Obama Says He Won't Be Rushed on Troop Levels in Afghanistan

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 17, 2009

President Obama pushed back Wednesday against pressure to make a decision about sending more troops to Afghanistan, saying he will resist any attempt to rush him until he has "absolute clarity about what the strategy is going to be."

Obama said he is still considering an assessment he received this month from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, and will await reviews from civilian and diplomatic officials and the results of the disputed Afghan election before making "further decisions moving forward."

His comments, made to reporters after a White House meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, came amid calls from myriad directions for decisions sooner rather than later.

Lawmakers have voiced increasing anxiety over the administration's war strategy, demanding more information about McChrystal's recommendations, including the need for additional forces. Some have called for a significant troop increase, while others have asked for a withdrawal timetable. Public opinion polls have indicated diminished support for the war, even as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, said Tuesday that more troops will probably be needed.

Administration briefings for lawmakers Wednesday appeared to do little to assuage their concerns, with many members expressing irritation at what they described as scant information.

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said a closed-door briefing for senators was insufficient and reminiscent of the way the Bush administration's military leaders handled Congress. "We thought we were going to have a real discussion of the strategy, and we didn't," McCain said. "I didn't like it, but I'm not outraged. I saw this with other administrations."

McCain has said he supports sending additional combat troops to Afghanistan.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), one of the administration's most loyal supporters on Capitol Hill, said he was unsatisfied. "We need more briefings," Reid said.

The administration plans to make McChrystal's classified report available to the chairman and ranking minority members of the Senate and House Armed Services committees on Thursday. But senior administration officials who discussed the ongoing Afghanistan strategy deliberations on the condition of anonymity said they expected internal discussions of the issue to continue for some time. Obama has held only one meeting, on Sunday, with his national security team since receiving McChrystal's assessment

Decision-making has been significantly complicated by charges of large-scale fraud in Afghanistan's Aug. 20 presidential election. Although the country's electoral commission declared Wednesday that full preliminary results indicated a victory for President Hamid Karzai, international authorities have said that at least 10 percent of the results may be fraudulent.

"If it is illegitimate, no kidding . . . there are some hard questions that have to be answered there," Mullen said in remarks Wednesday night at the American Enterprise Institute.

"Nobody is more impatient for progress in Afghanistan than the president," one official said of the internal talks. "It is a mistake to suggest that ensuring that we have the strategy right and ensuring that we have the right policy in place to protect the American people is inconsistent with urgently addressing the challenge we face in that country."

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