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No quick decision on troops to Afghan war

President Barack Obama says there will be no quick decision on whether to send more U.S. troops into the widening war in Afghanistan. "My determination is to get this right," he said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Barack Obama said Wednesday there will be no quick decision on whether to send more U.S. troops into the widening war in Afghanistan. "My determination is to get this right," he said.

On Tuesday, Adm. Mike Mullen, Obama's top military adviser as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, endorsed an increase in U.S. forces as probably necessary to battle a deepening insurgency. The U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, also has delivered a grim assessment of the war and is expected to follow up soon with a request for thousands of additional troops.

"I'm going to take a very deliberate process in making those decisions," said Obama, taking questions from reporters as he sat in the Oval Office with visiting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. "And so I just want to be absolutely clear, because there's been a lot of discussion in the press about this: There is no immediate decision pending on resources," Obama said.

The president already has ordered 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan, increasing the U.S. commitment there to 68,000 by year's end. Yet violence in Afghanistan has soared to record levels. More U.S. troops — 51 — died in Afghanistan in August than in any other month since the U.S.-led invasion in October 2001.

Under pressure
Obama faces mounting pressure on what do next, both from an anxious and war-weary public and from members of his own Democratic Party. He said he will follow his plan of doing a broad assessment of military, diplomatic, civilian and developmental efforts in Afghanistan before deciding his next steps.

"One of the things that I'm absolutely clear about is you have to get the strategy right and then make determinations about resources," Obama said.

"You don't make determinations about resources — certainly you don't make determinations about sending your men and women into battle — without having absolute clarity about what the strategy is going to be."

Asked if U.S. and NATO forces were winning the war in Afghanistan, Obama did not answer directly.

But he said it is evident that "we have lacked as clear of a strategy and a mission as is necessary in order to meet our overriding objectives."

Obama described that as disrupting the al-Qaida terrorist network so that it cannot launch attacks on the United States and its allies. "That has not yet occurred," he said.

Harper, who has 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, said the Taliban do not constitute a viable alternative government, and in that sense progress has been made. He said, however, that "we are concerned about the strength of the insurgency" and in Afghanistan's ability to take long-sought, day-to-day responsibility for its own security.

Canada plans to withdraw its troops in 2011.

'Irritants' over cross-border trade
Both Harper and Obama also sought to inject perspective into tensions over cross-border economic protectionism.

The two countries share the largest trading partnership in the world, but Canada remains deeply worried about so-called Buy American provisions in the $787 billion economic stimulus package approved by Congress early this year.

"There is no prospect of any budding trade wars between our countries," Obama said.

Harper agreed but made a point of noting concern over trade snags. "These are important irritants," he said. "They are having some real impacts."

The two leaders also offered an upbeat take on the global economic recovery heading into next week's talks of G-20 developed and developing nations in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

"We both agree that although we are not out of the woods yet, that we've seen signs of stability," Obama said.