By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 20, 2007 - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff gave reporters a whirlwind tour of the world during a news conference at the Foreign Press Center here today. Journalists from around the world quizzed Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen on topics relevant to their regions. Europe, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Asia figured in his answers.
Iraq and Afghanistan were the main concentrations. Mullen credited the reduction in violence in Iraq to the troop surge and the changes in Iraqis' perception of al Qaeda and other extremist groups.
"Clearly, security is much better, but it isn't just having the extra troops," he said. "It's how they're being employed. And that strategy has worked up to this point in time, very effectively. And it has a lot to do with being out in the villages and towns, and out and about, where the Iraqi citizens live."
Baghdad still is a very violent city, he said, but the violence has been reduced in most parts of the country, with the Iraqi people themselves playing a key role. "One of the unexpected outcomes that's had a big impact on security has been this group of some 70,000 concerned local citizens, who have taken back ... their towns and their villages and their areas," he said.
The trends in Afghanistan are mixed, Mullen said. He visited Afghanistan in October and said he was taken aback "that it was in better shape than I had anticipated personally."
"There are opportunities (in Afghanistan) for additional forces," he said. Both Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and the chairman pressed NATO allies for more troops and capabilities at recent NATO meetings.
"The commitment and the need to continue to engage in Afghanistan is going to be there for a long time," Mullen said.
Turning to India and Pakistan, the chairman said military-to-military contacts with India are good and growing. "We are in a position where we've had in recent years an increased number of military-to-military contacts, and I think that's positive," he said. "I'm actually very positive about the continuing and emerging relationship between the United States and India."
The state of emergency in Pakistan, Mullen said, has not affected military-to-military contacts. He told reporters that the security of Pakistani nuclear weapons does not appear to be a problem, and logistics support to U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan continues with no interruptions.
Mullen discussed the U.S. relationship with Kuwait as an opportunity to engage with other nations of the Persian Gulf region and reassure them of American commitment. "Kuwait has been an enormously important ally in our efforts in that part of the world and will continue to be in the future," he said.
Mullen used questions about reduction of U.S. forces in Europe to address the global footprint of American forces.
"I think, in places like Europe, places like Korea, that continuous engagement and the relationship-building that goes on when you have American soldiers, sailors, airmen (and) Marines living in countries as we do is a great strength of relationships and understanding each other, and also a significant commitment on the part of the host country, as well as the United States of America," he said.
Mullen said he worries about Iran because of the rhetoric coming out of Tehran, because of the country's push to develop nuclear weapons and because of its help to insurgents in Iraq. "From that standpoint, I think the diplomatic engagement is really important," he said. "I am hopeful that talks will resume with them. At the same time, I'd never take the military operation off the table."
"Having the military option on the table doesn't mean it's going to get used," he explained, "but it certainly is intended to ensure that there's no miscommunication or miscalculation -- that the potential is there and the resolve is there, though it is restrained at this point."