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SUPPORT FOR AFGHAN WAR IS SLIPPING

Democrats are reluctant to send more troops until the president details his plan to win.

Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Democratic leaders in Congress urged the Obama administration Thursday to quickly produce a plan for winning the war in Afghanistan or risk widespread opposition within the president's own party to a new troop buildup.

"I don't think there's a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or in the Congress," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranking Democrat to signal that a push for more troops will get a skeptical look.

Democratic Rep. John Murtha, chair of the powerful House Appropriations panel that oversees military spending, described himself as "very nervous" about sending more troops to Afghanistan and cited limited funds to do so.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid urged Democrats to resist rushing to judgment. But he, too, said he wants to see President Barack Obama's plans for the military mission before adding more soldiers, pilots and Marines to the mix.

Pelosi said she did not expect to be briefed on the administration's plans until next week at the earliest. Aides said they expect the Joint Chiefs chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, to brief senators on Tuesday and House lawmakers Wednesday.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama was still waiting for the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan to formally ask for additional troops, a request that is expected by the end of the month. This spring, Obama ordered 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan, which will bring the total number of U.S. forces there to 68,000 by the end of the year.

The Pentagon has yet to give Obama at least two military evaluations of the on-the-ground assessment. Those reports, by Mullen and U.S. Central Command's Gen. David Petraeus, will be delivered this week, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

Last week, Obama received an assessment by his top commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, that did not specifically ask for more troops. That will likely come in a followup report, officials said.

At the same time, the White House is in the process of compiling a list of about 50 benchmarks to judge whether the military mission is working. The list is due Sept. 24, and White House officials have said they are working with Capitol Hill in drawing it up.

Fifty-one U.S. troops died in Afghanistan in August, making it the bloodiest month for the U.S. since it invaded in 2001, weeks after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

afghan voter fraud will prompt runoff, challenger says

Abdullah Abdullah, the top challenger to President Hamid Karzai, said Thursday that he expects enough fraudulent Karzai votes in Afghanistan's Aug. 20 election to be thrown out to trigger a runoff. Abdullah trails in the vote count with 28 percent. The country's U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission, meanwhile, voided results from 83 polling stations in three provinces where support for Karzai is strong. Those votes were included in a tally by the Karzai-appointed Independent Elections Commission, which showed Karzai with 54 percent with ballots from 92 percent of polling stations counted.

British defend raid: The British government on Thursday defended its decision to mount a rescue raid in Afghanistan that freed kidnapped New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell but left dead his Afghan interpreter Sultan Munadi, a British commando and possibly Afghan civilians. Farrell, a dual British-Irish national, and Munadi were kidnapped last week by the Taliban during a reporting trip to Kunduz province.

Reporters fault NATO: Afghan journalists on Thursday blamed the Taliban for Munadi's death, but said NATO-led forces did not exhaust nonviolent channels. They also criticized British commandos for leaving Munadi's body behind while retrieving their own slain comrade. "It shows a double standard between a foreign life and an Afghan life," said Fazul Rahim, an Afghan producer for CBS News.

Times wires

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