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DoD News Briefing with Adm. Mullen from the Pentagon

Presenter: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen
December 10, 2009

                ADM. MULLEN:  Good afternoon, everyone.  I have just a few opening remarks and then I'll -- I look forward to getting to your questions.  Much of the focus these past two weeks has been rightly on the details of the president's strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan and about the process that led him to his final decisions. 

 

                Gen. McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry, as you know, have been here all week testifying in congress to those decisions and to their views on the state of the insurgency in Afghanistan.  Indeed, they were on Capitol Hill just this morning before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.   

 

                As I testified myself last week, I not only support the president's decisions, I support the manner in which they were derived.  More critically, it's my belief and that of our commanders  that this extended surge of 30,000 U.S. troops coupled with additional contributions from our NATO allies gives Gen. McChrystal all the forces he needs in 2010 to reverse the momentum of a growing and increasingly lethal insurgency. 

 

                Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to visit with some of the troops who will shortly be deployed to Afghanistan to fight that insurgency.  I thank them and their families for their service but I also urge them to think carefully about how they will accomplish the mission they have been assigned.   

 

                The debate is over.  The decision has been made.  It is time to execute.  That must be our focus now, our only focus, and it is.  Less than 72 hours after the president's speech, engineers, combat infantry and civil affairs experts were ordered to Afghanistan.  A battalion's worth of Marines will arrive next week, spending their holidays in Helmand Province, reinforcing the troops already there. 

 

                We're also accelerating deployment plans for the rest of the extended surge forces and I'm confident we'll be able to get the bulk of these troops to Afghanistan by midsummer, with the remainder arriving in the fall. 

 

                This is faster, even, than General McChrystal's original intent. And though it will be difficult, I'm confident joint staff and theater planners as well as those of the four services will rise to the task. We're all on the balls of our feet, leaning forward.  Several hundred new MRAPs are already in Afghanistan with dozens more on the way, rapidly being interlifted wherever and whenever possible. 

 

                Tens of thousands of tons of construction materials, winter gear and other supplies are also in the pipeline.  Indeed, hundreds of combat engineers and seabees are right now working hard to expand air heads  and forward-operating bases to accept the incoming material and forces.  But no one is underestimating the scope of the challenge here.   

 

                As I told the troops Monday in Fort Campbell and Camp Lejeune, Afghanistan is not Iraq.  We don't have, for that country, a major logistics hub akin to the one we have Kuwait. 

 

                We don't have in Afghanistan anywhere near the number of runways or rail hubs or road networks that exist in Iraq, and we don't have, quite frankly, the same ground to cover.  As one soldier told me on the first visit to Afghanistan back in 2007, the terrain itself is an enemy. 

 

                That said, one of the real hallmarks of the American military throughout our history has been the willingness and the capacity to literally move mountains when required.  It is required today, and I expect we will do just that.  And I really want to give credit to those in the logistics and operational planning business who have already given so much of their talent and their time to make it happen. 

 

                With that, I am happy to take your questions.  Ann (sp)? 

 

                Q     I'm going to get right into the waves.  The 400,000 goal for training the Afghan security forces, we heard a variety of things about that over the last 10 days or so.  Do you still consider it to be a commitment, a goal, something less, and how did the change --  

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  I wouldn't say that it's anything more than an aspirational goal.  It's very clear that this is one of the two most critical parts of the overall strategy.  There is considerable risk associated with the development of the Afghan security forces, both their army and the police.  They're very focused now on achieving the goal for 2010, which is about 134,000 in the Afghan army and I think it's about 109 or 110,000 for the Afghan police, from a baseline of mid-90,000 for both those two forces. 

 

                We know that we have to in fact decrease attrition, increase retention and increase recruiting.  In fact, I saw a report this morning that with the initiative to raise the salary of the Afghan security forces from about $180 U.S. per month to about $240 U.S. per month, that a significant number of additional recruits showed up, and that's a good sign.  And part of what we have to do is incentivize these aspects of it, the attrition piece, the retention piece as well as the recruiting piece. 

 

                So we're looking at this goal over the next year.  We'll learn a lot in that, and we'll set a goal at the end of this next year which focuses on what we think we can achieve over  the following 12 months, let's say, the 2011 goal. 

 

                So that 400,000 is aspirational but it is not definite yet.  And then it will be or locked in any way.   

