Strongly worded cables urge a pause until
By Greg Jaffe, Scott Wilson And Karen DeYoung
Wednesday, November 11, 2009 7:22 PM
The U.S. ambassador in Kabul sent two classified cables to Washington in the last week expressing deep concerns about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government demonstrates that it is willing to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that has fueled the Taliban's rise, said senior U.S. officials.
Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry's memos were sent in the days leading up to a critical meeting Wednesday between President Obama and his national security team to consider several options prepared by military planners for how to proceed in
The last-minute dissent by Eikenberry, who commanded
Eikenberry retired from the military in April 2009 as a senior general in NATO and was sworn in as ambassador the next day. His position as a former commander of
Although Eikenberry's extensive military experience was one of the main reasons he was chosen by Obama for the top diplomatic job in
In his communications with
Karzai expressed indifference when asked about the withdrawal of most of the hundreds of U.N. employees from
"They may or may not return," Karzai said of the departing U.N. employees. "I don't think
In the cables, Eikenberry also expressed frustration with the relative paucity of money set aside for spending on development and reconstruction this year in
The ambassador also has worried that sending tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops would increase the Afghan government's dependence on U.S. support at a time when its own security forces should be taking on more responsibility for fighting. Prior to serving as the commander of
Eikenberry's cables emerged as military planners presented Obama with several options for how to proceed in
Obama received the options Wednesday afternoon in a Situation Room meeting with his national security team, and he will consider each on his nine-day trip to
Facing a nation increasingly pessimistic about U.S. prospects in Afghanistan, Obama is considering a set of options that would all draw America deeper into the war at a time of economic hardship and rising fiscal concerns at home. His own party is largely opposed to expanding the war effort after eight years, and the extended review has revealed a philosophical division within his administration over how to proceed.
The internal deliberations have been shaped in large part by the hard skepticism of his civilian counselors, led by Vice President Biden, who have argued for a more narrow counterterrorism strategy that would not significantly expand the
But Obama's senior military advisers, supported by such influential Cabinet members as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have said that only a "jump" in U.S. forces can turn back the Taliban and prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a haven for al-Qaeda.
Obama has been seeking a middle ground, along with his national security adviser, James L. Jones, a four-star general described as skeptical that a large additional troop deployment would help stabilize the country. The review has already concluded that the Taliban cannot be eliminated as a military and political force, only weakened to the extent that it no longer poses a threat to the weak central government in
The options range from a modest training and counterterrorism effort to a broader and likely longer-lasting counterinsurgency program. Whichever course he chooses, Obama will probably have to explain a recalibrated set of
Obama is taking into consideration the potential length of an additional American commitment, the effectiveness of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the preparedness of Afghanistan's security forces, according to officials familiar with the review. He is also considering the uncertain support of neighboring
A senior administration official involved in the review, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the internal deliberations, said "the troop level is only a way of measuring each of these equities against each other."
"Do we have any assurances of what
Obama and his senior advisers are also considering the cost of an additional years-long troop deployment, which would require an expensive new base construction program in
Administration officials say it costs approximately $1 billion a year to support 1,000
"Everybody's sensitive to costs, for obvious reasons, because we don't have unlimited resources," said a second senior administration official briefed frequently on the internal deliberations. "But the idea is to get the strategy right, determine what's achievable, then select the resources needed. That will drive the cost decisions."
Obama asked for the troop options last month in a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Tuesday that he would receive four proposals.
The most modest option calls for an additional deployment of 10,000 to 15,000 troops. While under consideration at the White House, the proposal holds little merit for military planners because, after building bases to accommodate 10,000 or so additional soldiers and Marines, the marginal cost of adding troops beyond that figure would rise only slightly.
The most ambitious option Obama is set to receive Wednesday calls for 40,000 additional U.S. troops and mirrors the counterinsurgency strategy outlined by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, in his stark assessment of the war filed at the end of August.
Military planners put the additional annual cost of McChrystal's recommendation at $33 billion, although White House officials say the number is probably closer to $50 billion.
McChrystal called for significantly more
Although that plan was originally favored by senior military officials, a second option now appears to have Gates's backing and is said to be the Pentagon's preferred choice, according to military planners.
The strategy, referred to by military planners as the "Gates Option," would deploy an additional 30,000 to 35,000
Of the roughly 100,000 international forces in
Last month, NATO defense ministers endorsed McChrystal's strategy during a meeting in
According to Pentagon and White House officials, Gates will appeal for more troops from the governments of
The Dutch government is also scheduled to pull its more than 2,000 troops from
Obama has reached out to European allies since taking office, emphasizing the alliances neglected for years by the Bush administration. European leaders have praised the diplomacy, and Gates believes it is time for them to show their support with tangible commitments.
But advisers say that Obama, while supportive of Gates's appeal in theory, is skeptical he can succeed given the depth of European opposition to the war. Military planners estimate that the Gates option would cost $27 billion a year.
The third option, known by military planners as "the hybrid," would send 20,000 additional
In the rest of the country, the military would adopt a counterterrorism strategy targeting al-Qaeda operatives, using Predator drones and other tactics that leave a light
Although McChrystal identifies between 10 to 12 population areas that need
Obama asked for a province-by-province analysis of the country to determine where local leaders could be counted on to ensure security, information he is using in part to determine how long U.S. forces might have to remain in the country and at what level.
One senior administration official noted that roughly 68 percent of the Afghan population lives in
"What do you have to protect to ensure that the Afghan government stays in power?" asked one senior administration official. "You need a level of control over the population that legitimately represents
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs