Mullen Addresses Progress in Iraq, Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2011 — The chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today said con­di­tions in Afghanistan are steadi­ly improv­ing, and that Amer­i­can troops should remain in Iraq to help train the mil­i­tary there.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee that, in Afghanistan, “the mil­i­tary com­po­nent of our strat­e­gy, to the extent it can be sep­a­rat­ed from the strat­e­gy as a whole, is meet­ing our objec­tives.”

Coali­tion and Afghan forces, he said, have tak­en the ini­tia­tive and momen­tum from the Tal­iban in sev­er­al key areas.

“The num­ber of insur­gent-ini­ti­at­ed attacks has for sev­er­al months been the same or low­er than it was at the same time last year,” Mullen said. “We are on a pace and even slight­ly ahead of our end-strength goals for the Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces.”

Tran­si­tion to an Afghan secu­ri­ty lead and ulti­mate con­trol has begun, with sev­en areas tran­si­tion­ing to the gov­ern­ment. “We are well-pos­tured to begin the with­draw­al of 10,000 Amer­i­can troops by the end of this year,” the chair­man said.

Yet chal­lenges remain in Afghanistan, Mullen said, not­ing the Tal­iban have switched strate­gies.

The Tal­iban, the chair­man said, are now “con­cen­trat­ing their efforts on attacks that will pro­duce a max­i­mal psy­cho­log­i­cal impact for a min­i­mal invest­ment in man­pow­er or mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ty,” he said. “The recent truck bomb in War­dak falls into this cat­e­go­ry, as do … the attacks last week in Kab­ul, includ­ing the one on our embassy, and the assas­si­na­tion Tues­day of for­mer Afghan Pres­i­dent Raban­ni.”

For the long run, the strat­e­gy in Afghanistan can­not depend just on coun­tert­er­ror­ism or mil­i­tary might, Mullen said.

“Suc­cess in the region will require effort out­side the realm of secu­ri­ty,” he said. “We must agree upon a strate­gic part­ner­ship dec­la­ra­tion with Afghanistan that will clar­i­fy and cod­i­fy our long-term rela­tion­ship.”

The Unit­ed States, the chair­man said, must encour­age an inter­nal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process in Afghanistan that pro­vides for redress of griev­ances and a state-to-state inter­ac­tion between Afghanistan and Pak­istan to resolve mat­ters of mutu­al con­cern.

“And we must make clear to friends and ene­mies alike that Amer­i­can pres­ence and inter­est and com­mit­ment are not defined by boots on the ground, but rather by per­sis­tent, open and mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial engage­ment,” he said.

In Iraq, the U.S. mil­i­tary mis­sion is set to end Dec. 31. “We are on pace to remove all Amer­i­can troops from Iraq by the end of the year, per the Strate­gic Frame­work Agree­ment and the orders of the com­man­der in chief,” Mullen said. “We are also in dis­cus­sions with the Iraqi gov­ern­ment about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of leav­ing behind a resid­ual train­ing force.”

No final deci­sions have been made, “but I can tell you the focus of those dis­cus­sions remains cen­tered on … the sorts of capa­bil­i­ties for which the Iraqis believe they need help, and the sorts of capa­bil­i­ties we believe we can offer them,” he said.

The Unit­ed States must get the rela­tion­ship right with Iraq to hon­or the mem­o­ry of those who nev­er made it home, Mullen said.

Mullen, who leaves his posi­tion en route to retire­ment next week, said he departs office sat­is­fied with progress in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I leave hum­bled now by the per­for­mance and the resilience of men and women in uni­form and their fam­i­lies, who did not shrink from duty when duty sent them into harm’s way,” he said.

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