Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Monday that he believes the U.S. should maintain a large troop presence in Afghanistan with no timeline for withdrawal, and specified that there may be a need for even more than the 100,000 boots on the ground included in President Obama’s ongoing surge.
“The surge isn’t complete yet … I don’t presuppose that we need more than that, but we might,” said Pawlenty, who is expected to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, at a breakfast with reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Pawlenty was pressed for his views on the war in Afghanistan, following the release Sunday evening of more than 90,000 military reports by Wikileaks, an independent organization that obtained the documents from a source within the U.S. military and gave them to the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel. The reports point to coordination between Pakistan’s military spy service and Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, and confirm that the Taliban continues to gain strength despite renewed U.S. and NATO coalition efforts to defeat them.
Pawlenty, who just returned from his fifth trip to the Middle East, sent mixed signals about whether the war in Afghanistan was headed the right direction.
“You see signs of increasing challenge,” he said.
He also said that during a meeting with Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, he was told that “the momentum of the insurgents is being slowed down, can be halted.”
Public opinion, however, has been turning against continued heavy U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and appears to be turning faster now over the last month, following the removal by the president of Gen. Stanley McChrystal for insubordinate remarks in a magazine article, followed by the Wikileaks controversy.
Pawlenty remained resolute that the current mission is the right one and made clear that rather than considering any significant course correction, he might only be prepared to double down on prosecuting the current conflict.
“The policy in Afghanistan is to deny terrorists a base of operations, and it’s hard to do that unless you’re there,” Pawlenty said. “If we’re serious about what this means in terms of terrorism … we need to be serious about seeing it through to the point where we’re satisfied that our objectives have been met.”
“The public is obviously concerned about the war in Afghanistan but … the president and the leadership of our country needs to be a better job of explaining why it matters,” Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty said that as for his political future, he will decide whether to run for his party’s presidential nomination shortly after January 1, 2011. He said his decision would not be “dependent on what other people do and don’t do,” referring to questions about whether former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will throw her hat in the ring.
Palin, he said, “could afford to wait I think a lot longer than most other candidates” to announce her decision, Pawlenty said, given her name recognition and ability to raise money at the grassroots level through small donations.
WATCH: PAWLENTY ON AFGHANISTAN DEADLINE