WASHINGTON — A string of successful operations recently killing or capturing high-level figures from al-Qaida, particularly in Pakistan, has fueled the argument inside the Obama administration about the necessity of a major troop buildup in Afghanistan, officials said Monday.
Administration officials said the United States had eliminated more than half of its top targets over the last year, severely constricted al-Qaida's capacity to operate and choked off a lot of its financing. The sense of progress against al-Qaida and its allies has helped shape the internal debate over the best way to fight in Afghanistan as President Barack Obama explores alternatives to a large escalation.
The White House has begun promoting the missile strikes and raids. Obama will visit the National Counterterrorism Center today to call attention to the operations.
While aides said the public focus was not related to the Afghanistan review, it could give Obama political room if he rejected or pared back the request for 40,000 more troops from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan.
The focus on so-called surgical strikes against terrorism suspects comes as the Afghanistan review accelerates. Obama met with Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday.
The internal debate has spilled out into public at times and created stress within the Obama team. Gates warned his colleagues in a speech Monday to keep their advice to the president private, a statement taken as a rebuke to McChrystal, who last week said publicly that he did not think a smaller-scale option would work.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama did not envision pulling out of Afghanistan no matter how he rules on McChrystal's request.