MS. : So as everyone knows, what we’re going to try to do is spend about a third of the time on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and then move on to the budget and Iraq. And then we can think of no better person to host us and lead the conversation than Jim Miklaszewski, so he’s going to – he going to kick us off.
MODERATOR: OK. First of all, I don’t consider myself to be the moderator – more a referee, I think. (Laughter.) And if you would, as we move through these topics, I don’t think we have to be necessarily structured, but I think we need to exhaust all questions on an individual topic before we move on if that’s OK. And because there are so many of us and so little time, if you could keep your questions nice and tight and the follow-up be relevant to the chairman’s answer, I’d appreciate it; I’m sure we all would appreciate it.
And this is just out of my own curiosity: What was the argument for removing all 33,000 of the surge forces by September of next year as opposed to the end of the year? Because after all, as General Petraeus expressed concerns that by removing them before the end of the second fighting season, we’ll create some additional challenges. So what was the argument for that specific withdrawal date?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think – I mean, we certainly went into the discussion about this decision, understanding that surge forces were going to come out in 2012. I mean, the president had made that pretty clear.
And then, in the discussions and in the – both in the recommendations and the risk assessment, I mean, we looked at a broad range of possibilities. In the end, I think, as Dave Petraeus said in his hearing, you know, that, you know – I mean, the president made the decision. There are risks that – other risks – I spoke to this in my own hearing – there are other risks the president, from his position, takes into consideration. He did all that and he made the decision.
And I – I mean, I’m happy to speak a little bit about this. I’m really in the – this is the decision, and now we’re off to execute the decision and understand what the risks really are.
When asked about where they’re going to come from, we’re working our way through that right now. And in particular, I think the second tranche, the 23,000 in 2012, where they come from is going to be greatly dependent on what happens this year and throughout the winter. So there won’t be any specific answers for that for a long time.
We’re working our way through, obviously, where the 10,000 come from to be out by the end of this year. And those, I think – I mean, General Petraeus has certainly done some work on that, but – and my expectation is he will certainly turn that over to General Allen here shortly. And the recommendations will come from – on where and when and how much – will come from him later in the year.
MODERATOR: And just very briefly: Are you convinced that the president will make his decision or any subsequent decisions based on conditions on the ground at the time?
ADM. MULLEN: This decision was based – obviously, there are timelines associated with it, you know. But within those timelines, he has given us complete freedom with respect to where and when and how many – obviously, the by when is laid out there based on the conditions. And we’ll assess that over time.
And let me just go back to your first question. I said in testimony, and I just repeat today, I think the risk – it wasn’t what I had anticipated or originally recommended. There’s obviously more risk than I had anticipated, but I also think the risk is manageable. And that’s where Dave Petraeus is, it’s where Jim Mattis is and it’s where I am.
Q: Could I just follow up on that? A couple weeks ago I ran around Afghanistan with General Rodriguez. We went to – out to see the Marines in Helmand province.
And one of the things he talked about was , they’ll likely, in a place like Helmand, consolidate more in maybe the center of Helmand province, not be as ambitious as they’d like to because of the drawdown in forces. And he also said to the Marines, you guys are going to have to work harder as a result of the drawdown, and you’re going to have to push the Afghans to do a lot more. Just talk about that, the impact it has on those who are still there, that there will have to work harder.
ADM. MULLEN: I think – we talk about the gains, which have been significant from my perspective, and in particular in Helmand and Kandahar. But I’ll – since you’re talking about Helmand – in Helmand, as I trust you saw when you were out there, and certainly as I have both seen and it’s been reported to me, I believe – we talk about them still being fragile and reversible – I really believe that they become irreversible through the ANSF and the Afghan people, fundamentally. And so that speaks to the need to continue to build up this force of Afghan security forces. And it’s – I think it’s 302,000 by the first of October and then another 52,000 – another 50,000 over the course of next year.
What I – what I – what General Bill Caldwell has done, I think, is truly extraordinary. When you look at – I think it was October of ’09 or November ’09 – when he went out there, there was virtually nothing. We’re recruiting people on a Friday, and Monday they’re in the field. They have no training, they have no structure. And in fact, in the debate in ’09, there was tremendous skepticism as to whether or not the NSF – we had any chance, that it was illiteracy, it was – it was no structure, no NCOs, no what Caldwell called stewardship sort of inside their own organization, leaders that take care of their own organization; it just didn’t have the background.
We have – this week, 39,000 Afghans are in training. We’ve had somewhere between 25,000 and 39,000, you know, each week for many months now. We’re operating with them as we have been in the past, so they’re getting better and better. Is it where we want to be or where they want to be? No. But I really think that’s the insurance policy, that’s what makes it irreversible in the long run.
So that a field commander would stand there and say, you got to – we’re going to have to go harder here, I mean, that – first of all, it doesn’t surprise me. I’ve – that’s probably not a bad message for everybody, including the Afghans. One of the things, going back to the December 2009 speech that President Obama did, and when he talked about starting – the part where he talked about starting to come out in July, at least my experience over there as well as leaders I’ve spoken to, it really woke up the Afghans.
