WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama met Monday evening with his national security team to finalize a plan to dispatch 34,000 additional U.S. troops over the next year to what he has called "a war of necessity" in Afghanistan, U.S. officials told McClatchy Newspapers.
He is expected to announce his long-awaited decision Dec. 1, followed by meetings on Capitol Hill aimed at winning congressional support amid opposition by some Democrats who are worried about the strain on the U.S. Treasury and whether Afghanistan has become a quagmire.
The U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the issue publicly and because, one said, the White House is incensed by leaks on its Afghanistan policy that didn't originate in the White House.
They said the commander of the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, could arrive in Washington as early as Sunday to participate in the rollout of the new plan, including testifying before Congress next week. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates; Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry also are expected to appear before congressional committees.
The plan calls for the deployment over nine months beginning in March of three Army brigades from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky.; the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y.; and a Marine brigade from Camp Lejeune, N.C., for as many as 23,000 additional combat and support troops.
In addition, a 7,000-strong division headquarters would be sent to take command of U.S.-led NATO forces in southern Afghanistan — to which the U.S. has long been committed — and 4,000 U.S. military trainers would be dispatched to help accelerate an expansion of the Afghan army and police.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to brief America's NATO allies after next week's announcement, and the allies are to meet again on Dec. 7 in Belgium to discuss whether other nations might contribute additional troops.
The Monday meeting was the ninth Obama has held on the crisis in Afghanistan, where the worsening war entered its ninth year last month. This year has seen violence reach unprecedented levels as the Taliban and allied groups have gained strength and expanded their reach.
A U.S. military official used the term "decisional" to describe the meeting among Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Gates, Clinton, national security adviser Jim Jones, Eikenberry and senior U.S. military commanders.
The administration's plan contains "off-ramps," points starting in June at which Obama could decide to continue the flow of troops, halt the deployments and adopt a more limited strategy or "begin looking very quickly at exiting" the country, depending on political and military progress, one defense official said.
It's "not just how we get people there, but what's the strategy for getting them out," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.