EXCLUSIVE: Powell Praises Obama, Fears Afghanistan Growing 'More Difficult' Than Iraq

General often floated as GOP contender expresses concern about troop strain.

ByABC News via logo
April 9, 2008, 6:12 PM

April 9, 2008— -- Retired Gen. Colin Powell insists he hasn't yet decided who he'll back in the 2008 presidential election.

"I'm looking at all three candidates," Powell said in an exclusive interview with Diane Sawyer for Thursday's "Good Morning America" on ABC. "I know them all very, very well. I consider myself a friend of each and every one of them. And I have not decided who I will vote for yet."

Powell, who served as President Bush's first secretary of state, is a Republican, but that apparently is not enough to sway him toward Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the GOP's presumptive nominee.

McCain has staked much of his presidential prospects on the success of the surge strategy in Iraq, a subject of great debate in Washington this week as Gen. David Petraeus took his case to Capitol Hill.

"The United States Armed Forces are very, very stretched. It appears that after the surge is over, we're going to go down to 140,000 troops in Iraq. That's 10,000 more than we had before the surge," Powell observed, reacting to the testimony Petraeus delivered over two days.

"There is something of a continued surge there with that extra 10,000. And based on what Gen. Petraeus has said, he wants to let the surge troops go by July and then take 45 days to see what it looks like, and then begin a process of assessment. Well, that tells me that we know what the administration strategy is going to be through the end of the term of the administration. And that is, we're going to maintain a very significant presence," Powell said.

Powell, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the administration of President George H.W. Bush and the first Gulf War, expressed concern over the burden an extended stay in Iraq would put on the troops and the country's military forces.

"It's going to be far more than the 100,000 that Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates was hoping for. It's going to be like 130,000 or 140,000. That is an extremely difficult burden for the United States Army, the United States Marine Corps, to keep up," Powell told "Good Morning America."

Powell also expressed reservations about the two-front combat in which the United States finds itself: surging in Iraq while trying to maintain control in Afghanistan.

"We have responsibilities in Afghanistan. And in some ways, Afghanistan is more difficult than Iraq. You have the tribal problems. You had drug lords running around ... and al Qaeda and the Taliban are making a resurgence," Powell said.

Sawyer pressed Powell on the differences between the presidential contenders on the critical issue of Iraq.

"I'll tell you what they're all going to face whichever one of them becomes president on Jan. 21 of 2009 they will face a military force, a United States military force, that cannot sustain, continue to sustain, 140,000 people deployed in Iraq, and the 20 (to) 25,000 people we have deployed in Afghanistan, and our other deployments," Powell said.