Obama close to making decision on next steps for Afghanistan

      After five intense meetings on his war-fighting strategy in Afghanistan, US President Barack Obama is assessing all the options and is now "in the decision-making phase," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told Fox News. "We have finished at the broad landscape level. We are in the decision-making phase now," Gibbs said, adding that a decision is far from imminent -- possible even "several weeks" away. Obama will have at least one more Afghanistan meeting next week, by which time there may be a decision on whether to hold a runoff election between Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and his chief challenger. Though some administration officials and Obama advisers differ on whether a narrower counter-terror-style approach or a broader counterinsurgency mission is the better approach to the Afghanistan war, all seem to agree that increasing non-military efforts to improve Afghanistan's agricultural industry and economy, rule of law and governing institutions is key to any success. "The meetings that go now will flow to the decision-making phase," Gibbs said. "All the discussions so far will impact the ultimate decisions," Gibbs said. Gibbs said he had no idea what Obama will decide on future U.S. troop levels, though he repeated his assessment from Wednesday's press briefing that troop levels will not be cut and the main decision looming is by how much to increase the U.S. combat footprint. Wednesday's meeting, Gibb said, focused intensely on underlying security conditions in Afghanistan and how the U.S. mission going forward would influence the principle goal of securing territory and giving the government the tools necessary to boost internal security, a precursor to any consideration of reducing US forces, which now number about 68,000.

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