Afghanistan burden wearing down U.S.

Feb 16, 2009
Country flag
Afghanistan burden wearing down U.S.

Afghanistan burden wearing down U.S.

by Staff Writers
Kabul, Afghanistan (UPI) Sep 15, 2009
The deaths of four U.S. soldiers last Saturday in a spate of militant attacks that also killed dozens of Afghan security forces and civilians happened a day after Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told the U.S. Senate the training of Afghanistan's own forces should be stepped up before committing additional U.S. troops in that country.
Such a strategy "will show our commitment to the success of mission that is clearly in our national security interests, without creating a bigger U.S. military footprint that provides propaganda fodder for the Taliban," the influential Michigan Democrat, who recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan, was quoted as saying.

Sobering words that point to the prevailing mood about Afghanistan within President Barack Obama's own party which, as noted by The New York Times, the president would need to consider when deciding whether to send more troops to that country in addition to the 68,000 already committed.

Earlier in the week, another influential Democrat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was quoted as saying she did not think "there is a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or in Congress."

Separately, the Voice of America reported on a finding last week by a London policy institute that the Taliban's activity has spread to 80 percent of Afghanistan, just eight years after its regime was destroyed. The finding should come as no surprise, with U.S. commanders having acknowledged the Afghan ground situation has deteriorated.

Adding to U.S. concerns is the unresolved issue of the Afghan elections, whose outcome is mired in serious voter fraud complaints, with thousands of questionable votes already set aside by the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission.

Though preliminary results show President Hamid Karzai with a huge lead in his bid for a second term, it is the Complaints Commission, made up of Afghans and foreigners, that is the final arbiter and not Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission, which is battling its own allegations.

But the Complaints Commission's work may take weeks or months to complete as all the hundreds of serious complaints must first be resolved before it certifies the election results, as that could affect the final outcome.

But any delay would leave the already fractured country without an effective government, giving more fodder to the Taliban to claim vindication of its opposition to foreign presence as also the elections. Britain's Daily Telegraph reported U.S. officials were frantically trying to get Karzai to agree to a power-sharing deal with his nearest poll rival, Abdullah Abdullah, to avert such a situation. But such an arrangement could set off another set of problems.

Britain's Guardian reported these developments can only raise the stakes for the United States and Britain, where popular support is dwindling fast for a war seen only as favoring a corrupt and ineffective regime at untold cost both in terms of men and resources to the United States and its allies. The months of July and August were the bloodiest for U.S. forces with more than 90 dead, not counting the September casualties. The situation is no better for Britain, which has lost more than 200 of its soldiers since 2001.

Some experts have even begun drawing comparisons between the Afghanistan situation and the Vietnam War, the VOA reported. But those who disagree say there are major differences with Afghanistan being far more ethnically diverse with deep tribal links. They say the goal of the Afghan war is to prevent the Taliban and al-Qaida from securing a home base, whereas in Vietnam the objective was to stop a communist-backed insurgency. U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan is also far below the peak reached in Vietnam.

Despite the rising burden of Afghanistan, commentators like Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria argue against a withdrawal.

In his recent column in the news magazine, Zakaria wrote, "The United States, NATO, the European Union, and other nations have invested massively in stabilizing the country over the past eight years" and a withdrawal would only bring back the region's players, resulting in the "revival of the poisonous alliance between the Pakistani military and the hardest-line elements of the Taliban."


New Member
Mar 22, 2009
The Associated Press: Report: More troops needed for Afghan war success

Report: More troops needed for Afghan war success

By ANNE GEARAN (AP) – 40 minutes ago

WASHINGTON — The situation in Afghanistan is growing worse, and without more boots on the ground the U.S. risks failure in a war it's been waging since September 2001, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan says in a confidential report.

"Resources will not win this war, but under-resourcing could lose it," Gen. Stanley McChrystal wrote in a five-page Commander's Summary. His 66-page report, sent to Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Aug. 30, is now under review by President Barack Obama.

Details of McChrystal's assessment were first reported late Sunday by The Washington Post. The newspaper posted a link to the report on its Web site, with some operational details withheld at the request of the Pentagon.

"Although considerable effort and sacrifice have resulted in some progress, many indicators suggest the overall effort is deteriorating," McChrystal said of the war's progress.

