ANNE GEARAN JENNIFER LOVEN Associated Press Writers WASHINGTON
The White House braced for a tough sell of President Barack Obama's long-awaited decision on whether to commit tens of thousands of new U.S. forces to the stalemated war in Afghanistan, even as the president met with top advisers for possibly the last major deliberations before an announcement. Military officials and others expect Obama to settle on a middle-ground option that would deploy an eventual 32,000 to 35,000 U.S. forces to the 8-year-old conflict. That rough figure has stood as the most likely option since before Obama's last large war council meeting earlier this month, when he tasked military planners with rearranging the timing and makeup of some of the deployments. "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," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said this morning. The president has said with increasing frequency in recent days that a big piece of the rethinking of options that he ordered had to do with building an exit strategy into the announcement in other words, revising the options presented to him to clarify when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government and under what conditions. As Gibbs put it to reporters on Monday, "It's not just how we get people there, but what's the strategy for getting them out." Obama held the 10th meeting of his Afghanistan strategy review since mid-September on Monday night, with a large cast of foreign policy and military advisers, to go over that revised information from war planners. The twohour Situation Room session was aimed at discussing "some of the questions that the president had, some additional answers to what he'd asked for," Gibbs said. The meeting was arranged for the unusual nighttime slot to accommodate both Obama's packed public schedule on Monday and the fact that many of his top advisers were leaving town for the holiday. No more war council meetings are on the calendar. The presidential spokesman had said ahead of the meeting that it was possible Obama could lock in a decision then, or that one could come "over the course of the next several days." In either case, it will not be announced this week, he said, and the meeting concluded with no announcement about a decision. The White House is aiming for an announcement by Obama next week, either Tuesday or Wednesday, after Congress returns from its Thanksgiving break.