Extremists in Afghanistan are more concerned with continuing their fight than they are with the timeline calling for next summer’s U.S. drawdown, according to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen.
“I assure you from what I see that the enemy isn’t focused on July 2011 for whether it makes a difference in their lives,” Mullen yesterday told reporters in Chicago. “They’re in a pretty tough fight, and they’ve sustained some pretty significant losses. There’s a lot of the enemy who’ve been hammered very hard this year, and there’s a lot of the enemy that’s struggling.”
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway said Tuesday the timeline gives the insurgents “sustenance,” and many Taliban and al-Qaida fighters simply are waiting for U.S. forces to begin their exit.
“I haven’t seen a lot of that as any kind of a dominant theme,” Mullen said yesterday. “It would surprise me if the enemy looked at the date from that perspective.”
As any drawdown will be based on conditions, predicting how much and how quickly the U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan will decrease after July 2011 is difficult, he said.
“There’s a long time between now and next July,” Mullen said. “The decisions associated with that will be based on conditions on the ground, and it’s too early to say what those conditions will be.”
Mullen said he supports the president’s Afghanistan strategy to begin a “responsible” drawdown of forces in Afghanistan starting in July 2011. Although much uncertainty exists about when and where such a transition would begin, the timeline gives U.S. forces a goal to work with, he added.
“We understand very clearly what is going to happen in July 2011,” the admiral said. “We will start to thin our forces, [but] that doesn’t mean we’re leaving in any kind of significant numbers.”
It’s interesting that when senior officers made statements that seemed to contradict what President Bush said, the press played it up as a big deal. Yet, when General Conway – who was the battalion commander for 3/2 in the first Gulf War and headed Marine Forces in Iraq during 2004 before coming the Commandant – says that President Obama’s strategy is giving “sustenance” to the enemy, the media plays it down and rushes out to get a counter-quote from Adm Mullen who, as far as I know, hasn’t commanded forces on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan. The Washington Post – in a verbal gymnastics routine that would surely take the Gold medal in “Writing a Story to Protect the President” at the “In the Tank” Olympics – even went so far as to say that what General Conway really meant was the the Taliban have been using the July 2011 drawdown to give their forces false hope! Actually, I think General Conway’s statement was pretty clear – telling the Taliban that we’re leaving in 2011 gives them “sustenance,” not false hope.