CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - The nation's highest-ranking military officer told soldiers and Marines yesterday that the insurgency in Afghanistan had grown in the last three years and that he expected casualties to rise next year as additional U.S. troops pour into the war.
"This is the most dangerous time I've seen growing up the last four decades in uniform," Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told about 1,000 Marines at Camp Lejeune.
Many attending Mullen's talks at Camp Lejeune and at Fort Campbell, Ky., will be sent to Afghanistan in President Obama's plan announced last week.
Camp Lejeune will supply 1,500 Marines by Christmas. After the first of the year, the Marines will begin sending 6,200 more from Lejeune and Camp Pendleton, Calif., the Pentagon announced yesterday. The Army will also begin sending in the first of its forces in the spring - a training brigade with about 3,400 soldiers from Fort Drum, N.Y.
Three brigades from Fort Campbell's 101st Airborne Division are also heading to Afghanistan, and about 4,100 support forces from various places will deploy early.
"We are not winning, which means we are losing," Mullen said, "and as we are losing, the message traffic out there to [insurgency] recruits keeps getting better and better, and more keep coming.
"That's why we need the 30,000 and in particular, and you are the lead on this, getting in there this year, over the next 12 months, almost in lightning-bolt fashion."
Mullen told 700 soldiers at Fort Campbell that military leaders believed they had 18 to 24 months to reverse the insurgency, in what he expects to be a tough and bloody fight.
"I am sure we will sustain an increase in the level of casualties, and I don't want to be in any way unclear about that," he said. "This is what happened in Iraq during the surge, and as tragic as it is, to turn this thing around, it will be a part of this surge as well."
On Sunday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Americans should expect a significant U.S. military presence in Afghanistan for two to four more years. He said that just as in Iraq, the United States would turn over provinces to homegrown security forces, allowing the United States to bring down the number of troops steadily.
Gates noted that Afghan President Hamid Karzai talked in his inaugural address about taking over security control in all of Afghanistan in five years.
Karzai, who won his second term after an election marred by ballot-stuffing, is under intense international pressure to clean up graft and bribery in his government and assemble a cabinet of reformists.
In Kabul yesterday, Afghan lawmakers demanded a full, not partial, list of his new 25-member cabinet. Parliament members must approve his picks, and they appear to be playing a larger role than they have before in the process of seating a new cabinet in hopes of ensuring that presidential cronies don't slip through.