Asia Crisis

Obama troop decision delayed by Afghan vote concerns

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 (Reuters) - The White House has put off consideration of sending more troops to Afghanistan while it assesses whether its war strategy can still work after a flawed election that cast doubt on the Kabul government's legitimacy, officials said on Tuesday.

The Pentagon had initially expected the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Army General Stanley McChrystal, to make a request for more soldiers soon after delivering his confidential assessment on the war.

But officials said outside factors, chief among them reports of fraud during last month's Afghanistan election and questions about the legitimacy of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government, threw the timetable off course.

Administration officials said consideration of a troop increase would wait until President Barack Obama and his top advisers complete a review of their counterinsurgency strategy, launched in March.

Even the best counterinsurgency plan "cannot work" without a legitimate government in place, a White House official said.

Karzai's apparent eagerness to ignore widespread allegations of election fraud, hurry through the process and claim victory has chilled already frosty relations with the Obama administration, the officials said.

One U.S. defense official said the fallout from the election was "certainly a complicating factor" in the way of swift consideration of McChrystal's troop recommendations.

The question being asked by policymakers in the Pentagon and the White House was whether the administration's counterinsurgency strategy could still succeed if Karzai's government is not seen by the Afghan population as legitimate.

Administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that question has yet to be sufficiently answered, and that the White House wanted the picture to become clearer before taking the decision to send more troops. (Reporting by Adam Entous and Caren Bohan; Editing by Simon Denyer and David Storey)