DAVID SANGER: Thank you very much. Thank you all for coming here and particularly, thank you, Adm. Mullen. I know that this is the end of a trip that has taken you to Kabul and to Islamabad, to Israel and now back to Aspen. (Laughter.)
ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: Don’t forget Washington.
MR. SANGER: Yeah, had to stop to refuel someplace. So anything happen at the office in the past week? (Laughter, applause.)
ADM. MULLEN: Actually, Petraeus wants to make sure I’m hydrated for this. (Laughter, applause.)
MR. SANGER: Well, we thought for the format tonight, I’m going to interview Adm. Mullen with all of you. I’m going to start. In a little less than an hour, we hope to cover Afghanistan, Pakistan. We want to talk a little bit about Iran, a bit about North Korea, a little bit about cyberdefenses. And then we’re going to open it up for about a half an hour to questions from the audience.
And by that time, Adm. Mullen will be asking the question that many in the military ask, which is, why did I agree to this? (Laughter.) But he has gamely agreed to come out and join us tonight. Let’s start with your trip. I know this trip was planned before the events last week involving Gen. McChrystal, but certainly you had to go deal with all of those events during the trip. And I’d like to start in Afghanistan.
You met with President Karzai. Just before his dismissal, I think, you heard Gen. McChrystal say that things were moving much slower than he had hoped and that the Kandahar operation, which you had hoped would be underway by now, would probably be delayed until fall. So tell us what you found when you arrived there.
ADM. MULLEN: Well, as you said, the trip was scheduled some time ago and it’s one of, obviously, many trips I’ve taken to the region to meet with the leadership and also meet with our people on the ground. So it turned out, obviously because of what happened last week, to be very timely.
And I did spend time with President Karzai, the minister of defense there and also the ISAF leadership and, by video teleconference, with leadership in the field. And as I said publicly last week, what I really wanted to do because of what happened was – it was a trip of reassurance and, certainly, we will – given Senate confirmation, which I never presume – have a new leader out there, I think, very quickly. We also have a very able deputy there now in Gen. Nick Parker.
So I wanted to reemphasize that the policy hasn’t changed, the strategy hasn’t changed. And nor should the focus. President Karzai was both, I think, reassured and also asked me to, certainly, pass his regards back to Gen. McChrystal, who he thinks very highly of. Same with Minister Wardak and the other leadership that I met with there. And clearly, the team is still – they know the mission is primary.
And I think in the decisions that the president made – the decision the president made, which I fully support, both in terms of relieving Gen. McChrystal as well as nominating Gen. Petraeus – he spoke, really, of two things.
One was the whole issue of civilian control of the military and the primacy of that, as well as his focus on the mission. So I wanted to make sure that we’re staying focused on the mission and I’d report back that, clearly, that’s where all the people that I saw were. And then, specifically, discussed – but I actually didn’t spend a lot of time on it – but specifically discussed what was going on in terms of executing that, with respect to Kandahar, Marja, the operations that are actually ongoing.
I believe and I certainly acknowledge what Gen. McChrystal said. That said, it’s a very difficult, complex environment and a very difficult and complex operation. And in fact, there are many things, in terms of Kandahar in particular, which are already ongoing. Security’s clearly a huge part of that. We understand that. But we’re also focused very heavily on the governance piece, the corruption piece.
And in my visits there, certainly in recent months, the output later this year – which I’ve said for many months now – I don’t think we’ll really know where we are in Kandahar until the end of the year. And I testified recently that I really believe as Kandahar goes, so goes Afghanistan. But it’s a very tough fight. And so there are shaping operations which have been ongoing for weeks. There are operations, combat operations, which have been ongoing for weeks.
Yet this isn’t going to start in eastern Kandahar and move to western Kandahar. We’ve got to establish a security environment with the Afghan police and the Afghan forces. We still have a third of the forces that President Obama approved in December that aren’t there yet and they’re critical to this as well.
They’ll arrive later this summer. And so while certainly there have been challenges, significant challenges, thus far, I think the judgment on the ground – and particularly with the ground commander himself – to essentially wait for those forces to come in, which is really the essence of the judgment of the delay that Gen. McChrystal talked about. It is, I think, a wise decision.
MR. SANGER: Well, some of what Gen. McChrystal was discussing came out of the experience of Marja. And while I don’t want to dwell on this too long, that was supposed to be the test bed for all of this. And I think it was Gen. McChrystal who said that his hope was that as soon as the area was under control, there would be a government in a box, ready to roll.
Well, the box arrived and it was opened and about two Afghans walked out of it. And the concern has been that the governance element that you referred to was just not ready. What did you – as you try to do the lessons learned out of Marja, why was it not ready and what’s different about Kandahar?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think we underestimated the degree of difficulty of establishing the local governance. And so that’s a big lesson as we move into Kandahar. That said, there has been progress in Marja and security is a whole lot better there than it was. This is a place the Taliban owned for the last several years.
I don’t want to say that it’s where it needs to be because there isn’t. Because there’s still intimidation; there’s still beheadings. There’s still night letters and those things that we’re all concerned about. But in my engagement with Gen. McChrystal and others over the last several weeks, there really has been steady progress.
And there is – Governor Mangal has worked hard to bring local governance in. There are indicators in terms of bazaars being opened, mostly during the day. I roger that security is pretty difficult at night. There are schools open that weren’t open.
And there are – the other thing that’s happened and this was another message that I emphasized with everybody I saw, particularly our team – and I also spoke at the embassy with all the section leaders – but there is a civilian-military component of this in Marja, which is also working hard together. So I would say we underestimated the degree of difficulty with the governance. And certainly in Marja, but we continue –
MR. SANGER: – have 60,000 people.
ADM. MULLEN: True, but it’s a town that had literally been owned by the Taliban. That isn’t the case in Kandahar and in that regard, it’s different. But that doesn’t – I don’t in any way, shape or form want to understate the degree of difficulty or the challenge.
And all of this – and I talked about how we move forward on Kandahar and specifically the criticality of it – is most significant, I think, because it is central to the insurgency, central to the Pashtuns.
And one of the things I thought Gen. McChrystal did exceptionally well was work in particular with President Karzai, who has held a number of shuras – leadership forums – not just to listen to concerns, but also to actually, I think, give direction and support this operation. So there’s an awful lot that will go on. Literally, not just in the fall, but really, right through the fall.
And I really believe that, you know, when we look at the strategy last year, I believe that we know a lot more.
