WASHINGTON, May 31, 2010 — The military will continue to support the effort to cap and mitigate the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but it does not have the technical expertise to take over the operation, the nation’s top military officer said on the morning news shows today.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also used the opportunity to ask Americans to remember the sacrifices of servicemembers throughout history and today in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to note the progress made in the two wars.
Mullen spoke the day after BP announced the latest effort to stop the leak – “Top Kill” – had failed. The Pentagon has looked at the capabilities the military can provide to the oil companies as they battle the spill, he said.
“There are some limits to the skills that we have to do this,” Mullen said on CNN. “We’ve looked at the technical side of this enormously difficult challenge. The oil industry really has the technical expertise to go after this.”
More than 1,000 National Guardsmen already have been called up to help with the spill. The military has provided booms to contain the oil, as well as some aircraft to spray dispersants and some communications capabilities. The Defense Department is clearly in support of the lead agency, the chairman said.
“This is a very difficult problem, and from all I’ve been able to discern having industry be the technical lead is important,” he said on “Good Morning America.” “The military doesn’t have the capability that could immediately get to eliminating or stopping this leak.”
The oil companies have the kind of technology that potentially could get at this leak. The failures speak to the difficulties of the process, Mullen noted.
The Defense Department may provide more personnel for the effort, if called upon, the chairman said. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has authorized several thousand more National Guard troops who would be called up by state governors.
“From my understanding there is a great deal of civilian manpower available,” Mullen said. “If we are called on we will continue to contribute [personnel].”
Turning to Iraq and Afghanistan, Mullen said American servicemembers have made significant progress in the two wars.
In Iraq, the number of troops is due to fall to about 50,000 by the end of August.
“There are certainly challenges politically in Iraq to stand up this new government, but from all I can see we’re on track to do that,” he said. Even with the spikes in violence in the country the political process continues to move forward, he added.
Mullen said the last of the 30,000 more U.S. troops President Barack Obama authorized in December will be in Afghanistan this fall. The operations there are centering in Regional Command South with actions in and around Marja in Helmand province and Kandahar.
“The operation started in February and it will take a few more months before the progress in Marja is irreversible,” he said. “We are now focused on Kandahar.”
Those servicemembers are always on his mind, he said.
“This is a day of remembrance. We’ve lost in these two wars over 5,400,” Mullen said on NBC’s “Today Show.” “We’ve had tens of thousands visibly wounded and hundreds of thousands invisibly wounded in these wars. This is the best military I’ve been associated in more than 40 years. They continue to make the sacrifices.
“I’d like the American people to reach out to them, to remember them on this special day of remembrance,” he continued. “But also they need to reach out to them every day of the year.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)