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Report: Obama told Petraeus and McChrystal to “scrub” assessments

As the Obama administration wrestles with how to deal with the worsening military and political situation in Afghanistan and the worsening level of public support for the war at home, new details are emerging about how the president is thinking about his decision on whether to send more U.S. troops to the region. According to ...

As the Obama administration wrestles with how to deal with the worsening military and political situation in Afghanistan and the worsening level of public support for the war at home, new details are emerging about how the president is thinking about his decision on whether to send more U.S. troops to the region.

According to Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-CA, the new top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Obama told Central Command head Gen. David Petraeus and Afghanistan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal to "scrub" their assessments because he "wasn't inclined to send troops over there."

If McKeon's claim is true, Obama's instructions, relayed to McKeon through Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, show how resistant the president is to doubling down on the war in Afghanistan and how Republicans are prepared to take their push for an increased commitment of resources to the public.

As the Obama administration wrestles with how to deal with the worsening military and political situation in Afghanistan and the worsening level of public support for the war at home, new details are emerging about how the president is thinking about his decision on whether to send more U.S. troops to the region.

According to Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-CA, the new top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Obama told Central Command head Gen. David Petraeus and Afghanistan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal to "scrub" their assessments because he "wasn’t inclined to send troops over there."

If McKeon’s claim is true, Obama’s instructions, relayed to McKeon through Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, show how resistant the president is to doubling down on the war in Afghanistan and how Republicans are prepared to take their push for an increased commitment of resources to the public.

The second half of McChrystal’s assessment, the part that will spell out his request for more troops, is expected to hit the Pentagon soon.

Roll Call‘s Jennifer Bendery and John Stanton have the scoop:

House Armed Services ranking member Howard McKeon (R-Calif.) said Wednesday that Gates told him on a July trip to Afghanistan that Obama "wasn’t inclined to send troops over there."

McKeon said Gates also told him that, in light of Gen. David Petraeus and McChrystal being asked to submit assessments to the president on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively, Obama had "given instructions" to them to "scrub everything, to make sure they didn’t ask for more than they needed."

That conversation prompted McKeon to ask McChrystal if the directive sent "a chilling message" that the U.S. and NATO commander should ask for less troops than he needed. "He said, ‘No, I’m honor-bound to ask for what I need,’" McKeon said."

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell pushed back against McKeon’s claims:

"I usually do not comment on the secretary’s discussions with members of Congress, but in this case I think I need to clear up some confusion," Morrell told The Cable, "I do not believe that the secretary would make statements to anyone, including Congressman McKeon, indicating that President Obama was disinclined to send additional troops to Afghanistan. That’s just not plausible because the issue of whether to send more forces is what will be discussed and debated once the president’s strategy review has been completed and both he and Secretary Gates have been very clear that they are still undecided on the way ahead in Afghanistan."

Furthermore, Gates, not President Obama, told General McChrystal to "scrub" his forces to make sure that all of them were being used in the most efficient manner, Morrell added.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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