So the message is that we all have got to continue to do this together, but it is going to continue to be hard work, and they’re going to have to – I think everybody is going to have to work harder.
Q: But there’s still very much a mixed bag when you go out there in the field. I mean, some of them do OK, some of them are like boy scouts.
ADM. MULLEN: I agree with that. I certainly don’t take that on – but if I were going to say – I’ve thought of this in a sort of 18-to-24-month pieces. When we put 10,000 Marines into Helmand in July of ’09, you know, my – you know, where my head was 18 to 24 months from now, mid-’11, if we – if it’s not going in the right direction, we’re going to have to change the strategy.
When you look at what’s happened in 18 months to the ANSF, it’s really – and you can stand back from it, I think it’s extraordinary. We’ve got another, you know, 18 to 24 months. And so we’ll see. But I’m certainly a whole lot more confident about the development of those forces, not just the army but the police, than I was a couple of years ago.
Q: Can you talk a little more – (inaudible)?
Q: Mr. Chairman?
MODERATOR: Elizabeth (sp)?
Q: Are we talking about Pakistan as well as Afghanistan?
ADM. MULLEN: No. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: And yes, yes. And this is the – this is the Pak-Af segment.
Q: This is the Af-Pak segment.
Q: I have heard you talk about the – what – (Americans ?) – just believe is the murder of the Pakistani journalist by the ISI. You would have closer relations with General Pasha than probably anybody else.
ADM. MULLEN: Kayani.
Q: Have you raised this with him?
ADM. MULLEN: Kayani.
Q: Are you – are you – (inaudible) – about this? Do you think – (inaudible)?
ADM. MULLEN: You said Pasha.
Q: Excuse me?
ADM. MULLEN: You said Pasha. You mean – you mean Kayani.
Q: I’ve – (inaudible). Well, I – everybody. So, what is your – what are your concerns about this?
ADM. MULLEN: Huge concern I’ve had with respect to both the disappearance and obviously finding him dead. And it’s been reported recently. And I haven’t seen – I haven’t seen anything that would disabuse that report. And so I am hugely concerned about, obviously, his death. His isn’t the first, it is – it is – for whatever reason, it has been used as a – as a method historically – there are other, certainly, claims, historically. I’ve seen the – I’ve seen Pakistani officials, I just can’t remember whom, who, you know, deny it. Certainly, from my perspective, it’s something we all need to pay a lot of attention to, including the Pakistanis. It’s not a way to move ahead. It’s a way to continue to, quite frankly, spiral in the wrong direction.
Q: Admiral Mullen, you said, I haven’t seen anything to disabuse those reports. Which reports? The reports that the – the journalist killed, or the reports that the ISI was involved?
ADM. MULLEN: The reports that – the reports that the – that he was killed and that there were government officials who sanctioned that.
Q: Actually, the reports said that the ISI did it. Is that what you’re talking about?
ADM. MULLEN: The – this is the – The New York Times report?
Q: Just this Times story a couple of days ago – the ISI effectively murdered him.
ADM. MULLEN: Yeah. And I haven’t – I haven’t seen anything where I could confirm that.
Q: (Wait a minute ?).
MODERATOR: That it was the ISI?
ADM. MULLEN: That it was the ISI.
Q: You haven’t seen anything that can confirm that?
ADM. MULLEN: Yeah.
Q: But you said – but you had said, now you couldn’t disabuse the report.
ADM. MULLEN: I – in specifically identifying who did it, you know, I just – I just don’t have that. I haven’t seen anything –
Q: But it was the – but it was the government.
ADM. MULLEN: Yeah, that it was sanctioned by the government, yeah.
Q: So your answer do that is that you can’t – OK. It’s the opposite of whatever I said originally.
ADM. MULLEN: No, no, no, no. I mean, they did – I have not seen anything to disabuse the report that the government knew about this. I cannot – you know, I would not be able to walk in and say, you know, here’s the string of evidence I have to confirm it.
MODERATOR: Jennifer (sp)?
Q: Admiral Mullen, what about the report in The Washington Post this morning about A.Q. Khan and the letter that he supposedly has that shows that the North Koreans paid $3.5 million to Karamat, the former army chief? Do you know any – of any intelligence that proves that that letter is authentic?
ADM. MULLEN: I don’t. I’ve seen the report; that’s all I’ve seen.
Q: Have you seen, in your time as chairman, any evidence that goes back to the A.Q. Khan era that shows that the army or the ISI was involved in taking bribes, are a part of the proliferation of nuclear weapons?
ADM. MULLEN: I have not. I mean, all I’ve seen is the connection between Khan and the proliferation piece. But the mechanics of it, the specifics, I would –
MODERATOR: And if could just –
ADM. MULLEN: I just haven’t seen.
MODERATOR: If I could follow-up very quickly on that: Has the president or the White House exhibited any frustration or loss of patience in dealing with – and the strains that are involved in dealing with the Pakistanis?
