Mullen: More forces needed in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — More American troops are likely to be needed to win the war in Afghanistan, the top U.S. military officer told skeptical Democrats on Tuesday, citing a need to demonstrate U.S. resolve in an increasingly unpopular war.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that a proper effort to counter the Taliban insurgency "probably means more forces."

Mullen spoke during a hearing on his nomination for a second term as the president's senior military adviser. The chairman of the Senate panel, Carl Levin, D-Mich., used the session to underscore his opposition to additional forces, at least until the United States takes bolder action to expand Afghanistan's own military.

"Providing the resources needed for the Afghan Army and Afghan police to become self-sufficient would demonstrate our commitment to the success of a mission that is in our national security interest, while avoiding the risks associated with a further increase in U.S. ground combat troops," Levin said.

Levin is one of several leading Democrats who have expressed skepticism in recent days about adding more American troops. Levin first wants to make sure larger numbers of Afghan security forces are trained and deployed on the battlefield and in Afghan communities.

Mullen told the senators that "it's very clear to me that we will need more resources," to carry out the revamped counterinsurgency strategy that President Barack Obama laid out earlier this year.

Mullen said he did not know how many more troops would be requested by the commanding general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal. A debate over the right mix of forces and other resources will be held in the coming weeks, Mullen told the panel.

At the State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters that the administration would be deliberating on next steps in Afghanistan "for some time," suggesting no decision was imminent.

"Everyone is providing their best ideas and making their contributions about the way forward in Afghanistan," Clinton said.

Levin's Republican counterpart, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said committing too few forces to the war would invite a rerun of mistakes the U.S. made in Iraq. "I've seen that movie before," said McCain, the committee's ranking Republican.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said Afghans will get the wrong message if the U.S. is willing to commit only additional training specialists instead of combat troops.

"They're essentially going to decide we're on our way out," Lieberman said.

Mullen agreed that Afghans and Pakistanis are "waiting on the sidelines to see how committed we are."

However, "it's not as simple as trainers. It's not as simple as combat troops," Mullen said.

Mullen said he has made no recommendations to the White House about how many more forces might be needed. He said McChrystal will submit his request very soon.

"But I do believe that having heard his views and having great confidence in his leadership, a properly resourced counterinsurgency probably means more forces, and without question, more time and more commitment to the protection of the Afghanistan people and to the development of good governance."

Mullen has been sounding increasingly glum about the prospects for the war, which will enter its ninth year this fall. On Tuesday he said the war would continue to deteriorate without a renewed U.S. commitment, and he said McChrystal found conditions worse than he had expected when he took the job this summer.

The United States has about 65,000 troops in Afghanistan now, with a few thousand additional trainers due by the end of this year.

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