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Obama holds 'productive' meeting on Afghanistan strategy
President Barack Obama met his top military chiefs Friday to discuss Afghanistan strategy and troop numbers as he neared a crucial decision on whether to send thousands more Americans to war. No final decisions were made at the talks.
AFP - President Barack Obama met his top military chiefs Friday to talk Afghanistan strategy and troop numbers as he approached a critical decision on whether to send thousands more Americans to war.
Obama spoke to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the secure White House Situation Room to hear their input on his evolving war plan from across the military establishment.
A defense official said on condition of anonymity that the senior military officers had a "productive" meeting and took time to voice their views on troops and strategy. No final decisions were taken at the talks.
"It was a wide-ranging discussion," the official told reporters. Obama was "very engaged" and "clearly leading the meeting," he said.
Another US official said that Obama's exhaustive, weeks-long review process was reaching an end and a decision on future strategy and troop numbers was approaching, but that the president would not be rushed.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said no future strategy meetings were planned so far, but could be scheduled before Obama rules on war commander General Stanley McChrystal's request for 40,000 more counter-insurgency troops.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added to the expectation when she repeated in an interview with PBS television on Friday that the Afghan run-off election on November 7 would likely figure into the timing of Obama's decision.
Obama leaves on an eight-day journey through Asia on November 11, which gives him a small window after the Afghan election for any pre-trip announcement.
Clinton also offered some detail of the likely scope of Obama's new strategy.
"The president is not going to micromanage what our generals do," she said.
"The president is going to say, 'Here's our strategic objectives, here's what is needed for us to meet the mission we have, here are the troops that you're going to be given, here are the civilians and the political strategy that we are integrating.'"
Before meeting the generals, Obama took a late night trip on Thursday to Dover air force base in Delaware on his Marine One helicopter to witness the return home of Americans killed in the war.
"It was a sobering reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that our young men and women in uniform are engaging in every single day," Obama said.
"Obviously the burden that both our troops and our families bear in any wartime situation is going to bear on how I see these conflicts.
"And it is something that I think about each and every day."
More than 5,000 US military personnel have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Signs that Obama may be nearing a decision on troop numbers are coming in a flurry of leaks of aspects of the coalescing strategy to major US newspapers.
The Washington Post reported on Thursday that Obama had asked senior officials for an analysis of Afghan provinces to determine which regions are well managed and which are not, to guide his decision on troop numbers.
Earlier this week, The New York Times reported the White House was settling on an Afghan strategy that would send more US troops to protect top population centers, but recognized that the insurgency cannot be completely eradicated.
Obama has spent weeks deliberating over McChrystal's request for more troops to fight the escalating Taliban insurgency and his dire warning that the war could be lost without more men.
He has completed a string of in-depth discussions in the White House with senior aides, probing every aspect of US strategy in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Senior officers at the latest White House session were General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the joint chiefs; Army Chief of Staff General George Casey; General James Conway, commandant of the US Marine Corps; Admiral Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations; and General Norton Schwartz, air force chief of staff.
Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen and other top Obama security officials also attended.