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Generals “Can’t be Certain” of Troops Necessary to Execute Afghanistan Strategy

Check out the New York Timestick-tock of how the Obama team came to its Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy. Two observations.

One, Joe Biden is described as the voice of "caution." But that appears to be cashed out in terms of Biden urging a clearer, al-Qaeda-based objective for the mission. No one in the story is described as advocating a reduced commitment to Afghanistan or Pakistan. No one in the story is described as discussing a fixed endpoint for either the commitment in general or its military component in particular.

Two — and this is my inference — it sounds like there was some pressure from the military for a greater troop increase. I have not heard anything like that before. It’s possible that such pressure refers to Gen. McKiernan’s original request for 30,000 troops. Between Bush and Obama, McKiernan got 23,000. Now he’s got another 4,000 as trainers. The Times piece describes Bob Gates, who in January said he would not support any troop increase above McKiernan’s request, as favoring the 4000-trainer increase as a way to "tempe[r] the commanders’ request" and put off debate over another round of increases until the end of the year. How many more troops would be up for discussion then, though? The remaining 3,000 in McKiernan’s request? Or a commitment over and above what Gates said he’d support?

Yesterday, Denis McDonough, the NSC’s director for strategic communications, candidly told a bunch of us bloggers that the administration couldn’t yet know if they had reached the necessary and/or sufficient amount of resources for their strategy. Saying that the administration wanted to be guided by "fact-based considerations," they "can’t be certain the number is right. It might be too many, it might be not enough." But Obama "feels very confident that he has the right strategy, and we want to measure resources against that."

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Spencer Ackerman

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