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Agence France Presse

US Commanders Hold Secret Meeting on Afghan war

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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff US Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, seen here September 15, in Washington, DC. Mullen on Friday held a secret meeting in Germany with the NATO commander in Afghanistan to discuss a request for more troops, officials said. (AFP/Getty Images/File/Chip Somodevilla)

WASHINGTON - Top US military officer Admiral Mike Mullen on Friday held a secret meeting in Germany with the NATO commander in Afghanistan to discuss a request for more troops, officials said.

Mullen met General Stanley McChrystal at an air base in Ramstein "so he could get a better understanding of the general's request" for additional troops, a defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

The unannounced meeting comes at a pivotal moment in the war as President Barack Obama weighs strategy in the face of rising casualties, a disputed Afghan election and declining public support for the mission on both sides of the Atlantic.

McChrystal's appeal for more troops and resources was due to be formally submitted to Defense Secretary Robert Gates by Saturday but Gates has decided to hold off presenting the request to Obama until the administration completes a review of war strategy.

The details of McChrystal's request remain unclear but he is reportedly expected to appeal for 10,000 to 40,000 additional troops.

McChrystal, who took over command in June after his predecessor was sacked, warned in an assessment leaked to US media this week that the NATO-led mission faces failure in a year without more forces.

The defense official denied any tension between the military leadership and the White House over the pace of decision-making on Afghanistan.

"There is no sense of unease here with regard to the president's review of strategy," the official said.

Admiral Mullen and the rest of the joint chiefs of staff agreed there was a need to examine the mission six months after Obama unveiled a strategy focused on improving security and economic development, the official said.

But the top officers recognize that counter-insurgency campaigns are "dynamic" and that there is "a very fine line between success and failure," he said.

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