CROWLEY: As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen is the highest ranking military officer in the armed forces.
Before we get to our conversation, a look at others who serve under him. Of the 1.6 million active members of the U.S. military, about 30 percent serve overseas in more than 150 countries. After Iraq and Afghanistan, the greatest number serve in Germany, Japan, and South Korea. A quarter of all troops overseas are in those three countries.
The Department of Defense lists eight countries where just one active U.S. military member is stationed. The most significant recent change in troop deployment is the drawdown in Iraq and the buildup in Afghanistan. A year ago, four people were serving in Iraq for every one in Afghanistan but this week, the Pentagon reported that for the first time since the beginning of the Iraq war, there are now more troops serving in Afghanistan than in Iraq. My conversation with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in just a moment.
CROWLEY: President Obama plans to remove all combat troops from Iraq in August, leaving behind about 50,000 support troops. CNN polling provides a snapshot of this country's apprehension on Memorial Day, 2010
-- 64 percent of those polled say they favor the plan, 35 percent are opposed. But that changes significantly in the case of an unstable government or widespread violence. In that scenario, the country is split -- 51 percent say they would still favor withdrawals, 48 percent would be opposed. The new polling also shows growing opposition to the war in Afghanistan. In March, 48 percent favored the war, 49 percent opposed. Now, just 42 percent favor it, 56 percent opposed.
We are here to talk about where things stand with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a lot of other things military is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, thanks for joining us.
MULLEN: Nice to be with you, Candy.
CROWLEY: I want to start first on the oil spill because whenever there is some big catastrophe, people want the military because they sort of see it as an efficient way to get things done. I know that you are there helping with the dispersant, getting that out and other activities. Do you see anything further that the military could do to
be helpful? MULLEN: Well, we worked hard since this incident was
initiated and had provided, right now, to 1,400 National Guard troops.
But we are really responding to their request. We are very much in a support role here.
You have seen Admiral Thad Allen, who I think has been terrific as the incident commander, the incident lead specifically and we are putting every capability that we have. We have brought thousands of feet of booms in terms of being able to try to contain this but it really is not for ours to lead right now because of the technical challenges, quite frankly. And as best I've been able to understand, the technical lead for this in our country really is the industry. You can see obviously the challenges that they are going through to try to figure out how to stop this.
CROWLEY: Is there anything obvious that you think, well, could do this if asked?
MULLEN: There is not anything obvious at all. We have participated in the meetings here in Washington and actually down on the scene. We are offering everything we can possibly do to try to help.
CROWLEY: Let me move on to Iraq. You saw that polling, the scheduled troop withdrawal on the 31st. Despite the fact we have no real agreement on the government months after the election, there has been an up tick in violence. Do you see any way that withdrawal in toto won't happen?
MULLEN: Well, we are very much on track right now to get to 50,000 by the end of August. Obviously, the key issue for Iraq right now is to stand up this new government. Actually, I'm somewhat optimistic in the sense that there has been a recount of the election results and that's come out very well. And we are watching the political maneuverings right now in terms of standing up this government. And while there has been an up tick in violence as there has been since last summer, none of that violence has really resulted in sectarian response or sectarian violence. Certainly, we are very much aware of that. But all indications are that we are on track and we will stay on track to be at 50,000 by the end of August.
CROWLEY: But it is possible that it could slide?
MULLEN: Well, I mean, we plan for contingencies in every situation. And certainly we are very engaged with General Odierno to understand literally day to day how it is working. But right now, the trends are moving in the right direction.
CROWLEY: I want to read you something as it was in the "Washington Post." It was written by John Nagl, who is currently president of the Center for a New American Security. But he was an army officer in Iraq. And he wrote, speaking of Afghanistan and Iraq, "There are many connections between the two wars and the fact we only have one army is one of them. We just don't have enough army to do everything we want to do right now." The underlying text here is we are withdrawing from Iraq
because we need to go to Afghanistan. MULLEN: Actually, we are
withdrawing from Iraq because we are on a plan that really took a significant step forward last summer when the Iraqi security forces took charge of their own security. We came out of the cities and the trend since then have actually been moving in the right direction.
We will get to a point here over the course of the next 12-24 months where with drawdown in Iraq and also the increase in troops in Afghanistan, though that will -- we will increase in Afghanistan up to about 100,000 or so, when the last numbers of what President Obama approved for Afghanistan last December get on the ground, in the fall, that when we get those troops in Afghanistan, we get down to 50,000, we will be in a position to start to create more time in between deployments, which has been the real challenge, for our ground forces, both the army and the Marine Corps.
So I see over the next couple of years, an ability to get to a point where we are home twice as long as we are deployed. So right now, as far as troop numbers are concerned, I'm comfortable. Clearly, there is linkage. But we are not coming out of Iraq so we can support Afghanistan. Right now, in the plans we have, we can do both.
CROWLEY: Let me ask about Afghanistan. You have an important vote coming up on Capitol Hill soon that will continue funding for the two wars.
CROWLEY: Some resistance even from Democrats who -- some who went over -- Nancy Pelosi said in a recent interview, she is not altogether sure that the president, Hamid Karzai, really has done enough to stem the corruption that is within the government. Are you satisfied he has done enough?
MULLEN: He was here a few weeks ago. And we had a very, very positive visit with him, and what came out of that visit from my perspective -- and I spent a fair amount of time with him and his ministers -- was a commitment to a strategic partnership and the evolution of this partnership. And President Karzai knows very clearly what he needs to do with respect to corruption.
CROWLEY: Has he done that?
MULLEN: He has taken some steps and my interaction, not just with him but his ministers, they know that things like the major crimes task force, which we have in place, they are participating in. They know they have got to set up the kind of rule of law and judicial proceedings and structure in order to deal with this over the long term. And so we are moving in that direction.
