As public support for the war in Afghanistan erodes, President Obama soon may face two equally unattractive choices: increase U.S. troops levels to beat back a resilient enemy, or stick with the 68,000 already committed and risk the political fallout if that’s not enough.
Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is completing an assessment of what he needs to win the fight there. That review, however, won’t specifically address force levels, according to Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
But military officials privately believe Gen. McChrystal may ask for as many as 20,000 additional forces to get an increasingly difficult security situation in Afghanistan under control. One leading Republican already is saying Gen. McChrystal will be pressured to ask for fewer troops than he requires.
“I think there are great pressures on General McChrystal to reduce those estimates,” Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said in an interview broadcast Sunday. “I don’t think it’s necessarily from the president. I think it’s from the people around him and others that I think don’t want to see a significant increase in our troops’ presence there.”
Adm. Mullen on Sunday described the situation in Afghanistan as “serious and deteriorating,” he but refused to say whether additional forces would be needed.
“Afghanistan is very vulnerable in terms of (the) Taliban and extremists taking over again, and I don’t think that threat’s going to go away,” he said.
Adm. Mullen also expressed concern about diminishing support among a war-weary American public as the United States and NATO enter the ninth year of combat and reconstruction operations.
In joint TV interviews, Adm. Mullen and U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry said last week’s presidential election in Afghanistan was historic, given the threats of intimidation voters faced as they headed to polling stations. It could be several weeks, however, before it’s known whether incumbent Hamid Karzai or one of his challengers won.
“We’re not sure exactly what the level of voter turnout was,” said Mr. Eikenberry, a retired three-star Army general. “Taliban intimidation, especially in southern Afghanistan, certainly limited those numbers.”
Charges of fraud in the election are extensive enough to possibly sway the final result, and the number of allegations is likely to grow, according to the commission investigating the complaints.
The independent Electoral Complaints Commission has received 225 complaints since the start of Thursday’s vote, including 35 allegations that are “material to the election results,” said Grant Kippen, the head of the U.N.-backed body.
Mr. Obama’s strategy for defeating the Taliban and al Qaeda is a work in progress as more U.S. troops are sent there, Adm. Mullen said.
Three years ago, the United States had about 20,000 forces in the country. Today, it has triple that, on the way to 68,000 by year’s end, when all the extra 17,000 troops that Mr. Obama announced in March are to be in place. An additional 4,000 troops are arriving to help train Afghan forces. More civilian workers are going as well to help rebuild Afghanistan’s economy and government.
Adm. Mullen said the security situation in Afghanistan needs to be reversed in the next 12 to 18 months.View Entire Story
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