Pentagon Disputes McKeon’s Recounting of Talk With Gates

Posted September 24, 2009 at 10:41pm

A Pentagon spokesman disputed claims by House Armed Services ranking member Howard McKeon (R-Calif.) that Defense Secretary Robert Gates told him in July that President Barack Obama was not inclined to send additional troops to Afghanistan.Spokesman Geoff Morrell also disputed McKeon’s claim that Obama told him he had directed Gens. David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal to “scrub— a pending troop request during the July conversation, which he said took place while the two were traveling to Afghanistan.During a brief interview with Roll Call on Wednesday, McKeon said that during their July conversation, Gates indicated that Obama “wasn’t inclined to send troops over there.—McKeon also said Gates told him Petraeus and McChrystal were being asked to submit assessments to the president on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively, and that Obama had “given instructions— to them to “scrub everything, to make sure they didn’t ask for more than they needed.—But Morrell, who said he had not yet discussed the issue with Gates, said Thursday that he doesn’t believe Gates would have made those statements.”I do not believe Secretary Gates would have said something of that nature to Rep. McKeon,” Morrell said. “It just doesn’t make sense because neither the secretary nor the president has begun to consider additional forces for Afghanistan. Their focus right now is on reviewing the strategy. Once that process is complete, they will consider what resources are necessary to make it work.—”I don’t know how the secretary could convey to anyone” the president’s inclination on troop levels, Morrell said, explaining, “Frankly, that is a conversation that has not happened yet with President Obama.”As for whether Obama ordered the scrubbing of troop requests, Morrell said those orders were given by Gates and were part of an effort to increase efficiency of the troops already deployed and not part of the ongoing strategy development. “It was given without input from President Obama and was given before Gen. McChrystal deployed in June,— Morrell said.McKeon’s comments come as Obama is facing a critical moment in his effort to address the situation in Afghanistan. McChrystal earlier this month provided the White House with a strategy for Afghanistan that calls for a significant increase in troops as well as a broader effort to “stand up— Afghan forces so they can eventually take control of the country.Although Obama in March argued that troop and resource increases would be needed to help stabilize the troubled country, he has been under pressure from his left wing to set a timeline for withdrawal of U.S. forces and to not make significant new force commitments. Those calls have been bolstered by a recent softening in the White House stance on Afghanistan. That in turn has caused consternation among Republicans, who have been Obama’s biggest supporters in his handling of Afghanistan.