Pressure is building on the Afghanistan battleground and in Washington
as President Obama considers whether to meet a request for tens of
thousands more troops to fight the Taliban insurgency and convince
Afghans militants are not winning.
U.S. Marines in Afghanistan are focusing on the strongholds of the Taliban in the southern part of the country.
Monday, they worked with local Afghan villagers to gain ground in the Helmand province.
It took 200 Marines two days to advance just 4 kilometers to Barcha in the face of insurgent attacks and a string of roadside explosive traps.
Sergeant Thomas Whorl described part of the mission, saying "Search the area, make sure there are no [weapons] caches, and look for any bad guys."
Pressure is also mounting in Washington, where President Obama has been consulting with security advisers about a request by the U.S. Afghan commander, General Stanley McChrystal, for 40,000 additional troops.
The general has told President Obama he needs the troops to push back a resurgent Taliban and convince the population that insurgents will not win.
President Obama is under pressure from some Democrats to pull back from the war, and from some prominent Republicans to meet military requests.
"I'm very convinced that General McChrystal's analysis is not only correct but should be employed as quickly as possible," said Republican Senator John McCain.
Troops are also needed to secure areas and allow for the work of American civilians sent to Afghanistan by the State Department, to help develop poor regions and gain the confidence of the Afghan people.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained the mission on Sunday in London. "So our challenge has been to take what we inherited, including an immediate request for troops that the president had to act on shortly after taking office, understanding that we wanted to integrate our civilian and our military approaches," said Clinton.
Allegations of fraud in the August 20 presidential election in Afghanistan, and the delay in declaring the final result, have added to the complexity of the situation.
President Hamid Karzai expressed his concern Monday, saying that "as a result of the delay, Afghanistan is facing security challenges day by day."
Preliminary results released last month showed President Karzai winning the polls with about 54 percent of the vote. But a recount, expected to be completed this month, could force a runoff with the second-place finisher Abdullah Abdullah, if Karzai's total falls short of 50 percent.