White House meeting on Afghanistan yields few new details
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers emerged from an hourlong White House meeting on Afghanistan on Tuesday confident that President Barack Obama is carefully weighing the strategy ahead, but they are unsure when he will make a final decision.
More than 30 congressional leaders, including those who hold influence over defense policies and appropriations, attended the meeting, described by members as an open and sometimes “passionate” discussion largely about whether to commit more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
Lawmakers said Obama did not support any immediate reduction in troop level in Afghanistan but did not indicate whether he was leaning toward a troop increase. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he left the meeting believing that all lawmakers — regardless of party affiliation — will support Obama’s ultimate decision.
But Republican members hedged that promise, saying they support the concepts in Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recently leaked assessment on progress in Afghanistan, which noted the insurgency there is likely to succeed without major changes such as committing more troops to the fight.
“There’s widespread feeling in our caucus that we have confidence in Gen. [David] Petraeus and Gen. McChrystal, and if they’re on board, a significant number of our members will be as well,” said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Tuesday’s event was the first of several meetings scheduled by the president this week on future military strategy for the region. On Wednesday afternoon, Obama was scheduled to meet with top military commanders and U.S. ambassadors in the region and receive another videoconference briefing from McChrystal, the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he sees parallels between the “surge” in troops for Iraq and the need for more Afghanistan forces now, adding he is confident that Obama understands the importance of the issue.
“I believe the president will make the right decision,” McCain said.
Senators and House members would not discuss specifics of their own strategies or alternatives to a troop increase, which could add tens of thousands more troops to the nearly 70,000 U.S. forces already committed to Afghanistan.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., said while the president deliberates his options, lawmakers should be doing a “self-examination” of their own “to see how much they’re willing to put on the table, see what they’re willing to commit in terms of money and troops.” For his part, Kerry indicated he’d be reluctant to send more troops overseas without a clearer set of goals.
White House and congressional officials did not offer any timeline for when a final announcement on strategy will be made, but said for now they’re willing to wait.
“He wants ample time to make a decision, and I support that,” Boehner said. “But we need to remember that every day that goes by, our troops that are there are in greater danger. We need to get this right.”