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WH Postponing Hard Calls on War

The Associated Press via YellowBrix

September 15, 2009

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is holding off major decisions that could put its military forces on a firmer war footing in Afghanistan even as doubts grow about whether the United States can win there.

Many military and diplomatic leaders have urged President Barack Obama to send thousands more Marines, Soldiers and pilots to try to reverse Afghanistan’s crumbling security situation.

But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs has said no decision about adding troops is expected for “weeks and weeks,” following what he described as intensive evaluation. The troop decision will be a first indicator of whether Obama intends to double down in Afghanistan, becoming a wartime president in earnest.

Leading Democrats in Congress have signaled they do not support a troop increase now, and maybe not at all. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, has the unhappy task of telling the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday why the United States should stay the course and commit to what he calls a “properly resourced counterinsurgency effort.”

Mullen’s long-scheduled nomination hearing for a second term as the president’s chief military adviser will be chaired by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who warned the White House last week not to push for a big troop increase. He wants the Pentagon to focus on quicker training for Afghan security forces instead.

Mullen has sounded increasingly alarmed about the growing technical capabilities of a resurgent Taliban and about the lackluster support among Afghans for the foreign-run enterprise that purports to protect them from a homegrown insurgent movement.

“Time is not on our side,” Mullen said this month.

Postponing whether to add more American forces and alter other aspects of military strategy could give the White House breathing room for other priorities, including a health care overhaul and a hard-fought defense budget package.

Leading congressional Republicans, who have become Obama’s strongest supporters for the Afghan effort, are fretting that he will punt.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., warned in a Wall Street Journal essay on Monday that muddling through is a recipe for disaster.

“More troops will not guarantee success in Afghanistan, but a failure to send them is a guarantee of failure,” they wrote.

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