- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon said Wednesday that a request for new troops from the U.S. commander in Afghanistan may have to be revised amid growing uncertainty inside the Obama administration over whether to escalate the American commitment to the eight-year war.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the troop request from U.S. and NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal will be delivered by the week’s end.

But Defense Secretary Robert Gates will not look to escalate the military mission in Afghanistan until President Barack Obama and his national security team “are ready to consider it,” Morrell said.

Morrell also signaled that the number of troops that McChrystal will ask for — believed to be as high as 40,000 — could change after the report is received if the White House reverses its Afghanistan strategy.

“If there are adjustments, there may have to be adjustments made in terms of what’s required of the mission if it changes,” Morrell said.

He said the Obama administration is taking a new look at how to best achieve its long-stated goal of defeating and dismantling al Qaeda.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon began ramping up the eight-year war in Afghanistan, targeting extremist Taliban leaders to make sure the nation does not become a safe haven for al Qaeda.

But White House officials now are looking at sending in airstrikes and special operations forces to Pakistan, where al Qaeda leaders are believed to be hiding.

Morrell said targeting the Taliban in Afghanistan through a counterinsurgency mission “is the strategy and remains the strategy.” He added: “There is a discussion taking place about whether it should continue to be the strategy or whether adjustments should be made.”

Operating under the original strategy would require more combat troops, more trainers for Afghan security forces, more intelligence and surveillance forces and more helicopters and other support, officials have said in recent weeks.

A senior Republican lawmaker in Congress recently told The Associated Press that McChrystal’s troop request is expected to be as high as 40,000. The lawmaker spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the issue more freely.

Additionally, McChrystal advisers Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute and Kimberly Kagan of the Institute for the Study of War this week released a report arguing for an additional 40,000 to 45,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan next year.

Already, Obama has approved increasing the number of U.S. soldiers, sailors, pilots and Marines in Afghanistan to 68,000 by the end of this year.

Morrell would not discuss the prospects of a new counterterror strategy that White House officials have told The AP could involve expanding missile attacks on Pakistan terrorist havens by unmanned U.S. spy planes.

Pakistan will not allow the United States to deploy a large-scale military troop buildup on its soil. However, its military and intelligence services are believed to have assisted the U.S. with airstrikes, even while the government has publicly condemned them.

A spokesman for the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, Nadeem Kiani, on Wednesday signaled that Islamabad is cool to the idea of letting the U.S. expand its CIA-led drone missions in Pakistan. Generally, the U.S. shares the intelligence it gets from the spy planes with Pakistani leaders, but has resisted selling drones to the nation for fear Islamabad could target its longtime enemy, India.

“Our position on this is well known: we would like to have this technology in our hands,” Kiani said, attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York. “That way there will no chance of violating Pakistan’s sovereignty, which is very dear to the Pakistani people.”

At the Pentagon, Morrell said McChrystal was still working under the original Afghanistan counterinsurgency mission in Afghanistan that Obama outlined in March. That’s why, Morrell said, the general was sending in the troop request even though the strategy may change later.

“It is not your typical request for forces,” Morrell said. “This is a more analytical look at the situation and what’s needed and the risks associated with certain troop levels. And there’s an ultimate recommendation.”

That description appeared to confirm comments made privately in recent weeks by a number of officials who said McChrystal will lay out “force options.” That is, he will give a range of troop numbers and explain what can be achieved with each. The officials said McChrystal also will advise his top pick among the choices.

Associated Press Writer Matthew Lee in New York contributed to this report.

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