Obama weighing Afghan war options
WASHINGTON – A top U.S. commander’s public plea for more troops in Afghanistan prompted a mild rebuke Sunday from the White House national security adviser, as the administration heads into a second week of negotiations over its evolving Afghan strategy.
Retired Gen. James Jones said that decisions on how best to stabilize Afghanistan and beat back the insurgency must extend beyond troop levels to development and governance. And the request by Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, for up to 40,000 more troops is just one of three key elements advisers must consider as they meet this week to plot the way ahead.
He added that it is “better for military advice to come up through the chain of command,” rather than off a public stage, referring to McChrystal’s speech in London last week making a case for more troops. But Jones also beat back suggestions that the open campaign could jeopardize the general’s job.
McChrystal “is in it for the long haul,” Jones said. “I don’t think this is an issue.”
Jones’ comments came amid growing government fissures over whether to send thousands of additional forces to the fight, and just hours after militant forces overwhelmed U.S. troops at two outposts near the Pakistan border, killing eight Americans.
Obama’s senior advisers are set to meet twice this week to debate the Afghan strategy, juggling political pressure from the left to scale back combat troops with arguments from military leaders, including Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that additional forces are needed to secure the country and enable government and economic development advancements.
Jones said that Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling to the Taliban, and he downplayed fears that the insurgency could set up a renewed sanctuary for al-Qaida. McChrystal has said that insurgents are gaining ground and the U.S. is in danger of failing unless more forces are sent to the fight.
“I don’t foresee the return of the Taliban. Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling,” Jones said. “The al-Qaida presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.”
He said Obama has received McChrystal’s request for additional troops, and the force numbers will be part of a larger discussion that will include efforts to beef up the size and training of the Afghan army and police, along with economic development and governance improvements in Afghanistan.
“It would be, I think, unfortunate if we let the discussion just be about troop strength. There is a minimum level that you have to have, but there’s, unfortunately, no ceiling to it,” Jones said.
Obama is considering a range of ideas for changing course in Afghanistan, including scaling back, staying put and sending more troops.
U.S. officials also are waiting for the results of the Afghan elections, as disturbing reports of fraud grow. Peter Galbraith, who was dismissed last week as the deputy special envoy in Afghanistan, argued in a Washington Post opinion piece Sunday that the international community must correct problems that allowed the fraudulent voting, including replacing election staff.
Galbraith, who was fired in the wake of a dispute with his boss over how to deal with fraud charges in the Aug. 20 balloting, has charged that as much as 30 percent of President Hamid Karzai’s votes were fraudulent.
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