- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2009

The commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, will make a long-anticipated request for additional troops by Friday after a controversy erupted over whether President Obama is still committed to a counterinsurgency strategy there.

(Corrected paragraph:) Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters Wednesday that the general would be submitting his request by Friday. That request could be, according to defense officials, for as many as 40,000 troops.

“There’s a lot that’s changed and a lot that needs to be analyzed,” he said. “I think it’s only appropriate for the commander in chief and his national security team to discuss these developments and adjust, if necessary, accordingly.”

A U.S. defense official told The Washington Times on 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 official spoke on the condition that he not be named because he was discussing internal deliberations.

In recent days, Mr. Obama has begun to voice doubts about the counterinsurgency strategy he approved in March.

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 that they will provide information about terrorist hide-outs and planning.

In an assessment of efforts in 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 H. Petraeus, the head of Central Command, have argued that effective counterterrorism against al Qaeda is not possible without a successful counterinsurgency.

Rumors swirled in the Pentagon this week that Gen. McChrystal was considering resigning if he did not get a fresh commitment from Mr. Obama to implement a counterinsurgency strategy.

The general told the New York Times on Wednesday that he never considered resigning his command and that he was optimistic about the current strategy.

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, a spokesman for Gen. McChrystal.

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

Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, the ranking Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told The Times that Mr. Obama is wavering on his commitment to counterinsurgency and the resources needed to fight such a campaign.

“I praised the president for his new regional approach to the war,” he said. “But now the left wing, the MoveOn.org, the Code Pink, the George Soros and Hollywood money guys, have been putting a lot of pressure on him and he is wavering. You can’t be a leader and waver.”

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

“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 past month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, 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, Michigan Democrat, has asked for more time to review the strategy before agreeing to further increases in deployments.

In a March 27 speech on the Afghanistan 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 implementation of the strategy was delayed by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ decision to remove Gen. David D. McKiernan from the Afghan command position 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.

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 Long War Journal Web site 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 answer to implement his strategy,” the U.S. defense official said.

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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