Jones: No more U.S. troops to Afghanistan this year

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 1, 2009 

WASHINGTON — After hearing a "drumbeat" for more troops, White House National Security Adviser James L. Jones has told U.S. commanders in Afghanistan that they won't get any more troops this year beyond what President Barack Obama already has promised.

Just back from a trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, Jones told McClatchy in an exclusive interview Wednesday that he'd told commanders on the ground that the time for debate was over three months ago and that it's time to implement the new three-step plan with the troops already committed, plus a renewed emphasis on economic development and the rule of law.

"It was essentially to remind everybody that we all participated in the development of the strategy," Jones said during the interview in his White House office.

"Everybody had their day in court, so to speak, before the president made his decision. We signed off on the strategy, and now we're in the implementation phase."

Jones said it was still possible that Obama would agree to send another 10,000 troops, but not before next year. Those additional troops were seen as a 2010 contingency option when the strategy was drawn up months ago.

"Even then," Jones said of the internal debates, "we had an agreement that there would be a year from the time the decision was made before they would ever come back and ask for any more if they had to."

As Jones spoke, U.S. Marines were launching an assault on the lower Helmand River valley in southern Afghanistan. They're some of the 8,500 Marines sent there in recent months as part of the Obama-ordered buildup to help fight Taliban forces.

Obama's order to send 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan, mostly completed, will bring the U.S. total in the country to 68,000. Another 32,000 troops from other countries are also there.

Obama ordered the additional troops three months ago as part of a broader shift in strategy that includes greater emphasis on economic development and the rule of law, what Jones called the other two legs of the stool needed to defeat the influence of the Taliban.

He said that the nonmilitary parts of the strategy were crucial and "have always been lagging" during the six years he's worked on the problem.

Yet even as the strategy is being implemented, Jones said he'd started to hear rumblings that new commanders and officials being sent to Afghanistan would quickly urge another shift in strategy and more troops.

"I don't want to name names, but in discussions you can hear the drumbeat of what's going on around town," Jones said.

"All new commanders have good ideas, and they want to come in, they want to get things done, and every now and then in their enthusiasm people need to be reminded of how we got to where we are."

He said he felt the need to go to Afghanistan and keep people on course with the strategy.

"I'd like to think of it as just a reminder of everything we've done and just to say, 'Think this through. Have we really given the strategy a chance to unfold itself' — the answer to that is no — 'before you start coming in and saying, "Oh, by the way, we need X, Y and Z," when just two, three months ago you were sitting in front of the president and you said this is enough.' "

There's been a virtually complete turnover in the U.S. military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan in recent months.

U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a former special operations chief, took over the command of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan after an abrupt decision to replace his predecessor, Gen. David McKiernan, before his tour of duty was up.

The U.S. ambassador, retired Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, is also new on the job, as is his No. 2, Frank Ricciardone, who was given the special title "deputy ambassador."

The United Nations named a new special envoy for Afghanistan in March. Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide coordinates the world body's numerous agencies and programs in the country.

"There was talk about . . . coming in with more requests. . . . There was enough of that kind of talk going around that it was useful to remind everybody where we were just three months ago, where we are now," Jones said.

"Let's complete what we said we were going to do, give it a reasonable time to see how it works, then assess from there."

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