On Afghanistan, US military puts Obama on the spot

by Dan DeLuce
AFP news
Saturday, October 3, 2009

WASHINGTON (AFP) – By openly declaring their views on the Afghan war, US military leaders have placed President Barack Obama in a bind as he faces a fraught decision over the troubled US-led mission.
Obama has refused to quickly approve a request from his commanders for a major troop build-up in Afghanistan, insisting first on a full vetting of the current strategy.

But while a war council takes place behind closed doors at the White House, top military officers have made no secret of their view that without a vast ground force, the Afghan mission could end in failure.
“They want to make sure people know what they asked for if things go wrong,” Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense, told AFP.

As a result, if Obama chooses to change course in Afghanistan or decline a request for large numbers of troops, he will be rejecting the advice of the US military, raising the political stakes.

Commentators on the left say the military ought to keep its advice private without trying to influence public debate, with New York Times columnist Frank Rich accusing the generals of an attempt to “try to lock him (Obama) in” on Afghanistan.

Korb said the top brass is keen to avoid a repeat of the run-up to the Iraq war under former president George W. Bush, when military leaders bowed to White House demands for a small invasion force — with disastrous consequences.

Drawing on blood-soaked experience in Iraq, military commanders now fervently embrace counter-insurgency doctrine, which calls for large numbers of troops providing security and winning the trust of the local population.

Amid rising casualties and a spreading insurgency, skeptics in Congress and the White House have floated proposals to freeze or even reduce the 65,000-strong force.

But McChrystal and his superiors have dismissed such alternatives as half-measures.

“You can’t hope to contain the fire by letting just half the building burn,” McChrystal told Newsweek.

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