Mullen: Coalition Maintains Momentum in Kandahar

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, July 29, 2011 — Despite the spikes of vio­lence here coali­tion and Afghan secu­ri­ty forces are keep­ing the ini­tia­tive, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yes­ter­day.

Mullen, who arrived here today to meet with coali­tion lead­ers, U.S. troops and their civil­ian coun­ter­parts, spoke to reporters trav­el­ing with him.

Kan­da­har has seen a num­ber of spec­tac­u­lar attacks recent­ly. Ahmed Wali Karzai — the half-broth­er of the Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai and an impor­tant polit­i­cal force in the region, was assas­si­nat­ed last month. Kandahar’s police chief also was assas­si­nat­ed last month, and yes­ter­day the Tal­iban claimed respon­si­bil­i­ty for mur­der­ing the city’s may­or.

These types of hor­rif­ic attacks aimed at indi­vid­u­als were expect­ed, Mullen said, not­ing that for­mer Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force com­man­der Army Gen. David H. Petraeus pre­dict­ed the Tal­iban would launch these attacks. Petraeus’ suc­ces­sor, Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen “has reaf­firmed that there are going to be these kinds of spikes — in par­tic­u­lar these spec­tac­u­lar assas­si­na­tions,” Mullen said.

“There are some who believe that this is real­ly all they can do,” he added, “giv­en the chal­lenges the Tal­iban has faced over the last cou­ple of sea­sons, includ­ing this one.”

Coali­tion and Afghan lead­ers are not sur­prised that the Tal­iban are launch­ing these attacks, and they are work­ing to pro­tect local Afghan lead­ers and to go after the cells that plan and launch these attacks, the chair­man said.

Mullen said he does not know what effect these spec­tac­u­lar assas­si­na­tions are hav­ing on provin­cial and dis­trict lead­ers, and he will speak with Afghan lead­ers to make his own assess­ment.

Last month, Afghan forces began tak­ing over secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty for sev­en areas of the coun­try, cov­er­ing rough­ly 25 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion. This includes the secu­ri­ty lead for the cap­i­tal region of Kab­ul.

Mullen said he’ll reas­sure Afghans of the U.S. com­mit­ment to their coun­try. Though coali­tion and Afghan forces have wrest­ed the momen­tum from the Tal­iban and their ter­ror­ist allies, he not­ed, the attacks and the first phase of the U.S. draw­down in the coun­try has made many peo­ple ner­vous.

The chair­man said he will stress “the many suc­cess­es we’ve enjoyed over the Tal­iban in the past year, [and] reas­sure them that con­tin­ues to be the case.”

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma announced that the Unit­ed States will with­draw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, and anoth­er 23,000 by Sep­tem­ber 2012. The chair­man said he wants to make the point to Afghans that a sub­stan­tial num­ber of Amer­i­can forces will remain in coun­try. “There will still be 68,000 [Amer­i­can] troops in Afghanistan, and a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of coali­tion troops,” he said.

Allen will deter­mine the draw­down meth­ods, Mullen said, adding that he is con­fi­dent the draw­down will meet the president’s goal and dead­line.

“There will also be a sig­nif­i­cant buildup of [Afghan secu­ri­ty forces] over the course of the next year,” he said. “So I’m sure there will be enough forces to reas­sure the Afghan peo­ple.”

Today, rough­ly 295,000 per­son­nel serve in the Afghan army and police, build­ing to 305,600 per­son­nel this year. The goal is to have a force of 352,000 — 195,000 in the army and 157,000 in the police — by Oct. 31, 2012.

The chair­man brought a troupe of USO enter­tain­ers with him on this trip.

“This is the time of year I nor­mal­ly go, and one of the rea­sons I go in the sum­mer is it is bru­tal­ly hot,” he said. “It lets me see the con­di­tions our young men and women serve in.”

This year, Com­e­dy Cen­tral satirist Jon Stew­art, bas­ket­ball leg­end Karl Mal­one and magi­cian David Blaine will meet with troops.

“More than any­thing else, it brings a lit­tle bit of Amer­i­ca halfway around the world, and puts a smile on their faces,” the chair­man said. “It reminds them that we appre­ci­ate it, and that a lot of peo­ple at home care about what they are doing.”

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

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