ADM. MULLEN: All of us, including the president, have reaffirmed the importance of the relationship and the need to have it be sustained. I think all of us also recognize that it’s under extraordinary pressure. It’s been through a tremendous amount, certainly in the last few months – we have a tendency to focus on the bin Laden piece, I understand that, but we shouldn’t forget that, you know, it was February-March that we went through the Raymond Davis issue, which was a very – which was an issue that tested us as well.
So we’ve been through a very, very rough time. And we are committed to sustaining that relationship because we think it’s vital to the region and, actually, globally. But we recognize that it’s under great stress right now, and we need to see you way through it.
MODERATOR: So does that means, as far as the Paks are concerned, anything goes?
ADM. MULLEN: No, no, no. I don’t think – I don’t think that’s ever been the case with respect to the Paks or anybody else. Absolutely not.
MODERATOR: Elaine (sp)?
Q: Admiral, President Obama has acknowledged, as have other leaders in the administration, that elements, perhaps mid-level elements of the Pakistani government facilitated bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad to some extent. Why should that give us any comfort about the Pakistani nuclear weapons arsenal and its potential vulnerability to extremists within the people who are trusted with guarding it – the army and intelligence services?
ADM. MULLEN: I’m as comfortable as I can be that they’ve taken significant steps, including steps in recent years, to improve the security with respect to their nuclear weapons. There are limits to what I know and to what anybody outside Pakistan knows. But I know that they have invested a great deal. They’ve improved their procedures and they take it very seriously.
I don’t directly correlate that with the possibility – at least at this point I certainly haven’t seen any – the possibility that there was help with respect to support of bin Laden. I think all of us, certainly myself, believe that there – and this is really theory – that there had to be some support for him to be there that long. That said, I haven’t seen any evidence yet. I said that several weeks ago; I still haven’t seen any evidence that he was being supported. I mean, that this is – somehow, he – you know, he wasn’t – he wasn’t living there completely isolated; you can’t do that. But I’ve got no evidence, I haven’t seen any intelligence to indicate that that assumption is a valid assumption.
MODERATOR: Kevin (sp), and then Rosalind (sp)?
Q: Admiral, can I just – can I just follow up real quick?
MODERATOR: Oh, sure.
Q: Back on the nuclear weapon thing: Can you walk us through – I mean, you and others have said that we’re confident that the weapons in Pakistan are secure, as confident as you can be. But can you walk through with a little bit more detail as to why we think that the – what security procedures are there? Why should we think that there aren’t one or two even that have, you know, infiltrated – extremists, I’m talking about – have infiltrated the security of the nuclear weapons – (inaudible)?
ADM. MULLEN: No, I can’t do that. No, I – I mean, I can’t say a whole lot more. I mean, we – certainly, there’s been investments made by our government in improved security – not through the Department of Defense, but through the Department of Energy – in improved security over the course of the last several years. We’ve seen it physically be more secure. We’ve seen the training improve, if you will. They have introduced in recent years – I’m not sure what they would call it, but it would be the equivalent of what we would call our personal reliability program so that – which is a very difficult screening process that we go through in our own nuclear weapons programs and routinely update and have to continue compliance with.
So those steps are – I think are very positive steps. But again, there are limits. This is a sovereign country. These are their weapons. There are limits to what we know, in that regard.
MODERATOR: OK, Kevin, Rosalind, Yochi, Lita (sp)? OK.
Q: Going back to the drawdown for a minute, there – one of the criticisms of the decision was that somehow, this was a recognition that the original, big counterinsurgency plan was not working, it was over, that this is a backward way out of the war into eventually what ultimately was called the (inaudible). What’s your take on that criticism of how – of this plan forward? Do you agree with that, with that sense? In other words, this is something that’s been on the table?
ADM. MULLEN: No. I don’t agree with it at all. This is still a counterinsurgency. It’s a focus on the people. The strategy hasn’t changed. It’s – I think it’s well-led, the strategy’s right, and it’s well-resourced. And I just don’t sign up to it at all. And from a standpoint of how it’s being executed or how it will be executed in the future, the CT piece has always been a piece of this. It’s just – I mean, you just can’t pull them apart.
And you know, in a campaign, there will be emphasis – there will be varied emphasis on parts of it over time. But overall, the strategy hasn’t changed at all.
Q: Sir, coming back to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, yesterday General Rodriguez told us that the Pakistani army hasn’t done enough to help secure the border to try to prevent the cross-border traffic of IEDs, of IED builders and trainers. That’s – it’s cracked down in some areas, but it just isn’t doing enough.
Given that Pakistan is a sovereign country, as you just pointed out, how can the U.S. compel it to improve the security situation along the border, in fact making it easier for Afghanistan to stand on its own?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think that those decisions have to come from – basically, and I’m not sure that we can compel anything – it has to come from within a sovereign country, which is what Pakistan is.
