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McKeon Says Administration Sent Mixed Signals on Troop Increases

Correction Appended

All eyes are on Gen. Stanley McChrystal this week as he prepares to hand off his troop request for Afghanistan to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. But some lawmakers already have an idea of what to expect from President Barack Obama when it comes time to make a decision about beefing up combat soldiers.House Armed Services ranking member Howard McKeon (R-Calif.) said Wednesday that Gates told him on a July trip to Afghanistan that Obama “wasn’t inclined to send troops over there.— McKeon said Gates also told him that, in light of Gen. David Petraeus and McChrystal being asked to submit assessments to the president on the war in Afghanistan, Obama had “given instructions— to them to “scrub everything, to make sure they didn’t ask for more than they needed.—That conversation prompted McKeon to ask McChrystal if the directive sent “a chilling message— that the U.S. and NATO commander should ask for less troops than he needed. “He said, ‘No, I’m honor-bound to ask for what I need,’— McKeon said. McKeon’s comments come at a time when Obama is facing growing criticism from Republicans for appearing to soften his stance on the need to maintain a presence in Afghanistan. Some have expressed concern that the president may be attempting to push off debate on the war until after health care reform is done, despite warnings from military leaders that time is of the essence. The Pentagon signaled Wednesday that it would be some time before McChrystal’s troop request is passed from Gates to Obama, who wants more time to review the overall strategy for Afghanistan.“I want to make it perfectly clear that, once [Gates] has it, he intends to hold onto it until such time as the president and his national security team are ready to consider it,— Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. “It is simply premature to consider additional resources until Gen. McChrystal’s assessment has been fully reviewed and discussed by the president and his team.— Morrell said that Obama’s review of the Afghanistan strategy has been under way for a couple of weeks and that there needs to be many more discussions before decisions will be made on troop increases.“So, while that is going on, the troop request will reside with Secretary Gates,— Morrell said.McKeon said he expected McChrystal to present Gates with a request that lays out different scenarios based on different degrees of risk. From there, he said, it is up to Obama to pick one of those choices instead of launching “a whole debate about whether or not the United States should be in Afghanistan.—“If we’re going to have that debate, I think McChrystal should be here to testify,— McKeon said. But based on a conversation he had this morning with Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, McKeon said he didn’t expect McChrystal to testify, due in part to Obama’s “political problems— in moving health care reform.“It doesn’t look very promising,— McKeon added. “If you just look at the scheme of things, if the president is moving in one direction, he doesn’t want McChrystal to come and get a following.—Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, said Obama is handling things “the right way— by not rushing forward with more troop increases.“He’s resisting the temptation to just support the military, even though in the campaign he said we’re going to concentrate more in Afghanistan,— Murtha said. “I think it will be a while before we get direction from the president.—As Congress awaits a sign as to whether they will be presented with a request for funds for more troops — which could come this week — House liberals are scrambling to come up with a unified message on Afghanistan.The Congressional Progressive Caucus is gearing up to create a task force — headed by Chairwoman Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) — to pin down “a progressive position— on the Afghanistan war.“It’s pretty clear that progressives want to rethink what we’re doing in Afghanistan,— said Woolsey, who conceded that the caucus is “lagging— and needs to “get ourselves more together— on the issue. Woolsey said that the caucus hasn’t had any meetings specifically focused on Afghanistan and that CPC leaders want to roll out the task force “as soon as possible.— But asked when the liberals will start moving forward with the task force, Woolsey said, “Not until we’re through with health care.—

Correction: Sept. 25, 2009

The article misstated which wars Gens. David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal were asked to submit assessments to the president for. They were only asked to submit assessments to the president on the war in Afghanistan.

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