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Obama gets advice from military leaders on Afghanistan

U.S. soldiers line up to meet U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel before he departs from Kabul International Airport December 9, 2013. REU
U.S. soldiers line up to meet U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel before he departs from Kabul International Airport December 9, 2013. REU

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Tuesday discussed options with U.S. military commanders about America's presence in Afghanistan next year as the two nations debate over whether a U.S. troop contingent will be there at all.

The White House said Obama sat down in the Oval Office with General Joseph Dunford, who commands international forces in Afghanistan; Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and other defense and White House officials.

The United States would like to leave more than 10,000 troops in Afghanistan for counterterrorism and training of Afghan forces after U.S. forces formally withdraw at the end of this year. The 13-year mission in Afghanistan began after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused thus far to sign a bilateral security agreement that Washington insists must be approved before it will agree to leave the troops behind.

The White House says in the absence of a bilateral agreement, all U.S. forces will withdraw at the end of the year, and that a decision by Karzai is needed within weeks.

A White House spokesman, Laura Lucas Magnuson, said Obama had a useful, constructive meeting with the military officials.

"The president continues to weigh inputs from military officials, as well as the intelligence community, our diplomats, and development experts and has not yet made decisions regarding the post-2014 U.S. presence," she said.

U.S. defense officials would like the issue settled before NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels in early March.

Tuesday's meeting was the second major meeting Obama has held on Afghanistan in recent weeks. He met top national security advisers on the issue in mid-January.

(Reporting By Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and David Alexander; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Amanda Kwan)

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