Barbara Starr has the goods:
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is expected to ask the Obama
administration for additional troops and equipment, according to a
senior U.S. military official familiar with Gen. Stanley McChrystal's
The request will be for troops and equipment for conducting
intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as more assets
to deal with roadside bombs and explosives, said the official, who
declined to be identified because McChrystal's request has not been
formally transmitted to the Pentagon.
The request could be made
in coming weeks after McChrystal completes a "troop-to-task review" to
calculate whether there are enough U.S. troops in Afghanistan -- and the right mix of troops -- to carry out the military's war plan at an acceptable level of risk, the official said.
Obviously, none of this should be seen as a surprise; not only have we seen hints of it for a few weeks, but once General McChrystal announced in June at his Senate testimony that the US would be conducting a robust counter-insurgency mission in Afghanistan this move was inevitable. After all, it has been clear for quite a while that the US military does not have enough troops - or host country support - to do a counter-insurgency mission in Afghanistan.
However, the one thing that is perhaps most striking about McChrystal's coming request is how much Afghan policy has evolved over the past few months. First, you had Barack Obama campaigning for President on the argument that Iraq is the bad war, Afghanistan is the good war. (It was a point picked up and drive home by Democrats from across the political spectrum including yours truly).
Then the President came into office and ordered 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan before conducting any sort of strategic review of Afghanistan policy. (That would qualify as the first worrisome sign that politics was not going to play an insignificant role in US-Afghan policy. But then campaign promises are campaign promises).
Then the strategic review comes in March and not surprisingly it offers support for sending more troops to Afghanistan. However, that strategic review seemed to draw an important conclusion; that creating a Jeffersonian democracy in Afghanistan was not possible and so US policy should be focused on "disrupting, dismantling and defeating Al Qaeda." The words counter-insurgency were never even used in the speech when the President announced his policy in March (although in fairness they are all over the interagency white paper).
Then a couple of weeks later, Afghan commander David McKiernan was fired and replaced by Lt. General Stanley McChrystal, because he "gets" counter-insurgency and McKiernan did not.
Then McChrystal testifies in June and tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that the US is now fighting a population centric counter-insurgency mission in Afghanistan and that protecting Afghans and lowering civilian casualties is the top mission of the US military - even though this metric goes completely unmentioned in the Af/Pak white paper put out in March as well as the President's speech (And now we're told that civilian casualties is actually less important than preventing the intimidation of civilians. Oy!)
To quote McChrystal directly, in his guidance to US troops, "Success will be defined by the Afghan people's freedom to choose their
future--freedom from coercion, extremists, malign foreign influence, or
abusive government actions."
These words seem to directly contradict the President's assertion that "We are not in Afghanistan to control that country or to dictate its future." But never mind and never fear because according to National Security Advisor Jim Jones, the President will have a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment if the US military has the audacity to ask for more troops:
"If there were new requests for force now, the president
would quite likely have "a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment." Everyone in
the room caught the phonetic reference to WTF -- which in the military
and elsewhere means "What the [expletive]?" Nicholson and his colonels -- all or nearly all veterans of Iraq
-- seemed to blanch at the unambiguous message that this might be all the troops they were going to get."
Well as we've seen that guidance didn't last very long. Meanwhile, no one bothers to ask the President in his recent news conference what exactly the policy is in Afghanistan, how long US troops are going to be there and what victory might look like. Instead we have the Secretary of State channeling Lyndon Johnson and Dick Cheney in declaring that US credibility is on the line in Afghanistan:
I think the president
believes that this is not only the right strategy but facing what he
faced, to withdraw our presence or keep it on the low-level limited
effectiveness that had been demonstrated would have sent a message to
al-Qaeda and their allies that the United States and our allies were
willing to leave the field to them.
Double oy! And today we have Lt. Gen McChrystal preparing to ask the President for more troops. And you wonder why I call this the Afghanistan Mission Creep Watch?
So as I see it the President has really two options. He can approve McChrystal's request, but then he has to give a nationally televised address to the nation explaining why he believes the current US mission of nation building in Afghanistan is so important and why it requires not only more troops but a tangible financial commitment of the United States to see it through to its fruition. We are getting deeper and deeper into Afghanistan; the President has a responsibility to explain exactly to the American people what that means and what it will entail.
Or, the President can as Jim Jones suggested, say "What the F**K?" and ask his civilian and military advisors what exactly is going on in Afghanistan and whether we are wading into a military and political quagmire that may not be in the national interest, that is of dubious value to the United States and may not actually work.
Either way, he has to do something because the strategic drift and mission creep that has defined the US policy in Afghanistan over the past 6 months is not going away. If anything, it's going to get worse.