Dec 02 2009

Shelby says president has challenge with Afghanistan

Huntsville Times

BY DEBORAH BARFIELD BERRYand JOHN YAUKEY

President Barack Obama faces a serious “dilemma’’ in mapping out his strategy for the nation’s role in Afghanistan, Sen. Richard Shelby said.

The president will deliver a speech to the nation Tuesday night on his plans to increase troop levels to support the war.

“As the old saying goes, ‘Damned if you do, damned if you don’t,’’ said Shelby, a Republican and member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “He has a dilemma.’’

In his speech, to be delivered at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Obama is expected to announce he will raise troop levels from roughly 68,000 to more than 100,000.

Shelby said early Tuesday he was waiting to hear Obama’s speech, but that it is important for the U.S. to help train Afghani soldiers.

“We should have done it before,’’ Shelby said. “We can not afford to let that country become a drug haven or a haven for terrorists.’’

Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, a member of the Armed Services Committee, would not comment on the president’s plan before his speech, a spokeswoman said.

Obama’s decision on a new strategy came after months of meetings with his national security team in which leading voices argued competing philosophies: go in strong and run a classic counterinsurgency campaign, or pull back and strike al-Qaida at opportune moments.

The White House deliberations followed a request from U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, for 40,000 more troops in addition to the 68,000 there now. McChrystal maintained that the mission in Afghanistan was in danger of failing without a significant troop increase.

Obama has said he will not commit more forces without an exit strategy.
Obama’s announcement also comes as U.S. troop casualties in Afghanistan have risen steadily over recent months.

This year has already surpassed any other as the deadliest for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with 58 killed there and nearby in October, according to the Defense Department. That eclipsed the previous high of 51 in August.