WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's drawn-out decisionmaking on Afghanistan is sending messages. To the Afghan government: Clean up your act. To the Pentagon: I'm no rubber stamp. To the American public: More troops can't be the sole answer.
Obama has been accused by some Republicans of "dithering" about whether to send more troops and deepen U.S. involvement in an increasingly unpopular war.
The slow process also has left him open to critics who recall his pronouncement in March, after developing what he called a "stronger, smarter and comprehensive" Afghan war strategy, that the situation there was "increasingly perilous." He ordered more troops to battle then, with little discernible result so far.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters Thursday that the president was nearing a final decision, and he referred to one of the central questions Obama and his advisers have wrestled with for weeks.
"How do we signal resolve and at the same time signal to the Afghans and the American people that this isn't an open-ended commitment?"
At a White House war council meeting Wednesday, Obama rejected four Afghan war options put before him and asked for revisions that combine the best elements of the proposals, Gates said. The changes could alter the dynamic of both how many additional troops are sent to Afghanistan and their time in the war zone.
Obama is not expected to decide the Afghan matter until after he returns from Asia late next week.
Obama is considering options that include adding 30,000 or more U.S. forces to take on the Taliban and associated insurgent groups in key areas of Afghanistan. The other three options are ranges of troop increases, from a relatively small addition to the roughly 40,000 preferred by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, according to military and other officials.
Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, has argued against sending large numbers of additional troops. Eikenberry, himself a former U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, harbors strong doubts about the viability of the government there.