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Gates, Mullen Clarify ‘Flexibility’ on Transition to Afghan Security Control

“If we are successful, what does that mean to the bringing home of troops?” asked Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) during today’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Afghanistan.

Adm. Mike Mullen reiterated that he thought there were “real opportunities,” especially with Pakistan’s offensive in Waziristan, to “turn this insurgency around. Gen. McChrystal believes, Gen. Petraeus believes, I believe, we can do that over the course of the next 18 to 24 months. That will in turn provide an opportunity to get at the kind of transition, in terms of security responsibility and thinning of our forces, if you will, to start that.”

“It’s very difficult to know exactly what the conditions will be,” Mullen continued. “But if we get this right, they’ll be a lot better in the east and a lot better in the south, and provide us an opportunity to do that. On the other side, if we are unable to do that by then, I think we will have to reassess our strategy.”

Chambliss: “What I’m hearing is that there is flexibility in that timeline based on success or lack thereof.”

Mullen: “The timeline is clear. I think the flexibility is in where do we transition, where do we turn over responsibility and this is something we all understand and we think we’ll be able to do that. It’s a little difficult to predict exactly where this is going to occur right now.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates cautioned that, in his opinion, “if the Afghans want us to, we need to think in terms of a very long term willingness to work with the Afghans in terms of military training, in terms of equipping, the kinds of long-term partnership we have with many countries around the world where we have a certain military presence in that country, but it’s not a combat presence. It’s a training-and-equipping and that kind of a role, but one where we are clearly seen as their continuing partner… after our combat forces are principally gone from Afghanistan.”

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