Obviously, we’d be able to see that – we would be able to look at whether we’ve reversed the momentum or not – that’s fundamentally the strategy – and also that the approach, the strategic approach here, at the end of the year, in this review, that we would certainly look to see the indicators, the proof of concept and how it’s working.
MR. SANGER: I’m glad you mentioned that end of year because you have two deadlines coming up. One is this review in December. And then, of course, come July of 2011, the president has said a withdrawal will begin. He has not made it clear at what pace. As you’ve said, that would be conditions-based.
When you came up with that timeline in November and December, it was described to us in the briefings that we received as a device to create a sense of urgency. I think it’s fair to say that in the interviews we’ve down in the past month or two, it has seemed more to many, including many on the ground in Afghanistan, as something of a sword over their operations.
Many Afghans say they fear that, come this date in July of 2011, the Americans will leave. We hear from American troops that the deadline can, at moments, undercut development and governance projects. Certainly, the Taliban have tried to use it for propaganda purposes, saying the Americans are only here for another year, if that. As you look back at it now, do you anticipate this about the timeline? And do you believe, at this point, that the timeline is still more helpful than hurtful?
ADM. MULLEN: I actually was a supporter of the timeline from the beginning, for a couple of reasons. One is that we put a significant number of Marines – I think 10,000 or so – into Helmand last summer, the summer of ’09. And in the time between when those Marines went in, into the south, which is really the first time we’ve had significant force there, and both this year and summer 2011, we’d really know whether this was working or not.
And that’s what I still believe. And July 2011, and in particular the withdrawal issue – there is a certainty we will reduce a number of the surge troops, of the 30,000 that have gone in. But how many and from where will be completely based on conditions on the ground.
The other thing that it did, from my perspective, is it did create a sense of urgency with Afghan leadership. I’ve also been struck by something Gen. Odierno told me in Iraq. When we came out of the cities in Iraq in June of last year, he was very much taken aback by and underestimated the degree to which the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi people, leading now, stepped up.
And I’m not directly equating the security force piece of that, but I think sending a signal that this is really critical. And it has – at least the feedback I get, certainly – it has energized the need and the sense of urgency for creating this force, the Afghan National Security Forces, both the army and the police. And we have put in a significant structure to support that that just didn’t exist before.
And then to back that up to the review, which you talked briefly about, in December – very important review, but I view it as one of a continuous assessment. And I think the timeframe that that was really chosen is because we really have an opportunity to move all the way through this year and then review where we are and make an assessment there.
I think there’s a lot that’s going to happen between now and July 2011. We’re not at July 2010 yet. And I understand, certainly, the desire to know what’s it’s going to be out there, yeah, but we’re just not going to know until we move a lot further down the road.
MR. SANGER: You have said and your entire team has said there’s no military solution, ultimately, to this. You’ve said that this will require a political settlement. But it has to be timed just right. Now, we have seen President Karzai and, to some degree, the Pakistani government begin to move to reconciliation discussions, or at least try to test them out, perhaps a little earlier than the U.S. would be comfortable with.
Yesterday, Director Panetta at the CIA was asked about this on “This Week.” And he was asked specifically about whether he believed that this was the moment, whether or not the leaders of the Taliban were prepared, at this point, for reconciliation.
Here’s what he said: “We have seen no evidence that they are truly interested in reconciliation, where they would surrender their arms, where they would denounce al-Qaida, where they would really try to become part of that society.”
And then he went on to say, “unless they’re convinced that the United States is going to win and that they’re going to be defeated” – that is, the Taliban defeated – “I think it’s very difficult to proceed with a reconciliation that’s going to be meaningful.” He’s saying the tide must turn first. Do you agree?
ADM. MULLEN: I have said for a long time, I think that reconciliation will only come from a position of strength. And we’re not there. It is important the Afghan leadership, President Karzai, lead this. Obviously, Pakistan has got stakes in this as well as the United States and the coalition.
So I would agree with what Director Panetta said, in particular the evidence of willingness to renounce al-Qaida, put down their arms and participate in a positive way in the government in Afghanistan.
MR. SANGER: So from your discussions, in the past few days, with President Karzai, with the Pakistani leadership, are you persuaded that in these discussions that they are starting up that those conditions are, in fact, the conditions that they are laying out?
ADM. MULLEN: I have spoken with the leadership there for many months and those are conditions that we all agree on – and in fact, in particular, dealing with this from a position of strength. Everybody understands that.
MR. SANGER: And if that’s the case, why are the talks beginning now?
ADM. MULLEN: I think that the indications and discussions about some possibilities are there, but I would go back to what Director Panetta said, in terms of there isn’t anything meaningful at this particular point in time.
MR. SANGER: When you discuss a reconciliation that could take place after the U.S. and the Afghan government are in a position of strength, could you imagine a situation in which the leaders of the Haqqani network, or Mullah Omar, have a seat at the table of governance in Kabul? Is that conceivable? Is it likely? Is it even desirable?
ADM. MULLEN: I think you spoke earlier about and emphasized, there’s a political solution here. It’s the only solution. The military and security, obviously, is a hugely important part of setting the conditions. And it’s hard to say, obviously, who would be a part of that and I wouldn’t do that right now. But I certainly wouldn’t reject out of hand that political entities that are very much the enemy right now would participate.
I have been struck in terms of how the Afghan people see the Taliban. And they see them in an incredibly negative way. Obviously, their concerned about how this turns out and who ends up running the country. But the Taliban are incredibly unpopular and the Afghan citizens that I’ve spoken to have no desire to return to any kind of Taliban regime that existed in the past.
MR. SANGER: In the run-up to the announcement of the president’s strategy, you said on a few occasions and I think Secretary Gates said, we have to defeat al-Qaida. We don’t have to defeat the Taliban. We just have to cripple their capability to the point that the Afghan security forces can take over that job. Is that still your view?
ADM. MULLEN: I guess, in particular as I return from this trip, I’m increasingly concerned about the synergy among terrorist groups in that region and their expanding desire and planning to try to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. And not just Americans.
So from the standpoint of the overall strategy, it is to, obviously, greatly diminish al-Qaida to a point where they are no longer a significant threat, and in Afghanistan, make sure that Afghanistan can’t become the same haven that it was, or a safe haven where al-Qaida or, quite frankly, any other terrorists who have that ambition – which they still do – that they could, in fact, effectively carry out that mission for them.
MR. SANGER: But of course, we’ve seen al-Qaida is portable. It can move to Yemen. It can move to Somalia. The only place out of that that we’ve committed significant troops is Afghanistan. And of course, the core of it is in Pakistan.
