Mullen Confident Afghans Will Be Ready to Shoulder Security

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, July 30, 2011 — The chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is sat­is­fied the U.S. draw­down in Afghanistan is being done in a respon­si­ble man­ner and that the Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces will be able to shoul­der the defense bur­den by 2014.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen spoke to sol­diers, sailors, air­men and Marines at Kan­da­har Air Field this morn­ing, and he was asked for his opin­ion on the sub­ject.

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma announced in June that the Unit­ed States would draw down 10,000 per­son­nel by the end of the year and with­draw anoth­er 23,000 per­son­nel by the end of Sep­tem­ber 2012.

The draw­down has begun with some small units not being replaced at the end of their tours. Mullen said the new com­man­der of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force, Marine Gen. John Allen, is work­ing on the plan to draw down the rest of the per­son­nel.

The draw­down can­not be seen in a vac­u­um, Mullen said. Ear­li­er this month, coali­tion forces began tran­si­tion­ing secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty for sev­en areas of the coun­try con­tain­ing 25 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion to Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces.

“That’s the begin­ning of the secu­ri­ty tran­si­tion that will take place where (the Afghans) are in con­trol of the coun­try by the end of 2014,” the chair­man said.

The sev­en areas are the provinces of Bamiyan and Pan­jshir, the west­ern city of Her­at, the cap­i­tal area of Kab­ul, east­ern Lagh­man province, Mazar-i-Sharif in the north and Lashkar Gah, the cap­i­tal of Hel­mand province. A sec­ond set of tran­si­tion areas will be announced in Decem­ber.

This should be enough time, Mullen said, espe­cial­ly with the progress made against the Tal­iban. Even after the draw­down, “there will still be 68,000 U.S. troops on the ground here through next sum­mer,” he said. “The Tal­iban had a pret­ty bad year last year. They’re hav­ing a bad year this year, and I think they’re going to have a bad year next year. So that’s three fight­ing sea­sons where the surge is real­ly able to impact on them and make a dif­fer­ence, and we’ll see where we go from there.”

U.S. and Afghan lead­ers are nego­ti­at­ing a long-term strate­gic rela­tion­ship. “I’m con­fi­dent that we will have that kind of doc­u­ment,” Mullen. “To me that sends a very strong sig­nal of con­tin­ued com­mit­ment to Afghanistan and to the region.”

But the nature of the com­mit­ment will change. The Afghans are lead­ing in some areas – not too many – right now. This will grow, and coali­tion forces will go into a tac­ti­cal over­watch mode. As the Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces gain more capa­bil­i­ty, the coali­tion forces will move a bit far­ther back and do strate­gic over­watch. Ulti­mate­ly, Mullen said coali­tion forces will move into a train­ing and assist mode, as they are doing today in Iraq.

“That’s the kind of tran­si­tion we are look­ing at over the next two to four years,” Mullen said. “The specifics of what it would look like after 2014 is what we need to work at.”

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

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