President Barack Obama is facing a choice on whether to grant commanders' requests for additional troops in Afghanistan before he has decided on his new strategy there. While the decision is expected to be the first significant military move of his presidency, defense officials said that Obama could choose a middle ground, deploying several thousand more troops there in the coming months but postponing a more difficult judgment on a much larger increase in personnel until after the administration completes a review of Afghanistan policy. The officials said that Obama may deploy one or two additional brigades, between 3,500 and 7,000 soldiers. But he has other options, and several administration officials said it was also possible — though less likely — that he could postpone any deployments until after his review was complete. Such a move would not find much favor with commanders in Afghanistan, who have a standing request for an additional three brigades, or more than 10,000 soldiers. It is also possible that Obama will fill the request for all three brigades, administration officials said. Obama's military commanders want additional brigades in place by late spring or early summer as part of an effort to counter growing violence and chaos in Afghanistan, particularly before presidential elections that are expected to take place there in August. Robert Gates, the defense secretary, said Tuesday that he had presented options to Obama that "give him several ways of going forward," and added that he expected a determination "in the course of the next few days." Referring to the additional brigades being sought by commanders, Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said Obama "could make a decision about none, one, two or all of them." "There are clearly people asking, 'Do we need to make a decision on all of them now, or can we wait until we've decided on our new strategy?' " he said. "However, there does need to be a decision made about a couple of brigades sooner rather than later if you want them on the ground in time to make a difference in the security situation for the national election in late August." Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met Wednesday with Obama at the White House, but a senior administration official said no decisions had been made. Obama made clear during the presidential campaign that he intended to increase troop levels in Afghanistan and reduce them in Iraq. But while still reviewing Afghanistan strategy, he also has not announced a decision on the pace of troop withdrawals from Iraq. Defense officials say that Obama cannot satisfy the request from General David McKiernan, the top American commander in Afghanistan, for an additional 30,000 troops there without withdrawing a substantial number of those forces directly from Iraq. But they said Obama did have the latitude to deploy to Afghanistan at least two more brigades, and possibly more, before he decided on Iraq. "This is the first time that this president has been asked to deploy large numbers of troops overseas," Gates said Tuesday. "And it seems to me a thoughtful and deliberative approach to that decision is entirely appropriate." The determination on the troop deployment took on even more importance on Wednesday after Taliban suicide bombers struck government buildings at three sites in Kabul, killing at least 20 people. Coming on the eve of a scheduled visit to Kabul by Richard C. Holbrooke, Obama's special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, the attack underscored the deteriorating security in Afghanistan. "Obviously, we are reminded today of the brutal tactics that extremists like the Taliban wish to employ," said Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman. "It hardens our resolve." "But," Gibbs said, "it also hardens our resolve to get the next steps in Afghanistan right." He called it "imperative that we get the review process done correctly." The Obama administration has been distancing itself from Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, with officials complaining that he has not done enough to crack down on corruption and the drug trade that has fueled the Taliban insurgency. Obama spoke Monday at a news conference about the urgent need to seek out fighters for Al Qaeda and the Taliban in their havens across the border with Pakistan. On Wednesday, he called Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, and they discussed counterterrorism and economic development, the White House said in a statement. Administration officials have indicated that they may seek to refocus United States military efforts in Afghanistan on counterinsurgency. But the administration has not come up with a plan yet for how to coordinate the rest of its Afghanistan strategy with European allies and NATO. http://www.iht.com/articles/2009/02/12/asia/12prexy.php . . . . . .