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Obama, war council to review Afghanistan troop options

The four options being considered would retain elements of a counterinsurgency strategy, officials say. The White House reiterates that the president has not reached a decision.

November 11, 2009|Christi Parsons and Julian E. Barnes

WASHINGTON — President Obama and his war council plan today to review four basic strategy options for Afghanistan that could increase the number of U.S. troops there by as many as 40,000 or fewer than 10,000.

The White House insisted Tuesday that Obama has not decided how many additional troops to send or how he will deploy them, though the White House has narrowed the options to those outlined by his national security team, the Pentagon and Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and allied commander in Afghanistan.

All four options would retain some elements of a counterinsurgency strategy, current and former officials said.

The administration is still considering McChrystal's primary recommendation for a reported 40,000 additional troops.

A separate plan calls for sending 34,000 additional troops, said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Such a plan remains close enough to McChrystal's primary request that it would allow him to conduct almost all of the operations he is contemplating, military officers and advisors said. International troops then could help make up the difference in the number sought by the Pentagon.

The White House is considering a third option that McChrystal originally labeled a high-risk plan, which would continue his counterinsurgency strategy but send fewer than 20,000 additional troops.

A fourth plan under consideration draws on the ideas pushed by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), which would minimize protection of the population but emphasize the use of strategies such as drone strikes or special forces operations. Kerry has not specified troop levels for such a strategy, but experts said the plan probably would require an increase of two or three brigades. A brigade typically is 3,500 to 5,000 troops.

The troop increases now under consideration would not constitute what the administration considers a full-scale counterinsurgency program. The plans on the table would not represent a significant increase of U.S. troops before next year.

"None of the options is a full counterinsurgency strategy, which would entail hundreds of thousands of troops," said one senior administration official, who also requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussion. "So anything being considered has elements of both counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism."

The eighth meeting of the war council comes as Obama, who traveled to Texas for memorial services for the victims of the shooting rampage at Ft. Hood, prepares to leave on a weeklong trip to Asia.

"Anybody that tells you that the president has made a decision," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, "doesn't have, in all honesty, the slightest idea what they're talking about. The president has yet to make a decision."

Many experts say Obama is bound to give serious weight to McChrystal's request.

"If he goes against his military commanders entirely, he puts himself in a no-win situation," said Rick Nelson, a former member of the National Counterterrorism Center's Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning who is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "If things don't go well in Afghanistan, it falls on him."

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cparsons@latimes.com

julian.barnes@latimes.com

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