Q: (In foreign language.) Thank you, Adm. Mullen. Thank you very much for taking time out to talk to us. You’ve just come back from India. You’ve just traveled from India and others. And in India, we heard you talk about your concern and you said you were really worried that another 26/11, God forbid, would take place. What do you think India must do to avoid a 26/11?
ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: Well, I was here two or three days after Mumbai. And what I thought then is what I still think now, that, that kind of tragedy – we must all do everything we can to make sure that that does not occur again. I was struck by the level of, particularly in India at the time, level of outrage and also great admiration for the restraint that the Indian leadership showed. And at the same time, that was a step in terrorist activities which was somewhat different from my perspective in the sense that it was a terrorist act that ignited great concern and emotion in two countries.
Q: Indeed. Indeed.
ADM. MULLEN: And in a way that potentially could bring them closer to war. So repeating that or another like attack has been a concern that we all have. And so India, as well as Pakistan and all of us, I think, need to be focused and work together as much as possible to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Q: What should India do to avoid it? We’ll talk about what Pakistan should do in the meantime, but what do you think should India do to avoid such a possibility?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think India is doing an awful lot of things to focus on the terrorist threat that they have – I mean, internal to their government. I know that they’ve actually made changes as a result of Mumbai. This is a very complex problem for any government to work together, so I know they’ve made significant changes to support that. And certainly from the standpoint of doing all they can to prevent it, I think, again, all of us have to focus on that and support them in that particular effort.
Q: Any dimensions, political dimensions, any issues – I mean, you’re a military man who also understands that there are political issues that trigger this kind of activity, however abominable may be? So are there issues, I mean, do you ever think of Kashmir issue and its resolution as a contributing factor to peace in the region?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I mean, this is an issue certainly of great importance in the region and since I have been coming here over the last, better part of the last three years –
Q: Your 19th visit to Pakistan – (inaudible, cross talk) –
ADM. MULLEN: It is. It’s something like that.
Q: In three years.
ADM. MULLEN: Yeah, it is. And I think it’s really important that we recognize the significance of the regional challenge. And Kashmir is a challenge that is really for Pakistan and India to solve and to work to reach out to solve. And I think, for instance, the recent dialogue which has taken place is an important step.
As I said yesterday in India, I was disappointed with the outcome of the recent talks. That said, I’m encouraged by the fact that there are further talks scheduled and I think that’s really important. And I think leadership, particularly political leadership, has to reach out to engage and deal with these very difficult problems. That said, this is really, particularly the Kashmir challenge, a problem for the Indians and Pakistani leadership to solve.
Q: When Gen. Kayani and, you know, other people in this government talk about India as a threat, India as an adversary, do you sympathize with that? Do you understand that?
ADM. MULLEN: I certainly have been here an awful lot and have listened to that. And it was very clear to me from very early trips that I made here that Pakistan is very focused on India as a threat. Coming from India, I am – literally almost every single Indian that I spoke with said that Pakistan does not need to worry about India, from a threat standpoint. They have significant additional challenges. There is obviously two different views with respect to that. Certainly, India has a very large military, a very large investment.
Q: Facing Pakistan and other countries.
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I mean, they have a very large military that faces – that meets challenges throughout their country and an investment to support that. So certainly there are forces on both sides of the line of control. I understand that, and from that standpoint –
Q: But on international border, also, India’s, you know, troops, et cetera, and positioning of its air force assets, et cetera.
ADM. MULLEN: Well, no, I mean, I understand that you can work your way through that certainly potentially being a threat. It is one that I think, again, in the leadership reaching to each other and working these very difficult challenges, it can actually eliminate any concern about one threatening the other.
Q: Yeah, I think dialogue and strategic stability, et cetera, would be very key for both countries.
ADM. MULLEN: I would agree with that.
Q: On drone technology, if I may just move to that. On drone technology, how much have you been able to convince your administration that it would be something that Pakistan should get if it has to effectively deal with terrorism within its own country?
ADM. MULLEN: The dual technology tied to weapon systems specifically?
Q: Drone technology.
ADM. MULLEN: Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you said dual technology. Specifically, I actually – in terms of specifics on any kind of operations and technology which supports it, I stay away from details. That said, we’ve worked hard in the last couple of years to support the requests of the Pakistani government for military capability, including things like drone technology, which supports intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance, which we have seen certainly in places that we’ve been in conflict to be very effective. Recognizing that’s part of what has been requested, I think we’re still working our way through specifically how to get there.
Q: And there is hope of getting there, because while it’s very useful in the war against terror, its fallout – when it’s basically U.S. managing it and using it on Pakistani territory, the political fallout is far too great.
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think the remote unmanned technology is very much a part of military capability in the future and I wouldn’t go into any specific detail as to how that’s going to be used here.