While asserting that more troops are needed, McChrystal also pointed out an "urgent need" to significantly revise strategy. The U.S. needs to interact better with the Afghan people, McChrystal said, and better organize its efforts with NATO allies.

"We run the risk of strategic defeat by pursuing tactical wins that cause civilian casualties or unnecessary collateral damage. The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves," he wrote.

In his blunt assessment of the tenacious Taliban insurgency, McChrystal warned that unless the U.S. and its allies gain the initiative and reverse the momentum of the militants within the next year the U.S. "risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible"

The Pentagon and the White House are awaiting a separate, more detailed request for additional troops and resources. Media reports Friday and Saturday said McChrystal has finished it but was told to pocket it, partly because of the charged politics surrounding the decision. McChrystal's senior spokesman, Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, told The Associated Press on Sunday the report is not complete.

Obama is re-evaluating whether the renewed focus on hunting al-Qaida that he announced just months ago has become blurred and whether more forces will do any good.

"Are we doing the right thing?" he asked during one of a series of interviews broadcast Sunday. "Are we pursuing the right strategy?"

A spokesman for Afghanistan's Defense Ministry said Sunday the Afghan government would not second-guess international military commanders on the need for more troops, but said that the greatest need is actually on the other side of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

"The focus should be on those points and areas where the insurgency is infiltrating Afghanistan," he said, referring to the Pakistan border region where Taliban and al-Qaida fighters hide and plan attacks.

In Congress, the war has taken on a highly partisan edge. Senate Republicans are demanding more forces to turn around a war that soon will enter its ninth year, while members of Obama's own Democratic Party are trying to put on the brakes. Obama said in the Sunday interviews that he will not allow politics to govern his decision.

Nor has the president asked his top commander in Afghanistan to sit on a request for U.S. reinforcements in a backsliding war.

"No, no, no, no," Obama responded when asked whether he or aides had directed McChrystal to temporarily withhold a request for additional U.S. forces and other resources.

But he gave no deadline for making a decision about whether to send more Americans into harm's way.

"The only thing I've said to my folks is, 'A, I want an unvarnished assessment, but, B, I don't want to put the resource question before the strategy question,'" Obama said. "Because there is a natural inclination to say, 'If I get more, then I can do more.'"

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress last week he expected McChrystal's request for additional forces and other resources "in the very near future."

Other military officials had said the request would go to McChrystal's boss, Gen. David Petraeus, and up the chain of command in a matter of weeks. The White House discounted that timeline, but has remained vague about how long it would take to receive the report and act on it.

In the interviews taped Friday at the White House, Obama mentioned concerns about the "mission creep" that befell former President George W. Bush's attempt to build and prop up a viable democratic government in a country unaccustomed to central rule and sensitive to foreign meddling.

Obama said he's asking this question now of the military regarding his plan: "How does this advance America's national security interests? How does it make sure that al-Qaida and its extremist allies cannot attack the United States homeland, our allies, our troops who are based in Europe?"

"If supporting the Afghan national government and building capacity for their army and securing certain provinces advances that strategy, then we'll move forward," the president continued. "But if it doesn't, then I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or, in some way, you know, sending a message that America is here for the duration."

Obama spoke on CNN's "State of the Union," ABC's "This Week," NBC's "Meet the Press," and CBS' "Face the Nation."

Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul contributed to this report.
On the Net:

* A link to McChrystal's summary and report is at:


New Member
Mar 22, 2009
The Associated Press: Afghan police: More foreign troops not the answer

Afghan police: More foreign troops not the answer

By JASON STRAZIUSO and RAHIM FAIEZ (AP) – 36 minutes ago

KABUL — Police officials from some of Afghanistan's most violent regions questioned the need for more American troops, saying Monday it would increase the perception the U.S. is an occupying power and the money would be better spent on local forces.

The police were responding to an assessment from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, that warned the war was getting worse and could be lost without more troops.

President Barack Obama earlier this year approved sending 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total number of U.S. forces to 68,000 by the end of 2009. McChrystal is expected to ask for more troops in coming weeks, but increasing the number risks alienating Afghans, the police officials said.

The officials come from some of the provinces where the militant threat is the strongest and where international soldiers and Afghans alike have struggled for years to keep the peace. Their reluctance to add troops is striking because of their broad experience already against the Taliban.

