Lieutenant General John Allen told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that the Afghanistan decision President Obama announced last week was not among the range of options the military provided to the commander in chief. Allen’s testimony directly contradicts claims from senior Obama administration officials from a background briefing before the president’s announcement.
In response to questioning from Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Allen testified that Obama’s decision on the pace and size of Afghanistan withdrawals was “a more aggressive option than that which was presented.”
Graham pressed him. “My question is: Was that a option?”
Allen: “It was not.”
Allen's claim, which came under oath, contradicts the line the White House had been providing reporters over the past week—that Obama simply chose one option among several presented by General David Petraeus. In a conference call last Wednesday, June 22, a reporter asked senior Obama administration officials about those options. “Did General Petraeus specifically endorse this plan, or was it one of the options that General Petraeus gave to the president?”
The senior administration official twice claimed that the Obama decision was within the range of options the military presented to Obama. “In terms of General Petraeus, I think that, consistent with our approach to this, General Petraeus presented the president with a range of options for pursuing this drawdown. There were certainly options that went beyond what the president settled on in terms of the length of time that it would take to recover the surge and the pace that troops would come out – so there were options that would have kept troops in Afghanistan longer at a higher number. That said, the president’s decision was fully within the range of options that were presented to him and he has the full support of his national security team.”
The official later came back to the question and reiterated his claim. “So to your first question I would certainly – I would certainly characterize it that way. There were a range. Some of those options would not have removed troops as fast as the president chose to do, but the president’s decision was fully in the range of options the president considered.”
(The full transcript of the exchange is below; the full transcript of the call is at the link.)
So the new top commander in Afghanistan says Obama went outside the military's range of options to devise his policy, and the White House says the president's policy was within that range of options. Who is right?
We know that Petraeus and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have both testified that the administration's decision was "more aggressive" than their preferred option. And there has been considerable grumbling privately from senior military leaders about the policy. Among their greatest concerns: the White House’s insistence that the 2012 drawdown of the remaining 23,000 surge troops be completed by September. That means that drawdown will have to begin in late spring or early summer—a timeline for which there exists no serious military rationale. Afghanistan's "fighting season" typically lasts from April through November. (Last year, it continued into December because of warmer than usual temperatures.) So if the White House were to go forward with its policy as presented, the largest contingent of surge troops would be withdrawn during the heart of next year's fighting season.
Would Petraeus have made such a recommendation? No. He wants to win the war. When he was pressed last week to explain the peculiar timeframe, Petraeus said that it wasn’t military considerations that produced such a timeline but “risks having to do with other considerations.”
Which ones? Petraeus declined to say. But in a happy coincidence for the White house, the troops will be home in time for the presidential debates of 2012 and the November election.
Q Hi, everyone. Thanks for doing the call. I’ve got a couple, but I’ll be quick. Did General Petraeus specifically endorse this plan, or was it one of the options that General Petraeus gave to the president? And as a follow-up, did Gates, Panetta and Clinton all endorse it? Finally, will the president say about how many troops will remain past 2014? And of the 33,000 coming home by next summer, how many are coming home and how many are going to be reassigned somewhere else?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, I’ll take part of that. In terms of General Petraeus, I think that, consistent with our approach to this, General Petraeus presented the president with a range of options for pursuing this drawdown. There were certainly options that went beyond what the President settled on in terms of the length of time that it would take to recover the surge and the pace that troops would come out — so there were options that would have kept troops in Afghanistan longer at a higher number.
That said, the president’s decision was fully within the range of options that were presented to him and has the full support of his national security team. I think there’s a broad understanding among the national security team that there’s an imperative to both consolidate the gains that have been made and continue our efforts to train Afghan security forces and partner with them in going after the Taliban, while also being very serious about the process of transition and the drawdown of our forces.
So, to your first question, I would certainly — I would characterize it that way. There were a range. Some of those options would not have removed troops as fast as the President chose to do, but the president’s decision was fully in the range of options the president considered.
Just for a process point, over the course of last week the president had three meetings with his national security team to include Secretary Gates, Secretary Clinton, Director Panetta, Director Clapper, but also General Petraeus was in all of those discussions as well — and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, of course, Admiral Mullen.
In terms of the troops, I couldn’t be specific about that. They’re obviously coming out of Afghanistan.