Exclusive: Gates Delays Troop Decision

By Lindsey Ellerson

Feb 5, 2009 6:30pm

ABC News’ Luis Martinez reports: ABC News has learned that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has deferred a much-anticipated decision on sending additional troops into Afghanistan until President Obama decides what force levels he wants.

The news comes after an anticipated Pentagon proposal to send three additional combat brigades to Afghanistan — or 17,000 troops, as reported by ABC News last week — was presented to Gates for his approval this afternoon.

An element of the Pentagon troop proposal anticipated a large Marine brigade to be followed by two Army Brigade Combat Teams, including a Stryker Brigade. The top U.S. general in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, favors using the armored vehicles as a way of extending his troops’ presence to remote regions of Afghanistan.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told ABC News that he disputed the idea that today’s non-decision amounted to a delay in the decision-making process.

"The decision-making process is still ongoing,” Morrell said. “I wouldn’t characterize it as a delay.  There is no prescribed timeline for the commander in chief to make decisions about adding more forces to Afghanistan in the near term, and that decision, whenever it comes, does not hinge on the completion of the Afghan strategy review."

Gates told Congress last week that if Obama were to decide in favor of sending the additional brigades, he anticipated that "we could have two of those brigades there probably by late spring, and potentially a third by mid-summer."

In addition, the Obama administration currently is awaiting the completion of ongoing strategy reviews for Afghanistan.

Those include a recommendation from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, another from Gen. David Petraeus, who heads Central Command, and another from Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s civilian envoy to Afghanistan. The reviews were begun under the Bush administration last fall.

Yet another review conducted by the White House czar on Iraq and Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Doug Lute, has already been completed.

ABC News has learned that the forthcoming review by the Joint Chiefs of Staff favors limiting the objectives for Afghanistan — moving away from the broad goal of democracy building in Afghanistan toward providing regional security for both Pakistan and Afghanistan and preventing al Qaeda from maintaining a safe haven in Pakistan.

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