In an interview, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the strategy calls for 30,000 more U.S. servicemembers to be sent to Afghanistan.
The strategy is based on a very deliberate and educational process, Mullen said. “It has allowed us to explore the breadth and depth of this enormously complex challenge, and in the end, the president has made the decision to add these 30,000 troops,” he said.
The increase will give Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, what he needs over the next 12 to 18 months, the chairman said. McChrystal has the flexibility to put them where needed.
The president has considered military leaders’ opinions and concerns in his decision, Mullen said. “I’ve been at the table in these discussions from beginning to end, and my voice has been heard,” he said. “I’m very comfortable with that. I’ve provided my advice to the president, and as is always the case, we provide the advice, the president makes a decision, and we all march off and execute that decision.”
The president’s strategy also focuses on the requirements of U.S. civilian agencies and seeks assistance from NATO allies. Mullen said he expects to hear from the NATO partners in the next few days and is “cautiously optimistic we’ll see additional support from NATO.”
The strategy also demands much from Afghanistan, calling on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to help grow Afghan security forces rapidly, provide good governance at the local and national levels, and “to really take responsibility for their own country,” Mullen said. “It’s a big challenge.”
Obama’s decision has it right in giving McChrystal the forces he needs to execute the strategy, the chairman said. “We’re all confident in that, and I’m actually confident that we can succeed at this endeavor,” he said.
U.S. forces will be focused on a counterinsurgency, population-centric mode. “The key goal here is to reverse the momentum of the Taliban,” Mullen said. “The insurgency has gotten worse over the past couple of years.”
Deployment lengths for U.S. servicemembers will remain about the same – seven months for Marines, and 12 months for soldiers. With the planned reduction in U.S. forces in Iraq to 50,000 by August 2010, Mullen said he doesn’t expect an adverse affect on dwell time – the time between deployments. Dwell time will increase slightly for Marines over the next year and for soldiers over the next two years, he said.
Soldiers and Marines – and some airmen and sailors – will feel pressure from this strategy. “It’s a team deal: we’re all in this together, and we can succeed here,” the chairman said. “Now that the president has made the decision, we will be off and running to make it so over the next few years.”
The strategy sends a message of resolve. With the contemplated increase, Obama will have increased the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by more than 50,000 since taking office in January. Mullen said the president’s decision “focuses on the commitment to turn this around and it gives Gen. McChrystal the forces he needs to do the job.” He said all military leaders agree with the decision and the strategy.
Still, the president is not writing a blank check for the Afghans, the chairman said. “The president is really sending the message that we are not going to be there forever,” Mullen said. “This strategy really focuses on transferring responsibility to the Afghans as quickly as we can.”
The strategy is not an exit strategy per se, but more about transfer and transition, he said.
Anticipating the increase, the Army and Marine Corps have been leaning forward to ensure troops are ready for service in Afghanistan, Mullen said.
The men and women who serve and their families have been extraordinary in very challenging times, Mullen said, bearing the burden of two wars and succeeding in Iraq.
“They are the best I’ve ever been associated with,” he said. “All our forces are very capable in counterinsurgency and many units have deployed to Afghanistan in the past.”