Joint Chiefs Chair Security Strategy Update Brief
Admiral Mike Mullen
- Audio (50 Minutes): Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman, Joint Chiefs Of Staff - U.S. National Security Strategy Update - Transcript Follows.
TOPIC: U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 27, 2009 1:10 P.M. EST
MODERATOR: Hello, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today we have Admiral Mike Mullen, who is here to deliver a U.S. national security strategy update. Without further ado, here is the Admiral.
ADM MULLEN : Good afternoon, everyone. It's great to be back here with you. I just would like to start off with a few very broad points, and then certainly get right to your questions.
First, I know there's been a lot of speculation and discussion about our way forward in Iraq here with the new Administration in office. Secretary Gates and I have met with President Obama several times about this, mostly recently with the rest of the new national security team. Those discussions have been very helpful, and I believe necessarily broad in scope, as the President assesses the risks in Iraq and the assumptions upon which any future decisions about force levels should be made.
I'm working hard, along with the Secretary and our commanders in the field, to prepare for the President several planning options, all of which will meet his desire for a responsible drawdown that preserves the security gains we have made in Iraq and protects our forces. We hope to be able to present these options to him in the very near future.
Military leaders are also working hard with the national security team as they craft the new strategy for the way forward in Afghanistan. The President has made it clear that he wants that strategy to be appropriately inclusive of our relationship with Pakistan as well as other nations in the region. I will not get out ahead of this effort, though we have on the Joint Staff been thinking our way through this for many months and are ready to contribute to it.
You all have been covering recent events in Afghanistan long enough to know that the situation there grows increasingly perilous every day. Suicide and IED attacks are up, some say as much as 40 percent over the last year. The Taliban grows bolder implanting fear and intimidating the Afghan people, and the flow of militants across the border with Pakistan continues. That's why we take seriously our commanders' request for more forces and it's why we value the contributions of all of our allies and Afghan partners.
I do not dispute the notion that we could use more such contributions, but neither do I discount the ones that have been made by so many other nations for so many years. Though military forces will never be enough to achieve a stable Afghanistan, we all agree that the security they provide is a necessary component to that success. And we all agree that this security is best achieved through and with the Afghan people with them in the lead, them ultimately in control. The Afghan people, not the Taliban, not the extremists, are the real centers of gravity in this war. And their security must be the focus of our operations going forward.
And with that, I'm glad to take your questions.
MODERATOR: Please wait for the microphone, which could be coming from either side, and please limit yourself to one question. We'll take as many as time permits. Right down here, you, sir. Sorry. Please state your name and publication as well.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) from the Voice of America (inaudible) service. Admiral Mullen my question is: The U.S. military is reportedly launching a pilot program in Wardak province to arm citizen groups to fight the Taliban based on the Awakening project in Iraq. There is a lot of criticism of this plan, especially among Afghans who fear that more weapons will actually add to instability. Can you please tell us how and by whom this pilot program will be evaluated?
ADM MULLEN: The Commander, General David McKiernan, is both responsible for its execution and its evaluation. And he has initiated this program after serious study of what's the best way to move forward. And it's being initiated as a pilot, which by definition is small, and in that regard, controlled, and certainly to be consistent with the same kind of outcome or desired outcome that we've seen in Iraq, and in particular, where it started to turn around in Iraq, which was in Anbar province.
So we don't say that this is the answer. There's the totality of the challenges that we have in Afghanistan, not just in security, but certainly, having an Afghan face on this and Afghans providing for their own security, we think is a real critical part of the future of succeeding in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Hello. Kim Landers from Australian Broadcasting. The Australian Government has indicated that it may now be prepared to send more troops to Afghanistan if there is a tactical or a strategic justification. Would you welcome that? And can you give them the tactical or strategic justification for doing so?
ADM MULLEN: Well, my counterpart in Australia, and certainly the Australian Government, has been very supportive of what we are striving to achieve in Afghanistan, and have been supportive not just in terms of what has happened, but the commitment to the future. And there are both strategic objectives and the ability to, certainly right now, provide security for the people being a key one, and broadly in Afghanistan, making sure that we don't – we don't provide for circumstances that would create another safe haven, those broad – that kind of broad objective that also gets at security, stability, and then helping the Afghan people develop and assisting them in governance.
