Pentagon plan to add more Afghan security forces under review

President Obama and top Pentagon officials are reexamining a plan to increase Afghanistan security forces by 78,000 troops, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said Tuesday.

Administration and U.S. military officials are “reviewing” the plan, according to Levin, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman. Levin said he believes the administration opted to look at the proposal again in large part due to concerns from Pakistani officials’ about a larger Afghan force.

Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan said “there are on-going discussions about the size of the Afghan security forces and no decisions have been made.”

Levin said he spoke briefly with the president on Monday and told the commander-in-chief the increase “needs to be done.”

Levin said growing the Afghanistan security forces “is a key point of the ticket to success” in the country because additional indigenous troops would allow U.S. troops to leave.

Levin said he also discussed the change at length with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen. Both indicated they still strongly support the 78,000-troop increase.

In past discussions about insurgents crossing from their country into Afghanistan, Pakistani leaders have thrown blame across the border, saying the Afghans “have to take more responsibility” to stop those movements, Levin said.

A larger Afghan security force is needed to do that, Levin said.

“The Pakistanis,” Levin said, “cannot have it both ways.”

Another factoring driving the review is the 2012 Pentagon budget, Levin said. Since the American portion of financing for the 78,000-person increase would have to be spelled out in that spending plan, due to Congress in early February, Levin said he expects a final decision will be made in the next few weeks.

Levin just returned from a visit to Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen with fellow Armed Services Committee member Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Appropriations Committee member Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

Levin said the administration’s plans to begin withdrawing U.S. troops this summer and transition control to Afghan forces in 2014 are proving to be “action-forcing mechanisms.”

Reed said multiple Afghan officials told the group of lawmakers that the U.S. goals have “galvanized” them to take actions they were putting off before those deadlines were established.