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Obama adviser downplays threat of al Qaeda haven
Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling to the Taliban, President Obama’s national security adviser said Sunday as he downplayed fears that the insurgency could set up a renewed sanctuary for al Qaeda.
Retired Gen. James L. Jones’ comments came hours after militant forces stormed a pair of remote outposts near the Pakistan border, killing eight Americans, and amid growing government fissures over whether to send thousands of additional forces to the fight.
Mr. Obama’s senior advisers are set to meet twice this week to debate the administration’s evolving Afghan strategy, juggling political pressure from the left to scale back combat troops with an urgent call from military commanders to add forces to secure the country and enable government and economic development advancements.
Related TWT article: CURL: Obama distractions sideline Afghan plan
Those fractures were evident as Gen. Jones delivered a mild rebuke to Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, for making public the call for more forces, saying that it is “better for military advice to come up through the chain of command.” But he also beat back suggestions that the open campaign could jeopardize the general’s job.
Gen. McChrystal “is in it for the long haul,” Gen. Jones said. “I don’t think this is an issue.”
Gen. Jones tried to dial back fears stoked last week by Mr. McChrystal, who said in a London speech that more U.S. troops are needed because insurgents are gaining ground. The United States, Gen. McChrystal said, 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,” Gen. Jones said. “The al Qaeda 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 Mr. Obama has received Gen. 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,” Gen. Jones said.
Mr. Obama is considering a range of ideas for changing course in Afghanistan, including scaling back, staying put and sending more troops to fight the insurgency.
U.S. officials also are waiting for the results of the Afghan elections, as disturbing reports of fraud grow. Peter Galbraith, a U.S. diplomat who was dismissed last week as the deputy special U.N. envoy in Afghanistan, argued in an opinion piece in The Washington Post on Sunday that the international community must correct problems that allowed the fraudulent voting, including replacing election staff.
Mr. Galbraith, who was fired in wake of a dispute with his boss over how to deal with fraud charges in the Aug. 20 balloting, has charged that as many as 30 percent of the votes reported for President Hamid Karzai were fraudulent.
Arguments on the U.S. strategy and troop requirements were escalating among lawmakers.
By Tom Fitton
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