Afghanistan — Mullen: Kandahar Vital to Success in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2010 — Kan­da­har, the spir­i­tu­al home of the Tal­iban, is the key to suc­cess in Afghanistan and the U.S. mil­i­tary is work­ing with Afghan forces to turn the tide against the insur­gents, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the defense sub­com­mit­tee of the Sen­ate Appro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee today.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates tes­ti­fied on the fis­cal 2011 Defense Bud­get request.

Mullen told the sen­a­tors that Kan­da­har, the sec­ond-largest city in Afghanistan, is the birth­place of the Tal­iban. Tal­iban chief­tain Mul­lah Omar ruled Afghanistan from a palace in Kan­da­har. Today, the insur­gents train, equip, plan attacks and intim­i­date Kandahar’s cit­i­zens.

“Just the oth­er day, in a vil­lage not far away, these peo­ple lynched a small boy of sev­en claim­ing he was a spy for the coali­tion,” Mullen said.

Hold­ing ter­ri­to­ry means lit­tle in a coun­terin­sur­gency fight, “but it is from Kan­da­har that the Tal­iban attempt to con­trol the hearts and minds of the Afghan peo­ple,” he said. “It is my belief that should they go unchal­lenged there and in the sur­round­ing areas, they will feel equal­ly unchal­lenged else­where.

“As goes Kan­da­har, so goes Afghanistan,” he said.

Afghan and coali­tion efforts to counter the Tal­iban in the region have been under­way for sev­er­al months, Mullen said. Shap­ing oper­a­tions in the form of kinet­ic strikes against Tal­iban tar­gets and their facil­i­ties, and hold­ing shuras – meet­ings – with trib­al elders and oth­ers of influ­ence in the area, are equal parts of the cam­paign.

The next step in the cam­paign is to improve secu­ri­ty in the region. “With Afghans in the lead, we will bol­ster a police pres­ence at secu­ri­ty out­posts and check­points around the city,” Mullen said. “We will estab­lish free­dom of move­ment along the ring road and build a bypass south of Kan­da­har. And we will bet­ter con­trol access to the city itself along its main arter­ies.”

This will be tough — as Amer­i­can, coali­tion and Afghan casu­al­ties attest, Mullen said. “But all of it will depend heav­i­ly on the con­tin­ued growth and devel­op­ment of com­pe­tent and well-led Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces, as well as tan­gi­ble and achiev­able polit­i­cal out­comes,” the chair­man said.

Pro­tect­ing the peo­ple of Kan­da­har from the depre­da­tions of the Tal­iban is not a mil­i­tary objec­tive. “It is a social, polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic objec­tive for which oth­er agen­cies and oth­er nations are need­ed and through which Afghan lead­er­ship will be vital,” Mullen said.

The chair­man said he is com­fort­able with the progress that has been achieved in Afghanistan, and with the sequence of the oper­a­tions as they move for­ward. “I am also mind­ful of the need to mon­i­tor our progress con­tin­u­al­ly to stay flex­i­ble and to adjust accord­ing­ly,” he said.

Mullen also dis­cussed the prop­er bal­ance of forces and resources in the defense estab­lish­ment between fight­ing today’s wars and prepar­ing for the threats of the future. “Win­ning our cur­rent wars means invest­ment in this hard-won irreg­u­lar war­fare exper­tise, a core com­pe­ten­cy that should be insti­tu­tion­al­ized and sup­port­ed in com­ing years,” he said. “But we still face tra­di­tion­al threats from region­al pow­ers who pos­sess robust reg­u­lar, and in some cas­es nuclear, capa­bil­i­ties and so we must also main­tain con­ven­tion­al advan­tages.”

The Amer­i­can mil­i­tary needs suf­fi­cient strike air­craft and muni­tions capa­ble of assur­ing air supe­ri­or­i­ty. Afloat, it means hav­ing enough ships and sailors to stay engaged glob­al­ly and keep the sea lanes open. On the ground, it means accel­er­at­ing the mod­ern­iza­tion of U.S. com­bat brigades and reg­i­ments.

“On the whole, it means nev­er hav­ing to fight a fair fight,” the chair­man said. “Again, it’s about bal­ance, about deter­ring and win­ning the big and the small wars, the con­ven­tion­al and the uncon­ven­tion­al – two chal­lenges, one mil­i­tary.”

Mullen salut­ed the U.S. military’s per­for­mance over near­ly a decade of war, not­ing many ser­vice­mem­bers have served mul­ti­ple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Our men and women are, with­out ques­tion, and almost inex­plic­a­bly, the most resilient and bat­tle-ready force in our his­to­ry,” he said. “We are turn­ing away poten­tial recruits, so good is our reten­tion and so attrac­tive are our career oppor­tu­ni­ties.”

How­ev­er, the strain on the force has tak­en a toll, Mullen acknowl­edged, not­ing the mil­i­tary has expe­ri­enced “an alarm­ing rise in sui­cides, mar­i­tal prob­lems, pre­scrip­tion drug addic­tions and men­tal health prob­lems with­in our ranks.”

To com­bat these issues the Pen­ta­gon has asked for bud­get increas­es for fam­i­ly sup­port and advo­ca­cy pro­grams to include coun­sel­ing, mil­i­tary spouse employ­ment and care for wound­ed, ill and injured mem­bers, the chair­man said.

“This bud­get builds upon the superb sup­port you and the depart­ment have pro­vid­ed our troops and their fam­i­lies,” Mullen said.

The depart­ment, he said, also wants to dra­mat­i­cal­ly increase the num­ber of men­tal-health pro­fes­sion­als on staff and advance research in trau­mat­ic brain injuries and post-trau­mat­ic stress – the sig­na­ture wounds of the cur­rent wars.

“We know the strain of fre­quent deploy­ments caus­es many prob­lems, but we don’t know yet ful­ly, nor under­stand ful­ly, how or to what extent,” Mullen said.

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