Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Leaders of a key Senate panel showed their impatience Tuesday with the military's process for assessing strategy needs in Afghanistan as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff suggested that more forces will be needed.
Adm. Mike Mullen said "it's very clear to me that we will need more resources" to carry out President Obama's counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, adding that that "probably means more forces."
But Mullen said he had not received a formal request from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. McChrystal spent the summer reviewing the military's needs and goals in Afghanistan.
The U.S. currently has about 65,000 troops in Afghanistan, including about 21,000 troops Obama ordered there earlier this year. A contingent of several thousand additional trainers is on its way.
Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee differed on whether more combat troops should be deployed.
The differences were evident during a hearing on the nomination of Mullen for a second term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
Levin: Build Up Afghan Forces
Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) pressed for faster action to build up and train Afghanistan's army and police forces, to supply them with arms and equipment, and to get lower-level insurgents to switch loyalties from the Taliban to their own local defense forces.
Levin said those actions would demonstrate the U.S. commitment to success in the war "while avoiding the risks associated with a further increase in U.S. ground combat troops."
The senior Republican on the committee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said he strongly disagreed with the idea that the U.S. should take a "wait and see" approach before sending more American troops to Afghanistan.
McCain: Learn The Lessons Of Iraq
"I've seen that movie before," said McCain, referring to Iraq, where he said Iraqi forces repeatedly collapsed until the surge in American troops provided the Iraqis with enough mentoring and support to be effective.
"To do this we will need more U.S. forces in Afghanistan," said McCain. "If we wait, it may well be too late."
Mullen said that while waiting for McChrystal's assessment, he has made no recommendations to the president about how many more troops might be needed.
Sons of Afghanistan?
Levin said the military should focus on persuading insurgents in Afghanistan to switch sides.
Mullen acknowledged that, until recently, the plan hasn't been "an area of focus." But he said British Lt. Gen. Graeme Lamb has been named to head a program aimed at reconciling Pashtun insurgents who now support the Taliban.
Lamb helped create the so-called Sons of Iraq program in which former Iraqi insurgents were persuaded to join self-defense militias that fought against al-Qaida in Iraq.
What's Taking So Long?
McCain said he was frustrated by the slowness of McChrystal's assessment. "Why should it take weeks and weeks to make an evaluation and reach a decision?" he demanded, when Obama had laid out the new counterinsurgency strategy in March.
Mullen said that McChrystal has found conditions on the ground in Afghanistan to be tougher than he expected, and that the evaluation was complicated by the fact that it extended to the needs of the NATO troops as a whole, rather than just the Americans.