Do you remain persuaded that, since there are only, by Director Panetta’s estimate yesterday, 50 or 60 al-Qaida in Afghanistan, that it still makes sense to have such an overwhelming troop presence in Afghanistan and not as much in the places that, obviously, have not invited in the troops, where al-Qaida lives?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, al-Qaida does live in Pakistan and strategically, I’ve felt, for some time, which is one the reasons I’ve worked on the relationship with Pakistan so hard. This was, I think, my 18th trip to Pakistan, 17th or 18th trip to Pakistan since I’ve been chairman. And that relationship, which was fractured in the ’90s, is one that I think is absolutely vital for the long-term strategic view of how we get at this threat.
They are also a country, now, very much under siege from terrorists, internally. And strategically, security on both sides of that border – coalition and Afghan forces, obviously, on one side; Pakistani forces on the other – and they’ve done quite a bit. If you go back two years and would have predicted that the Pak mil would have done as much as they’ve done, not many of us would have gotten that right, at least from my perspective.
MR. SANGER: And are they doing it as well against the Afghan Taliban, or only against the Pakistani Taliban?
ADM. MULLEN: They are very focused on, obviously, the threat against them. I’ve made it clear many times and I’m not the only one that the Haqqani network, in particular, and Quetta, is an area that we need to continue to increase the pressure on and focus on in a way where they no longer can threaten Afghanistan – as well as the links that they have both to al-Qaida and the other terrorist groups that are out there.
One of the things I’ve watched over the last couple of years is the synergy between terrorist groups. LeT is another. Generally, LeT was east, focused on India. And they’re now in the west. And actually, they’re not just in the west, focused on Pakistan. There are LeT elements focused on Afghanistan. That’s one example.
We’ve seen in our own country, recently – with Detroit, with Times Square, with Hedley, with Zazi – we’ve seen an increasing level of distributed threats, if you will, and an ability to expand this federated approach which al-Qaida has had. And al-Qaida is at the center of this and al-Qaida leadership resides in Pakistan. We know that and that’s why this strategy, from my perspective, is so important, in terms of getting at al-Qaida leadership and making sure they’ve got nowhere to go.
MR. SANGER: You’ve mentioned the synergy twice now. And certainly, we have seen much more of this kind of cooperation than you saw even when the strategy that the president announced came out on December 1. Does that make you now think that, while the strategy says al-Qaida and its associates, the associates are now as important as al-Qaida itself?
ADM. MULLEN: I think al-Qaida continues to be, you know, the seminal threat and the leadership, obviously. While they’ve had some challenges in the last couple of years, but I think that’s really the heart of it. And their strategic goals include, again, killing as many Westerners and Americans as possible.
They still seek nuclear weapons. We’re living in a world that – I am increasingly concerned about the nexus between terrorists and nuclear weapons. And I think we all, globally, have to do all we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.
MR. SANGER: Let me take you to the nuclear weapons part of this, now, since you’ve raised it. One of the biggest concerns, of course, has been Pakistan’s own arsenal.
ADM. MULLEN: Yeah.
MR. SANGER: Probably just shy of 100 weapons. And of course, the laboratories, which continue to operate and which were the birthplace of the A.Q. Khan network. You have said many times, both when President Bush was president and under President Obama, that you are increasingly confident that the Pakistani arsenal is secure. I assume by that you mean both the weapons and the materials elsewhere.
There’s been, we’ve reported before, a fairly vigorous American program to help the Pakistanis over the past few years. What can you tell us about how that has accelerated in recent times and whether or not you think the threat posed by all of these different groups to the nuclear program is greater or less than it was, say, a year ago?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, if I go back even a couple years, when I first started going to Pakistan on a regular basis, it’s an area that I’ve raised with the military leadership there from day one, and in terms of both concern and a desire to understand the security level. I come away from that, over a period of time, with a belief that these are the most important weapons in the Pakistani arsenal.
That is both understood by their leadership and, in particular, their military leadership and they go to extraordinary efforts to both protect and secure them. That said, I’m limited – I think we all are limited – in what we know. We know a certain amount. We have invested in, over the last couple of years, a substantial amount of money, through the Department of Energy, specifically, to improve their security.
MR. SANGER: I think about $100 million is some rough number we’ve had.
ADM. MULLEN: Actually, I think it’s at 100 million or –
MR. SANGER: More.
ADM. MULLEN: A little, yeah, a little north of there. The point is, there’s been an investment there. There’s been an awful lot of work with them and there have been significant improvements there. That said, these are – and I go back, David, to the ’90s. And we started in 2002 – 2000, 2001, 2002 – with a relationship that there was no trust between the countries. And there was no trust and still a question that comes up is, are you really staying? Are you going to stick with us this time?
So a message and a belief that I have is we’ve worked hard to regain that trust – that isn’t going to happen overnight – and commit to a strategic relationship in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, where that – in Afghanistan, the same question gets asked. Are you staying this time, really? Because we left before. And I’ve seen significant commitments on the part of our whole of government, not just on the military side, in the strategic dialogues which have taken place with their leadership over the last several months. That said, that trust is not back. It’s not something that – and it’s not going to come back overnight. And so –
MR. SANGER: And they’re still very worried about letting you know where their weapons are, where all of them are stored and –
ADM. MULLEN: Well, these are their crown jewels. And as much as we are focused on this threat – and I think they are – the Paks – much more than they used to be, they’ve got – you know, they see a threat from India. I mean, that’s – and this is their deterrent, specifically. So they view this as their – a huge, huge part of their long-term security. And thus, they haven’t opened the doors up. And I don’t expect to go next trip and say, okay, now we’ll open the doors.
That said, with this investment and the commitment and the focus – and it’s not just Gen. Kayani, because I’ve met with other leaders there – there have been significant improvements and I’m as comfortable as I can be that those improvements have taken effect. Equally focused on the proliferation aspect of it, not just the weapons themselves. And we certainly continue to focus there, as well.
MR. SANGER: Do you think that the laboratories, now – I’m trying to understand whether your bigger concern – would be my last question on this subject – but whether your bigger concern here is a direct attack by the Taliban or one of the other terror groups to seize actual weapons or the insider threat, inside the laboratories, which turned out to be the proliferation problem of the A.Q. Khan –
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I’m not – I wouldn’t specify the particular path of proliferation, but I am certainly extremely concerned about the potential there. Now, again, they’ve taken significant steps and it’s something we’re working very hard with them on.
