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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates denied Sunday that a rift exists between the Obama administration and America's military commanders on how to proceed in Afghanistan. The secretary's remarks came after a report by the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan calling for additional troops was leaked to the news media last week.
Army General Stanley McChrystal's stark assessment of deteriorating security conditions in Afghanistan has yet to be formally presented to President Barack Obama. But it is already driving debate on the future of America's mission in the strife-torn country where the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States were plotted.
McChrystal's leaked report makes an urgent case for additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan, warning that the mission could fail in a year without more resources. But President Obama is insisting on a new, comprehensive review of American strategy before making any decisions on further deployments to Afghanistan. Mr. Obama already has sent an additional 21,000 U.S. service members to the country.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates says there is no rift between President Obama and U.S. military commanders, and that General McChrystal has voiced support for the strategy review.
"General McChrystal was very explicit in saying he thinks this assessment, this review that is going on right now, is exactly the right thing to do," said Gates. "He obviously does not want it to be open-ended."
Gates spoke on ABC television's This Week program. He added that a strategy review is timely, coming after Afghanistan's contested national election, and that failure to carry out the review would endanger U.S. forces.
"Having the wrong strategy would put even more soldiers at risk," he said. "I think it is important to get the strategy right. And then we can make the resources decisions."
Appearing on another U.S. television program, Gates said that an early U.S. exit from Afghanistan would be a "mistake," and that allowing the Taliban and al-Qaida to emerge victorious in the country would have, in his words, "catastrophic consequences".
But some powerful legislators of President Obama's Democratic Party are arguing against a protracted U.S. military commitment in Afghanistan.
The Chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Dianne Feinstein of California, spoke on the Fox News Sunday program.
"I think the president is correct to take his time to really examine what the alternatives are at this time," she said. "True, the Afghanistan strategy so far has not gone well. Now the question comes: Is there an alternative to this long-term, comprehensive counter-insurgency strategy? I hope there is, because I do not believe the American people want to be in Afghanistan for the next 10 years."
But the ranking Republican on the committee, Missouri Senator Kit Bond, cautioned that General McChrystal has already mapped a way forward in Afghanistan and that failure to act quickly on his recommendations would invite defeat.
"[President Obama] has the answer to the question he asked of General McChrystal. [The report] is here; it is clear; it is in great detail," he said. "We need troops now."
As a presidential candidate and now as President, Barack Obama has described the U.S. mission in Afghanistan as one of necessity, to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and its allies.