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U.S. Central Command commander discusses Egypt, Afghanistan in London speech

Release No: UNRELEASED Feb. 2, 2011 PRINT | E-MAIL

Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, spoke Feb. 1 at the Colin Cramphorn Memorial Lecture in London. The following remarks are his prepared remarks (not a transcript):

Thank you, Dean.

Mrs. Cramphorn, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.

It’s a privilege to stand here and contribute a few words from my perspective.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Chief Constable Colin Cramphorn, yet despite that, I sense a kinship with him:

In his service to his fellow countrymen he was a member of the royal Marine reserve, and in the U.S. Marines, a corps born straight from our British heritage, we say, “once a Marine, always a Marine.”

So I sense my brother-in-arms’ presence, as well as his keen oversight determining whether or not those of us carrying leadership responsibility today in morally bruising environments can maintain our ethical balance – the kind of ethical balance he maintained after 7-7 in West Yorkshire.

Really, thank you for having me here – after some of the things I’ve said in public,

Frankly it’s an honor to be invited to speak in front of any polite company anymore.

I can never come to this storied city without a sense of gratitude – for I’ve fought many times alongside your superbly competent, wonderfully high-spirited troops who are always at their best when things look their worst.

So while I want to touch on several issues this evening in my intent to prime the pump for the best part – specifically the question and answer opportunity, I wish also to speak for a moment to the relevance of the special relationship between our two countries

Not an historic artifact, rather a source of strength for two nations committed to the survival of the values that grew out of the enlightenment, values given voice in the literature, founding documents, and traditions of our democracies.

It’s no surprise that the enemies of freedom have targeted both our nations, even as they have targeted others – from France to India, from the Philippines to Spain, from Bali to Amman, and the list goes on, to Russia, Turkey…

For so many reasons, our two nations are seen as bulwarks against the maniacs who think by hurting us, that they can scare us. But they don’t understand us.

To paraphrase one of your former wartime leaders, as descendents of Alamein and Normandy, of Iwo Jima and a hundred other tyrant challenges, we are not made of cotton candy.

And now to directly quote that leader, Winston Churchill who said, “we have learned that we must live as men, not as ostriches … to be citizens of the world, members of the human community” and, as Emerson said, “that the only way to have a friend is to be one.” This characterizes our relationship – courageous friends.

There was a time in 1940 when you stood without us against tyranny and this city lost many of its citizens to bombs;

That changed with the attack on the United States at pearl harbor on December 7, 1941. Despite the death and destruction wrought on that day, Churchill was silently relieved. “No American will think it wrong of me,” he said, “if I proclaim that to have the U.S. at our side was to me the greatest joy.”  And I say ditto when I saw UK troops beside me in various battles I have fought.

The bonds of friendship and respect between our two nations are strengthened, not diminished, by the strains we have withstood this last decade.
Today we stand together – and we must not take the special relationship for granted. A healthy relationship takes vision, a strong spirit of collaboration, and energy – but our relationship grows geometrically in strength with the commitment we make and the mutual respect we share in trying times.

Our democracies have the power of inspiration. Inspiring by our very existence those “citizens of the world” who desire freedom, while standing up to those who fear freedom and insist on coercion, tyranny, oppression, and terror. And while some historians have noted America’s influence over the years, it is this geographically small island nation’s significant role that is as refreshing as it is remarkable.

People from around the world continue to flock here for Britain’s opportunity, its values, its example, and dare I say, its freedoms.

In my line of work, however, I have benefitted from those Englishmen who have gone the opposite direction.

They left these peaceful, familiar surroundings and went abroad – some in the service of the crown, some for the spirit of adventure that characterizes the best and brightest of Britain.

Britain’s reach gives its citizens – and therefore the rest of us – an appreciation of the world and how interconnected it is.

In my current role as commander of us central command – which covers 20 countries from Lebanon to Pakistan, from Central Asia to the Bab el Mandeb, I have learned a great deal from the travels and writings of so many British diplomats and soldiers, and the likes of George MacDonald Fraser, Gertrude Bell, T.E. Lawrence, Peter Hopkirk, and a host of others passing on their experience and timeless lessons.

The British have for generations helped translate the world for the rest of us. Some of their work is as insightful and relevant today as it was decades ago.

Today, we continue to benefit from British perspectives of the broader Middle East and Central Asia, where your diplomats and traders have spent generations. Even today, when the fragility of the region is seen in demonstrations from Tunisia to Egypt and beyond, the U.S. and UK share interests in stability and embracing the human potential.

It is too early to tell what the results of the events in Egypt and elsewhere will be, but we are hopeful that the outcome will meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people. And speaking personally, as part of a military that has had a long relationship with the Egyptian military, we are proud that they are seeking to maintain order while respecting the rights of the people to express their opinions.

We are living in a transition period, and transitions often take longer and are less smooth than many desire. Part of that may be an unrealistic demand for instant change – a phenomenon emphasized by globalization and the speed of mass media. But in one case in my region – change is taking place before our eyes, albeit slowly, but in a positive way.