Q: Let’s move to your policy in Afghanistan. Is July 2011 a set date for the beginning of U.S. troops’ exit from Afghanistan?
ADM. MULLEN: July 2011 is the beginning of a process which will start the transition of responsibility for security to the Afghan national security forces. And it will include some degree of reduction in U.S. forces. Vice President Biden said as recently as last week, it could be as a few as a couple of thousand. Whatever the decision is, it will be based on conditions on the ground. We don’t know where the forces will come out from it –
Q: Exit from.
ADM. MULLEN: And we don’t know how many. July 2011 for certain is not one thing – and that is it is not a decision date to leave Afghanistan. It is not –
Q: Beginning of the exit.
ADM. MULLEN: It is not a run to the exits. It is the beginning of a process which will start to withdraw forces. We expect to have forces in Afghanistan for a while. We want to transition to the Afghan security forces as rapidly as we can. That will all be based on the conditions on the ground at the time.
Q: Okay, so let’s look at the Marja operation. The Marja operation was supposed to be the first operation which is going to test America’s counterinsurgency strategy: seize, hold, transfer. Marja failed.
ADM. MULLEN: Actually, in my discussions with commanders that are there, commanders on the ground, is that we’ve made progress in Marja. And specifically, it was a Taliban stronghold for the last several years. They were driven out. There are things happening there, markets open, schools open, some governance in place – not as much as we would have liked or as rapidly as we have liked. But there actually has been steady, slow progress in Marja. It’s a very challenging undertaking. I don’t –
Q: Eighty thousand population – only three bazaars are open. The Taliban have come back, melted back into the crowds. This is what your media reports and, you know, American press says that.
ADM. MULLEN: Actually, speaking from the standpoint of those who are there actually in the fight – and the counterinsurgency in Marja and the intimidation at night certainly isn’t all gone. The night letters still are arriving. But the feedback I get week-to-week is there is gradual improvement there. And actually, I go to Afghanistan tomorrow on this trip and I’ll hear firsthand how they’re doing.
Q: Will you go to Marja?
ADM. MULLEN: Not on this trip.
Q: You want to stay away. Yeah. Yeah, but let’s move to Kandahar. The Kandahar operation was to take place. It seems now that it’s being delayed. And so number one, what are we expecting and when do you undertake that operation? And does the postponement tell us that you’re finding it increasingly difficult to actually undertake an operation?
ADM. MULLEN: We still don’t have all the forces there that the president approved last year. Those forces actually will arrive in the very near future. And they’re a necessary part of the operation for Kandahar. We’ve been actually conducting chafing (ph) operations in and around Kandahar for the last several weeks.
There have been decisions by the commanders there to delay certain parts of the operation tied to the conditions that they see, and that’s what commanders on the ground get paid to do and that’s exactly what they’re doing. I think we will have a very good understanding, by the end of the year, where we are overall, specifically in Afghanistan, tied to our operations in Helmand and in Kandahar.
Q: By different accounts and, again, Western accounts, the Taliban hold, you know, different levels of strength, but they hold around 70 percent of the territory. You’ve been quoted – or was it Secretary of State Gates (sic) saying – Secretary of Defense Gates saying – that until we can reverse the momentum of the Taliban, we will not enter into a dialogue. How does this position sit with the policy of reintegration and reconciliation?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, President Karzai signed a directive recently with respect to authorizing the policy of both reconciliation and reintegration. And the reintegration, which are the lower-level fighters if you will, and that has actually started – you know, in small numbers, but it is started. With respect to reconciliation, I think Secretary Gates has said, I have said and others, that we need to do that – we need to execute that from a position of strength. And we’re not there yet, from my perspective.
Q: That’s your position, but going to President Karzai, he’s on record saying that he’s willing to talk to the Taliban and he’s not ruling out Mullah Omar. He is also engaged directly – indirectly with the Haqqani network, but your position is very different to that. So the American vision of reintegration and reconciliation doesn’t really match with the position of President Karzai.
ADM. MULLEN: Actually, I separate – they’re both important and I separate the reintegration and reconciliation piece. And the reintegration is actually very specifically supported by everybody. This is an Afghan-led process in reconciliation. President Karzai and the United States see it the some way from that perspective.
We believe we need to be in a position of strength to successfully reconcile and that we’re not there yet. That doesn’t mean that President Karzai or others might be taking initiative. It’s his initiative to take. He’s leading this. That said, I don’t think we can succeed at reconciliation until we’re in a much stronger position than we’re in right now.
Q: So Admiral, what gives you the hope that what you haven’t been able to achieve in all these years, and given where we are today in terms of the Taliban certainly not being in a reverse mode (ph) and greater and greater alienation as your NATO partners are wanting to exit; given the situation that is there with many of your partners and the ground situation certainly doesn’t seem to favor momentum which is going to be reversing the Taliban advance, what gives you the hope, I’d be interested?
