By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
July 20, 2008 - Setting a timeline for U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq would be "dangerous," and troop reductions there should continue to be made based on security conditions on the ground, the nation's top military officer said today. President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki this week agreed to set a general "time horizon" for bringing more U.S. troops home from the war, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday," but he added that to his knowledge, the agreement does not include specific dates. "I think the consequences could be very dangerous in that regard," he said.
The admiral stressed his view that troop-strength decisions must be conditions-based, but said he wants to see more U.S. forces come home. "I think the strategic goals of having timed horizons are ones that we all seek," he said, "because eventually we would like to see U.S. forces draw down and eventually all come home," he said.
Though he said he worries that a "rapid" movement of U.S. forces out of Iraq could create instability, Mullen said he found during a trip there two weeks ago that security conditions were better than he expected they would be, and that could mean more troops can come home if the trend continues.
"If conditions continue to improve, I would look to be able to make recommendations to President Bush in the fall to continue those reductions," Mullen said.
With the return home this month of the last "surge" brigade, commanders will spend the next several weeks assessing post-surge conditions in Iraq, including political and economic progress, before making their recommendations concerning future troop levels.
"We're engaged very much right now with the Iraqi people," Mullen said. "The Iraqi leadership is starting to generate the kind of political progress that we need to make, [and] the economy is starting to move in the right direction."
The admiral said he doesn't know if that means more troops could be home by the end of this administration in January. Logistics and other security details would factor into that, he explained.
"There is a physical challenge with respect to moving troops around," he said. "You just can't do it overnight."
Asked about recent struggles in Afghanistan, Mullen said safe havens across the border in Pakistan are allowing extremist groups free movement into the region.
"[It] is big challenge for all of us, and it's having an impact on our ability to move forward in Afghanistan," he said.
A "syndication" of various extremist and terrorist groups in the region is creating a more intense internal threat, the chairman said, and recent attacks have become more serious and sophisticated, such as the attack last week on an outpost in which nine U.S. soldiers were killed. However, he said, commanders on the ground say that forces are making progress and moving into villages and territories previously out of reach.
Mullen acknowledged that progress has been mixed, but he said he is "not concerned at all that we are losing at all in Afghanistan."
Concerning Iran, Mullen said he is "encouraged" by talks between Iran and the European Union yesterday in Geneva, Switzerland, and that the international community needs to continue its pressure on Iran's nuclear weapons development program.
"I fundamentally believe that they are on a path to achieve nuclear weapons in the future," he said. "I think that's a very destabilizing possibility in that part of the world. We don't need any more instability in that part of the world."