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WH Postponing Hard Calls on War

The Associated Press via YellowBrix

September 15, 2009

Fifty-one U.S. troops died in Afghanistan in August, more than any other month since the U.S.-led invasion in October 2001. The rising casualty toll and the addition of 21,000 U.S. forces this year have heightened public scrutiny of what was once called the “forgotten war.” Now Iraq holds that distinction, although nearly twice as many U.S. Soldiers remain stationed there than in Afghanistan.

Recent national polls indicate slipping support for the nearly eight-year war and growing doubt that it can be won. The latest AP-GfK survey finds that fewer than half – 46 percent – now approve of Obama’s handling of Afghanistan, a 9 percentage point drop since July.

A CNN poll conducted in the final four days of August said 42 percent supported the war and 57 percent opposed it. That compared with 53 percent supporting and 46 percent opposing in early April, days after Obama announced a new war strategy and vowed to provide resources to the war effort in ways his predecessor had not.

“I just don’t know that more troops is the answer,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Sunday on CNN. She is also a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I’m just wondering where this ends and how we’ll know if this succeeded.”

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is widely expected to ask for more forces for what he describes as a nearly complete do-over of the Bush administration’s strategy to fight an increasingly unpopular war.

That request is expected within two weeks, following a summer-long review and a classified assessment of the prospects for applying the revamped counterinsurgency strategy that Obama outlined earlier this year.

Congressional defense leaders are due to be briefed this week on McChrystal’s assessment, which was the subject of a White House huddle with top military leaders Sunday. The White House is also due to submit a set of Afghanistan benchmarks or performance tests to Congress next week.

The White House has been vague about what happens next, but Gibbs’ rough timeline suggests that any choices about whether to escalate the war will come after the worst of the fighting for this year. Because of the cold, fighting tends to ebb in mid- to late fall and begin again in earnest in mid-spring.

“I think it will be many weeks of evaluation and assessment,” Gibbs said.

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