Obama Holds Afghanistan War Strategy Session as Decision Nears

November 24, 2009 by USA Post 

Nov. 23 (Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama convened what may be his final strategy session on Afghanistan as he readies a decision on the next steps in the war that could come as early as next week, his spokesman said.

Tonight’s White House meeting among Obama and his top military and foreign policy advisers lasted about two hours and was intended to provide answers to Obama’s questions about how long U.S. troops may be engaged in Afghanistan, as well as a “strategy for getting them out,” press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

The president may be ready to settle on a plan “over the course of the next several days,” Gibbs said in comments before the session.

At the last strategy session on Nov. 11, Obama expressed dissatisfaction with the options being presented, and the administration issued a statement saying the “president believes that we need to make clear to the Afghan government that our commitment is not open-ended.”

Obama has said he wants to set benchmarks to measure improvements in Afghanistan’s military and government, including the ability to deliver services to the civilian population and efforts to reduce corruption. The president also has said wants to lay out a path for an exit strategy for a war that began in 2001.

In an interview last week with NBC, Obama said he would “present to the American people in very clear terms what exactly is at stake, what we intend to do, how we’re going to succeed, how much it’s going to cost, how long it’s going to take.”

More Forces

Among the decisions before Obama is whether to grant a request from the top commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, for 40,000 more troops to fight the Taliban, which harbored al-Qaeda before being toppled in the invasion following the Sept. 11 attacks. The U.S. contributes about 70,000 of the 110,000 foreign forces waging the Afghan war.

White House Budget Director Peter Orszag has estimated that each additional soldier in Afghanistan could cost $1 million, for a total that could reach $40 billion if 40,000 more troops are added.

Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said last week that higher-income Americans should be taxed to pay for sending more troops to Afghanistan.

An “additional income tax to the upper brackets, folks earning more than $200,000 or $250,000” a year, could fund more troops, Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said in an interview for Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt.”

Gibbs said the idea of a so-called war tax hasn’t come up in Obama’s discussions.

Cost Accounting

The president has told the Joint Chiefs of Staff that “we have to take into account how much all of this is going to cost over a five-year, 10-year period,” Gibbs said.

The U.S. also is urging other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to contribute more to the war. NATO foreign ministers are due to meet in Brussels on Dec. 3-4.

Germany’s defense minister said last week that his country, the third biggest contributor of troops in the war, would reassess after Obama announces his revised strategy and allies meet in London in January to devise a plan for handing authority back to the Afghan government. The German government of Chancellor Angela Merkel last week supported extending the term of the country’s military presence in Afghanistan through next year, maintaining the upper limit at 4,500 troops.

Britain, which has 9,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, has pledged to add 500 more if other nations bolster their contributions. Levin said he wants NATO to provide half the additional forces that might be needed.

Meeting Participants

Tonight’s strategy session was scheduled to involve 17 members of the administration, including Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, National Security Adviser James Jones, Karl Eikenberry, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and McChrystal. The commander and Eikenberry were to participate via videoconference, as was Anne Patterson, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan.

Republicans are pressuring Obama for a decision.

“We encourage you to adopt General McChrystal’s recommendation and to provide him with the forces that will give us the highest chance for success with the lowest risk to the safety and security of our forces,” House Republican Leader John Boehner and 13 others said in a Nov. 20 letter.

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