Despite a vehement denial from the White House, another British news source is claiming the Obama administration has decided in favor of a significant troop increase for Afghanistan.
The Daily Telegraph cites a senior British military officer who confirmed that the US has decided to send “tens of thousands” of additional troops to Afghanistan, in accordance with the reported wishes of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of the forces in Afghanistan.
“I don’t want to put words in the mouths of the Americans but I am fairly confident of the way it is going to come out,” the paper quoted Air Chief Marshall Sir Jock Stirrup as saying.
The Telegraph also quoted White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ denial: “I would not put any weight behind the fact that a decision has been made, when the President has yet to make a decision. … I’ve seen the report. It’s not true, either generally or specifically. The president has not made a decision.”
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White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Wednesday denied a BBC news report that President Barack Obama has already decided to send 45,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, on top of the 68,000 already serving there.
“It’s not true,” Gibbs said, insisting “the president has not made a decision.”
According to news reports, Obama huddled with his war council Wednesday for the fifth time, debating whether to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan as he maps a new strategy to quell the conflict.
Obama has said he hopes to unveil his plans in the coming weeks as he desperately seeks to contain the violence in Afghanistan fueled by the resurgent Taliban ousted from power eight years ago and al Qaeda militants.
But a report on BBC’s Newsnight in the UK that aired Wednesday said the Obama administration has already made the decision to send 45,000 more troops to Afghanistan, which would amount to 5,000 more than Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of forces in Afghanistan, has reportedly asked for.
The Newsnight report appears to be based on sources inside the British government, who say the UK has already been notified of the US’s intentions. Newsnight’s defense issues editor, Mark Urban, posted on his blog that the BBC report is based on “usually impeccable sources.”
The government of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown appears to believe that troop strength increases are where the Afghanistan strategy is headed. On Wednesday, it announced the UK would be sending 500 additional troops to Afghanistan.
“This would amount to a dramatic endorsement of the counter insurgency strategy proposed by General Stanley McChrystal and a reversal for Vice President Joe Biden who questioned the value of sending more men and women,” Urban wrote.
The New York Times reported last month that Vice President Biden has become a vocal critic of the US’s strategy for Afghanistan. Biden has argued that the US would be better served by focusing its resources on Pakistan, which is believed to have more Taliban and al Qaeda fighters than Afghanistan, and is a nuclear-armed country.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that McChrystal has offered the president several alternative options, including a maximum injection of up to 60,000 extra troops.
The US force in the NATO-led mission was at about 34,000 when Obama was sworn in on January 20, and starting in March, the administration said the force would rise to 68,000 by the end of the year.
But public opinion is souring towards the war in both the United States and Britain.
Although Obama has remained tight-lipped about his deliberations, the White House has made it clear that a total withdrawal from Afghanistan is not an option.
“We need a policy that works. And if that takes a little bit more time to get right, I think that’s what the American people expect,” Gibbs said.
“There are many pieces that all have to fit together — as I said, militarily, civilian, diplomatically — all of which have to work together to ensure a policy that works for our allies and for our goal of destroying Al-Qaeda.”
— With Agence France-Presse