MR. SANGER: Let’s talk for just a moment about the Pakistani view right now of our own commitment. They have been involved, as we discussed before, in the beginnings of some of these reconciliation talks. What do you think is their long-term objective here? Are they involved in these talks because they think, come July of ’11, we’re going to begin to leave Afghanistan, even if we leave it slowly? Are they in this because they’re interested in creating a greater Pashtun state?
ADM. MULLEN: I believe that the leadership in Pakistan, civilian and military, are – recognize the importance of how it all turns out in Afghanistan. And on the one hand, they’re certainly not anxious to see a several-hundred-thousand police and military force grow and be hostile. And so we – we’re in agreement that there has – that Afghanistan needs to be stable and it needs to be peaceful. And I think at least the leadership is very much in the same position with respect to that.
How we get there – and the long-term commitment – obviously, what happens with respect to overall security is critical. And that’s, you know, a huge part of the overall engagement strategy with Pakistan and Afghanistan, but in particular with Pakistan. They see, potentially, either, you know, an unstable, un-peaceful Afghanistan, which threatens them, or one that is peaceful and stable. And so we’re all working towards the stable, peaceful Afghanistan that essentially can govern itself, secure itself and not be a threat to its neighbors.
MR. SANGER: You, at the beginning, mentioned that you talked a bit about civil-military relations during your trip. It would be interesting to know what the Pakistanis thought of your discussion about civilian command over the military – (laughter) – but apart from that, I’m particularly interested in how this message has been received, as you’ve gone out in the wake of Gen. McChrystal’s dismissal and talked to your own troops about civilian leadership. And equally, what you said to the civilian leadership about how they have to communicate with the military.
ADM. MULLEN: Well, my – I mean, obviously, the relationship is critical. And my – those that I speak to are really in the military. I mean, that’s my responsibility as the senior military officer in the country. And I spoke to it – last week wasn’t the first time I’ve spoken to it. It is a sacred part of who we are, as a country, as a democracy. It is, as far as I’m concerned, sacrosanct. And no individual, no Admiral, no general, as far as I’m concerned, can violate that. And I think we violate that, and in fact, really put in jeopardy, in ways, probably, we don’t even understand when it occurs, that trust, which has to be there, and that responsibility.
We work – and have since we were founded as a country – we are supportive of the decisions of our president of the United States. And we execute that. And we must, in fact, ensure that we are adhering to that in every way – publicly, privately, formally, informally. And to the degree that we don’t, to the degree that we tolerate it even in private discussions, it’s corrosive.
MR. SANGER: And that was what you said last week at your press conference, sir. When you read the comments in the magazine, in Rolling Stone, you said you felt sick. Did you feel sick for this reason, that you felt that in the – publicly and privately element of this, that the culture around the command was dismissive of –
ADM. MULLEN: The immediate reaction for me was the leader that we had in Afghanistan – the commander we had there – but included in that was clearly a focus on the cumulative representation in that article, that included, I think, very poor judgment, a command climate which is not acceptable. And that command climate was represented in the cumulative aspect of that article. And it really strikes at the heart of the criticality of this issue.
MR. SANGER: And as you look back on it in retrospect, were there signs of that command climate that you had seen before, separate and apart from one article?
ADM. MULLEN: In terms of – at least, not from my position. I mean, I had never heard Gen. McChrystal utter any word that was anything different than loyal, dedicated, understand who my bosses are and we’re going to carry out this mission.
MR. SANGER: Well, I ask you that because when history looks back at this event, it’s going to put it in a long line of tensions between civilians and the military. And President Lincoln heard that Gen. Hooker suggested that a military dictatorship would be a better way to run the Union and just wrote him a stiff note, said, I’d prefer if you’d sort of shut up and go out and win some battles. (Laughter.)
He was less generous with Gen. McClellan. He – Truman and MacArthur the most famous case here. A much more subtle case with an old friend of yours, Adm. Fallon, who left voluntarily, but after comments about Iran during the Bush administration. Where do you place the events we’ve seen in the past week in this historical continuum?
ADM. MULLEN: It’s really important, I think, in this case to differentiate policy differences with the whole issue of very bad judgment and a command climate which wasn’t supportive of this, because the policy issue wasn’t even – wasn’t in play this time in any way, shape or form. We – I’m certainly – I understand that it’s not the 1860s or even the 1960s, but it goes back to, you know, the 1770s.
This is – it’s such a fundamental principle, and there has – over time, as you’ve pointed out, there are certainly times of tension, particularly in great challenges. And we have an enormous set of challenges now. But that is not, in any way, shape or form an excuse for any of us at any level, from the most junior enlisted to the most senior of us, to not recognize the importance of, you know, civilian control of the military.
MR. SANGER: How much of this do you think is a symptom of the fact that this war is now the longest war in American history – that it has gone on longer than the American Revolution? That creates a set of longstanding tensions. The mission, as defined in Afghanistan, has changed over time, if you just listen to what President Bush said at the beginning, what President Bush said at the end of his term, what President Obama has said now. One can understand where the frustrations may arise under those circumstances.
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think – and back to historically, there certainly can be frustrations in the field. And that said, I’m not sure that I would tie it directly to the length of the wars. I am extremely concerned – this is our ninth year of war – I am extremely concerned about the health of our force. I’m concerned about the rotation rate that we continue over the next couple of years, with the drawdown that will continue in Iraq, we’re actually going to get some relief there that we haven’t had. But that’s still a couple years out, and you’re just starting to recharge in two years.
And I see that stress at every level in our chain of command, from those who are doing the most difficult fighting and sacrificing the most on the ground to even our senior leaders. So it’s something I’m conscious of, focused on, and it’s something I speak about routinely. And I am – I believe that we have to – as military leaders, we have to pay attention to that throughout our chain of command in terms of what I will call individual dwell time. This is going to – I don’t see us – this fight against the kind of terrorism that’s out there ending in the next 12 months or 24 months. And as I’ve told an awful lot of them, this is a marathon, not a sprint.
MR. SANGER: Something else has changed from the 1860s or even the MacArthur time or the Vietnam period, which is that we’re examining these decisions and their outcomes in real time. The president had barely organized his first Situation Room meeting last year – the review of Afghanistan and Pakistan – before Gen. McChrystal’s memorandum leaked. He was still in the midst of the review when Ambassador Eikenberry’s memo, suggesting that President Karzai was not a reliable partner, leaked. What does that do to the civilian-military relationship as these decisions get pulled apart even before they’re made?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think it certainly increases the tension, without any question. That said, I also – I just think we have to recognize the world we’re living in. This isn’t centuries ago; this is the here and now. And in everything we do, take that into consideration in how we do this. I think, you know, from my perspective, it’s very important to preserve space for the civilian leadership in our country, right up through the president. And to the degree that, that gets taken away, I think it, in fact, exacerbates that tension, which is going to be there to some level, and again, in these very challenging times.
