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Obama to meet military brass on Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama Friday meets his top military chiefs to talk strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan in one of the final steps before deciding whether to send thousands more US troops to war.


by Stephen Collinson Stephen Collinson – Fri Oct 30, 5:00 am ET

Obama invited the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the heads of the branches of the US armed services, to the secure White House Situation Room to hear their input on his war plan and deliberations on troop numbers, officials said.

He will hold the meeting a day after his poignant visit to witness the return to home soil of fallen Americans from Afghanistan, after which he said the heavy sacrifice of US soldiers was weighing on his decision-making.

"It was a sobering reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that our young men and women in uniform are engaging in every single day," Obama said in the Oval Office, hours after watching remains of 18 US servicemen flown home.

"Obviously the burden that both our troops and our families bear in any wartime situation is going to bear on how I see these conflicts.

"And it is something that I think about each and every day," Obama said, after the visit to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Thursday that the president was "at the end stages of what is this, sort of, close-hold, pre-decisional, confidential process over at the White House."

Other signs that Obama may be nearing a decision are coming in a flurry of leaks of aspects of the coalescing strategy to major US newspapers.

The Washington Post reported on Thursday that Obama had asked senior officials for an analysis of Afghan provinces to determine which regions are well managed and which are not, to guide his decision on troop numbers.

Earlier this week, The New York Times reported the White House was settling on an Afghan strategy that would send more US troops to protect top population centers, but recognizes that the insurgency cannot be completely eradicated.Related article: UC plea for security

Obama has spent weeks deliberating over a request by top war General Stanley McChrystal for 40,000 more troops to fight the escalating Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, which warned the war could be lost without more men.

He has completed a string of in-depth discussions in the White House with senior aides, probing every aspect of US strategy in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Already fragile US public opinion on the war is being tested by a rush of recent casualties in Afghanistan, with October the bloodiest month for American troops of the eight-year conflict so far.

Expectations are mounting that Obama could reveal his answer to McChrystal's request before he leaves for an eight-day trip to Asia on November 11.

But he is believed unlikely to reveal his decision whether to reinforce the 68,000 US troops in the country before the Afghan run-off election on November 7.

Obama's trip to Dover, where remains of most US service members killed in Afghanistan and Iraq arrive, was the first time he had witnessed the transfer of returning bodies.

During his visit, the president solemnly walked aboard the aircraft for a prayer beside transfer cases holding the remains of 15 soldiers and three Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) personnel killed on Monday, during the deadliest month of the war for US troops.

Former president George W. Bush, had banned news coverage of returning bodies from foreign military operations, and did not attend repatriations himself.

On Tuesday, Obama told servicemen and women in Florida he would not "rush" a decision on which lives depend.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said this week only that the decision will be made "in the coming weeks."

Among senior officers expected at the White House on Monday were General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the joint chiefs; Army Chief of Staff General George W. Casey; General James Conway, commandant of the US Marine Corps; Admiral Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations; and General Norton Schwartz, air force chief of staff.

Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Michael Mullen and other top Obama security forces were also due to attend.