ADM. MULLEN: Certainly, the goal is to reverse the momentum this year. This is a very difficult year. We know that. But that’s been the goal and that’s still the goal. Secondly, I’ve been in NATO a long time. I’ve never seen as many countries aligned on the strategy, providing the resources, and the focus.
And as long as we’ve been in Afghanistan – and I recognize it’s our ninth year of war, specifically, for the United States – this is the first year – we’re in the first year of having the strategy right and adequately resourcing that strategy. So I recognize it’s been a long time, but we haven’t supported it, from a resource standpoint – not just the United States, but other countries. We’re doing that now. So from my point of view, we have a great opportunity to turn this thing around. And we haven’t had that opportunity before, despite the amount of time that we’ve been through.
Q: But Admiral, you may have more resources, but again, I mean, the Canadians are leaving; the Dutch have left; others are not contributing as much as, perhaps, you and others would have wanted the contribution to be. Plus, I was talking, with four other people, talking to your British counterpart, Sir – what’s his name?
ADM. MULLEN: David Richard?
ADM. MULLEN: Jock Stirrup?
Q: Yeah, Jock Stirrup. And he was very clear that it’s time to really get into a political dialogue. And he didn’t rule out, you know, engagement with Mullah Omar, et cetera. You and the British, obviously, have a different position on that, because while you’re talking about reversal and then dialogue, they’re not talking about reversal. And so even on that issue, there’s a different between two key NATO partners.
I still – I mean, I can understand that this is a position as a person who is leading, or military, you must think, but when you look at the situation on the ground – 105 casualties in June. This is the largest ever since NATO troops came into Afghanistan. There seems to be no reason to be hopeful.
ADM. MULLEN: We are – we have every expectation this would be a very difficult year because of the additional resources and because, quite frankly, of the strength of the insurgency. And I’ve tried to be quite clear about that. Every one is tragic, but I think there is a real expectation of a degree of difficulty. With respect to Sir Jock, I’ve had many conversations with him over the last couple of years, and he’s very supportive of the strategy. He’s very focused on reversing the momentum.
And certainly, at the time and place, there will be discussion on how to reconcile. He and I, in our conversations, agree that we need to do that from a position of strength, and we’re not there yet. So I think sometimes, I worry about differences, which get created, which really aren’t there. And certainly, in my discussions with him and with the British, in general, we’re in the same place.
Q: (In foreign language, direction.) Coming back to the approach that the British have, I mean, what – I’m seeing it as something that is, again, widely reported, and that there is a difference in the approach, but however, let me ask you the last thing that, you know, people in the military want is continued war.
So they always look at possibilities of, on the one hand, okay, fighting the war, but on the other hand, political aspect, as well. And you’ve talked about that your administration will lead the vision, the diplomacy, and you will follow. Given the situation on the ground, who do you think the dialogue should be with?
After all, there is an adversary there, who happen to be the Afghans themselves, the Afghan nationals, who are fighting, at this point, and that your troops have not been able to, and NATO troops have not been able to defeat them. Would you talk to – and they have a leadership, which is Mullah Omar. And despite attempts in the past to engage the Taliban, minus Mullah Omar, that effort hasn’t worked, barring some marginal successes. Who would you suggest?
ADM. MULLEN: I would argue the effort hasn’t worked because we haven’t really had – well, I mean, we haven’t had the resources to reverse the momentum and to put the Taliban in a much weaker position. And they’re in a strong position right now, and I think that’s got to change. And it is changing in some places. It’s not for me or, quite frankly, the United States, to decide who gets to talk. It’s really – this is something that is Afghan-led.
The United States is very supportive of that. I just don’t – from my perspective, I don’t see it happening in the immediate future. I think there are other steps that need to be taken before we get there. And I think that we will get there. And there is a part of this that includes all of what you’ve described. And in terms of engaging all the parties who are involved in this, I just don’t think we’re close yet.
Q: You don’t think you’re close yet, in terms of having to start the dialogue?
ADM. MULLEN: I don’t think we’re close yet, in terms of the kind of dialogue that needs to take place to reconcile this. I think President Karzai and his leadership gets to decide who they talk to at any particular time.
Q: But that decision President Karzai has taken, you know, in some cases, your former commander, ISAF commander, Gen. McChrystal sat in meetings which took place between Gen. Kayani and President Karzai, where there was discussion about the Haqqani group and, you know, how to move forward on the political process. So, you know, there was American presence during these dialogues, so you surely know that, that process has already started.
ADM. MULLEN: Well, as in all meetings, I won’t discuss details that occurred –
Q: No, I’m not discussing details, but I’m saying the process –
ADM. MULLEN: In any of them, quite frankly. Suffice it to say, I think we all recognize, from Gen. McChrystal to Gen. Petraeus, myself and the American political leadership, that dialogue has to take place to essentially, eventually reconcile.
