Obama: Afghan troop decision possible before vote result
* Obama may decide on Afghan troops before run-off results
* Poll shows disapproval of Obama handling of Afghanistan
By Matt Spetalnick and Caren Bohan
WASHINGTON, Oct 21 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack 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 Nov. 7.
The latest sign that Obama was closer to addressing the faltering Afghan war effort came as a new poll showed Americans deeply divided over sending up to 40,000 more troops there.
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.
"It is entirely possible that we have a strategy formulated before a runoff is determined," Obama told MSNBC. But he added, somewhat cryptically, "We may not announce it."
Obama pushed back against critics who have accused him of dithering and made clear that any new policy would depend on having a credible governing partner in Kabul to proceed with the 8-year-old war.
"We are going to take the time to get this right," Obama said. "We're not going to drag it out because there is a sense that the sooner we get a sound approach in place and personnel in place, the better off we're going to be. But we also want to make sure that we don't put resources ahead of strategy."
But U.S. Sen. John Kerry, who helped secure Karzai's acceptance of a run-off in a bid to end weeks of political limbo, said after White House talks it would be "common sense" for the president to wait until after the results of the runoff.
Obama and his aides were relieved at Karzai's acquiescence to a second round against his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, seeing legitimacy for the Afghan government as crucial to shoring up flagging U.S. public support.
But there is no certainty that next month's run-off can avoid being a repeat of the first-round fraud that deepened Western concerns about political stability in Afghanistan in the face of worsening Taliban violence.
Even if Karzai wins as expected, Washington would still be left dealing with an Afghan leader who stirs deep doubts after failing to tackle corruption and inefficiency in his five years in office.
"We need to be realistic that the issues of corruption and governance that we are trying to work with the Afghan government on are not going to be solved simply by an outcome of the presidential election," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during a visit to Japan.
Obama also faces growing doubts at home about the war in Afghanistan as he faces his most fateful foreign policy decision since taking office in January.
A Washington post-ABC News poll showed Americans divided on whether Obama should send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, as his top U.S. commander there has proposed, and that public approval of his handling of the situation has declined.
Forty-seven percent of those polled favor the buildup, while 49 percent oppose it, the survey showed.
The poll said 45 percent approved of his handling of the situation in Afghanistan, down 10 percentage points in the past month, and 47 percent disapprove, an increase of 10 points. (Editing by Doina Chiacu)
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