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The three most recent national opinion polls show majorities of Americans opposing the war in Afghanistan as well as the Pentagon’s plans to commit additional US troops there. This marks the first time since the war began eight years ago that US opposition has eclipsed 50%. This mirrors even starker drops in support in other NATO countries that have led to a series of troop withdrawals in those militaries. McClatchy Pentagon Correspondent Nancy Youssef tells The Real News that while General McChrystal’s new strategy for Afghanistan will clearly require additional troops, the Pentagon and White House agreed not to release a troop figure request. This goes against the White House’s original demand that the report include this detail, and, according to Youssef, represents a response to the war’s growing unpopularity.

Story Transcript

JESSE FREESTON, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jesse Freeston, coming to you from our Washington, DC, studios. And today we’re going to talk about the ongoing war in Afghanistan and some major decisions that are coming up for the Barack Obama administration, as well as the ongoing election in Afghanistan. The ballots are still coming in and we’re still waiting to see what’s going to happen there. And joining us today to talk about these issues is Nancy Youssef, the Pentagon correspondent for McClatchy newspapers.


FREESTON: So why don’t you start us off by telling us a little bit about what’s the recent update on the election [inaudible]?

YOUSSEF: Well, as you mentioned, the ballots are still being counted, but there’s an increased sense, at least among US officials, that this will have to go into a runoff election in October, even though Karzai’s claiming a bigger and bigger lead. His chief rival is Abdullah Abdullah, who’s the former minister of foreign affairs, who’s in second place, and he’s also claiming to be ahead. And so they’re counting down to the very last ballot.

FREESTON: Whoever comes out of this election as the president of Afghanistan, either seen as legitimate or illegitimate by the Afghan people, will have to deal with a situation in which there’s a US Pentagon who wants to increase the presence of the US military in Afghanistan, which appears to be unpopular, you’ve reported and others have reported is an unpopular move in Afghanistan.


FREESTON: Could you tell us a little bit about this recent report that’s come out or that’s about to be released?

YOUSSEF: Sure. General McChrystal was asked, when he took command, to give Secretary of Defense Robert Gates a 60-day assessment of the situation on the ground, and he has submitted that report to NATO and to CENTCOM and the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Monday. The Pentagon has refused to release any details of this summary publicly, and so we’re depending on leaks from people who worked on the report or read the report. It appears to be somewhere over 10 pages and finds that the situation in Afghanistan is precarious, that things could get worse unless the United States does more. The general does not ask for troops specifically. He was told to ask for that in a separate document, and we anticipate that to come later on in the month, ’cause the numbers that we’re hearing is anywhere from 15,000 to 45,000 troops. He had been asked to put the troop request in this document, but as the political climate changed here in Washington they backed away from that and said that he needs to ask for that in a separate document. And so today Robert Gibbs at the White House said that the president will be receiving that document and reviewing it, and the White House has stopped short of promising any more troops, saying that this will be in review. And it appears that that’s what’s happening now, that everybody’s hunkering down, reading this document, and trying to assess what the US move should be next.

FREESTON: Yeah. You suggest in your article that one of the anonymous sources you spoke to at the White House said explicitly that the White House asked the Pentagon or consulted with the Pentagon about not releasing troop demands at this time, given this political time climate, as you point out. Could you talk a little bit about what is that political climate?

YOUSSEF: Remember that right as General McChrystal arrived, President Obama agreed to send an additional 17,000 troops and 4,000 trainers, and they’ve just started to arrive. And the result has been, from the US perspective, an increase in US troop deaths. August was the deadliest month for US troops of this eight-year war, and 2009 is already the deadliest year in the war for both US and NATO troops, with 310 deaths. And so with all those things going on and the debate about health care and the economy and the growing unpopularity for the war, I think this administration is finding that the political climate is not as receptive as it was just two months ago to sending more troops to Afghanistan. What’s been interesting in the summer, the first poll that we saw was from The Washington Post/ABC News, which found 51 percent of the American public doesn’t think this war is worth fighting. It’s the first time in eight years that a majority of Americans don’t think this war is worth fighting. And then CNN just released a poll that found 57 percent don’t think this war is worth fighting. And we just released a poll that found 54 percent don’t want to send more troops to Afghanistan. And so the support for this war is quickly falling. Remember that Obama campaigned on the fact that he believed that this was the good war, the just war, and that Iraq was the unnecessary war. And so that already, six, seven, eight months into his administration, that that tide has already turned, I think, has shocked both the Pentagon and the White House.

FREESTON: Well, thank you, Nancy, for your time.

YOUSSEF: Thank you.

FREESTON: And we’re going to keep an eye on the situation as a new president comes to power in Afghanistan and more decisions are made in terms of the US commitment there. Thank you for watching The Real News Network.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Nancy Youssef is McClatchy Newspapers' chief Pentagon correspondent. She spent the past four years covering the Iraq war, most recently as Baghdad bureau chief. Her pieces focused on the everyday Iraqi experience, civilian causalities and how the US' military strategy was reshaping Iraq's social and political dynamics. While at the Free Press, she traveled throughout Jordan and Iraq for Knight Ridder, covering the Iraq war from the time leading up to it through the post-war period.