By Ian Swanson and Bridget Johnson - 08/23/09 11:59 AM EDT
No decisions on increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan have been made despite a "serious and deteriorating" situation, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff insisted Sunday on separate talk show appearances.
Adm. Mike Mullen said an assessment by the general in charge of U.S. operations in Afghanistan will be submitted in the next few weeks, and a decision on whether more troops are needed will be made sometime after that assessment is studied.
“It will deal with what ever additional resources might be required subsequent to that in the normal process,” Mullen said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
It’s expected that McChrystal will say more troops are needed in Afghanistan, which could be controversial with liberal Democrats.
That would open a new, divisive debate between President Barack Obama and a part of his base, which is already upset with the White House over suggestions that it won’t insist that a public health insurance option be included in healthcare reform legislation.
Mullen was cautious in laying out the need for more work in Afghanistan. He described the situation there as deteriorating in an appearance on CNN, but on NBC insisted the U.S. was not falling victim to “mission creep.”
“I don’t see this as a mission of endless drift,” said Mullen, who added that the U.S. military has learned a lot of lessons from Iraq.
"I think it is serious and it is deteriorating, and I've said that over the past couple of years, that the Taliban insurgency has gotten better, more sophisticated, in their tactics," Mullen said on "State of the Union."
Mullen said the U.S. is involved in a counter-insurgency effort in Afghanistan to stop al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which he emphasized remain a threat to the country. To defeat those forces, he acknowledged the U.S. must engage in nation-building in Afghanistan so that that country’s police and armed forces can provide security for their people.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), appearing on ABC's "This Week," stressed the need to keep Afghanistan from turning into a terrorist base once again and said he hopes that a "middle" option on the number of troops to be added won't be the compromise estimate to win out.
"There are great pressures on Gen. McChrystal to reduce those estimates," McCain said, not from Obama but from "the people around him and others that I think don't want to see a significant increase in our troops' presence there."
McCain said McChrystal should tell Congress exactly how many troops he needs, open it up to debate and let Obama make the final call.
The senator predicted that with the right number of troops, "within a year to 18 months you could start to see progress."
For public opinion on the war to rebound, McCain said there would have to be a reversal of attack and casualty trends. A record 44 U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan in July.
The surge of violence in Iraq since U.S. forces withdrew from cities and towns suggests that "we may have left a bit too soon," McCain said, noting that it was still important to give Iraqi authorities what they wanted as far as the pullback.
McCain visited Afghanistan before last week's presidential election, a tour that took the Arizona senator and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) to Libya, Yemen and Iraq as well.