A little over two weeks ago, basing their story on unnamed sources, McClatchy's Jonathan S. Landay, John Walcott and Nancy A. Youssef reported that the White House was nearing a decision to send 34,000 more troops to Afghanistan in response to General Stanley McChrystal's strategic assessment [pdf] of the situation there. Soon, CBS reported the administration had "settled" on a plan to send most if not all of the 40,000 McChrystal had sought as the maximum number of troops needed.
All hell broke loose. National Security Adviser James Jones said the reports were "absolutely false ...completely untrue and come from uninformed sources." Portions of the blogosphere exploded in rage over anonymous sourcing.
Now the same reporters at McClatchy have written:
President Barack Obama met Monday evening with his national security team to finalize a plan to dispatch some 34,000 additional U.S. troops over the next year to what he's called "a war of necessity" in Afghanistan, U.S. officials told McClatchy.
Obama is expected to announce his long-awaited decision on 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 officials said.
The U.S. officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the issue publicly and because, one official said, the White House is incensed by leaks on its Afghanistan policy that didn't originate in the White House.
In its latest story, McClatchy is repeating what it reported Nov. 7 that the make-up of the escalation will be three Army brigades from the 101st Airborne Division and the 10th Mountain Division, and a Marine brigade, totaling around 23,000 combat and support troops. Another 7,000 troops will be sent to run the new Kandahar-based southern command in charge of U.S.-led NATO forces. In addition, 4000 trainers of the Afghan National Army and police will be deployed.
The Financial Times backs up the story with its own reporting that the President will:
...announce next week that he favours sending more than 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan, in perhaps the most momentous decision of his presidency to date.
Such a decision would go most of the way to meeting the request for 40,000 troops by General Stanley McChrystal, the commander in the field, to add to the 68,000 US forces already in place. It would also deeply disappoint many Democrats who have warned against ramping up the eight-year-long war.
President Obama said today that he plans to finish the job in Afghanistan and will tell the American people about it probably next Tuesday. His announcement of new troop levels is expected to be accompanied with an explanation of a comprehensive strategy that includes diplomatic and civilian initiatives.
Several Democrats, including David Obey, Carl Levin, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, two other committee chairmen and the chair of the party caucus, John Larson, are seeking a war surtax. At least some of those members of Congress probably don't really want a surtax but hope that putting the concept forth will gum up the works as far as any escalation is concerned.
Meanwhile, Spence Ackerman at The Washington Independent has reported:
If President Obama orders an additional 30,000 to 40,000 troops to Afghanistan, he will be deploying practically every available U.S. Army brigade to war, leaving few units in reserve in case of an unforeseen emergency and further stressing a force that has seen repeated combat deployments since 2002.
According to information compiled by the U.S. Army for The Washington Independent about the deployment status of active-duty and National Guard Army brigades, as of December 2009, there will be about 50,600 active-duty soldiers, serving in 14 combat brigades, and as many as 24,000 National Guard soldiers available for deployment. All other soldiers and National Guardsmen will either be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan already or ineligible to deploy while they rest from a previous deployment.
No significant further troop reductions from Iraq are expected until April or May, according to the top U.S. commander there, General Ray Odierno.