- The Washington Times - Monday, August 24, 2009

A pending assessment from the top military official in Afghanistan is likely to call for more troop deployments to address the deteriorating security conditions in Afghanistan, but the Republican Party’s most-visible national security spokesman said he suspects the books may be cooked.

Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is expected to present an assessment of the Afghanistan war to President Obama that could politically trap the president, already reeling in polls over the health care debate, between the military he commands and the antiwar base of his party.

Asked about the pending report on Sunday’s political talk shows, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not say whether the U.S. military would request additional combat forces, but said the situation was deteriorating and would not improve soon.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said he thinks some people around Mr. Obama are pushing Gen. McChrystal not to request the troops he needs.

“I think there are great pressures on General McChrystal to reduce those estimates,” Mr. McCain said in an interview broadcast Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “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.”

Reports in The Washington Times and elsewhere have estimated that the report would call for more than 20,000 additional troops. There are currently 62,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with 6,000 more expected to arrive by the end of the year.

The expected assessment would come as comparisons between Mr. Obama’s involvement in Afghanistan and the Vietnam War grow, causing some to fear “mission creep,” a term from the Vietnam War-era, could keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan indefinitely - a point possibly underscored by Adm. Mullen’s words Sunday that the threat of a Taliban takeover is not going away soon.

“Afghanistan is very vulnerable, in terms of Taliban and extremists taking over again, and I don’t think that threat’s going to go away,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“I think it is serious and it is deteriorating, and I’ve said that over the last couple of years, that the Taliban insurgency has gotten better, more sophisticated,” he said in his other appearance Sunday, on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Their tactics just in my recent visits out there and talking with our troops certainly indicate that.”

Mr. McCain, who lost the presidential bid to Mr. Obama in November, said any call for more troop deployments should be made public, debated thoroughly by Congress and based on military needs, not political ones - citing the success Gen. David H. Petraeus had with the 2007 troop surge in Iraq.

“I think that [General McChrystal] ought to do what General Petraeus did, and that’s decide on exactly the number he needs, and then we debate it, and the president makes the ultimate decision,” Mr. McCain said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Adm. Mullen downplayed the possibility of political finagling, saying on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “I’ve had this conversation with the president, who understands that whatever the mission is, it needs to be resourced correctly.”

Support for the war in Afghanistan, which is about to enter its ninth year, has waned among the American public, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll, which found that more than 50 percent of respondents don’t think the war is worth fighting.

“I recognize that we’ve been there over eight years,” he said. “But this is the first time we’ve really resourced a strategy on both the civilian and military sides. So in certain ways, we’re starting anew.”

In three years, the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan already has tripled, from about 20,000.

Adm. Mullen, who mentioned his service in the Vietnam War in answering the question, said in his NBC appearance that he was aware of those numbers and called them a matter “of concern.”

The comparison to Vietnam-era “mission creep” came after Adm. Mullen said the United States has to help Afghanistan “develop governance, so then we can develop an economy, and they can take over their own destiny.”

At that point, “Meet the Press” host David Gregory asked: “We’re rebuilding this nation?” Adm. Mullen agreed: “To a certain degree, there is some of that.”

Mr. Gregory then asked “in the Vietnam era, it was talk about mission creep; the idea of, you know, gradually surging up forces, having nation-building goals and - and running into challenges all along the way,” which he said would require many more troops in Afghanistan.

Adm. Mullen responded: “The focus on the people certainly is going to come by way of having, creating security for them, so their future can be brighter than it is right now. But it isn’t just that. I mean, part of the president’s strategy is to bring in a significant civilian capacity.”

He also denied that the United States would simply stay in Afghanistan for the sake of staying in Afghanistan.

“I don’t see this as a mission of endless drift. I think we know what to do,” he said.

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