Coalition, Afghans Now Resourced to Succeed, Mullen Says

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 11, 2010 — After years of under-resourc­ing the war in Afghanistan, the coali­tion has put in place the pieces need­ed to win the coun­terin­sur­gency bat­tle in the coun­try, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen made the com­ments as part of the Bernard Brodie Dis­tin­guished Lec­ture Series on the UCLA cam­pus here. Renee Mon­tagne, the daugh­ter of a Marine and co-host of NPR’s Morn­ing Edi­tion, host­ed led con­ver­sa­tion.

Mullen said that while the Unit­ed States has been at war in Afghanistan since 2001, only recent­ly has the con­flict received the atten­tion and resources it requires. The war fol­lowed an arc that was promis­ing in the ear­ly days, but seemed to plateau until 2006, when the Tal­iban came back with a vengeance.

When Mullen became chair­man in 2007, Iraq was the main U.S. con­flict. The surge was in full swing and Amer­i­can forces were spend­ing 15 months at assign­ments in the U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand area of oper­a­tions. There were more than 150,000 Amer­i­cans in Iraq and under 40,000 in Afghanistan. It was a con­ser­va­tion of force mis­sion in Afghanistan, mean­ing the Unit­ed States was send­ing just enough resources to main­tain the com­bat forces there, he said.

The troop lev­el was just one exam­ple of the under-resourc­ing in Afghanistan, which Mullen said was under-resourced “from every dimen­sion.”

“It was strate­gi­cal­ly under-resourced, it was finan­cial­ly under-resourced,” he said. Mil­i­tary oper­a­tors and plan­ners were not focus­ing on or think­ing of Afghanistan. U.S. civil­ian agen­cies also skimped in Afghanistan as did NATO allies, the chair­man said. And it was “bad­ly under-resourced from a mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ty and capac­i­ty stand­point,” he added.

In Feb­ru­ary 2009, Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma ordered 30,000 more U.S. troops to the coun­try. In Decem­ber 2009, the Unit­ed States launched a total review of the Afghan sit­u­a­tion, cov­er­ing every­thing from goals to strat­e­gy to logis­tics. Oba­ma announced anoth­er 30,000 U.S. troops would go to Afghanistan, along with 10,000 more NATO allies.

“You can’t just feed some­one who has been starv­ing for a long time a full meal, and expect them to bounce back,” Mullen said. “It’s going to take some time to do this, and I think we have the strat­e­gy right, we have the resources right and we have the lead­er­ship right, but it’s not going to hap­pen overnight.”

The admi­ral is con­cerned about the time it will take to accom­plish the mis­sion of sta­bi­liz­ing the coun­try, and pro­vid­ing secu­ri­ty so Afghan secu­ri­ty forces can take the lead. “The over­all strate­gic view of Afghanistan is, we don’t want the coun­try to return to fer­tile ground for ter­ror­ists,” he said. “There are plen­ty of them around – not that far away. When the Tal­iban ran the coun­try before, they pro­vid­ed that fer­tile ground, from which we were orig­i­nal­ly attacked.”

The past year has been dif­fi­cult for U.S., NATO and Afghan troops. The strug­gle against the Tal­iban and their allies in the south has been par­tic­u­lar­ly bloody. Kan­da­har, Afghanistan’s sec­ond-largest city and spir­i­tu­al home of the Tal­iban, is the key to the strat­e­gy. Coali­tion and Afghan forces have pushed the Tal­iban from their safe havens in the vil­lages and areas around Kan­da­har, Mullen said. Some are attempt­ing to regroup inside Kan­da­har itself, while oth­ers are try­ing to escape to Pak­istan.

Mil­i­tary forces have had a “sig­nif­i­cant effect” on the insur­gency this year, the chair­man said. There have been suc­cess­es in Pan­jwai, Argend­hab, Dawi, Nawa, Mar­ja and oth­er areas. But there is still work that needs to be done in the longer run, he said.

The Unit­ed States will be in the region for a long time, the chair­man said. This does not nec­es­sar­i­ly mean large num­bers of troops. The Unit­ed States is com­mit­ted to long-term rela­tion­ships with Afghanistan and Pak­istan.

Amer­i­cans must remem­ber that the coun­terin­sur­gency effort is not sole­ly mil­i­tary. “We’ve tripled the num­ber of civil­ians there as well, because the gov­er­nance piece – local, provin­cial and fed­er­al – must also improve,” he said. “In fact, it is just now that the strat­e­gy has been ade­quate­ly resourced. Now it is being exe­cut­ed. It is fair­ly chaot­ic in some areas… and yet we’ve start­ed to see some progress.”

Oba­ma has said the Unit­ed States will begin to with­draw troops from Afghanistan in July, begin­ning the process of tran­si­tion to Afghan-led secu­ri­ty. Mullen said some troops will leave, but he doesn’t know how many. It will depend on the con­di­tions on the ground. Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates has said it will like­ly be small, “and we don’t know what part of Afghanistan they will be from,” he said.

There can’t be a seri­ous dis­cus­sion of the future of Afghanistan with­out talk­ing about Pak­istan, the chair­man said. The Unit­ed States needs to engage Pak­istan – a nuclear pow­er with an econ­o­my in sham­bles and its own prob­lem with ter­ror­ism. Mullen has worked to estab­lish a rela­tion­ship with Pak­istani Gen. Ash­faq Kayani, the army chief of staff, meet­ing with him about 30 times in three years. “When I first met him, there was this enor­mous trust gap between us, both as indi­vid­u­als and as coun­tries,” Mullen said. “Both of us are work­ing hard to fill that up as rapid­ly as we can.”

But the break in rela­tions from 1990 to 2002 has left a mark, and the ques­tion Mullen said he is asked most in Pak­istan is, how long are you going to stay this time?

“(Kayani) trusts me to a point now where he tells me what he is going to do long before he does it,” the admi­ral said. “We have to under­stand their chal­lenges. They have to focus on India, but they have rotat­ed some 60,000 to 70,000 troops into the fight on the bor­der [with Afghanistan]. They have lost many sol­diers and civil­ians to ter­ror­ism. Some­times his time­lines doesn’t match my time­lines.”

Amer­i­cans are not a patient peo­ple and “align­ing the patience index­es some­times can be dif­fi­cult,” Mullen said. The Pak­istani army is resource con­strained, but it seems to have the will to take on the Pak­istani Tal­iban.

The Pak­istani army had to change to a coun­terin­sur­gency force for the bat­tles in the trib­al areas along the Afghan bor­der. They pulled troops from Kash­mir, the volatile north­ern ter­ri­to­ry bor­der­ing Pak­istan and India, retrained them and rotat­ed them into the coun­terin­sur­gency fight.

Dur­ing the White House review of actions in Afghanistan, Mullen said he will look close­ly at the growth and train­ing of the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces. “The whole idea of tran­si­tion of putting the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces in the lead is fun­da­men­tal,” he said. “That’s our way home.”

And the process of train­ing Afghan sol­diers and police is improv­ing. “We’ve put in place a struc­ture, which means train­ers, cur­ric­u­la, build­ings where the train­ing takes place, which didn’t occur before,” he said.

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

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