WASHINGTON– July 2011 is not a withdrawal date, but a specific target date for beginning to transition security responsibility to Afghan forces, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said on several morning talk shows today.

“We’ve been given very clear direction from the president to start the transfer of responsibility for security to the Afghan security force,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said on “American Morning” on CNN. “July of 2011 is a time where we can start to transition, … but it’s not a hard deadline to leave.”

Only time will tell how many Afghan forces will be ready to accept security responsibility, Mullen said. “There’s … a sense of urgency that the Afghan security forces become engaged heavily in training, in taking the lead,” he added.

About 60,000 of the 96,000 soldiers in the Afghan National Army are operating in the field in partnership with U.S. military units, Mullen said on CBS’ “The Early Show,” though not many are yet in the lead in operations. “There are very few,” he acknowledged, “but not unlike Iraq, that’s the challenge. We’ve got to work with them.”

To help to accomplish this task and bolster other U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, the president has authorized the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops. The vast majority of them will arrive in country by mid-summer, Mullen said. Training Afghan security forces is certainly a top priority, he added, but it’s just one piece of the strategy for winning the war in Afghanistan. A government that represents all of its people also is crucial, he noted.

The question asked on NBC’s “Today Show” was whether Afghan President Hamid Karzai is capable of reaching out to the different groups in Afghanistan and decentralizing the government.

“I think he knows his people very well,” Mullen said. “I think he can reach out … he’s very clearly a critical partner in all this.

“He’s appointed some good ministers,” he added. “We’re anxious to make sure that those appointments – or reappointments – are solid, that he does the same thing with provincial governors, and that, in fact, the governance aspect in Afghanistan is not just centralized in Kabul, but good governance gets generated right down through the local level as well.”

In addition, the United States is interested in having members of the Taliban who would prefer to be part of the solution rather than the problem talk with high-level U.S. officials, Mullen said.

“That’s very much part of the strategy,” he said. “We’re hopeful that that would be part of the strategic shift, if you will, embedded in this new strategy.”

The reconciliation and reintegration of Taliban would happen only under very specific conditions, the chairman said. They must “actually put down their weapons … [and] no longer engage in the kind of insurgency that we’re seeing regularly,” he explained.

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