U.S. Navy Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that the United States probably will need to send more troops to Afghanistan to win the war against Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents.
U.S. military officials say they are in a race against time and mounting opposition from the American public to reverse the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, where violence has reached its highest level since the Taliban was ousted from power in 2001.
Mullen discussed the troop levels in testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. "A properly resourced counter-insurgency probably means more forces and without question, more time and more commitment to the protection of the Afghan people and to the development of good governance," he said.
Mullen did not say how many more soldiers would be needed, but he said he expects a request for additional troops in the next two weeks from U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan.
The United States now has about 62,000 troops in Afghanistan, nearly double the number from last year. The number of American forces in Afghanistan is slated to reach 68,000 by year's end.
Despite President Barack Obama's earlier decision to send an additional 17,000 combat troops and 4,000 trainers for Afghan forces, U.S. officials say the security in areas infiltrated by the Taliban continues to worsen.
Admiral Mullen says that if the Taliban retake control of Afghanistan, the country will again be a safe haven for terrorist groups like al-Qaida. "It is the epicenter of terrorism right now. It is very clear that in fact al-Qaida is diminished while it is living in Pakistan, and this is a Pakistan-Afghanistan issue. They are by no means dead. It is a very serious threat," he said.
Mullen called for patience with U.S. and NATO efforts in Afghanistan as the American public and some members of Congress are becoming increasingly uneasy about the conflict.
A recent CNN survey shows that 58 percent of Americans oppose the war, while 39 percent support it.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, Democrat Carl Levin says the Pentagon should not send any additional troops to Afghanistan until the United States takes more aggressive action to expand Afghanistan's armed forces. "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," he said.
Some members of Congress are urging the Obama administration to learn from the Iraq War, where a surge in U.S. forces helped to quell violence.
"Every day we delay in implementing this strategy and increasing the number of troops there - which we all know is vitally needed - puts more and more young Americans who are already there, their lives in danger," said
Republican Senator John McCain, who says more troops should be deployed quickly.
Admiral Mullen says the situation in Afghanistan will continue to deteriorate without a renewed U.S. commitment.
He says General McChrystal found conditions worse than he expected when he took command a few months ago.
This year has been the deadliest for foreign forces in Afghanistan since the conflict began nearly eight years ago.