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Appearing on ABC News' This Week, retired Gen. Colin Powell answered questions about whether the U.S. had enough troops in Afghanistan.
Host Jake Tapper reminded Powell of the military thinking that many call "the Powell doctrine," the idea that military operations should have large enough troop deployments to achieve their objectives. Tapper described it first as "overwhelming" force, but Powell said it is better described as "decisive" force.
Is the Obama administration "adhering to the Powell doctrine?" Tapper asked.
Powell didn't give a yes or no answer, instead explaining, "The president has added close to 68,000 troops in the last year, since he came into office, not just the 30,000 you hear, but the others that were added before that. So 68,000 troops were added to it. That is a significant number. And, remember, they're not going after a fixed enemy. They're trying to control ground. They're trying to give some comfort to people that their life is going to get better."
Powell said the rest will be up to the government and people of Afghanistan. "The challenge here -- and the president will have to face this late next year, as he said he would -- is, okay, we have had this additional input of 68,000 soldiers, bringing it to over 100,000 soldiers. We have done what we said we were going to do. Have the Afghans done what they must do, build an army that is capable, an army that is connected to the central government, an army that the people believe in? And do we have a police force that is not corrupt? And do we have a government in Kabul that is really reaching out and connecting the people together into some kind of political system that people believe in?"
We wanted to fact-check Powell's statement that Obama has added 68,000 troops, "not just the 30,000 you hear."
After weeks of deliberations, Obama in late 2009 decided to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. He announced his decision in a major address at U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., on Dec. 1, 2009.
But Obama had sent more troops to Afghanistan long before that, to fulfill a campaign promise. On Feb. 17, 2009, Obama issued an order to send two additional brigades -- each with about 2,500 troops -- to Afghanistan. With those troops plus other additions, the total deployment steadily increased from the roughly 34,000 that were in Afghanistan when Obama took office.
Last week, the Pentagon announced there were 94,000 troops in Afghanistan. The number was a milestone because it was the first time troops there had exceeded the number of troops in Iraq, which now has 92,000. (At the height of the Iraq war, there were between 130,000 and 172,000 troops there.)
About 4,000 more troops are expected to deploy to Afghanistan by the summer, bringing the total to 98,000.
So 98,000 minus the 34,000 that were there when Obama took office gives us 64,000 troops, a little shy of the 68,000 Powell mentioned. But he might be counting additional NATO troops from countries that include Britain, France, Germany and Italy. NATO countries pledged an additional 5,000 troops last year, but the numbers have fluctuated as actual deployments have occurred.
One thing we've learned about fact-checking troop numbers: Troops rotate in and out of countries on a regular schedule, which means troop levels are approximate numbers and change as time goes by.
Still, we find Powell's numbers very close to the mark. Obama took office with about 34,000 troops. There are now 94,000 troops and closing in on 98,000 troops by summer. When you count small additions by NATO, that gets us close to 68,000. We rate his statement True.
The Associated Press, More US troops in Afghanistan than Iraq, a first, May 24, 2010
The Associated Press, Obama orders 30,000-troop boost in Afghanistan, Dec. 3, 2009
The Washington Post, NATO hits snags on troop pledges; German vow to boost numbers in Afghanistan falls short of U.S. hopes, Jan. 27, 2010
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