I go back a couple of years, and the Pakistan military has taken enormous steps, even on that border. As this fight has gotten tougher and tougher, we have much more clarity on the need in specific areas in terms of traffic which comes across that border, and so there’s more to do. And yet this is a military that’s on two fronts in its own country. Its main focus – and it’s hard to argue with this – its main focus has been the threat internal to the country, which has grown.
We have – we have worked with them very hard over the last couple years on the – on better ways to – better ways to train – we have trained with them so that they can execute better to get at the issues that affect both of us. Certainly, we’ve pushed them hard on – and where Rodriguez I’m sure is talking about – well, really it would be two areas, but in particular the eastern border, which is – which is very difficult with the Haqqani network. And the eastern portion of the country is an unbelievably difficult place, period, for everybody.
So I think it’s – you know, I would agree that they haven’t done enough, but I wouldn’t – but I’d also put the predicate on that that they have done a lot. And there’s a lot more to do for both of us, on both sides with respect to that.
Q: How would you know –
ADM. MULLEN: But that issue of the IEDs, and actually, when you say that, it goes more broadly, because the IEDs – the vast majority of IEDs are based – ammonium-nitrate based. It comes from Pakistan, and we need to stop the flow of that stuff. And it’s not just the Pak mil, it’s the Pak government. We need to figure out a way to stop the flow, because that’s what’s killing our people.
MODERATOR: OK, Yochi?
Q: Mr. Chairman, you said a moment ago that the Pakistanis don’t get a free pass. At the same time, over the past few years we’ve seen sheltering bin Laden, him being found in a garrison town. We’ve seen no action taken against the Haqqanis in Miranshah, no action taken against Taliban leadership in Quetta, no expansion of U.S. drone strikes, no Pakistani push into the areas of Waziristan they are not already in.
So given that they have continually rebuffed what is a direct fueler of the war in Afghanistan, why should we not be cutting aid from Pakistan? Why should we not be doing things that go beyond rhetoric?
ADM. MULLEN: I think we’ve done a lot of things far beyond rhetoric, Yochi, and I’d start with the challenge that they’ve had throughout this – and I again focus on two different borders. We may disagree with this, but I can tell you, they – their existential threat isn’t Afghanistan. Their existential threat aren’t the terrorists in their country. Their existential threat is India, and that’s where they focus.
And they’re – I don’t think they’re going to not focus on that. So they keep that, they keep training to it, they keep rotating people to it as well. So I would put it in the category of, they certainly haven’t done what we’ve wanted them to do along the lines of what you said. Although their frontier scouts, for instance, two years ago were a force that wasn’t well-led, wasn’t well-equipped, wasn’t well-trained. And now all those things have changed, and they’re a much more capable fighting force than they – than they were in the – historically.
They’ve taken on eight – or depending on what you want to count, eight or nine different campaigns in that – on that western border. The Haqqani network and the Quetta are the two principal – that’s the main effort for Afghanistan. Their priority has been to work on the threat internal to their country. We’ve certainly worked hard to convince them they need to do more there. And I do think they need to do more with respect to both North Waziristan and Quetta.
I’ve also, you know, come to know that the sensitivities – there are huge sensitivities that spread from Quetta out into Baluchistan. It’s not just an area – because of history there as well. So while I can talk about the complexity in RC-East, every single part of that country has its own somewhat unique complexity, in terms of dealing with it.
And so we’ve worked hard to push them as hard as we can. And certainly, there are those that believe we should ratchet back on material support, we should ratchet back on financial support. Certainly, that’s being discussed in Congress. And I would certainly see that as a possibility in the future.
But we are, I believe, suffering now in this relationship because of a choice we made in 1990 where we just cut them off. And I think that would be a disaster now, and I think it would be a disaster in the future.
Q: Sorry, I take it from that that you would not support ratcheting back aid.
ADM. MULLEN: It’s not for me to decide. It’s not my decision, really.
Q: (Inaudible) – we can move to Iraq and – (inaudible)?
MODERATOR: Are we moving to another topic, or is your question – same topic?
MODERATOR: Same topic? Brian (sp) wants the same topic.
Q: Same topic, OK.
Q: And I’ve got one on the same topic.
MODERATOR: Yeah, OK. Just wanted to make sure.
Q: A quick one.
MODERATOR: OK. They’re all quick, right? (Laughter.)
Q: I just wanted to make sure – (inaudible).
MODERATOR: Oh, yeah, sure.
Q: OK. Admiral, let’s go back to the Pakistanis’ commitment. What are they doing that suggests they have a similar commitment to the security? They’ve thrown U.S. trainers out, they are blocking – or, are opposed to efforts for additional drone strikes.
Aren’t we at a point now where something has to be done? And what – where do you think the line is? Do – have they thrown a lot out of the trainers? Are the trainers back? What is the U.S. stance there now? And do you think there’s more room for drone strikes without repercussion?
ADM. MULLEN: The U.S. stance is that we need to sustain the relationship. They have certainly dramatically reduced the size of the training footprint from where it was. And this is a part of their reassessment, both I think internally and externally.
