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Gibbs Slams Gates, Again...

8:32 AM, Dec 3, 2009 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs seems to have a real problem with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Either that or Gibbs is so dim that he doesn't realize that when he misrepresents Afghanistan troop requests at the end of the Bush administration he's trashing Gates -- President Obama's top defense policymaker.

On Tuesday night, President Obama made the following claim: "Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive. That's why, shortly after taking office, I approved a long-standing request for more troops."

At the White House briefing yesterday, ABC's Jake Tapper pressed Robert Gibbs about the claim and asked him to specify when such requests took place.

Gibbs: "Again, what President Obama was talking about were additional resource requests that came in during 2008, which we've discussed in here."

Robert Gates was Defense Secretary in 2008. Barack Obama kept him in that job and, according to numerous accounts of his decision to sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, relied heavily on advice from Gates in coming up with his new strategy. So is Gates to blame for these resource requests that did not arrive?

Gibbs is right about one thing. Those requests from 2008 had been discussed at the briefings before. What he failed to mention is that he was wrong back then, too. A Pentagon official close to Gates, speaking of the WH claims, told TWS, "on the facts, they're wrong."

Here's how we reported it more than a month ago.

Perhaps more infuriating for Bush veterans was the suggestion by Gibbs that the Bush administration ignored requests for more troops. It's nonsense, they say. McKiernan wanted more troops--he asked for three additional brigades in the summer of 2008--but he understood that he could have them only when they became available. "McKiernan was making requests down the line," says a Pentagon official, "and late in 2008 we did have the ability to commit more forces. So we did." Indeed, Bush sent nearly 7,000 additional troops to Afghanistan before he left office, including one brigade that had been repurposed from Iraq.

One Bush veteran asks, "If it's true that the Bush administration sat on these troop requests for eight months, is the White House suggesting that the Pentagon was incompetent or negligent or both? That would be a good question to put to the defense secretary--and President Obama is in a position to make him talk."

I couldn't reach Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, but I did talk to a senior defense official who serves with him. This person stressed that Gates has gone to great lengths to avoid being dragged into political fights between administrations. Nonetheless, he offered a strong rebuke to the present White House political team.

"There was no request on anyone's desk for eight months," said the defense official. "There was not a request that went to the White House because we didn't have forces to commit. So on the facts, they're wrong."

So will Gibbs admit that he was wrong? Or does he still think Gates was negligent? And does the president agree with his spokesman?