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Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen Outlines Afghanistan Surge Strategy

Aired December 3, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, now that President Obama has made his decision on troops and a timeline for the war in Afghanistan, we'll ask America's top military commander: Will the new plan be enough to defeat the Taliban?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the program.

President Obama's long deliberations over how to address a long war have now ended. We know now that there will be 30,000 more U.S. troops and a timeline where U.S. forces will start withdrawing in July 2011. Now President Obama's top civilian and military officials are trying to persuade the U.S. Congress of this plan, trying to get it funded.

It's been a tough slog since the U.S. and its Afghan allies intervened to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaida after 9/11. But in his speech, President Obama has said Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years, it's moved backwards.

Southern Afghanistan, the Taliban's heartland, Kandahar and Helmand province, they will be key to success, and CNN's Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence has just returned from spending time with U.S. forces there.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Most of the new combat forces will be sent south to help shrink the huge battle spaces troops are trying to cover, places like Kandahar province.

CPL. JIMMY PARKER, U.S. ARMY, 11TH INFANTRY: We need the help down here. Even though we're handling it on our own, but we need more forces down here.

LAWRENCE: NATO has nearly 37,000 troops in southern Afghanistan, more than the rest of the country combined. But officials admit it hasn't been enough manpower to remove the Taliban from parts of Helmand province and other areas.

SPC. BRIAN SCHOENBECK, U.S. ARMY, 11TH INFANTRY: More infantry, get another battalion or brigade out here to help us out.

LAWRENCE: A defense official says the U.S. Marines will nearly double their numbers there, with 1,000 expected to deploy in late December and 8,000 more over the next few months. Troops say it will allow them to get to know Afghans in their area, which could encourage more of them to cooperate.

SCHOENBECK: To give us any information if they have anything about where the Taliban are and what they're doing.

LAWRENCE: Roadside bombs kill more troops in Afghanistan than any amount of enemy artillery. And a key mission for new troops would be putting more eyes on Highway One, a road known as IED alley.


LAWRENCE: The goal is to catch insurgents planting bombs and then replanting them after route clearance teams go through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just to make sure that the routes stay clear.

LAWRENCE: The Obama administration also emphasizes quickly increasing the size of Afghan forces, nearly 40,000 more soldiers and nearly 70,000 more Afghan police. That's why the U.S. troop increase will include thousands of additional trainers.



AMANPOUR: That was CNN's Chris Lawrence reporting from Afghanistan.

And now we're joined from Capitol Hill by America's top military commander, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Admiral Mullen, thank you so much. Welcome to our program.


AMANPOUR: So it's been a bit rough on Capitol Hill this morning?

MULLEN: Well, we just finished a hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee. And, you know, there were some very pointed questions, but generally I found the committee members broadly supportive of the president's decision. Clearly, they focused on some -- you know, some of the specifics. The July 11 timeframe would be one, the training and development of the Afghan security forces.

But overall, they were very supportive, I think, of the president's decision to -- to get the troops moving, to get them in as rapidly as we can, and to really -- to provide the forces to -- to turn this around, to really reverse the momentum.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe -- do you believe it can be turned around with the decision that was made by President Obama?

MULLEN: I firmly believe it can be turned around, absolutely.

AMANPOUR: Let me please play a portion of President Obama's speech.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must deny Al Qaida a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government so that they can take the lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future.


AMANPOUR: How are you going to do that specifically, all those things he laid out there?

MULLEN: Well, I think the -- the strategy is right. General McChrystal has presented the situation there as serious and deteriorating. We've got to reverse the momentum.


The way to do that is to provide security and train the Afghan security forces, both the army and the police, an(d clearly get the security level to a point where the Afghans can take control of their own destiny, not just on a security side, although that's a really critical piece, but also from the government's stand, and not just in Kabul, but in -- in districts and sub-districts throughout the country, as well.

So I think the president really had it right as far as focusing us on the objectives that we have to achieve.

AMANPOUR: OK, now let me play what he did say about the beginning of a withdrawal.



OBAMA: Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.

Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.


