Intense discussions are under way in the United States and with its allies on how to proceed with the war in Afghanistan. Eight years after American troops were ordered in following the September 11 terror attacks, a government that is perceived as ineffective and corrupt is in charge in Kabul and the Taliban extremists that were overthrown are making military headway in their bid to regain power and security. Officials say terrorists are planning more assaults. The foreign governments involved, led by American President Barack Obama, face a dilemma: the conflict is increasingly unpopular with voters, but Afghanistan's strategic importance to central and South Asia and the Middle East demand they stay engaged. Of their options, it is clear that only one can be turned to: send in considerably more troops. This is the favoured recommendation to Obama by the top US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal. His report was sent last week to the president, controversially bypassing the usual chain of military command. Disunity has been created among the military elite by his move, but it is also apparent between governments. The number of foreign soldiers being killed and wounded is mounting and, just as with Iraq, there is pressure for troops to be pulled out. Obama is in the midst of a series of meetings with top officials and security advisers to determine a course of action. He has not indicated when he will make a decision. McChrystal's suggested options range from pouring in about 40,000 extra US troops to keeping the number at the 68,000 already authorised and making use of surgical strikes with drones and special forces. The president's choice will affect the approach of allies. America's military dominance means the country generally takes the lead in conflicts of global concern. Afghanistan is certainly that: ensuring that its government is stable and the extremism that led to terror attacks from Bali to London is eradicated is crucial for the region and beyond. The world also gave Afghan people a pledge to rebuild their country and lift them from poverty when forces invaded. This cannot be done effectively without peace. Neighbouring Pakistan figures largely in any strategy. Its remote borders are a haven for the remnants of the al-Qaeda terrorists who fled Afghanistan when the Taliban, their sponsors, were toppled. Obama is similarly weighing his Pakistani options, seeking a way to strengthen the help of a weak government that is torn between the need to fight radicalism and keep on side a population increasingly angered by civilian deaths from cross-border US drone and missile strikes. A failure to win co-operation risks furthering the reach of terrorism. Like Iraq, Obama inherited Afghanistan from his predecessor, George W. Bush. He was a critic of the Iraq war during campaigning for the presidency, and called for a scaling back of US troops there so that attention could be focused on the Afghan conflict. Politically, he cannot afford to weaken his position. He cannot allow the US to walk away. Patience with Afghanistan is dwindling in the US and elsewhere. Suicide bombings like that outside the Indian embassy in Kabul yesterday plainly show that the war is not being won. Obama and governments with troops in the country have only one sensible option. They must ratchet up their commitment with a significant increase in troop numbers.