In Iraq, a nascent, broadly inclusive government with power sharing structures is forming and building the future. The Iraqi security forces performed admirably largely protecting the Iraqi population during a drawn out government formation process. Their performance will allow us to continue to draw down our forces while training the Iraqi forces who have been in the lead for months on all security duties.

Around the Gulf and in Central Asia, we are working with partners on regional security efforts. From knitting together bilateral ballistic missile defense to maritime counter-piracy teamwork, we remain unrelentlessly engaged with friends and partners committed to a better future.

At the same time, there are those that seek to use messages of intolerance and division to undermine efforts to establish long term peace and prosperity, threaten security, and pursue destabilizing activities.

Indeed, Iran presents the greatest long-term challenge in the region as it continues to threaten regional and global stability. Despite the promise of its rich cultural heritage and educated populace, the Iranian regime continues to ignore the true aspirations of its people and appears less interested in hiding its ambitions to pursue a nuclear-weapons capability, heightening global concerns over a nuclear arms race that would destabilize the region.

We are also closely watching the Middle East peace process, and while Israel is not in my assigned region, the peace process outcome greatly affects the entire Middle East. The peace process holds so many hopes despite the many times the peace sought by so many has eluded us. President Obama has made Israeli-Palestinian peace a priority from his first days in office, but the challenges are severe and only outweighed by the consequences for all of us if good people on both sides cannot achieve common ground.

On all of these issues and more, we work purposely alongside our British counterparts.

It has been said that nations have interests, not friends. The Anglo-American partnership is more than mere interest. The noted British historian John Keegan has said “alliances are compromises in self-interest, but some alliances are less self-interested than others. The UK-US alliance is one of the least.”

That is especially true of our soldiers – after decades of working together, and ten years in our most current fight, British and American troops blend together on the battlefield with unspoken ease and trust.

We should stop and take note of that– this military to military bond really is the “special relationship.”

There is no greater compliment that a U.S. military man can give to a comrade than, “I want him in the fight,” for the U.S., we always want the Brits in the fight.

Which is where we find ourselves tonight. While we enjoy this pleasant evening and gracious company, let me move from these words of shared trust to their true meaning – in southern Afghanistan where your lads and ours are fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with the Afghan forces in the largest wartime coalition in most of our lifetimes – 49 nations – having grown by a half dozen this last year.

And I must pass the respect and sympathies we in the U.S. military feel for to the 350 uk families who have lost their loved ones fighting in the finest traditions of your forces, 100 of them having died in 2010 alone.

In key areas in Afghanistan, the enemy is disoriented and on the defensive. But we are not waiting to see if they revive – last month the U.S. approved more than 1000 U.S. Marine reinforcements to join the fight and aggressively go after the enemy. Recognizing the key terrain where your troops fight in the southwest, these reinforcements were committed to adjacent battlespace there on your flank.

We have no illusions – this is a violent and cowardly enemy. When we face an enemy who bombs a local bus – as happened in Helmand a few weeks ago – killing Afghans including innocent women and children, we must steel ourselves everyday for more of their obscene brutality. There will be very tough fighting ahead.

The casualties among our forces and the innocent Afghans have been heart-wrenching, yet the security progress is undeniable.

That fact – that progress and violence can and do coexist in Afghanistan – is sometimes difficult to understand for those who have never fought. War is rarely a linear activity – war does not lend itself to neat and predictable templates.

While the Afghan security forces and our troops must continue to fight in parts of Afghanistan, it is possible to:

Wander along market stalls of Nawa,
See the results of immunization programs in healthy children,
Drive roads now secure,
See boys and girls going to school, and
Even more remarkable: we have started to work alongside former Taliban who have come to the Afghan government’s side.

I personally talked to some of these former fighters in the mountains near Mazar-e-Sharif several months ago – they were both relieved and motivated by their choice to come over to the winning side, and on such small matters do larger results often depend.
With a focused strategy, fully resourced over these last 18-20 months,

With the Afghan army’s quality standards now catching up with its impressive numeric increase,

With an enemy’s bankrupt philosophy leaving them vulnerable wherever our NATO troops hold the ground, there is progress.

We recognize that an agrarian society upended by the soviet invasion 30-odd years ago left enormous challenges in its wake – but the most positive reports I receive from Afghanistan come from the young non-commissioned officers and junior officers we have on the ground and in contact with the Afghan people – and there is a message in that reality – that positive reports are routine from our troops enmeshed tightly in this war among the people.

Two weeks ago, the Afghan parliament was seated. Like the Kabul conference of last July, attended by dozens of foreign ministers, the insurgents swore to attack and make the city untenable for the meetings. Both times, the enemy failed, and now Kabul is largely secured by Afghan forces.

Enemy strongholds in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, long held by the Taliban when we simply had insufficient forces to protect the population in the south, have now fallen to unrelenting offensives by our forces.

2010 was a bad year for our enemies and in 2011 we will unleash additional havoc on them. But the fighting – even for ISAF – will be tough.

We have more troops in the field engaging and hounding the enemy as we focus on protecting the Afghan people and a mild winter permits continued fighting now in this, the off season.

While there is talk of an adaptive enemy and the enemy is adaptive, we are adapting faster and from a stronger basis.

The Afghan local police initiative, which permits government control and support for local village defense forces, promises a difficult time for Taliban forces trying to re-infiltrate into areas where they once operated freely.

Yes, the insurgents will adapt: they will try to infiltrate the Afghan national security forces and undercut the nascent reconciliation efforts. And certainly the insurgents’ indiscriminate weapon of choice, the IED, will cost our combatants and innocents alike. Yet in the security arena, the inexorable progress, spotty as it was last year, is drawing more firmly a protective shield in more places.

In the words of General Nick Carter, who said several months ago when I met with him in Afghanistan – “We have regained the initiative.”

The enemy finds himself on the horns of a dilemma – to stay and fight or hide and wait?

The NATO commitment to this mission until the targeted date to transfer security responsibilities to the Afghans in 2014 commits the transition process to a goal:

Like I said, Kabul is largely under Afghan control now and achieving impressive results; and

As President Obama said in his West Point speech in December 2009, we will start the conditions-based transition process in July of this year.

With our increased operational tempo, both counter insurgency and counter terrorism, the expanding village stability operations, and increasing confidence among Afghan people in their future, the Taliban and al Qaeda are under the most significant pressure since 2001 and we intend to keep it that way. Al Qaeda in the borderlands has gone to ground, even as the quantity and quality of the Afghan national security forces has grown exponentially.

Having lost their Afghan safe havens, they have used indiscriminate attacks in order to create a sense of general insecurity, yet these attacks do not endear them to the local people, and that is a fatal mistake in a war fought among the people and in which the hearts of the people are the ultimate prize.

Our successes are more than transient but they are not yet irreversible.

The Taliban will try to reverse our momentum and regain lost ground and control over the population, but they cannot match our troops, whose ferocity in the close fight is matched by their ethical use of force, so different from the enemy.

So to sum up the campaign:

ISAF and our Afghan partners will expand our effort to protect the population in the key districts;

We will support the growth of an effective Afghan national security force, focusing on leader development and countering enemy infiltration into its ranks;

ISAF and our Afghan partners will neutralize the insurgent networks that are fighting us as we disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its associated movements.

While our Afghan and international forces support legitimate governance and economic development assisted by the international community.

And to refer back to the special relationship, we are united once again – united in the blood, sweat, and tears of common cause against a shared enemy, as once again UK and US troops fight confidently alongside each other, once again against the heart of enemy resistance,

Together against a medieval enemy who would deny human rights:

Kandahar – Jan 2002 – for five years under Taliban rule, no girl had gone to school. On the day schools were opened, I stood and watched as hundreds of boys and girls poured into the streets on their way to school, walking confidently down streets where anti-Taliban Afghans and U.S. Marines stood side by side – and starting an education revolution against the ignorance exalted by the Taliban.

So let us not forget that we are engaged in a noble cause, and keep heart.

For to protect these experiments that you and I call democracies, we need to remember:

That you and I were born free by accident;

But that we live here in freedom by choice; and

That we have a responsibility to pass on these freedoms intact to the next generation.

We must not fail to carry out that responsibility.

And having seen the 1st Staffords and the Desert Rats up close in 1991 in Desert Storm;

Having served alongside:

The Desert Rats of the 7th Armored BDE;
16 Air Assault; and
3 Commando Brigade

In 1 UK Armored Division in Operation Telic, even under the daunting budget pressures confronting your military, as an outside observer I can assure you that it is a delight, if we must go into a brawl, to do so alongside your competent, valiant troops.

Britain has long been – and shall remain – a vital voice in the debate on how the international community will find solutions to conflict.

As military men and those who devote ourselves to security, we need to pay attention to these issues and give our best professional advice – not because we aspire to be nation builders or because we want to expand our portfolio, but because those who have seen war and acts of terror must do all we can to prevent them.

Our nations face a difficult economic environment – and in both the U.S. and Britain our governments are directing that defense spending must be part of the reassessment of resource allocation. As difficult as it may be to take cuts in the midst of a fight, embracing this effort will help us prioritize our missions.

The political leadership in both our countries recognizes that national security is fundamental to a free and prosperous society. Our role is to give our best military advice to defend our nations. That means we need to explain what we need to do the job, because our nations can afford survival.

Our leaders are pragmatists and can clearly see the threats. As President Barack Obama said when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, “evil does exist in the world. We will not eradicate violent conflict. Nonviolence couldn’t stop Hitler, and al Qaeda won’t lay down arms by negotiation.”

Our civilian leaders have seen this enemy deliver evil from New York to Madrid to London to Mumbai, and recognize that our enemies are not backing down from their illogical violent aspirations. Responsible nations banding together as we see today in Afghanistan with the largest military coalition in recent history, need to use all the levers of power to protect themselves and those devoted to peace – but those levers must retain their power. As President Obama also noted, “the belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it.”

Colin, I understand, also recognized the nature of the enemy, acting to protect his patch even while maintaining his ethical balance. I believe, Mrs. Cramphorn, your husband stood for what is best in us and that he would be proud of how our nations work together, always together in our protection of freedom and the innocent.

Thank you.