- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 8, 2009

President Obama marked the eighth anniversary of the Afghanistan war Wednesday with the third meeting of his war council, as insurgent Taliban forces and the Pakistani military voiced opposition to U.S. involvement in their affairs.

Mr. Obama convened top military and government officials, along with political advisers, in the secure White House situation room for a nearly three-hour session that focused primarily on the wars impact on Pakistan and the influx of terror groups there.

The White House said the meetings so far have focused on broad strategy and have not yet moved to the specifics of how many more troops might be sent to supplement the 66,000 already in Afghanistan. But officials admitted that the president and his top advisers have had in hand since last week the specific numerical troop request from the top U.S. general in Afghanistan.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the “request for forces” from Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal “offer[s] a range of options, but ultimately provide[s] one recommendation.” That advice is believed to be that the president send 40,000 more troops.

Mr. Morrell said the president requested the report from Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and received it last week, before leaving for a trip to Copenhagen, where he met with Gen. McChrystal on Friday. The Pentagon spokesman said that the “informal report” had “bypassed the chain of command,” but that military leaders were still being consulted.

“The chain of command has been represented in every one of the discussions that has taken place, and it will be represented throughout the rest of this process,” Mr. Morrell said.

“The only thing that has not taken place thus far is them formally weighing in terms of officially vetting and commenting on it.”

Mr. Morrell added that Mr. Gates requested that the report be sent to him directly before it had gone through the vetting process within the U.S. military and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) “to avoid any opportunity for leaking of this before the secretary - before the president had an opportunity to see it himself.”

Gen. McChrystal’s previous report, which said the situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating and would need more troops, but did not mention a number, was leaked to the news media in September.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, that country’s military expressed “serious concern” that $7 billion in U.S. aid to the country over the next five years may come with too many strings. The aid is still awaiting Mr. Obama’s signature.

The Associated Press reported Monday that only $500 million of $6.6 billion in U.S. aid to Pakistan from 2002 to 2008 made it to the military, its intended beneficiary, and was instead spent for domestic reasons by the government. The U.S. wants Pakistan to revamp and strengthen its military to protect against the Taliban threat on its western border with Afghanistan.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, however, said the situation in his country “in the last year and a half has changed dramatically.”

The Taliban, meanwhile Wednesday, issued a statement disavowing transregional ambitions, which was picked up by the SITE Institute, a U.S. group that monitors extremist-group communication.

“We did not have any agenda to harm other countries, including Europe, nor do we have such agenda today,” the statement said. “Still, if you want to turn the country of the proud and pious Afghans into a colony, then know that we have an unwavering determination and have braced for a prolonged war.”

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