By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 23, 2011 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress today he endorses the president’s plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen testified before the House Armed Services Committee following President Barack Obama’s announcement yesterday that 33,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan will return home by September 2012.
Mullen said he and the Pentagon’s top generals had been part of the decision process in planning the troop withdrawal.
“As has been the case throughout the development and execution of the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, the commander in chief presided over an inclusive and comprehensive discussion about what to do next,” the chairman said.
Mullen said the foremost concern in discussing the troop drawdown was preserving the success gained thus far in Afghanistan.
“We believed back when the strategy was established in December of 2009 that it would be about now, this summer, before we could determine whether or not … the resources were enough and the counterinsurgency focus was appropriate,” he said.
“Now we know. We did have it right,” the admiral added. “The strategy is working. Al-Qaida is on their heels, and the Taliban’s momentum in the south has been checked. We have made extraordinary progress against the mission we have been assigned and are, therefore, now in a position to begin a responsible transition out of Afghanistan.”
Mullen said in line with the president’s orders, 10,000 American troops will withdraw by the end of this year and the remaining 23,000 surge troops by the end of next summer.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and his successor as U.S. commander in Afghanistan will have flexibility in setting the pace for withdrawal and positioning remaining forces inside the country, the chairman said.
“There’s no ‘jumping ship’ here -- quite the contrary,” Mullen said. “We will have at our disposal the great bulk of the surge forces throughout this, and most of the next, fighting season.”
Mullen said he originally thought the president’s plan was more aggressive and with more risk than he was prepared to accept, adding that more force for more time is the safer course.
“But that does not necessarily make it the best course,” he said. ”Only the president, in the end, can really determine the acceptable level of risk we must take. I believe he has done so.”
Maintaining a large U.S. troop contingent in Afghanistan would have caused a negative impact on the development of Afghan security forces, the chairman said.
“We would have denied the Afghan security forces, who’ve grown in capability, opportunities to further exercise that capability and to lead,” Mullen said. “We would have signaled to the enemy and to our regional partners that the Taliban still possess strength enough to warrant the full measure of our presence. They do not.”
The president’s plan also will allow the United States to reset its forces more quickly and reduce the “not inconsiderable” cost of deploying them, the chairman noted.
“We have earned this opportunity,” he said. “Though not without risk, it is also not without its rewards.”
As the war in Afghanistan enters a new phase, huge challenges remain, Mullen said.
“This is the beginning -- not the end -- of our effort to wind down this war,” he said. “No one in uniform is under any illusion that there will not be more violence, more casualties, more struggles or more challenges as we continue to accomplish the mission there.”
While progress in Afghanistan has been considerable, Mullen noted, it can be reversed without constant leadership, the contributions of partner and regional nations, and a more concerted effort by the Afghan government to address corruption in its ranks and deliver basic goods and services to the people.
Future progress in Afghanistan, he said, will require U.S. support for an Afghan political process of reconciliation with Taliban members who break with al-Qaida, renounce violence and accept the Afghan constitution.
“And we know we need to continue building a strategic partnership with Afghanistan,” the admiral added. “One based not on military footprint but on mutual friendship. Our troop presence will diminish, as it should, but the partnership between our two nations will and must endure.”
Afghanistan’s future will be decided “not by how much our respective soldiers fight, but by how much our statesmen lead,” Mullen concluded.