Chairman Discusses Afghanistan, Threats from Iran, Yemen

WASHINGTON, Nov. 28, 2010 — The Unit­ed States is “very com­mit­ted” to begin draw­ing down its forces in Afghanistan in July, but large num­bers will remain, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said on a tele­vised broad­cast today.
“We will start draw­ing down troops next July,” Mullen told Fareed Zacharia, host of the CNN pro­gram, GPS. Any draw­down will be based on con­di­tions on the ground and via a rec­om­men­da­tion from com­man­ders on the ground, he said. It is too soon to know the num­bers of troops and loca­tions the draw­down will affect first, he added.

“We’re very com­mit­ted to begin­ning the draw­down then,” he said. “But there will con­tin­ue to be a large num­ber of U.S. and allied troops on the ground in Afghanistan after July 2011.”

The chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also said that rec­on­cil­i­a­tion talks with the Tal­iban must be done from a posi­tion of strength, and that any talks between the Tal­iban and the Afghan gov­ern­ment right now “are talks about talks.”

Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is a very impor­tant process for Afghanistan, Mullen said, and when that can hap­pen, polit­i­cal progress will fol­low.

“We need to do that from a strong posi­tion, and we’re just not there right now,” he said. “The Tal­iban don’t think they are los­ing and the like­li­hood that they are going to take any sig­nif­i­cant steps with respect to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is low.”

Turn­ing to Iran, the chair­man said he believes Iran­ian offi­cials still are work­ing to devel­op and weaponize nuclear devices, despite their pub­lic words to the con­trary. The Unit­ed States has been think­ing about mil­i­tary options against Iran­ian facil­i­ties for some time, but “I still think it is impor­tant to focus on the dia­logue, to focus on the engage­ment, but do it in a real­is­tic way,” he said.

The Unit­ed States needs to look at Iran and decide whether the nation is going to “tell the truth, actu­al­ly engage and actu­al­ly do any­thing,” he said. Iran has a his­to­ry of games­man­ship, and Amer­i­can lead­ers need to take this under con­sid­er­a­tion, he said.

Mullen also spoke of al-Qai­da in the Ara­bi­an Penin­su­la, say­ing that the Yemen-based ter­ror­ist group con­tin­ues to be a prob­lem. The recent bombs on car­go air­craft emanat­ed from Yemen and the group is active­ly recruit­ing mem­bers to attack the Unit­ed States, he said.

“This al-Qai­da group in Yemen is try­ing to kill Amer­i­cans,” Mullen said. “I think that will con­tin­ue and we are oblig­at­ed to address that threat.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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