More American troops likely will be needed to win the war in Afghanistan, the top U.S. military officer told skeptical Democrats on Tuesday as he cited a need to prove U.S. commitment in the battle-ravaged region.
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 correctly would "probably means more forces."
Mullen spoke during a hearing on his nomination for a second term as the president's senior military adviser.
The influential chairman of the panel, Sen. 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 armed forces.
"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 Obama laid out earlier this year.
Mullen said he did not know how many more troops would likely be requested by the commanding general in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. A debate over the right mix of forces and other resources will be held in the coming weeks, Mullen told the panel.
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," McCain said.
Wrong message feared
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said Afghans will get the wrong message if the U.S. is only willing to commit 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.
War enters ninth year
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.
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 Gen. 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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