So there's a full range of both strategic objectives and tactical ways that we need to get at that. And the Australian troops who have been there have been exceptional, and they are – Australia is one of upwards of 42 countries in Afghanistan. And we need the assistance across a broad – broad group of requirements, not just military, to assist in moving us forward there in a very positive way.
QUESTION: Christian Wernicke from the German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung. Sir, the U.S. has asked in the past for more contributions, military contributions from especially the European allies. And the National Security Advisor of the new President can tell you, certainly, about the success of these requests in the past. What makes you think that the Europeans will change their mind? Is the President himself perhaps the most convincing asset to get more troops out of Europe into Afghanistan?
ADM MULLEN: I've spent a lot of time myself with my counterparts, as has Secretary Gates, to push European countries, NATO members to provide as much capability as they possibly can. And I recognize there are limits on that. And despite what has been out there from a – in terms of criticism, I – it's – I'm very – I should note, routinely, that we have 10,000 more troops from NATO there this year than we had last year. So contributions have actually come, and we need those contributions and we will need more.
I am hopeful that should – should, you know, our new President ask, that countries would be responsive. We have a need, again, not just military, across the full spectrum -- certainly, military troops. We have financial requirements. We have requirements across governance as well as economics where we need that kind of assistance. So again, above my pay grade, but I'm certainly hopeful that our new President will ask, and that his counterparts will respond.
QUESTION: Admiral, my name is Renzo Cianfanelli, and I represent the Italian media (inaudible) Corriere della Sera (inaudible) and Rome. I have two questions. One relates to Afghanistan and the other one to Guantanamo.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan, it is believed in certain circumstances and (inaudible) so this was also the opinion of General Petraeus that to be effective, we should also engage Iran. What is your view about this and about the level of forces in Afghanistan, do you expect the members of NATO in Europe to do more in terms of manpower? Question number two --
ADM MULLEN: I think as I said in my statement, opening statement, with respect to Afghanistan a regional approach is critical. And it includes not just Afghanistan, but Afghanistan and Pakistan. I also believe that India plays an important role here. And certainly Iran, as a bordering state, plays a role as well. And to the degree that we are able to dialogue with them, find some mutual interests, there is potential there for moving ahead together. But I really leave that to the diplomats to lead with that dialogue. I have said for many, many, months I think it was – it's been – it is important to engage Iran. Iran is unhelpful in many, many ways in many, many areas. And so I wouldn't be overly optimistic at this point. But there are mutual interests and I think that that might offer some possibilities.
QUESTION: This is Umit Enginsoy with Turkish NTV television. Admiral, under the new Administration, will the U.S. and Turkish militaries continue with their intelligence-sharing against the PKK? Thank you.
ADM MULLEN: My relationship with General Basbug and the military-to-military relationship with Turkey has been one that we cherish for many, many decades. And certainly it's been one that we worked very hard on recently, and one that I feel very positive about. And in particular, that focus on intelligence-sharing with respect to what we've done with Turkey in the last – over the better part of the last year, has been very important. And I see no indication that that won't continue.
QUESTION: This is Lalit Jha from Press Trust of India. You spoke about India's role in Afghanistan. Could you elaborate on it? And also, is Pakistan concerned about – why is Pakistan concerned about India's expanding role in Afghanistan?
ADM MULLEN: I think there – when I talk about a regional approach, I include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, as well as India. And I think the regional countries in there have a very significant stake in stability and in outcomes which are positive in that region, as opposed to those that might go in the other direction. So I think the strategic leadership and views, opinions and support provided by India will be very clear. India has taken significantly positive steps to invest in Afghanistan – has for some period of time. And yet, there's certainly a historic tension that's there between Pakistan and India, obviously accentuated greatly as the result of the Mumbai attacks. And I think – and I am comforted that the strategic leadership in both Pakistan and India has been such that we have not had any kind of conflict break out as a result of Mumbai. And I think continuing in that direction in important – in the future is very important, as we resolve that particular – the Mumbai attacks, I think properly as opposed to getting in any kind of conflict. So each country has got significant stakes in the region. And I think it's the joint contribution of all those countries, which would help us move – which could help us move forward in a positive way.
