Obama returns to Washington, Afghan decision near

By: By PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press Writer
By: By PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama plans to make a decision soon about sending additional troops to Afghanistan, his chief spokesman said Monday.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration continues to review its policy toward Afghanistan, some seven years after U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban-led government. Gibbs cautioned that no firm timetable had been set, nor had administration officials settled on how many - if any - new troops would be involved.

"Without getting into broad time lines, I wouldn't - I don't think this is anything that involves weeks," Gibbs told reporters traveling with the president on Air Force One back from Chicago, where the Obama family spent a long weekend in their hometown.

Taliban insurgents have regained ground and the new Obama administration is contemplating doubling troop levels as part of a strategy to reclaim control. Addressing the ongoing war there is one of the administration's top - and most watched - priorities.

Anticipation of the troop build up in Afghanistan has been high since Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last Tuesday that Obama was days away from announcing his decision. Yet no formal announcement has emerged.

Gibbs noted that U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke is in the region talking with leaders about how best to address the situation. Obama also has met with military leaders and his foreign policy advisers, both at the Pentagon and the State Department.

Obama has been widely believed likely to send fresh forces to the Afghan battle even as a wide review of U.S. strategy and goals there gets fully under way. Gates had told a Pentagon news conference last week that Obama "will have several options in front of him." Gates suggested, as have other officials, that the ground commander in Afghanistan would eventually get all the forces he has asked for, but no more.

Lt. Gen. David McKiernan wants more fighting forces and support troops such as helicopter crews to push back against the Taliban in Afghanistan's increasingly dangerous south and eastern regions.

An opponent of the "surge" of U.S. forces that is now credited with turning around the Iraq war, Obama has taken a cautious approach to the addition of forces in Afghanistan. He is expected to initially approve only part of a military request for as many as 30,000 forces this year, while military and civilian advisers revamp U.S. war goals.

Gibbs' comments came as the president, his wife and daughters arrived at Andrews Air Force Base just outside Washington at midday Monday. His family had left for Chicago on Friday aboard Air Force One. Among items topping Obama's agenda this week is signing into law the $787 billion economic stimulus plan that Congress passed last Friday.

While in Chicago, the first family did not have a public schedule. The president played basketball with friends, visited the gym and got a haircut. Barack and Michelle Obama celebrated Valentine's Day with a dinner at Oprah Winfrey's personal chef's restaurant on Saturday.

It was Obama's first significant break since taking office on Jan. 20.

Obama won't be in Washington long; he heads to Colorado, Arizona and Canada this week and he plans to sign the stimulus legislation in Denver.


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