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WASHINGTON — Afghanistan strategy advice that military and civilian leaders give the president should be kept private, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Monday.

He was the second member of President Barack Obama’s inner circle in as many days to make such a remark, an apparent gesture to the public presence of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan.

McChrystal has come under fire for publicly making the case that without more troops in Afghanistan, the coalition could lose the war. During a speech in London last week, he suggested that any approach that doesn’t leave Afghanistan with an increased level of stability is “probably a shortsighted strategy.” Earlier in the week, “60 Minutes” aired an interview with the general.

“In this process, it is imperative that all of us taking part in these deliberations — civilians and military alike — provide our best advice to the president, candidly but privately,” Gates told an audience at a gathering of the Association of the United States Army.

National Security Advisor James Jones told CNN on Sunday that, “Ideally, it’s better for military advice to come up through the chain of command.”

Spokesmen for both Gates and the White House would not say whether the remarks were directed at McChrystal.

“The line speaks for itself and references the need for both military and civilian advisors to the President to keep their counsel private during this process,” said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.

A spokesman for McChrystal said the general agreed with Gates that the president’s advisors need to provide “candid but private advice.”

Gates was scheduled to meet with Obama at the White House on Monday afternoon.

Obama’s decisions about what to do next in Afghanistan will be “among the most important of his presidency,” Gates said.

White House: Afghan pullout not an option

President Obama may take weeks to decide whether to add more troops, but the idea of pulling out of Afghanistan isn't on the table as a way to deal with a war nearing its ninth year, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday.

"I don't think we have the option to leave. That's quite clear," Gibbs said.

The question of whether to further escalate the conflict after adding 21,000 U.S. troops earlier this year is a major decision facing Obama and senior administration policy advisers this week.

Obama also invited a bipartisan group of congressional leaders to the White House on Tuesday to confer about the war. And Obama will meet twice this week with his top national security advisers.

Divided on Afghanistan, Congress takes up a massive defense spending bill this week even before the president settles on a direction for the war.

At issue is whether U.S. forces should continue to focus on fighting the Taliban and securing the Afghan population, or shift to more narrowly targeting al-Qaida terrorists believed to be hiding in Pakistan with unmanned spy drones and covert operations.

— The Associated Press


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