WASHINGTON, May 21, 2009 – Helping the Afghan and Pakistani governments defeat Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents is tied to U.S. national security interests, the Pentagon’s senior military officer told Capitol Hill legislators here today. “As you know, Afghanistan and Pakistan are two very different countries very much linked — not only to each other, but inextricably to the national security of the United States,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Indeed, our national interests are tied to that region, perhaps more than to any other right now,” Mullen continued. “And, there’s no corner of the world — none — that concerns me more.”

Mullen has endeavored to develop personal and professional relationships with senior Afghan and Pakistani leaders, he said. Those leaders’ decisions, he said, “are now, and will remain indispensible to our common desire for security and stability” in the region.

It is imperative, Mullen said, for all leaders involved to trust one another and to seize opportunities that thwart the extremists from succeeding in their designs to topple the Afghan and Pakistani governments.

The U.S. government recently offered Pakistan $110 million to help the hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis who’ve had to leave their homes due to the current fighting between Pakistani military forces and Taliban extremists in the Swat valley region. Yet, more U.S. assistance is required, Mullen said, to prevent the extremists from realizing their goals in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mullen said that’s why he is pleased with pending U.S. legislation that would provide hundreds of millions of dollars in annual humanitarian and military aid to Pakistan over the next five years. The United States also provides similar aid to Iraq and Afghanistan. The proposed U.S. legislation being considered by the Senate, he said, represents a “long-term commitment” to the people of Pakistan, and to the Afghan people as well.

“It’s not just the money; it’s the five years of steady friendship and partnership it will demand of us,” he continued. “It’s the promise that we will stay and we will help and we will stand shoulder to shoulder with them in ways we’ve not always done.”

Mullen also voiced his commitment to President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan-Pakistan regional strategy. That strategy, he said, demands U.S. commitment to the region and “holds us accountable to achievable goals to deter, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida through whole-of-government resources and critical enablers.”

And as the U.S. continues a responsible drawdown of forces from Iraq, Mullen said, the military’s focus is being shifted to confront renewed Taliban efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“There’s no question in my mind that this is appropriate, given both the Taliban’s dangerous ambitions and their steady progress,” he said. “But, it is also a testament to the hard work and sacrifice of our men and women in Iraq over the last six years.”

Meanwhile, the more than 135,000 U.S. troops remaining in Iraq continue to perform “critical and dangerous work,” Mullen said.

“Were it not for their efforts, with the relative success we’ve achieved there,” he said, “we would, I fear, be unable to devote this level of attention to Afghanistan.” And as the U.S. shifts its focus toward Afghanistan, Mullen said, it’s paramount to profit from the experiences gained during the Iraq campaign.

“The war in Iraq has taught us things about counterinsurgency warfare we might never have discovered otherwise,” Mullen said. “We will be smarter now in Afghanistan and more successful, in my view, not in spite of Iraq, but because of it.”

Mullen then ticked off four pillars for success in Afghanistan:

— Developing better security and protection for the Afghan people, the real center of gravity of the campaign there, by continuing to train and build the Afghan security force;

— Setting the conditions for good governance, not just from Kabul, but also at the local, district and provincial levels;

— Devising a sustainable path for Afghan-led development and opportunity, not supplemented by illegal poppy-plant growth, but rooted in legitimate economic ways and means; and

— Delivering and developing U.S. and Afghan civilian capacity to overcome obstacles to sound civil institutions, quality education and the rule of law.

Meanwhile, Mullen said, the Taliban continue their terror tactics to tear down Afghanistan’s legitimate government and replace it with their own.

“They want Afghanistan back,” Mullen said of the Taliban’s ambition. “We can’t let them or their al-Qaida cohorts have it. We can’t permit the return of the very same safe havens from which the attacks on 9/11 were planned and resourced.”

However, he said, the United States and its allies cannot deny that success against the Taliban operating in Afghanistan “may only push them deeper into Pakistan.”

Pakistan today is presented with many complex challenges, Mullen said, including an active insurgency and growing risks of poverty and illiteracy. U.S.-Pakistan military-to-military relations had waned over the years, Mullen pointed out. Now, the American military’s reengagement with Pakistan’s armed forces, he said, “in many ways, has started anew.”

There’s an opportunity now, he said, for the United States and Pakistan to cooperate to develop Pakistan’s counterinsurgency warfare capability.

“They need our help, as much as we need their results,” Mullen said. “And, with this committee’s help, we can provide the right resources at the right time, creating needed flexibility with the Pakistan counterinsurgency capabilities fund, for which I ask your continued and expeditious support.”

Yet, providing only military support to Pakistan, Mullen observed, will not be enough to defeat the insurgency there.

“It will also require complementary assistance to the civilian elements in Pakistani society,” he said, “so that they continue to support the civilian government and its move against the militant threat.” Additionally, he said, U.S., Afghan and Pakistani leaders must develop a mutual understanding of each other and cultivate patience.

“We must expect that lasting results will take time and be clear and candid with each other about how these results are being realized,” Mullen said.

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