Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that the U.S. forces must work to "turn around" the security situation in Afghanistan over the next 12 to 18 months.
Mullen, who held the press briefing with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, sought to stave off a political storm over the administration’s Afghanistan strategy.
Some Democrats on Capitol Hill are getting increasingly impatient with a war that has been losing public support, and are likely to press for a troop withdrawal timeline.
Gates shot down any calls of withdrawal from Afghanistan and took issue with any notion that the Afghanistan war “is slipping through the administration’s fingers.”
“I absolutely do not think it is time to get out of Afghanistan,” he said at the press briefing.
Both Gates and Mullen refused to offer any insight into whether Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, would be asking for additional U.S. troops to be deployed to Afghanistan after he submitted this week his assessment on the situation in that country.
When McChrystal took over the leadership of forces in Afghanistan, Gates asked him to provide an assessment. Gates stressed that the need for an assessment was prompted by the change of U.S. military leadership in Afghanistan and not by the launch of a new administration strategy in that country.
Obama announced his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan in March together with an increase of some 21,000 U.S. troops as well as a surge of civilian personnel. Gates said none of that has changed and that some of the 21,000 troops have not yet been deployed.
"It's important for us to be able to show over the months to come" that Obama's new strategy for both Afghanistan and Pakistan is succeeding, Gates said, adding that the president’s goal is to defeat the al Qaeda terrorist network and its allies.
Gates and Mullen said that any request for additional U.S. troops or funds for the war in Afghanistan would only come after officials study the new assessment of the conditions submitted by McChrystal. Mullen said that he and the chiefs of all the military services will finish studying McChrystal’s assessment by the week’s end and offer Gates and Obama “our best military advice.”
Any request for resources from McChrystal would have to make it up the chain of command, Gates said. First the request has to be assessed by Gen. David Petraeus, the head of Central Command; Mullen; and the chiefs of staff of the services. Gates would then add his recommendations and present the final package to the president.
But Mullen told reporters that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan has not been well resourced “almost since its inception” in 2001.
"We have to start to turn this thing around in the next 12-18 months," Mullen said.