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Levin: In Afghanistan, US should focus on training local forces

Sen. Carl Levin cited concerns about stress on the US military as the US decides its next steps in Afghanistan. Levin spoke at a Monitor breakfast Thursday.

By Gordon LuboldStaff writer / October 15, 2009



Washington

President Obama is concerned about the stress on the US military as he weighs the merits of “surging” more forces into Afghanistan, says a top lawmaker.

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Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Thursday that eight years of war have worn the military down and that the best way forward for Afghanistan is to rely on training the Afghan force – not on increasing substantially the number of combat forces. American forces “are so badly overstretched,” said Senator Levin.

He indicated that Mr. Obama’s most recent meeting on Afghanistan zeroed in on the condition of the military. “The president is focusing on the pressure, the stress that all these tours of duty have placed upon our troops, and that’s a real issue,” he told reporters at a breakfast in Washington hosted by the Monitor.

Despite obvious concern over the military's condition, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan; Gen. David Petraeus, commander of US Central Command; and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have all signaled that more troops are the answer. Mullen in particular has also pushed to increase the amount of time that troops have at home between deployments.

Still, the troop weariness issue – which hasn’t come up in months as deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan have normalized – could have some sway.

Currently, about 100,000 foreign troops are in Afghanistan. McChrystal has requested up to 60,000 troops for a counterinsurgency strategy.

Obama is holding a series of meetings with top advisers to decide the way forward in Afghanistan.

For his part, Levin believes that the focus should be on training the Afghan forces and that this is ultimately the way out of Afghanistan.

He heralded remarks made Wednesday by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who committed 500 additional troops to Afghanistan for a total of 9,500, but who wants the focus to be on training the Afghan army. This, Levin says, is the way for the United States to show “resolve” in Afghanistan.

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