WASHINGTON: The United States is “very committed” to begin drawing down its forces in Afghanistan in July, but large numbers will remain, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said on a televised broadcast today.
“We will start drawing down troops next July,” Mullen told Fareed Zacharia, host of the CNN program, GPS. Any drawdown will be based on conditions on the ground and via a recommendation from commanders on the ground, he said. It is too soon to know the numbers of troops and locations the drawdown will affect first, he added.
“We’re very committed to beginning the drawdown then,” he said. “But there will continue to be a large number of U.S. and allied troops on the ground in Afghanistan after July 2011.”
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also said that reconciliation talks with the Taliban must be done from a position of strength, and that any talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government right now “are talks about talks.”
Reconciliation is a very important process for Afghanistan, Mullen said, and when that can happen, political progress will follow.
“We need to do that from a strong position, and we’re just not there right now,” he said. “The Taliban don’t think they are losing and the likelihood that they are going to take any significant steps with respect to reconciliation is low.”
Turning to Iran, the chairman said he believes Iranian officials still are working to develop and weaponize nuclear devices, despite their public words to the contrary. The United States has been thinking about military options against Iranian facilities for some time, but “I still think it is important to focus on the dialogue, to focus on the engagement, but do it in a realistic way,” he said.
The United States needs to look at Iran and decide whether the nation is going to “tell the truth, actually engage and actually do anything,” he said. Iran has a history of gamesmanship, and American leaders need to take this under consideration, he said.
Mullen also spoke of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, saying that the Yemen-based terrorist group continues to be a problem. The recent bombs on cargo aircraft emanated from Yemen and the group is actively recruiting members to attack the United States, he said.
“This al-Qaida group in Yemen is trying to kill Americans,” Mullen said. “I think that will continue and we are obligated to address that threat.”