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New Woodward expose details Afghan policy battles

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Legislative Conference Phoenix Awards Dinner in Washington, September 18, 2010. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Legislative Conference Phoenix Awards Dinner in Washington, September 18, 2010. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Members of President Barack Obama's national security team have waged an internal battle over Afghan policy that has been marked by bitter infighting, according to a new book by journalist Bob Woodward.

Although many of the internal divisions described are now public knowledge the book, "Obama's Wars," offers new details and suggests the disagreements were more intense than previously known, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

The newspaper obtained a copy of the book in advance of its scheduled release next Monday.

The book depicts an administration deeply torn over the war in Afghanistan, with some of the president's chief advisers doubtful his new strategy will work and quarreling with each other for much of the past 20 months, the newspaper said.

The book describes Obama as a "professorial president" who assigned "homework" to advisers but bristled at what he saw as military commanders' attempts to force him into a decision to triple troop levels in Afghanistan, the Times reported.

The White House had no comment on disclosures in the book on Tuesday night, the newspaper said.

Woodward, an associate editor at the Washington Post, rose to fame reporting on the Watergate scandal, which led to the registration of President Richard Nixon in 1974.

Among excerpts from the book reported by The New York Times:

* Obama's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, is quoted as saying of the strategy that "it can't work."

* Vice President Joe Biden, who also had doubts about the strategy, called Holbrooke "the most egotistical bastard I've ever met."

* A variety of administration officials expressed scorn for Obama's national security adviser, James Jones, while he referred to some of the president's other aides as "the water bugs" or "the Politburo."

* General David Petraeus, now the Afghanistan commander, told a senior aide he disliked talking with David Axelrod, the president's senior adviser, because he was "a complete spin doctor." Petraeus was effectively banned by the administration from the Sunday talk shows but worked private channels with Congress and the news media, the report said.

* Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thought his deputy, General James Cartwright, went behind his back, while Cartwright dismissed Mullen because he "wasn't a war fighter."

* Defense Secretary Robert Gates worried Jones would be succeeded by his deputy, Thomas Donilon, who he thought would be a "disaster."

The book says Obama concluded from the start that "I have two years with the public on this" and pressed advisers for ways to avoid a big escalation, the Times reported.

"I want an exit strategy," he implored at one meeting, the newspaper reported.

"Obama's Wars," draws upon classified documents and interviews with key players in the administration, including Obama, according to publisher Simon & Schuster, which is owned by CBS Corp.

The Times said the book also discloses that the Central Intelligence Agency has a 3,000-man "covert army" in Afghanistan comprised mostly of Afghans who capture and kill Taliban fighters and seek support in tribal areas.

The Times also said the book discloses the United States has intelligence showing Afghan President Hamid Karzai suffers from manic-depression, and is on medication for the disease.

(Reporting by Joanne Allen; Editing by Todd Eastham)