Afghanistan — Mission Unchanged in Afghanistan, Mullen Says

KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. mis­sion in Afghanistan has not changed, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said at a news con­fer­ence at the Gov­ern­ment Media Infor­ma­tion Cen­ter here.

“We are still going to dis­man­tle and defeat al-Qai­da and its extrem­ist allies, and pre­vent Afghanistan from ever becom­ing a haven for them again,” the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

The goal of inter­na­tion­al part­ners is a secure and sta­ble Afghanistan, Mullen said, a coun­try that can defend itself, pro­vide for itself and its cit­i­zens, and con­tribute to the eco­nom­ic bet­ter­ment of the region.

The strat­e­gy calls for a broad and delib­er­ate coun­terin­sur­gency cam­paign to pro­tect the Afghan peo­ple. “Again, none of this has changed with the arrival of (Army) Gen. (David) Petraeus,” he said.

Mullen is vis­it­ing Afghanistan where he met with troop­ers of the 101st Air­borne Division’s 1st Brigade Com­bat Team at Jalal­abad and For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Joyce. He then moved to Kab­ul where he spoke to Petraeus at the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force head­quar­ters and with the U.S. embassy staff. “We are in fact mak­ing slow, but steady progress toward our goals,” the admi­ral said.

Coun­terin­sur­gency is a com­pli­cat­ed fight. “There are ups and downs, set­backs and steps for­ward, but I am … more opti­mistic than I’ve been in the past,” he said.

The Hel­mand cam­paign is mak­ing progress. Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces are mak­ing con­tri­bu­tions and build­ing capa­bil­i­ties in the province, Mullen said. Gov­er­nance is lag­ging, but improv­ing, he said, adding that Hel­mand may have been the most impor­tant Tal­iban base in Afghanistan, and they are fight­ing back.

The Kan­da­har cam­paign is grow­ing in size and scope as addi­tion­al U.S., coali­tion and Afghan forces flow in. Spe­cial oper­a­tions forces are con­duct­ing mis­sions to kill, cap­ture or dri­ve off Tal­iban lead­ers and their al-Qai­da allies. Afghan and U.S. mil­i­tary police have estab­lished check­points through the city, and addi­tion­al U.S. and Afghan brigades are part­ner­ing out­side the city to expand secu­ri­ty.

“The ene­my is clear­ly feel­ing the pres­sure and lash­ing out,” the admi­ral said.

Recent fight­ing has caused civil­ian casu­al­ties. “In the last two weeks, the Tal­iban have mur­dered 45 peo­ple coun­try­wide, and wound­ed anoth­er 100 or so,” Mullen said. “In that same peri­od, four inno­cent civil­ians were killed in the course of Afghan and ISAF oper­a­tions, and anoth­er four or five wound­ed.”

ISAF and Afghan forces want to reduce civil­ian casu­al­ties to noth­ing. “The ene­my can­not say, and most cer­tain­ly will not strive for, the same result,” he said.

Secu­ri­ty is a pre­req­ui­site for progress in Afghanistan, Mullen said, enabling the gov­ern­ment to put in place pro­grams and to build projects that ben­e­fit all Afghans.

Mullen again explained that the July 2011 date for U.S. troops to begin with­draw­al from Afghanistan does not mean the Unit­ed States won’t con­tin­ue to sup­port the region. He repeat­ed the mes­sage he deliv­ered in Pak­istan the day before: U.S. forces will leave only “as fast and as far as con­di­tions on the ground per­mit. No one is look­ing for the door out of Afghanistan or out of the region.”

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