The top U.S. military officer says coalition forces are continuing to make significant progress against the Taliban in Afghanistan, but is warning there is likely to be more violence this year in many parts of the country than in 2010.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, told reporters that U.S. and NATO forces are making what he called surprising progress in traditional Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan.
Mullen says local towns are beginning to reject Taliban fighters and the insurgents are losing ground. "He is losing and I have every confidence that he will continue to lose so long as coalition and Afghan forces increase their presence and their pressure on his operations and improve their own capacity," he said.
Recently, U.S. military commanders ordered an additional 1,400 Marines to southern Afghanistan to support the allied forces fighting there.
Admiral Mullen calls the Taliban a resilient force and says more bloodshed can be expected in the New Year. "As difficult as it may be to accept, we must prepare ourselves for more violence and more causalities in coming months. The violence will be worse in 2011 than it was in 2010 in many parts of Afghanistan. There is much, much yet to do," he said.
More than 700 allied soldiers died last year in Afghanistan, far more than in any year since the war began in 2001.
Admiral Mullen says insurgent safe havens in neighboring Pakistan must be shut down in order for coalition forces to succeed in Afghanistan.
In a wide-ranging discussion of U.S. national security issues, Mullen says he is concerned about the growing threat of al-Qaida in Yemen. "I am worried about the terrorist threat in Yemen. I am specifically worried about al-Qaida in Yemen that has grown up fairly dramatically over the course of the last two years who now threatens the United States, who is seeking to kill as many Americans and Westerners as they can," he said.
Mullen says the U.S. is working with the government of Yemen to deal with the threat, and noted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the country this week.
The admiral says he was not surprised that China tested the country’s first radar-evading stealth bomber this week, but says he cannot understand why Beijing continues to invest in expensive weapons that could be targeted against America. "What I just have not been able to crack is the why on some of these capabilities, whether it is this [stealth bomber], whether it is anti-satellite, whether it is anti-ship, many of these capabilities seem to be focused very specifically on the United States," he said.
Mullen also says it is a very dangerous time in North Korea, as the country prepares for a transfer of power from long-time leader Kim Jong-il to his son, Kim Jong Un.
Mullen says the succession period is generating a lot of provocation such as the recent sinking of a South Korean ship and the shelling of a South Korean island.