By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 19, 2009 2:50 PM
SEOUL -- President Obama will not announce his decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan before the Thanksgiving holiday, senior aides said Thursday.
The news came as the president greeted 1,500 troops at Osan Air Base in South Korea, just before boarding Air Force One and heading back to Washington after an eight-day trip to Asia.
Obama and his top military and diplomatic aides have been deliberating for months over how to proceed in Afghanistan, where the United States and its partners have sought for eight years to defeat the Taliban and deny al-Qaeda a safe haven from which it can plan and launch attacks.
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has stated that without the deployment of up to 40,000 additional troops within the next year, the mission "will likely result in failure." But some aides are arguing for a much smaller troop increase, and the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Karl W. Eikenberry, has questioned whether the Afghan government can be a reliable partner.
Obama said in interviews Wednesday that he would reveal his decision within the next several weeks. On Thursday, aides clarified that there would be no announcement before Thanksgiving, one week away. Senior administration officials said Obama intends to meet with his national security team again before going public with his plans.
Obama did not mention the looming decision in his remarks to U.S. troops, referring to the Afghan conflict only by thanking South Korea for its efforts and expressing gratitude to the American military personnel who have served there.
But he did discuss the region in his meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, whose government is sending 150 civilian aid workers to Afghanistan.
Obama arrived on the base 3:19 p.m. local time (1 a.m. Eastern Standard Time) and received a rousing welcome from 1,500 troops in camouflage uniforms, many holding cameras or pointing cellphones to snap pictures.
"You guys make a pretty good photo op," the president said.
Standing on a riser wearing a blue suit and red tie, with a cluster of troops and a large American flag behind him, Obama expressed "the gratitude of the American public" and said his meetings in four countries over eight days in Asia will help deliver a "safer, more prosperous world for all of us."
He got a huge cheer when he told them he was increasing military pay. "That's what you call an applause line," he said, before boarding his jet and taking off at 4:11 p.m.