I had a chance today, at a news briefing at the Pentagon, to ask Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, about plans to escalate the war in Afghanistan. I pointed out the contradiction between President Obama’s campaign pledge to add “two or three brigades” of troops and the US commander’s determination to add 30,000 troops, two or three times as much as Obama had promised to add.
Significantly, in their answer, Gates and Mullen stressed that no decision has yet been made about adding troops. That’s important, because it opens a window — yes, it’s a small one — for opponents of expanding the Afghan war to persuade the White House that it’s not a good idea.
Here’s the transcript of my exchange with Gates and Mullen:
Dreyfuss: During the campaign, President Obama said that he would, when elected, send perhaps two to three additional brigades of troops to Afghanistan. Lately, actually since the election, we’ve heard talk about as many as 30,000 troops — significantly more than that — going to Afghanistan. Have any decisions been actually made, pending this review that the president has talked about, in terms of how many American forces might go to Afghanistan this year?
Gates: No final decision has been made. Part of — part of what the president made clear was that they intend to look at Iraq and Afghanistan holistically. And so I think part of the — one of the things that the president will expect before making decisions is what the implications are not just for Iraq, but for Afghanistan. And I expect, as I say that, to be part of those decisions to be forthcoming pretty soon.
Do you want to add anything to that?
Mullen: I — I really wouldn’t add a lot except to say that these are the level of forces that the commander has asked for. So again, we’ve looked very carefully at how to do that. There have been some recommendations that have been made up the chain of command, but no decisions yet.
And consistent with what I said before, I think a very deliberate process now, but rapid as it can be, to both recommend and have the president make this decision — these decisions.
Dreyfuss: Are there detailed plans that you’ve already seen for what these 30,000 troops would do — in other words, where they would be deployed specifically in terms of what provinces and cities, and what their tasks would be? Or is it just a ballpark estimate about what these —