MR. SANGER: But your point is, you’re not going to turn back the clock.
ADM. MULLEN: We’re not.
MR. SANGER: So you have to go into these decisions with an understanding that they are going to be picked apart even before they’re made.
ADM. MULLEN: Absolutely – well, that isn’t how I look at every one. (Laughter.) But I certainly recognize the potential that’s there.
MR. SANGER: Let’s turn to Iran. Your last stop on your trip was Israel. One has to assume that Iran was a major subject of conversation during the course of that. Director Panetta said yesterday that his estimate now is – and I assume that he was probably summarizing what we may all see in the national intelligence estimate on Iran if and when it finally comes out.
ADM. MULLEN: Are you going to see it?
MR. SANGER: You know, I may hear about it, or maybe everyone else in this room will. (Laughter.) We certainly saw the last one, and the last one said that work stopped in 2003. And Director Panetta said very clearly he now believes work has continued, at some level. He said that it would take about one year for the Iranians to convert the current material they have in hand, or at least, that we know about, into a weapons grade and it would take another year to turn that into a delivery device.
So he’s talking about two years if we knew that breakout was happening. I think you’ve given estimates of maybe one to three years in the past. He also said that the United States and the Israelis have a different assessment of whether or not the leadership in Iran has made the decision to go for a bomb. He said the U.S. believes that decision has not yet been made; the Israelis tend to believe it has been made. Tell us how we should now think about how much time we have, how fast our clock is ticking, and how fast the Israeli clock is ticking.
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I’ve said for some time I think it’s one to three years, and this is one of many meetings I’ve had with my counterpart and his leadership in Israel. And one of the things that’s happened, though in the last couple of years is, because we – myself, others – have had, you know, a significant number of meetings with them – and I think Director Panetta said this yesterday, was – we really do agree on the facts.
And in the world we’re living in, we have to keep updating ourselves. So we can’t come back six months or 12 months later. That’s just – things are moving too quickly. I’m always reminded – and one of the reasons I go – but I’m always reminded of the tough neighborhood that Israel lives in. I can say that to you now, here in Aspen, and intellectually get it that I’m telling you being in Aspen isn’t the same as being in Tel Aviv, under any circumstances. (Laughter.)
Well, and the word that is always – actually, not oftentimes used, but it is there – is existential. And the Israelis believe this is an existential threat in its truest definition. And that has been very much on my mind, obviously, throughout this whole issue of Iran and its development of nuclear weapons. I believe that strategically, they continue to pursue it. They’ve not complied with the NPT; they’ve not complied with the IAEA.
They have been given – as the president said, they’ve been given every chance to do this, and they have not, and I believe they will not, to the degree they can, comply with the international norms here. Increasingly isolated – and the sanctions are an example of that. And when some, who historically may have supported them, are now turning against them – and I think that increasing isolation is something that they bring on themselves.
I’ve still said this many times and I would repeat it: I still think it is incredibly dangerous for them to achieve this capability, destabilizing in the region. I think it generates the great potential for a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The place is unstable enough; we don’t need that. And at the same time, I think, you know, a strike against Iran also will be, should something like that occur, incredibly destabilizing.
So I’ve been a supporter of the dialogue, the outreach, the engagement to see where they would go. And that obviously continues.
MR. SANGER: You’ve also been a supporter of the sanctions. Director Panetta said yesterday he did not believe – he thought the sanctions would cause them pain, but would not cause them to give up the nuclear program.
ADM. MULLEN: And I would agree with that.
MR. SANGER: So you used the word “capability” before, and that’s an important word in this, because the U.S. position has always been, the United States cannot allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. Can the United States allow Iran to assemble all of the critical elements here – the capability – but not put them all together?
And there are many scenarios, including many that have been discussed in the Pentagon and the intelligence community under which Iran might stay legally within the NPT, but still have all the pieces together and the world would know it could assemble a weapon in a matter of weeks or months.
ADM. MULLEN: I would say that, first of all, decisions, with respect to that, are up to the president. And then secondly, I would go back to what I said earlier about the destabilizing aspect of this almost – as well as the existential aspect of it, from the Israeli perspective that I think we all have to be very realistic about – about all of that. And my expectations would be that Iran will game this, as they have, as far as they can go with, again, the strategic intent to, in fact, achieve that capability.
MR. SANGER: Well, Secretary Gates said, on “Meet the Press” a few months ago that if they did get to the capability, he said, how are you able to tell if they have not actually assembled it, and he said, I don’t know how you could verify that. Do we interpret that to mean that assembling the elements, to your mind, is the same as actually having the weapon?
ADM. MULLEN: I think it’s a great question to be asked. (Laughter.) You know, yours, as well –
MR. SANGER: But not as – (inaudible) – to be answered, right?
ADM. MULLEN: No, I mean, it is a – if I were to use Qom, which is the secret facility that they developed, which was exposed to the world, as an example, there’s not – from my perspective, there isn’t any reason to trust them. And to the degree that we look at them and what Director Panetta says we know and how we deal with the facts, if you will, with Israel, there’s an uncertainty that’s associated with Iran about what we know and what we don’t know that is very consistent with Iran for a long time.
MR. SANGER: One last question on the region: The new nuclear posture review that the administration published a few months ago said that the United States would defend against a nuclear attack itself, its allies and its friends. I’m not quite sure what was meant by friends there. Did we mean non-treaty allies in the region who might feel equally threatened by Iran – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the list could go on?
ADM. MULLEN: I think there’s wonderful ambiguity there, David. (Laughter.)
MR. SANGER: I had a funny feeling you’d say that. (Laughter.) Before we open it up, let’s talk briefly about North Korea. We’ve seen a remarkable set of events in recent months – the sinking of a ship that killed 46 South Korean sailors, an investigation that the U.S. participated in that concluded North Korea was responsible for this through one of its mini-submarines; a lot of discussion that this could be related to the succession politics underway in North Korea; and a lot of phraseology about how North Korea would be made to pay a price of some kind for this activity.
Yet, so far, we haven’t seen a price. We have not seen a U.N. statement or resolution; we may, at some point. There’s been no discussion of sanctions. You have discussed and your colleagues have discussed perhaps running some exercises with the South Koreans – anti-submarine exercises. I’m not quite sure what that costs the North Koreans. Are we in danger here that deterrence against North Korea is beginning to fall apart?
