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Obama to Give Afghan Strategy Decision on Dec. 1, Official Says

Nov. 24 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama will announce his decision on the next steps in the war in Afghanistan on or about Dec. 1, according to a U.S. official familiar with the issue.

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=awU6LRWW_CRE&pos=8

By Tony Capaccio and Roger Runningen

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are expected to discuss the decision before Congress that same week, and General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, would testify the following week, the official said.

At a news conference today with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Obama would say only that he will unveil his decision “after Thanksgiving.” He said his administration’s review of Afghanistan strategy has been “comprehensive and useful.”

Obama conducted his final strategy session last night, meeting with his top military and foreign policy advisers for about two hours on the question of how many additional troops to commit to the war as well as a “strategy for getting them out,” press secretary Robert Gibbs said today.

“After completing a rigorous final meeting, President Obama has the information he wants and needs to make his decision and he will announce that decision within days,” Gibbs said in a statement.

At the previous strategy session on Nov. 11, Obama expressed dissatisfaction with the options being presented, and the administration issued a statement saying the “president believes that we need to make clear to the Afghan government that our commitment is not open-ended.”

Benchmarks

Obama has said he wants to set benchmarks to measure improvements in Afghanistan’s military and government, including the ability to deliver services to the civilian population and efforts to reduce corruption. The president also has said wants to lay out a path for an exit strategy for a war that began in 2001.

Obama said today he’s confident that when Americans hear “a clear rationale” for the U.S. presence and “how we intend to achieve our goals, that they will be supportive.”

After eight years in Afghanistan, the U.S. hasn’t committed “either the resources or the strategy to get the job done,” the president said. “It is my intention to finish the job.”

McChrystal requested 40,000 more troops to fight the Taliban, which harbored al-Qaeda before being toppled in the invasion following the Sept. 11 attacks. The U.S. contributes about 70,000 of the 110,000 foreign forces waging the Afghan war.

$1 Million Per Soldier

White House Budget Director Peter Orszag has estimated that each additional soldier in Afghanistan could cost $1 million, for a total that could reach $40 billion if 40,000 more troops are added.

Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said last week that higher-income Americans should be taxed to pay for sending more troops to Afghanistan.

An “additional income tax to the upper brackets, folks earning more than $200,000 or $250,000” a year, could fund more troops, Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said in an interview for Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt.”

Gibbs said before last night’s meeting that the idea of a so-called war tax hadn’t come up in Obama’s discussions.

The president has told the Joint Chiefs of Staff that “we have to take into account how much all of this is going to cost over a five-year, 10-year period,” Gibbs said yesterday.

The U.S. also is urging other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to contribute more to the war. NATO foreign ministers are due to meet in Brussels on Dec. 3-4.

Germany to Reassess

Germany’s defense minister said last week that his country, the third biggest contributor of troops in the war, would reassess after Obama announces his revised strategy and allies meet in London in January to devise a plan for handing authority back to the Afghan government. The German government of Chancellor Angela Merkel last week supported extending the term of the country’s military presence in Afghanistan through next year, maintaining the upper limit at 4,500 troops.

Britain, which has 9,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, has pledged to add 500 more if other nations bolster their contributions. Levin said he wants NATO to provide half the additional forces that might be needed.

Among the 17 administration members listed as participants in last night’s strategy session were Vice President Joseph Biden, Clinton, Gates, National Security Adviser James Jones, and, by videoconference: Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, McChrystal and Anne Patterson, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan.

Republicans pressured Obama for a decision.

“We encourage you to adopt General McChrystal’s recommendation and to provide him with the forces that will give us the highest chance for success with the lowest risk to the safety and security of our forces,” House Republican Leader John Boehner and 13 others said in a Nov. 20 letter.