Goals in Afghanistan Remain the Same, Dempsey Says

WASHINGTON, March 17, 2012 — While recent inci­dents have chal­lenged U.S. oper­a­tions in Afghanistan, the long-term objec­tives there remain the same, Army Gen. Mar­tin Dempsey told Char­lie Rose.

The chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff appeared on the PBS inter­view show last night. He said the U.S. mil­i­tary is com­mit­ted to con­duct­ing an inves­ti­ga­tion into the March 11 alleged mur­der of Afghan civil­ians by an Amer­i­can staff sergeant in Kan­da­har province.

Dempsey put the recent inci­dents in per­spec­tive. “We also have to be aware of the fact that we’ve had pos­si­bly 800,000 to 900,000 young men and women rotate through Afghanistan and they’ve served hon­or­ably, they’ve done the right thing, they’ve main­tained their sens­es of dis­ci­pline,” he said.

The alleged mur­ders, the Quran burn­ing inci­dent last month and images of dead bod­ies being des­e­crat­ed all have con­verged, the chair­man said. “We have to be intro­spec­tive and learn what the past 10 years of war have done to us as a pro­fes­sion,” he said. “In terms of whether these inci­dents have hurt the war effort, our goals and objec­tives remain the same.”

NATO lead­ers agreed at the 2010 Lis­bon sum­mit to main­tain secu­ri­ty in Afghanistan and train Afghan forces to tran­si­tion to the lead in their own secu­ri­ty by 2014. Afghan gov­ern­ment offi­cials also agreed to these goals and objec­tives, Dempsey said.

“I think Afghan lead­ers under­stand that, but their out­rage at a par­tic­u­lar instance is under­stand­able,” he said.

“It should be clear that no one wants to put Afghans in the lead more than we do — when they are ready to be in the lead,” Dempsey said. “That’s the con­ver­sa­tion we’ve been hav­ing.”

There are a num­ber of areas where Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces the army and police are in the lead. By next year that will increase dra­mat­i­cal­ly, the gen­er­al said.

Already, Afghan forces are respon­si­ble for pro­tect­ing more than half of Afghan cit­i­zens. In 2013, the NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force will tran­si­tion more areas to Afghan con­trol. He said there will be “a mile­stone of sorts” next year.

Dempsey made a recent trip to Afghanistan and came away with the impres­sion that the Afghans want to lead and want to assume respon­si­bil­i­ty. “I think that when giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to lead … — there are capa­bil­i­ty gaps — but when giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to do so, they actu­al­ly do bet­ter than we think they will and, impor­tant­ly, they per­form bet­ter than they think they can,” he said.

Afghanistan is a very poor coun­try with many dis­parate groups, which com­pli­cates efforts in the area, but the Unit­ed States and its allies are help­ing build a sense of nation­hood there, he said.

Pak­istan is anoth­er wild card in the hand in Cen­tral Asia, and while Dempsey believes the state is more sta­ble, it still faces chal­lenges that ter­ror groups, such as the Haqqani net­work, exploit. The Novem­ber inci­dent where NATO forces killed Pak­istani sol­diers on the bor­der still col­ors rela­tions between the Unit­ed States and Pak­istan and Pak­istan lead­ers closed a NATO sup­ply route.

The Unit­ed States has qui­et­ly worked with Pak­istani lead­ers to mend rela­tions. “I think the best thing we’ve done is we’ve not con­duct­ed our engage­ment with them with a mega­phone,” he said. “We’ve com­mu­ni­cat­ed with them direct­ly. We’ve com­mu­ni­cat­ed with them pri­vate­ly. We’re back in close con­tact with them along the bor­der. We have been in con­ver­sa­tions about our mil-to-mil rela­tion­ship, about our for­eign mil­i­tary sales, about some of the com­mon chal­lenges of ter­ror­ism.”

The Pak­istani leg­is­la­ture is dis­cussing what the new rela­tion­ship with the Unit­ed States might be. “I’m per­son­al­ly opti­mistic that we can reset the rela­tion­ship in a way that meets both of our needs,” the chair­man said.

Still, the Pak­istani mil­i­tary lacks the capa­bil­i­ty need­ed to end ter­ror groups using the coun­try as a safe haven. The Pak­ista­nis may have the will to do some­thing, but not the means. “I believe they will do the best they can, but it may not be enough for us,” he said.

Dempsey used the Haqqani net­work as an exam­ple. He said the net­work has been in place for 20 years and is “inter­twined” into the soci­ety of west­ern Pak­istan. It also received sig­nif­i­cant assis­tance from the Pak­istani Inter-Ser­vices Intel­li­gence orga­ni­za­tion. “I think they’re inter­mar­ried,” he said.

All this makes it dif­fi­cult for his Pak­istani coun­ter­part, Gen. Ash­faq Parvez Kayani, to deliv­er. Still the gen­er­al said he believes Kayani will do every­thing he can against these ter­ror groups.

Pak­istan con­tin­ues to have a bleak eco­nom­ic pic­ture, a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion and a pol­i­cy that still regards India as the nation’s exis­ten­tial threat, the chair­man said.

Afghanistan was the coun­try where al-Qai­da planned the attack on the Unit­ed States that killed 3,000 peo­ple. There has been sig­nif­i­cant progress against the ter­ror group, Dempsey said, and while it still is a fac­tor, its influ­ence has waned and many of its lead­ers are dead or in cap­tiv­i­ty.

But the move­ment al-Qai­da rep­re­sents is still a dan­ger on the Ara­bi­an penin­su­la, in Africa and else­where, Dempsey said. “We think those orga­ni­za­tions have an abil­i­ty because it is the 21st cen­tu­ry and they can net­work have the abil­i­ty to pass infor­ma­tion, pass goals and objec­tives, and even exchange mon­ey, ide­ol­o­gy, and peo­ple,” he said.

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