The Cable

Eikenberry’s awkward White House call (Retracted)

Spencer Ackerman gets the details of an apparently uncomfortable conference call this morning between National Security Council staffers and Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. Ambassador to Kabul, whose confidential cables calling for caution in increasing troop levels in Afghanistan were leaked to the Washington Post. It was a tense videoconference this morning at the White House, ...

Spencer Ackerman gets the details of an apparently uncomfortable conference call this morning between National Security Council staffers and Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. Ambassador to Kabul, whose confidential cables calling for caution in increasing troop levels in Afghanistan were leaked to the Washington Post.

It was a tense videoconference this morning at the White House, as Ambassador Karl Eikenberry addressed the National Security Council from Kabul just hours after the media got hold of his dissent on the crucial question of sending more troops to Afghanistan. "He is very unpopular here," said a National Security Council staffer.

No one was happy to read in The Washington Post that Eikenberry, who commanded the war himself from 2005 to 2007, thinks that the Karzai government needs to demonstrate its commitment to anti-corruption measures before the administration can responsibly authorize another troop increase. The prevailing theory is that "he leaked his own cables" because "he has a beef with McChrystal," the staffer said. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Eikenberry’s successor as NATO commander in Afghanistan, has requested an increase in troops to support a counterinsurgency strategy with a substantial counterterrorism component.

But Eikenberry – who also briefed the White House by teleconference yesterday – reiterated his concerns. The ambassador told the NSC not to send additional troops to Afghanistan "without an exit strategy" and urged that the president to adopt a "purely civilian approach" with the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the lead, not the military…

Despite the dissatisfaction with Eikenberry’s apparent leak, according to the staffer, Obama "demanded" an exit strategy for the war "after Eikenberry’s cables." Certain members of the NSC dialed into the conference from the Fort Bragg, N.C. headquarters of the Joint Special Operations Command, which is playing a large if underreported role in shaping Afghanistan strategy. It would appear that much remains fluid in the administration’s strategy debates.

Update:  Ackerman retracts:

I am retracting this post, published yesterday, titled “Inside This Morning’s White House Afghanistan Meeting: Anger With Eikenberry, ‘Beef’ With McChrystal.”

My original source for the post stands by the account provided. The individual, a National Security Council staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity, has provided truthful and verified information on past stories, and so I trusted the source for this one. Elements of the account have been subsequently borne out: yesterday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that President Obama will ask his Afghanistan-Pakistan advisers to provide him with an exit strategy for the eight-year war, which is congruent with but not identical to my source’s information that Obama has asked the team to derive timetables for troop withdrawal.

But there are greater problems with the post. For one, the source was not actually present for the video teleconference that is the post’s central scene, and passed information to me second-hand. Furthermore, not only has the White House’s Tommy Vietor denied, on the record, that Ambassador Karl Eikenberry participated in a video teleconference yesterday morning, but the other two individuals I named as being present for the meeting — the inspector generals for Iraq and Afghanistan — have, through representatives, denied being present. I cannot subsequently stand by this account.

 Twitter: @joshuakeating

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