Clearly, with what’s happened, they’re going through an internal reassessment period of time. And part of that is to, I think, reassess their relationship with the United States so that we have fewer trainers at the – from that perspective. That makes some sense for me. I don’t – you know, I don’t agree with it, but that’s the choice they make. Again, this is their country.
And I think it’s – I’m certainly not at a point where I see a line right in front, you know, if we cross here, something happens. I think all these things are parts of this that cumulatively build to what the relationship is and what we’re going to do together and what we’re not going to do together.
They have, despite the criticism about Haqqani, justifiably so – they’ve also had – you know, they’ve lost thousands. They’ve had thousands wounded. They have killed or captured more terrorists than any other country. So it’s not like – it’s not like they’ve just been sitting on the sidelines here. They’ve been – they have been engaged in many, many ways.
And I think – I mean, your questions speak to it, the events speak to it: We’re going through a very difficult time of reassessment right now. And I’m not exactly sure how it comes out and what the specifics would be, but I hope that as we work our way through this, we’re able to sustain this relationship.
MR. : OK, we have 25 minutes left, so for this topic, Brian, David (sp), Michael (sp), and then I really think we have to move on if we’re going to get anything else in.
Q: Lita covered mine, so I’ll bow out.
MODERATOR: Oh, she did? OK.
ADM. MULLEN: This will be the lightning round? (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: (Chuckles.) I’m like a TV director here. Wrap! (Laughter.)
Q: (Inaudible) – Mick will tell me if I’m out of line here, but my question is a little bit broader, sort of, war on terror, which is obviously what we’re talking about. You’re about to end a very long military career. Do you – and I don’t know if you’ve had time to reflect yet, but when you look back – we’re nearing the 10th anniversary of 9/11 – do you, as a military professional have – or think that there were some things that maybe we did wrong as a nation, as a security apparatus, in the wake of 9/11 that we could have done differently? I mean, here we are, 10 years later, seemingly bogged down in Afghanistan, still not out of Iraq.
MODERATOR: OK, question asked. (Laughter.) Really, because we’re really tight on time.
ADM. MULLEN: I mean, I’ve listened to you say – that’s one of my favorite words, “bogged down” – or, sentences. I mean, the last time I heard that, it was Iraq. And I heard it over and over and over again. And we’re not in Iraq, nor do I – nor are we – or do I expect we will be in Afghanistan.
I think both of those campaigns speak to a degree of difficulty, a war that we didn’t understand when we started, that we had to adapt to. And I mean, there’s – and I think history is replete with examples of something you thought was going to happen and you had to change to meet what really happened.
And that’s what we’ve done. And this goes to, we’re the best counterinsurgency force, I think, in the history of the world. And so we’ve learned a lot.
I think – you know, one of the ways I talk about the bin Laden kill, if you will, or operation is, that’s 30 years’ worth of work coming off of Desert One. And it’s not just special-ops work. Desert One was a special – I get all that. But that’s 30 years of how our military has changed, because everybody focuses on the unit that pulled that off. I’ve got that.
But that’s our military today, and that’s been an evolution from, you know, 1979, coming out of the ’70s. And it’s where I don’t want to go. I want to make sure that as we go through this very difficult budget period, as we did after Vietnam, we get it right, because the world is relentless right now with its events. It’s not going to go away, which is why that’s so important.
So I mean, I’m certainly – we’ve learned a lot; we’ve adapted a lot; and I think we have to – at least as I – and I haven’t been able to step back from it, quite frankly, because I’m in it every day. But I’m very proud of who we are and how we’ve adapted. If I could step from it, am I surprised that we had to? Probably not.
MODERATOR: OK, Michael?
Q: Can I go back to the question about risk, if you don’t mind, Admiral? Secretary Gates said that one of the pledges he received from President Obama before the drawdown position was taken was that the drawdown would not in any way increase the risk faced by the troops remaining behind.
And yet ever since then, we’ve heard yourself, Petraeus, Rodriguez, Secretary Gates himself – have all talked about, there is risk that we will have to manage, or not significant risk, I think Rodriguez said yesterday, but still risk.
Is it not a concern of yours with the drawdown of troops, irrespective of how good the Afghans are, however many more come, the 70,000 that you’re going to get – isn’t – doesn’t – aren’t you concerned that there will be a casualty risk, a greater casualty risk for the Americans who remain behind?
ADM. MULLEN: You know, when I think about a – the risk in the Afghanistan and Pakistan campaign, the risks I’m more concerned about, quite frankly, are the governance and corruption risk and the Pakistan safe-havens risk.
Most of, if not all of you have heard me before say, I mean, we can generate all the security in the world, and it’s not going to make any difference if we don’t get at those. And they are starting to happen locally in Helmand, locally in Kandahar, some places certainly in the north and in the west, some places in the east. But those are still long poles right now. And I think we’ve got to focus on those.
