WASHINGTON - There is little support in Congress for sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives said on Thursday, indicating possible trouble ahead for President Barack Obama.
Obama may decide in the coming weeks whether to expand the size of the U.S. military force in Afghanistan to counter insurgent violence that has reached its highest level since the Taliban was ousted from power in late 2001.
But U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said deploying more U.S. troops could be a tough sell.
I don't think there's a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan, in the country or in the Congress, Pelosi said at a news conference.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, said in a New York Times interview he was not ruling out sending more troops eventually, but insisted that the United States first expand and accelerate the training of Afghan forces.
I just think we should hold off on a commitment to send more combat troops until these additional steps to strengthen the Afghan security forces are put in motion, Levin said.
Levin raised concerns about the U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in meetings this week with the secretaries of Defense and State and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Times said. Levin intends to propose improvements in a speech in the Senate on Friday.
A troop increase could make U.S. congressional Democrats nervous at a time when many of them already face tough prospects in next year's midterm elections.
The U.S. Congress has a full plate of difficult legislative business even before possible decisions on U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, including legislation aimed at overhauling the U.S. healthcare system and a complicated climate-change bill.
A formal assessment of the war from U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, is widely expected to set the stage for a request by the military for more troops.
Pelosi said she had not yet seen this assessment, which was sent to the Pentagon last week.
I hope that we will be briefed on the McChrystal (report) when the president receives it, she said. Perhaps next week we will see that.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama had not yet made a decision on whether to commit additional U.S. troops.
The president will make a decision based on what he thinks is in the best national security interests of this country, Gibbs said.
The United States is on track nearly to double its troop presence in Afghanistan to 68,000 by the end of this year. Other nations, mainly NATO allies, have another 38,000 troops in Afghanistan and have been reluctant to send more.
Some analysts believe the Afghan war effort requires a further boost of up to 45,000 military forces along with additional diplomats and other resources.
But with U.S. casualties mounting, unease about the war is growing in Obama's Democratic Party.
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and JoAnne Allen)