President Barack Obama's chief spokesman said Monday that he will make a decision "within days, not weeks," on how many additional troops to send to Afghanistan, and when. Politico reports that President Obama is "refusing to be rushed" into a decision, surprising some at the Pentagon.
The new president's methodical decision-making offers an early insight into how the new commander in chief will approach the war in Afghanistan and has surprised some Pentagon officials, who had predicted repeatedly in the past two weeks that Obama would decide within days on additional forces, only to find the White House taking more time.
Rather than sign off quickly on all or part of a long-standing Pentagon request for three Army combat brigades and Marine units, totaling over 10,000 troops, Obama and his aides are questioning the timetable, the mission and even the composition of the new forces, officials familiar with the deliberations said.
The latest sign of crossed signals occurred Friday, when White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Obama "hasn't made a decision on augmenting our force structure in Afghanistan," three days after Pentagon officials said he would likely do so that week. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called Obama's deliberate approach on his first troop decision "entirely appropriate."
Obama's deliberate pace represents yet another break with the usual style of his predecessor. Former President George W. Bush usually signed off quickly on requests for additional troops from his commanders, and, especially early in his presidency, he rarely engaged in lengthy discussions about what the troops would be used for. Those decisions were generally worked out ahead of time between field commanders and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who favored holding down troop levels in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs made his observation in a chat with reporters Monday aboard Air Force One as Obama and his family flew back to the Washington area after a long weekend in his hometown of Chicago.
Gates had told a Pentagon news conference last week that Obama "will have several options in front of him." Gates suggested, as have other officials, that the ground commander in Afghanistan would eventually get all the forces he has asked for, but no more.