Congressional leaders emerged from a meeting with the president about Afghanistan on Tuesday satisfied with the discussion, but tight-lipped about any possible increase in troops to the war-torn state.
The White House extended the invitation to 31 House and Senate lawmakers amid rising concerns on both sides of the political aisle that the president was taking too long to make his decision about new troop deployments. No news resulted from Tuesday's meeting -- the first of a few Obama has scheduled on Afghanistan this week -- but it did offer the president an opportunity to gauge congressional approval for whatever course of action he pursues.
“We had a very productive meeting with the president today in assessing a comprehensive strategy in Afghanistan," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement. "The Afghanistan-Pakistan border is the single most active terrorist haven in the world, and it is vital to our national security that we get this right."
The majority leader added, "now is not the time to rush the process or force the President’s hand."
But the divisions between Democrats and Republicans over what that strategy should be quickly became apparent after the meeting's conclusion. Most Democrats seem to favor a slight scale-back of troops, with a strategy centered on counter-terrorism and training, as many of the lawmakers in attendance on Tuesday have previously said.
Republicans, however, agree with Gen. Stanley McChrystal's public assessment that only a sizable troop increase can spare Afghanistan considerable turmoil. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), along with House Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Senate Republican Leader John Boehner (Ohio), echoed that position in a brief press conference following Tuesday's discussion.
"And I think this isn't about whether [the general] is right or not... this is the strategy and the resources they believe that are necessary to succeed," McCain said. "It's the president's final decision, but I think they're [right to request troops], given their leadership in the past."
“It is essential that the White House allow General McChrystal to testify about the situation on the ground – and soon," Boehner explained in a statement. "Given the complex situation in Afghanistan and what it means for our nation’s security, the commander on the ground is uniquely qualified to explain both the stakes and how we can achieve our goals."
Later this week, Obama will sit down again with his military and defense advisers. It is still unclear, however, when he will make his final troop decision.