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Obama could lock in Afghanistan decision

ANNE GEARAN and JENNIFER LOVEN | 11/24/2009, midnight

The increase would include at least three Army brigades and a single, larger Marine Corps contingent, officials said.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision is not final.

U.S. war planners would be forgoing the option of increasing U.S. fighting power in the north, a once-quiet quadrant where insurgents have grown in strength and number in the past year. But McChrystal's recommendation never called for a quick infusion there.

In the absence of large additions of ground forces, dealing with the north would probably require relying more heavily on air power, two military officials said. Any such additional air strikes would be more successful if, as U.S. officials hope, Pakistan turns up the heat on Taliban militants on their side of the border.

As originally envisioned by McChrystal, the additional U.S. troops would begin flowing in late January or after, on a deployment calendar that would be slower and more complex than that used to build up the Iraq "surge" in 2007. McChrystal's schedule for full deployment has it taking nearly two years, military officials said.

The relatively slow rollout is largely driven by logistics. But it also could give the White House some leverage over Afghan President Hamid Karzai. U.S. officials note that where and how fast troops are deployed are a means to encourage fresh and more serious efforts at cooperation and clean government in Afghanistan.

The White House is aiming for an announcement by Obama by the middle of next week, after Congress returns from its Thanksgiving break.

Military officials, congressional aides and European diplomats said they expect Obama to deliver a national address laying out the revamped strategy. Said Obama in a television interview last week: "At the end of this process, I'm going to be able to present to the American people in very clear terms what exactly is at stake, what we intend to do, how we're going to succeed, how much it's going to cost, how long it's going to take."

Congressional hearings would immediately follow that address, including testimony from McChrystal.

"Gen. McChrystal will certainly be coming back to ... testify. When that is is still to be determined," based on the timing of the White House announcement, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

On the topic of increased costs in Afghanistan, Gibbs said that the subject of a war tax, suggested by some leading Democrats on Capitol Hill, has not come up yet in the president's extensive meetings with his war advisers.