By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 25, 2010 - Extremists in Afghanistan are more concerned with continuing their fight than they are with the timeline that calls for a U.S. drawdown to begin next summer, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.
"I assure you from what I see that the enemy isn't focused on July 2011 for whether it makes a difference in their lives," Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told reporters here. "They're in a pretty tough fight, and they've sustained some pretty significant losses. There's a lot of the enemy who've been hammered very hard this year, and there's a lot of the enemy that's struggling."
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway said yesterday that the timeline gives the insurgents "sustenance," and that many Taliban and al-Qaida fighters simply are waiting for U.S. forces to begin their exit.
"I haven't seen a lot of that as any kind of a dominant theme," Mullen said today. "It would surprise me if the enemy looked at the date from that perspective."
Conway also said Marines will be fighting in Afghanistan for years beyond President Barack Obama's target date to begin the transition of security responsibility to the Afghans, adding that the president ultimately will have to make such a decision.
Predicting how much and how quickly the U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan will decrease after July 2011 is difficult, Mullen said, as any drawdown will be based on conditions.
"There's a long time between now and next July," the chairman said. "The decisions associated with that will be based on conditions on the ground, and it's too early to say what those conditions will be."
Mullen said he supports Obama's Afghanistan strategy to begin a "responsible" drawdown of forces in Afghanistan beginning in July 2011. Though much uncertainty exists about when and where such a transition would begin, the timeline gives U.S. forces a goal to work with, he added.
"We understand very clearly what is going to happen in July 2011," the admiral said. "We will start to thin our forces, [but] that doesn't mean we're leaving in any kind of significant numbers."
Mullen is here as part of a three-day "Conversation with the Nation" tour across the Midwest. The trip is geared toward helping local community leaders, business leaders and academics hone military veterans' skills and life experience.