Skelton, Levin Debate Afghanistan

Rep. Ike Skelton, R-Mo., and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., on "Face the Nation," Oct. 4, 2009. CBS

The Democratic Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said he would not commit more troops to Afghanistan at this point, and said it is undetermined whether there would be enough votes in the Senate to commit more U.S. forces to the region.

"There's a lot of other things that need to be done to show resolve," said Senator Carl Levin, D-Mich., on CBS' "Face the Nation." "What we need a surge of is Afghan troops. There is a Marine captain who put it this way: He says our Achilles' heel is a shortage of Afghan troops." Levin noted that during a recent trip to the country locals said they want their own army strengthened.

Levin said during his visit, the ratio of U.S. Marines to Afghan troops "was 5 Marines for one Afghan soldier. That is exactly the wrong ratio. It ought to be reversed from that."

Responding to a question posed earlier in the program on whether the Obama's administration deliberations on whether to change its current Afghan war strategy could be viewed as indecision, Levin dismissed characterizations of "dithering," citing President Bush's delay and resistance to his own commander's suggestions for Iraq.

"[W]hen President Bush was considering at the end of 2006 for four months whether or not to increase the number of troops in Iraq, to surge those troops - September, October, November, December of '06, he took four months to decide that we should have a surge of American troops at that time. By the way, when he made that decision, I believe it was against the wishes of his commander in Iraq, General Casey.

"So he made a decision [against his commander's suggestion] which turned out to be the right decision in Iraq. It took him four months to do so. It ended up helping, not being the only reason," he said.

Besides, Levin pointed out, "things have changed since March," when the current Afghan strategy was implemented, including an election in Afghanistan marred by accusations of fruad.

"Give deliberative process a chance," Levin argued.

Moderator Bob Schieffer asked Levin how Afghan troops could be mobilized.

"You get them by sending in a lot more trainers, 2,000-3,000 more trainers including from NATO countries that have that responsibility," he said.

Levin's counterpart in the House of Representatives, House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., said that he supports General Stanley McChrystal who has recommended sending an additional 40,000 troops to Afghanistan.

"I back him up. I sent a letter to the president a number of days ago spelling out in great detail - some six pages of a letter - spelling out basically 'Give the general what he needs.' You see, you have to have security in Afghanistan. You have to have governance in Afghanistan. If you don't have both of them, your whole strategy falls apart," Skelton said.

"The war really didn't start until March of this year when the president came forth with a strategy, frankly an excellent strategy," Skelton reasoned. "He chose General McChrystal who is the best in the business for this type of conflict. He asked General McChrystal for an assessment. He got that assessment. Of course that became known ... it was public. And in essence he's going to be asking for additional resources."

He said that a return of the Taliban in Aghanistan meant a return of al Qaeda.

"Just like water running downhill," he said. "They're going to come back in. They had a safe haven there at one time. There's no reason to believe they wouldn't have a safe haven again. That's the purpose of this entire mission. To quell the al Qaeda and to make sure that the Taliban is not there to invite them back."
  • Michelle Levi

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