Obama Pushes Back Against Afghan Options

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President Obama has asked for greater specificity and clarification of the options he was presented regarded policy in Afghanistan, administration officials say. NPR's Mary Louise Kelly talks about Obama's questions with Michele Norris.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And Im Michele Norris.

President Obama has wrapped up his latest session with his war council to chart the way forward for the war in Afghanistan. The White House have said earlier this week, the president had narrowed his deliberations to four final options.

But tonight, administration officials say the president has decided no to accept any of those war options.

NPR's defense correspondent Mary Louise Kelly is on the line.

And Mary Louise, what do we know about where the president's thinking is right now?

MARY LOUISE KELLY: Well, a bit of a surprise twist from this meeting tonight, Michele. We have two administration officials telling NPR that the president is out, he listened to the four options that had been build, as you mentioned, as final options - we're thinking had really narrowed down to - and that he's not accepting any of them in their current form.

We're told that he is pushing for a lot more clarity on when U.S. troops would be able to hand over responsibility to a government of Afghanistan, pushing for more clarity in terms of timelines, when the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan could at some point wrap up. He apparently wants to make it clear that that commitment is open-ended.

So raising real questions that could alter the dynamic of the discussion here in terms of how many troops get sent in and what the timeline for their presence in Afghanistan would be.

NORRIS: Mary Louise, we're also hearing reports of the president's ambassador to Afghanistan, maybe raising objections to a troop build-up. Can you tell us more about that?

KELLY: That's correct. This is Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. He is the U.S. ambassador in Kabul. Significantly, he was the former U.S. commander in Afghanistan just a couple of years ago. He is reported to be expressing deep reservations about the wisdom of sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until it is clear whether Afghan president Hamid Karzai is on course to correct corruption within his government to be a reliable partner for the U.S.

How much weight Ambassador Eikenberry's view is going to carry at this point, we don't know, but he is clearly raising objections and clearly, that's in line with the questions we hear that the president was asking tonight.

NORRIS: Any idea of a timeline for this decision?

KELLY: Well, we've been told we might get an announcement later this month that - we're told that that is still on track. But again, it looks like they're ripping open the process a little bit and pushing back to narrow.

NORRIS: Thank you very much, Mary Louise.

KELLY: You're welcome, Michele.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Mary Louise Kelly.

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Obama Pushing For More Detail On Afghan Strategy

Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Afghanistan i

Karl Eikenberry, a former Army general who resigned his commission to take the job as U.S. ambassador in Kabul this year, is reportedly expressing deep concerns about committing more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Win McNamee/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Win McNamee/Getty Images
Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Afghanistan

Karl Eikenberry, a former Army general who resigned his commission to take the job as U.S. ambassador in Kabul this year, is reportedly expressing deep concerns about committing more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Obama is pushing his national security team for more detail about an exit strategy for U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan.

The president met with his advisers Wednesday to chart a new strategy for the war. Obama went into this latest strategy session with what the White House had called four "final" options on the table.

Each involved sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, but each would require different troop levels and embrace different goals for the U.S. involvement there.

Heard On 'Morning Edition':

At the high end, there's the 40,000 or so troops that the top commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, says he needs to pull off a successful counterinsurgency. At the low end was an option of 10,000 extra troops, mostly working as trainers for the Afghan army and police force. One middle option would focus on a narrower, counterterrorism mission, while another, said to be endorsed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, backs sending 34,000 or so extra U.S. troops while calling on NATO to contribute several thousand more.

After the 2 1/2 hour meeting Wednesday, two administration officials told NPR that the president does not plan to accept any of the options in their current form. The officials said the president pushed his team for more detail about an exit strategy for U.S. forces. They said he wants to make clear to the Afghan government that the U.S. commitment is not open-ended.

Still, White House and military officials say the president is close to making a decision on a new strategy for the war.

The president's questions come as his ambassador in Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, is reportedly expressing deep concerns about committing more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

Eikenberry, a retired Army lieutenant general and former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is said to be unconvinced that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is committed to rooting out corruption in his government.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday that she is concerned about Afghanistan's "corruption, lack of transparency, poor governance [and] absence of the rule of law."

"We're looking to President Karzai as he forms a new government to take action that will demonstrate — not just to the international community but first and foremost to his own people — that his second term will respond to the needs that are so manifest," Clinton said during a news conference in Manila with Philippines Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.



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