FORT DRUM, N.Y., Feb. 9, 2009 – The top U.S. military officer said today he doesn't expect the United States to deploy more than about 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, emphasizing the need for the State Department and other U.S. agencies to do their part as well.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told junior soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division that 2009 will be a pivotal year for Afghanistan that will require more than just military might.
"It has gotten worse in Afghanistan," he told the soldiers, some recently returned from Iraq and others expecting to deploy to Afghanistan next year. "Violence is up, [and] the Taliban is back." In addition, he said, governance at the local, district, provincial and national levels "is not going well” and "has to be improved."
"Getting that governance piece right as fast as we can is absolutely vital," Mullen said, particularly with elections scheduled this summer. He noted that although the military inevitably will be involved, it's not the agency best suited to assist with governance.
The same, he said, holds true with helping Afghanistan improve economic development.
"It is not possible to win this or succeed in Afghanistan militarily alone," Mullen told the group.
So as the military expands the force in Afghanistan probably not much beyond the 20,000 to 30,000 numbers being discussed, Mullen said more nonmilitary enablers will be needed, too.
"It has to be met with a commensurate surge from other agencies, particularly the State Department, in order for us to start generating success in 2009, which is a critical year," he said.
Mullen praised the soldiers for the successes they helped to bring about in Iraq. "You have made a difference. You have turned it around in Iraq," he said. Success wasn't in sight 12 to 18 months ago, he said, but now it is.
In a separate session with family readiness group volunteers, he tied the success of the surge directly to the men and women on the ground. "It could not have been done without the 10th Mountain Division" and the rest of the U.S. military engaged there, he said.
"I've been there a lot and seen the difference," he told the spouses. "It gets a little bit better day by day, and we are very hopeful that we can continue to draw forces down in Iraq and that Iraqi people [will] continue to assume responsibility for their own country."
But Mullen reminded the soldiers, "We are not done in Iraq."
Al-Qaida remains a problem, but is "greatly diminished," he said. Governance is improving, as demonstrated by the successful late-January elections. Iraqi security forces are improving.
The 10th Mountain Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team was rerouted from Iraq to Afghanistan last fall. Its soldiers in Task Force Spartan are now deployed to eastern Afghanistan, taking up positions that until now had little coalition presence.
"I expect there will be more of that over the next several months, although I don't have the details of that," Mullen told the troops. "That's something the president decides." By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service