Levin presses for training, not troops

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) is pressing the Obama administration to speed up the training of Afghan security forces instead of sending more U.S. combat troops to the country.

Levin, the senior Senate Democrat on military policy, is calling for the Pentagon and NATO to send in more trainers to prepare and help expand the Afghan National Army and police forces.

Levin is scheduled to meet with Vice President Joe Biden and National Security Adviser Jim Jones next week to talk about his recommendations.

He has already met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen.

Levin said the three did not “react positively or negatively” to his recommendation. “They welcomed it,” Levin said at a press conference Friday.

Levin is not expected to force the administration’s hand, at least for now, by writing any legislation prescribing these recommendations.

Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, is expected to recommend that the Afghan army grow to 240,000 people and the police force to 160,000 by 2013, according to Levin. The current goal is 134,000 soldiers and 96,800 police personnel by 2010.

Levin’s recommendation to boost the number of trainers in Afghanistan comes amid a deepening lack of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan on the heels of the deadliest month since the war started there eight years ago.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday signaled a request for more troops could be rebuffed by Congress.

“I don't think there's much support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or in Congress,” Pelosi said.

Levin stressed that he is not pushing or suggesting any kind of timetable for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“I am not frustrated” with President Barack Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan, said Levin. “I am determined that I give my best advice to the president of the United States.”

He said that the situation in certain parts of Afghanistan has been deteriorating, but that it “can be turned around.”

Levin is advising the White House and Pentagon to speed up the growth of the Afghan security forces by one year, from 2013 to 2012.

“I believe that this approach should be urgently implemented before considering a further increase in U.S. ground combat troops, beyond what is already planned to be deployed by the end of the year,” Levin said in a statement.

However, to grow the Afghan security forces, the U.S. military and NATO likely will have to send more forces specialized in military training, Levin indicated.

Out of the 21,000 troops going to Afghanistan, 4,000 are trainers.

Levin said that more than 4,000 would be needed but did not give a specific number, as recommendations are still in flux. Based on the forces currently in Iraq, the commanders are short 12 percent of the trainers that are needed, Levin said.

But Levin is trying to convince the administration not to send more troops in addition to the 21,000 approved earlier this year. Some of those forces have already deployed and more are in the process.

McChrystal, who recently submitted his assessment of the situation in Afghanistan to Pentagon leadership and the White House , is widely expected to ask for more combat troops, said Levin.

But the senior defense authorizer stressed that there is consensus in the administration and Congress that there “should be a goal” to strengthen the Afghan security forces. Levin met with McChrystal in Afghanistan and discussed the situation in that country on a recent congressional delegation.

Levin is also recommending that the administration send to Afghanistan a large amount of military equipment that the military has been planning to send back to the U.S.

“It is troubling that we apparently do not have a list of Afghan army and police equipment requirements, nor an urgent plan for sending equipment from Iraq to Afghanistan to meet those requirements,” Levin said.

Additionally, Levin is recommending that the administration adopt a plan to separate from the Taliban the low- and mid-level local Afghan insurgents, who are non-ideological and are willing to recognize the authority of the Afghan government.