ADM. MULLEN: I don’t think we should understate what the president spoke to the other day when he talked about the criticality of the relationship, the strength of the relationship and some of the specifics, including the whole issue of command and supporting, in particular, President Lee and his desire and belief that, that was a really important security policy, that, that change be made.
MR. SANGER: You’re referring to the decision to extend operational control in wartime.
ADM. MULLEN: Which was due to take place in 2012 and has now moved out to 2015.
MR. SANGER: And under those circumstances, the United States would retain control over South Korean forces in a time of conflict.
ADM. MULLEN: Right, in fact, in command, basically. I’m – certainly, I recognize both the severity of the event. I’ve seen the evidence to support the conclusion that North Korea did this. Again, I think a very deliberate approach here is important, and it’s at the U.N. right now. And there’s an awful lot of work going on there to initially – or certainly, see where that comes out.
And I wouldn’t, therefore – wouldn’t specify what other things we should do or what might happen until that process is through. That said, we have a longstanding relationship – military-to-military relationship; we’ve operated with the Korean navy a lot over the years. It’s stronger than it’s ever been. Stability in that part of the world is critical. There are an awful lot of interests there. I think the leadership in North Korea continues to isolate itself. Needless to say, as I think you indicated, this isn’t the first time that they’ve done that. But they continue to take steps in that direction, and I think that –
MR. SANGER: History would suggest this isn’t the last. When succession struggles happen in North Korea, these tend to come in clusters of a few events.
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I would agree with that, and in fact, it is necessarily just the succession issue, because there have been a cluster of events that had nothing to do with succession. But most of us believe that certainly, there is succession planning and succession challenges that are ongoing. But it’s difficult to predict what’s going to happen next.
MR. SANGER: Is North Korea the biggest proliferation threat we face right now? Obviously, they went out to build a reactor in Syria that managed to get pretty near completion before it was discovered by Israeli intelligence and revealed to the U.S. There are rumors of help to Myanmar that have not been confirmed. Do you consider them to be the number one risk of proliferation?
ADM. MULLEN: I’d put them at the top of the list.
MR. SANGER: Top of the list?
ADM. MULLEN: Yeah.
MR. SANGER: And so what further can be done against that?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, again, I think the totality of the pressure, international – I mean, literally, leadership throughout the world, political, diplomatic, economic – has to be – has to continue to be increased over time. And the kinds of authorities that are out there, which are very challenging because of the ability to proliferate dual-use items, those kinds of things. But I think we can’t just expect those challenges to go away. We have to stay at figuring out how we’re going to get at that kind of proliferation.
And I think the steps that have been taken, certainly, in recent months with respect to the focus on – you mentioned the nuclear posture review – that the 46 countries, I think, that came to the United States to focus on this. In the long run, I think that the overall strategy to continue to really squeeze those who are proliferators and those who are non-compliant and do it in every possible way has to continue.
And they also, I think – I also think that – we talked about a position of strength, in terms of reconciliation. I think that the countries who are proliferators, the individuals who are proliferators need to understand that there is a lot of strength out there that is focused on this in many ways.
MR. SANGER: We’re reliant, in large part, on the Chinese and whatever influence they have over North Korea; we’re reliant on them, to some degree, on Iran. Yet, your own relationship – the military-to-military relationship – with China has had a very significant setback in response – it was only a few months ago – this was the end of last year – you had some of the Chinese defense leadership, military leadership, come to Washington. Then that relationship appears to have broken down. How do you diagnose why that’s happened? And what effect does that have on cases like North Korea?
ADM. MULLEN: Hard to specifically diagnose, as to why – suffice it to say there’s enough evidence in recent years that we are very focused on establishing and sustaining military-to-military relationships. We think that’s critical. I mean, I see it in countries throughout the world. And where –
MR. SANGER: Specifically on China, why do you think their leadership has suddenly turned on this? Was it our arms sales to Taiwan?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, specifically, obviously, the reason that’s given – and these are not new reasons – the arms sales to Taiwan, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2000. And Secretary Gates, I think, said it pretty well recently when he talked about the PLA, you know, being a drag on the overall process – very difficult to bring them along. I said, in a speech recently, that I’ve moved from just curiosity as to why they aren’t transparent, curiosity as to why they won’t reach out – and they do, occasionally, but they won’t sustain it – to concern, specifically about the inability to make this connection.
MR. SANGER: And does that come from the Chinese leadership? Is it the PLA, or is it the civilian leadership?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think it’s the totality of the leadership in China. It’s hard to say exactly who it is, but it’s certainly a very strong policy decision that China has made. And I think, in the long run, actually, it has, again, with respect to stability in that region, that it works against stability in the region.
MR. SANGER: And is it an argument for us to increase the size of our footprint, or at least maintain it, in Asia? As you’ve pulled out of Iraq, there’s been discussion in the White House and elsewhere about beginning to slowly shift at least the footprint of our attention, if not necessarily the footprint of our forces, more back to Asia.
ADM. MULLEN: Actually, I don’t see, from what I can look at – certainly, in the near future, I don’t see our overall footprint changing. That said – and actually, there’s been a tremendous amount of focus on the region, and with China in particular. We’re not at a position where we’re unable, should military-to-military relationships be re-established – we’re in a pretty good position to be able to support that.
MR. SANGER: Well, let me open this to all of you. Questions are welcome. We would like them to be questions, if they can. There are some microphones around. Because it’s a little bit hard to hear in the tent, please do wait until you get the microphone. And Walter, you have pride of ownership here to get the first question.
Q: Thank you very much, sir, and you said a moment ago that you felt a strike on Iran’s nuclear-building capability would be destabilizing, very destabilizing. To what extent do you think it’s militarily feasible, and is there any difference between you and your Israeli counterparts on whether it might be militarily feasible?
ADM. MULLEN: The reason that I’m concerned about, actually, both aspects of this – the development and achievement of the capability, as well as a military strike, is not just for that which we could see, or even think about, at the time, but the – what I call the unintended consequences that I think we would have to deal with, which are also pretty difficult, specifically, to predict.
As much as you’d like me to walk through, you know, specifics on how we’re looking – the kinds of options that we’re looking at, I’m not going to do that, Walt. And I know you run the place. I understand that. (Laughter.) And I may not get invited back, but the – I would go back to say that, having just come out of Tel Aviv, the whole issue of working very closely with the Israelis is one that we spend an awful lot of time on.
MR. SANGER: And you believe, at this point, they’re willing to give us some time?
