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Mullen Says More Troops Are Probably Needed in Afghanistan

Adm. Mike Mullen speaks before the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing on his reappointment.
Adm. Mike Mullen speaks before the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing on his reappointment. (By Susan Walsh -- Associated Press)

Gates "believes that we have to provide more counter-IED capabilities to our forces in Afghanistan as soon as possible," Morrell said, using the abbreviation for improvised explosive device, or roadside bomb. "By that, I mean route clearance teams, explosive ordnance disposal teams, medevac teams, intelligence assets, not to mention the hardware that's required."

Mullen emphasized that the key elements of Obama's strategy are being put into place, citing a new program to offer incentives to persuade low- and mid-level Taliban fighters to abandon the insurgency. The goal would be to win over rank-and-file Taliban fighters and then target the leaders with more lethal means, officials said.

"There's a very big opportunity here to reduce violence by reaching out to some of the lower-level guys, to give them an opportunity to see a life that's better than fighting for the Taliban," said a senior official at the NATO command in Kabul who discussed the program on the condition of anonymity. "What's really important is to get a feel for where the Afghans are" on reintegration, the official said.

No decisions have been made on what the incentives would be, although the official said they could include cash and jobs.

The major challenge is to develop a program the Afghan government accepts and implements from the start -- in contrast to Iraq, where the United States paid former fighters and then struggled to persuade the Iraqi government to integrate them into its security forces and other jobs, the senior official said. "It has to be owned and driven by them."

Retired British Lt. Gen. Graeme Lamb, who worked on the reconciliation of fighters in Iraq, is in Afghanistan heading the initiative for McChrystal, Mullen said, although he stressed that the planning is still in the early phases. "We're not very far down that road," he said.

Mullen said he and other senior military leaders -- including McChrystal; Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command; and the chiefs of military services -- believe that executing Obama's strategy in Afghanistan will require not just killing insurgents but succeeding in a wide-ranging campaign to provide security, government services and economic rebuilding for the Afghan population.

"The president has given us a clear mission: disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda and its extremist allies and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven again. You can't do that from offshore, and you can't do that by just killing the bad guys. You have to be there, where the people are when they need you there, and until they can provide for their own security. This is General McChrystal's view, and it is my view -- and that of General Petraeus and the Joint Chiefs," Mullen said in his opening remarks.

McChrystal is "alarmed by the insurgency" in Afghanistan, Mullen said, and "needs to retake the initiative from the insurgents, who have grabbed it over the last three years." Mullen said he spoke with McChrystal on Monday. "Quite honestly, he found conditions on the ground tougher than he had thought," Mullen said.

Warned by lawmakers that U.S. public support for the war was waning, Mullen said he understood that urgent action was needed. "I worry a great deal that the clock is moving very rapidly," he said.

"Do you understand you've got one more shot back home? Do you understand that?" asked Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.)

"Yes, sir," Mullen replied.

Staff writers Karen DeYoung and Rajiv Chandrasekaran contributed to this report.

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