WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2008 – A broader international and interagency approach is necessary to solve Afghanistan’s problems, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the House Armed Services Committee today.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates testified before the committee about Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mullen said the world is running out of time to help Afghanistan. The United States can patrol the terrain and train Afghan security forces, “but until those Afghan forces have the support of local leaders to improve security on their own, we will only be there as a crutch – and a temporary one at that,” Mullen said.
“We can hunt down and kill extremists as they cross over the border from Pakistan, … but until we work more closely with the Pakistani government to eliminate the safe havens from which they operate, the enemy will only keep coming,” he continued.
Interagency efforts are crucial to progress in Afghanistan, Mullen said.
“We can build roads and schools and courts, and our provincial reconstruction teams are doing just that, but until we have represented in those teams more experts from the fields of commerce, agriculture, jurisprudence and education, those facilities will remain but empty shells,” he said.
Fewer than one in 20 PRTs throughout the country are supported by nonmilitary personnel, the chairman said.
The military is just part of the answer, the admiral said. The military can provide security, but Afghanistan needs more than soldiers, it needs more commerce, more learning, and more justice, he told the lawmakers, noting that Afghanistan needs foreign investment, sound governance, alternative crops to poppy and the rule of law.
“These are the keys to success in Afghanistan,” he said. “We can’t kill our way to victory, and no armed force anywhere – no matter how good – can deliver these keys alone. It requires teamwork and cooperation.”
Mullen described the process of assessing the situation in Iraq and what led to recommending 8,000 U.S. servicemembers are withdrawn from the country.
“The recommendations that went forward to the secretary and to the president represented a consensus view of military leadership in this country,” Mullen said. “The process by which they were derived was candid, transparent and thoroughly collaborative. The entire chains of command for both Iraq and Afghanistan were involved and engaged, including the Joint Chiefs.”
The chairman acknowledged that not all agreed with the recommendations early on.
“One sees war – feels it, fights it, leads it – from one’s unique perspective,” he said. “The key to success over the long term is proving able to see it also from another’s perspective – be it the enemy’s or the public’s or the chain of command – and being informed by that knowledge as you move forward.”
The recommendations to the president came from all levels of command, and the chairman said he would agree with the term “compromise solution.”
“But it would be wrong to conclude that our proposal represented a compromise in any way of our commitment to success,” he said. “We did not compromise one war for the other.”
The withdrawal of forces from Iraqi is justified, Mullen said. The improved security in the country, the increased capabilities of Iraqi forces, the growing confidence of Iraqi political leaders and the economic progress of the country make it worth the risk, Mullen said.
The rewards to the military of the withdrawal also are worth the risk, the admiral told the committee. The services may be able to increase the dwell time at home stations between deployments and give families a break and the nation “a rested, stronger, more capable strategic reserve for worldwide crises,” he said.
But Afghanistan is a problem, Mullen said, and that’s why he recommended the president send a Marine battalion to the country in November and an Army brigade combat team by January.
“I am not convinced we are winning in Afghanistan, but I am convinced we can,” he said. “That is why I intend to commission a new, more comprehensive strategy for the region, one that covers both sides of the border.”
While commanders in Afghanistan want three more U.S. brigades, the forces going are a good and important start, Mullen said.
“Frankly, I judge the risk of not sending them too great a risk to ignore,” he said. “My expectation is that they will need to perform both the training mission and combat and combat support missions simultaneously until such time that we can provide additional troops. I cannot at this point say when that might be.”