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Correction to This Article
A page one article published Dec. 3 on testimony concerning the war in Afghanistan misidentified a committee. It was the House Foreign Affairs Committee, not the Armed Services Committee, that heard testimony on Wednesday from senior administration officials.

Earlier versions of this story, including in the print edition of Thursday's Washington Post, misstated the timing of two committee hearings. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, not Thursday, and before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, not Wednesday.

Lawmakers scrutinize new Afghan strategy

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Harry Smith spoke with Sen. John McCain about President Obama's speech Tuesday night where he announced sending additional troops to Afghanistan.

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By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lawmakers from both parties searched for weaknesses Wednesday in President Obama's newly announced Afghan strategy, focusing on what many said was a contradiction between his promise to begin removing U.S. troops in 18 months and his caveat that departures will depend on "conditions on the ground."

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Few joined with Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) in categorically rejecting Obama's description of vital U.S. interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan, his deployment of 30,000 additional troops and his plan for eventual withdrawal from both countries. "I'm still not convinced," Murtha said. "I do not see an achievable goal."

But full-throated endorsements were rare, especially among Democrats, many of whom have questioned the troop escalation and what it will cost. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), No. 3 in the Senate leadership, said he will "weigh carefully" Obama's words. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Congress and the American people will "fully examine" the president's plan.

Congress has little control over the strategy beyond the money to pay for it, and, despite widespread doubts, even Murtha -- chairman of the subcommittee that will consider the funding -- conceded that the $30 billion Obama has said it will require over the next year is likely to be approved.

As the White House began a weeks-long campaign to sell the strategy to a skeptical Congress and public, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel phoned his former colleagues on Capitol Hill, and national security adviser James L. Jones made a rare appearance on television. The State Department advised reporters of officials available to take calls.

In Brussels, Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration's envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, began explaining the details of the strategy to NATO partners and soliciting additional resources. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen pledged that allies will "send at least 5,000 more soldiers to this operation, and probably a few thousand on top of that." But the numbers are likely to include some troops already there or announced, and several nations said they may need more time to weigh their options.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she will travel to Brussels on Thursday to attend a NATO ministerial meeting to secure "additional alliance commitments of troops, trainers and resources."

Emphasizing what Obama described Tuesday during his announcement as the direct relationship between al-Qaeda's survival in Pakistan and U.S. security, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano delivered blunt remarks about domestic terrorism, warning in a speech to the America-Israel Friendship League that extremists have been "sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit more acts of terror."

At the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Democratic concerns were not unexpected and that what Obama "wants to do, both with the public and with members of Congress, is to continue to talk to them about why he thinks the decision he made was important."

In the first of several hearings to explain the policy, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told senators that "the pieces are being put in place to make real and measurable progress in Afghanistan over the next 18 to 24 months. The president's decision offers the best possibility to decisively change the momentum in Afghanistan and fundamentally alter the strategic equation in Pakistan and Central Asia, all necessary to protect the United States, our allies and our vital interests."

Said Clinton: "Among a range of difficult choices, this is the best way."

Gates and Clinton appeared, along with Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before the Senate Armed Services and House Foreign Affairs committees on Wednesday, and will appear Thursday before the Senate Foreign Relations and the House Armed Services committees. Next week, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO military commander in Afghanistan, will testify along with Karl W. Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul.


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