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Bombing kills 2 US soldiers in Afghanistan

Obama meets with general

President Obama met with General Stanley McChrystal aboard Air Force One in Copenhagen yesterday. President Obama met with General Stanley McChrystal aboard Air Force One in Copenhagen yesterday. (Pete Souza/Associated Press)
By Robert H. Reid
Associated Press / October 3, 2009

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KABUL - A suicide bomber struck a US convoy in southern Afghanistan yesterday, killing two American soldiers, and military officials announced the deaths of two other international troopers - one American and one Briton - the day before.

The deadly start to the month followed a drop in US and NATO deaths in September over the previous two months - perhaps because no major offensives were launched as the United States takes stock of its strategy in the troubled eight-year war. The Obama administration is debating whether to send more American troops to Afghanistan.

President Obama yesterday summoned his top commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, for a 25-minute meeting aboard Air Force One in Copenhagen as part of his review of a war strategy that has divided the president’s national security team.

The two conferred just before the president returned to Washington from Copenhagen, where he made a pitch to the International Olympic Committee on behalf of Chicago’s unsuccessful bid to host the 2016 games.

Obama’s war council has been sharing differing opinions on whether the United States should send thousands more troops to tamp down the Taliban, or shift to a narrower focus on Al Qaeda in neighboring Pakistan.

The Copenhagen meeting was an extension of those war council sessions “as we reassess and reevaluate moving forward in Afghanistan,’’ White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters afterward.

He said Obama and McChrystal “both agree that this is a helpful process.’’ No decisions were made at their meeting, Gibbs said.

Hours after Obama and McChrystal met, the Pentagon said that the general’s official request for more troops for the war will not be sent to the White House until next week at the earliest.

At issue is Obama’s looming decision to stick with the current mission in Afghanistan - which could require adding as many as 40,000 additional US troops - or scale back the military option and expand operations targeting terrorists in Pakistan.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said yesterday that McChystal’s troop request is still at the Pentagon and a decision is not imminent.

Without citing numbers publicly, McChrystal has said more troops are needed to “buy time’’ for the Afghan military and police forces to prepare to take control of the country in 2013.

The meeting was the third conversation between the two since McChrystal disclosed in a television interview that aired Sunday that he had spoken with Obama only once since taking over the US military efforts in Afghanistan. Obama tapped McChrystal in May to replace ousted General David McKiernan.

Obama and McChrystal spoke on Wednesday before Obama convened a meeting later that day of his war council, which McChrystal joined by video conference.

The president had long been expected to approve McChrystal’s plan to mount a military push against the Taliban in Afghanistan. But waning public support for the war and concern about his top commanders’ call for as many as 40,000 more US troops has exposed emerging fault lines inside the White House.

It’s possible that Obama will decide on a hybrid strategy that keeps in place the 68,000 US combat troops who are already in Afghanistan, while adding more military trainers and ramping up strikes on Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan.

Obama is holding two more meetings of his war council next week.

US spokeswoman Captain Elizabeth Mathias confirmed the latest deaths in Afghanistan but would not specify where they occurred.

Mathias also said a third American died late Thursday after militants fired rocket-propelled grenades at a patrol in eastern Afghanistan.

In London, the British Ministry of Defense said a British airman was killed Thursday when a bomb exploded alongside his patrol near Camp Bastion in southern Helmand province, one of the flashpoints of recent fighting.

The four deaths were the first reported this month for the US-led international force, which has been locked in the heaviest combat of the Afghan war.

Nevertheless, the number of American troops killed in the war dropped from a record monthly high of 51 in August to 37 in September, according to figures compiled by the Associated Press from official statements.

US death tolls had been rising steadily since the spring following Obama’s decision to send 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan to curb the growing Taliban-led insurgency. American deaths went from 12 in May to 24 in June and 44 in July.

The September death toll for the overall international force, including Americans, stood at 65, compared with 73 in August.