Candidate Obama Repeatedly Said He Would Reinforce U.S. Troops in Afghanistan

By Christopher Neefus | September 29, 2009 | 5:01 PM EDT

President Barack Obama speaks at the AFL-CIO Labor Day picnic in Cincinnati on Monday, Sept. 7, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

( – As a presidental candidate, Barack Obama repeatedly said he would reinforce the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Now, as commander-in-chief, however, Obama has thus far failed to heed the request of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, to send more troops to that country.

In a 66-page assessment of the war-situation in Afghanistan, which was leaked to the media, Gen. McChrystal said he needed the extra troops within a year or the war “will likely result in failure," reported The Washington Post on Sept. 21.

In July 2008, then-candidate Obama told CNN, “We allowed the Taliban and Al Qaeda to regenerate itself when we had them on the ropes. That was a big mistake, and it’s one I’m going to correct when I’m president.”

On Mar. 27, 2009, Obama announced a “comprehensive new strategy” for Afghanistan, saying that this policy came after careful review by military commanders and diplomats, government officials in Afghanistan, NATO allies, and members of Congress. “The situation is increasingly perilous,” said Obama, and “the safety of people around the world is at stake.”
“I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to prevent their return to either country in the future,” said Obama in March.
Last Monday, however, Obama said he was not willing to send troops “beyond what we already have” until he was sure the United States was employing the right strategy in the region. Currently, there are about 56,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. McChrystal says an additional 40,000 is needed to effectively implement a counterinsurgency strategy and bring political and civil order to the country.
When Obama was campaigning throughout 2007 and 2008, first against fellow Democratic candidates, and then against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), he said multiple times that the conflict in Afghanistan was a war we “have to win,” that it should be prioritized over Iraq, and that he would redeploy at least two brigades to the country often called the “graveyard of empires.”
On several occasions during the campaign, Obama also said he wanted to treat Afghanistan like the primary front in the war on terror that he believed the Central Asian nation to be.
-- Back on Aug. 1, 2007, Obama was already talking about the redeployment he would order as president: “Our troops have fought valiantly there [Afghanistan], but Iraq has deprived them of the support they need -- and deserve. … As president, I would deploy at least two additional brigades to Afghanistan to re-enforce our counterterrorism operations and support NATO’s efforts against the Taliban.”
-- On July 20, 2008, Obama took a trip to Afghanistan and told Lara Logan of CBS: “For at least a year now, I have called for two additional brigades, perhaps three.” He also told Logan he believed “this has to be our central focus, the central front, on our battle against terrorism.”
That same month, Obama made a speech on foreign policy outside the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. There, on July 8, he said he thought Afghanistan was more central to the security of the United States than Iraq. “If another attack on our homeland comes, it will likely come from the same region where 9/11 was planned,” said Obama. “And yet today, we have five times more troops in Iraq than Afghanistan.”
He also told the audience that the top-priority mission in Afghanistan was failing because of the troop commitment to Iraq.
“Our troops and our NATO allies are performing heroically in Afghanistan, but I have argued for years that we lack the resources to finish the job because of our commitment to Iraq,” Obama said.
“And that’s why, as president, I will make the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban the top priority that it should be. This is a war that we have to win,” the Democratic nominee said.
He added: “I will send at least two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan, and use this commitment to seek greater contributions – with fewer restrictions – from NATO allies.”

By the first presidential debate, moderated by Jim Lehrer, Obama was suggesting the previous administration had mistakenly de-emphasized Afghanistan. “We took our eye off Afghanistan,” said Obama.  “We took our eye off the folks who perpetrated 9/11.”

“[W]e are having enormous problems in Afghanistan because of that decision [to invade Iraq],” he said.

After the election, Obama made the baseball metaphor a refrain.

On the Dec. 8 edition of “NBC Nightly News,” the president-elect again told reporter Jim Miklaszewski: “We took our eye off Afghanistan. We took our eye off the folks who perpetrated 9/11.”

He also told “CBS Evening News” host Katie Couric that the United States had “failed to seriously go after Al Qaeda over the last five years, because of the distraction of Iraq” and that “we are now seeing the consequences of that in Afghanistan.”
“[W]e allowed the Taliban and al-Qaeda to regenerate itself when we had them on the ropes,” the president-elect said. “That was a big mistake, and it’s one I’m going to correct when I’m president.”
On Jan. 14 of this year, a week before being sworn in as president, Obama again told Couric that the United States “took our eye off the ball,” and that “our real focus has to be on Afghanistan, the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan . . . [t]hat’s my number one priority as president of the United States.”
Despite those comments, Obama recently indicated he may not give McChrystal the 40,000 troops the top military authority in Afghanistan says he needs for success, at least until he is satisfied that the “right strategy” is in place, and apparently in place of the “new comprehensive strategy” he outlined in March.
Last Monday, Sept. 21, the president told ABC’s Charles Gibson: “Until I'm satisfied that we've got the right strategy, I'm not going to be sending some young men or women over there beyond what we already have.”
Then, on Sunday, Sept. 27, on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates echoed Obama’s sentiment. Gates told Stephanopoulos: “I think what the president is now saying is, in light of the [Afghani] election, in light of McChrystal’s more concerning assessment of the situation on the ground, ‘Have we got the strategy right? Were the decisions that he made at the end of March the right ones?’ And once we’ve decided whether or not to make adjustments in the strategy, then we will consider the additional resources.”