September 20, 2009 / 5:45 PM / 10 years ago

Obama: Need Afghan strategy before more troops

* Obama says has not received troop increase request

* Request could be in range of 30,000

* Republicans say Obama should make up his mind (Adds Levin reaction)

WASHINGTON, Sept 20 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said in interviews aired on Sunday he wants to wait to determine the proper strategy for U.S. forces in Afghanistan before considering whether more troops should be sent there.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army General Stanley McChrystal is expected to ask for a troop increase in the coming weeks to stem gains by a resurgent Taliban.

McChrystal has finished preparing his request, which some officials expected would include roughly 30,000 new combat troops and trainers, but he has yet to submit it to Washington for consideration.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said the Pentagon was working with McChrystal on how that request should be made.

Obama, in interviews taped on Friday with ABC’s "This Week," CBS’ "Face the Nation" and CNN’s "State of the Union," was asked when he would decide whether to send more troops.

He said he had not received a request for more troops and that he was still working on the appropriate strategy to ensure al Qaeda is not in a position to attack the United States.

"I just want to make sure that everybody understands that you don’t make decisions about resources before you have the strategy ready," he told ABC.

He told NBC’s "Meet the Press" that it was important for him to exercise skepticism when sending an American in uniform into harm’s way.

"Because I’m the one who’s answerable to their parents if they don’t come home. So I have to ask some very hard questions any time I send our troops in," he said.

He said that while he did not have a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan, "I’m certainly not somebody who believes in indefinite occupations of other countries."

Congressional critics, including his 2008 Republican presidential opponent Senator John McCain, have urged the administration to approve the deployment of more troops immediately, saying delay puts the lives of troops already in Afghanistan at greater risk.

"If he has a recommendation to reverse what’s happening in Afghanistan, when young Americans are dying every day, why shouldn’t we get that recommendation to the president and implement it or not implement it as soon as possible?" McCain, the most senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Reuters last week.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said his party would be supportive of a U.S. troop increase for Afghanistan if it was needed as part of a new strategy but he said he was troubled by the delay in the decision-making.

"We think the time for decision is now," McConnell told CNN.

But Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Democrat, said it was "perfectly appropriate" for the administration to take time to evaluate the situation in Afghanistan.

Levin, appearing on CNN, said when U.S. troop levels were raised in the Iraq war, Obama’s Republican predecessor George W. Bush "basically said whatever the commander in Iraq wants, he’s going to get ... That delegation of responsibility from the commander in chief to the commander in the field has not been made by the president and I don’t think it should be made."

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Adam Entous and Caren Bohan; editing by Jackie Frank and Vicki Allen)

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