SEOUL - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday he is moving ahead with his recommendation on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan and would first tell the president before a NATO defense ministers meeting this week.
Gates, speaking in Seoul after meetings with South Korean officials, gave no indication of what his recommendations to President Barack Obama may be regarding troop deployments. He was headed to the meeting in the Slovak capital of Bratislava that will be held on Thursday and Friday.
Obama said on Wednesday he could reach a decision on his new war strategy for Afghanistan before the outcome of an Afghan election run-off on November 7.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army General Stanley McChrystal, has requested tens of thousands more troops and beefed-up training of Afghan forces.
In terms of what I will say in Bratislava, I think that I will probably share with the president and my colleagues in the American government where I come out on this issue before I share it with 27 defense ministers, Gates said.
I am moving into my personal decision phase, he said.
Gates said last week there was no rift between Obama's military and civilian advisers on the Afghan war strategy.
Gates said discussions at the NATO meeting would likely include how to expand the size and training of the Afghan national army and police as well as matters of governance.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai removed a major stumbling block for Obama when he agreed on Tuesday, under intense U.S. pressure, to a second round of balloting after many of his votes from the August presidential election were tossed out as fraudulent.
Everybody has an interest in making sure there are as few problems with this run-off election as possible in terms of providing legitimacy for the wining candidate, Gates said.
The prospect of another ballot has disillusioned voters after many stayed at home during the first round, intimidated by insurgent violence and threats.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Bill Tarrant)