Obama Officials Mull Future in Afghanistan

President Obama has to make a big decision, and soon - should he send more U.S. troops to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan or rely more on Special Forces and attacks from unmanned aircraft or drones?

The president convened his war council to examine the options Wednesday, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Maritn.

The vice president led a parade of top advisers to the White House in the afternoon for what could be one of the most important meetings of the Obama presidency.

The subject: Afghanistan - what should the strategy be and how many troops are needed. Of course, it will take more than one meeting to crack that conundrum.

"I think at least three more are already on the working schedule and I assume there will be more after that," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the American commander in Afghanistan who has warned the war could be lost without more troops, joined the meeting by video teleconference. His mission is complex but the bottom line is simple: prevent Afghanistan from ever again becoming a safe haven from which al Qaeda could launch another 9/11.

Wednesday the nation's top counterterrorism official told Congress al Qaeda is on the ropes - its leadership decimated by CIA drone strikes - but still dangerous operating out of safe havens in Pakistan.

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"We assess that the al Qaeda core is actively engaged in operational plotting and continues recruiting, training and transporting operatives to include individuals from western Europe and the United States," said National Terrorism Center director Michael Leiter.

In Afghanistan, McChrystal is fighting al Qaeda's ally the Taliban. Maps charting insurgent violence from 2007 to the present clearly show the enemy is gaining ground.

The Pentagon is rushing over more armored vehicles to protect soldiers from roadside bombs, but McChrystal is asking for tens of thousands more troops.

But there are powerful voices, including the vice president, arguing the U.S. should settle for a less ambitious strategy that requires fewer troops.

Wednesday's meeting lasted three hours, much of it taken up with briefings on the latest intelligence from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The next meeting with the president is scheduled next week.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.