Gen. McChrystal saying little about delay in Obama's decision on troop increase

By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 27, 2009

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, told a group of key lawmakers on Thursday that President Obama is engaged in a "thoughtful process" of deciding on his request for additional troops in the region.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), in a telephone interview from Afghanistan, said that McChrystal declined to criticize Obama's nearly three-month review of the general's request to send up to 40,000 more troops to the war-torn nation. Instead, McChrystal -- whose opinion many Republicans have treated as sacrosanct -- told the group that U.S. forces could still achieve the goal of routing the Taliban.

"He believed that the mission was accomplishable," Price said after meeting the general and other top U.S. officials in Kabul. Some of the lawmakers pressed McChrystal on Obama's lengthy decision-making, but the general described it as a "thoughtful process and wouldn't go any further," Price said. "I was a little surprised he didn't voice frustration with the delay."

Price is with a congressional delegation of Georgians, including Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) and Reps. John Barrow (D) and Lynn Westmoreland (R). The lawmakers also met with U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry.

The visit could serve as a bellwether of how much support Obama will receive from congressional Republicans when he makes his announcement about the next phase of the war in Afghanistan on Tuesday night at West Point.

During George W. Bush's presidency, GOP support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was nearly universal. Now, despite their minority status in the House and Senate, Republicans could be key to Obama's effort to send what could be an additional 30,000 to 35,000 U.S. soldiers to the battle, because of waning support among Democrats.

Price is the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of more than 100 conservatives, and he has not sided with the White House on any key issue so far this year. His support of the new effort in Afghanistan would signal that many Republicans would back Obama, but the lawmaker said he will remain undecided until he hears the specifics of the president's plan next week.

Price said he wants Obama to express full support for the effort to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. "Then he'll have the full backing and support of the Republican conference," the lawmaker said.

He said it would be a "disaster" if, in deploying more troops, Obama also sent a signal that they would be coming home shortly if the mission is not successful immediately, because that would let the Taliban think it could wait out Obama and then take up the battle after U.S. and NATO forces leave.

McChrystal submitted his Afghanistan report on Aug. 30, and Price's biggest complaint has been the amount of time it has taken Obama to reach a decision. The lawmaker said that more troops could already have been on the ground in battle. "The president has taken more time than is necessary. Maybe that will be time well spent," he said.

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