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Gates Says Moving Ahead On Afghan Troop Decision

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at a press conference in Tokyo on October 21.
SEOUL (Reuters) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he is moving ahead with a decision on whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and he would first tell the president before a NATO defense ministers meeting in Bratislava.

Gates, speaking in Seoul after meetings with South Korean officials, gave no indication of what his decision may be regarding troop deployments. He was headed to the meeting in the Slovak capital that will be held on October 22 and 23.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on October 21 he could reach a decision on his new war strategy for Afghanistan before the outcome of an Afghan election runoff on November 7.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army General Stanley McChrystal, has requested tens of thousands more troops and beefed-up training of Afghan forces.

"In terms of what I will say in Bratislava, I think that I will probably share with the president and my colleagues in the American government where I come out on this issue before I share it with 27 defense ministers," Gates said.

"I am moving into my personal decision phase," he said.

Gates said discussions at the NATO meeting would likely include how to expand the size and training of the Afghan national army and police as well as matters of governance.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai removed a major stumbling block for Obama when he agreed on October 20, under intense U.S. pressure, to a second round of balloting after many of his votes from the August presidential election were tossed out as fraudulent.

"Everybody has an interest in making sure there are as few problems with this run-off election as possible in terms of providing legitimacy for the wining candidate," Gates said.

The prospect of another ballot has disillusioned voters after many stayed at home during the first round, intimidated by insurgent violence and threats.