Mullen: Obama has time to make decision on Afghanistan troops

Obama has been criticized for 'dithering' on whether to send more US troops to Afghanistan. But Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says he's OK with the time frame.

Omar Sobhani/Reuters
US soldiers talk to each other during a joint foot patrol with Canadian and Afghan troops in Arghandab district, Kandahar Province, October 31.

Adm. Mike Mullen, America's top military officer, said Wednesday that he is comfortable with the length of time it is taking for the White House to come to a decision on the way forward in Afghanistan.

In a brief interview on Capitol Hill with The Monitor, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he feels good about the "depth of the discussion."

Critics on Capitol Hill and beyond have said Mr. Obama is taking too long to decide whether he will send as many as 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Former Vice President Dick Cheney called it "reckless," and House minority leader John Boehner of Ohio said Obama has "no further pretext for delaying the decision" now that Afghanistan's election crisis has been solved. Democrat Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has also urged Obama "to waste no time."

But the White House says the decision could still be weeks away.

Mullen said he is confident Obama will make a decision in the next few weeks. "This is a big decision, it's a huge decision," Mullen said.

It has been about two months since the US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, sent his 66-page assessment of the mission in Afghanistan to the Pentagon. Since, Obama has held a series of meetings with his war council.

Obama is traveling abroad starting next week, and it's increasingly unlikely any decision will be made before then. That leaves the possibility that Obama may not decide until sometime by the end of the month or early next.

On Friday, Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the chiefs of each of the military services, and other national security officials met with Obama to discuss Afghanistan. The discussions were dominated by concerns that added deployments to Afghanistan could strain the Army and Marines.

Among those pushing for a decision soon, the worries are that US troops in Afghanistan badly need reinforcements and time is running out. If Obama decides to send new forces to Afghanistan, and if he wants them on the ground by spring, troops will need to be notified in coming weeks to ensure they can be deployed on time. There are currently 68,000 US troops already on the ground in Afghanistan.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said there is a cutoff point – but the administration hasn't reached it yet.

"There will be a time at which the longer you take, it impacts the deployment of forces into next calendar year," Mr. Morrell said Wednesday at the Pentagon. "We have not arrived at that point, I cannot tell you precisely when that point is, and it's not a concern of the secretary yet."

While these deliberations are underway, Pentagon logistics planners are looking at ways for American and allied bases in Afghanistan to absorb more troops. Unlike Iraq, which has more infrastructure on which to build bases and connect sewer lines and electricity, Afghanistan has very little, and that is already posing problems for the US.

See also:

Obama's Afghanistan policy isn't 'dithering.' It's 'reckless.'

Afghanistan election is over. Will Obama make troop choice soon?

Afghanistan war decision: how Robert Gates thinks


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