(NSI News Source Info) - WASHINGTON, USA - October 21, 2009: President Barack Obama Tuesday thanked Afghan leaders for agreeing a run-off election in a step towards the credible Kabul government he has demanded while deciding on more US troop deployments. The U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, left, gestures to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as Kai Eide, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan is seen on the back ground in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009. Afghanistan's election commission today ordered a Nov. 7 runoff in the disputed presidential poll after a fraud investigation dropped incumbent Hamid Karzai's votes below 50 percent of the total. Karzai accepted the finding and agreed to a second round vote. Obama spoke personally to President Hamid Karzai and praised other top leaders for ending the electoral limbo sown by fraud-tainted August elections which threw Afghan politics and a review of US war strategy into turmoil. Senior US officials however said it was not clear whether the November 7 run-off would change the timing of Obama's fateful decision on whether to send up to 40,000 more troops to fight an escalating Taliban insurgency. "I had the opportunity to speak with President Karzai this morning," Obama told reporters in the Oval Office, after earlier issuing a statement to welcome the scheduling of the run-off vote. "I wanted to congratulate him on accepting the certification of the recent election," Obama said, after several days of intense pressure by the United States and its allies on Karzai to agree to a credible political process. "We have seen the candidates expressing a willingness to abide by constitutional law, and there is a path forward in order to complete this election process," Obama said. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs meanwhile said that US, NATO and UN forces and officials were ready to help conduct the second round vote, taking place with Obama under intense pressure to decide on US war strategy. "Whether or not the president makes a decision before that I don't think has been determined," Gibbs said. "I have continued to say a decision will be made in the coming weeks as the president goes through an examination of our policy," he added, referring to an intense review of war policy by heavyweight US national security officials. Senior US officials warned at the weekend that Obama would be unable to conclude a policy review and decide whether to dispatch more troops without a legitimate governing partner in Kabul. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates said en route to Japan on Tuesday that a decision on strategy and troop levels might have to come before the outcome of Afghan elections was fully resolved. "My view is that whatever emerges in Kabul is going to be an evolutionary process," said Gates when asked about a possible run-off vote. "The president will have to make his decisions in the context of that evolutionary process," he said. Comments by Gates, and even those by senior administration officials at the weekend, appeared to bolster a growing impression that should a "legitimate" Afghan government emerge, more US troops are likely to be deployed. Gibbs suggested that the timing of Obama's decision was most likely to be dictated by operational deadlines related to the need to get any US reinforcements in place by the next Afghan spring. Republican Senator John McCain, who has been pressing for a quick decision on troop reinforcements also welcomed the Afghan run-off, and again asked Obama to send more soldiers. "It is essential to implement the properly-resourced counterinsurgency strategy that General Stanley McChrystal and our senior commanders have called for," McCain said. "I continue to urge President Obama to provide our military and civilian leaders in Afghanistan with the resources they need as quickly as possible." Obama offered a window into the personal philosophy that will inform his decision as he awarded a citation to a heroic Vietnam war unit in a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. "If that day in the jungle, if that war long ago, teaches us anything, then surely it is this," Obama told the graying veterans. "If we send our men and women in uniform into harm's way, then it must be only when it is absolutely necessary. "And when we do, we must back them up with the strategy and the resources and the support they need to get the job done." Exactly two months on from polls that Karzai had been expected to win easily, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) said Tuesday that he had fallen short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off against his top rival Abdullah Abdullah. On Monday, a UN-backed watchdog highlighted staggering levels of fraud in the August 20 vote, declaring more than one million ballots suspect -- a quarter of the total cast. An election official confirmed that from a preliminary tally of 55 percent, Karzai's share of the first-round vote had now fallen to 49.67 percent.
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~ Karzai opponent voices cautious optimism National Post - 13 hours ago ~ Karzai will set the stage today, says Clinton Press Trust of India - 15 hours ago ~ US troop move may come without Afghan 'legitimacy': Gates AFP - 17 hours ago
~ Video: Raw Video: Obama Congratulates Afghanistan The Associated Press ~ Afghanistan election runoff poses daunting challenges Christian Science Monitor