"It is very hard for local people to accept any foreigners who come to our country and say they are fighting for our freedom," said Gen. Azizudin Wardak, the police chief in Paktia province. "To give the idea that they are not invaders, that they are not occupiers, is very difficult."

Mohammad Pashtun, the chief of the criminal investigation unit in southern Kandahar province, the Taliban's heartland, said that the money would be better off going to Afghan forces.

"Increasing international troops is not useful," he said. "For the expense of one American soldier, we can pay for 15 Afghan soldiers or police."

The top U.S. and NATO spokesman in Afghanistan, Adm. Gregory Smith, agreed that Afghan forces would be key to defeating the Taliban. But he added that the "major way forward" was to partner international troops with Afghan ones on a day-to-day basis, and not simply for the West to train Afghan forces and send them out on their own.

"We're really talking about complete layering of individuals at all levels to achieve, we think, much, much more increased ability to influence the professional development of the force — the ANA and the ANP — and then the day-to-day execution will just rise dramatically," Smith said, referring to the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.

The Afghan army is trying to build a force of 134,000 soldiers by fall 2010, but McChrystal's assessment said the target should be 240,000, though it did not give a date. It said the police force must grow from a current 92,000 to 160,000.

"This will require additional mentors, trainers, partners and funds through an expanded participation by (the Afghan government), the support of ISAF, and the resources of troop contributing and donor nations," the assessment said, referring to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

Smith said 20 percent of Afghan police are now partnered with NATO troops, and that the performance of those forces has risen dramatically. He said the current plan is to figure out a way to use the existing NATO forces "more appropriately" so that foreign and Afghan troops work more closely together.

Many Afghans say they are relieved to see international forces with the police on joint patrols. Afghan police are often accused of corruption and bribe-taking, while some American troops complain their Afghan counterparts are not battle ready.

About 4,000 of the additional U.S. troops that started arriving this summer are military trainers.

Reacting to McChrystal's assessment, Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi did not question the need for more troops but insisted they would should be sent to Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan.

"The focus should be on those points and areas where the insurgency is infiltrating Afghanistan," Azimi said, a reference to Pakistani border region where Taliban commanders take refuge and attacks are planned. "They should focus outside the Afghan border, target the insurgents' resources and sanctuaries there."

While Afghans have their doubts about local forces, they also are not convinced international forces have made things any safer.

According to a July survey by the U.S.-funded International Republican Institute, 52 percent of Afghans believe the country was less stable that it was a year ago — up from 43 percent in May, when the new troops had only just begun to arrive. The survey, which interviewed 2,400 Afghan adults, had a margin of error of 2 percentage points.


New Member
Mar 22, 2009
The Associated Press: Analysis: Obama war choice: escalate or scale back

Analysis: Obama war choice: escalate or scale back

By ROBERT BURNS (AP) – 37 minutes ago

WASHINGTON — Escalate or scale back.

The blunt conclusion laid out by the top American commander in Afghanistan — "The status quo will lead to failure" — poses a stark and urgent choice for President Barack Obama: intensify the foundering conflict with more troops or narrow the mission to targeting terrorists instead of protecting Afghans.

In his report to Obama, Gen. Stanley McChrystal makes clear his view that ultimate success in Afghanistan requires overcoming two main threats: the insurgency and a "crisis of confidence" among Afghans in their own government. Both must be addressed, and together they require more resources, he says.

"Insufficiently addressing either principal threat will result in failure," the general concludes.

The McChrystal assessment puts to the test Obama's assertion just six months ago that he would put the war effort on a path to success by providing what the previous White House didn't.

"For six years, Afghanistan has been denied the resources that it demands because of the war in Iraq," Obama said March 27. "Now, we must make a commitment that can accomplish our goals." He approved the dispatch of 21,000 more U.S. troops and promised a comprehensive improvement in the U.S. effort to stabilize the country, train its security forces and advance justice and economic opportunity.

Obama also said then that he would reevaluate after the Afghan presidential election, which was held Aug. 20. The charges of widespread fraud and ballot-rigging that emerged after the election have only added to doubts in Washington about whether the Afghan government can be counted on as a reliable partner.

