The situation in Afghanistan is "serious" and "deteriorating," the top U.S. military officer said Sunday, warning that the Taliban insurgency has gotten more sophisticated while the Afghan people increasingly fear for their safety.
Adm. Mike Mullen would not say whether the fight would require more than the 68,000 troops the administration has committed, but expressed concern about falling public support for the war which President Obama has called one of "necessity."
"This is the war we're in," Mullen said matter-of-factly, when asked about public perception of a conflict entering its ninth year.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the situation needs to be reversed in the next 12 to 18 months.
"I think it is serious and it is deteriorating," Mullen said. "And I've said that over the last couple of years, that the Taliban insurgency has gotten better, more sophisticated."
He said the Taliban have gotten "much tougher" over the past couple years, and that the focus of the mission at this point is to provide security for the Afghan people.
Mullen insisted that the mission would not float in a state of "endless drift," and said the president's strategy was only beginning to be implemented.
"I recognize that we've been there over eight years," he said. "But this is the first time we've really resourced a strategy on both the civilian and military sides. So in certain ways, we're starting anew."
The Obama administration is awaiting an assessment about the situation from the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal. That report is expected in about two weeks and will lead to decisions about whether more troops are necessary. Mullen said McChrystal hasn't yet asked for additional troops.
But amid the new strategy, public support is falling. July was the deadliest month to date for coalition forces, and a Washington Post-ABC News poll released last week showed 51 percent of people think the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting.
Lawmakers have said this is a sign Obama needs to strengthen his pitch to the American people and make crystal clear why he's escalating the war.
"He really can't just leave this to the Congress, to General McChrystal, and say, folks, sort of, discuss this, after the report comes in," said Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Mullen, a Vietnam veteran, said he's aware that public support for the war is critical.
"Certainly the numbers are of concern," he said.
In broadcast interviews, Mullen and U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry said last week's presidential election in Afghanistan was historic, given the threats of intimidation voters faced as they headed to polling stations. It could be several weeks before it's known whether incumbent Hamid Karzai or one of his challengers won.
"We're not sure exactly what the level of voter turnout was," said Eikenberry, a retired three-star Army general. "Taliban intimidation, especially in southern Afghanistan, certainly limited those numbers."
Mullen and Eikenberry spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press" and CNN's "State of the Union." Lugar spoke on "State of the Union."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.