Two weeks ago, National Security Adviser Jim Jones flew to Afghanistan to inform American commanders not to bother to request more troops for the Af-Pak theater. The Washington Post referred to it as a “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” moment, as stunned commanders attempted to process the inflexibility this represented. However, Defense Secretary Robert Gates quietly reversed Jones this week in a little-noticed statement about potential troop increases in the theater:
The Pentagon’s chief said Thursday he could send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan this year than he’d initially expected and is considering increasing the number of soldiers in the Army.
Both issues reflect demands on increasingly stressed American forces tasked with fighting two wars. …
Asked about Afghanistan by one soldier, Gates said: “I think there will not be a significant increase in troop levels in Afghanistan beyond the 68,000, at least probably through the end of the year. Maybe some increase, but not a lot.”
So far, the Obama administration has approved sending 68,000 troops to Afghanistan by the end of 2009, including 21,000 that were added this spring.
The White House has wanted to wait until the end of the year before deciding whether to deploy more, but Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said that Gates does not want to discourage his new commander in Kabul, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, from taking a frank look at how many troops he needs.
That’s quite a bit different than what Jones told McChrystal and his commanders:
Well, Jones went on, after all those additional troops, 17,000 plus 4,000 more, if there were new requests for force now, the president would quite likely have “a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment.” Everyone in the room caught the phonetic reference to WTF — which in the military and elsewhere means “What the [expletive]?”
Nicholson and his colonels — all or nearly all veterans of Iraq — seemed to blanch at the unambiguous message that this might be all the troops they were going to get.
Gates didn’t exactly endorse the idea of more troops for the Af-Pak theater, but he explicitly held the option open — as he should. Jones told the forces in Afghanistan not to bother asking, lest they find themselves on the wrong end of a presidential “WTF?”, with all that means for career advancement in the next three-plus years. In other words, Jones sent the message that the commanders should STFU before getting that WTF, hardly a way of “listening to the generals” standard on which Democrats insisted for several years on Iraq, and the standard that Gates to his credit has implemented in his tenure at the Pentagon.
A month ago, Newsweek reported rumors that Gates wanted to push Jones out as the National Security Adviser and take the position himself. Nothing has transpired since, but it seems clear that Jones and Gates are not on the same page on the war.