Washington Democratic leaders in Congress urged the Obama administration Thursday to quickly produce a plan for winning the war in Afghanistan or risk widespread opposition within the president’s own party to a new troop buildup.
Simmering congressional frustration could lead to tighter scrutiny and more limited resources, even if Capitol Hill ultimately does approve sending more U.S. troops to the war-torn nation, aides said.
“I don’t think there’s a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or in the Congress,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranking Democrat to signal that a push for more troops will get a skeptical look.
Democratic Rep. John P. Murtha, chair of the powerful House Appropriations panel that oversees military spending, described himself as “very nervous” about sending more troops to Afghanistan and cited limited funds to do so.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid urged Democrats to resist rushing to judgment. But he, too, said he wanted to see President Barack Obama’s plans for the military mission before adding more soldiers, pilots and Marines to the mix.
“Let’s just take it easy,” Reid, D-Nev., told reporters. “I don’t think we need 100 secretaries of state. I think we should wait and give the president an opportunity to see what he recommends, and then we can dissect that any way we want.”
The tepid support reflects growing impatience among lawmakers to see an on-the-ground assessment of the military situation in Afghanistan that was delivered last week to the White House.
Perhaps more importantly, lawmakers said they wanted to hear how the Obama administration will measure the mission’s success or failure.
Pelosi said she did not expect to be briefed on the plans until next week at the earliest. Aides said they expected Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen to brief senators on Tuesday and House lawmakers Wednesday.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama was still waiting for the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan to formally ask for additional troops, a request that is expected by the end of the month. This spring, Obama ordered 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan, which will bring the total number of U.S. forces there to 68,000 by the end of the year.
“The president has always discussed, and particularly since coming to office, that there isn’t a military solution alone for Afghanistan,” Gibbs told reporters at the White House.
With a nod to Congress’ worries, he added: “We do not have the troops or the money to be there in perpetuity. ...We have very clear goals.”
The Pentagon has yet to give Obama at least two military evaluations of the on-the-ground assessment. Those reports, by Mullen and U.S. Central Command Gen. David Petraeus, will be delivered this week, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.
Last week, Obama received the on-ground assessment by his top commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, that did not specifically ask for more troops. That will likely come in a follow-up report delivered shortly, officials said.
At the same time, the White House is in the process of compiling a list of about 50 benchmarks to judge whether the military mission is working. The list is due Sept. 24, and White House officials have said they are working with Capitol Hill in drawing it up — in part to corral congressional support as the troops’ death toll in Afghanistan grows.