'Support needed'

Jawad was speaking as Obama prepared to hold a third day of talks with a bipartisan panel of US congressional leaders to consider the US military's strategy in the war in Afghanistan.

The US president appears to have ruled out shrinking the war in Afghanistan to a counterterrorism effort, but has given no clear signal on whether he will send more troops to fight there.

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General Stanley McChrystal, the senior commander of US and Nato troops fighting Taliban- and al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Afghanistan, is understood to have called for between 30,000 and 40,000 US troops to be deployed to the country.

Should Obama commit to sending extra forces, they would join a US force that is already set to reach 68,000 troops by the end of the year.

A request from McChrystal for extra troops to be sent to Afghanistan has been given to Obama for review, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

The "informal" request - which also has be vetted by military leaders - was transferred to Obama late last week by Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said.

"The president requested it, the secretary provided it to him as well as to the principals, and now it is working its way up the formal chain of command, here and in Nato," Morrell told reporters.

Jawad said that extra US troops would help create the opportunity for Afghans to build up their own security forces.

"If those troops do not arrive, the challenges will be even bigger and we might not have adequate [numbers] of trainers in time, to train our own security forces [in order] to take the responsibility of the fight ourselves," he said.

"If they come to Afghanistan, it will make it easier for Afghans to take the responsibilities for themselves. We are hopeful that the president will accommodate the request that General McChrystal has put forward."

But his comments were in marked contrast to those from Ahmed Shah Ahmedzai, a former Afghan prime minister, who told Al Jazeera that more troops would achieve little.

"The war started eight years ago and throughout these eight years there is no progress, especially from the Afghan government and from the Nato forces. To increase more troops this will not help the Afghan issue," he said.

"Our recommendation to the [US] government is that we should start negotiations and spend our joint efforts to stop the war. Starting to negotiate is the only way to solve the Afghan crisis."

Obama's dilemma

In video


The Obama administration is reviewing US strategy for the war in Afghanistan

Rob Reynolds, Al Jazeera's senior Washington correspondent, said that the meetings that Obama is holding with congressional leaders come as he faces sustained pressure from the US public.

"The polls show that Americans have strong doubts about the presence of US forces in Afghanistan, and doubts about whether the war is going to be successful," he said. 

A poll released on Wednesday by the Associated Press and GFK showed that 40 per cent of Americans support the war - down four percentage points compared to the same survey in September.

Obama also has to consider diverging opinions on the war among politicians from the Democratic and Republican parties, Reynolds said.

"It is a big dilemma for Obama, if you look at it in political terms; the people who are against expanding the US footprint in Afghanistan are primarily - if not, exclusively - in the Democratic party," he said. 

"Obama's base, the liberal-left wing of the party, wants nothing more to do with the war, and alienating your base is never a good idea. Obama may have to rely on Republicans in Congress to authorise funds for more troops for the war in Afghanistan, if he wants to go in that direction."

'No large-scale pullout'

In a meeting with senior Democrats and Republicans on Tuesday, Obama had made clear he would not build up US forces into the hundreds of thousands, senior aides said.

But he also ruled out reducing the campaign to a counterterrorism effort, which would involve a large-scale withdrawal of troops and a focus on special operations forces operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, the aides said.

A recent report by McChrystal said the military mission risked failure unless more US troops were sent.

However, some Obama administration officials have expressed concerns that too large a US military presence runs the risk of alienating the Afghan population.

Obama, who has already added 21,000 troops to the military campaign in Afghanistan during his presidency, is under growing pressure from the US public and his political opponents over the war.

Nearly 900 US soldiers have died so far in the war, which was launched after Afghanistan's Taliban rulers were accused of sheltering al-Qaeda fighters and leaders suspected on involvement in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US mainland.

And the number of fatalities this year - more than 230 - is already the highest in a year so far.

The White House said prior to Tuesday's meeting that Obama considered it "tremendously important" to listen to congress about the war, but would not base his decision on the mood on Capitol Hill or waning public support for the war.

"The president is going to make a decision - popular or unpopular - based on what he thinks is in the best interests of the country," Robert Gibbs, his press secretary, said.

The president gave no timetable for a decision on troop numbers, which prompted a sharp exchange with John McCain, his Republican opponent in last year's election, according to officials at Tuesday's meeting.

Obama told the legislators he would show urgency, but also be deliberate and decide on troop numbers only after settling on strategy.