Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee the strategy provides sufficient resources for Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, to reverse gains insurgent groups have made in recent years.
“It gets the most U.S. force into the fight as quickly as possible, giving General McChrystal everything he needs in 2010 to gain the initiative,” the chairman said.
President Barack Obama articulated the new approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan last night in a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. The strategy, which culminates months of deliberation with senior advisors, considered input from every military leader in the chain of command, Mullen said.
The goals Obama outlined in the speech include reversing momentum the Taliban have made in past years and securing key population centers in Afghanistan — especially in the contentious southern and eastern regions.
The added troops will bring the total number of U.S. forces to nearly 100,000, in addition to a complement of roughly 42,000 allied troops – a number which senior administration officials said they expect to increase with additional contributions from NATO allies.
“We now have the force of strategy more appropriately matched to the situation on the ground in Afghanistan and resources matched more appropriately to that strategy, particularly with regard to reversing the insurgency’s momentum in 2010,” Mullen told senators.
The additional U.S. troops likely will comprise two or three more brigade combat teams and a brigade-sized element committed to embedding with and training their Afghan counterparts, which represents a key component undergirding the transfer of responsibility to Afghanistan, expected to begin in July.
Mullen said the strategy provides commanders “discrete objectives” and offers better guidance about how to employ their forces. While the goals of thwarting al-Qaida, preventing Afghanistan from becoming a terrorist safe haven and employing a counterinsurgency approach are unchanged, the strategy engenders a more defined scope, he said.
“Now, they will tailor this campaign and those operations by focusing on key population areas, by increasing pressure on al-Qaida’s leadership, by more effectively working to degrade the Taliban’s influence and by streamlining and accelerating the growth of competent Afghan national security forces,” Mullen said.
The chairman said Obama’s strategy takes into account Afghanistan’s regional context, calling for stronger cooperation with neighboring Pakistan – a necessary component for eliminating terrorist safe havens.
“His is a more balanced, more flexible and more achievable strategy than we’ve had in the past, one based on pragmatism and real possibilities,” Mullen said. “And speaking for the 2.2 million men and women who must execute it, and who, with their families, have borne the brunt of the stress and the strain of eight years of constant combat, I support his decision and appreciate his leadership.”