The president thus far has not endorsed the McChrystal approach, saying in television interviews over the weekend that he needs to be convinced that sending more troops would make Americans safer from al-Qaida. Tellingly, Obama reiterated in those interviews that his core goal is to destroy al-Qaida, which is not present in significant numbers in Afghanistan. He did not focus on saving Afghanistan.

"I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face," Obama told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

McChrystal's report, first made public Monday by The Washington Post, was not intended to present Obama with a list of military options. The general left no doubt where he stands. He believes a full-scale, comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign is what is required, and that time is of the essence.

But White House officials say the president is considering more than the McChrystal assessment as he weighs courses of action. He's relying on the views of key Cabinet aides, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said last week that he has yet to make up his mind on the wisdom of committing more troops.

Gates has said, however, that he does not believe that a scaled-back approach that focuses mainly on killing al-Qaida leaders — rather than the McChrystal view that counterterrorism operations should be part of a broader campaign to build up Afghan support for their government — is the right answer.

"The notion that you can conduct a purely counterterrorist kind of campaign and do it from a distance simply does not accord with reality," Gates told reporters earlier this month. "The reality is that even if you want to focus on counterterrorism, you cannot do that successfully without local law enforcement, without internal security, without intelligence" — without a major presence in Kabul.

McChrystal's immediate superior, Gen. David Petraeus, sees it similarly.

"He (McChrystal) is the first to recognize not just the extraordinary capabilities but also the limitations of counterterrorism forces in Afghanistan," Petraeus wrote in an opinion article published Friday in The Times of London.

Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who advised McChrystal in Kabul this summer, said in a telephone interview Monday that Obama has invited doubt about his commitment to succeeding in Afghanistan by putting off a decision on devoting more resources.

"The truth is that we don't have that much time," Cordesman said. "Waiting to see what happens with existing resources and existing troop levels, when the commanding general has already said that's an unacceptable risk, basically invites defeat." He added: "The president has yet to show he can lead in this war."

EDITOR'S NOTE _ Robert Burns has covered national security and military affairs for The Associated Press since 1990.


Regular Member
Feb 19, 2009
US is basically looking for a similar exit from A'stan like the one they had in Iraq. There will be a troop surge and US & NATO forces would launch a major offensive in Southern Afghanistan and maybe also in NWFP in Pakistan. That would put Taliban/Al Qaeda on a run for sometime. That would be the time US would probably announce its withdrawl from Afghanistan proclaiming victory. Thereafter, each & every US/NATO soldier would be replaced by Blackwater mercenary & only few soldiers would stay behind for token presence.


New Member
Mar 22, 2009

Afghanistan Troop Request Splits Advisers to Obama

Published: September 26, 2009

WASHINGTON — As President Obama weighs sending more troops to Afghanistan, one of the most consequential decisions of his presidency, he has discovered that the military is not monolithic in support of the plan and that some of the civilian advisers he respects most have deep reservations.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s troop request, which was to be submitted to the Pentagon this weekend, has reignited a longstanding debate within the military about the virtues of the counterinsurgency strategy popularized by Gen. David H. Petraeus in Iraq and now embraced by General McChrystal, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan.

General McChrystal is expected to ask for as many as 40,000 additional troops for the eight-year-old war, a number that has generated concern among top officers like Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, who worry about the capacity to provide more soldiers at a time of stress on the force, officials said.

While Mr. Obama is hearing from more hawkish voices, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, some outside advisers relied on by Mr. Obama have voiced doubts.

Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a retired four-star Army general, visited Mr. Obama in the Oval Office this month and expressed skepticism that more troops would guarantee success, according to people briefed on the discussion. Mr. Powell reminded the president of his longstanding view that military missions should be clearly defined.

Mr. Powell is one of the three people considered by White House aides to be most influential in this current debate — former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Senator John F. Kerry and Senator Jack Reed — have all expressed varying degrees of doubt about the prospect of sending more forces to Afghanistan.

Mr. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has warned of repeating the mistakes of Vietnam, where he served, and has floated the idea of a more limited counterterrorist mission. Mr. Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and an Army veteran, has not ruled out supporting more troops but said “the burden of proof” is on commanders to justify it.

“The one thing that’s very clear is this is the decision that will have huge consequences,” Mr. Reed said in an interview. “It has to be made carefully.”

