By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
March 1, 2009 - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the president's decision to redeploy American troops from Iraq is the responsible one. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told CNN this morning that Obama's decision allows combat troops to remain in place through the national elections at the end of the year. "This will allow us to conserve the gains that we have made in the past few years," the chairman said.
The plan calls for all American combat units to be out of Iraq by the end of August 2010, with a residual force of between 30,000 and 55,000 still in the country. Under the current status of forces agreement signed last year, all American forces must be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.
"I'm very comfortable with the decision and strongly support the decision," Mullen said. "The president listened to all of us who were involved with this ... and in that listening we had a very thorough review, discussion, debate and it was the cumulative discussion that got us to the point where we made a recommendation for a 19-month withdrawal plan, and the president accepted that."
Mullen said he has been impressed with the president's willingness to listen to defense and military leaders. He stressed that after Aug. 31, 2010, the U.S. mission in Iraq changes and becomes one of advising, supporting and training Iraqi security forces. There will still be a residual anti-terrorism mission, but even that will be done in conjunction with Iraqi security forces.
There will be a force protection mission for U.S. forces in the country, and Mullen did not minimize the danger that American forces in Iraq will face after the Aug. 31 deadline. "Some kind of combat action is possible there," Mullen said.
The commander on the ground in Afghanistan has growing security concerns and leaders need to address that as quickly as possible, Mullen said. The United States is sending 17,000 troops into the country soon. The president directed a strategic review for Afghanistan and any decision for more troops will depend on the outcome of that review, Mullen said.
"I'm on a pretty tight timeline right now to get security forces there in order to provide protection for the (Afghan) elections," Mullen said. Moving the elections from August to May presents some challenges for security forces. Mullen said the need in Afghanistan is for better governance at the national, provincial and district levels.