Q: Dialogue with whom, Admiral?
ADM. MULLEN: I think that’s to be determined. And specifically, again, the Afghan leadership is the one that – and President Karzai, specifically – that leads this. And there has not been any kind of determinate that it should be or shouldn’t be anybody in specific. I think those who have equities and those who have stakes are those who eventually get included, without being specific about exactly who that might be.
Q: Yeah, but again – I mean, I don’t want to belabor the point. I think President Karzai is meeting –
ADM. MULLEN: You’re laboring it pretty well. (Laughter.)
Q: – has made the point quite clearly. Let me come back to the home front. I mean, on the home front, despite what President Obama said in his speech of December 1st, 2009, where he said, you know, we surely can unite around this one objective of managing and winning in Afghanistan, yet all recent polls indicate about 50 percent of the people at home – you know, in your country – are now against U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan.
ADM. MULLEN: I’m very supportive of the strategy the president has laid out. We’ve been given a mission, specifically, to execute that strategy. And that is what we’re doing. And we’ll continue to do that, as directed by our president. And that’s really where we are. And that’s where we’ll always be. That’s the current mission. That’s what the president has directed and –
Q: I was talking about, really, the U.S. public opinion – 50 percent of it is against the war. The people in Afghanistan are now standing up – I mean, it’s not – and submitting to you. It’s not about resources; it’s about, also, national will emerging within Afghanistan, in terms of what these foreign troops are able to achieve and not achieve. So surely, there’s more to it than just about resources.
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I don’t carry out my missions based on public opinion. I carry out my missions based on the direction of the president of the United States. And that’s what we’re doing.
Q: Okay, let’s talk about directions. Let’s talk about the Haqqani network on the ground. The Haqqani network on the ground, Pakistan’s position on that and the U.S.’s position are clearly different. Pakistan doesn’t see Haqqani network as a primary adversary. They’ve got other – the Pakistani army has other problems to deal with on the military front. And U.S. seems to be pressurizing Pakistan on the Haqqani network – taking on the Haqqani network. How realistic is that expectation that Pakistan would go for the Haqqani network?
ADM. MULLEN: You mentioned this is my 19th trip to Pakistan. I’ve engaged with the Pakistan – particularly, the military leadership – a lot over the past three years. And I’ve admired the change and transformation in Pakistani military operations, the focus on the threat that has grown. The terrorist threat has grown, increasingly, inside Pakistan, the rotational challenges that Gen. Kayani has with his forces.
And I’ve also been very clear in my engagement about the priority and concern that we have for all the terrorist threats, including the Haqqani network. We recognize the seriousness of it. This network is directly supporting the outcomes in Afghanistan, which are killing coalition soldiers.
Q: But President Karzai is engaging with that network, indirectly?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, that’s – again, to get to your question, specifically, with respect to Pakistan and the Haqqani network, it’s been something that I routinely raise. Pakistan has sacrificed greatly. There has been no country in the world that has either captured or killed more terrorists. And it is representative of the totality of the terrorist threat that is in this part of the world.
Q: Yeah, but the Haqqani network has stepped in, at times, to negotiate and help on the TTP front, although, I mean, they’re not friends at the end of the day. But in terms of privatization of threat, it’s not a primary threat for Pakistan, and it seems, also, not for President Karzai, because they’ve engaged in dialogue. So U.S. and Pakistan and U.S. and President Karzai/Kabul seem to diverge on this issue.
ADM. MULLEN: One of the biggest concerns I’ve had over the last couple of years has been the synergy between the various terrorist organizations – increasingly so. Haqqani is tied to al-Qaida. I see LET expanded from just what used to be –
Q: You equated it to a threat?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, an east coast – and eastern threat, too, and actually an emerging global threat, from an aspirational standpoint. And I think there’s great danger, internally, to Pakistan, to all of us in the region, with the increased activity between and among terrorist organizations, that we all need to focus on. And in discussions I’ve had, without going into detail, with Gen. Kayani, I think we’re in agreement on that.
Q: Ultimately, Pakistan will have to – because for us, it’s on a day-to-day basis, so I guess Pakistan will have to prioritize the threat that it faces. While your concerns, obviously, are on a broader scale, Pakistan will have to focus on what concerns it –
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think Pakistan has focused on that. And again, Pakistan has done a great deal that many people, particularly outside Pakistan, would have thought not possible over the last two years. And I have great respect for that. That said, there’s still a tremendous amount of work that I think we all need to do to address this threat.
Q: Thank you very much for this time. It was a pleasure talking to you.
ADM. MULLEN: Thank you. It was great to be with you.
Q: Thank you. (In foreign language.)