AMANPOUR: So, Admiral Mullen, are there going to be conditions? Is it a conditional promise to withdraw or bring home starting 2011? Are there conditions?

MULLEN: It's very clear the president has given us directions to start the transition in July of 2011. That said, he's also very clear that it would be responsible, as -- as well as based on conditions on the ground.

And in that regard, from my perspective, as I've gone through this process and engaged with Generals McChrystal, Petraeus, and others, summer 2011, we're going to know whether this strategy is working or not. So that's a -- that's a very good target to shoot for.

And I think, on the one hand, he has committed the troops, and we're going to get them rapidly there this year and -- I'm sorry, in -- in 2010 - - to really try to reverse this thing. And on the other hand, which -- which really shows resolve -- and on the other hand, I think he does signal a sense of urgency, that this isn't an open-ended commitment, it's not a -- it's not a long-term combat commitment, although I believe we have to have a long-term relationship with Afghanistan, and that we cannot abandon them as we have in the past.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you, because it doesn't sound long term when you talk about 18 months from now. General McChrystal himself has said that, in various interviews earlier, has said that it could take up to 2013, another four years, to get the Afghan forces up and standing, able to take over from American forces. President Karzai talked about a five-year period before you could hand over security to Afghan forces, which he would want to do. Is 18 months really enough?

MULLEN: I think it's important to -- to focus on that this is a time when we would start the transition, transferring security responsibility to the Afghan security forces.

It doesn't mean we would do it overnight. We -- we would certainly do it in areas where they were capable of leading, as we have in Iraq. And it doesn't -- that doesn't put any timeline on withdrawal or timeline on when we'll be leaving.

And I think it's really important to recognize that -- that our goal here is to have a long-term relationship, not based on combat forces, but have a long-term relationship with Afghanistan and Pakistan, because it's such a critical part of the world.

AMANPOUR: Well, and tell me about that long-term relationship. How do you mean after combat, as you say, is over?

MULLEN: Well, I think, like it is in other -- you know, with other countries in the world, obviously, right now, predominantly our forces, our -- our -- our -- the Americans who are there and coalition partners who are there are military.

But over time, I think the military levels go -- go way down to the kind of train and equip relationship that we have with many countries throughout the world and our development activities, our civilian activities, our diplomatic activities, our economic activities, all those increase so that it's a normal relationship with a country that we really want to be partners with.

AMANPOUR: All of those things you've mentioned -- security, civilian surge, et cetera, development -- is going to take security. Many counterinsurgents are telling us that it'll take at least two years to beat back the Taliban enough to be able to provide proper development and the other such things that you've been mentioning. Again, is 18 months too ambitious?

MULLEN: We think -- we think we will know very well come the summer of 2011 where we stand with this plan and with this strategy. And we'll be able to make decisions in that timeframe about how to proceed forward.

I believe it's a plan -- I actually believe strongly it's a plan that will allow us to succeed, to turn the security conditions around, to be able to reverse the momentum and start to create the conditions where the - - where the Afghan security forces can take over.

And that's the -- that's the target right now. And, clearly, it's one that we have a sense of urgency around, as well as it's important that the Afghans have a sense -- sense of urgency.


AMANPOUR: As you know, both Pakistan and to an extent Afghanistan is concerned about being abandoned again by the United States. You've just mentioned what happened after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, when America basically left there. Do you think the message of a timeline is going to calm fears in Pakistan and Afghanistan or -- or create fears?

MULLEN: Well, I think we have to reassure them that there is not going to be an abandonment. And it's a question that I've gotten over the last couple of years in both Pakistan and Afghanistan because of our history.

And you know I've spent an awful lot of time in Pakistan, and there's a trust deficit that's been developed because we've abandoned them before. And it's -- it's very clear that I think we have -- we need to have a long- term relationship where that is not the case. And that's the commitment.

And -- and certainly it's a -- right now, it's -- it's said in words, Christiane. But in the long term, it's going to be our actions that make a difference and that we do, in fact, stay and become great partners with those two countries.


AMANPOUR: How much time, how many troops will it take to win? We'll have more of my interview with Admiral Mullen after a break.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back. We've been speaking with Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who's been testifying before Congress about the president's plan for Afghanistan. I played back to him some of his opening statement.



