Several administration officials hit the Sunday talk show circuit to shed some light on the president’s Afghanistan strategy. The country remains a hot topic as the president is expected to make a decision on US troop levels in the coming weeks, although the exact timing on that hasn’t yet been made public.
This comes as the administration is keeping an eye closely on the upcoming November 7 presidential election. Former Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah announced this weekend that he’s pulling out of the runoff election, saying he can’t trust the election process. This leaves President Hamid Karzai as the only candidate, someone who the administration has been critical of in the past.
White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod said the news of Abdullah Abdullah didn’t “markedly change the situation.”
Appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation, Axelrod went on to say they’d basically be working with whoever is in charge, “But every poll that had been taken there suggested that he was likely to be defeated anyway. So we are going to deal with the government that is there.”
Axelrod didn’t give any more hints on timing of the US troop decision, just that it’s still coming within weeks, “And our goal is to protect the American people from al Qaeda. That's why we're in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda launched on us from Afghanistan. They've been driven to the mountains of Pakistan. We don't want them to return to Afghanistan and make Afghanistan a base again. And that's what this is about.”
Meanwhile another senior Obama adviser, Valerie Jarrett spoke on ABC’s This Week, also downplaying Abdullah’s announcement. She said, “ We don't think that it's going to add a complication to the strategy. It's up to the Afghan people and their authorities to decide how to proceed going forward.”
The issue of the president’s surprise visit last week to Dover Air Force Base to see the return of caskets of fallen military also came up. George Stephanopoulos pressed Jarrett if there needed to be cameras present, “Well, he wouldn't have done it in public if the families had objected. So the first and foremost thing is what is important to the families. And I think that it's important for us all to recognize what is at stake. And so when you talk about numbers, like 40,000 troops, as I said a minute ago, I think it's a reminder about how deep the sacrifice is.
She went on to say it's also about openness, "And it's something that's open and transparent, and it was a way for him as the president to convey to those families on behalf of the American people how much we appreciate that enormous sacrifice they've made."
Republicans have been criticizing the president for waiting too long to make a decision. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) told CNN’s John King, “The president made clear that we are not going to withdraw from Afghanistan. But I have looked for every reason in the world to put off a decision, and the longer this decision hangs, the more jeopardy and the more danger our troops on the ground there are in the middle of. We've had the highest casualty totals in years over the last month or two. Why? Because all of the uncertainty around what the president's going to decide. I'm concerned about this delay. I would hope that the president would make a decision and make it soon.”
General Stanley McChrystal has asked for an addition 40,0000 troops in Afghanistan. The president is said to be weighing sending in troops, but much less than what the general is asking.
October has been the deadliest month for US troops since the war began.