McClatchy News Service is reporting this morning:
President Barack Obama met Monday evening with his national security team to finalize a plan to dispatch some 34,000 additional U.S. troops over the next year to what he’s called “a war of necessity” in Afghanistan, U.S. officials told McClatchy.
… As it now stands, the plan calls for the deployment over a nine-month period beginning in March of three Army brigades from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., and the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y., and a Marine brigade from Camp Lejeune, N.C., for as many as 23,000 additional combat and support troops.
In addition, a 7,000-strong division headquarters would be sent to take command of U.S.-led NATO forces in southern Afghanistan — to which the U.S. has long been committed — and 4,000 U.S. military trainers would be dispatched to help accelerate an expansion of the Afghan army and police.
But this is the Obama Administration, so of course there is a catch:
The administration’s plan contains “off-ramps,” points starting next June at which Obama could decide to continue the flow of troops, halt the deployments and adopt a more limited strategy or “begin looking very quickly at exiting” the country, depending on political and military progress, one defense official said.
“We have to start showing progress within six months on the political side or military side or that’s it,” the U.S. defense official said.
Captain Ed Morrisey explains:
The increase in troops is a good decision, but the off-ramps almost completely undermine it. The point in extending our footprint is to win the trust of the local communities and prove our reliability in providing them security, which is the central thrust of McChrystal’s COIN strategy. By getting them to trust our commitment, we can get them to help fight the Taliban themselves, as we did with the Anbar Awakening in Iraq against al-Qaeda, and greatly improve the intel we get from the locals. If we send 34,000 more troops but give ourselves a six-month time frame for success or bug-out, the locals will very quickly come to the realization that allying with us will be suicide. The COIN strategy only worked in Iraq because George W. Bush was adamant that we would stay until we won.
A Commander in Chief doesn’t need “off-ramps.” Any President can call an end to a deployment based on his own judgment. Putting these conditions into the American strategy signals weakness — a desire to pull out without getting blamed for the decision. Obama wants to be off the hook for an eventual withdrawal by claiming that he’s forced to do it because of these benchmark failures. And if Obama’s that keen to retreat, he should just do it now.(emphasis added)
The fear of making a “bad” decision is a sure mark of an amateur policy-maker, and a strong reluctance to accept responsibility for failure only reinforces that perception. I only hope that General McChrystal expected the President to eventually announce a troop deployment and mission scope significantly below that which was recommended, and has built contingencies into his plan so that the number of troops and the timeframe settled on by the White House will still be sufficient to accomplish the General’s goals.