WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama said Wednesday there will be no quick decision on whether to send more U.S. troops into the widening war in Afghanistan, saying "my determination is to get this right."
The president's comments came one day after Adm. Mike Mullen, his top military adviser as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, endorsed an increase in U.S. forces as likely necessary to battle a deepening insurgency. The U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, also has delivered a grim assessment of the war and is expected to follow up soon with a request for thousands of additional troops.
"I'm going to take a very deliberate process in making those decisions," said Obama, taking questions from reporters as he sat in the Oval Office with visiting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. "And so I just want to be absolutely clear, because there's been a lot of discussion in the press about this: There is no immediate decision pending on resources."
Even as Obama spoke about a methodical war review, administration officials were briefing key lawmakers on McChrystal's review and on White House proposals for 46 benchmarks to gauge progress in the stalemated Afghan war and the hunt for al-Qaida in neighboring Pakistan.
The Obama administration's road map to winning the war in Afghanistan relies heavily on clearing terrorists from Pakistan, according to the list of benchmarks provided to lawmakers.
Stabilizing Pakistan always has been a key part of the administration's strategy for South Asia. But its prominence in the long-awaited benchmarks for the Afghan war signals a longer regional view than just gauging whether the conflict is being won.
"It's going to be much broader than just combat troops," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said after being briefed by top Obama administration officials Wednesday about an on-the-ground assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. "Everybody ought to realize that this is a much broader issue than that."
His Republican counterpart on the committee, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., emerged from the briefing calling the proposed Obama benchmarks "a start," but not specific enough.
The president has already ordered 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan, increasing the U.S. commitment there to 68,000 by year's end. Yet violence in Afghanistan has soared to record levels. More U.S. troops - 51 - died in Afghanistan in August than in any other month since the U.S.-led invasion in October 2001.
Obama faces mounting pressure on what do next, both from an anxious and war-weary public and from members of his own Democratic Party. He said he will follow his plan of doing a broad assessment of military, diplomatic, civilian and development efforts in Afghanistan before deciding his next steps.
"One of the things that I'm absolutely clear about is you have to get the strategy right and then make determinations about resources," Obama said.
"You don't make determinations about resources - certainly you don't make determinations about sending your men and women into battle - without having absolute clarity about what the strategy is going to be."
Asked if U.S. and NATO forces were winning the war in Afghanistan, Obama did not answer directly.
But he said it is clear that "we have lacked as clear of a strategy and a mission as is necessary in order to meet our overriding objectives."
Obama described that as disrupting the al-Qaida terrorist network so that it cannot launch attacks on the U.S. and its allies. "That has not yet occurred," he said.
Harper said the Taliban in Afghanistan do not constitute a viable alternative government and in that sense, progress had been made. But he said "we are concerned about the strength of the insurgency" and in Afghanistan's ability to take long-sought, day-to-day responsibility for its own security.
Canada, which has 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, plans to withdraw them in 2011.