In the West Wing, beyond Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has advocated an alternative strategy to the troop buildup, other presidential advisers sound dubious about more troops, including Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, and James L. Jones, the national security adviser, according to people who have spoken with them.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has not endorsed General McChrystal’s request yet, viewing the situation as “complicated,” said one person who has spoken with him. But Mr. Gates, who will be an influential voice in Mr. Obama’s decision, has also left open the door for more troops and warned of the consequences of failure in Afghanistan.

Although Mr. Obama has called Afghanistan a war of necessity, he has left members of both parties uncertain about the degree of his commitment to a large and sustained military presence. Even some advisers said they think Mr. Obama’s support for the war as a senator and presidential candidate was at least partly a way of contrasting it with what he saw as a reckless war in Iraq.

His decision to send 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan early this year, which will eventually bring the number of American troops there to 68,000, was made hurriedly within weeks of coming into office to stanch the tactical erosion on the ground and provide security during Afghan elections.

But with those elections now marred by fraud allegations, the latest troop request is forcing Mr. Obama to decide whether he wants to fully engage in Afghanistan for the rest of his term or make a dramatic change of course. Where this will lead Mr. Obama remains uncertain. With the liberal base of his party increasingly vocal in its opposition to the war, Mr. Obama may want to show that he has duly considered all sides before making up his mind.

But some advisers said the varying views reflects the complicated nature of the debate in which many key players are not clearly defined in pro or con camps. The troop request follows the strategy unveiled by Mr. Obama in March to focus more on protecting the Afghan population, building infrastructure and improving governance, rather than just hunting the Taliban.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has endorsed the idea of more troops and will be at the table representing the military. But other officers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and say they admire General McChrystal nonetheless have privately expressed doubt that additional troops will make a difference.

“If a request for more forces comes to the Army, we’ll have to assess what that will do in terms of stress on the force,” said a senior Army officer, who asked not to be identified speaking before General McChrystal’s troop request became public.

General Casey, whose institutional role as Army chief is to protect his force, has a stated goal is to increase by 2012 a soldier’s time at home from the current one year for every year of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan to two years at home for every year served. At a news conference in Nevada this month, General Casey said that “if there is an increase of forces in Afghanistan, then that could slow that down.”

Advisers who have Mr. Obama’s ear have raised other questions. Mr. Powell went to see Mr. Obama for other reasons, but his remarks on Afghanistan have been cited in the White House since then. “The question the president has to answer is, ‘What will more troops do?”’ Mr. Powell told reporters before a speech in California this week. “You have to not just add troops. You need a clear definition of your mission and then you can determine whether you need more troops or other resources.”

In an interview, Senator Kerry, who met with Admiral Mullen last week, said that he has not made up his mind about the troop buildup but “we have to ask some very tough questions about that, questioning the underlying assumptions.” In Vietnam, he said, “the underlying assumptions were flawed and the number of troops weren’t going to make a difference.”

Senator Reed, who met with Mr. Biden, was more measured, but said the president needs to look at the capacity of Afghan forces and the prospects of reconciliation with moderate Taliban members. “You have to evaluate several options very vigorously — one to give you confidence in the decision and two, because you want to make sure you have the best operational plan to carry out the strategy,” he said.


New Member
Mar 22, 2009
The Associated Press: Obama, advisers weigh Afghanistan shift, Pakistan

Obama, advisers weigh Afghanistan shift, Pakistan

By JENNIFER LOVEN (AP) – 49 minutes ago

WASHINGTON — The Afghanistan war reached its once-unthinkable eighth anniversary Wednesday as President Barack Obama, seeking a revamped strategy for the increasingly unpopular conflict, focused more closely with his war council on neighboring Pakistan in the fight against al-Qaida.

The White House also revealed that Obama has in hand — and has for nearly a week — the troop request prepared by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal. Previously thought to still be at the Pentagon while Obama and his team held their strategy discussions, McChrystal's recommendations are said to include a range of options, from adding as few as 10,000 additional combat troops to as many as 40,000.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama asked for and received McChrystal's request last Thursday, before he flew to Copenhagen where he lobbied for Chicago's bid to host the Olympics and met with the general on the sidelines. The numbers could become the focus of concentrated White House attention as soon as Friday, Gibbs said.

