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McChrystal Comments Bring WH Rebuke

The Associated Press via YellowBrix

October 05, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, retired Gen. James Jones, says decisions on how best to stabilize Afghanistan and beat back the insurgency must extend beyond the issue of troop levels to improved governance and how best to foster economic development.

The debate over sending up to 40,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan is just one element that senior policy advisers will consider this week, as they gather for at least two top-level meetings on the administration’s evolving Afghan policy.

Jones offered a mild rebuke Sunday of Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, for making a public call for more forces during a speech last week in London. It is “better for military advice to come up through the chain of command,” said Jones.

But he also said that McChrystal “is in it for the long haul,” beating back suggestions that the general’s public remarks could jeopardize his job. “I don’t think this is an issue,” said Jones

Jones comments came amid growing government fissures over whether to send thousands of additional troops to the fight, and just hours after militant forces overwhelmed U.S. troops at two outposts near the Pakistan border, killing eight Americans.

Obama’s senior advisers are set to debate the Afghan strategy, juggling political pressure from the left to scale back combat troops with arguments from military leaders that additional forces are needed to secure the country and enable other improvements.

Jones said that Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling to the Taliban, and he downplayed fears that the insurgency could set up a renewed sanctuary for al-Qaida. McChrystal has said that insurgents are gaining ground and the U.S. is in danger of failing unless more forces are sent to the fight.

“I don’t foresee the return of the Taliban. Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling,” Jones said. “The al-Qaida presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.”

He said Obama has received McChrystal’s request for additional troops, and the force numbers will be part of a larger discussion that will include efforts to beef up the size and training of the Afghan army and police, along with economic development and governance improvements in Afghanistan.

“It would be, I think, unfortunate if we let the discussion just be about troop strength. There is a minimum level that you have to have, but there’s, unfortunately, no ceiling to it,” Jones said.

Obama is considering a range of ideas for changing course in Afghanistan, including scaling back, staying put or sending more troops to fight the insurgency.

U.S. officials also are waiting for the results of the Afghan elections, as disturbing reports of fraud grow.

Arguments on the U.S. strategy and troop requirements were escalating among lawmakers.

“I would not commit to more combat troops at this time,” said Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich. “There’s a lot of other things that need to be done to show resolve. What we need a surge of is Afghan troops.”

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., countered that if commanders want more troops, they should get them.

Jones and Kyl spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Jones also appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” as did Levin.

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