WASHINGTON, Aug. 24, 2009 – Providing security is a key component of President Barack Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday.

“The strategy really focuses on defeating al-Qaida and their extremist allies,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said. “That’s very specific, and that includes the Taliban.”

Mullen said part of that strategy focuses on security for the Afghan people, because improving security will help the country move in the right direction.

“To the degree that the Afghan people’s security and the ability to ensure that a safe haven [for terrorists] doesn’t recur in Afghanistan, there is focus on some degree of making sure security is OK, making sure governance moves in the right direction, and developing an economy, which will underpin their future,” Mullen said. “From a military perspective, I believe we’ve got to start to turn this thing around from a security standpoint in the next 12 to 18 months.

“I think after that we’d have a better view of how long it’s going to take and what we need to do,” he added.

Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who commands nearly 90,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, was charged with assessing the situation on the ground and offering insight into how long it might take. That assessment is expected in the next two weeks, Mullen said.

“The assessment … won’t specifically deal with requirements for additional resources,” he said. “We’ll deal with whatever additional resources might be required subsequent to that in the normal process.

“I think when we look at the strategy the president has laid out, look at what General McChrystal says he needs in order to carry out that strategy, my recommendation to the president will be based on getting the resource/strategy match absolutely correct,” Mullen added.

In the meantime, Afghanistan took a step toward a brighter future when its citizens cast their votes Aug. 20 for the country’s next president and provincial council, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry said on “Meet the Press.” It was the first Afghan-led presidential and provincial council election in more than 30 years.

“If we look back over the history of Afghanistan over the last 30 years, we have civil war, we have occupation, we’ve got a complete collapse of governance and rule of law, which sets the conditions then for Afghanistan to be a state controlled by international terrorism,” Eikenberry said. “So this election that’s just been completed, yes, it was a very difficult election, but it’s an opportunity … for renewal of the trust and the bonds between the people of Afghanistan and their government.”

Though a successful election is progress, the ambassador said that the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police also need to be much more capable of providing for the security of their own population.

“Progress looks like a government of Afghanistan that’s able to tend much more to the needs of their people, to provide reasonable services to them [and] to provide security for them,” Eikenberry said. “Progress looks like a region in which there is more cooperation.”

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