As President Barack Obama held the fifth in a series of meetings with advisors and military officials on Afghanistan, U.S. lawmakers were raising more questions about U.S. strategy in the country. A congressional hearing also examined the situation in Afghanistan:
As Congress waits to hear the outcome of the president's review, there is mounting concern about the ramifications of whatever decisions he makes, both short and long-term impact, for the United States, the South Asian region, and for the war against al-Qaida.
In an emotional speech on the floor of the Senate, Veteran-Democrat Robert Byrd, suggested the U.S. military mission has become lost in what he called some broader scheme of nation-building.
Referring to mission creep in Afghanistan, Byrd went on to question the need for 30,000 to 40,000 additional troops requested by the U.S. and NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal. "So I am compelled to ask: does it really, really take 100,000 U.S. troops to find Osama bin Laden? If al Qaeda has moved to Pakistan, what will these troops in Afghanistan add to the effort to defeat al Qaeda? What is really meant by the term defeat, in the parlance of conventional military aims, when facing a shadowy global terrorist network?," he said.
General McChrystal requested additional forces in a report leaked to the news media last month, warning that the U.S. military effort could fail without them.
Senator Byrd wasn't the only one voicing skepticism. House of Representatives Democratic majority leader Steny Hoyer told reporters Wednesday he is not yet at the point of being able to support a potential decision to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
Both Hoyer and Byrd pointed to concerns about the viability of Afghanistan's government following the election there. But Hoyer added he hopes lawmakers will support whatever decision the president makes.
Meanwhile, witnesses appearing before the House Armed Services committee expressed different views about the impact additional troops would have in Afghanistan.
Former U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff General Jack Keane, who was intimately involved in planning for the U.S. military surge in Iraq, said multiple brigades of combat, support and training forces are needed to turn around a deteriorating situation. "We can succeed, we can turn this around in 2 to 3 years. [But] caution: if there is a sense of a lack of a U.S. commitment, NATO and Pakistan will hedge and pull back. Many tribal leaders and others in Afghanistan will do the same. And it will undermine the very objectives we are trying to achieve," he said.
Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA intelligence officer now with Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, favors a shift away from direct combat operations to a concentration on training Afghanistan's army and police, and economic development.
He disagreed with General Keane's assertion that any U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would likely lead to the Taliban regaining power, and questioned what an expanded U.S. military presence would accomplish. "The benefits in terms of ultimately adding to the safety and security of the American people would be marginal and questionable. At best the difference such an effort would make in the terrorist threat facing Americans would be slight. At worst, the effort would be counter-productive and would not reduce the threat at all. And even at its best the benefit would be, in my judgment, outweighed by the probable costs of the counter-insurgency," he said.
Stephen Biddle, Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations discusses the decisions facing President Obama regarding Afghanistan as well as neighboring Pakistan. "We could succeed in Afghanistan and if the Pakistani government does not put its own house in order they could fail in their counter-insurgency anyway," he said.
As Congress grapples with still uncompleted fiscal year 2010 defense spending legislation, containing more than $100 billion for Afghanistan and Iraq, divergent views have also been heard from other congressional Democrats.
After returning from a trip to Afghanistan, Senator Daniel Inouye, who heads the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, issued a statement this week appearing to support the request by General McChrystal for more troops, although Inouye said more discussion would be needed before any final decision on troop levels is made.
Inouye's counterpart heading the House Appropriations Committee, Democrat David Obey, has questioned the wisdom of any U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan, saying he does not believe Americans would support such a decision.