President Obama has determined that none of the options for Afghanistan prepared by his national security team are viable in their current form and asked for new recommendations, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Thursday.
“There is a little more work to do. I do think that we are getting toward the end of this process,” Mr. Gates told reporters in comments regarding leaked cables the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, wrote to Mr. Obama in recent days. Mr. Eikenberry argued against sending a large number of additional troops.
The president asked his aides to see “how can we combine some of the best features of several of the options to maximum good effect,” Mr. Gates said. One of the difficulties has been “how do we signal resolve and, at the same time, signal to the Afghans and the American people that this isn’t an open-ended commitment,” he added.
Mr. Eikenberry’s cables, leaked by senior administration officials late Wednesday, were reported to strongly criticize Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his corruption-tainted government. Sending tens of thousands more U.S. troops would only prop up that weak government, wrote the ambassador, a retired general and former top commander in Afghanistan.
The current commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has been an avid advocate of increasing troop levels. The cables publicly expose a rift among Mr. Obama’s advisers.
Mr. Obama is considering options that include adding 30,000 or more troops, in addition to 68,000 in the country now. The other three options on the table are ranges of troop increases, from a relatively small addition of forces to about 40,000, which Gen. McChrystal prefers, officials said.
One of the key issues the president wants clarified is when U.S. and NATO forces will turn over responsibility to the Afghans.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during a visit to London on Thursday that transfer of responsibility should begin within months.
“We can and should start next year to hand lead responsibility to Afghan forces in a coordinated way through NATO where conditions permit,” he said after meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
NATO members have been reluctant to contribute more troops to the war in Afghanistan, but Mr. Rasmussen said he was confident they will step up to the plate. Some nations say they are waiting for Mr. Obama to decide on U.S. troop levels before making any new commitments.
Mr. Eikenberry’s cables also underscored the lack of confidence many U.S. officials have in Mr. Karzai, who won a second term in office in a September election. About a third of Mr. Karzai’s votes were later judged by election officials to be fake.
Mr. Karzai has since pledged to crack down on corruption.