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A Shortage Of Troops in Afghanistan

Adm. Michael Mullen is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
Adm. Michael Mullen is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. (Luis Alvarez - AP)
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"We need to make deeper cuts in Iraq to be able to do Afghanistan at greater strength, but it makes me nervous to accelerate the drawdown in Iraq," said Michael E. O'Hanlon, a military expert at the Brookings Institution. "It's dangerous to throw away what you've been able to succeed in doing in one place in the hope that you might help a mission where you're having relative failure elsewhere."

James Jay Carafano, a military expert at the Heritage Foundation, said it is clear that the war in Afghanistan needs more troops. He argued that the only sensible strategy is to hold the line there until brigades can be moved out of Iraq.

"If you want to deal with Afghanistan, you have to deal with Iraq first," he said. Carafano said he thinks the next president could reduce forces in Iraq significantly by 2011, allowing a "responsible force" to be in Afghanistan by that time.

Addressing a potential conflict with Iran, Mullen said he strongly favors diplomacy over military action to deter Tehran from seeking nuclear weapons. Mullen visited Israeli officials last week but declined to provide details on his discussions with them.

"Clearly there is a very broad concern about the overall stability level in the Middle East," Mullen said. For the military, "opening up a third front right now would be extremely stressful on us," he added. "That doesn't mean we don't have capacity or reserve, but that would really be very challenging, and also the consequences of that sometimes are very difficult to predict."

Mullen said he opposes a military strike on Iran by either the United States or Israel.

"My strong preference here is to handle all of this diplomatically with the other powers of governments, ours and many others, as opposed to any kind of strike occurring," Mullen said. "This is a very unstable part of the world, and I don't need it to be more unstable."

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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