Obama weighs decision to send more troops to Afghanistan

US President Barack Obama could give a crucial go-ahead to send more US troops to the unpopular war in Afghanistan as early as Friday, after a wide-ranging strategy review.


AFP - President Barack Obama moved closer to a crucial decision on the US-led war in Afghanistan after receiving a request from his commander to send in more troops, officials said Wednesday.

With the appeal for reinforcements in hand, Obama and his top advisers could start talking about committing yet more troops to the unpopular war later this week after a wide-ranging strategy review, the White House said.

"It could happen as early as Friday, it could be next week," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.

As the NATO-led mission struggles to counter a spreading insurgency, Obama faces an appeal for up to 40,000 troops from the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal.

On Tuesday, the president told lawmakers he had no intention of reducing the US military force in Afghanistan, which will reach 68,000 troops by the end of this year, an administration official said on condition of anonymity.

The choice for Obama may lie somewhere between keeping roughly the current level of troops or opting for the commander's "all-in" approach that would inject tens of thousands of additional troops into the fight against Islamist insurgents.

Top security, military and political advisors met Wednesday in the secure White House Situation Room for a third in-depth meeting on Afghanistan, amid accusations from some Republican lawmakers that Obama was dithering.

The high-stakes war council comes amid rising public doubts over the mission, a spike in US and NATO casualties and an increasingly tenacious insurgency, eight years into what is now one of the longest US military operations on record.

In a move suggesting he may be close to making up his mind, the president asked for the troop request document last Thursday before setting off for Copenhagen, where he briefly met with McChrystal aboard his plane.

The troop request had been closely held by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to avoid leaks of the politically sensitive document, the Pentagon said.

A "formal request" for more troops vetted by the US and NATO military chain of command had not yet been presented to the president, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.

Gates had earlier said he would hold off on passing on McChrystal's request until a White House review of strategy was completed.

Requests for forces are usually reviewed by senior US military leaders before being passed on to the defense secretary and the president.

An earlier sensitive document from the commander -- an assessment of the war -- was leaked to the media last month, piling political pressure on Obama's deliberations.

"We wanted to avoid a repeat of what we saw with the assessment frankly," Morrell said.

A new poll Wednesday added to the political tumult whipped up around Obama's decision-making process.

The Quinnipiac University survey found 65 percent of voters willing to have US soldiers fight and possibly die to stamp out extremists operating in Afghanistan.

But only 38 percent of those asked said they would be willing to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Other polls have shown rising public anxiety over the war, launched to target Al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Wednesday is the eighth anniversary of former president George W. Bush's 2001 announcement of the start of air strikes in Afghanistan.

This year has been the deadliest of the war, with 394 foreign troops killed in 2009, including 236 Americans, according to an AFP toll.

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