When you’re in war, you’re going – you’re going to have casualties. Every single one is tragic. And I certainly understand that. But I’m not going to get into the mathematics of it. I mean, I could argue, you know, that on one end – and you look – just look at where we are versus where we were a year ago. We got a lot more troops there, and we’ve got more casualties in one way.
So I’m – there are inherent risks to this business. We think we understand it, and as I said before, I think the risks are manageable. I’m more concerned about the other ones than I am right now, from a security standpoint.
MODERATOR: OK, Nancy (sp)?
Q: I just want to follow up on that real quickly. You said the risk that you’re most concerned about is government and corruption and Pakistani safe havens.
ADM. MULLEN: Governance.
Q: Governance. How would having more troops mitigate those risks? Why – what’s the parallel between those risks –
ADM. MULLEN: I wasn’t making the point about more troops.
Q: But I mean, one of the things that was talked about in the discussion – about – was the pace of withdrawal and how many troops are coming out. Is there – what’s the correlation, then, between – I guess what I’m asking is, why, then, with a – with the withdrawal plan that was spelled out, why did that seem – why was that faster than anticipated, given that those are the risks that we’re facing going forward?
ADM. MULLEN: The – I mean, again, the president gets to make the decision. He made it, and we’re off. The risks of governance and corruption specifically, as well as Pakistan, have been inherent in this – in this campaign from the beginning. They remain. Some improvements in some areas; certainly, front and center right now, for instance, is Kabul Bank and where that goes, as an example. And that will have – where that goes will have a big impact on overall outcome here, for example.
MODERATOR: OK, Courtney (sp)?
MODERATOR: Iraq – is that OK?
Q: I want to go to Iraq.
Q: Can I just ask one more on Afghanistan? And that is, how concerned are you with the levels of violence as they are? You said even last year and earlier this year – you’ve started warning people to expect an increase. Is this as much as you expected, or more, or less?
ADM. MULLEN: Fair question. It’s about – it’s about what I expected. We’ve also, you know, in the last couple of months started to see a downtick – too early to – too early to say it’s a trend which I consider to be, you know, an overall positive, if you will. That’s as obviously the Taliban try to get back to – you know, take the territory that they lost last year.
So I mean, as I said, every loss is tragic. We understand that. But it’s certainly not more than I expected, I guess is the way I’d say it at this point, you know, looking at it a few months ago. But certainly with the additional troops and with the Taliban’s strategy, we knew we were going to suffer losses.
MODERATOR: Go ahead.
Q: Could I just follow up on Nancy’s question real quick? If the problem of governance and corruption and safe havens in Pakistan were – those were problems from the very beginning. Ten years later, with all the casualties and all the billions of dollars that have been spent in Afghanistan, have we shown progress in any of those areas?
ADM. MULLEN: It’s – on the – on the one hand, I’m probably as aware or more aware than anybody else, this is the 10th year there. Secondly, we’re about two years into a well-resourced strategy specifically. So effectively, in terms of making the kinds of – having the kind of effects where changes – it hasn’t been 10 years at all.
But I felt those two things, two years ago when we were having the debate about Afghanistan and Pakistan, those were critical; they’re still critical. And I think we all recognize that. And we’ve worked our way through some of the things. One of the – one of the metrics, if you will, is that what Petraeus will tell you is roughly 70 to 75 percent of the governors who’ve been put in by Karzai recently – and I’d go sort of months to a year or so, something like that – you know, they’re pretty good people, and they’re working in the right direction. That wasn’t the case two or three years ago.
There are – the ministries we focused on, in interior, finance, minister of defense – they’re actually – as opposed to the whole of government, they’re actually making some progress. I’m not sure we’ve made a lot of progress on the corruption side, and I worry about a government that the Afghan people, you know, can’t respect, can’t rely on because of the inordinate amount of corruption that is inherent to it – that they understand better than I.
And then, the safe haven thing, we’ve already talked about because of the impact it has coming out of – coming out of North Waziristan or the Haqqani network in Quetta. And we haven’t done enough with respect to mitigating that.
MODERATOR: OK, we’re down to 15 minutes, folks. Courtney.
Q: (Inaudible.) On Iraq, how many U.S. troops do you think will need to stay in there after the end of the year, in 2012? And then, what are the discussions the U.S. and the Iraqis are having right now about that? Is it more about capabilities that would have to stay behind, or is it more about numbers of forces?
ADM. MULLEN: There are discussions – the current discussions cover both. And there are very clear capability gaps that the Iraqi security forces are going to have: air defense is one; aviation, air is another; the intelligence world – less the – less the stark intelligence than I would call integrating it, specifically. And both the Iraqi security forces as well as our forces recognize those gaps are there. And so they will – to be covered, they will be covered both with capability and numbers. And the numbers, it really is – if there are any numbers, and if there is any capability, and it’ll be supported by – it’ll essentially happen through, you know, training and assistance, which is what we’re doing now. But that’s at the heart of the discussions or negotiations which are ongoing as we speak.
