Leading article: Mr Obama must take his time

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The Independent Online

This month has seen the heaviest US death toll in the eight years of war in Afghanistan. By yesterday, 55 soldiers had lost their lives, 14 of them in air crashes earlier this week. Most of the others were killed by the roadside bombs – known as improvised explosive devices – that have been the scourge of British troops in Helmand Province. Then yesterday it was disclosed that Matthew Hoh had become the first senior US diplomat in Afghanistan to resign, citing his disagreement with US policy. His resignation, he said, was based not on how the US was pursuing the war, but "why and to what end".

Both developments add to the pressure on President Obama to announce his long-awaited decision on future strategy. His opponents, and even some of his supporters, are accusing him of dithering. There is a downside, they are starting to say, to having a President with an intellectual cast of mind.

Such a conclusion would be premature. The immediate choice, crudely put, appears to be between a "surge" in troop numbers, as favoured by the army command, and a complete reorientation of policy to focus narrowly on anti-terrorism. Both the increase in US casualties and Mr Hoh's resignation will, and should, feed into the decision Mr Obama will ultimately make. But the US President is right not to allow himself to be rushed.

A great deal is in flux at the moment. The extent of fraud in the Afghan election and the delays in publishing the results meant that Mr Obama had no option but to put any decision on hold. President Karzai's belated acceptance of the need for a second-round means further delay. But his desire for a clear-cut result, rather than an inconclusive power-sharing with the runner-up, Abdullah Abdullah, has to be respected.

The election run-off is awkward and could prove costly, including in lives, but the outcome – more than anything else that happens – will affect Mr Obama's calculations. Mr Hoh's question – why and to what end the US is engaged in Afghanistan – is the only question that really matters. But until there is a resolution to the electoral fracas, the US President would be irresponsible to finalise his answer.