Afghanistan — Chairman Calls Kandahar Operations ‘Critical’

Chair­man Calls Kan­da­har Oper­a­tions ‘Crit­i­cal’

By Jim Gara­mone
Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice

SHANNON, Ire­land — Kan­da­har is the cen­ter of grav­i­ty for oper­a­tions in Afghanistan for at least the rest of this year, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.

“I think Kan­da­har is as crit­i­cal in this time­frame in Afghanistan as Bagh­dad was in Iraq dur­ing the surge,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said to reporters trav­el­ing with him to Afghanistan.

Army Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal, the NATO and U.S. com­man­der in Afghanistan, has announced that Kan­da­har is the next tar­get for Afghan and coali­tion forces. The gen­er­al wants to build on the lessons learned in the Mar­ja cam­paign in Hel­mand province for oper­a­tions in and around Afghanistan’s sec­ond-largest city.

Kan­da­har was the spir­i­tu­al home of Mul­lah Omar and the Tal­iban and remains impor­tant to the Tal­iban. McChrys­tal said ear­li­er this month that shap­ing oper­a­tions in and around the city have begun. Some of these oper­a­tions will be polit­i­cal, he said, and oth­ers are secu­ri­ty-relat­ed, but coali­tion and Afghan forces will move for­ward with the full sup­port of the Afghan gov­ern­ment.

The two areas of high­est risk are gov­er­nance and the police, the chair­man said, not­ing that effec­tive gov­er­nance has to be at all lev­els: local, provin­cial and fed­er­al. “It is gov­er­nance at the vil­lage lev­el that I am … con­cerned about,” Mullen said, “because that’s the lev­el of gov­ern­ment that will deliv­er goods and ser­vices to peo­ple who are des­per­ate.”

Train­ing the police has been a prob­lem, the chair­man acknowl­edged, but he said he feels con­fi­dent that the right process­es and sys­tems are in place now.

Cor­rup­tion is a prob­lem in Kan­da­har, and an anti-cor­rup­tion task force has been oper­at­ing in the region. “It’s still ear­ly, but I’m anx­ious to hear their con­clu­sions,” the chair­man said.

Deal­ing with cor­rup­tion and putting in place hon­est gov­er­nance are the keys to Kan­da­har, the admi­ral told reporters. “We will be unable to suc­ceed in Kan­da­har if we can­not elim­i­nate a vast major­i­ty of cor­rup­tion there and set up a legit­i­mate gov­er­nance struc­ture,” he said. “We can suc­ceed mil­i­tar­i­ly, but it’s not going to work” if local gov­ern­ment can­not serve the peo­ple fair­ly.

Since Kan­da­har is the cen­ter of grav­i­ty, suc­cess or fail­ure there will have ram­i­fi­ca­tions far beyond its bor­ders.

Mullen vis­its Afghanistan at least once a quar­ter to assess what’s hap­pen­ing on the ground and see if it match­es up with what he is told in the Pen­ta­gon.

In Region­al Com­mand South, the admi­ral said, he wants not only to see the com­bat side of oper­a­tions, but also to meet with the civil­ian lead­er­ship to assess how the gov­er­nance por­tion of the “clear, hold, build” strat­e­gy is work­ing.

“This starts at the local lev­el and goes right up to Kab­ul,” Mullen said.

The chair­man said agrees with Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates that any nego­ti­a­tion with Tal­iban lead­ers would be pre­ma­ture. He said allies tell him the coali­tion should nego­ti­ate only from a posi­tion of strength, “and in my judg­ment, we’re not there yet.”

“There has to be a polit­i­cal strat­e­gy [toward rec­on­cil­i­a­tion] in Afghanistan,” he added. “We’re real­ly sort­ing our way to this.”

The chair­man also said he was pleased with the strate­gic dia­logue meet­ings between the Unit­ed States and Pak­istan last week in Wash­ing­ton. The meet­ings reflect­ed a whole-of-gov­ern­ment approach, with min­is­ters from all agen­cies and dis­ci­plines dis­cussing mutu­al inter­ests and con­cerns.

Pak­istani offi­cials told Mullen that they noticed “a sea change” in the atti­tude of Con­gress toward them, he said.

Mullen said he takes a long view of the U.S.-Pakistani rela­tion­ship. He has vis­it­ed with Gen. Asfaq Kayani of the Pak­istani army 19 times since being named chair­man, he said, because he and oth­er U.S. lead­ers must mend ties with Pak­istan. The Unit­ed States broke off mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tions with the coun­try in 1992. It was­n’t until 2002 that nor­mal rela­tions resumed. Re-devel­op­ing trust will take time, the chair­man said.

Meet­ings like the strate­gic dia­logue “are all part of the edu­ca­tion process, the under­stand­ing process, the see­ing it from both sides process that a cou­ple two years ago was­n’t there,” Mullen said.

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