Mullen shared concerns expressed by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others that the border region has become a safe haven for insurgents.
“Things have changed enough in Afghanistan and Pakistan to warrant a review of our overall strategy there, and in fact, part of the effort is to try to ensure better coordination on both sides of that border, which is a safe haven [for insurgents],” the admiral said.
Compounding the problem is Afghanistan’s poverty – $700 million in total revenues this year – which creates conditions that fuel insurgencies and the illicit poppy industry that helps to finance them.
Gates told NATO defense ministers today at a conference in Budapest, Hungary, that he wants the alliance to confront the drug lords in Afghanistan.
“Part of the problem we face is the Taliban makes between $60 million and $80 million a year from the drug trafficking,” he said. “It is not only corrosive to good governance, it also directly funds the people that are killing Afghans, Americans and all our coalition partners.”
Mullen expressed hope that progress in Iraq will continue, enabling force reductions to continue and freeing up forces to meet additional requirements in Afghanistan. But he emphasized that the challenges in Afghanistan demand more than military might – a point Gates reiterated today to his NATO counterparts.
“It is not just about boots on the ground,” Mullen said. “It is really three pieces. There is the security piece, the development … [and] economic piece as well as the political and diplomatic piece, and all of those things have to come together.”
The strategy review will address better ways to coordinate these efforts, he said, while broadening the focus on Afghanistan to include Pakistan as well as India. Mullen noted that both countries have long historic links to Afghanistan and an important role to play there.
“This review comes at a time when, clearly, we are going to have to adjust,” he said