ADM. MULLEN: Are these questions from the audience now? (Laughter.)
MR. SANGER: Right, I can’t help myself. (Laughter.)
ADM. MULLEN: What was the question, sorry?
MR. SANGER: The question was, as you leave Tel Aviv, do you believe they’re willing to give us some time to let the sanctions work.
ADM. MULLEN: I think we’re very much in sync with where we are.
MR. SANGER: Sen. Hart?
Q: Admiral, is there a concurrence in the national command authority as to a definition of victory or winning in Afghanistan? And if so, could you provide that definition? And finally, is it achievable in the next 18, 24 months?
ADM. MULLEN: If you’ll allow me, Senator, I’ll stay away from timelines because everybody likes them, and I understand that. The focus of the overall campaign really has two principal aspects. It is really to disrupt al-Qaida and get them to a level where they are unable to put together any kind of significant threat with respect to us. And that includes, obviously, their leadership – disrupt, dismantle them – and do so, obviously, as rapidly as possible.
That said, there is – it is going to take some – it has taken some time. We’re in a vastly different place than we were a couple years ago in the region in terms of impact that we’ve had, both on al-Qaida and, quite frankly, in Afghanistan. It is to – the second part of it is to make sure that, that border, which is a porous border, and the country that borders Pakistan, Afghanistan, can’t provide the kind of home that al-Qaida had before for al-Qaida and any other terrorist organization, and their numbers are both growing, in terms of their focus on coming after us and their ability, certainly, to federate, as we’ve seen here lately, are also growing.
There’s an extraordinary amount of effort going on – this is about homeland security, and I understand that. And I want to take my hat off to those who have made such a difference with respect to the security that has been both focused on and dramatically improved in ways, I guess, a few years ago, some of us wouldn’t have imagined. That said, as we’ve also seen, the threat’s still very much there.
So it’s really the Pakistan piece, the al-Qaida leadership piece. And the Afghanistan piece is to support the growth of their military and police forces so that they can provide for their own security, the establishment of an overall governance structure which will not allow a safe haven to return, not support it. Again, I don’t underestimate the challenges. And putting a specific timeline on it, I honestly just can’t do that.
MR. SANGER: Saw a hand over here before – (inaudible) – yes?
Q: Thank you. Adm. Mullen, you mentioned repeatedly that the civilian control over the military was critical. Yet, in Pakistan, we have a situation in which the military is actually in control of the nuclear weapons, as I understand it. Is that a good idea, a bad idea, or an idea that you would correct, somehow?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I guess we should never forget that Pakistan’s a sovereign country and they get to vote on how they do things, clearly. I don’t underestimate or understate the significance of the Pakistani military, and particularly their army, I mean, literally, throughout their history. That said, it is a democracy. It is a growing democracy. It is one that both the political and the military leadership support.
I think it’s important to look at – and I’ll just be specific about Gen. Kayani – when he came in, the support for the Pakistani military, and the army in particular, was pretty low. And he’s worked hard and sacrificed greatly – he and his military – in addressing this threat, in ways that many of us would have said, probably, we didn’t think would happen this quickly.
He’s stretched. He’s got two threats. He’s got a dwell time issue, just like we do. There have been, you know, troops that he’s got on the Western side of his country that have been at war for years without rotation. So I see him trying to address all of those things. He clearly understands the threat in his country. They’re losing people right and left. And this is obviously how they view themselves and how they view the importance of civilian control of the military is really something for them to develop over time. From the perspective of the democracy we are, it is as critical a precept of us as a country as any that we have.
MR. SANGER: Back there, back corner. Somebody’s coming to you.
Q: Admiral, thank you very much for coming here today. Over the last day, in preparation for your visit, I’ve been watching the news and following the things that have been coming out. You’ve just been in Israel; you’ve just been in Afghanistan. On my BlackBerry today, I got four e-mails about $3 billion in hundred-dollar bills loaded into suitcases and pallets that, somehow or another, disappeared over the last few years. And there are implications that the Karzai government, or his family, might be involved.
With the case of Israel, the media is full of stories about a crisis or tensions or problems between the Obama administration and the government of Israel. I don’t want to ask, necessarily, for your opinions on these issues, but when you sit here talking to these people with all of this stuff spinning around in the background and the news media and so on and so forth, does it have any impact on your conversations? Does it ever come up? Or do you just proceed on a strictly business-like level as though these kinds of things weren’t going on?
ADM. MULLEN: I’m pretty open with my counterparts about the challenges that we have in addressing the significant issues that face us all. And that’s in Pakistan; that’s in Afghanistan; that’s in Israel and that’s in many other countries. So I haven’t – I’ve heard of this – the specifics with respect to the large amount of cash that you talk about. I just – I haven’t – I don’t know the details on it. That said, a big part of the strategy is to address the overall issue of corruption in Afghanistan.
And so we – yeah, back to the question earlier about the timeline that Sen. Hart asked – we – I feel we will have a pretty good indication by the end of this year – and certainly, know into next year – whether the overall strategy’s working. And it certainly includes progress on corruption. I think we need to be realistic about what we both mean by that and what can be done, what should be done in a country that has a history of corruption, specifically.
So the totality of our government – not, certainly, just the military, is very focused on this. One of the things about Afghanistan that I think we should be mindful of is the resourcing of this strategy or the resourcing of the overall strategy in Afghanistan. And we are just getting to the point where we’ve resourced it to a level that we really think we can continue to – we can make some progress, in every area, not just on the military side.
With respect to Israel, I mean, certainly, in both countries and others, you know, I’m aware of what’s out there. And yet, I’m very – I wouldn’t describe it as – there’s nothing, right now, that’s business as usual – nothing, at least, in my life. And I think we all just need to be, you know, mindful of that, and the importance of the overall relationship with Israel, and certainly, the military-to-military relationship, which is exceptionally strong. And the other hugely important relationship in that part of the world, which has certainly been very visible lately, is Turkey.
They’re a critical ally. They’ve been a critical ally for a long time. They’re a member of NATO. And so – and I have a very strong relationship with my counterpart, very strong relationship throughout the military with Turkey – all of our services do. And this is a bumpy time, and we just need to make, from my perspective – you know, sustaining that in the long run is really critical. The eaches of it – you know, relationships go through ups and downs, but the overall long-term importance of those two relationships, from my perspective, are critical.
