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Mullen's Testimony on Afghanistan and Iraq Before the Senate Armed Services Committee, September 2011

Speaker: Michael G. Mullen
Published September 22, 2011

Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefts of Staff, gave this statement on the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq before the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 22, 2011.

In Afghanistan, I believe the security situation is steadily improving. The military component of our strategy, to the extent it can be separated from the strategy as a whole, is meeting our objectives. Afghan and ISAF forces have rested the initiative and the momentum from the Taliban in several key areas. The number of insurgentinitiated attacks has for several months been the same or lower than it was at the same time last year. And we are on a pace and even slightly ahead of our end strength goals for the Afghan national security forces.

The process for transition to Afghan lead of certain districts and provinces has already begun, with seven localities now in Afghan hands. We are well postured to begin the withdrawal of 10,000 American troops by the end of this year.

As we have advanced, the Taliban have adapted. More than ever before, they are concentrating their efforts on attacks that will produce a maximal psychological impact for a minimal investment in manpower or military capability. The recent truck bomb in Wardak falls into this category, as do the attacks against Kabul— the attacks last week in Kabul, including the one on our embassy and the assassination Tuesday of former Afghan President Rabbani. These acts of violence are as much about headlines and playing on the fears of a traumatized people as they are about inflicting casualties, maybe even more so.

We must not misconstrue them. They are serious and significant in shaping perceptions, but they do not represent a sea change in the odds of military success. We will continue to work with the Afghan government to improve the protection of key leaders. We will continue to put pressure on the enemy and expand the ANSF, their capability, and the territory they hold.

But as I have said many times, Mr. Chairman, no amount of military success alone in counterinsurgency is ever enough. Other critical challenges plague us, challenges that undermine our efforts and place at risk our ultimate success in the region. First among them in my view is the pernicious effect of poor governance and corruption. Corruption makes a mockery of the rule of law. It delegitimizes the very governing institutions to which we will be transitioning authority and it sends an aggrieved populace further into the waiting arms of the Taliban.

If we continue to draw down forces apace while such public and systemic corruption is left unchecked, I believe we risk leaving behind a government in which we cannot reasonably expect Afghans to have faith. At best, this would lead to localized conflicts inside the country. At worst, it could lead to government collapse and civil war.

A second, but no less worrisome, challenge we face is the impunity with which certain extremist groups are allowed to operate from Pakistani soil. The Haqqani network for one acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan's Internal Services Intelligence agency. With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted that truck bomb attack as well as the assault on our embassy. We also have credible intelligence that they were behind the June 28 attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller, but effective operations.

In choosing to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy, the government of Pakistan and most especially the Pakistani army and ISI jeopardizes not only the prospect of our strategic partnership, but Pakistan's opportunity to be a respected nation with legitimate regional influence. They may believe that by using these proxies they are hedging their bets or redressing what they feel is an imbalance in regional power, but in reality they have already lost that bet. By exporting violence they have eroded their internal security and their position in the region. They have undermined their international credibility and threatened their economic wellbeing. Only a decision to break with this policy can pave the road to a positive future for Pakistan.

As you know, I have expended enormous energy on this relationship and I've met with General Kayani more than two dozen times, including a 21⁄2 hour meeting last weekend in Spain. I have done this because I believe in the importance of Pakistan to the region, because I believe that we share a common interest against terrorism, and because I recognize the great political and economic difficulties Pakistan faces. I have done this because I believe that a flawed and difficult relationship is better than no relationship at all.

Some may argue I've wasted my time, that Pakistan is no closer to us than before and may now have drifted even further away. I disagree. Military cooperation again is warming. Information flow between us across the border is quickening. Transparency is returning slowly.

With Pakistan's help, we have disrupted al Qaeda and its senior leadership in the border regions and degraded its ability to plan and conduct terror attacks. Indeed, I think we would be in a far tougher situation in the wake of the frostiness which fell over us after the bin Laden raid were it not for the groundwork General Kayani and I had laid, were it not for the fact that we could at least have a conversation about the way ahead, however difficult that conversation might be.

What matters most right now is moving forward. While the relationship must be guided by clear principles to which both sides adhere, we can no longer focus solely on the most obvious issues. We should help create more stakeholders in Pakistan's prosperity, help the Pakistani people address their economic, political, and internal security challenges, and promote Indian-Pakistani cooperation on the basis of true sovereign equality. It can't just always be about counterterrorism, not in the long run. Success in the region will require effort outside the realm of security.

We must agree upon a strategic partnership declaration with Afghanistan that will clarify and codify our long-term relationship. We must work toward a reconciliation process internal to Afghanistan that provides for redress of grievances and a state-to-state interaction between Afghanistan and Pakistan to resolve matters of mutual concern. And we must make clear to friends and enemies alike that American presence and interest and commitment are not defined by boots on the ground, but rather by persistent, open, and mutually beneficial engagement.

That leads me briefly to Iraq, where we are now ending our military mission and setting the stage for just such a long-term strategic partnership. We are on pace to remove all American troops from Iraq by the end of the year, per the strategic framework agreement and the orders of the Commander in Chief. As you know, we are also in discussions with the Iraqi government about the possibility of leaving behind a residual training force. No final decisions have been made by either our government or theirs, but I can tell you the focus of those discussions remains centered on capability, the sorts of capabilities for which the Iraqis believe they need help and the sorts of capabilities we believe we can offer them.

I know you share my conviction that, having shed the blood we shed in places like Mosul, Fallujah, Tikrit, and Basra, we owe it not just to the Iraqi people, but to the memory of those who never made it home, to get this partnership right for the future.

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