AP WASHINGTON — The Afghanistan war reached its once-unthinkable eighth anniversary Wednesday as the White House revealed that President Barack Obama has in hand and has for nearly a week – the troop request prepared by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It is said to include a range of options, from adding as few as 10,000 combat troops to – McChrystal's strong preference – as many as 40,000.
Martha Raddatz reported for ABC News that the White House is discussing a "middle ground" for Afghanistan -- "McChrystal-lite."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama asked for McChrystal's request last week before he flew to Copenhagen to lobby for Chicago's bid to host the Olympics and meet with the general on the sidelines. The numbers could become the focus of concentrated White House attention as soon as Friday, Gibbs said.
While Gibbs had said previously that Obama didn't want to see the request until he had determined the strategy, aides said the president decided it had simply become absurd to wait to read it given the high-profile debate.
McChrystal's recommended approach calls for additional troops in Afghanistan for a counterinsurgency campaign to defeat the Taliban, build up the central government and deny al-Qaida a haven. McChrystal, whose plan is somewhat reminiscent of President George W. Bush's Iraq troop surge in 2008, says extra troops – preferably at the higher end of his option range – are crucial to turn around a war that will probably be won or lost over the next 12 months.
On roughly the opposite end of the spectrum, an alternative favored most prominently by Biden would keep the American force in Afghanistan around the 68,000 already authorized, including the 21,000 extra troops Obama ordered earlier this year, but increase the use of surgical strikes with unmanned Predator drones and special forces.
Shrinking the number of troops in Afghanistan and turning the effort into a narrow counterterror campaign is not on the table, officials say, and neither is drastically ballooning the footprint.
In weighing whether to follow McChrystal or Biden or land somewhere in between, Obama faces a stern test and difficult politics.
Many lawmakers from his own Democratic Party, aware of rising anti-war sentiment in their ranks and the war protests that have dotted Washington this week, do not want to see additional U.S. troops sent to Afghanistan. According to a new Associated Press-GfK poll, public support for the war has dropped to 40 percent from 44 percent in July.
Republicans, meanwhile, are urging Obama to heed the military commanders' calls soon or risk failure.
With this and Americans' dwindling patience in mind, Obama is engaged in a methodical review of how to overhaul the war.
Obama planned sessions Thursday with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Oval Office to continue the intense discussion about the increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan. The White House scheduled another, larger war council session – a fifth of five announced – for Friday, when the focus may finally shift to just how many additional troops would be needed to execute Obama's vision for a war he inherited but now must execute.
Obama's national security team marked the war's eighth anniversary on Wednesday with a three-hour session in a secure room in the White House basement. The focus on Pakistan, the suspected hiding place of Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida terrorists as well as Taliban leaders, could provide a hint into the president's leanings.
Obama and some of his key aides are increasingly pointing to recent successes against al-Qaida through targeted missile strikes and raids in Pakistan but also in Somalia and elsewhere. Obama said Tuesday that al-Qaida has "lost operational capacity" as a result.
In Pakistan, though, the government has shown new willingness to battle extremists, with most believed to be operating from the largely ungoverned terrain along the border with Afghanistan. But these operations, as well as the strikes by unmanned U.S. aircraft, continue to stoke controversy throughout the country, causing problems for the already weak U.S.-backed civilian government.
Associated Press writers Anne Gearan and Pamela Hess contributed to this report.