ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Dec. 14, 2010 — Though the last of the U.S. surge troops only reached Afghanistan last month, they already are achieving successes, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pakistani reporters here today.
The United States added 30,000 more servicemembers to the effort in Afghanistan, and NATO and other coalition nations added another 10,000.
The situation in Helmand province –- a hotbed of Taliban activity in Afghanistan -– has improved markedly, Mullen said.
“Often we talk of safe havens for the Taliban here in Pakistan,” he said. “But we also have rooted out the Taliban from safe havens in Afghanistan –- specifically western Kandahar, Panjwai, Zhari [and] Arghandab.”
These areas were long-time Taliban safe havens, and the security situation in these areas has changed dramatically in a year. “It’s taken a while to get all [the surge forces] in and all the inputs right,” the chairman said.
But security is only a part of the equation, he told reporters. The United States also has tripled the number of civilians working on governance and development projects.
It has taken time to put the resources in place, and the governance and development efforts won’t work unless the security situation turns, Mullen said. “It’s beginning,” he added. “I’m not saying it’s completely turned, because it hasn’t, but there’s been a significant reversal. It’s fragile, and it is not irreversible.”
A Pakistani operation against the Taliban in Pakistan’s North Waziristan area is needed to improve security in the region, the chairman said. “That’s where the al-Qaida leadership resides, [and] that’s where the Haqqani network is headquartered,” he explained. “The Haqqanis are leading the way in coming across the border and killing American and allied forces. That has got to cease.”
North Waziristan also is the center for terror groups working against Pakistan and killing Pakistani citizens. Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani has weighed in on an operation in Waziristan, “saying not if, but when,” Mullen said.
The chairman also explained the two key dates for NATO operations in Afghanistan. The first is July 2011, when the process of transitioning security control to Afghan forces begins. Officials in Afghanistan explained that commanders will suggest district or provinces ready for the transition process in the spring. By July, “we expect some thinning or redistribution of troops,” the chairman said.
The July date does not mean that U.S., NATO and coalition troops will be leaving en masse, Mullen said.
“While we will have the beginnings of a drawdown by July, it does not mean that the United States or our allies will not have a considerable number of troops in Afghanistan after July,” he said.
The other date -– Dec. 31, 2014 -– allows the 48 coalition nations to focus on the transition goal. Afghan President Hamid Karzai first set that goal in his inauguration speech. In four years, the Afghan army and police should have the requisite manning and training to assume the lead in security nationally. The NATO nations and their coalition allies agreed to the December 2014 date during the alliance’s summit in Lisbon, Portugal, last month.
The United States is committed to defeating al-Qaida and other terror groups in Afghanistan, and to build the country, Mullen said.
“From the United States perspective, our strategic goal is to have a long-term stable strategic partnership with Afghanistan,” he said, “and make that trust that was there at one time return.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
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