By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
April 15, 2008 - To keep U.S. forces well resourced, trained and poised for unknown future threats, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff strives for balance, he said today. Whether weighing regional versus global threats, military resources against mission needs, or adjusting the amount of deployment time and time at home, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen tries to achieve an even approach.
"How I approach this job is I really try to keep my focus on balance, given that uncertainty and that unpredictability," Mullen told an audience at the Heritage Foundation here.
Mullen said one of his primary duties is to keep his "head up above" current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even above the Middle East, in order to distribute his focus equally across the global security landscape.
This broad view informs the chairman on how the military assesses world-wide security threats and the manner in which it recruits and retains forces for current and future conflicts, he said.
"So how do we balance all that?" he said. "That really is ... pretty close to my full-time job as chairman."
Mullen said the current focus is correctly placed on Iraq. He added that he and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates support recommendations made last week by Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, respectively the top U.S. commander and diplomat in Iraq, during two days of testimony on Capitol Hill.
"We both were asked what are recommendations were, and we both testified that our recommendations were very consistent with what General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have brought forward," Mullen said, referring to a House Armed Services Committee hearing he and Gates attended this morning.
"From the military standpoint, certainly, I was very comfortable with (Petraeus') assessment and spent a fair amount of time reviewing that with the Joint Chiefs," Mullen added.
But the chairman expressed concern that the U.S. military's focus is not as equally proportioned as it has been in the past. He said the conflict in Iraq is preventing forces from operating elsewhere.
"I think we need to be very clear about acknowledging that focus (on Iraq), and acknowledging what we can do, what we've done and also what we haven't been able to do," he said. "It is clearly having an affect on our ability to do other things."
The most obvious results of Iraq's hold on the U.S. military's attention can be seen in Afghanistan, Mullen said. He added that, while Bush earlier this month pledged to send more troops to Afghanistan, their availability depends on the situation in Iraq.
"So until we come down in numbers of brigades in Iraq, the brigade-size requirements in Afghanistan just aren't going to be met," he said. "That link is very direct."
Mullen also said that operations shouldn't cloud military planners' vision of threats emanating from Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
"Clearly, (it's where I would pick) if I were going to pick a place where the next attack is going to come from," he said. "That's where al-Qaida is, that's where their leadership is, and we're going to have to figure out a way to resolve that challenge."
Echoing comments he has made previously regarding lengthy deployments, Mullen stressed the need to reduce 15-month tours and to further balance servicemembers' time deployed to time at home, also known as "dwell time."
Underscoring how he defines his role as the military's top officer, Mullen said his principle responsibility is to "build the military for the future in a very uncertain time and very dangerous time and very unpredictable time."
"It's this balance between what we're doing today," he added, "and what we're doing tomorrow."