The Pentagon's top military officer said Thursday he's concerned that the U.S. troop buildup to roust insurgents from Afghanistan could further destabilize neighboring Pakistan.
However, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the military planning is under way to try to avoid that.
Mullen said he believes the upcoming increase of 21,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan "is about right" for the new strategy of trying to quell the insurgency and speed up training of Afghan security forces.
He was responding to Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who said he's concerned the buildup may push militants into already troubled Pakistani regions and "end up further destabilizing Pakistan without providing substantial lasting" improvement in Afghanistan.
"I share your concern," Mullen said. "Your point about insurgents going particularly into Baluchistan, but particularly across that border ... we all share the concern for that," Mullen said.
"Where I'm comfortable is at least planning for it and having some expectation will allow us to address that," Mullen said.
Working to avoid border crossings
Officials are working to avoid it, and he thinks they can, Mullen said, adding, "Pakistan is further away from being totally destabilized than a lot of people realize."
Besides that, Mullen said he didn't know of "any other way to provide for the security" needed in Afghanistan outside of sending more troops.
Pakistani military chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani has told U.S. officials he's worried not only about Taliban moving across the border, but also the possibility that U.S. forces could prompt an exodus of refugees from southern Afghanistan.
Marine Commandant Gen. James T. Conway, whose troops are going into the south of Afghanistan, told a Pentagon press conference last month of Kayani's concern but said no one knows for sure where insurgents will move as U.S. operations ramp up.
"There are others that think they may go in different directions," Conway said. "But in any event, we've got to do what we've got to do in the south. And there will be pond rings coming off of that that I think we're going to have to adjust to."