TODAY | May 31, 2010
NATALIE MORALES, co-host: On this Memorial Day , there are nearly 200,000 Americans serving in Iraq and Afghanistan , and a pivotal offensive is on the horizon in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan , this as many wonder if the military needs to play a bigger role here at home containing that massive oil spill . Admiral Mike Mullen is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff . Admiral Mullen , good morning to you. Nice to have you here.
Admiral MIKE MULLEN (Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff): Good morning, Natalie .
MORALES: And if I may begin with what is now the current crisis here at home, and that is the gulf oil leak. Given now that we know that the top kill method did not work and the public's anger, obviously, continuing to rise over
this, this weekend on ABC 's " This Week " General Colin Powell said, "This is now beyond the capacity of BP to solve" and said "the federal government has to move in quickly and with decisive force and demonstrate it is doing everything it can." Do you agree with that assessment?
Adm. MULLEN: Well, actually, from a military perspective, I -- we participated in a lot of the meetings and decisions with respect to the federal response. And the military has provided, at this point, over 1,000 National Guard troops, significant amount of boom so that the oil can be contained, and we're clearly in support of the lead agency right now. And there's been no discussions that that would change. This is a very difficult technical problem, and from all I've been able to discern, the technical lead , having the oil industry be the technical lead , is important. The military doesn't have any capability that could immediately get to eliminating or stopping this leak. That said, we want to do all we can to support the effort. We realize how significant it is.
MORALES: Does that, though, need to change, given the fact that there have been so many failures up to this point, now more than 40 days in?
Adm. MULLEN: Well, I think the -- I think the failures speak to the difficulty, the challenge and the -- from the standpoint of stopping this. And as far as a decision to change this, that's really -- would be up to the president right now. Certainly the military would be in a position, or is in a position, to help as much as we possibly can.
MORALES: Moving on to Afghanistan and Iraq , and we have spent now, as of yesterday, $1 trillion on both wars. By the end of the summer we will have all of the 30,000 surge troops in place. Has all the money and the manpower dedicated to these efforts managed to make us safer?
Adm. MULLEN: Well, from a standpoint of Iraq , we're actually in a position to continue the drawdown, to be down to about 50,000 troops by the end of August. And while there are certainly challenges right now politically in Iraq to stand up this new government, from all I can see we're on track to do that. Even with the increased -- the spikes in violence in Iraq , the political process continues to move forward. It hasn't spiked -- it hasn't resulted in any sectarian violence after each of the violent episodes, and so I'm actually encouraged by what's going on there. We continue to add troops into Afghanistan . The last of the 30,000 troops the president approved last December will be there this fall. The major operations there from the standpoint of focusing on Marjah , which started in February, and it'll take a few more months, I think, for Marjah to settle out and become irreversible. And we're focused very much now on Kandahar .
MORALES: And, of course, on this Memorial Day what should Americans be thinking about, given all the sacrifice from our servicemen and women as we move forward into the next year?
Adm. MULLEN: Well, this is a very special day and a day that I hope all Americans can just pause for a moment and remember those who've sacrificed their lives to defend our country. They really have made a difference. They've gone off and done what our country has asked them to do...
Adm. MULLEN: ...and many of them have not come home. So I really appreciate their sacrifice and I hope that the American people will join me in recognizing those who've -- those who've paid the ultimate price.
MORALES: Well, we really appreciate you and all your efforts as well and to all our servicemen and women. Thank you so much , Admiral Mike Mullen .