Mullen Says Trip Provides Insight on Ground Conditions
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 5, 2008 Back today from a 10-day, around-the-world trip designed to foster relationships with allies and emerging countries, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said it also gave him insight into the way U.S. government agencies are beginning to work together.
Navy Adm. Mullen spoke to reporters today aboard his plane over the Atlantic Ocean while en route to Washington. Earlier in the day, he had met with Pakistani leaders and viewed the country’s Frontier Corps training camp near Peshawar. Mullen and his party left Andrews Air Force Base, Md., on May 27. The trip took him to Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Korea, Pakistan, Germany and back to Andrews.
The admiral noted that for the last couple of years he has said that no one country – much less one department of one country -- can fight extremism alone. Traveling to places like Indonesia and the Philippines reinforces that fact in his mind, he said.
The countries of Southeast Asia are blessed with great natural resources and lie along the sea lanes of communication from Europe and the Middle East to China, Japan and the West Coast of the United States. That this is an important region, “is not a new discovery,” the chairman said.
Mullen’s trip was meant to reinforce relationships with old allies – the Philippines, Singapore and South Korea – and to engage emerging nations – Indonesia and Pakistan. This important external country-to-country, military-to-military aspect is important and includes bilateral and multilateral relationships among nations and militaries, he said.
But the trip also highlighted a “we can’t do this alone” portion of the equation that applies within the U.S. government, he told reporters. The chairman saw and spoke with representatives from many non-defense U.S. agencies who are doing their parts in places like Indonesia, the Philippines and Pakistan, he said.
Mullen got a first-hand look at this in Zamboanga, Philippines. “I saw how representatives from many agencies work together in the Philippines,” he said. “I’ve seen the same thing in the drug task force in Key West. I see it in places like Pakistan and Iraq and Afghanistan – the interagency aspect of it. It continues to evolve and mature and make itself evident in everything. I also think that’s best for the long-term aspect of what we’re doing.”
During his visit to Singapore, the chairman attended the Shangri-La Dialogue – an Asia security conference named for the hotel where it is held. Mullen met with defense representatives from other nations and also made time to meet with Singaporean officials to thank them for their help and to understand how they want to move forward. “We have an incredibly robust military-to-military relationship there,” he said.
In addition to the inter-governmental and interagency effort in the Philippines, Mullen said, he was struck by the maturation of the Philippine military.
“I lived in the Philippines in the early 1980s – I left in 1983,” he said. “They have matured tremendously.” He said he was very impressed with Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano, a Philippine army officer who leads the island nation’s armed forces.
“He’s got the right demeanor, the right approach,” Mullen said. “He’s highly regarded in his country, and he is highly regarded in the region.
“I also want to take my hat off to the U.S. ambassador and the country team in the Philippines,” he continued. “They have come a long way as well.”
And it shows at the basic level, the admiral said, noting stability in the country has allowed the nation’s gross domestic product to grow by 6 to 7 percent a year for the past few years.
Indonesia is an emerging relationship, Mullen said. It has the largest Muslim population in the world, and since 1998, has come a long way. “The government has been freely elected, [and] the police are now totally separate from the defense establishment,” the chairman said. Stability has led to an average of 6 percent annual real economic growth per year. National and military leaders in Indonesia are focusing on human rights.
“Do they still have a ways to go?” Mullen asked, “Certainly. Is the leadership aware? They are. I think in another 10 years that Indonesia, being well-led and taking aggressive steps, … will have moved that much further down the road.”
Mullen said he still worries about the decades over which U.S. military officers had no contact with their Indonesian counterparts because of sanctions imposed on Indonesia. The Indonesians are worried about whether the United States will maintain a military-to-military relationship.
Mullen recalled a visit to Indonesia while he served as chief of naval operations. “The first question my navy counterpart … asked me was, ‘Are you going to do it again?’” Mullen said. “We have got to rebuild the trust between the countries.”
The Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore face an extremist threat that is far more complicated when viewed close-up than from an office in Washington, Mullen said. Al-Qaida affiliates split and form and coalesce with other extremist groups constantly.
“Nice, clean solutions just don’t happen in counterinsurgencies,” the admiral said.