President Barack Obama to announce extra 34,000 troops for Afghanistan before end of November
President Barack Obama is poised to send an additional 34,000 US troops to Afghanistan, but is set to delay a decision to attempt to persuade Nato allies to expand their commitment to fighting the Taliban.

By Alex Spillius in Washington
Published: 6:26PM GMT 08 Nov 2009

After a seventh meeting with senior advisers on the thorny issue of reinforcements, officials said he favoured the middle of three options presented by Gen Stanley McChrystal, the Nato and US commander in Afghanistan.

At the meetings - totalling 20 hours - Gen McChrystal had presented scenarios involving 40,000 more troops, 30,000 more and 20,000.

The White House would overrule the arguments of Joe Biden, the vice president, for sending just 10,000 more troops and switching the mission to largely a holding operation and a hunt for al-Qaeda. Gone too is the possibility of Gen McChrystal's dream number of 80,000 troops which was thrown into the debate at some stage.

McClatchy newspapers said the administrationn would dispatch 23,000 additional combat and support troops from the 101st Airborne Division, 10th Mountain Division and the marines.

A new headquarters in Kandahar, the Taliban's southern birthplace, would be staffed with 7,000 more troops when US forces take command next year. An additional 4,000 US troops would be sent to train Afghan counterparts.

The first reinforcement won't arrive until March and all the additional troops would not arrive until the end of 2010.

Republicans have called for a more rapid decision from the president and argued that as commander-in-chief he should heed the advice of his field commander. Critics have said delays have emboldened the Taliban, whose attacks against Western targets are becoming more daring, numerous and deadly by the week. Mr Obama's defenders have said that such an important decision requires proper deliberation.

According to reports, Mr Obama is unlikely to make an announcement until after Nov 23 when Nato to consider requests to commit more troops. So far only Britain has pledged an additional 500 but US administration officials pan to brief counterparts in an effort to build support.

The delay will also give the US and its major partners in Afghanistan time to reach a "compact" on working with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, to improve governance and reduce corruption.

Washington has already given Mr Karzai six months to clean up his act, according to Afghan officials, while Gordon Brown and Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign have both publicly made critical remarks about the Afghan leader. The Prime Minister said Mr Karzai's government "had become a byword for corruption".

"I am not prepared to put the lives of British men and women in harm's way for a government that does not stand up against corruption," he said.

White House advisers have always stressed that troop numbers are only part of the equation in improving the situation in Afghanistan. And they are aware that, as in Britain, the public is not convinced that success can be guaranteed, no matter how many additional troops are sent.

A retired US general said that however many reinforcements were decided upon, the president had to give an impression of steadfastness.

"It's critical that he delivers this in the right way. He is about to make a decision that could determine the destiny of Afghanistan and his message should be clear that the United States is committed unequivocally to bringing stability to Afghanistan, as well as protecting US interests," he said.