In his address to the nation from West Point Tuesday night, President Obama said that in the previous administration, “commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive.”
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who left office in 2006, called that “a bald misstatement, at least as it pertains to the period I served as Secretary of Defense.”
"I am not aware of a single request of that nature between 2001 and 2006,” Rumsfeld said. “If any such requests occurred, 'repeated' or not, the White House should promptly make them public. The President's assertion does a disservice to the truth and, in particular, to the thousands of men and women in uniform who have fought, served and sacrificed in Afghanistan." He called for Congress to review the President's assertion to “determine exactly what requests were made, who made them, and where and why in the chain of command they were denied."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs confirmed on Wednesday that the president had been talking about troop requests made after Rumsfeld left office by then-Gen. David McKiernan , as we covered last month.
On Wednesday, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reaffirmed the longtime White House claim that McKiernan’s requests for more U.S. troops were not met by the Bush administration.
“General McKiernan specifically had a fairly substantial request for upwards of 20,000 forces, which we couldn't meet because they just weren't there,” Mullen testified before the Senate Wednesday. “They were in Iraq.”
That said, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, instead of explaining that the president had not been talking about Rumsfeld’s reign and trying to quell the dispute, did the opposite, saying Rumsfeld should answer questions as to “whether he thinks that the effort in Afghanistan was sufficiently resourced during his tenure as Secretary of Defense.”
There certainly are questions for Rumsfeld -- not least of which from Mullen who said “I spoke out very early that Afghanistan had been under-resourced and that, from where I lived, the heart of that was under-resourced with military forces. We didn't have them, because they were pushed to Iraq. And we really didn't have the flexibility to move them. That was a priority of a previous president. We do what the president says, and that's what we did.”
Robert P. Finn, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003, told the New York Times in August 2007 that “I said from the get-go that we didn’t have enough money and we didn’t have enough soldiers. I’m saying the same thing six years later.”