Mattis Discusses Afghan Transition at Marine Symposium

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va., Aug. 30, 2011 — Tran­si­tion is an ongo­ing process in Afghanistan, and it entails far more than sim­ply win­ning on the bat­tle­field, the com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand said here today.

Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mat­tis said 2010 was a very bad year for the ene­my, and that 2011 is going to be even worse. The Tal­iban are “los­ing lead­er­ship, ground, logis­tics, and pub­lic sup­port,” he said at an Emer­ald Express Sym­po­sium at the Marine Corps Uni­ver­si­ty.

Time and again, Mat­tis stressed that tran­si­tion in the coun­try is going to work only if the coali­tion and the Afghan gov­ern­ment get the inputs right.

The NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force has been work­ing over the past two years to focus resources on build­ing the right orga­ni­za­tions, staffing those orga­ni­za­tions cor­rect­ly, and devel­op­ing civ­il-mil­i­tary plans and approach­es for the unique sit­u­a­tion for Afghanistan, the gen­er­al said. Get­ting the orga­ni­za­tions in place is “real­ly the stuff of get­ting tran­si­tions cor­rect,” Mat­tis told the inter­na­tion­al audi­ence at the sym­po­sium.

One orga­ni­za­tion that has stood up and become cru­cial is the ISAF Joint Com­mand, a three-star com­mand that focus­es on the day-to-day activ­i­ties of the war, free­ing the four-star ISAF com­man­der to focus on longer-range oper­a­tions and rela­tions with­in the alliance and with the Afghans.

“It’s as if you are at the bat­tal­ion lev­el and you are in the cur­rent fight, and you are also respon­si­ble for oper­a­tions a week from now,” he said. “All of your atten­tion is focused on the cur­rent fight and get­ting the resources to those in con­tact right now.” The same thing hap­pens at every lev­el of com­mand, the gen­er­al added.

NATO Train­ing Mis­sion Afghanistan took a mis­sion spread out over the coun­try and made sense out of chaos, Mat­tis said, and is per­form­ing a mis­sion crit­i­cal to the long-term suc­cess of efforts in the coun­try. U.S. troops are draw­ing down in Afghanistan, he said, but the num­ber of Afghan sol­diers and police is increas­ing far faster than the draw­down.

Work­ing on get­ting the rule of law in place in Afghanistan is anoth­er key capa­bil­i­ty, Mat­tis said. “These are areas you’ve got to deal with,” he added. “Oth­er­wise, you have a ‘catch and release’ pro­gram or eth­i­cal vio­la­tions � nei­ther of which can be sus­tained.”

The ISAF head­quar­ters has an ele­ment that works on rein­te­gra­tion and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Rein­te­gra­tion is a bot­tom-up process, and thou­sands of young Afghan men have turned away from the Tal­iban and are throw­ing their lot in with the Afghan gov­ern­ment, Mat­tis explained. Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, he said, is worked top-down, as Afghan gov­ern­ment offi­cials work with lead­ers who have com­plaints and try to get them into the polit­i­cal process.

“Nobody rec­on­ciles if they’re win­ning,” Mat­tis said. “First of all, you’ve got to dri­ve the ene­my and destroy their hopes. Nobody rein­te­grates to the los­ing side. You are not read­ing about an Afghan army pla­toon going over to the ene­my,” or a police sta­tion join­ing forces with the Tal­iban.

Get­ting the inputs right means build­ing on the secu­ri­ty that bat­tle­field suc­cess caus­es, the gen­er­al explained. If this is not the case, he added, “then you’d bet­ter change your strat­e­gy, change your tac­tics.”

Oth­er orga­ni­za­tions in the com­mand also are part of the tran­si­tion effort. A com­bined spe­cial oper­a­tions com­mand fea­tures intel­li­gence fusion cells, infor­ma­tion oper­a­tions cells and anti-cor­rup­tion task forces. Some of these are not tra­di­tion­al or nor­mal jobs for the mil­i­tary, Mat­tis acknowl­edged, “but they are absolute­ly crit­i­cal.”

Peo­ple are the most impor­tant part of any orga­ni­za­tion, the gen­er­al said, but it has to be the right type of per­son in the right place.

“Some­times, you need to get rid of some peo­ple whose approach to coali­tion and civ-mil fight­ing is obso­lete,” he said. “If some­one can­not cre­ate har­mo­ny across inter­a­gency lines, across inter­na­tion­al lines, if some­one can’t get the inter­a­gency to work togeth­er, that person’s lead­er­ship is obso­lete. That per­son is a big­ger asset to the ene­my than they are to our own mis­sion, our own nation.”

The real­i­ty of plan­ning and get­ting these con­cepts right may be lost on Amer­i­cans who believe the Unit­ed States is alone in the effort, Mat­tis said.

“There are 49 nations fight­ing togeth­er in the largest coali­tion in mod­ern his­to­ry,” he said. “The rea­son I bring this up is … [Amer­i­cans] some­times won­der if we’re doing it on our own. I would just tell you that Cana­da, Esto­nia and the Nether­lands have lost more troops per capi­ta in this fight than we have, and that the Pak­istan mil­i­tary has lost more troops than all of NATO com­bined. They are not a per­fect ally, [but] every­body com­ing to the table brings some­thing.”

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