QUESTION: My name is Nazira Karimi. I'm a correspondent for Ariana television from Afghanistan. Most of the Afghan people and experts in Afghanistan, they think that for the lack of security in Afghanistan, upcoming presidential election will be postponed. Do you have any special comment about it?
ADM MULLEN: I think it – actually, I very much look forward to the Presidential election this year. All I have seen – all indications that I've seen so far are that the elections are planned for the summer time frame – August-September time fame is what I understand them to be right now. I know that at least from the government leadership standpoint, expectations are that they will occur in that time frame. And I've seen no indication that they would be postponed at all.
QUESTION: Admiral Mullen, Sebastian Walker from Al Jazeera here. What do you see as the single biggest challenge facing the U.S. military? Do you see Afghanistan or Iraq or maybe the nuclear threat from Iran? What's the single biggest challenge facing the U.S. military? And can you also speak a little bit about the threat that you see still remains from al-Qaida?
ADM MULLEN: I think the top priority for us right now is Afghanistan and Pakistan. And I think President Obama has made that clear. And you see that emphasized, and you will see that emphasized, in terms of where the military will be engaged. I mean, we've talked for weeks now about General McKiernan's additional request for forces. We've looked at planning options to support that, even though all those decisions have not been made yet. And all that, to me, sends a very strong message that Afghanistan and Pakistan are at the top of the list. The assignment or – the selection of former Ambassador Holbrooke to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan, I think, is another very strong signal. So that's at the top of the list right now.
The issue with respect to Iran developing nuclear weapons is still of great concern to me. I consider it to be -- to that possibility to potentially be very destabilizing in a region that doesn't have a lot of stability right now, although we're working in a more positive direction. Overall, if you consider the stability that has been created in Iraq, compared to certain – where we were a year or 18 months ago.
And with respect to al-Qaida, the biggest concern we have with respect to them is the existence of them in the FATA and Pakistan and the need to make sure that that threat, that safe haven is eliminated, and isn't created or recreated in Afghanistan or some other place like Somalia or Yemen. And I have seen, as you look at what's happened with al-Qaida in Iraq, they're still there. They still can – create spectacular tragedies, if you will. But they are very much on the run and diminished from where they were as recently as a year ago.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Toshinari Kurose from Japanese newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun. And it's about Afghanistan. And what kind of contribution do you expect from Japan, the country which has the limitation on dispatching armed forces overseas, but the expectations from the United States is obviously high regarding this issue?
ADM MULLEN: Well, as I said, for the 42 countries that are there, any kind of contribution, I feel, is going to be significant. And where Japan has been supportive for many years now, has been -- in particular, the support of the oilers and to support ships at sea for an extended period of time. That was significant. When we lost it, for the period of time that we did, that was significant. And its resumption is important as well. But additional kinds of capabilities, whether they would be medical or economic, or anything along those lines – education – all of those are more than welcome. They're needed and they're welcome. And it's in the totality of those that I think we move – of meeting those requirements that we actually move ahead in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Markus Ziener, German newspaper Handelsblatt. General Petraeus the other day talked about opening new support lines north of Afghanistan for the U.S. troops. Is that an indication that maybe Pakistan is not a reliable and safe country anymore?
ADM MULLEN: Actually, for my money, it's more of an indication of prudent military planning, where we always want more than one choice. And having the one single line of communication was, obviously, higher risk than having more than that. And so we've worked for many months now, not just in the last few week – we've worked for many, many months now to look at options with respect to other lines of communications. And it looks like we are going to have those in a way that gives us redundancy, which any military planner, and actually, any military commander, is going to want to have.
QUESTION: Andrzej Dobrowolski, Radio France, International. The Bush Administration was ready to deploy in Poland and the Czech Republic American – the American missile defense system. As we know, it is a contentious issue. Russia hates this project, and also in the United States there is some opposition. Could you predict, sir, what would be the future of this project?
ADM MULLEN: Predictions also get into hypotheticals that I don't like to spend a lot of time on. I certainly recognize what you said. It's an important capability. It's actually focused on a threat which is evolving from the Middle East, which can reach Europe. But as we move forward here with a new Administration, I look forward to the new Administration certainly, and its relationship in particular with Poland and Czechoslovakia [Editor's note: Czech Republic], to figure out, based on what has been signed up to – and there's been a – and certainly, there's been a commitment on the part of the United States in particular in both those two countries – as to how we move ahead. And so I think there's – you know, as we look forward to that, we'll see exactly how that's going to end up.
QUESTION: Because you don't like – oh, sorry, Mark Simkin, Australian Broadcasting TV. Because you don't like hypotheticals, will the United States be asking allies such as Australia to provide more resources to Afghanistan? And is there a risk, given what you've said, of the mission not succeeding if allies across the world – U.S. allies – don't step up to the plate?
ADM MULLEN: I mean, I'm not the one to ask. It really is for the President to do that, so I wouldn't speak for him. I've spoken to it from the standpoint of there's – there is, I believe, a lot of goodwill that he has and opportunity associated with that, but it really is up for him and his team to figure out who they want to ask for what.
The risk of where we are in Afghanistan right now in terms of outcomes, I think it's – the risk is pretty high right now because it's not going well and it hasn't been going well for a significant period of time. So we need resources to do that. The most significant part of that right now is really to secure the Afghan people and, in doing so, put an Afghan face on this, as I said in my opening comments, because I really believe the Afghan people are the center of gravity here for future success.
And so all contributions along those lines, as well as the economic, the development, the education, the medical, the governance and all those, are going to be more than welcome.
QUESTION: General, President Obama promised to pull out the troops in 16 months from Iraq. As a military professional, do you see that as realistic?
ADM MULLEN: The President has – I've met with the President a couple times on this. As I indicated in my opening comments, we've discussed the entirety of both Iraq and Afghanistan. We actually – the Joint Chiefs meet with him tomorrow to also do the same thing. And in that, we've discussed a range of options and the risk that's associated with each option. And we have planned – we have plans for a full range of options, to include 16 months. And then it is really in the understanding of that that I think the President gets to make his decision be – I want to be as – I'll try to be as clear as I can with risk associated with whatever option we've talked about, and then he makes his decision and we carry it out. And that's really where we are right now.
QUESTION: Thank you, Admiral. Just from your perspective, could you give us some specifics on the way you see the U.S.-Kuwait relationship going forward in terms of continuity and change?
ADM MULLEN: Very important relationship for, you know, many years now, and I think it will continue to be. And I think it is representative of the relations – kinds of relationships that we need in that region. I'll use, you know, the GCC as an example. The regional approach – and there are many details that are tied to the relationship that we have with Kuwait as well as other countries in that region. And I think that that relationship is absolutely vital and that we need to continue to facilitate it, make sure it continues to improve. I mean, the country of Kuwait has been enormously supportive of where we've been. You know we've got thousands that are there all the time in terms of the kind of support we've needed in Iraq in particular. And we cherish that and we think that's representative of, you know, that relationship allowed us to do that. And so I think the relationship will continue to evolve, and hopefully we can make – we can create a region that has more stability as opposed to less stability.
QUESTION: Tal Schneider from Maariv newspaper, Israel. I want to ask about the anti-smuggling efforts that the U.S. Navy has done in Suez Canal, stopping an Iranian ship that was smuggling probably weapons. And is the U.S. intention to convene a conference about anti-smuggling to Gaza Strip in the near future?
ADM MULLEN: Actually, it was a Cypriot-flagged ship that was boarded by a U.S. Navy boarding team after requesting permission from the master and receiving permission to go aboard to inspect for weapons which were – which were considered – which were considered to go against the UN Security Council resolution which banned these kinds of weapons from being shipped from Iran, which is where they came from, to Syria, which is where we believe they're headed and, in fact, will probably get there in the next day or so.
The United States did as much as we could do legally. There are authorities, limitations in complying with this particular UN resolution, and we basically went right up to the edge of that and we couldn't do anything else. So we were not authorized to seize the weapons or do anything like that.
What it does speak to, in my view, is the need to have stronger resolutions, particularly with – in a case like this where Iran has clearly violated a UN Security Council resolution, not unlike they have in the past. And we think those weapons are headed to Syria, which is obviously not a great outcome.
QUESTION: And about the conference, the anti-smuggling conference, is there an anti-smuggling conference planned against smuggling to Gaza Strip?
ADM MULLEN: I'm not sure. I just don't know.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Hi, Daniel Ryntjes from Channel News Asia TV. There seems to be continuity in deciding to have targeted air strikes just over the Afghan border into Pakistan. Is – has there been an assessment of this strategy? And has – given that it has alienated aspects of Pakistan, is this being reconsidered, this strategy?
ADM MULLEN: Well, I mean, consistent with this issue from the time we first – you know, that it has been discussed, I really don't talk about any of those kinds of operational details.
QUESTION: Jim Lobe, Interpress Service. Regarding possible overlapping interests with Iran, both with respect to Afghanistan and presumably with Iraq, do you have any signals from Iran like reduction in weapons or anything like that that they are open to a more cooperative attitude? And if relations resume or if that kind of dialogue you've been supporting comes to fruition, could you see them even as a possible NATO supply route into Afghanistan?
ADM MULLEN: I've seen – I have personally seen no indications at this point in time. And again, we've got a new Administration, and I have been an advocate for, you know, dialogue and engagement for a considerable period of time. But that's got to start to occur before I can even get at what the possibilities might be. And it also speaks to the other issue which I just answered – I mean, the question which I just answered, which was, you know, shipping – shipping weapons to Syria that we think, quite frankly, are going to end up in Gaza.
QUESTION: Thank you Mohammed Mandokhil from VOA Afghan Service. A recent statement by President Karzai's office says Afghan Government has asked Russia for military cooperation, and the statement says Russia is ready for such cooperation. My question --
ADM MULLEN: I'm sorry, Russia's what?
QUESTION: Military cooperation.
ADM MULLEN: Yeah.
QUESTION: My question is, do Afghanistan need military cooperation from Russia? If yes, what kind of military cooperation?
ADM MULLEN: Well, I really think that's up to President Karzai for him to make that judgment. In my dealings with my counterpart in Russia, General Makarov, we have talked about mutual goals in Afghanistan. Russia is interested in stability. Russia is not interested in safe havens. Russia is not interested in the return of a terrorist regime there. So I think there are opportunities for all of us to work with Russia on areas of mutual interest, but as far as what Afghanistan itself thinks it needs and will do, that's really up to President Karzai and his people.
QUESTION: Thank you, Toshiya Umehara from Asahi Shimbum, Japanese newspaper. The British Foreign Minister, Mr. Miliband, recently wrote in a commentary that the notion, "war on terror," is misguided and misleading. How do you – how do you think this notion is still valid? And could you share us your own evaluation as to that?
ADM MULLEN: I think – I mean, as we have – I have directly focused in terms of the questions that have come up about Afghanistan and Pakistan and even al-Qaida in Iraq, there are still plenty of terrorists out there who see us – who would do us in as much as possible. That threat stream is still out there and that – it is my responsibility, certainly, to advise the President of the United States and that we focus on making sure that we secure – we provide the security we need for our people.
And that threat is real significant today and will continue to be out there, and I think all of us, including our good friends, the Brits, are very closely aligned at – in terms of the need to get at that. And I would speak to – I mean, very specifically, we've fought side-by-side with the Brits in these two wars. And the UK forces have performed exceptionally well, and we need that not just to have been the case, but to be the case in the future, and I look forward to that continuing.
QUESTION: Yes, this is Jose Diaz with Reforma newspaper from Mexico. In the most recent environment report by the Joint Forces Command, is it – it is considered that Pakistan and Mexico are two countries at the risk of failure. Is this a fair assessment? And what's your current assessment of the situation – the U.S.-Mexico border regarding the drug war?
ADM MULLEN: I am extremely concerned about that border and the drug war and probably – although it's not the only measure, but if you look at the number of murders – kidnappings and murders that have occurred over the last couple of years and the rapid increase in that, that has all of our attention. And I think General Mattis at Joint Forces Command is really – is really talking about that message, and that the United States – my belief, the United States and Mexico and others, but certainly the United States and Mexico, with that border in particular, obviously, in common, need to do as much as we can to work together to eliminate that threat.
I'm – I mean, I guess I'm increasingly concerned about that and have been over the last couple of years. And I know General Renuart, who engages as our combatant commander with Mexico, shares that concern, and we want to do as much to assist and support our neighbor in that regard as we possibly can.
QUESTION: Jean-Cosme Delaloye for the 24 Heures in Switzerland. You recently urged the limits on the mission of the military, and I wondered if there is a plan now to redefine the mission of the military, especially in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq?
ADM MULLEN: We're talking about Afghanistan lately in particular where, in my area, we've oftentimes talked about the need for more troops. And certainly, that is working and we are making plans for upwards of 20 to 30,000 additional troops. But when I talked about that – and those have not been approved yet by the President – but when I've talked about that, I've always stated that that – the military piece just – alone just isn't going to work.
There needs to be a significant increase in the number of civilians from other agencies and our government to impact on the things that are important given you've got security so you can improve the economic plight of the Afghan people, so you can improve the governance piece, so that the political piece can move forward, which is also extraordinarily important. So back to the – sort of the theme that I put out there is the military is necessary, but not sufficient. We can't do it alone under any circumstances, and all the additional troops in the world aren't going to make any difference if we don't get these other pieces in place as well.
So the military has got limits and we need to recognize that. We can do a lot, but we have limits. And if we're the only part of a solution in Afghanistan, it's not going to work.
QUESTION: James Coomarasamy from BBC. Admiral Mullen, what for you would constitute success in Afghanistan?
ADM MULLEN: I think it's very important, as the new President has indicated, to focus there in terms of it being a priority, and that we – we set objectives which are tied to a strategy which the President has – is – essentially, we're working with him and his team to lay that out. And again, I don't want to preclude or try to lead that effort – that's not my responsibility, that's really his – and then get to some level of stability, no safe havens, reasonable development, Pakistan stable, you know, nuclear weapons not – not a significant concern in Pakistan. You know, sort of those kinds of things, the narcotics piece under control, and stability so that these other things that we've talked about before can move forward.
QUESTION: Thank you My name is Sveinn Helgason from Islandic Broadcasting service. Admiral, you said earlier that things aren't going well in Afghanistan, and my question is pretty simple. Why is it? And hasn't the nation-building in Afghanistan completely failed? Why isn't it going so well in Afghanistan, in simple terms?
ADM MULLEN: In the simplest form for me, it is – it has been the resurgence of the Taliban, which has – which has generated a considerable instability with respect to the security of the Afghan people.
That then brings into question the governance ability. There is a significant corruption piece that has got to – got to be addressed in Afghanistan. That's still there. We've actually had some pretty significant and positive progress made by the Afghan National Army. We're not where we need to be or even close to where we need to be with the police, the Afghan National Police. That needs to be developed.
And although I'm encouraged by the new minister of interior and his leadership and his focus on these issues, there is a lot of corruption on the police side, and the leadership acknowledges they've got to get at that. And so it has been probably more than – more that than anything else, and from the United States' perspective, we've had our troops for the last many years focused in Iraq limited in terms of what we could – the troops that we could provide to Afghanistan. So it's been all of that which has kind of gotten us to this position right now.
QUESTION: Hello, my name is Daniel Anyz. I am with Czech daily paper Hospodarske Noviny. I have one more question to missile defense. Secretary Gates has just mentioned this morning that he saw a great potential in cooperation with Russia concerning the missile defense base in Europe. From the technical point of view, have you made already some research of what kind of facility the Russians could offer, what could be interlinked or whether it really could work as a joint system?
ADM MULLEN: What I know about the negotiations which have occurred to get us to this point between the United States and Poland, the United States and Czechoslovakia, I know that Secretary Gates was heavily involved in this, and in those negotiations offered Russia a lot of opportunity to be present for and see specifically what we were doing there. And in that regard – and that the threat was not about a threat with respect to Russia. The threat was about a threat coming from the Middle East.
And reaching some level of understanding there would be very important in terms of creating the kind of possibilities that I think Secretary Gates refers to. We don't have that yet. I think the previous questioner said that Russia hates the system. Certainly, that's been their comment to me. My counterparts, two counterparts, have said that. And so we've got a ways to go before we ever reach any kind of mutual ground with respect to that, from my perspective.
QUESTION: Afternoon, sir. Xavier Vila, Spanish public radio station. What would be your advice for the future of the Guantanamo detainees?
ADM MULLEN: The --
QUESTION: The advice for the –
ADM MULLEN: Well, I mean, the President has made a decision we're going to close Guantanamo. So, physically, I think that's going to happen in the next 12 months, and he's given us that direction.
There are certainly significant challenges with respect to that, and probably of greatest concern that is routinely raised is what do you do with the group who are really hardcore terrorists that you can't try, and how do you get at that. And those decisions – I mean, he's put together committees, very senior leadership, to get at that.
From a military perspective, certainly my concern, biggest concern, is returning these people to the battlefield. There have been, of those detainees that have been released – and there have been hundreds – actually, there have been thousands when you look at the entire theater, not just from Gitmo but several – I think upwards of 500 or so from Gitmo, and it's estimated that some 10 or 11 percent have returned to the battlefield. So that's a real concern. And so how do we do all this and prevent that becomes, from a military perspective, probably my biggest concern.
QUESTION: Ahu Ozyurt from Milliyet and CNN Turk. Admiral, do you see a change in the recruiting patterns in the Afghanistan al-Qaida lessening, Taliban getting upper hand, or is it – are they switching sides? Is there a difference since, I mean, a couple of months?
ADM MULLEN: I wouldn't stand here and tell you there isn't. It's just not anything that I've seen that's jumped off the page at me at this particular point. I've certainly seen, since the Paks have taken the action in Bajur, they have energized many of the local people who are now turning out the foreigners, meaning Arabs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, some of them that are there. So there's a lot of – there's a lot less content in the FATA than there was a few months ago, but I haven't – with foreigners. But I haven't – we're not at a tipping point at this point.
What I respect in particular with respect to Pakistan civilian and military leaders is they said they were going to go do this, they then went and fought this fight, made significant improvements – investments and improvements in how the Frontier Corps was both equipped and led, and they've had a pretty significant impact there.
Now, this is the – my view – this is the beginning of a campaign in a very, very tough part of their country. So that's had an impact, and we've seen the Afghan side of that border and the Pak side with operations more coordinated, certainly not synchronized or anything like that, but more coordinated in recent months that's had a pretty significant impact in stemming the flow of fighters coming from Pakistan into Afghanistan.
But we've also got the weather. I mean, the winter has kind of set in. So I think the spring will be more telling.
QUESTION: Hi, Hilary Krieger with the Jerusalem Post.
ADM MULLEN: With the Jerusalem Post?
QUESTION: The Jerusalem Post from Israel.
ADM MULLEN: Sorry.
QUESTION: You've spoken a lot about Iran, both the threat it poses and the need for engagement. And I'm wondering about the option of the use of military force and whether, with the new administration, there's been new thinking about that possibility and how indeed you see the possibility of that sort of action.
ADM MULLEN: I don't think the new administration has taken any options off the table, including military force. And I have believed for a long time that that's a very important part of the overall – if you have options, that that's a very important part of it – the ability to back it up. I believe it's got to be last resort, and so in that regard it's – again, I've seen nothing that would indicate that that's changed at all.
QUESTION: Hi, Dina Gusovsky with Russia Today. Just going back to the issue of ABMs and Eastern Europe, there are rumors that Barack Obama has already decided not to deploy it in Eastern Europe. Can you comment or confirm that?
And also, how do you see U.S.-Russia relations moving forward, especially in the fact that we have common threats to deal with?
ADM MULLEN: Which one of those two questions do you want? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Can you do both?
