Alhurra Talks to the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff

In an exclusive interview with Alhurra Television, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen discussed the presence of additional U.S. troops in Iraq, the situation in Libya, the growing Iranian role in Iraq, the situation in Syria and the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s bill to cut military aid to some Arab countries.  The following are excerpts from Admiral Mullen’s interview.

On Iraqi-American negotiations to keep American troops after the end of 2011

“Actually, there are not any ongoing negotiations.  What is going on in Iraq right now from my perspective is that the political leadership in Iraq is going through an internal debate about their future and whether or not it should include any U.S. presence.  We certainly are aware of that and we have been engaging with them in terms of, in particular, their military capability, what they are good at, where they have gaps…The next step is the Iraqis have to get to the point where they would open up those negotiations and look at what kind of presence may be there for the future.” 

On whether the U.S. received a request from the Iraqi government

“No, we have received none so far.”

On the timetable for the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq

“Secretary Penetta was pretty clear a couple of weeks ago when he visited [Iraq] right after he took over Secretary of Defense that we are getting very near what I would call a point of no return.  So the Iraqi government needs to make a decision about what they would like to do.  We continue to drawdown as we speak.  We will take some additional forces out in August, next month, and we will get to a point of no return because it becomes dangerous.  We have to make sure in the withdrawal that we are able to protect ourselves so our mission is reduced significantly to one where it just becomes one of both protection of our forces and withdrawal. And that is not 31st December.  It is actually several months before that.” 

On the additional U.S. troops presence in Iraq in the future

“It is very clear from our military standpoint that there are areas [where] there are gaps in the Iraqi security forces.  That said, they have to determine whether or not they are willing to take risks in those areas specifically, and getting to the point where they would ask us, we would then get in the negotiations about, what kind of capabilities?  How many and how long?  There have been absolutely no decisions with respective to any kind of US military presence in the future.”

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On reasons to keep additional troops in Iraq

“There is no decision to keep troops beyond the end of the year.  And if policy does not change, the United States will withdraw all of its troops by the 31st of December… I know that the Iraqi security force leadership has made that case up to Prime Minister Almaliki.  It is really for the political leadership to review all that and make a decision about whether they want to start negotiations with the United States and in those negotiations, whether there would be additional presence to support whatever mission they will speak to.”

On the growing Iranian role in Iraq

“I have seen a growing level of activity with respect to Iran in Iraq.  We have seen weapons that Iran is very specifically supplying Iraqi Shiite extremist groups.  And we’ve taken steps in terms of planning; we’ve taken steps in terms of notification that this activity has to stop.  In fact, some of those weapons are killing American soldiers. We will do what we  need to do to defend our soldiers…On one hand, Iran says it wants to be a growing responsible country and they take steps routinely to support Shiite extremist groups to destabilize southern Iraq.  They continue to support terrorism throughout the region and they are looking for additional opportunities to destabilize a vital region.  And from the United States’ perspective, we will not accept that they will take steps which jeopardize the United States’ military members without some kind of appropriate actions.”  

On the United States’ role in Libya

“I think President Obama made it very clear from the beginning of this mission that the United States would do the heavy lifting early to start the mission off and then move to a support role, which is what we have now been doing for several months. I think we will continue to do that. We are not the only country out there. There are other countries that are moving in support of the TNC, in terms of aid and support. We actually, broadly, diplomatically, from a humanitarian stand point, and in other areas we are supporting the Libyan people. And we continue to work with our partners on the overall campaign on the best way to do this. What we haven’t done, and I certainly haven’t seen a decision to the contrary, is provided any kind of lethal aid to the TNC [Transitional National Council] with respect to that. Other countries have done that, that’s really for them to decide. The United States in its support role here, certainly the President has chosen not to do that.”

On the future of Libyan leader Col. Qaddafi

“I think it is fair to say that there is universal agreement that, whatever happens in the end here, that Qaddafi has got to leave power, not have the kind of influence that he had, or generate the kind of threat that he had on his people and has historically carried out in terms of killing his own citizens. I think the details and how the French look at it, or some other countries look at it, even the TNC leadership, is a part of how this all sorts itself out in the end. Suffice it to say that everyone agrees he needs to leave.”

On the situation in Syria

The very clear message from the people of Syria is that they don’t want to keep living like they were living under this very oppressive regime, and they want to see change.   I think the root of all this is the desire for a better way of life in a different environment… You have certainly seen President Assad talk about reform.  at the same time you see him seriously cracking down on his people, killing his own people.  And actually I think that the solution of killing your own people is one that accelerates your demise if you will.  In the end, I think, it will up to the Syrian people to figure out how they are going to live in the future.”

On the House Foreign Affairs Committee bill to cut military aids to some Arab countries

Certainly, there is enormous pressure in the United States because of the budget crisis that we are in. To look across the board, not just foreign military aid, I think we need to be judicious about how we do this.  Certainly I think we should review all of it.  For instance, giving to Egypt over the course of 30 years, in the end, was very important part of the Egyptian military growth and our relationship in the Egyptian military moving itself through this crisis.  I think we need to be smart about how we evaluate this and not just massively cut one country or another.  We have really got to focus on our friends and focus on the relationships and certainly military aid is a key part of that.”

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