- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 11, 2009

President Obama is considering four options for realigning U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, his spokesman said Tuesday, while military officials said the choices involve several ways the president could employ additional U.S. forces next year.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Mr. Obama will discuss the four scenarios with his national security team Wednesday. Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Fort Hood, Texas, Mr. Gibbs would not offer details about those options. He insisted that Mr. Obama has not made a decision about troop deployments.

Mr. Gibbs said that anybody who says Mr. Obama has made a decision “doesn’t have in all honesty the slightest idea what they’re talking about. The president’s yet to make a decision” about troop levels or other aspects of the revised U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama spoke Tuesday at a memorial service for those killed in the shooting rampage at Fort Hood.

Wednesday’s meeting will include representatives of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who would be critical in procuring any new forces Mr. Obama may approve. Military officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the decision is pending, said the military services are developing presentations to explain how various force levels could be used in Afghanistan and how various deployment schedules could work, given recent promises to give soldiers more rest time at home.

Military officials have said Mr. Obama is nearing a decision to add tens of thousands of troops to Afghanistan, though probably not quite the 40,000 sought by his top general there.

Mr. Gibbs said Tuesday that a decision still is weeks away. He had earlier said no announcement is expected until late this month, when the president returns from an extended diplomatic trip to Asia.

Administration officials said Monday the expected deployment would probably begin in January with a mission to stiffen the defense of 10 key cities and towns.

An Army brigade that had been training for deployment to Iraq that month may be at or near the vanguard. The brigade, based at Fort Drum in upstate New York, has been told it will not go to Iraq as planned but has been given no new mission yet.

Military officials said Mr. Obama will have choices that include a phased addition of up to 40,000 troops over six months or more next year, based on security conditions and the decisions of NATO allies.

Several officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision has not been made, also said that Mr. Obama’s announcement would be much broader than the mathematics of troop numbers, which have dominated the U.S. debate.

It soon will be three months since Afghan commander Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal reported to Mr. Obama that the U.S. mission was headed for failure without the addition of about 40,000 troops.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because final plans have not been disclosed, dubbed the likely troop increase as “McChrystal Light” because it would fall short of his request. They also said additional small infusions of troops could be deployed next spring and summer.

The more gradual buildup, the officials said, would allow time to construct needed housing and add equipment needed for transporting the expanded force.

Besides being sent to cities and towns, the new forces would be stationed to protect important roads and other key infrastructure.

As he makes his decision, Mr. Obama told ABC News that he wanted to make sure “that if we are sending additional troops that the prospects of a functioning Afghan government are enhanced, that the prospects of al Qaeda being able to attack the U.S. homeland are reduced.”

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