Afghanistan — Afghanistan Visit Gives Mullen Reassurance, Concern

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2010 — The chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yes­ter­day that he returned from Afghanistan this week reas­sured that U.S. and NATO forces remain on track there, but also con­cerned about the syn­er­gy among ter­ror­ist groups in the region.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen made the com­ments yes­ter­day as part of an inter­view with David Sanger, New York Times chief Wash­ing­ton cor­re­spon­dent, at the inau­gur­al Aspen Secu­ri­ty Forum, part of the Aspen Insti­tute, in Col­orado.

Mullen said his trip to Afghanistan, Pak­istan and Israel was sched­uled before the fall­out from a mag­a­zine arti­cle on Army Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal that led to the general’s res­ig­na­tion as com­man­der of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

“Because of what hap­pened,” Mullen said, refer­ring to McChrystal’s removal, “it was a trip of reas­sur­ance. We’ll have a new leader out there very quick­ly, and we also have a very able deputy there now” in British Lt. Gen. Nicholas Park­er. “The strat­e­gy hasn’t changed, nor has our focus,” he said.

Mullen met with Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai, who he said was reas­sured that the lead­er­ship tran­si­tion will be smooth. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, is in the con­fir­ma­tion process to replace McChrys­tal.

“I want­ed to make sure we are stay­ing focused on the mis­sion, and I report back that clear­ly all the peo­ple I saw were,” Mullen said of his trip.

Mullen said McChrystal’s res­ig­na­tion is dif­fer­ent from removals of mil­i­tary lead­ers under Pres­i­dents Abra­ham Lin­coln and Dwight D. Eisen­how­er, and even the 2008 res­ig­na­tion of Navy Adm. William J. Fal­lon as head of Cen­tral Com­mand, because it was not based on pol­i­cy dif­fer­ences. Although he nev­er heard McChrys­tal speak neg­a­tive­ly of civil­ian lead­ers, Mullen said, his res­ig­na­tion was impor­tant in light of the arti­cle, which includ­ed pas­sages in which McChrys­tal and mem­bers of his staff were por­trayed as dis­mis­sive of some civil­ian admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials.

“This goes back to the 1770s,” Mullen said. “It’s such a fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple. We have enor­mous chal­lenges now, but that’s not an excuse in any way, shape or form for any of us to not rec­og­nize the impor­tance of the civil­ian con­trol of our mil­i­tary.”

As for oper­a­tions in Afghanistan, the chair­man said he returned with increas­ing con­cerns that ter­ror­ist groups are oper­at­ing more close­ly with one anoth­er, not just in South­west Asia, but also with men charged in recent attempt­ed ter­ror­ist attacks in Detroit and New York.

“I’m increas­ing­ly con­cerned about the syn­er­gy among ter­ror­ist groups in that region and their expand­ing desire to kill as many Amer­i­cans – and not just Amer­i­cans – as they can,” he said.

Mullen acknowl­edged the length of the near­ly decade-long war, but empha­sized its impor­tance.

“There aren’t any of us who don’t want to see this end as soon as we can,” he said. “But, com­ing back from this trip, I am increas­ing­ly con­cerned about the ter­ror­ist threat in the region. The war in Afghanistan was some­thing very bad­ly resourced – under-resourced — for a num­ber of years. We’re just get­ting to a point where it is resourced, and the gov­ern­ment and cor­rup­tion issue [in Afghanistan], as well as secu­ri­ty, is com­pre­hen­sive­ly being addressed.”

In the long term, Mullen said, the solu­tion to ter­ror­ism is more about the glob­al econ­o­my than mil­i­tary oper­a­tions.

“You can’t kill them all,” he said of the issue of deal­ing with extrem­ists and ter­ror­ists. “We’ve got to get to a point where 15-year-old boys pur­sue a more pos­i­tive way of life than putting on a sui­cide vest.” That’s a long way off, Mullen said, adding that a long-term solu­tion needs lead­er­ship from the Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty to stand up against the des­e­cra­tion of their reli­gion by ter­ror­ists.

In the short term, Mullen said, oper­a­tions in Kan­da­har are ongo­ing, and results won’t be appar­ent until the end of the year. Oper­a­tions there will ramp up after the remain­ing one-third of the U.S. surge troops are in place lat­er this sum­mer, he added.

The NATO cam­paign that took Mar­ja in Hel­mand province from the Tal­iban ear­li­er this year under­es­ti­mat­ed the abil­i­ty to set up a new local gov­ern­ment there, the chair­man said. But while secu­ri­ty remains a chal­lenge in Mar­ja, he added, “steady progress” has con­tin­ued, and schools and bazaars are open.

Mullen said he has sup­port­ed from the begin­ning Obama’s stat­ed time­line of July 2011 to begin draw­ing down in Afghanistan, because it cre­ates a sense of urgency in the Afghan gov­ern­ment to take con­trol. “A lot is going to hap­pen between now and July 2011,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)