President Barack Obama intends to announce next week that he will deploy tens of thousands of additional US troops to Afghanistan, according to numerous published reports citing unnamed administration officials, to fight an eight-year-old war that a majority of Americans do not support and numerous Democratic lawmakers say is no longer worth waging.
Leaks coming out of the White House following Obama’s final meeting Monday evening with top military officials, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, National Security Adviser Jim Jones, US. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and 12 other senior members of his administration, indicate that the president will send 34,000 additional troops to the region over the next nine months, far short of the 80,000 troops Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal recommended last August.
Still, the surge would bring the total number of US soldiers in Afghanistan to about 100,000 and would severely strain an already stretched military.
Indeed, as Spencer Ackerman noted last week in an investigative report published in The Washington Independent, “If President Obama orders an additional 30,000 to 40,000 troops to Afghanistan, he will be deploying practically every available US Army brigade to war, leaving few units in reserve in case of an unforeseen emergency and further stressing a force that has seen repeated combat deployments since 2002.
“According to information compiled by the US Army for The Washington Independent about the deployment status of active-duty and National Guard Army brigades, as of December 2009, there will be about 50,600 active-duty soldiers, serving in 14 combat brigades, and as many as 24,000 National Guard soldiers available for deployment. All other soldiers and National Guardsmen will either be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan already or ineligible to deploy while they rest from a previous deployment.
“The shortage of available combat brigades means that an escalation of between 30,000 and 40,000 troops is ‘not realistic‚'” and would leave the US with “no reserve in case you had a problem in Korea,” Lawrence Korb, a former senior Pentagon official in the Reagan administration who now studies defense issues for the liberal Center for American Progress, told The Washington Independent.
According to an in-depth report by veteran McClatchy Newspapers reporter Jonathan Landay, deployments will begin in March of three Army brigades from the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Kentucky; the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, and a Marine brigade from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, “for as many as 23,000 additional combat and support troops.
“In addition, a 7,000-strong division headquarters would be sent to take command of US-led NATO forces in southern Afghanistan – to which the US has long been committed – and 4,000 US military trainers would be dispatched to help accelerate an expansion of the Afghan army and police,” Landay reported.
Officials commenting on the strategy refused to speak on the record, but the leaks appear to be well-coordinated and aimed at softening the blow that will likely result after Obama publicly announces his war plans December 1. His address to the nation next week will come two weeks before the president heads to Oslo, Norway, to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.
Without commenting on specifics of his strategy, Obama said Tuesday he intends to “finish the job” that began with the overthrow of the Taliban following the 9/11 attacks and promised to “dismantle and degrade … al-Qaeda and its extremist allies [to ensure they] cannot operate” in [Afghanistan].
The president alluded to the fact that the Bush administration failed to commit resources to Afghanistan over the past seven years, choosing to focus exclusively on the occupation of Iraq, which allowed the Taliban to regain a stronghold in the region. Obama predicted the American people would support his efforts, despite opinions polls that show deep misgivings about the war.
“I feel very confident that when the American people hear a clear rationale for what we’re doing there and how we intend to achieve our goals, that they will be supportive,” Obama said.
But convincing Congress, especially on the issue of how to fund the troop increase which Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, pegged at nearly $1 million per soldier, is another matter.
While Obama promised on the campaign trail not to rely on the use of emergency supplemental money to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – estimated to have cost nearly $1 trillion thus far – and instead dip into the defense budget, it’s likely the president will do just that when it comes time to pay for the surge.
Congressman David Obey (D-Wisconsin) and Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan) have proposed a war surtax on the wealthy to pay for additional troops.
“If we have to pay for the health care bill, we should pay for the war as well,” Obey told ABC News in an interview that aired Monday. “The problem in this country with this issue is that the only people who have to sacrifice are military families and they’ve had to go to the well again and again and again and again, and everybody else is blithely unaffected by the war.”
Obey added that it would also be a “mistake to deepen our involvement” in Afghanistan.
Sen. Arlen Specter agreed. In a conference call with reporters last week, the Pennsylvania Democrat said, “We ought not to add troops in Afghanistan – let alone remain in the country unless the Obama administration can prove that escalating the war is ‘indispensable to our fight against al-Qaeda.”
Specter said he arrived at his decision after meeting with Secretary of State Clinton; Defense Secretary Gates; Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and top intelligence officials. Moreover, Specter said Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai’s failure to root out corruption in his government factored into his decision.
That was a sentiment shared by Ambassador Eikenberry, who privately warned Obama in two classified cables he sent to the White House earlier this month about deploying additional troops to Afghanistan because of widespread corruption in Karzai’s government.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also said Karzai was an “unworthy partner” whose country does not warrant additional US aid. Obama met with Pelosi earlier Tuesday to discuss his plans.
But if Obama is determined to escalate the conflict then “at least we ought to pay for it. Because if we don’t, if we don’t pay for it, then the cost of the Afghan War will wipe out every other initiative that we have to rebuild our economy,” Obey said. “Ain’t going to be no money for nothing if we pour it all into Afghanistan.”
Obey called for a “graduated tax‚” beginning at 1 percent for low-income individuals, that would increase to 5 percent for high-income individuals. He pointed out that he’s calling it a surtax because it would be amount to a tax on income already subject to federal income tax.
Levin, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, made a similar suggestion during an interview with Bloomberg News. However, he said the tax should apply to people earning between $200,000 and $250,000 a year.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that the two-hour meeting between Obama and his war council included a discussion on an eventual exit strategy.
But Gibbs would not go into specifics about Monday evening’s meeting.
“After completing a rigorous final meeting, President Obama has the information he wants and needs to make his decision,” Gibbs said in a statement.