Skip to main content

Official defends Obama ahead of revelations in Woodward book

By the CNN Wire Staff
President Obama, left, meets with advisers in the Situation Room at the White House last year.
President Obama, left, meets with advisers in the Situation Room at the White House last year.
  • The book reveals the CIA is running a 3,000-man Afghan paramilitary force
  • Journalist Bob Woodward reveals deep rifts on Afghanistan strategy
  • A frustrated Obama sought an exit plan, the book says
  • Official defends Obama as analytical and decisive

Bob Woodward takes your questions and talks about his new book on "Larry King Live" Wednesday, September 29, at 9 p.m. ET on CNN.

Washington (CNN) -- A senior administration official defended President Barack Obama on Wednesday as a decisive commander in chief ahead of next week's release of a book that reveals an administration deeply divided over U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

"Obama's Wars," by veteran Washington journalist Bob Woodward, describes a frustrated president who urgently sought an exit plan, only to be provided with options that involved increased U.S. troop levels, the Washington Post reported Wednesday. Woodward is associate editor of the newspaper.

Woodward takes readers behind the scenes in the Obama White House through accounts of closed-door strategy sessions, private conversations, internal memos and hours of interviews with key players.

"This needs to be a plan about how we're going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan," Obama is quoted as telling his aides as he agreed to a short-term escalation of 30,000 troops, according to the Post.

"Everything we're doing has to be focused on how we're going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It's in our national security interest," Obama said, according to the newspaper.

In an October meeting with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama said: "I'm not doing 10 years. I'm not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars."

A senior administration official on Wednesday downplayed the rifts portrayed in the book, slated for release Monday.

"The president comes across in the review and throughout the decision-making process as a commander in chief who is analytical, strategic and decisive, with a broad view of history, national security and his role," the official told CNN Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry.

The official said Obama wanted concise answers to questions about the capacities of the Afghan government and whether a counterinsurgency strategy could be effective there. The official said Obama wanted to know exactly what kind of U.S. presence was required and what could realistically be achieved in the immediate future.

Woodward reveals a president greatly at odds with top military advisers Gen. David Petraeus and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Woodward writes that dissent turned into name-calling on both sides, the Post reported. At one point, Petraeus felt shut out and told an aide that he considered Obama adviser David Axelrod a "complete spin doctor."

Another key disclosure in Woodward's book is that the CIA is running a 3,000-strong Afghan paramilitary force.

A U.S. official said the Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams were "well-trained, effective Afghan special operations forces," which conduct secret operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan.

A CIA spokesman would not comment on the paramilitary force. Pakistani officials denied that CIA-trained soldiers were operating on Pakistani soil.

Among other revelations in Woodward's book, according to the Post:

-- The U.S. government was unprepared to deal with a nuclear terrorist attack on American soil. Obama told Woodward in an interview: "When I go down the list of things I have to worry about all the time, that is at the top, because that's one where you can't afford any mistakes."

-- Afghan President Hamid Karzai was diagnosed as manic-depressive, Woodward said, citing U.S. intelligence reports. "He's on his meds; he's off his meds," Woodward quoted U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry as saying.

A spokesman for Karzai dismissed the allegations.

"About this allegation that the president was on medication for depression -- that is absolutely false, and this is part of a campaign against the president's personal integrity," said Waheed Omer. "The president is absolutely safe, healthy and sound and doesn't take any medication for any illness."

CNN's Pam Benson, Reza Sayah and Atia Abawi contributed to this report.