WASHINGTON — The top U.S. military officer cautioned Monday against comparing the Pentagon’s renewed focus on Afghanistan to the Vietnam War, citing terrorism and a nonoccupation strategy as "dramatic differences” between the two conflicts.
"Afghanistan is much more complex,” said Navy Adm. Mike Mullen.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff added: "I certainly recognize — and having been in Vietnam myself — that there are those who make comparisons. I would be pretty careful about that though, for lots of reasons.”
Mullen’s comments came as the Pentagon prepares to deploy an additional 15,000 Army and Marine troops to Afghanistan this spring and summer in the Obama administration’s military campaign to shut down the Taliban and al-Qaida.
Ultimately, an estimated 60,000 U.S. troops could be in Afghanistan over the next year.
There are currently about 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Speaking to the Reserve Officers Association, Mullen stopped short of predicting how long American troops would remain in Afghanistan.
He said the main difference between Afghanistan and Vietnam is that "we are not an occupying force.”
Chief among the concerns, Mullen said, is making sure Afghanistan never again becomes a haven for al-Qaida leaders who moved to lawless Pakistan tribal regions in the post-9/11 hunt for Osama bin Laden.