WASHINGTON – Facing increasingly skeptical congressional Democrats, the nation’s top uniformed officer said Tuesday that the Obama administration’s strategy to counter the insurgency in Afghanistan probably means that more troops will be needed there.
Adm. Michael G. Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he had not received a formal request for additional trainers and combat troops. But Mullen said that, based on the strategy outlined by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top allied commander, a larger force is likely to be needed.
“He is alarmed by the insurgency and he is in a position where he needs to retake the initiative from the insurgents, who have grabbed it over the last three years,” Mullen said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Mullen’s comments are likely to sharpen an intensifying debate over the future of the mission in Afghanistan. Growing numbers of Democrats have expressed doubts about increases in the number of combat troops.
Sen. Carl M. Levin, D-Mich., the committee chairman, greeted the prospect of additional combat forces coolly. Levin has proposed sending more U.S. trainers, but believes the Pentagon should hold off sending combat troops until there are more Afghan forces in the field.
“Providing the resources needed for the Afghan army and Afghan police to become self-sufficient would demonstrate our commitment to the success of a mission that is in our national security interest, while avoiding the risks associated with a larger U.S. footprint,” Levin said.
Even as Democrats continued to signal skepticism, Republicans on the panel said they supported additional troops and warned the White House against delaying a decision. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the leading Republican on the committee, said that each day of delay “in implementing this strategy and increasing the number of troops” further endangers American soldiers and Marines.
Mullen appeared before the committee for a hearing on his renomination for a second term as chairman of the group of uniformed commanders who oversee the major military branches. Mullen said no decision had been made to send forces beyond the additional 21,000 approved this year by President Barack Obama.
Mullen avoided discussing specifics of how many additional troops would be needed, saying only that more “resources” would be needed to execute the Obama administration’s strategy.
“A properly resourced counterinsurgency probably means more forces,” Mullen said.
Mullen said the additional forces were needed in part because Afghanistan had not received the troops and equipment it needed in years past.