 

                It'll also be a combination of the development of these forces, their abilities, how quickly we can do it and also the security environment so that based on that, those two things, in the end, we'll determine exactly how many Afghan national security forces we need. 

 

                Q     But if you're at -- if you're already going to be at something like 280 by the July 2011 date, 400 doesn't seem like that much of a leap.  Is there some low-balling going on here? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  No, not at all.  I think it's actually -- I think it's exactly the opposite.  I believe this is a very realistic approach given the challenges and given the risk and the desire to accelerate this and make this happen as quickly as possible.   

 

                So we know where we are right now, we know where we want to be at the end of 2010.  And there are a lot of challenges associated with that in the areas that I talked about.  So we're focused on that. We'll see how we do and then we'll move out over the next 12 months with an adjusted goal for that period of time. 

 

                Q     Earlier this week, you said that since the U.S. is not winning the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. is losing the war in Afghanistan.  That seems to me, you're going a little further in that regard with that statement and why do you think that the U.S. is losing the war?  

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  Well, actually, I've said it before and it is tied to my belief about insurgencies and in -- the insurgency is always moving and it's moving in one direction or another.  We are in our third straight year of still a very significant deterioration with respect to the security environment.   

 

                The 2009 levels of violence, up 60 percent from 2008, to speak to one measure of that.  It's tied, as well, to Gen. McChrystal's assessment of what we found when he was there and certainly from that standpoint, we're not winning.  And in an insurgency, you're either winning or you're losing.  And if we're not winning, we're losing, which is why I said that because of the trend in this insurgency.   

 

                And it also speaks to the requirement to reverse this thing as rapidly as possible, which goes to why we're getting as many forces  there as fast as we can, why the president made this decision because it's important to reverse that momentum. 

 

                Q     Sorry, speaking of reversing momentum, one issue that never came up in the last couple days with Gen. McChrystal is the role of counterterrorism tactics or techniques in his strategy.  He talked a little bit about this with Charlie Rose yesterday, and it was pretty here and there, he didn't say much, but one role does focused counterterrorism attacks against al Qaeda and irreconcilable Taliban -- (inaudible) -- have in this strategy? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  I think the role of counterterrorism is significant, and it's an embedded role in this counterinsurgency strategy, as it is in any counterinsurgency strategy.  And so it is ongoing as we speak, it has been.  We did it in Iraq and we think it's a very important component of the counterinsurgency strategy.  So every effort will be made to focus on, certainly, key leaders of the insurgency, key leaders in the terrorist world from the point of view of counterterrorism, and every effort will be made to capture or kill them, and that's ongoing as we speak.  And that's a very important part of the overall strategic approach here. 

 

                Q     Do you have any feel for how many of the 30,000 would be special-operations types?  I mean, just rough border, as opposed to specific numbers.   

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  I couldn't tell you what the specific numbers will be.  I'd actually be -- I'd be guessing.  I mean, it's not a vast proportion of the 30,000, but it is a significant number of special operators, if you will, as it has been in Iraq, but it is typically vastly outnumbered in ratio by the other conventional combat forces that are there. The same is true in Afghanistan. 

 

                Q     McChrystal yesterday said he -- in Iraq, the U.S. focused on mid-level al Qaeda, versus trying to decapitate the organization. And he thinks that this is one of the things we're going to do in Afghanistan, he said.  Is that -- do you agree that you focus on the mid-level professionals and then the rest could collapse? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  There's nobody -- in my view, there's absolutely nobody that understands where the focus areas need to be better than Gen. McChrystal, based on his previous experience, so I don't second- guess that.  As we look at these networks, one of the things we've learned is you have to attack the network over time at every level. So just taking the head off isn't going to work, just going in at one level isn't going to work.  But his assessment right now is, that's the most important area.  And so I'm sure that's where he'll go to work. 

 

                Q     And I know I'm out of turn, but I just want to follow up on that -- (inaudible) -- 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  You are, hang on. 

 

                Q     Okay. 

 

                Q     Just to follow up on Tony's (sp) question, Admiral, are -- the general yesterday -- (inaudible) -- talked briefly about enablers. 

 

                Why don't you give a little bit of the sense from the Joint Staff perspective of what percent of force might be enablers versus combat forces, understanding that a lot those combat forces could be training simultaneously with their combat mission. 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  One of the things that I think is a very important decision that the president made was to give Gen. McChrystal the flexibility inside the 30,000 to ask for and us to source the forces that he wanted.  We've ordered some, I think it's about 16,000 or so in since the decision was made the other day.  And we're working our way through the details of what the rest will be.  And it takes, honestly takes, beyond the concept here sometimes two to three weeks to really pound out the details of what the force composition is going to be and we're working that with CENTCOM and with ISAF as we speak. 

