President Barack Obama is nearing a decision to add tens of thousands more forces to Afghanistan, though probably not quite the 40,000 sought by his top general there.
The White House emphasized that the president hasn’t made a decision yet about troop levels or other aspects of the revised U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.
Administration officials told The Associated Press on Monday the deployment would most probably begin in January with a mission to stiffen the defense of 10 key cities and towns. An Army brigade that had been training for deployment to Iraq that month may be the vanguard. The brigade, based at Fort Drum in upstate New York, has been told it will not go to Iraq as planned but has been given no new mission yet.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president would meet again Wednesday with key members of his foreign policy and military team but was unlikely to announce final plans for Afghanistan until late this month, when he returns from an extended diplomatic trip to Asia.
Gibbs said the Pentagon is “working on additional recommendations” to present to Obama and said Obama has made no decision on troop numbers, or even on what the ratio should be between combat troops and trainers.
Military officials said Obama will have choices that include a phased addition of up to 40,000 forces over some six months or more next year, based on security conditions and the decisions of NATO allies.
Several officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been made also said Obama’s announcement will be much broader than the mathematics of troop numbers, which have dominated the U.S. debate.
It soon will be three months since Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal reported to Obama that the U.S. mission was headed for failure without the addition of about 40,000 troops.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because final plans have not been disclosed, dubbed the likely troop increase as “McChrystal Light” because it would fall short of his request. They also said additional small infusions of troops could be dispatched next spring and summer.
The more gradual buildup, the officials said, would allow time to construct needed housing and add equipment needed for transporting the expanded force.
Besides being sent to cities and towns, the new forces would be stationed to protect important roads and other key infrastructure.
As he makes his decision, Obama told ABC News that he’s been “asking not only Gen. McChrystal but all of our commanders who are familiar with the situation, as well as our civilian folks on the ground, a lot of questions that, until they’re answered, may — may create a situation in which we resource something based on faulty premises.”
He said he wanted to make sure “that if we are sending additional troops that the prospects of a functioning Afghan government are enhanced, that the prospects of al-Qaida being able to attack the U.S. homeland are reduced.”
White House Correspondent Jennifer Loven contributed to this report.