Mullen: Afghanistan Remains Focus of U.S. Security Strategy

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 2011 — America’s nation­al secu­ri­ty strat­e­gy remains focused on coun­ter­ing ter­ror­ism in Afghanistan and the region, the nation’s senior mil­i­tary offi­cer said today.
“What I real­ly want to talk about today is our way for­ward in Afghanistan,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the For­eign Press Cen­ter here.

The recent Afghanistan-Pak­istan review pro­vid­ed a clear pic­ture of how well U.S. strat­e­gy in the region is work­ing, the chair­man said. 

“Imple­men­ta­tion [of the strat­e­gy], par­tic­u­lar­ly on the secu­ri­ty side, is on track,” Mullen said. 

In 2010, num­bers of U.S. troops and civil­ians, allied train­ers and com­bat forces, Afghan army and police trainees all increased, he said, while the Tal­iban lost momen­tum in parts of the south and in the east. 

“I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly delight­ed to report that the Nation­al Mil­i­tary Acad­e­my of Afghanistan just com­plet­ed its selec­tion process for the class of 2015,” Mullen said, “accept­ing more than 600 cadets from a record 4,600 appli­cants –- all through a process that was fair, mer­it-based and com­plete­ly transparent.” 

Afghan forces are join­ing coali­tion troops in “ever-more-chal­leng­ing, ever-more-part­nered oper­a­tions that con­tin­ue to weak­en the insur­gency,” the chair­man added. 

Mullen told the group that a vis­it to Kan­da­har and Hel­mand provinces in recent weeks demon­strat­ed to him that insur­gents are being pushed from pop­u­la­tion cen­ters and denied sanc­tu­ary while los­ing lead­ers “by the score.” Afghan res­i­dents are tak­ing back their vil­lages, build­ing schools and roads and har­vest­ing alter­na­tive crops, all of which con­tribute to “a grow­ing sense of safe­ty” in those regions, he added. 

The chair­man admit­ted to some sur­prise at see­ing increased secu­ri­ty take root around Kan­da­har, where “the ene­my is not accus­tomed to los­ing.” He said he is con­fi­dent such gains will con­tin­ue “so long as coali­tion and Afghan forces increase their pres­ence and their pres­sure on [insur­gent] oper­a­tions, and improve their own capacity.” 

Now is the time to press the advan­tages gained in Afghanistan and to redou­ble efforts there, he said. 

“We know the gains we have made are ten­u­ous and frag­ile, and can be lost,” Mullen said. “We know the ene­my is resilient. And we know that things are like­ly to get hard­er before they get any easier.” 

A rel­a­tive­ly mild win­ter that has encour­aged con­tin­ued insur­gent fight­ing will give way to spring, Mullen said, and with 100,000 more coali­tion and Afghan forces on the ground than last year, “we will expand our pres­ence into areas the ene­my still wish­es to control.” 

“As dif­fi­cult as it may be to accept, we must pre­pare our­selves for more vio­lence and more casu­al­ties in com­ing months,” the chair­man said. “The vio­lence will be worse in 2011 than it was in 2010 in many parts of Afghanistan. There is much, much yet to do.” 

Over the long term, he said, the Unit­ed States and coali­tion nations must work to sup­port an Afghan polit­i­cal process that includes rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with those Tal­iban mem­bers who break with al-Qai­da, renounce vio­lence and accept the Afghan constitution. 

With U.S. troop lev­els in Afghanistan set to start decreas­ing in July and giv­en the goal of ful­ly trans­fer­ring secu­ri­ty to Afghan forces by 2014, the Unit­ed States must con­tin­ue to build a strate­gic part­ner­ship with Afghanistan, the chair­man said. 

“Our mil­i­tary pres­ence will dimin­ish, as it should,” he said. “But the part­ner­ship between our two nations will endure.” 

Mullen said Pakistan’s role in ensur­ing region­al secu­ri­ty remains crit­i­cal. The recent assas­si­na­tion of Pun­jab Gov. Salmaan Taseer and the depar­ture and return of the Mut­tahi­da Qau­mi Move­ment to Pakistan’s rul­ing coali­tion gov­ern­ment high­light some of the polit­i­cal chal­lenges that coun­try faces, he said. 

“That polit­i­cal aspect is some­thing I keep an eye on all the time,” the chair­man said. 

Pak­istan is cru­cial to elim­i­nat­ing ter­ror­ist safe havens in the region, he said. 

“We can­not suc­ceed in Afghanistan with­out that,” said Mullen, not­ing he has had “many meet­ings” with Gen. Ash­faq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’s army chief of staff, on the topic. 

“He has evolved his mil­i­tary against this threat, and this threat is evolv­ing as well,” Mullen said of Kayani’s anti-ter­ror­ism strat­e­gy. “It’s not just Haqqani any more, or al-Qai­da, or … the Afghan Tal­iban or [Lashkar-e-Tayy­i­ba], it’s all of them work­ing togeth­er, in ways that two years ago they absolute­ly did not.” 

The rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process, Mullen said, is focused on “get­ting to a point where Afghanistan is peace­ful and sta­ble, and can take con­trol of its own life and move for­ward, in every respect.” 

Safe havens in Pak­istan now form the epi­cen­ter of ter­ror­ism in the world, the chair­man said. 

“It deserves the atten­tion of every­body to do as much as we can to elim­i­nate that threat,” Mullen said. “We can­not suc­ceed in Afghanistan with­out … shut­ting down those safe havens.” 

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

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