Clearly, a lot more needs to be done, but from my perspective, President Karzai knows what he needs to do, what he has to do, and we're moving in that direction.
CROWLEY: Did the move on Marjah take longer than you thought it would, in the Helmand province?
MULLEN: Actually, the way Marjah was planned and executed was what we expected. Some of the governance piece of this, which is the piece you set up after you provide security, has been a bit more challenging, but I think realistically, this was going to take many months to get to a point where it was irreversible. And we are not there yet. Actually during the day, security is much improved. The bazaars are open. There are schools open that weren't open before. And there are still challenges that the Taliban are creating in the -- at night. And we understand that. This is pretty normal counterinsurgency. These are counterinsurgency responses, and so we see that, we know what we have to do to address it, and it's going to take several more months for it to really settle out and so that it won't be reversed from where it was.
This is it, this is an area the Taliban ran for the last two and a half years. That it was going to be difficult and challenging, something we expected. But I think certainly from a strategic, a strategy standpoint, we are going to be able to see our way through this.
CROWLEY: If you will stick with me for a minute, I have more to ask on Afghanistan, Pakistan and other spots. We will have much more with Admiral Mullen right after the break.
CROWLEY: And we are back with Admiral Mike Mullen. Let me ask you about another hot spot in Afghanistan, Kandahar, really the stronghold of the Taliban. When will we know that the U.S. and allied forces have been successful in Kandahar?
MULLEN: Well, we have really started shaping this operation over the last several weeks. And it won't be an operation that is a D-day kind of operation. Probably, the most critical part of Kandahar is going to be the setting of the governance. When I was there a few weeks ago, it was very clear in dealing with the elders that I spoke with at a shurah that they are anxious to have not just security, because that's critical, but also that medical care, education, jobs, the standard things that citizens around the world expect from their government, they are anxious to see the governance and the government in Kandahar in the city and in the province itself provide for its people.
CROWLEY: Kandahar is the whole ball of wax, isn't it? I mean, as Kandahar goes, so goes Afghanistan?
MULLEN: I think it is -- I liken it to Baghdad during the surge. I think Kandahar, the focus on Kandahar, it is where the Pashtuns certainly are central. There is a very complex set of relationship between the tribes there that in fact make that place tick or don't let it tick. I also think it is reflective of the entire country.
So what we're doing in Kandahar, what we will do with our Afghan partners and in many cases with them in the lead and our coalition partners over the next several months will really be critical, and I think by the end of the year, we'll certainly from a trend standpoint know whether this thing is headed in the right direction or not.
CROWLEY: Before we talk about, don't ask, don't tell, which I do want to get to, let me ask you about a report that special ops have began to move into various countries, including Iran. What can you tell me about that and can we see this as a prelude to getting ready in case Iran does build nuclear weaponry?
MULLEN: Well, I routinely don't talk about operations specifically. Clearly we have a continued focus on Iran, on their continued -- my belief, their continued desire to achieve nuclear weapons capability. We are in the sanctions world right now with respect to moving sanctions through the U.N., which I think is very important. And I am still hopeful that the diplomatic side, the engagement side will continue to lead these efforts. But as far as speaking about specific operations, I just -- I just don't do that.
CROWLEY: Let me move to don't ask, don't tell. You favor repeal, which would allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. I want to play you something you said in February about a military-wide effort to see how the rank and file feel about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MULLEN: There really hasn't been any significant, statistically significant and objective survey of our people and their families. And that gets to the chiefs' concern and mine as well, which really is engaging them in a way that we really understand their views on this.
And that just hasn't been done. And as urgently as some would like this to happen, it is just going to take some time to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Well, all of the sudden, there is urgency. All of a sudden, what we see is the Congress is moving very quickly toward repeal of don't ask, don't tell before that survey comes in, and even though the repeal wouldn't happen until at least 60 days after the survey comes in, I talked to Senator Webb, former Navy secretary, former Marine in Vietnam, who said this just totally disrespects the service for Congress to move before you actually find out how they feel about various parts of this repeal?
MULLEN: Well, I have said that from my personal point of view, that I think the law and the policy should change. I have also said and repeated what you just played, that it is important to make sure we get through this review so that we understand that should the law change --
CROWLEY: Really, what's the point, sir, if I could ask, because they are going to repeal it. It is going to be repealed anyway. And isn't there a certain amount of disrespect to say, we are going to repeal it, now what do you think?
MULLEN: I still think, and so does the Secretary of Defense, it is really critical to understand the points of view of those it will affect the most as we look at the implementation challenges should the law change.
Ideally, I would certainly have preferred that legislation not be brought forward in terms of the change until we are completed with that review. Also, the congressional clock is sometimes pretty difficult to predict. Certainly, the votes last week indicate that it is moving but in terms of when it possibly might change, that's really not done. The other thing that the language does permit, it permits myself, the secretary of defense and the president to certify, and that certification is key in terms of when we would be ready to implement it and whether in our judgment, how it will the change is going to affect the things that are the top of the list for me, including readiness, unit cohesion, recruiting retention. So all that is in very much still in play and in ways, it makes this review in collecting the information and understanding what's going on at the death plate level from our troops and our families that much more critical. So we will complete that review and certainly incorporate what we learned from that into implementation when that time comes.
CROWLEY: Admiral Mike Mullen, thank you very much.
CROWLEY: Appreciate it and good Memorial Day to you, sir.
MULLEN: Thank you.
CROWLEY: And when we come back, a conversation we did earlier with a senator who served as a marine in Vietnam and navy secretary, Virginia Senator Jim Webb next.