Mullen arrived back in Afghanistan this afternoon from Kosovo.
Mullen spoke about additional U.S. troops for the region. The commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Gen. David McKiernan, has expressed a requirement for additional forces for a long time. The need, Mullen said, is more than just more ground combat forces, to include what he calls “enablers” – medical, engineering, aviation, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and other assets.
The 10th Mountain Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team will deploy here next month.
Mullen said more troops will be sent to Afghanistan in the coming year. The overall requirement is 20,000 more troops in 2009.
“It’s not a question of if, but when,” he said. “We’re looking to available forces to fill this need, and we want to get those forces here as soon as we can.”
Mullen said the plan is for the majority of those U.S. forces to arrive by late spring and early summer. “We have had enough forces to be successful in combat. What we haven’t had is enough forces to hold the territory we clear,” he said. “So the ‘clear, hold, build’ strategy is the right strategy.”
When additional U.S. troops arrive, the violence level will go up initially, because those troops will be in areas that haven’t seen protracted operations. “The fight will be tougher because we will be in areas we know we’ve had to go, but we haven’t been able to,” he said. The added troops will go to Regional Command East and Regional Command South, where commanders believe the fight will be.
Mullen reiterated the U.S. commitment to the Afghan people. “The mission here is focused in that,” he said. “We know the fight is real. We’re committed. This isn’t just a fight against Taliban extremists. It is a fight for the future of Afghanistan.”
The United States will continue to work with NATO allies to generate as many capabilities as they can to assist in the fight.
The trends in Afghanistan need to be reversed from 2008, Mullen said. This year, violent incidents increased and Taliban extremists became more sophisticated and effective.
“They haven’t won any battles, but they have certainly increased their level of violence,” Mullen said. “We’re focused on that and that’s why the additional forces are so important: to provide security for the Afghan people so these other areas can be developed.”