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Crowded corridors of power for Afghan debate -

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SHANE MCLEOD: The US President Barack Obama has been meeting congressional leaders at the White
House to brief them on the debate within his administration over what course of action they should
take in Afghanistan.

The 31 Democratic and Republican figures have also given their views on whether Mr Obama should
consent to the request from his military commander in Afghanistan for 30,000 to 40,000 extra
troops.

From Washington, John Shovelan reports Republicans are supporting an expanded war effort while the
President's own party is more sceptical.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Tomorrow marks eight years since the start of the US war in Afghanistan.

Troop casualties are mounting and public support for the war has soured.

And eight years after forcing it from power, the Taliban is resurgent.

The administration is in the thick of deciding whether to escalate the US military involvement by
as much as 60 per cent to 100,000 troops.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates says that is the result of too few US and international troops on
the ground in the early years of the conflict.

ROBERT GATES: And the reality is that because of our inability and the inability, frankly, of our
allies to put enough troops into Afghanistan, the Taliban do have the momentum right now it seems.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Mr Gates has been inscrutable on the troop numbers debate within the administration.

That debate has broadly been between the Vice President's camp - advocating the light, nimble
Special Forces style military footprint - versus the overwhelming force doctrine of the Pentagon.

At issue is whether US forces should continue to focus on fighting the Taliban and securing the
Afghan population or shift to more narrowly targeting, with unmanned spy drones and covert
operations, the Al Qaeda terrorists believed to be hiding in Pakistan.

After today's meeting at the White House, Republican Senator John McCain says any successful Afghan
strategy has to fight both Al Qaeda and the Taliban at once.

JOHN MCCAIN: I don't think it's a proper reading of both history and the situation to somehow think
that Al Qaeda will not quickly emerge in Afghanistan if it falls to the Taliban.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Officials say that President Barack Obama considers today's meeting with the
congress "tremendously important".

The previous administration was criticized for failing to fully inform Congress about the war in
Iraq.

But the President's spokesman Robert Gibbs says the President won't be basing his decision on the
mood of Capitol Hill or eroding public support for the war.

ROBERT GIBBS: We're focussed on getting that right, not about who's for or who's against what.

JOHN SHOVELAN: The remains of US troops killed in the fierce Taliban assault over the weekend
arrived back at Dover Air Force Base today.

Eight American soldiers died in that battle overwhelmed by Taliban insurgents.

The bloodiest day of the year for the US underscored the appeal by the US Commander in Afghanistan
for 40,000 more troops and Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said the President
should listen to his generals.

MITCH MCCONNEL: I hope that at the end of the end of the day that the President will follow the
advice of some of our finest generals who we believe know what it would take to stabilise the
situation in Afghanistan, prevent the comeback of the Taliban and obviously prevent a haven for Al
Qaeda.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Democrats are more sceptical with Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledging the
differences.

NANCY PELOSI: There was some agreement and there was some diversity of opinion as well.

JOHN SHOVELAN: The President isn't expected to make a decision on troop numbers and strategy until
late this month or early November, but the decision is expected before he travels to China in the
middle of next month.

John Shovelan, Washington.