WASHINGTON — Six months after it announced its strategy for Afghanistan, the Obama administration is sending mixed signals about its objectives there and how many troops are needed to achieve them.
The conflicting messages are drawing increasing ire from U.S. commanders in Afghanistan and frustrating military leaders, who're trying to figure out how to demonstrate that they're making progress in the 12-18 months that the administration has given them.
Adding to the frustration, according to officials in Kabul and Washington, are White House and Pentagon directives made over the last six weeks that Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, not submit his request for as many as 45,000 additional troops because the administration isn't ready for it.
In the last two weeks, top administration leaders have suggested that more American troops will be sent to Afghanistan, and then called that suggestion "premature." Earlier this month, Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that "time is not on our side"; on Thursday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates urged the public "to take a deep breath."
The White House didn't respond to requests for comment. Officials willing to speak did so only on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly.
In Kabul, some members of McChrystal's staff said they don't understand why Obama called Afghanistan a "war of necessity" but still hasn't given them the resources they need to turn things around quickly.
Some are reading this as an indication that General McChrystal is set to resign if not given the level of support needed to get the job done. Certainly in light of the Commander-in-Chief's glowing rhetoric, you'd think that wouldn't be a problem:
This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is a — this is fundamental to the defense of our people.
Fundamental to the defense of our people? But maybe not as important as the government take over of health care?
The White House still hasn't decided how much political capital it wants to invest in Afghanistan, and it considers a health care overhaul, financial regulatory revisions and energy policy its priorities, the senior defense official said.
In Kabul, however, U.S. commanders said they thought that Obama's strategy was based on McChrystal's assessment of what he needs. "We thought that bringing McChrystal here was their strategy," one said.
Those officials said that taking time could be costly because the U.S. risked losing the Afghans' support. "Dithering is just as destructive as 10 car bombs," the senior official in Kabul said. "They have seen us leave before. They are really good at picking the right side to ally with."
Maybe they should ask the Ditherer-in-Chief?
Hat tip Wizbang
Cross posted at Say Anything