Washington (AP) - The Senate Armed Services chairman is adding to the growing pressure on President Barack Obama to resist escalating the war in Afghanistan, saying Friday the U.S. should instead train more Afghan security forces.
Michigan Sen. Carl Levin had already raised concerns about a possible new troop buildup, but his speech on the Senate floor came as a blunt warning to the Obama administration after other Democratic congressional leaders raised similar concerns this week.
Levin warned that the U.S. has "lost the initiative" against insurgents in Afghanistan and called for a shift in the U.S. mission.
Under this plan, some U.S. soldiers would have to be sent to the war-torn nation to train its army and police a year earlier than initially expected, Levin said. But he said more American troops should not go there to fight, instead leaving that to what he described as a needed "surge" in Afghan troops.
"Our support of this surge of the Afghan security forces will show our commitment to the success of a mission that is clearly in our national interests," Levin said at a Capitol Hill news conference. "But we would do so without creating a bigger military footprint, which provides propaganda fodder for the Taliban."
He added: "And we should implement these steps on an urgent basis, before we consider an increase in U.S. ground combat forces beyond what is already planned by the end of this year."
He did not say how many U.S. military trainers would be needed, and said more NATO forces should also help.
Levin's comments came as the Obama administration weighs whether to boost the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond the 68,000 he has approved to be there by the end of the year. Congressional leaders are expected to be briefed next week on a broad review of Afghanistan strategy recently sent to Obama by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces there.
Many military and diplomatic leaders, in Afghanistan and Washington, have urged Obama to send thousands more Marines, soldiers and pilots to try to reverse Afghanistan's crumbling security. But leading Democrats in Congress have signaled they do not support a troop increase - especially on the heels of the bloodiest month in Afghanistan for U.S. troops so far.
Fifty-one U.S. troops died in Afghanistan in August, more than any other month since the U.S. invasion in October 2001.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Friday that no decision about troops is expected for "weeks and weeks" and likely will not come until after all the troops in the current ramp-up are in place and the situation can be evaluated with their presence.
"I think it will be many weeks of evaluation and assessment," Gibbs said.
The Senate Armed Services chairman is adding to the growing pressure on President Barack Obama to resist escalating the war in Afghanistan, saying Friday the U.S. should instead train more Afghan security forces.