 

                And part of this is that, I indicated that NATO has stood up here and that they're going to send additional forces as well, understanding what those are and where they'll work.  And so while we have very good clarity on the front end of this that's been ordered, the back side of this, the other half, if you will, is still something we're really working our way through.  So I can't really give you an answer that would be very accurate at this point with respect to the specifics. 

 

                Q     (Inaudible) -- percentagewise? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  No, I just can't do that cause I know, one, it would be wrong and there's an awful lot of detail work that's still got to be done to answer that question. 

 

                Kim? 

 

                Q     President Karzai said the other day that it could take five years before Afghan forces were ready to lead on their own, how does that fit in with the July 2011 date of possible drawdown and of handing to them, could you hold out for 5 years for them to be ready? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  This is -- I mean, the way I understood President Karzai's statement is that it is his goal to, essentially, take complete charge of their own security destiny with his forces in 5 years.  The July 2011 date is a begin to transition that process based on conditions, doing it responsibly, where we can with the Afghan security forces for them to start to take the lead, not unlike what we did in Iraq.  We did not pick a date and turn them all over, give them  the lead in Iraq, on a single day.  It was done there province by province, it will be done here both province by province and district by district so that that goal which we all understand and seek to meet is out there. 

 

                And we'll have to see, I think in the next 18 -- in about 18 months where we are with respect to achieving that.  But that's what I understood President Karzai's intent to be by what he said. 

 

                Q      Follow-up, you did also warn -- yourself in comments the other day -- you warned the troops to brace for more casualties this year.  How many? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  I think -- I honestly don't know that.  I -- it is very clear, when we surged in Iraq, the level of violence went up. When we added troops this year in Afghanistan, the level of violence went up, and my expectations are that the level of violence will go up as we add these 30,000 troops.  I thought it was really important to look those in the eye who are actually going to face this threat and to be open and honest with them about those expectations.  I think it's very important for the people of America to understand that.  As we've been through this debate, as we continue to focus on this war, this war is a real -- this war and all our wars, we pay a price for that, and I am anxious to be as open with respect to that, in every way, as I possibly can. 

 

                That said, I believe this strategy, which will reverse this so quickly, in the long run will result in far fewer casualties than if we were not being -- if we would not be able to reverse the momentum. 

 

                Q     Adm. Mullen, going back to Jim's question, when you said, we're not winning, what struck some as motive -- (inaudible) -- win at all.  Have you noticed any reluctance on the part of some administration officials to use the word win or victory in Afghanistan? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  Well, I'll let some administration officials speak for themselves. I am clearly -- I mean, I'm very -- I intend to be very clear with respect to that, because I believe we are not, and this strategy can put us in a place where we can turn this thing around and succeed.  Having an intellectual debate about winning and losing and other words like that sometimes can move into a direction that is -- that I just don't think is very helpful.  I certainly noted Secretary Gates said the other day, we're in this thing to win, and that's certainly where I am, understand that. 

 

                But I also don't want to ever understate or in any way not speak to the significant of the challenge based on where we are right now. 

 

                As General McChrystal found it when he went over there and as all of us, including the entire review group, assessed it to be, which got us to the president's decision, which I think was a right decision. 

 

                Q     And can I just ask, since you add this point now, can you be any more specific about where these troops are going in Afghanistan? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  Same kind of thing.  I mean, General McChrystal is -- so I certainly wouldn't go into specific details.  General McChrystal was asking for troops to focus mainly in the South and the East, but not exclusively there.  And he's going to have to work his way through where troops get apportioned, also based on what NATO troops are added.  And we don't have the specifics on that yet.  So there's still an awful lot of work to do to know exactly where they're going to be.  Jim? 

 

                Q     Sir, we've been training the Afghan national army since 2002, and we just -- (inaudible) -- how is it as a fighting force, and aren't there some units -- Afghan national army units -- now that are ready to take the lead? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  There are some Afghan national army units that are in the lead as we speak, but that number of that percentage is pretty small.  But that is clearly the idea with respect to the training.   

