Obama asked for early look at Afghanistan troop request

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 7, 2009 

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama asked for and received a personal copy of his Afghanistan commander's request for more troops before top military officials had formally reviewed it so it wouldn't be leaked to reporters.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Wednesday that the president wanted to see Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request before it was discussed in the media, as happened with McChrystal's classified assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. Last month, weeks after McChrystal submitted his largely negative opinion, it was given to The Washington Post.

That the Pentagon is suggesting the president doesn't trust parts of the military is the latest example of friction between the two institutions. The request usually would go to U.S. Central Command and to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Each would give their comments about the request before Defense Secretary Robert Gates submitted it to the president.

Until now, the Pentagon and White House had said that the administration wouldn't consider whether to send more troops to Afghanistan until it completed a thorough review of its strategy there. Instead, the president asked Gates for the document last Thursday, and Gates submitted an "informal request," Morrell said at a briefing.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Wednesday that the strategy review isn't complete, and top national security advisers held a three-hour meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss Pakistan. A similar meeting is scheduled Friday to discuss Afghanistan.

The administration has said the president may not announce the results of the strategy review for weeks.

"We are going through the process of evaluating the goals and strategy," Gibbs said at his daily briefing. "At a point after that, we will get to discussing resources."

Some military commanders, particularly those in Afghanistan, feel adrift. They say that Obama undermined McChrystal, whom he installed in June to lead the U.S. operations in Afghanistan, by calling him the best military mind on counterinsurgency and then publicly questioning his approach in Afghanistan.

Morrell dismissed any suggestion of friction, saying that U.S. Central Command commander Gen. David Petraeus and Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have been and will continue to be included in the review.

Petraeus and Mullen have seen the troop request, but Morrell suggested that there were concerns that leaks could come from their offices. Spokesmen for Mullen and Petraeus couldn't say whether either knew the request had been submitted before they added their formal comments.

McChrystal is thought to have asked for as many as 45,000 more troops to tackle a resurgent Taliban that's pushed violence to the highest levels of the war, both against Afghans and coalition troops. There are currently 66,000 U.S. troops and 39,000 coalition forces in Afghanistan. So far this month, at least 17 U.S. troops have been killed.

The administration has stressed the importance of the chain of command during its strategy review. The White House and Pentagon had said it wanted McChrystal's 60-day assessment to remain confidential so they could get feedback from CENTCOM and the Joint Staff. It did -- until the leak to the Post.

Earlier this week, Jones and Gates appeared to rebuke McChrystal for speaking outside the chain of command. In a speech in London, McChrystal said a strategy heavy on drone attacks, an idea being pushed by Vice President Joe Biden, was "short-sighted."

On Monday, Gates told a gathering of Army officers that the military should provide "our best advice to the president candidly -- but privately."

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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