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Robert Farley
By Robert Farley October 23, 2009

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs fires back at Cheney over troop levels in Afghanistan

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs fired back at former Vice President Dick Cheney the day after Cheney said President Barack Obama "seems afraid to make a decision" about a general's public plea for 40,000 more U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

"The White House must stop dithering while America's armed forces are in danger," Cheney said in a speech at the Center for Security Policy on Oct. 21.

In his daily press briefing the next day, Gibbs said Cheney's comments were "curious" given that "the vice president was for seven years not focused on Afghanistan."

And, Gibbs said, the comments were "even more curious given the fact that (a request for) an increase in troops sat on desks in this White House, including the vice president's, for more than eight months, a resource request filled by President Obama in March."

Gibbs is referring here to a request for additional troops made by the previous top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, during President George W. Bush's final year in office.

McKiernan made his requests public in a press conference in September 2008 in Afghanistan, saying he needed at least three more combat brigades, in addition to the one Bush had promised in January. He said more soldiers and resources were needed to stabilize insurgencies in Afghanistan.

"The danger is that we'll be here longer and we'll expend more resources and experience more human suffering than if we had more resources placed against this campaign sooner," McKiernan told reporters.

"The additional military capabilities that have been asked for are needed as quickly as possible," he said.

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McKiernan said then that the Pentagon validated his formal request for additional troops, and that his request dated back to when he replaced his predecessor four months prior.

In a news briefing at the Pentagon on Oct. 1, 2008, McKiernan reiterated his call for more troops — "the level of effort needs to be increased" — and said he was hoping to see a shift of assets from Iraq to Afghanistan.

"I know that's a choice that has to be made here in Washington," he said.

"I think there's a common view that we need to do more; that Afghanistan has been an economy of force for the last several years," McKiernan said.   

On Feb. 17, 2009, Obama ordered the deployment of an additional 17,000 soldiers to Afghanistan.

According to a story in the Baltimore Sun on Feb. 18, 2009, "The deployment is Obama's response to a long-standing request from commanders in Afghanistan for more troops. The commanders have sought four more combat brigades, aviation units and other support, representing an increase of more than 20,000 troops."

In a March speech outlining a new strategy for the war there, Obama said that "for six years, Afghanistan has been denied the resources that it demands because of the war in Iraq."

Obama then seemed to take a swipe at the Bush administration when he added that he ordered the additional troops to satisfy a request that came from Gen. McKiernan "for many months."

The public doesn't have access to McKiernan's formal request for more troops. But we know that he was talking about it publicly in September 2008, at least 4 1/2 months before the end of Bush's term. And McKiernan told reporters his request went back nearly to the start of his taking over as the top U.S. commander four months before that. That would suggest Gibbs' claim is correct that it had been sitting on desks in the White House for eight months. And so we rule his statement True.

Our Sources

White House Web site, Transcript: Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs ,  Oct. 22, 2009

White House Web site, Transcript: Remarks by the President on a New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan , March 27, 2009

Fox News, Transcript of former Vice President Dick Cheney's remarks at the Center for Security Policy , Oct. 21, 2009

Department of Defense, Transcript: "DoD News Briefing with Gen. McKiernan from the Pentagon," Oct. 1, 2008

Armed Forces Press, "Gates in Afghanistan, commander says more troops needed," Sept. 16, 2008

Armed Forces Press, "Afghanistan’s Solution Primarily Political, Not Military, General Says," by Gerry J. Gilmore, Oct. 1, 2008

Washington Post, "White House and Cheney in a war of words over Afghanistan" by Michael D. Shear, Oct. 23, 2009

AP, "White House scoffs at Cheney's criticism," by Jennifer Loven and Anne Gearan, Oct. 23, 2009

Baltimore Sun, "17,000 Ordered to Afghanistan," by Julian E. Barnes and Greg Miller, Feb. 18, 2009

Miami Herald, "U.S. commander: Afghan situation could get worse," by Nancy A. Youssef, Oct. 2, 2008

Washington Post, "What a Surge Can't Solve in Afghanistan," by David Ignatius, Sept. 28, 2008

Associated Press Online, "Commander says many more US troop are needed soon," by Robert Burns,  Sept. 16, 2008

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White House spokesman Robert Gibbs fires back at Cheney over troop levels in Afghanistan

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