 

                And the reports I get back from commanders in the field and my visits out there, particularly from the Army -- on the Army side -- is there actually as they are trained and equipped, and certainly the ones that are in the lead there, really good warriors, good fighters. They've also been at war for a long time.   

 

                It should not be lost on us that there are many, many Afghan army losses; many, many Afghan police losses; individuals giving up their lives for their country, which we all see and know as well.  We oftentimes focus on ours, and I understand that, but we should never forget the sacrifices that so many have made in that country, as well. 

 

                And we have been doing this since 2002, but like many of the efforts in Afghanistan, we haven't resourced it well enough to really generate the kind of output that we need to have them take charge of their own destiny.  Gordon? 

 

                Q     As you know, the Army and Marine Corps are testifying today about reset costs for equipment.  Can you walk us through the budget  process of this, how you're going to pay for the surge and what should we expect in terms of supplemental coming up and what might be the size of them? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  Well, I mean, that's really up for the administration to decide, as well as the Congress to approve, clearly. That's a part of this process, and there are no -- I haven't been through the specific plans how this is going to be done.  Your comment about reset is one of significance to all of us because we are beginning to be able to reset the force, if you will.  The Marine Corps, over the next few, will actually get out to a two-to-one dwell time to deployment time ratio.  The Army will not, still.  The Army will take a couple of more years to do that. 

 

                And all that speaks to more time at home, training for additional missions other than just counterinsurgency as well as rehabbing and refurbishing equipment which is worn, as well as purchasing new.  And while we have mostly a 2 year to 3 year period of time to do all this, what I've asked my staff to do is look in detail in terms of exactly what it's going to take, exactly how long it's going to take and exactly how much money it's going to take.  So there's a level of detail that still has to be worked out, particularly now that we're starting to reset, if you will, the force based on an extended period of time at war. 

 

                Q     If I could start from during -- (inaudible) -- the Iraq War, there was, you know, this notion of kind of robbing Peter to pay Paul in equipment from home (stationed ?).  So do you anticipate problems there as we surge into Afghanistan? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  No, I think -- I mean, I think there clearly will be some of that, the specifics of it really are up to the service chiefs and probably more so in the Army than in the Marine Corps, let's say, because they're the services that are pressed the most here but I just don't have any details on that.  But it will not be on the kind of scale that we saw at the height of the Iraq surge specifically, although, we're familiar with how to do it.  So I think there'll be some of it, but it certainly won't on the same kind of scope and scale. 

 

                Q     A few days ago at Lejeune you asked a room full of Marines who had never been to Afghanistan before and literally, only a few of them raised their hand.  Are you concerned that this initial wave of troops that are going in as part of the surge have so little experience and they take longer to get up to speed? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  Well, they have so little Afghan experience.  But they certainly have an enormous amount of combat experience.  And they have combat leaders that know this is, know that it is different in many ways and recognize that and are training ahead of time.  What I focused on, one of things that I really focused on for them that I want them to think a lot about is this whole issue of civilian casualties because they're the ones that, small unit leaders are the ones that are going to have to make these decisions. 

 

                And that's a huge change that General McChrystal put in place.  I think it's been enormously positive because the number of civilian casualties has gone down dramatically.  Yet these are the young soldiers and Marines that are going to have to make that decision and have to do it in, you know, split-second time. 

 

                But there is also a piece of that that is tied to planning ahead of time:  training ahead of time as well as before you plan a mission and go execute.  So I was anxious to have them spend some time on that as well. 

 

                And I -- we went through this to some degree in Iraq.  There was an early concern with the Marine Corps rotations because they were seven months in Anbar.  And, yet, after two or three rotations, the number of Marines who had already been there more than filled the gap of familiarity and understanding and relationships with the Iraqi leaders. 

 

                And so the same thing would happen again -- this time with the Marine Corps.  We are putting an extraordinary amount of effort into the cultural piece, the language piece and taking advantage of the lessons that we learned in Iraq to get this right for Afghanistan. 

 

                Q     Just to follow up real quick, but, at the same time, I mean, General McChrystal has talked about having that experience in that country.  And you all have made the point of how different Iraq and Afghanistan are.  And if the idea of this surge, so to speak, is speed, to get them on the ground and into the fight, certainly won't it take more time if they have no familiarity with Afghanistan? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  I mean, I think, to some degree, theoretically, yes.  But, if I were going to use the Marines in Helmand -- and I was there a couple of weeks after their initial operations -- it didn't take them very long.  They settle out Nawa very quickly and Nawa is now an example of what we would like and what we expect the results of this surge to be in terms of the overall area and providing security where we have troops and focusing on population security. 

