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Obama's Afghanistan announcement may be soon

Senior diplomats and Defense officials are reportedly scheduled to testify before Congress next week about the situation, raising expectations that a troop buildup will be announced.

November 24, 2009|By Julian E. Barnes and Christi Parsons
  • Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, is said to have asked President Obama to send 40,000 additional troops.
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan,… (Pete Souza / AFP/Getty Images )

Reporting from Washington — The Obama administration's leading war planners and diplomats are preparing to testify before Congress about the conflict in Afghanistan, senior officials said Monday, the latest sign that President Obama's decision on a new strategy and troop hike could come next week.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates would probably testify first, said a government official, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity.

Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry also have been told to prepare to testify soon after Obama's announcement.

As the U.S. officials closest to the action on the ground, the pair are considered the most familiar with the current situation. They could also receive the closest scrutiny.

Whereas McChrystal has pushed publicly for 40,000 troops, Eikenberry has said he opposes sending more forces until Afghan President Hamid Karzai takes steps to improve governance and reduce corruption.

A joint appearance by the two U.S. men would present a united front. But it could also showcase tense moments as lawmakers probe for areas of disagreement.

Obama met Monday night with senior war advisors in the White House situation room. Eikenberry and McChrystal participated by video teleconference, while Clinton and Gates attended in person.

The meeting was the 10th formal session in the strategy review that began in September.

A U.S. official said Eikenberry and McChrystal have not yet been given a date for their testimony and were told only that it would come shortly after the president's announcement, which could be rolled out after the Thanksgiving weekend.

A new U.S. strategy would get its first test at a NATO meeting Dec. 7 in Europe, when leaders of the alliance are expected to push member nations to commit thousands of additional trainers to improve Afghan security forces.

Obama hasn't decided yet exactly how he wants to unveil his decision, aides say, but prefers that Americans hear an explanation directly from him.

The White House is reviewing at least three options. One would entail the 40,000-troop increase McChrystal has sought. A middle option, said to be favored by senior Defense officials, would send between 20,000 and 35,000 troops. A third option would send only about 10,000 more troops, likely to serve as trainers for Afghan security forces.

The Obama administration has authorized 68,000 U.S. troops so far. Overall, there are about 110,000 international troops in the country.

Despite complaints from critics that Obama has taken too long to come to his decision, advisors say the president still feels no pressure to rush.

"I just think the president understands that there are a lot of different layers to our involvement in Afghanistan, how it relates to the region, what its impact is on our forces, what its impact is on our fiscal situation," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday.

Gibbs said that Obama was also focused on how to bring troops back home.

The discussion is about "not just how we get people there, but what's the strategy for getting them out," the press secretary said.

The exit strategy is perhaps the most difficult issue for Obama. For a troop buildup to be successful, the administration must convince Pakistanis, Afghans and, most importantly, Taliban militants that the U.S. remains committed to the war effort for the long haul.

But Obama's Democratic allies on Capitol Hill do not want an open-ended commitment.

Obama's announcement will kick off what is anticipated to be the most eventful month yet of his presidency.

By the end of December, Obama hopes to pass a healthcare plan and mark progress toward a climate agreement with world leaders. The president is also due to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, considered by some as an advance vote of confidence in his commitment to resolving conflict.

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