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)