 

                So we're obviously not in an ideal situation with respect to that.  I understand that.  But I have a huge amount of confidence in our Marine Corps based on their ability to adapt; what they did in Iraq and what they're doing in Afghanistan.  So it's not a big concern. 

 

                Q     Sir, if I could ask you two questions:  Are you comfortable with the characterization of the July 2011 date as a drawdown or as a withdrawal?  Because there have been many characterizations -- both on the Hill and in the press -- since that date came out as a focal point in the strategy.  Are you comfortable with the characterization of -- 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  July 2011 is the beginning of the transition, transfer, beginning of the transfer of responsibility for security, scope and scale and place unknown at this point, to do it responsibly, and it's based on conditions at the time.  It was not an arbitrary date, it was a date that those of us in the military, myself included, feel very strongly about, that we'll know by July 2011 whether this is working or not.  So I'm very comfortable with that.  It's a date which incentivizes the Afghans that it's something they have to focus on, and we've already seen, I think, published statements from the Afghan leadership that they know this is something they have to step up to. 

 

                So it was a combination of things, but it is not a deadline to withdrawal.  There's not end date to do it, and as we get to the assessment about a year from now, decisions associated with that and where we'll be in the middle of 2011, we'll make adjustments and move forward accordingly.  

 

                Q     My second question was, with this date as the beginning of a process, Secretary Gates said a couple of weeks ago before the strategy was unveiled that several districts -- that this would be a district-by-district, province-by-province process of giving more of a security transition to the Afghans.  Some districts are already near that goal.  Does this mean, then, that you stop that process and wait until July --  

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  Not at all. 

 

                Q     -- that some of these districts could already transition prior to that date, maybe within the next --  

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  I will -- we will transition as soon as we can put them -- as soon as they are in a position to take the lead, and that's really going to be up to General McChrystal.  And I think by and large, it will be district-by-district.  And so we're by no means with this approach waiting until July 2011, but that is a very clear date the president has set and one with which we will very strictly comply.  

 

                Q     So we could see some of this within the next couple of months. 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  That's really up to -- theoretically, we could, but that's up to the boss out there. 

 

                Q     Admiral, the other day, President Karzai said that the U.S. may have to be responsible or will have to be responsible for paying for troops -- paying for their troops past 2020, I believe.  Is that -- do you have a reaction to that, or is that something that you or Secretary Gates or the president took into account when you were developing the Afghan strategy? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  We all recognize that there is a significant cost on the manpower side, if you will, of the Afghan national-security forces at a certain level, even though that level is still to be determined.  And recognize that that's going to be -- there's going to require -- there will be a requirement to sustain it, and yet we're not there and that's something I think we'll work our way through over the next couple of years how to do that -- part of this -- again, and we focused a significant part of today on the military side, and I understand that -- but we should never forget that there's a critical need for President Karzai and his government, from national leaders to local leaders, to step up to meet these mission requirements, as well.  

 

                There's a significant civilian part of this, which we are putting in place, and the State Department has worked incredibly hard to generate civilian capacity -- not just numbers but individuals with the right skills -- where we can leverage that to the accomplishment of the mission.  And we expect that.   

 

                So we know that there is a bill out there, if you will; we've received fairly significant contributions from several countries; this is an international effort.  Just to remind, 43 countries have combat forces here.   

 

                There's a lot of work to be done with this -- and I won't speak for President Karzai -- he was clearly articulating a requirement which we all understand needs to be sustained.  The exact mechanisms that will be put in place to sustain that are yet to be determined. Last question. 

 

                Q     (Inaudible.)  What kind of cooperation has the Pentagon given to the Japanese government about the secret nuclear treaty that they're heavily investigating, and even if next year is the 50th anniversary, what do you think of the long-term implication of these kind of public investigations like Japan -- (inaudible) -- confidential agreement? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  Well, Japan's newly-elected leadership gets to decide what it wants to do and how it wants to do that.  And it's clear that the leadership feels this is important, and that's obviously up to them, and they'll carry that out accordingly. 

 

                We have certainly engaged when asked -- engaged the Japanese leadership on this issue and they know what our views are, but that has been done privately and that's where I'll keep it.  Okay, thank you.

 

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