General Allen’s recommendations coming mid-November

It’s official. Afghanistan war commander Gen. John Allen plans to submit soon after Election Day his troop recommendations for the post-surge Afghanistan war through 2014. "My goal now is to have something out of here by the middle of November," Allen said, in an exclusive interview with the Situation Report‘s Gordon Lubold last week in ...

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages

It's official. Afghanistan war commander Gen. John Allen plans to submit soon after Election Day his troop recommendations for the post-surge Afghanistan war through 2014.

"My goal now is to have something out of here by the middle of November," Allen said, in an exclusive interview with the Situation Report's Gordon Lubold last week in Kabul. Read the interview in full here.

In determining troop totals to come, Allen said already the key datapoint for him has changed. It's no longer the amount of "combat power," he argued, that the U.S. needs through 2014, rather it's the makeup of those forces and the progress made by parallel Afghan forces.

It’s official. Afghanistan war commander Gen. John Allen plans to submit soon after Election Day his troop recommendations for the post-surge Afghanistan war through 2014.

"My goal now is to have something out of here by the middle of November," Allen said, in an exclusive interview with the Situation Report‘s Gordon Lubold last week in Kabul. Read the interview in full here.

In determining troop totals to come, Allen said already the key datapoint for him has changed. It’s no longer the amount of "combat power," he argued, that the U.S. needs through 2014, rather it’s the makeup of those forces and the progress made by parallel Afghan forces.

The "combat power" phrase is one he used to describe his preferred troop levels into 2013 in an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March.  In that appearance, Allen called 68,000 troops a "good" number for 2013 but that he "owed" President Obama more analysis. Some interpreted that to mean he wanted to hold that number through the next year, but Pentagon officials beat back those analysis.

By this point, the number of troops Allen recommends has become such a focal point in Washington someone should start a betting pool. The natsec community has been here before, holding it’s collective breath in anticipation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s troop lay-down request in President Obama’s first year in office — largely seen as a political fumble for the White House — and then another assessment with less impact from Gen. David Petraeus.

Allen said last week he expects the troop total in Afghanistan will settle back at 68,000 by Oct. 1.

One detail much of Washington wants to hear is whether Allen will suggest a "steady" decline of forces, as President Obama has pledged to NATO allies, or would prefer to hold as many troops as possible until the very end, such as happened in the final years in the Iraq war.

Beyond the big number, Allen explained the work he plans to put into the assessment. He indicated that he already has determined a "good news" evaluation is forthcoming for two major facets of the Obama administration’s war strategy: the state of the insurgency and the evolution of the Afghan National Security Forces. Whether those are, indeed, "good" news is likely to get plenty of critical analysis inside the Beltway, especially given the growing spate of green-on-blue attacks. DOD officials continue to argue the number of those deadly incidents remain few and far between, given the massive amount of daily interactions between NATO and Afghan security personnel.

"You know, I really think that’s good news. In fact, both of those are good-news stories," Allen argued, in the interview.

In addition to those two assessments, Allen said he then will determine the "operational conditions" expected for next year, "and then make a recommendation on what I think to be the kind of forces that I’ll need in ’13 and ’14."

With the "listen to the generals" mantra pervasive in political rhetoric, and Congress expected to debate defense spending and the federal budget through Christmas, a mid-November timeline keeps the COMISAF well out of the way of presidential politics. Sending his recommendations up the chain of command at that time leaves enough time for the next commander-in-chief to digest the report, whether it is President Obama again or Gov. Mitt Romney. 

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

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