Published September 23, 2009
President Barack Obama is considering shifting the focus of military efforts in Afghanistan from confronting the Taliban with more U.S. forces to scaling back the American presence and concentrating on Al Qaeda both there and in Pakistan, according to a published report.
That plan, put together by Vice President Joe Biden, would put emphasis on rooting out Al Qaeda from strongholds along the Pakistan border using Predator drone strikes, special forces and other tactics, The New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing unnamed U.S. sources.
While the focus would shift to Pakistan, U.S. forces would accelerate training of Afghan troops to take on the Taliban. Biden has said previously he believes Pakistan is the main threat to American interests, but Obama rejected his approach in the spring.
The plan is one of a range of options being reviewed in light of a pending request from Gen. Stanley McChrystal for an additional 30,000-40,000 troops and his dire assessment of the Afghan campaign, the newspaper said.
Officials told the paper that on Sept. 13 Obama met in the Situation Room with his top advisers to begin tackling the problem. He was joined by Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Adviser James Jones and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"There are a lot of competing views," one official was quoted by the paper as saying.
In what appeared to be a reference to this debate, Clinton voiced her opinion on the matter in an interview on Monday night.
"Some people say, 'Well, Al Qaeda's no longer in Afghanistan,'" she said on PBS. "If Afghanistan were taken over by the Taliban, I can't tell you how fast Al Qaeda would be back in Afghanistan."
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is rebuffing congressional calls for the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan to personally make the case for the war, amid the growing political tumult over the Obama administration's handling of the conflict.
An array of powerful lawmakers from both parties, including the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, want McChrystal to testify about the challenges confronting the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan and his plan for beating back the resurgent Taliban.
The calls to testify come as the Pentagon has asked McChrystal to delay his request for more troops while the administration rethinks strategy in the wake of last month's Afghan elections, which have been racked by allegations of fraud.
It also comes as public support for the war is waning badly. In a NBC-Wall Street Journal poll conducted between last Thursday and Sunday, 59% of respondents said they were now "less confident" that the war would come to a successful conclusion. Just over half of those polled said they opposed adding more U.S. troops in the country, while more than a third favored an immediate withdrawal.
The Wall Street Journal contributed to this report.