By Stephen Collinson (AFP) – Sep 29, 2009
WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama Tuesday warned America could not fight the battle in Afghanistan alone, as he met NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen and began deliberations on whether to escalate the war.
"This is not a American battle, this is a NATO mission as well," Obama said as he welcomed the alliance's secretary general to the Oval Office, at a time of mounting political pressure over future war strategy.
"We both agree that it is absolutely critical that we are successful in dismantling, disrupting, destroying the Al-Qaeda network," he said, also citing the need to work with the Afghan government to provide security.
"We are working actively and diligently to consult with NATO at every step of the way."
Obama is facing fateful decisions on Afghan strategy as he digests a report by US commander General Stanley McChrystal which warned the war could be lost within a year without more troops.
McChrystal has reportedly requested up to 40,000 more US soldiers to fight the strengthening Taliban insurgency, but Obama is considering whether current tactics are the best way to defeat Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
A US official said that McChrystal and General David Petraeus, head of US central command, had both been invited to attend a meeting on Afghanistan at the White House Tuesday among top officials, in person or by video link.
Obama was not at those talks, but was scheduled to take part in another top-level meeting -- to which both generals were also invited, on Wednesday, another official said.
The high-powered meeting was also to include Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Some Republican critics have accused Obama of undue delay on framing a new Afghan strategy and called for him to approve any request for more troops submitted by the Pentagon.
Rasmussen said Obama was right to establish a new plan before making far-reaching decisions about the possible dispatch of tens of thousands of extra US troops to Afghanistan.
"Don't make any mistake: the normal discussion on the right approach should not be misinterpreted as lack of resolve," Rasmussen said.
"This alliance will stand united and we will stay in Afghanistan as long as it takes to finish our job."
European officials signaled before Rasmussen's arrival at the White House that they would await the result of the Afghan elections and Obama's decision before mulling their own troop reinforcements.
And in a speech in Washington on Monday, Rasmussen acknowledged that US leaders sometimes were frustrated by restrictions NATO partners put on where their forces could fight and how long it takes to make decisions.
But he pointed out that there are 35,000 non-US troops in Afghanistan, or about 40 percent of the total, and denied US allies were running from the fight.
"I will not accept from anyone the argument that the Europeans and the Canadians are not paying the price for success in Afghanistan. They are."
The White House has cautioned it will be "weeks" before the president makes up his mind on a new Afghan strategy.
"This isn't going to be finished in one meeting, it's not going to be finished in several meetings," said Gibbs.
Obama's task in building political support for any troop increase is being complicated by the fraud-tainted Afghan presidential election and widespread mistrust in Washington over the government of President Hamid Karzai.
His critical decisions on Afghanistan coincide with an increasingly strong Taliban, mounting US and allied casualties, and American public opinion that is souring on the war.
A CNN Opinion Research poll this month showed record levels of opposition to the eight-year-old conflict, with 58 percent of respondents saying they opposed it, while 39 percent were in favor.
Other recent polls have shown public opinion more evenly split on the war.
The US military has declined to reveal the details of McChrystal's troop request but Republican Senator John McCain said in a weekend television interview that the commander had appealed for 30,000-40,000 forces.
Gates has said he will only formally convey McChrystal's troop request to Obama once the policy review is complete -- and denied any rifts between the Pentagon and some skeptics of troop increases in the White House.
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