General: Afghan Buildup May Take More Time

Updated at 2:28 p.m. EST

The second-highest ranking U.S. general in Afghanistan said Monday it will likely take more time than expected to fully deploy the additional 30,000 American troops, saying it could take nine to 11 months before they are all in place, reports CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier.

Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez said during a briefing in the Afghan capital that the slower schedule results from the logistical challenges the military faces in bringing in so many forces so quickly. In launching a 30,000-troop surge, the Obama administration had initially said it expected that all of troops would be in place within six months.

President Barack Obama had not cited that figure directly, saying in his Dec. 1 nationally-televised speech that the troops would "deploy in the first part of 2010 - the fastest pace possible - so that they can target the insurgency." White House aides had indicated the hope was for all the new troops to be in place by summer.

Military officials had already been hinting broadly in recent weeks that the escalation might take longer, but Rodriguez' comments indicated that the notion of a six-month rapid escalation was not realistic and that reality is now setting in.

Rodriguez did stress, however, that his revised timetable was "just a guess." That rough schedule is the most specific expression thus far of the emerging consensus that the surge will stretch well into the fall.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other top officials have said the bulk of the new forces will be in place this summer, and Rodriguez agreed.

Officials also said that plans to begin a process of withdrawal by July 2011 are not affected by the delay.

In Washington, Marine Corps Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said the plan has always been to put the bulk of the 30,000 forces in place by the end of summer - with a "few thousand" not deployed until in fall.

"Nothing has changed other than to figure out how to do it," Lapan said.

In an interview with "60 Minutes" broadcast Sunday, President Barack Obama and the timetable for withdrawal, which was met with criticism from Republicans, particularly former election foe, Sen. John McCain.

Mr. Obama stated again that the drawdown would begin in July 2011, but its size and scope will be determined by "conditions on the ground."

"As commander in chief, obviously, I reserve the option to do what I think is going to be best for the American people at that point in time. And our national security. But we will know, I think, by the end of December 2010 whether or not the approach that General McChrystal has discussed in terms of securing population centers is meeting its objectives. And if the approach that's been recommended doesn't work, then yes, we're going to be changing approaches."

Mr. Obama said the importance of the deadline is to send a message to Afghans that the U.S. troop commitment won't be "open-ended."

"That's not what the American people signed off for when they went into Afghanistan in 2001," he said.

More from President Obama on "60 Minutes":

Obama Defends Afghanistan Timetable
Obama Versus the "Fat Cats"
Obama: Gatecrashers Lapse "Won't Happen Again"
Obama: Senate Will Pass Health Bill by Christmas

Meanwhile, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, expressed concern Monday about the "growing level of collusion" between Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and al Qaeda and other militant groups taking refuge across the border in Pakistan.

Visiting Kabul to discuss the upcoming build up and training of Afghanistan's security force, Mullen told reporters he would discuss the issue with Pakistani authorities during talks in Islamabad later this week.

Painting a grim picture, Mullen said Afghan insurgents were dominant in a third of Afghanistan's 34 provinces and "the insurgency has grown more violent, more pervasive and more sophisticated."

"I remain deeply concerned by the growing level of collusion between the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda and other extremist groups taking refuge across the border in Pakistan," Mullen said. "Getting at this network, which is more entrenched, will be a more difficult task than it was just one year ago."

Mullen's reference to militants based in Pakistan appeared aimed at U.S. efforts to press the Pakistani government to step up its crackdown on extremists who have long used their country as a refuge. The U.S. believes most of al Qaeda's top leadership has moved from Afghanistan to the lawless border area just inside Pakistan.

Mullen said, however, he was convinced that Pakistan was addressing the threat.

"I have seen Pakistan increase its commitment fairly dramatically over the past 12 to 18 months," he said, adding: "I am completely convinced that the government of Pakistan and the Pakistani military are very focused on this. They are going after this threat, as they have very clearly over the last year."

Last week, U.S. officials in Washington said the Obama administration was considering widening missile strikes on al Qaeda and other militants inside Pakistan and planning to bolster the training of Pakistan's forces in the key border areas. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was sensitive.

Separately, Mullen was asked how important it was to kill or arrest Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri, the top two leaders of the al Qaeda terrorist network.

"The most important goal in this strategy is the elimination of the safe havens for al Qaeda and its extremist allies and to ensure that Afghanistan does not provide a safe haven in the future," he said. "Part of that certainly is to capture, kill bin Laden, Zawahri and their other compatriots. We think in the long run, that will certainly be part of what needs to happen in terms of defeating al Qaeda."

Mullen's visit comes as the first of 30,000 U.S. reinforcements prepared to deploy to the 8-year-old war.

Underscoring the security crisis, Afghanistan's Ministry of Interior announced that 16 Afghan National Police were killed Monday in two separate attacks - one in northern Baghlan province and the other in the southern city of Lashkar Gah.

At a news conference in Kabul earlier in the day, Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, spokesman of the Ministry of Defense, said the troop buildup, a decrease in poppy cultivation in southern Afghanistan, and increased pressure on the hotbeds of the insurgency would yield improved security by the summer of 2010.

The 10,000-member Afghan army is expected to swell to 150,000 by March 2011.