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Looks Like Escalation In Afghanistan


President Obama held a final war council meeting before the holidays last night, and it looked from the timing that it could be decisive. After the meeting, Robert Gibbs released a statement saying “After completing a rigorous final meeting, President Obama has the information he wants and needs to make his decision and he will announce that decision within days.”

That decision? Most accounts see an increase of 34,000 troops in the near term.

President Barack Obama met Monday evening with his national security team to finalize a plan to dispatch some 34,000 additional U.S. troops over the next year to what he’s called “a war of necessity” in Afghanistan, U.S. officials told McClatchy.

Obama is expected to announce his long-awaited decision on Dec. 1, followed by meetings on Capitol Hill aimed at winning congressional support amid opposition by some Democrats who are worried about the strain on the U.S. Treasury and whether Afghanistan has become a quagmire, the officials said […]

As it now stands, the plan calls for the deployment over a nine-month period beginning in March of three Army brigades from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., and the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y., and a Marine brigade from Camp Lejeune, N.C., for as many as 23,000 additional combat and support troops.

In addition, a 7,000-strong division headquarters would be sent to take command of U.S.-led NATO forces in southern Afghanistan — to which the U.S. has long been committed — and 4,000 U.S. military trainers would be dispatched to help accelerate an expansion of the Afghan army and police.

That timeline means that the last installment of new troops wouldn’t arrive in Afghanistan until a year from now. We’re talking about an escalation in slow motion. However, the total 34,000 number could be lower than the actual commitment. Hillary Clinton will be dispatched to NATO to try and wring some more troops out of their member countries. And the advisers, consultants, trainers and contractors may not be included in this announcement. I don’t think you can put an exact number on this escalation, at least not yet.

There’s also talk of a Friedman Unit:

The administration’s plan contains “off-ramps,” points starting next June at which Obama could decide to continue the flow of troops, halt the deployments and adopt a more limited strategy or “begin looking very quickly at exiting” the country, depending on political and military progress, one defense official said.

“We have to start showing progress within six months on the political side or military side or that’s it,” the U.S. defense official said.

I don’t think there was any thought to “off-ramps” a couple months ago, or an exit strategy of any kind.

Cost also seemed to be a major concern in last night’s meeting, which included OMB Director Peter Orszag. Could that mean that the war surtax will get a fresh look?

The President plans to meet with Nancy Pelosi today, presumably to discuss the decision. NPR reports that the decision could be announced in a speech to the public on Dec. 1, with Gen. McChrystal and US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry to testify to Congress later that week.

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David Dayen

David Dayen