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Joint Chiefs chairman offers Congress sober assessment on Afghanistan

ARLINGTON, Va. — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Wednesday gave lawmakers a less than enthusiastic assessment of the war in Afghanistan.

“I’m not convinced we’re winning it in Afghanistan; I am convinced we can,” Adm. Mike Mullen told Congress.

Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates testified Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee on the situation in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, President Bush announced that 8,000 troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by early next year, while an Army brigade combat team and a Marine battalion will be diverted from Iraq to Afghanistan.

While noting the progress in Iraq, Gates said significant challenges still remain, such as the Iraqi government’s opposition to folding the “Sons of Iraq” into Iraqi security forces.

“I worry that the great progress our troops and the Iraqis have made has the potential to override a measure of caution borne of uncertainty,” he said.

Gates called for a “cautious and flexible” strategy of steadily reducing U.S. forces in Iraq.

“I would also urge our leaders to keep in mind that we should expect to be involved in Iraq for years to come, although in changing and in increasingly limited ways,” he said.

As the U.S. military decreasing its commitment to Iraq, it is sending more forces to Afghanistan, Gates said.

But U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., said the extra troops being sent to Afghanistan still does provide enough forces for the U.S. commander, who has asked for three additional brigade combat teams.

“How can it be when those most likely to attack us are in Afghanistan; how is it that the commander in Iraq was given every resource needed to achieve his goals and we’re not doing the same for the Afghan commander,” said U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo.

Mullen acknowledged that the additional forces being sent to Afghanistan will fall short of the forces requested, but he called the move “a good and important start.”

“Frankly, I judge the risk of not sending them too great a risk to ignore,” Mullen said.

He said he expects the forces being sent to Afghanistan will train Afghan security forces as well as carry out combat and combat support missions until more troops arrive.

“I cannot say at this point when that might be,” Mullen said.

Ultimately, success in Afghanistan depends on more than the military, he said.

“Afghanistan doesn’t just need more boots on the ground; it needs more trucks on the roads, teachers in schools, trained judges and lawyers in those courts, foreign investment, alternative crops, sound governance, the rule of law — these are the keys to success in Afghanistan,” he said.

These needs are urgent, Mullen said. “Frankly, we’re running out of time.”

Recently, the commander of U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan told reporters, “We’re not losing this war by any means.”

Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser said U.S. forces are making steady progress in Afghanistan, but he planned to ask for more troops.

“It’s a slow win,” he said.” I want to make it into a solid, strong win. It’s going to take time, no matter what, but I’d like to do it in a more robust way.”


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