Navy Adm. Mike Mullen signed the guidance, which goes to members of the Joint Staff and informs the joint force, on his plane after finishing a trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
The guidance builds on the document he issued when taking over as chairman in 2007: to improve stability and defend U.S. interests in the greater Middle East/Central Asia, improve the health of the DoD force and to balance strategic risks around the world.
The situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated in the past year, but President Barack Obama’s new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy – which includes a surge of 30,000 American servicemembers – can reverse Taliban gains.
Al-Qaida and like terrorist groups remain the biggest threat to the United States, the admiral wrote in the guidance. “The threat is still real,” he said. Defeating those groups will take more than military power, and the chairman called on the U.S. military to work with other national agencies and international allies to take on the threat.
The president’s strategy has the goal of defeating Al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to prevent the group from threatening America and its allies.
“Our main effort now must be to push forces into the theater as quickly as possible – including shifting the balance of enablers from Iraq,” the admiral wrote. The enablers include such things as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, engineers, military police and civil affairs personnel.
All aspects of the joint force need to act more quickly, he said. Far too many of our daily practices do not match the speed of war,” Mullen wrote.
He called on the Defense Department and the combatant commands to send their very best people to fight the wars in Central Asia. “I will take gaps in manning the Joint Staff in order to support the war,” the chairman said. “I expect combatant commanders and services outside of (U.S. Central Command) to consistently make choices, however painful, that fully support the fight.”
The situation in Iraq continues to improve and American forces there are on the glidepath to end the combat mission on August 31, Mullen said. American forces in Iraq are set to drop from 110,000 today to about 50,000 in August.
“Drawing down must be closely managed (in Iraq),” the chairman wrote. “Lingering tensions could flash. But sustained security gains to date and Iraq’s continued progress have placed it on a positive note for the future. We must finish well in Iraq.”
Iran remains a source of problems in the greater Middle East, Mullen said. Iran funds terrorist groups in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, it trains and ships weapons to surrogates inside Iraq and it continues to work on developing a nuclear program.
“My belief remains that political means are the best tools to attain regional security and that military force will have limited results,” the chairman wrote. “However, should the president call for military options, we must have them ready.”
The people of the department are the nation’s most precious asset, Mullen said. “Our core responsibility is to win wars while caring for our people and their families,” he wrote in the guidance. Repeated deployments have stressed servicemembers and their families.
Those wounded in the fight must have world class care and all portions of government and the American people themselves must ensure they have the chance to live their American dreams. The families of those killed need the assistance and support of all Americans.
Mullen is calling for a study of the progress made in treating posttraumatic stress and traumatic brain injury – the signature wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The chairman is concerned that “we still do not have a holistic and clear way of measuring all the components of health-of-the-force, ranging from unit readiness, training and age of weapons systems to retention/recruiting and personnel challenges, like suicide or divorce.” The department needs more clarity on dwell time – the time spent at home station between deployments – for individuals.
He said that in an era of constrained resources, people must be the paramount investment.
The wars in the Middle East and Central Asia are part of the global picture. America’s interests in the Western Hemisphere, Africa and the Pacific Rim must also be guarded.
The nation must take under consideration attacks in cyberspace and the effects of natural disasters and global warming. “In the near term, we will maintain focus on regular and irregular threats to the vital national interests and to our forces directly in harm’s way,” Mullen wrote.
Global threats remain. “This means finding the right size, shape and posture to globally detect, deter and defeat current and future threats,” the chairman wrote. Deterrence remains key in this new environment. But the nation needs to rethink what deterrence means in an era of terrorist groups looking for weapons of mass destruction and of other non-state actors who seek to take on nation states.