WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2009 – Larger and more capable Afghan national security forces remain vital to Afghanistan’s viability, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.

“How best to provide for Afghan security and governance? Ultimately, it should be provided by the Afghans themselves,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said during his Senate reconfirmation hearing. “The path to achieving the president’s goal is through our training efforts. We must rapidly build the Afghan army and police.”

President Barack Obama’s strategy includes disrupting, dismantling and defeating al-Qaida and its extremist allies and preventing Afghanistan from again becoming a safe haven, Mullen said. Another piece of that strategy, he added, is to develop more and better ways to peel away those not ideologically committed to the insurgency and reintegrate them back into productive society.

“But we cannot achieve these goals without recognizing that they are both manpower- and time-intensive,” he said. “More important than the size of the Afghan security force is their quality. More important than the orders they follow is the leadership they exude. And more important than the numbers of Taliban we turn are the personal lives they themselves turn around.”

Sending more trainers to Afghanistan quickly will jump-start the building of Afghan security forces, Mullen said. Exactly what resources Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, may ask for is unknown, he added.

“I do not know what ratio-to-training combat units he needs,” Mullen said. “But I do believe that having heard his views, and having great confidence in his leadership, a properly resourced counterinsurgency probably means more forces, and without question, more time and more commitment to the protection of the Afghan people and to the development of good governance.”

Security and good governance are two keys to lifting the fear under which so many Afghans live, Mullen said. Fear — not insurgents — is the true enemy of the Afghan people, he added.

While many lessons were learned from the war in Iraq, not all will apply in Afghanistan, Mullen noted.

“The big ones will [apply, however]: protect the people, connect them to the political process, enable them to provide for their own security,” Mullen said. “We can get there. We can accomplish the mission we’ve been assigned, but we will need resources matched to the strategies, civilian expertise matched to military capabilities and the continued support of the American people.”

The chairman acknowledged his responsibility for the “2.2 million sons and daughters of America” — including his two sons, both in the Navy — whom he strives to represent.

“No decision I make or advice I give is done without thinking about the impact on our troops and their families,” Mullen said. “The truth is, our people have been stretched and strained by eight years of persistent combat in two theaters of war, not to mention the steady drumbeat of training and operations demanded by our security commitments around the world.”

The strain has manifested in many ways, he said. Fatigue, stress, marital and family difficulties, homelessness and what Mullen described as an alarming number of suicides are just some of the ways the stress and strain of the current operations tempo affect troops and their families.

“Countless others suffer in silence with wounds we never see [and] the nightmares we never know,” Mullen said. “And yet, for all this suffering and all this change, our people are the most resilient I’ve ever seen. They’ve endured much, yes, but they have also learned much and grown much.

“I am committed to improving the care that we provide now and into the future for all these casualties and families,” he said.

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