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Generals in civilian posts were toughest critics of surge, Woodward writes

"Obama's Wars," released Sept. 27, 2010, recounts how the president crafted his own strategy for a way out of Afghanistan.

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By Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 23, 2010; 2:37 AM

A new book by Bob Woodward on the Obama administration's Afghan war deliberations presents three generals in the White House and State Department as the military's toughest, most persistent and most skeptical critics.

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President Obama, who took office with relatively little experience with the military, tapped the generals for key positions that are traditionally filled by civilians.

The selections led some critics to complain that the appointments amounted to the militarization of the administration's foreign policy. The Woodward book, however, consistently shows the three officers - retired Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, retired Gen. James L. Jones and Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute - embroiled in heated disputes with the brass.

Lute, the National Security Council's unofficial "war czar" and the sole active-duty general among the group, is portrayed as among the biggest skeptics of the military's strategy to send a surge of more than 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan in an effort to shift the momentum away from the Taliban.

In late November, as the president made the decision to escalate the U.S. commitment to the war, Lute warned him that the approach was unlikely to succeed.

"Mr. President, you don't have to do this," Woodward quotes Lute as saying.

The Army general maintained that the Taliban's ability to exploit Pakistani safe havens, the persistent corruption within the Afghan government and the poor state of the Afghan security forces made it unlikely that the surge of forces would produce major changes in Afghanistan by July 2011.

Lute's strident questioning of the military's preferred strategy drew a stern rebuke from Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military's top officer.

"The secretary and I believe you weren't always helpful in the course of the review," Mullen is quoted as telling Lute.

"I hope the president doesn't have the same view," Lute responded.

The Pentagon declined to comment on the revelations in Woodward's book. "We're not in the business of offering literary criticism, and we are not going to start now," said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary. "Our focus is on the mission moving forward in Afghanistan."

Senior White House officials didn't dispute Woodward's depiction of last fall's policy review as an emotional and often contentious process. They said the president is depicted in the account as decisive, willing to challenge the military brass and deeply engaged in the war effort.


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