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McChrystal to Ask for More Troops

So reports Barbara Starr. Gen. Stanley McChrystal has already come to the conclusion that there are too few Afghan forces, and they’re, ultimately, the ballgame. So: what to make of all this?

Early reports are what they are, and there’s no indication in Starr’s piece how many troops McChrystal is going to ask for. But she makes a conspicuous reference to “troops and equipment for conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as more assets to deal with roadside bombs and explosives,” so that makes it sound like we’re talking about combat support units and not combat units themselves. Recall that when Gen. David Petraeus gave an account to the Center for a New American Security last month about the 2007 battle for Sadr City, he emphasized the robust ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) assets he devoted to the fight. It left me with the impression that there weren’t nearly enough of those in Afghanistan without Petraeus (if memory serves) saying so outright.

So now comes the wrangling. This has been walked back, but Jim Jones, the national security adviser, reportedly told commanders in Afghanistan not to bother asking for more troops. Defense Secretary Bob Gates, while not ever *saying *that he’s opposed to supplying more than the 30,000-troop increase that McChrystal’s predecessor, Gen. David McKiernan, requested last year, has signaled that he’d really rather bolster the Afghan security forces. (By my count, we’re at 27,000 more troops than last year, so the ceiling’s fast approaching.) He told a Senate panel in January he’d be “very skeptical” of additional U.S. troops for the mission beyond the 30,000, and he told the Los Angeles Times’ Julian Barnes recently that the troops and the American people are “tired” and won’t accept a long slog in Afghanistan.

Now that can cut both ways. Maybe Gates can be convinced that bolstering troop levels again is a way to avoid the slog. But two troop increases (and there was one announced last September, too) in one year can give the public the impression of drift. And justifiably so: Afghanistan strategy seems to have a lot of built-in drift. My guess is McChrystal probably knows that he’ll get one big opportunity early in his command to ask for more troops and he might as well take as much as he can get.

The political question: where’s the opposition? The right is basically silent or in agreement on Afghanistan. Its one critique, voiced by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), is that there aren’t enough troops. And while there’s discontent on the left in the netroots, only Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), has begun to stir as a voice of war skepticism. Domestic policy is the only thing Washington cares about right now. Will McChrystal’s request change that or not?

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