And you asked me, what’s my number? My number doesn’t make any difference. It’s what the Iraqi security – I’m sorry, it’s what the Iraqi government, and really, the Iraqi people say is acceptable to them to provide for their own security. We clearly see some areas that continue – that there are needs that will continue for some time. And when I say “sometime,” I’m not talking forever – you know, over the next two or three years, or something like that. But that’s really up for the prime minister, Maliki, and his government to figure out and negotiate with us.
Q: Quick follow-up –
Q: Do you have any sense they’re close to that – they’re close to asking, finally?
ADM. MULLEN: I’d just say the negotiations are ongoing. And it’s – and it’s hard.
Q: Can Maliki afford to do it politically?
ADM. MULLEN: That’s actually for him to decide.
MODERATOR: OK. And always sneaking up on my blind side here, Julian. (Laughter.)
Q: (Chuckles.) Admiral –
ADM. MULLEN: I thought we agreed you were not going to go into – (inaudible).
Q: Oh – (chuckles, laughter).
Q: He doubled – (inaudible, cross talk).
Q: He was – he actually got out of his chair.
ADM. MULLEN: Yeah.
Q: It was a threatening – (laughter).
Q: If the Iraqis cannot make an agreement among themselves, they cannot reach an agreement with us to keep some U.S. troops in there, beyond the capability issue that you’ve just described, is there a risk – do you personally think there’s a risk that Iran – that Iran plays an outside role, that Iraq falls too much under the sway of Iran, and that changes the balance of power in the region?
ADM. MULLEN: Iran is playing an outside role right now. Iran is very directly supporting extremist Shia groups which are killing our troops. And there’s no reason with some 46,000 troops that I have there now for me to believe that they’re going to stop that as our numbers come down. Or if – and again, current policy is we’re all out by 31 December. If that changes, if we reach an agreement, that – from my perspective where I am, it has to be done in conjunction with, you know, control of Iran in that regard.
There’s no question they want to influence, and I mean, particularly in the south. And they are shipping high-tech weapons in there – IRAMs, EFPs – which are killing our people. And we have – and the forensics prove that. So from my perspective, that has to be dealt with – not just now because it is killing our people, but obviously in the future as well. And the Iraqi government is certainly aware of that right now.
Q: Very quick follow-on. Since there was a formal end to the combat operations for U.S. military, does that mean – since they’re now being directly targeted – that American troops are defenseless, that they cannot launch a counteroffensive against those responsible?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, there’s a formal end to combat operations. There’s never a formal end to self-defense –
Q: So –
ADM. MULLEN: – and being able to respond and defend yourself is very much a part of –
Q: Self-defense, yes, but an offensive to go after the cells that are – that are conducting these –
ADM. MULLEN: I mean, anything that we do would be very clearly focused on the inherent right of self-defense.
Q: All right.
Q: Another follow-up – can I – quick –
MODERATOR: OK, David Cloud –
Q: Aside from the need to kind of backfill Iraqi capabilities, is there a persuasive argument, in your mind, for U.S. forces to remain in Iraq – a strategic argument for them to remain in Iraq? We’ve been there, obviously, for 10 years. We have massive interests in the region. Should U.S. troops remain there in some capacity as a demonstration of U.S. resolve and as a tripwire – any other reason for us to remain there?
ADM. MULLEN: It’s a – obviously, a decision for the president, not –
Q: I’m asking for you –
ADM. MULLEN: – not for anybody.
ADM. MULLEN: I mean, certainly not for me. From my perspective, it’s a vital region for lots of reasons. And there are – you know, there is significant change going on in the region. I’ll just use the gulf – because I’ll use Bahrain, but also I’ll just use the GCC and what’s happened – what’s happening with respect to the whole revolution, if you will, throughout the broader Middle East or Middle East and North Africa.
Our presence – where we have a sustained presence there in Bahrain – certainly, a significant presence in Qatar, in Kuwait, et cetera – and I believe that’s stabilizing. How that plays out in the future is to be determined. And certainly, it’s a different Iraq than it was 10 years ago, and I think we all need to sort of integrate that into what does that mean for the future, as well.
Q: Can I – an –
Q: One quick follow-up on that –
Q: An – (inaudible).
MODERATOR: Yeah –
Q: – does it become a greater national security threat to the United States?
ADM. MULLEN: What? Does what?
Q: With U.S. troops all leaving Iraq, can – is there – the potential there for Iraq to become a greater national security threat to the United States?
ADM. MULLEN: I guess the way I’d answer that, Lita, is the – I think that Iraq needs to be integrated into the region and understood in that regard. And it’s going to make choices. And certainly, it’s not a given that that’s the case at all.
Its leadership seeks a long-term strategic partnership with the U.S – of that, I am convinced. What are the specifics of it? I think that’s what we’ve got to work out.
MODERATOR: OK, Tony is champing at the bit.
Q: Quick – Iran’s – the re-introduction of EFPs and IRAMs – you know, this was an issue in ’06 and ’07. There was this perception that Iran’s involvement in Iraq had dropped. Now, you and the secretary are positing that they’ve re-introduced. Is it – we’re talking bits and pieces, or a massive re-introduction of this technology?
