U.S. Military Leaders Discuss Troop Needs in Afghanistan

(Nikki Kahn - The Washington Post)
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By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 26, 2009

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, held an unannounced meeting with senior U.S. military leaders on Friday to lay out his needs for additional troops for the war, as the Obama administration engages in intense deliberations over the strategy there, according to a defense official.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called for the meeting, held in Germany, "to get a better understanding for himself of McChrystal's troop requirements," the official said. Given growing public concern over the mission in Afghanistan, Mullen wanted to sound out McChrystal face to face on the troop request in preparation for upcoming discussions in Washington, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

The meeting lasted about half a day and was held at Ramstein Air Base. Gen. David H. Petraeus, chief of U.S. Central Command, and Adm. James Stavridis, the supreme allied commander for NATO, also attended at Mullen's request.

The meeting came as President Obama faces a decision soon on whether to deploy thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan. There are 65,000 U.S. service members in the country, as well as 38,000 allied troops. Recent public opinion polls reflect waning support for the war and indicate that a majority of Americans oppose sending more U.S. forces to the country.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Obama said he understands "the public's weariness of this war" and wants "to make sure that I get the best answers possible, particularly before I make decisions about sending additional troops into the theater."

McChrystal, in a stark assessment reported this week by The Washington Post, stated that although more troops will not guarantee victory in Afghanistan, the lack of them could lead to defeat because the Taliban insurgency has grown stronger than McChrystal and other U.S. commanders anticipated.

Mullen recently stated that thousands more troops, including combat troops and 2,000 to 4,000 trainers to help build the Afghan army, will "probably" be needed for Afghanistan. Major population centers in the country still lack the troops to provide security, senior military officials say.

The purpose of Friday's meeting was not for McChrystal to deliver the troop request, which Pentagon officials said will go through normal channels in being submitted to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates by this weekend. However, officials said they expected that Mullen would return to Washington with a copy of the request. Senior military officials said the request will lay out options for Obama, along with the level of anticipated success for each.

Congressional Republicans, such as Sen. John McCain (Ariz), have urged the Obama administration not to delay a decision on the troops, but the administration has stressed patience. Gates and other administration officials have stressed that the president needs time to decide the strategy for Afghanistan before focusing on whether to commit more U.S. troops, and they will hold McChrystal's troop request until the strategy review is completed.

"There's no sense in complicating a discussion about strategy with the resource request. We want to do them in order," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said this week.

For his part, Gates has remained undecided on whether to send in more troops. However, he said that McChrystal, by ordering new tactics focused on protecting the Afghan population, has mitigated Gates's longstanding concern that if the size of the coalition military presence grows too large, the Afghan people will see it as an occupation force.

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