MULLEN: No amount of troops in no amount of time will ever be enough to completely achieve success in such a fight. They simply must be accompanied by good governance and healthy public administration. This, not troop numbers, is the area of my greatest concern.


AMANPOUR: When you say concern, what do you mean?

MULLEN: What I mean -- and I've said this over a long time -- that if we don't get a government that starts to provide for its own people, if we don't achieve a level of partnership with the leaders in Afghanistan right down through the -- from Kabul right on through the -- the tribal leaders locally throughout the country, that it isn't going to make any difference how many troops that we send.

We've got to have them -- they have to take responsibility. They've got to take steps with -- with respect to delivering goods and services to their people. They've got to take steps with respect to eliminating the corruption that is in their government.

President Karzai needs to appoint good ministers, good governors, governors and ministers that we can work with and that can really deliver for their people. And if that doesn't happen, then the number of combat troops isn't going to make any difference.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe that President Karzai will do that? And how do you think the systematic undermining of President Karzai before he was declared the eventual winner is going to affect his cooperation with the United States and the allies?

MULLEN: Well, I think we're at a really unique time in this relationship, as -- with Afghanistan in that -- over the last year, Pakistan has taken some significant steps to address the extreme -- extremist challenges that they have in their own country.


We've got a newly elected President Karzai who actually has some terrific ministers who are already appointed that we work with regularly. We've got good military -- terrific military leadership on the ground. We've got an increasing support from our NATO and international allies. We also have, I think, the right strategy, and we've got a president who's made the right decision.

So in that regard, I really do think we can succeed. I don't want to underestimate the significance of the challenges. But I look forward to working with President Karzai and his government, freshly elected. He's been very clear in his inauguration speech about what he wants to do, and I'm hopeful that we can move ahead with him in that regard.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Rasmussen, the NATO secretary general, has told me that they are confident of being able to raise 5,000 more troops and perhaps significantly more come the new year. Is that enough?

MULLEN: I think it's -- it's -- there's been an awful lot of work go on engaging our NATO allies and -- and actually some of our non-NATO- contributing nations, as well.

And I'm encouraged by what I hear from my peers, what I see at the -- at the ministers' level, Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton have also engaged. We'll wait to see what they actually do, but I'm very encouraged by the enthusiasm and support that NATO is showing for this mission.

AMANPOUR: And one last question. General McChrystal has been telling his people and Afghan people today that the first priority will be the south, southern Afghanistan, the Kandahar, Helmand area. What is the strategy there? Is it to ring Kandahar with forces, to pour in economic and political aid, as one of your own military officials have said, down there?

MULLEN: I think it's -- I think it's to -- in -- in terms of supporting his overall strategy, it's to provide security for that area so that the economic aid, the development, the local governance, the development of the security forces can all take place.

I mean, without -- can all follow -- without doing that, we really can't succeed, and that's why these troops are so important, and that really is where General McChrystal will focus first.

AMANPOUR: Any chance of reconciliation with the Taliban, those $10 a day Taliban types?

MULLEN: There's an -- there's an ongoing effort as a part of this strategy -- strategy with respect to reconciliation and -- and we -- we look to that -- we've actually started to see some indications of that in some parts of Afghanistan, but that's a principal part of our approach here, as well.

AMANPOUR: Admiral Mullen, thank you so much for joining us. I know you have a very busy few days, and we really appreciate you being here.

MULLEN: It's good to -- good to be with you.


AMANPOUR: Admiral Mullen wasn't the only one testifying before Congress. So, too, was the U.S. defense secretary, Robert Gates, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Here are some of the key points as they make their case for President Obama's plan.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think it's fair to say that, if the president could have concluded that this was an old war, that could be wound down and walked away from, that would certainly have been an easier choice.

He is, as we all are, well aware of the political and economic and the loss of young men and women that this decision presages, but the dynamite factory is there, and unfortunately, it's been stocked with even more dynamite in last couple of years, and therefore we think we have to address it.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Failure in Afghanistan would mean a Taliban takeover of much, if not most of the country, and likely a renewed civil war. Taliban-ruled areas could in short order become once again sanctuary for Al Qaida, as well as a staging area for resurgent military -- militant groups on the offensive in Pakistan.

