Crucial talks begin on US strategy in Afghanistan

Obama meets with advisers to determine fate of military mission

Barack Obama has begun a series of meetings with his top national security team on a pivotal re-assessment of US strategy in Afghanistan. He essentially faces a choice between scaling back the increasingly unpopular war or agreeing a request by his top commander in the country to send up to 40,000 more American troops into the eight-year conflict.

Even before the deliberations began, the deteriorating situation on the ground was underlined by a roadside bomb, believed to have been placed by Taliban insurgents, that killed at least 30 civilians travelling on a bus from Herat to Kandahar.

The incident, one of the deadliest of its kind in months, came days after the UN said that civilians were being killed in greater numbers than at any point since the 2001 invasion – almost three quarters of them by the Taliban.

It also underlined the dilemma facing a US President who is confronted by increasing resistance from the public and from within his own Democratic party to a greater military commitment to the war, and who is yet only too aware that a pull-back risks a renewed Taliban takeover of the country.

Yesterday's meeting was only a start and no final decision is likely for several weeks. General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, is believed to be seeking a force increase of between 30,000 and 40,000 men, but that request has not been formally handed to the President.

"This isn't going to be finished in one meeting, it's not going to be finished in several meetings," said Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato secretary general, made the same point after talks with Mr Obama yesterday. Overall strategy was the most important element, Mr Rasmussen said; "the first thing is not numbers."

The pressure on Mr Obama has increased sharply in recent months as a result of mounting US and allied military deaths, growing civilian casualties, a corruption-stained election purportedly won by the incumbent President, Hamid Karzai and, earlier this month, the leaking of a report by General McChrystal warning that without more US troops, the war might effectively be lost within 12 months.

The one point on which there seems to be agreement is that – for better or worse – Mr Karzai will continue in power, with or without a run-off vote. US officials said that Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, and her leading Nato counterparts reached a consensus to this effect at a meeting last week on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Afghanistan's Electoral Complaints Commission is pouring through thousands of complaints of electoral fraud resulting from last month's poll and a final result could emerge in 10 days.

Mr Karzai, who leads with a provisional tally of 54.6 per cent, admits that some fraud took place but not enough to affect the outcome. But the key question is not so much whether Mr Karzai remains President but whether, given his tainted re-election, he can command the trust of his people.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss