Gates: Obama can’t ignore dwindling Hill, public support for Afghan war

Dwindling congressional and public support for the decade-old conflict in Afghanistan will influence the Obama administration’s war policy, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Saturday.

“You can’t be oblivious to the growing war weariness at home, and diminishing support in the Congress,” Gates said. “I think these are all things the president will have to weigh and those of us advising him will have to weigh as well.”

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The outgoing secretary’s comment comes as he visits U.S. troops in Afghanistan and just over a week after the House in a razor-thin 204-215 vote defeated an amendment to a Pentagon policy bill that would have required President Obama remove U.S. forces.

A number of polls conducted over the last few months, including a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey, have found a majority of Americans are ready to end the conflict.

Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, is preparing options to present to Obama in a few weeks on how many American troops can be removed this year.

While the administration’s war council will factor in the chilling mood on Capitol Hill and across the United States for the conflict, Gates made clear a long list of other issues will also be front-and-center.

“I think that once you’ve committed, that success of the mission should override everything else, because the most costly thing of all would be to fail,” Gates said, according to an American Forces Press Service report. “But that does not preclude adjustments to the mission or to the strategy.”

“Ultimately, the objective has to be success in the mission that has been set forth by the president,” said Gates, speaking to reporters aboard his plane en route to Afghanistan.

He landed in Kabul for his final trip to the war-torn nation as Defense secretary.

“This is principally an opportunity for me to thank the troops and bid them farewell,” Gates said.

He is set to retire at the end of this month. Leon Panetta, the current CIA director, is slated to replace him.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold confirmation hearings for Panetta on Thursday. Some GOP opposition is anticipated, but he is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate in coming weeks.