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McClatchy reports that the Commander in Chief of the US military has finally made a decision on whether or not to send more troops to Afghanistan, and will officially announce his decision next Tuesday (probably in a primetime address to the nation):
WASHINGTON — 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.
The U.S. officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly and because, one official said, the White House is incensed by leaks on its Afghanistan policy that didn’t originate in the White House.
They said the commander of the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, could arrive in Washington as early as Sunday to participate in the rollout of the new plan, including testifying before Congress toward the end of next week. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry also are expected to appear before congressional committees.
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.
The Monday evening meeting was the ninth that Obama has held on the crisis in Afghanistan, where the worsening war entered its ninth year last month. This year has seen violence reach unprecedented levels as the Taliban and allied groups have gained strength and expanded their reach.
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.
“Off-ramps”? Hmmm. Ed Morrissey doesn’t like it:
The new plan contains the “off-ramps” Obama demanded from his national security team. Those begin to arrive as early as June, according to McClatchy, giving the US a few easy outs if Obama chooses to retreat. If the “political side” or the war itself doesn’t improve, Obama apparently wants to get out altogether. In other words, this looks like McChrystal’s last stand. Next week, McChrystal will return to DC in order to help Obama roll this out, where Obama will almost certainly get significant pushback from Democrats in Congress over the cost and the need to keep fighting.
The increase in troops is a good decision, but the off-ramps almost completely undermine it. The point in extending our footprint is to win the trust of the local communities and prove our reliability in providing them security, which is the central thrust of McChrystal’s COIN strategy. By getting them to trust our commitment, we can get them to help fight the Taliban themselves, as we did with the Anbar Awakening in Iraq against al-Qaeda, and greatly improve the intel we get from the locals. If we send 34,000 more troops but give ourselves a six-month time frame for success or bug-out, the locals will very quickly come to the realization that allying with us will be suicide. The COIN strategy only worked in Iraq because George W. Bush was adamant that we would stay until we won.
A Commander in Chief doesn’t need “off-ramps.” Any President can call an end to a deployment based on his own judgment. Putting these conditions into the American strategy signals weakness — a desire to pull out without getting blamed for the decision. Obama wants to be off the hook for an eventual withdrawal by claiming that he’s forced to do it because of these benchmark failures. And if Obama’s that keen to retreat, he should just do it now.
What do you think?