When former President George W. Bush launched the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan less than a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the country's Taliban government was providing safe haven for Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorists. Eight years later, the Taliban regime is no more and al-Qaida is scattered and weakened. But the Afghan government is considered corrupt and ineffective, Taliban insurgents hoping to retake control are gaining strength and terrorists continue to plan attacks.

This uncertain progress has come at a cost of nearly 800 U.S. lives.

With this and Americans' dwindling patience in mind, Obama is engaged in a methodical review of how to overhaul the war.

Wednesday's nearly three-hour private meeting in the Situation Room between Obama and more than a dozen of his top advisers on the war was the third of five currently scheduled. The next is Friday, concentrating on Afghanistan — though it could also include McChrystal's report. The final discussion is slated for next week, though aides have said more could come.

Gibbs said Obama's decision is still weeks away.

Wednesday's focus on Pakistan, the suspected hiding place of bin Laden and other al-Qaida terrorists as well as Taliban leaders, could provide a hint into the president's leanings.

Obama and some of his key aides are increasingly pointing to recent successes against al-Qaida through targeted missile strikes and raids in Pakistan but also in Somalia and elsewhere. Obama said Tuesday that al-Qaida has "lost operational capacity" as a result.

Also, serious doubts about the Afghan government that only deepened with the questionable Aug. 20 presidential election make a true counterinsurgency mission there that much more difficult.

In Pakistan, though, the government has shown new willingness to battle extremists, with most believed to be operating from the largely ungoverned terrain along the border with Afghanistan. But these operations, as well as the strikes by unmanned U.S. aircraft, continue to stoke fiery controversy throughout the country — causing problems for the already weak U.S.-backed civilian government.

Further, the vast majority of the U.S. aid to Pakistan is believed to be diverted from its intended purpose of battling militants. A bill awaiting Obama's signature would triple U.S. aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year while attaching conditions aimed at stopping that diversion. Those protections, however, have prompted fresh complaints in Pakistan about Washington meddling — including a rejection by the country's powerful military of links between aid and increased monitoring.

All this makes the U.S.-Pakistan relationship fraught, and asking for additional cooperation extraordinarily delicate. Regardless, U.S. officials believe they can neither win in Afghanistan nor succeed more broadly against al-Qaida without it.

McChrystal's recommended approach calls for additional troops in Afghanistan for a counterinsurgency campaign to defeat the Taliban, build up the central government and deny al-Qaida safe haven. McChrystal, whose plan is somewhat reminiscent of Bush's Iraq troop "surge" in 2008, says extra troops are crucial to turn around a war that will probably be won or lost over the next 12 months.

On roughly the opposite end of the spectrum, an alternative favored most prominently by Vice President Joe Biden would keep the American force in Afghanistan at around the 68,000 already authorized, including the 21,000 more troops Obama ordered earlier this year, but increase the use of surgical strikes with Predator drones and special forces.

Shrinking the number of troops in Afghanistan and turning the effort into a narrow counterterror campaign is not on the table, and neither is drastically ballooning the footprint.

In weighing whether to follow McChrystal or Biden or somewhere in between, Obama faces a stern test and difficult politics.

Many lawmakers from his own Democratic Party, aware of rising anti-war sentiment in their ranks, do not want to see additional U.S. troops sent to Afghanistan. According to a new Associated Press-GfK poll, public support for the war has dropped to 40 percent from 44 percent in July.

Republicans, meanwhile, are urging Obama to heed the military commanders' calls soon or risk failure.

In giving McChrystal's request to Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates bypassed the commander's direct bosses in the military chain of command who would ordinarily have a chance to add their own comments first.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell denied that the unorthodox move provides evidence of a divide between the uniformed military and its civilian bosses over management of the war. He said Gates and Obama wanted to prevent a leak to the news media, as McChrystal's underlying war assessment was last month.

And though Gibbs had said previously that Obama didn't want to see the request until he had decided strategy, aides said the president decided it had simply become absurd to wait to read it.

Attending the White House meeting Wednesday was a now-familiar cast of characters including Biden; Gates; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; Afghanistan/Pakistan special envoy Richard Holbrooke; Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the region including Iraq and Afghanistan; and McChrystal by videoconference.

AP National Security Writer Anne Gearan contributed to this report.

Global Defence

New threads