Obama holds 'candid' talks on Afghan war

President Barack Obama held "candid" talks with heavyweight national security advisors on saving the US mission in Afghanistan, edging closer to a decision on whether to deploy more troops.

As Obama huddled with top military and civilian brass in the secure White House Situation Room, his administration also counter-attacked against Republicans who accuse the president of dragging his feet in sending more US soldiers to war.

"In today's meeting, the president engaged his national security team in a candid assessment of the progress that has been made and the challenges we still face in Afghanistan and Pakistan," Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

The intense talks, among top officials with varying perspectives on the war, grouped administration heavy-hitters including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Obama also called on top military leaders and, taking part by video link-up, war commander General Stanley McChrystal, who warned in a leaked report that the conflict could be lost within a year without more troops.

The White House says Obama will only decide on whether to accept McChrystal's request for up to 40,000 more troops -- as part of a rigorous counter-insurgency push -- after first arriving at a new US strategy.Related article: US military backs Afghan plan

The process could take weeks, officials say, warning that past conflicts like the Vietnam war have shown the folly of throwing thousands of men into a fight that is not properly defined.

Obama will next hunker down with top officials on Afghanistan on October 7.

The White House meanwhile accused its critics of "game playing" over critical troop deployment decisions after a top Republican lawmaker, Eric Cantor, claimed Obama's delays were putting the lives of troops at risk.Related article: Countering IED threat

"I would say this to Congressman Cantor and everybody else: the American people deserve an assessment that's beyond game playing," Gibbs said.

"The men and women in Afghanistan that we've sent to serve and protect our freedom deserve that."

Cantor said in an interview with Wednesday's Washington Times newspaper that Obama's "uncertainty" over future war strategy was "troubling."

"Listen, you've got American lives on the line over there," Cantor said. "As long as they are delaying, that puts in jeopardy, I believe, our men and women."

Other Republicans also pushed for a fast decision to send more troops into the conflict.

"Time is not on our side, we need a decision pretty quickly," Senator John McCain, Obama's defeated 2008 election opponent, told ABC News.

McCain said Obama would put America in "much greater danger" if he decided not to deploy more soldiers.

Obama is considering whether current US tactics and force levels, which will reach 68,000 troops by the end of the year, are the best way to defeat Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Gates has said he will only formally convey McChrystal's request to Obama once the policy review is complete, and denied any rifts between the Pentagon and some skeptics of troop increases in the White House.

A member of the special warfare command poses for photographs as he parachutes from a helicopter near Seoul. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak