- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, will make a long-anticipated request for additional troops by Friday after the first major showdown between President Obama and his military advisers, U.S. defense officials said.

The showdown led Gen. McChrystal privately to tell his senior staff he would resign absent a clear commitment from Mr. Obama to implement the counterinsurgency strategy approved by the White House in March, two senior military officials with direct knowledge of the general’s remarks said. They spoke on condition that they not be named because they were discussing internal deliberations. One official said the general has been frustrated with the delay but has since told his staff he will stay in command.

The official told The Washington Times Wednesday that Gen. McChrystal would turn in to the Pentagon by Friday a formal request for between 10,000 and 40,000 more troops - covering three options for fighting in Afghanistan - and that he expects to testify soon before Congress.

“The general is going to turn in his request by Friday,” the official told The Times. “He is going to ask for more troops and is prepared to explain to Congress the reasons behind his assessment.”

The decision to allow Gen. McChrystal to request more troops defuses for now the biggest battle between Mr. Obama and his generals since he took office.

The bold private remarks by Gen. McChrystal were prompted by Mr. Obama’s recent decision to revisit the counterinsurgency strategy the general had been asked to develop and implement when he took charge in Afghanistan following the ouster of Gen. David McKiernan.

Mr. Obama made his doubts about the strategy public when he appeared on several talk shows on Sunday.

Mr. Obama told CNN’s State of the Union that he was asking himself and his advisers: “Are we pursuing the right strategy?”

On NBC’s Meet the Press, he said he would not send more troops to Afghanistan “until I’m satisfied that we’ve got the right strategy.”

A counterinsurgency strategy calls for protecting and assisting the local population in hopes they will provide information about terrorist hideouts and planning. In an assessment of Afghanistan that was leaked to The Washington Post on Monday, Gen. McChrystal made clear his dismay at the situation in the country and his belief that more troops would be necessary.

Gen. McChrystal and Gen. David Petraeus, the head of Central Command, have argued that effective counter-terrorism against al Qaeda is not possible without a successful counterinsurgency.

One of the U.S. officials who spoke to The Times said Gen. McChrystal “wants a recommitment from the president. He wants to know, ‘Is our strategy counterinsurgency?’”

Gen. McChrystal spoke with his staff on Wednesday in Kabul to inform them that rumors of his threatened resignation were not true and that he is “firmly committed to the war effort, the president and the mission” in Afghanistan, said Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis, spokesman for Gen. McChrystal.

Lt. Col. Sholtis spoke to The Times by phone from Kabul.

The White House review of Afghan strategy was prompted in part by concerns that Afghan President Hamid Karzai encouraged fraud in his country’s Aug. 20 presidential elections.

“There is one new factor and that is the election in Afghanistan,” said Bruce Riedel, who headed the Obama administration’s initial Afghanistan-Pakistan review last winter. “A counterinsurgency strategy needs a legitimate partner. Because of the fiasco of these elections, we are waiting to see if that will emerge.”

Many Democrats are also wary of sending more soldiers to Afghanistan in light of rising casualties. In the last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, has come out against sending more troops beyond the 68,000 Americans already scheduled to be there by the end of this year.

The influential chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, has asked for more time to review the strategy before agreeing to further increases in deployments.

The White House wavering has upset some in the military and the Republican party who have noted that Mr. Obama opposed the Iraq war but said the Afghan conflict was an underresourced “war of necessity” to defeat al Qaeda.

In a March 27 major speech on the Afghan war, the president “endorsed a counterinsurgency strategy and committed to resource it,” Mr. Riedel said. “It called for different parts of the U.S. government to draw up operational plans and implement them. Centcom and [the International Security Assistance Force, the U.S.-led NATO coalition] were supposed to come up with a counterinsurgency strategy.”

Mr. Riedel noted that the implementation was delayed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ decision to remove Gen. McKiernan and replace him with Gen. McChrystal.

Mr. Riedel said the picture of Afghanistan painted in the leaked McChrystal report was “a devastating indictment of the last seven years of American policy in Afghanistan” and that the assumption was clear in the assessment that more troops would be needed to implement a counterinsurgency strategy.

Lt. Col. Sholtis said of the assessment, “It was a classified document intended to inform major decisions by his chain of command, and unfortunately it was leaked before it had been reviewed and discussed by the appropriate U.S. and NATO officials. Gen. McChrystal therefore wants to respect the original intent of the document as best he can by avoiding public comment while deliberations continue.”

The Web site, the Long Wars Journal, reported Monday that there were rumors about Gen. McChrystal threatening to resign. The site based the report in part on a story written by the McClatchy Newspaper group which quoted unnamed officials predicting that Gen. McChrystal would resign if he did not receive more resources for Afghanistan.

“Basically, time is running out and McChrystal needs an an answer to implement his strategy,” one of the U.S. defense officials said.

The other senior military official added, “Petraeus is frustrated, McChrystal is frustrated and the guys on the Joint Staff don’t know which way to go.”

Mr. Riedel said he had no knowledge of internal deliberations on Afghanistan now but that “I would advise everyone to take a deep breath and give the president a little time to maneuver.”

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