Image: U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen
Musadeq Sadeq  /  AP
U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen at a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan on Monday. He said the vast majority of troops in the surge ordered by President Obama should be in Afghanistan by August.
updated 12/15/2009 4:58:17 PM ET 2009-12-15T21:58:17

The top U.S. military officer said Tuesday that he's confident that most of the 30,000 additional troops that are being sent to Afghanistan will be there by August.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters traveling with him in Afghanistan that the first 16,000 troops who already have orders will be in on schedule.

On Monday, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, the second-highest ranking U.S. general in Afghanistan, said the rapid escalation of American troops would take longer than expected, possibly as long as 11 months. Rodriguez blamed the delay on the logistical challenges the military faces in bringing in so many forces so quickly.

But Mullen said that he's "reasonably confident" the logistics can be made to work, although "I want a plan B because life doesn't always work out."

He said the vast majority of troops in the surge ordered by President Barack Obama should be in Afghanistan by August.

In Washington, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway said all his troops will be in place by spring for their mission in the South of Afghanistan with the exception of one headquarters unit.

Combat units in early
"The combat units will be in early, and we'll start expanding those zones of influence where we already were, primarily up and down the Helmand River Valley and the Helmand province," he told a Pentagon press conference Tuesday. The force of 5,000 Marines in Afghanistan will grow to some 20,000 as part of Obama's buildup.

Mullen on Tuesday toured U.S. bases in eastern Afghanistan, as well as a small village, where he met an Afghan village elder and the local governor. He said such visits "make me continue to be aware of the gap" between strategic plans and ground-level reality.

Later, Mullen flew to Islamabad for meetings with Pakistan's military leaders, including military chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. He was also scheduled to speak to students at Pakistan's National Defense University.

Sen. John McCain said that while he objects to Obama's decision to set a July 2011 date for beginning a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, he supports the overall war strategy and believes it will succeed.

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, a conservative-leaning think tank, the Arizona Republican also urged Obama to take the lead in building support for the war, both in the Congress and among the public.

McCain vows support
"I will be an ally in this effort," McCain said. "I will work to get this policy the votes, the resources and the time it needs to work."

Earlier, Mullen said the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan is harder to defeat now than it was a year ago, and said he will take up concerns about strengthening ties to al-Qaida with government leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He said he was headed to Islamabad and will have another meeting, his 14th, with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as well as other top Pakistani officials.

Mullen's reference to militants based in Pakistan appeared aimed at U.S. efforts to press the Pakistani government to step up its crackdown on extremists who have long used their country as a refuge. The U.S. believes most of al-Qaida's top leadership has moved from Afghanistan to the lawless border area just inside Pakistan.

Mullen said he believed, however, that Pakistan was addressing the threat.

"I have seen Pakistan increase its commitment fairly dramatically over the past 12 to 18 months," he said, adding: "I am completely convinced that the government of Pakistan and the Pakistani military are very focused on this. They are going after this threat, as they have very clearly over the last year."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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