“I actually don’t use the term ‘surge,’ and I don’t think it’s right, because the ‘surge’ term has an implication that it is going to go up, then come down,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told reporters returning with him today after a two-day trip to Fort Drum, N.Y., and Ottawa.
That’s what happened during the troop surge in Iraq, when 33,000 additional troops began deploying in early 2007 to boost security in Baghdad and Anbar province. Violence quickly decreased, and the last of the five original surge brigades redeployed in July 2008 after a 13-month deployment.
But Mullen has made no secret of the fact that he considers Afghanistan a tougher mission than the one in Iraq, and the challenges more daunting.
As a result, he said there’s no set timetable anticipated for the additional 20,000 to 30,000 troops Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has requested to improve security there, Mullen said.
“I don’t know how long it is the troops will be there,” Mullen said. “I think we will keep troops there long enough to provide the security and sustain it at a time when we will continue to build the Afghan security forces.”
While the coalition has made good progress in training the Afghan National Army, there’s still “a long way to go on the police side,” he said.
So if the troop plus-up gets President Barack Obama’s approval, as most officials expect, Mullen said one of the additional brigades will focus primarily on police training.
As the military shifts its focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, Mullen said he recognizes it’s going to generate more questions about operations there. “I think it is very important that we are clear and frank with what is going on in Afghanistan with the American people,” he said. “I expect more questions, and I expect tough questions, and there will be answers for them.”
Boosting security, he said, will help create conditions for other critical progress in Afghanistan. “Security is going to have to be created for the people so that governance can be generated,” he said.
Earlier today during a news conference in Ottawa, Mullen called the need to strengthen government institutions and eliminate corruption in Afghanistan the most pressing priorities.
Ultimately, he told reporters en route to Washington, the Afghan government must be able to provide “the full spectrum of what citizens expect from their government.”
“I don’t have an expectation that it is going to look like what we have here in America,” he said. “But the people of Afghanistan are seeking a government at each level that provides them services” such as security, rule of law, education and other services.
Getting to that point will be a long-term effort, he conceded, but he emphasized that “it doesn’t mean it’s long-term combat.”
Mullen has been a vocal advocate of broader U.S. support for the Afghanistan mission, particularly by the State Department that’s best suited to the task of nation-building.
“And it is not about the United States,” Mullen continued. “This is about countries throughout the world [that] are focused on Afghanistan, assisting … as well.”