At a Pentagon news conference, Mullen said 2009 has been the third year of significant security deterioration in Afghanistan, noting that levels of violence this year are up 60 percent from 2008.
“Certainly from that standpoint, we’re not winning,” Mullen said. “And in an insurgency, you’re either winning or you’re losing.”
Part of the counterinsurgency strategy is counterterrorism operations, the chairman said. “It is ongoing as we speak; it has been,” he said. “We did it in Iraq, and we think it’s a very important component of the counterinsurgency strategy.”
Mullen visited soldiers and Marines who are going to carry out the surge in Afghanistan earlier this week. “I thanked them and their families for their service,” he said, “but I also urged them to think carefully about how they will accomplish the mission they have been assigned.”
With the president’s decision, the debate is over, Mullen said. “It is time to execute,” he added. “That must be our focus now, our only focus, and it is.”
The chairman said that less than 72 hours after Obama’s speech announcing the buildup, engineers, combat infantrymen and civil affairs experts were ordered to Afghanistan. A reinforced Marine battalion already is moving toward Helmand province in Regional Command South.
“[The new strategy] also speaks to the requirement to reverse this thing as rapidly as possible, which goes to why we’re getting as many forces there as fast as we can,” he said.
Training Afghan security forces to handle their own security is the focus of much effort in the country. The 2010 goal for trained and equipped Afghan soldiers is 134,000 and about 110,000 for the Afghan police.
“We know that we have to, in fact, decrease attrition, increase retention and increase recruiting [for Afghan forces],” Mullen said. The initiative to raise the salary of Afghan soldiers and police from $180 per month to $240 already has turned up a significant number of additional recruits, he noted.
And the Afghans are motivated and good fighters, Mullen said, and they have been engaged.
“There are Afghan National Army units that are in the lead, but the percentage is small,” said he acknowledged. “It should not be lost that there are many, many Afghan Army losses, many, many Afghan police losses – individuals giving up their lives for their country.”
More resources need to go to training the Afghan security forces. “We have been training the forces since 2002, but we haven’t resourced well enough to generate the output we need to have them take the lead,” he said.
Getting the forces into Afghanistan will be tough, and Mullen thanked logisticians and operations planners in advance for their work.
“We don’t have in Afghanistan anywhere near the number of runways or rail heads or road networks that exist in Iraq, and we don’t have, quite frankly, the same ground to cover. As one soldier told me on the first visit to Afghanistan back in 2007, the terrain itself is an enemy.”
One of the hallmarks of the American military has been the willingness and the capacity to literally move mountains when required, Mullen said. “It is required today, and I expect we will do just that,” he said.