ADM MULLEN: No, I can't confirm it. I mean, I just – I have no comment, and I can't confirm the first.
QUESTION: And as far as Russia-U.S. relations and dealing with common threats, how do you see that moving forward?
ADM MULLEN: Well, as I talked a little bit about earlier, there are – there are common interests, and yet there are also areas of significant disagreement. And so I – there are opportunities, I think, to discuss those common interests and figure out how we move ahead. That's being done in NATO. And certainly, in my NATO hat, I mean, as a member of NATO, I'm aware that we're moving in that direction to try to figure out the best way to engage Russia from a NATO perspective, and I think that's probably the same kind of approach that, you know, is there with respect to Russia – I mean, I'm sorry, with respect to Russia and the U.S. And a lot of that is military-to-military.
And I've – you know, I've talked to my Russian counterpart fairly frequently – I mean, very recently again, and I'm encouraged by those discussions. But there's still an awful lot of things we don't see eye-to-eye on, and I think we're going to need to be engaged with them to figure out answers to that. Afghanistan is an area of mutual interest. Iran is an area of mutual interest. Stability in the Middle East. I mean, back to Afghanistan, Russia's got a huge drug problem headed into it from Afghanistan, as does almost every single bordering country. So there's common ground there as well. So there is common ground, but it's going – it takes two to – it takes two to tango here, and I think that's out there to be addressed in the very near future.
QUESTION: Hi, Anne Gearen with the Associated Press. Would you support changes in rules of engagement or other policy changes regarding U.S. missile strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan in order to limit civilian casualties?
ADM MULLEN: We've worked – we've worked very hard – I mean, I'll go to the Afghan piece in particular, because I don't think we can succeed in Afghanistan if civilians keep dying there. And we've got to figure out a way to absolutely minimize that, the goal being zero. But we've focused, Anne, very hard on the ROE that are associated with that. The commander himself is very engaged in every single outcome that creates any kind of civilian casualty. And there's not been any kind of request – although we've looked at rules of engagement, there hasn't been any request from the commander on the ground to adjust his ROE. And that doesn't mean we haven't reviewed it. We think we've got it about right right now. And he is the one that's got a – we all have a stake in this, but he's the one that's got a mission to accomplish, and in that regard he's asked for and received the ROE that he needs.
QUESTION: I have a question on Afghanistan.
ADM MULLEN: I'm ready.
MODERATOR: No, that's it. This is – to you, sir, if you have –
QUESTION: Can I have one more, please? One more on Afghanistan?
MODERATOR: Just one --
QUESTION: Just one more?
QUESTION: How about one more?
ADM MULLEN: I need a question on the Super Bowl. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. This is your game. Raghubir Goyal from India Globe and Asia Today. There is no doubt that you have a vast experience as far as terrorism and military-to-military relations with Pakistan. You have visited the region many, many times. And I understand that I think you have a very good relation with General Kayani. You had been in the last administration also. Do you think that Pakistan had for the last eight years misled you, the Pentagon, as far as on completing the mission? And also, you think that more troops will be sufficient or tightening the Pakistani what they had been doing in the past eight years that you have to have a new strategy now not to put all the eggs in one basket? And General Musharraf is here in Washington now, maybe listening to this press conference.
ADM MULLEN: I also have a very strong relationship with Admiral Mehta, who is the chairman – the acting chairman for India. So my relations are not just limited to Pakistan. And I'm – I mean, I have been going to Pakistan, as you know, I think eight times over the last year, since last February, and focused on that relationship building.
And the way I measure that is through that relationship. And General Kayani has treated me very well, very fairly. He has done what he said he was going to do. He's got some huge challenges as does Admiral Mehta in India. I mean, we all have huge challenges. So – and General Kayani has not misled me at all.
And I guess I'd leave any comment about the last eight years to only that. I've got to base it on where – how he has treated me on our relationship, which is very strong. I find him to be thoughtful, focused, headed in the right direction, and very supportive of the civilian government there in this – you know, in their continuing evolution with respect to civilian control of the military.
QUESTION: Thank you
ADM MULLEN: Thank you.
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