting brings together all the principles in the U.S. national-security infrastructure, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrook, Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, the head of U.S. Central Command General David Petraeus, and National Security Adviser James Jones.
In an interview last week with "The New York Times," McChrystal said he had been given "absolute freedom to put in a candid assessment" by the White House and to ask for whatever resources he felt the U.S. mission needed to succeed.
According to the White House, that mission is to dismantle, disrupt, and destroy Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies, build up Afghan security and police forces, and prevent the establishment of safe havens for terrorists.
McChrystal's troop request comes as the Obama administration debates a strategy shift -- from one of gradually building up forces in Afghanistan to one focused on digging out Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, primarily with the use of unmanned spy planes and Special Forces units.
Support in the United States for the war is dropping both among the public and in Congress, where the harshest critics of a troop increase are from members of Obama's own Democratic Party.
Influential Democratic congressional leaders such as Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, favor speedier training of Afghan security forces before an increase in U.S troops is considered.
Shortly after taking office, Obama ordered an additional 17,000 troops and 4,000 trainers to the country, bringing the total number of U.S. forces there to 68,000.
Pentagon officials have said the White House won't consider McChrystal's troop request until it decides which strategy to pursue.
On September 29, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said this strategy review has been planned since March, when Obama announced his goals for the Afghan-Pakistan region.
Gibbs also said McChrystal's report makes the case that the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated more quickly than had been expected, and factors in the confusion caused by the ambiguity of last month's election, in which opponents of President Hamid Karzai claim major fraud.
In a speech to the Atlantic Council on September 28, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it is clear that if the United States and its NATO allies do not succeed in Afghanistan, the country will become "a terrorist camp."
The NATO chief painted a picture of a nuclear-armed Pakistan becoming severely destabilized and extremism spreading quickly through Central Asia and Europe.
"I have no illusions. None of this will be quick, and none of it will be easy. We will need to have patience. We will need more resources. And we will lose more young soldiers to the terrorist attacks of the Taliban," Rasmussen said. "But I fully agree with President Obama when he says that this is not a war of choice, but of necessity."
Rasmussen said he agreed with McChrystal's assessment that more troops are needed, saying "we have to do more now, if we want to do less later."
There are currently some 38,000 troops from NATO countries in Afghanistan and the Obama administration has been pushing members like Germany to contribute more.
On September 29, Rasmussen met at the White House with Obama, who described the meeting afterward as "fruitful." The U.S president said he and Rasmussen agreed that the war in Afghanistan is a team effort.
"This is not an American battle. This is a NATO mission as well, and we are working actively and diligently to consult with NATO at every step of the way," Obama said.
For his part, Rasmussen gave Obama his assurance that NATO will continue stand with U.S. forces.
"This alliance will stand united, and we will stay in Afghanistan as long as it takes to finish our job," he said.
In his interview with "The New York Times" last week, McChrystal addressed the growing debate in the United States over whether more American troops should be sent to fight.
He said a robust policy debate is warranted.
"We should not have any ambiguities, as a nation or a coalition," he said, adding, "At the end of the day, we're putting young people in harm's way."
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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