ABC News’ Jonathan Karl Reports: The Joint Chiefs chairman has a word of warning to Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton: A rapid of withdrawal from Iraq would lead to a "chaotic situation" and would "turnaround the gains we have achieved, and struggled to achieve, and turn them around overnight.
Admiral Mullen’s comments came in a response to a question about what the Joint Chiefs are doing to prepare for a new president, given that two of the candidates have called for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.
"We need to be prepared across the board for what a new president will bring," Mullen said. "I do worry about a rapid withdrawal. . . [that would] turn around the gains we have achieved and struggled to achieve and turn them around overnight."
Asked to define a "rapid withdrawal," Mullen said, "a withdrawal that would be so fast that it would leave us in a chaotic situation and the gains we have achieved would be lost."
That said, Mullen added: "When a new president comes in, I will get my orders and I will carry them out."
Mullen, of course, will still be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the next president is sworn in. His term goes until September 2009 and could be renewed for another two years after that.
Mullen, however, also made it clear that the large commitment of U.S. forces in Iraq is coming at a steep price.
He said that another 3,000 to 4,000 trainers are needed in Afghanistan. But those trainers cannot be sent, he said, until there are further drawdowns in Iraq. There simply aren’t enough available troops.
"We’d like to get those trainers out there as fast as we can," he said. "Clearly in Afghanistan the training mission is at the top . . . we need more trainers than we need anything else. . . Clearly it will take forces drawing down in Iraq to provide the headroom to meet that mission."