“I think we’re certainly closer to the tipping point,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told Ann Curry of NBC-TV’s “Today” show, who is traveling with him in the region. “I don’t think that we’re there.”
Mullen said he shares Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s concerns that the Taliban have taken full control of Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on April 22 this trend “poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world.”
U.S. officials fear it’s giving extremists a safe haven for launching attacks in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan.
“I’m increasingly both concerned and frustrated at the progression of the danger,” Mullen said.
Mullen’s comments were aired this morning as yet-unconfirmed news reports said the Taliban had begun to withdraw its forces from the Buner Valley, 60 miles from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.
Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates emphasized the gravity of the Taliban’s increasing influence and control in Pakistan, and the need for a strong Pakistani response.
“My hope is that there will be an increasing recognition on the part of the Pakistani government that the Taliban in Pakistan are in fact an existential threat to the democratic government of that country,” Gates told reporters who traveled with him to Camp Lejeune, N.C., to visit deploying Marines.
“I think that some of the leaders certainly understand that, but it is important that they not only recognize it but take the appropriate actions to deal with it,” Gates said.
What happens in Pakistan directly affects Afghanistan, he said. “The stability and longevity of democratic government in Pakistan is central to the efforts of the coalition in Afghanistan, and it is also central to our future partnership with the government in Islamabad,” he told reporters.
“We want to support them. We want to be helpful in any way we can,” Gates said. “But it is important that they recognize the real threats to their country.”
Earlier this week, as Mullen visited Combat Outpost Deysie in Afghanistan, commanders reported that Taliban forces are flowing back into Afghanistan after a winter spent training and refitting in Pakistan.
An additional 17,000 U.S. combat troops will begin arriving soon in Afghanistan to focus on this vulnerable region. “We’re going as fast as we can go right now,” Mullen said. “We want to get it right.”
But Mullen said the Pakistani military “has to increase pressure as pressure increases on this side to stop that insurgent flow.”
Additional U.S. trainers being sent to Afghanistan will help build capabilities within the Afghan security forces to stand up to these threats. Mullen said success in Afghanistan depends on the Afghan military’s ability to provide the security needed for other progress to occur.
“They have to take over the security for their nation,” Mullen said. “That’s the only way we’re successful in the long run.”