British ministers and military chiefs fear that wrangling in the US over the deployment of extra troops risks undermining support for the war in Britain. They are irritated and angry over the delay in obtaining a decision amid signs that President Obama's administration is deeply split over the issue.
As polls show a slump in support for the war, Gordon Brown has twice in two months been forced to deliver major speeches justifying military action. But the impasse in Washington has left Mr Brown's plans to send 500 more troops to Afghanistan in limbo – creating disillusionment in the Ministry of Defence. One minister said: "We must move ahead to demonstrate to the public we have a grip on this." A Whitehall source added: "There is great frustration that the process is dragging on. We announced a few weeks ago that we would send more people, but we can't do that until the Americans make their minds up."
The delays were discussed by senior ministers and service chiefs when they gathered for Remembrance Sunday commemorations this week.
One cabinet minister said: "It's a mess, but not our mess. Our deployment is dependent on [American] deployment." Military sources agreed there was a frustration over the sense of drift. One said: "We want to get on with it, but we are being held back by Obama."
Mr Brown is understood to have made several calls to the President in recent weeks, backed by frenzied diplomatic activity. The Government hopes the inauguration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the end of next week could bring the deployment issue to a head in Washington. If not, British officials are cautiously optimistic that President Obama wants to reach a decision by Thanksgiving at the end of November.