Middle East

Joint Chiefs Chair­man Lists Top Pri­or­i­ties

WASHINGTON, May 19, 2009 — The chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff iden­ti­fied increas­ing Mid­dle East secu­ri­ty, revi­tal­iz­ing U.S. forces and focus­ing on glob­al chal­lenges as his top pri­or­i­ties in remarks at the Brook­ings Insti­tu­tion here yes­ter­day.

Detail­ing his pri­or­i­ty list, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen defined the broad­er Mid­dle East as stretch­ing from Lebanon to Iran and even includ­ing parts of South Asia.

Mullen cit­ed the Afghanistan-Pak­istan strat­e­gy Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s admin­is­tra­tion unveiled in March as an exam­ple of the region­al approach that’s need­ed. “Cer­tain­ly, our pres­i­dent and the new admin­is­tra­tion has put togeth­er a com­pre­hen­sive strat­e­gy for Afghanistan and Pak­istan,” he said. “And I felt this was vital — to focus on the region, not just focus on one coun­try or the oth­er but, in fact, have a com­pre­hen­sive strat­e­gy for the entire region.”

The mil­i­tary con­tri­bu­tion to secu­ri­ty is nec­es­sary, Mullen said, but not suf­fi­cient. He empha­sized the need for increased pres­ence of non­mil­i­tary U.S. agen­cies, and he called for bet­ter resourc­ing of the State Depart­ment and the rest of the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment, which he char­ac­ter­ized as increas­ing­ly “expe­di­tionary.”

“I think it’s an absolute pri­or­i­ty that we resource our State Depart­ment and oth­er agen­cies to do this, not just for the near term — and we clear­ly need those resources in Afghanistan — but also for the long term,” he said.

The chair­man said that in Iraq – where rough­ly 140,000 U.S. troops are deployed – the sit­u­a­tion is “frag­ile” as forces began to draw down in accor­dance with agree­ments between Wash­ing­ton and Bagh­dad.

“And at the same time, we see the strate­gic growth of required forces in Afghanistan and, again, a focus on Afghanistan and Pak­istan,” he said. Mullen added that like Iraq, secu­ri­ty in Afghanistan will depend on its own nation­al secu­ri­ty forces gain­ing momen­tum and respon­si­bil­i­ty.

“So [there is a] heavy focus, obvi­ous­ly, in my life and with my staff, in engage­ment on the broad­er Mid­dle East. But a lot of what’s going on there also applies to oth­er parts of the world,” he said.

Anoth­er of Mullen’s pri­or­i­ties – focus­ing on the health of U.S. forces – also occu­pies much of his time, he said.

“There’s a resilience in that force, a skip in their step, a capa­bil­i­ty that is tru­ly extra­or­di­nary in its evo­lu­tion, and real­ly rev­o­lu­tion, to become what I believe is the best coun­terin­sur­gency force in the world, and in doing so has set a stan­dard about how quick­ly we can change, giv­en the strat­e­gy is put in the right place,” he said.

But despite their coun­terin­sur­gency progress in Iraq, he said, the U.S. mil­i­tary is under the strain of mul­ti­ple deploy­ments and com­bat stress. He said both the Army and Marine Corps are at their new­ly increased end strength, but that it will take some time before new troops are trained and can relieve cur­rent forces.

“Over the next 18 to 24 months, that stress is going to con­tin­ue,” he said. “And then after that, I can start to see a time where dwell time [at home sta­tions between deploy­ments] will increase, and we can start to bring the pres­sure down, based on what I under­stand right now.”

The chair­man also stressed the need to take care of injured troops – includ­ing those suf­fer­ing from trau­mat­ic brain injury and post-trau­mat­ic stress — and their fam­i­lies, and to care for the spous­es and chil­dren of those killed.

“And when I say, ‘take care of them,’ I real­ly mean take care of them for the rest of their lives,” he said. “These are young peo­ple who have gone out, done what our coun­try has asked them to do, and they should be well tak­en care of, not just by the Depart­ment of Defense or [Vet­er­ans Affairs], but by Amer­i­ca — com­mu­ni­ties through­out the land, reach­ing out to these young peo­ple, whose dreams haven’t changed.

“They want their kids to go to school. They’d like to go to school. And they’d like to own a piece of the rock,” he con­tin­ued. “It’s just the path has been altered. And as far as I’m con­cerned, we owe them that debt.”

Mullen said the Defense Depart­ment bud­get should reflect its care for the peo­ple who com­mit to mil­i­tary ser­vice.

“We’re going through a big debate right now about sys­tems, major acqui­si­tion pro­grams, what we should buy for the future,” he said. “What we should buy for the future is to make sure we get it right for our peo­ple. That’s health care, that’s hous­ing, that’s ben­e­fits, that’s the com­pen­sa­tion pack­age, that’s bonus­es — all those kinds of things.”

Mullen said his oth­er pri­or­i­ty is to make sure the Unit­ed States is ade­quate­ly engaged in parts of the world that don’t fall under the U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, where Amer­i­can forces are engaged in both Iraq in Afghanistan.

“It’s not a small globe,” he said. “There are chal­lenges that exist through­out the world, and [I’m] mak­ing sure right now, with so many of my forces focused in the Cen­tral Com­mand area, that I have enough forces that are engaged in oth­er parts of the world.”

The chair­man under­scored how inter­wo­ven the world is – as evi­denced by the glob­al finan­cial cri­sis – and said coun­tries are “very depen­dent on each oth­er.”

“Sta­bil­i­ty is a key for the future in that regard,” he said. “And along those lines, that sta­bil­i­ty — again, not unlike Iraq and not unlike Afghanistan — that sta­bil­i­ty is going to be a nec­es­sary con­di­tion, but not suf­fi­cient, because we need edu­ca­tion devel­op­ment, we need eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment, we need good gov­er­nance. Those are also key to progress, not [only] in the cur­rent con­flicts, but progress in the future as well.”

By John J. Kruzel
Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice