News | Aug. 31, 2011

Mattis discusses Afghan transition at Marine Symposium

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. (August 30, 2011) — Transition is an ongoing process in Afghanistan, and it entails far more than simply winning on the battlefield, the commander of U.S. Central Command said here today.

Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis said 2010 was a very bad year for the enemy, and that 2011 is going to be even worse. The Taliban are “losing leadership, ground, logistics, and public support,” he said at an Emerald Express Symposium at the Marine Corps University.

Time and again, Mattis stressed that transition in the country is going to work only if the coalition and the Afghan government get the inputs right.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force has been working over the past two years to focus resources on building the right organizations, staffing those organizations correctly, and developing civil-military plans and approaches for the unique situation for Afghanistan, the general said. Getting the organizations in place is “really the stuff of getting transitions correct,” Mattis told the international audience at the symposium.

One organization that has stood up and become crucial is the ISAF Joint Command, a three-star command that focuses on the day-to-day activities of the war, freeing the four-star ISAF commander to focus on longer-range operations and relations within the alliance and with the Afghans.

“It’s as if you are at the battalion level and you are in the current fight, and you are also responsible for operations a week from now,” he said. “All of your attention is focused on the current fight and getting the resources to those in contact right now.” The same thing happens at every level of command, the general added.

NATO Training Mission Afghanistan took a mission spread out over the country and made sense out of chaos, Mattis said, and is performing a mission critical to the long-term success of efforts in the country. U.S. troops are drawing down in Afghanistan, he said, but the number of Afghan soldiers and police is increasing far faster than the drawdown.

Working on getting the rule of law in place in Afghanistan is another key capability, Mattis said. “These are areas you’ve got to deal with,” he added. “Otherwise, you have a ‘catch and release’ program or ethical violations – neither of which can be sustained.”

The ISAF headquarters has an element that works on reintegration and reconciliation. Reintegration is a bottom-up process, and thousands of young Afghan men have turned away from the Taliban and are throwing their lot in with the Afghan government, Mattis explained. Reconciliation, he said, is worked top-down, as Afghan government officials work with leaders who have complaints and try to get them into the political process.

“Nobody reconciles if they’re winning,” Mattis said. “First of all, you’ve got to drive the enemy and destroy their hopes. Nobody reintegrates to the losing side. You are not reading about an Afghan army platoon going over to the enemy,” or a police station joining forces with the Taliban.

Getting the inputs right means building on the security that battlefield success causes, the general explained. If this is not the case, he added, “then you’d better change your strategy, change your tactics.”

Other organizations in the command also are part of the transition effort. A combined special operations command features intelligence fusion cells, information operations cells and anti-corruption task forces. Some of these are not traditional or normal jobs for the military, Mattis acknowledged, “but they are absolutely critical.”

People are the most important part of any organization, the general said, but it has to be the right type of person in the right place.

“Sometimes, you need to get rid of some people whose approach to coalition and civ-mil fighting is obsolete,” he said. “If someone cannot create harmony across interagency lines, across international lines, if someone can’t get the interagency to work together, that person’s leadership is obsolete. That person is a bigger asset to the enemy than they are to our own mission, our own nation.”

The reality of planning and getting these concepts right may be lost on Americans who believe the United States is alone in the effort, Mattis said.

“There are 49 nations fighting together in the largest coalition in modern history,” he said. “The reason I bring this up is … [Americans] sometimes wonder if we’re doing it on our own. I would just tell you that Canada, Estonia and the Netherlands have lost more troops per capita in this fight than we have, and that the Pakistan military has lost more troops than all of NATO combined. They are not a perfect ally, [but] everybody coming to the table brings something.”