CLINTON: I think it is unfair to paint with such a broad brush the president and government of Afghanistan and to basically declare that they are incapable and unwilling to defend and protect their own country and that they are fatally flawed. I do not believe that.

I believe it is a much more complex picture, as most human situations are. And I believe that the way that our government interacted with President Karzai and his government over the last several years bred a lot of the confusion and the inadequacy that we are now having to contend with.


I am not making the case that this is a perfect partnership, but I think it has the elements of real progress if we are smart enough as to how to put them together into a winning strategy.

GATES: It is true that Al Qaida and its followers can plot and execute attacks from a variety of locations, from Munich to London to Denver. But what makes the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan uniquely different from any other location, including Somalia, Yemen, and other possible redoubts, is that this part of the world represents the epicenter of extremist jihadism, the historic place where native and foreign Muslims defeated one superpower and, in their view, caused its collapse at home.


AMANPOUR: Coming up, our "Post-Script." A sign of hope from another war zone. How some of humanity's greatest treasures have survived to be shared with a wider world.



AMANPOUR: And now our "Post-Script," a reminder of the toll war takes on the cultural legacy of a nation. In both America's war zones, Afghanistan and Iraq, they have long cultural civilians and histories. And in both, there have been whole-scale lootings of their cultural artifacts.

In Iraq, which is part of the cradle of civilization, the national museum was looted after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Now, CNN's Muhammad Jamjoom reports on plans to restore life to the glories of ancient Mesopotamia with the modern of technologies.


MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Iraq's national museum houses some of the world's oldest treasures, fitting for a country known throughout history as the cradle of civilization.

These antiquities are both a stunning showcase for Iraq's rich cultural heritage and a sad reminder of just how much that heritage has been plundered.

Over 15,000 artifacts vanished when the museum was looted in 2003. Shut down for nearly six years, it only reopened its doors to the public in April. Since then, visitors have been scarce.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill and Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, were recently shown around. They weren't just here to see the relics; they also had an announcement to make.

Google has partnered with Iraq's national museum to further digitize and catalogue the museum's collection. The museum already has a Web presence. Those involved in this collaboration say the project will offer patrons a comprehensive virtual tour.

JARED COHEN, STATE DEPARTMENT: Most people, either because of time, money, visa, concerns about coming here, you know, won't have the chance to physically walk through the museum as we are now. And one of the things we want to do is remove those barriers that are preventing individuals from coming to the museum by making it available through virtual means.


JAMJOOM: Recovering stolen pieces is still a priority. Less than 6,000 have been returned so far. The hope is that this new online presence will aid in that effort.

ERIC SCHMIDT, CEO, GOOGLE: Everything that is lost should be returned so we can make it available to everyone. It's trapped somewhere. Bring it here. And I hope that that will help in a small way to recover some of the great treasures of Iraq.

JAMJOOM: The cost of this endeavor is being shared by Google and the U.S. State Department. It's seen as a kind of digital diplomacy, though neither Google nor the State Department would say just how much the project will cost.

(on-screen): Google has taken over 14,000 pictures of the antiquities here. The first phase of the project is expected to go online in early 2010.

(voice-over): All involved maintain that, in the end, this won't just benefit Iraq.

COHEN: It's not just that this is about Iraq's cultural heritage. This is about the world's cultural heritage. Mesopotamia is the world's oldest civilization, and there's no shortage of archeological institutions in the United States and around the world, as well as curious individuals, as well as museum curators around the world who would be interested in getting a chance to visit the museum.

JAMJOOM: Even if they can't do it in person.

Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN, Baghdad.


AMANPOUR: A reminder of those ancient civilizations and of how important they are for stability today. And that's our program for tonight. This conversation will continue online on, where we'll have viewers from all over the world discussing President Obama's decision on Afghanistan. Join the discussion and tell us what you think.

That's it for now. Thank you for watching. And we will be back tomorrow with the next big story. For all of us here, goodbye from New York.