MR. SANGER: Let me just pursue that for a second, because you said “bumpy time,” which might be a significant understatement about what’s going on with Turkey right now. What do you perceive as their long-term strategy here? Do you believe that they feel rejected by Europe and they are moving back toward the Muslim world? Do you believe that they are on a brief dalliance and will be back into NATO as a full partner –
ADM. MULLEN: I don’t know. That’s up to, obviously, Prime Minister Erdogan and the political leadership, and quite frankly, the people of Turkey to, in a sense, both develop and execute. I just want to – we’ve had a very strong relationship for a long, long time. And I think whatever the eaches are, we need to work our way through that and sustain that relationship. They’re a member of a critical alliance for us, with NATO. And they also reside, physically, in a very, very important part, strategically. So I actually – exactly where they’re going, it’s a little bit difficult for me to figure out.
MR. SANGER: Okay. Lady right here, yeah.
Q: Is there anything that you can do – meaning you, as the head of the Armed Forces – to help Israel with the 8,000-plus missiles that are dropping every minute in Israel, and people are living with only one minute to run to a shelter. There isn’t even enough time to get there. And there’s been no resolution from the U.N. condemning those bombs on citizens, not military. Thank you for coming. I appreciate you coming.
ADM. MULLEN: Thank you for the question. At least, having just come from there, literally, this weekend, what we actually spend a significant amount of time on was the increasing missile threat that they see, both from, obviously, Gaza, but particularly from Lebanon. I was honestly not aware that – I’m not aware that there – that those kinds of attacks are occurring in that kind of – in the kind of numbers that you’re talking about. But certainly over the last several years, I’ve watched and worked to understand the threat that’s there and to do all we can to support the Israelis as they address the threat.
Q: (Off mike.)
ADM. MULLEN: The question was, is there an anti-missile capability around? I wouldn’t be any more specific than to say that we have certainly focused more support capability in the Eastern Mediterranean, in specific equipment capability, in terms of facing this threat.
MR. SANGER: We only have time for one or two more, so I’m just going to take a couple of questions together and we’ll just – gentleman here’s been waiting patiently, and then the gentleman back there.
Q: General, given that Somalia and Yemen will probably be sources for al-Qaida or other terrorist organizations in the future, as they are now, and the fact that these terrorist organizations use our presence in Iraq and in Afghanistan as evidence of our imperialistic nature, and so forth.
And what we have happening, as you know, with these terrorist incidents in the United States is, these disaffected folks are trying to come after us in the United States. Is there any chance that we can change hearts and minds on such a scale that we can prevent these kind of attacks, or is this just going to be a political motive that we’re going to have to face, going on in the future, indefinitely?
ADM. MULLEN: You called me general, and I heard your friends – (laughter) – I want to help you out here. (Laughter.) I heard your friends murmur, so you may get some feedback at the bar. (Laughter.) But it happens frequently, and I consider it a compliment. (Laughter.) I actually – we talked earlier about the solution in Afghanistan as a political solution. I actually believe, long term, that the solution with respect to this threat is not a military, kinetic – you can’t kill them all. We can’t do that.
We, globally, I think, have to – and I think an awful lot of this is based on a healthy economy, globally. And we’ve got to get to a point where 15-year-old boys are making decisions that pursue a positive way of life, as opposed to putting on a suicide vest. I think that is the long term, but it is – I personally believe it’s a long way off. And I think, obviously, we have to deal with the threats that we have. But in the long run, I think it is giving a path that currently doesn’t exist or isn’t very robust.
And in fact, to see a great religion, you know, desecrated routinely by these terrorists, I also think, in the long run, that it is – we need to support the Muslims who, in the – who will lead – at a point in time, will lead in a way where this thing will be diminished to a point where it certainly isn’t anything close to where it is right now.
MR. SANGER: There’s a question back there with the gentleman in the blue shirt.
Q: Gen. Mullen – (laughter) – I want to drink at that bar – (laughter). In the run-up to the decision about our activities in Afghanistan now, there was a significant number of voters who elected our president with the hope that this war would end soon. We’ve been at it nine years, and I would like to know what kind of articulation of a peaceful resolve would have happened during your run-up to this war. And is that voice still heard, or how is it being said?
ADM. MULLEN: Can you – in terms of run-up?
Q: Last December, when the decisions were made, and prior to that, and now, still.
ADM. MULLEN: With respect to that, as much as people would like to dial this back four or five years and talk about what was possible then, in hindsight, the review we did last year was a review that was a very thorough review of where we are and what we should do. And certainly, there isn’t any of us that don’t want to see this end as soon as it can. That said, as I indicated coming back from this trip, I’m increasingly concerned about the threat that’s there – the overall terrorist threat that’s there in the region, itself.
And so I don’t – and I’m talking about the complexity of it, the complexity of the region, what we’ve learned, and the fact that this is a strategy – I’m sorry, this is a – the Afghanistan – the conflict in Afghanistan, the war in Afghanistan, is something that was very badly resourced – under-resourced for a number of years. So in many ways, as difficult as it is, we are just now getting to a point where it is resourced and the totality of it – this is across the – includes the corruption issue, rule of law issue, the governance issue, as well as the security issue – is really comprehensively being addressed.
MR. SANGER: Admiral, you said it was under-resourced; do you believe that was simply because of the amount of resources that Iraq took up, or were there other reasons for the under-resourcing?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I mean, we were heavily focused on Iraq. There’s no question about that. And I mean, I’ve testified to the fact that, in terms of my area, the military, I did not have the – I certainly didn’t have these kinds of resources with where we were in Iraq, in my time as chairman, to apply to the problem.
MR. SANGER: One last question from over here – down here, ma’am? Yes? The lady who just stood up there, yes.
Q: Admiral, Helmand province, Marja – all of our conflict seem to be in the southern part of Afghanistan, while in the northern part of Afghanistan, I understand that there are schools, there’s commerce. Why has the Taliban had such activity in the southern part of the country and in the northern part of the country, there doesn’t seem to be much Taliban activity?
ADM. MULLEN: Um, I think it’s borders. It’s really the homeland part of Afghanistan, from the Pashtun standpoint. This is principally – not exclusively, but principally – an insurgency that is centered out of the southern part of Afghanistan – the safe haven that they have.
There’s also significant challenges in the East – in the eastern part of Afghanistan, same thing. While there are very secure areas in the North, and in fact, in some other places in Afghanistan, as well, the heart of the insurgency is in the South. And that’s why the strategy was to focus there and to turn the momentum there.
MR. SANGER: Admiral, many people come to Aspen from far and wide, but you have probably come the furthest the fastest, in the past 15 hours. (Laughter.) So we thank you very much for this conversation and thank all of you.