WASHINGTON – The Pentagon’s top military officer oversaw a secret war game this month to evaluate the two primary military options that have been put forward by the Pentagon and are being weighed by the Obama administration as part of a broad-based review of the faltering Afghanistan war, senior military officials said.
The exercise, led by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, examined the likely outcome of inserting 44,000 more troops into the country to conduct a full-scale counterinsurgency effort aimed at building a stable Afghan government that can control most of the country. It also examined adding 10,000 to 15,000 more soldiers and Marines as part of an approach that the military has dubbed “counterterrorism plus.”
Both options were drawn from a detailed analysis prepared by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the senior commander in Afghanistan, and were forwarded to President Obama in recent weeks by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The Pentagon war game did not formally endorse either course; rather, it tried to gauge how Taliban fighters, the Afghan and Pakistani governments and NATO allies might react to either of the scenarios.
One of the exercise’s key assumptions is that an increase of 10,000 to 15,000 troops would not give U.S. commanders the forces they need to take back havens from the Taliban commanders in southern and western Afghanistan, where shadow insurgent governors collect taxes and run court systems based on Islamic sharia law.
McChrystal’s analysis has drawn widespread support inside the Pentagon. It suggests that 44,000 troops would be needed to drive Taliban forces from populated areas and to hold them until Afghan troops and government officials can take the place of U.S. and NATO forces.
The administration’s internal deliberations have emphasized that unless the Afghan government dramatically improves its performance, the Taliban will continue to find support. Administration officials said Obama’s decision will consider a much broader range of options than the number of troops.