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Obama at Odds With Advisers on Afghan Exit Strategy, Woodward Book Reports

4 years ago
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Frustrated that his top military advisers failed to provide him an exit plan for Afghanistan, President Obama crafted his own strategy, according to a new book by Bob Woodward.

In "Obama's Wars" -- Woodward's meeting-by-meeting account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review -- the president stressed that the plan to add 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation "needs to be . . . about how we're going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan. Everything we're doing has to be focused on how we're going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It's in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room."

Obama rejected the military's request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. "I'm not doing 10 years," he told Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "I'm not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars." After much delay and apparent deliberation, Obama announced his strategy in an address at West Point last December.

President Obama, Afghanistan strategyThe book, due out on Sept. 27 from Simon & Schuster, portrays Obama's moves as occurring amid warnings about the threat of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. In an interview with Woodward last summer, the president said, "We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger."

In its own story on the book, the Post says that most of it "centers on the strategy review, and the dissension, distrust and infighting that consumed Obama's national security team as it was locked in a fierce and emotional struggle over the direction, goals, timetable, troop levels and the chances of success for a war that is almost certain to be one of the defining events of this presidency."

Woodward writes that Obama was at odds with Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command during the review. Petraeus is now the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan. National Security Adviser James L. Jones is quoted as privately referring to Obama's political aides as "the water bugs," the "Politburo," the "Mafia," or the "campaign set."

Richard Holbrooke, the president's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is quoted as saying that Obama's strategy "can't work," according to a New York Times story on the book. As further indication of the tensions within the highest circles of the planning team, Vice President Joe Biden is quoted calling Holbrooke "the most egotistical bastard I've ever met," and a number of administration officials expressed contempt for James Jones, the Times said.

The book also reports that a secret 3,000-man paramilitary army of Afghans, created and controlled by the CIA, is conducting operations against al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban strongholds in Pakistan. Obama authorized the elite corps as part of a campaign against safe havens in the Afghan war.

"We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan," Obama is quoted as saying at an Oval Office meeting on Nov. 25, 2009. Creating a more secure Afghanistan is imperative, the president said, "so the cancer doesn't spread" there.

Obama's military advisers, including later-ousted Gen. Stanley McChrystal, pushed for a 40,000-troop surge as part of a plan similar to what Petraeus had developed for Iraq. Petraeus took Obama's decision to send in 30,000 troops as a personal repudiation, Woodward writes. After McChrystal's dismissal as head of operations in Afghanistan, Petraeus holds the reins. He offered Woodward a pessimistic assessment of U.S. prospects for success:

"You have to recognize also that I don't think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. It's a little bit like Iraq, actually. . . . This is the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids' lives."

Other revelations in Woodward's book include:

- The National Security Agency has increased the speed at which intercepted communications can be turned around into useful information for intelligence analysts.

- A classified exercise in May showed that the government was woefully unprepared to deal with a nuclear terrorist attack in the United States. The scenario involved the detonation of a small, crude nuclear weapon in Indianapolis.

- Afghan President Hamid Karzai was diagnosed as manic depressive, according to U.S. intelligence reports.
Filed Under: Afghanistan

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