ADM. MULLEN: Significant and improved in the case of IRAMs, yeah; more lethal. And I think that’s probably – your question is a fair depiction of what has happened. They make conscious choices about this, and they decided in 2008 that they were not going to – you know, they were going to back off; they have. We’re now seeing it increase. And part of it is the belief that they will be able to claim, you know, that they had something to do with us leaving, which, you know, from my perspective, it has – that has nothing to do with us leaving. But that’s where they are.
Q: Well, what – and that – one of the issues there was whether the top echelons in the Iranian government knew and condoned it and directed, and that at the time, you and others said, well, we don’t know that for sure. Are you seeing at the top levels of the Iranian government they’re encouraging or they’re pushing this?
ADM. MULLEN: Yes. They know about it.
MODERATOR: They know about it, or encouraging it?
ADM. MULLEN: I would say they know about it.
Q: Admiral, we need to squeeze in a budget question.
MODERATOR: Oh yeah, we will. But Dan, did you have a follow-up?
Q: Yeah, just that you’ve mentioned the –
MODERATOR: We’ll get to the budget later.
Q: – whole – the whole wave of change in the region. Do you see your successor possibly focusing any more upon Yemen and Somalia, that the threat is shifting a little bit into that part of the world compared to, maybe, two years ago or four years ago?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I – I mean, I’m – I’m probably more concerned about the intensity of the threat in Yemen for a couple of reasons. One is, it’s a very, very viral cell of al-Qaida, well-led, well-resourced and working pretty hard to kill us.
And it’s now – it got stood up in a country that had ungoverned space that allowed that. Obviously, they’re having significant internal problems right now. And so on the face of it, that doesn’t bode well for the country being, you know, more controlled, if you will. So that cell, I think, will continue to be there and continue to be a real threat.
With respect to Somalia, same kind of thing, meaning ungoverned, et cetera. There’s a growing cell there, growing connection to al-Qaida that we’re all concerned about. But I – I’m not one, at this point, to say – (chuckles) – that we can shift our focus. I think we’ve got to keep, in some ways a global focus, but certainly, the regional focus on al-Qaida, which goes from North Africa all the way through Afghanistan and Pakistan, and including Iraq, that we’ve got to stay focused on at all. So I wouldn’t be prepared to say that – at least from my perspective there’s not a shift that’s imminent. I worry about the growth –
ADM. MULLEN: – and the potency of the threat.
Q: And when you say “growth,” Somalia in particular?
ADM. MULLEN: Yeah. I mean, I worry about – oh, well, actually, I – the growth I really worry about is in Yemen. But I am – I’m also seeing slow growth in Somalia.
MODERATOR: OK, we have four minutes for two budget questions.
Q: You have two minutes.
Q: All right. Admiral, can you update us –
MODERATOR: Oh, no, no, no, no.
Q: I heard four.
MODERATOR: We only have four minutes.
MR. : Twelve-thirty, we got to wrap it up.
MODERATOR: Yeah, yeah.
Q: Admiral, can you update us on exactly where you are in the process of identifying security spending cuts? And how far along is the strategy that’s supposed to inform those cuts?
ADM. MULLEN: We’ve worked it – we’ve worked it very hard in terms of the overall strategy. And I – obviously, a brand-new secretary, so we’ve got to bring him up to speed quickly. But I also worry the budget train is moving pretty rapidly. So we’re moving out pretty smartly with respect to the strategy. And I am hopeful that we can make budget decisions that are focused or part of a strategy as opposed to just make budget decisions.
MODERATOR: And we cannot deny –
ADM. MULLEN: So we’re pretty far along. (Inaudible.)
MODERATOR: We cannot deny Tony a budget question.
Q: Can you reasonably and responsibly cut $400 billion from a 10-year or 12-year plan without damaging national security? Can you reasonably do it no matter how you cut it –
ADM. MULLEN: Yes.
Q: – or is that number just too big?
ADM. MULLEN: No.
Q: Can you cut more?
ADM. MULLEN: Yes, you can.
Q: No, it’s –
ADM. MULLEN: Yes, you can do it responsibly. And if we do it in a way that is both comprehensive and strategy-driven, it can be done.
MODERATOR: This is the last question.
Q: Hey, can I just do a quick follow-up –
MODERATOR: Last one.
Q: – on Afghanistan, on what you said about corruption? You said there hasn’t been enough progress made on corruption.
ADM. MULLEN: Right.
Q: Why is that?
ADM. MULLEN: I think it’s endemic. It’s a real challenge in the country. And certainly, I’m not arguing that we need to eliminate corruption in Afghanistan.
Q: In – (inaudible) – Karzai government?
ADM. MULLEN: No, I think it’s – no, I mean, it’s a – it’s a – it’s endemic to that part of the world in ways, but I think there are – that it needs to be taken to a level where the Afghan people can have faith in their government.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Admiral. On behalf of everybody, thank you.
ADM. MULLEN: Thank you, thank you.