Mullen downplays logistics problems with Afghan deployment

The chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff said he foresees no problems with quickly deploying 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.

Adm. Mike Mullen told The Hill shortly after a hearing Thursday that he has no concerns about the speed of the additional U.S. troop deployment. Poor infrastructure in the southern half of Afghanistan has slowed previous deployments, but Mullen said U.S. officials are prepared.

“We have the best transportation logistics people in the world working on this problem, and they’ve been working for months,” Mullen said.

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Members of Congress have expressed skepticism, saying it will be difficult to get the additional troops to Afghanistan on an expedited schedule given that country’s poor infrastructure and security.

“I believe that we have a good strategy," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) said on Thursday. “But, we must be mindful that implementing this counterinsurgency strategy will be extremely complex and far from easy. 

“Just the task of deploying an additional 30,000 troops will be difficult—supply lines to Afghanistan are long and difficult, bases are austere, and there is a shortage of every sort of infrastructure."

Congressional sources have been skeptical of how the Pentagon will deploy the troops to Helmand Province and Kandahar, where infrastructure is seriously lacking. While forces could be flown in on a more accelerated timeline, their equipment and all other deployment necessities could be lagging behind.

Mullen joined Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates at Thursday's hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As the trio did at two hearings on Wednesday, the officials sought to defend President Barack Obama’s decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan, and to trigger an eventual withdrawal starting in July 2011.

Once again, they heard GOP criticism of the July 2011 date for beginning to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, and Democratic skepticism of the war effort itself.

“I just don’t get the sense at this point in time of a comprehensive policy that says I should vote for billions of dollars more to send our sons and daughters into harm’s way in a way that we will ultimately succeed," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). “I hope I can be convinced before that vote comes. But as of right now, I’m not.”

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) said he disagreed with Obama's decision on the troop surge without a more firm date for withdrawing them.

"I am disappointed that he has decided to escalate our military presence and did not give any goal or timeframe for when our massive military operations in Afghanistan will end," Feingold said. "I do not support the decision to prolong and expand a risky and unsustainable strategy in the region."

Gates received some support for the withdrawal from Republicans on the committee, with some senators agreeing that Afghanistan officials needed some signal that the U.S. commitment is not open-ended.

“They think in terms of centuries,” said Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho). “We think in terms of months.”

Mullen warned the committee on Thursday that the additional troops will bring an increase in violence as well as U.S. casualties.

Roxana Tiron contributed to this article.

This article was updated at 2:20 p.m.


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