It's Official: Run-off Vote in Afghanistan
WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday welcomed the end to Afghanistan's electoral limbo, but has not decided whether the run-off vote will impact the timing of his decision on a new war strategy.
After Washington spent several days ratcheting up pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Obama praised the tarnished U.S. ally's decision to enter a second round of voting, following his fraud-tainted election win.
But senior officials said it was not immediately 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 welcome President Karzai's statement today accepting the Independent Electoral Commission's certification of the August 20 election results, and agreeing to participate in a second round of the election," Obama said.
"This is an important step forward in ensuring a credible process for the Afghan people which results in a government that reflects their will," Obama said in a written statement.
"We look forward to a second round of voting, and the completion of the process to choose the President of Afghanistan."
Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs said meanwhile that it was uncertain whether the troop decision would affect the conclusion of Obama's intense review of policy with senior national security officials.
"The UN, NATO, the U.S. stand ready to assist the Afghans in conducting the second round," Gibbs told reporters.
"Whether or not the president makes a decision before that I don't think has been determined.
"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.
Senior U.S. officials warned at the weekend that Obama would be unable to conclude a policy review and decide whether to send up to 40,000 more U.S. troops into the Afghan war without a legitimate governing partner in Kabul. Profile: Abdullah Abdullah
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 U.S. troops are likely to be deployed.
Gibbs suggested that the timing of Obama's decision was more likely to be dictated by operational deadlines related to the need to get any U.S. reinforcements in place by the next Afghan spring.
Republican Senator John McCain, who has been pressing Obama 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."
Exactly two months on from polls that Karzai had been expected to win easily, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) confirmed Tuesday that he had fallen short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off against Abdullah.
Karzai told a news conference in Kabul that he would take part in the second round, calling it a "step forward for democracy".
On Monday, a UN-backed watchdog confirmed 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.