Review validates efforts in Afghanistan, Mullen says

Release No: UNRELEASED Dec. 16, 2010 PRINT | E-MAIL

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Dec. 16, 2010) — The Afghanistan-Pakistan review President Barack Obama announced today validates what servicemembers have been doing throughout the theater, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.

The review looked at the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy that Obama put in place last year and reaffirmed the goal announced last year to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida. It also makes clear that the United States has a long-term strategic commitment to Afghanistan and Pakistan to ensure that al-Qaida and affiliated groups do not return to the area to plan more attacks like the ones on Sept. 11, 2001, that killed 3,000 Americans.

The chairman called the review a “very important check” on the strategy.

Mullen is in Afghanistan meeting with American, NATO and Afghan officials. He came to the country from Pakistan, where he consulted with military and civilian leaders.

In Afghanistan, the chairman met with Marines and sailors at Camp Hansen –- outside the city of Marja –- and soldiers and civilians at Forward Operating Base Wilson in western Kandahar. Yesterday, he visited troops in Regional Command East at Bagram Airfield near the Afghan capital of Kabul. In all areas, he received candid appraisals of the situation, how the units are implementing the strategy and what commanders and servicemembers see on the front lines.

The review found that progress has been made in Afghanistan and that the Taliban and al-Qaida momentum in the country has been arrested and, in some key areas, reversed.

The review does not call for servicemembers to change what they are doing. Rather, “it validates what they are doing, and what they should be focused on,” the chairman said during an interview with reporters traveling with him.

“As we start to make significant progress in the security area,” Mullen said, “they will look to what they’ve achieved” as validation of the strategy and their efforts.

On this trip and in previous travels through the region, the chairman has stressed that the July 2011 date announced in the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy is not an end date for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Rather, he said, it’s when the security transition to Afghan lead will begin. American troops will continue to be in Afghanistan after July 2011, the chairman said.

Mullen discussed the process behind the review and how it differs from a similar effort last year.

“This year, it was a different focus,” he said. “Last year it was, ‘What’s the strategy, and how do we resource it?’ This year, it was the diagnostic on the strategy, [asking] ‘How are we doing?’”

Mullen added that the servicemembers who must implement the strategy are a year into the process now, and they understand much better what they need to do.

Both review processes featured healthy debate, the chairman said. It has helped, he added, that the strategy is showing results, much of it as the review neared its end.

“We also started to see – right through the end of the review [in] September, October, November -– we’ve seen security progress which has opened up the door for other things,” Mullen said.