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Obama Meets With Top Advisers On Afghan Policy


U.S. Marines at a forward operating base in Mian Poshteh in Afghanistan's Helmand Province

U.S. Marines at a forward operating base in Mian Poshteh in Afghanistan's Helmand Province

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- President Barack Obama met with top advisers on Afghanistan for almost two hours as he nears a decision on whether to send thousands of additional U.S. troops to confront a growing insurgency.

There was no immediate word on whether any decision was reached at the war council in the White House Situation Room. Those attending included Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

It was the ninth such meeting as Obama considers whether to add as many as 40,000 troops to an 8-year-old war that began after the September 11 attacks and that has begun to try the patience of Americans.

U.S. officials and Western diplomats said they expected Obama's announcement next week, before a NATO meeting on December 7 in Europe in which alliance members could agree to send thousands of additional trainers.

The White House has given no firm date for the news, but "the first possible time would be sometime next week," presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs said earlier.

There are about 110,000 foreign troops, including 68,000 U.S. soldiers, in Afghanistan fighting Taliban insurgents.

The president has been reviewing war strategy in Afghanistan for nearly three months after Army General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander there, said in a report that conditions were deteriorating and 40,000 additional troops were needed as the minimum to quell the insurgency.

The White House is preparing a roll-out of the new strategy, including congressional testimony by Gates, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and McChrystal, after the announcement.

Americans Divided

Some of Obama's top national security advisers, including Gates and Mullen, are believed to have rallied around options that would send 30,000 to 40,000 more troops and trainers.

Obama faces conflicting pressures on Afghanistan. Americans are divided about whether to send more troops. Republicans in Congress insist more troops are needed to prevent a Taliban resurgence, while his own Democrats in general would like to see the United States find a way out of Afghanistan.

Two veteran Democratic lawmakers have called for imposing a "war tax" to pay for a troop increase. The two were David Obey, chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, and Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

A congressional aide said that under the idea, families earning under $150,000 a year would be taxed at 1 percent of their tax rates. The tax would be higher for those in the $150,000-to-$250,000 range and those making $250,000 or more.

Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, opposed it. "Someone has to demonstrate how it can be done," Inouye said.

Gibbs said it was premature for him to comment since Obama had yet to settle on a troop plan.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney told conservative talk radio host Scott Hennen that Obama was taking too long to decide.

"The delay is not cost-free," he said. "Every day that goes by raises doubts in the minds of our friends in the region about what you're going to do, raises doubts in the minds of the troops."

Gibbs defended the president.

"This is a complicated decision," he said. "I think the American people want the president to take the time to get this decision right, rather than to make a hasty decision."

A Washington Post-ABC News poll found last week that 46 percent of Americans supported a large influx of troops to fight insurgents and train the Afghan military, while 45 percent backed a smaller number of new U.S. forces more narrowly focused on training.

One factor that has complicated the deliberations has been concerns about corruption in Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government. Obama has said he wants to ensure he has a reliable partner there.
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