NATO’s Long-Term Relevance Hinges on Afghanistan, Mullen Says
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
GARMISCH, Germany, June 26, 2008 NATO’s long-term relevance will be tied directly to success in Afghanistan, and the slower NATO moves to ensure that success, the longer it will take to achieve, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here yesterday.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told about 200 students at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies he’s “desperate to get more capability” out of NATO. He said it’s critical that NATO lives up to its commitments to the alliance’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
The biggest need, Mullen said, is for trainers for the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police and advisors to help the Afghan ministries develop capacity. And every day those requirements go unfulfilled, he said, stretches out the timeline for Afghanistan to reach self-sufficiency.
“The slower we are at doing this – and we are pretty slow – the longer it is going to take,” Mullen said. “And it is going to take a long time in Afghanistan.”
Mullen is expected to continue pressing NATO members to step up their contributions in Afghanistan at a NATO Military Committee chiefs of staff session in Brussels, Belgium, tomorrow,.
Earlier this year, President Bush approved what he stressed would be an “extraordinary, one-time” seven-month deployment of about 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan. Those Marines, from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, have had “an extraordinary impact,” Mullen told the Joint Staff during a June 23 Pentagon town hall meeting.
But Mullen emphasized yesterday that the U.S. military simply doesn’t have the manpower to keep trying to cover the shortfall.
“The simple math is that I can’t put any more forces in Afghanistan until I come down in Iraq,” he told the group. He noted that initiatives to “grow” the Army and Marine Corps will take two to three years to develop deployment-ready troops. Meanwhile, U.S. troops are “pressed very hard” from multiple deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan, with too little tim” at home stations between deployments. Mullen said keeping up the current operational tempo for the long term will be impossible.
The chairman cited politics, economy and security as critical to Afghanistan’s success, and said Afghanistan needs long-term help in building that “three-legged stool.”
“They have to be linked. But you have to work each one of those legs to link them,” he said. “That’s why … we say this is a long haul, and we need help. We need countries stepping forward to do this.”
Mullen told students at the Marshall Center that he finds it difficult to understand why some NATO countries don’t share the deep concern the United States and other alliance members have about the situation in Afghanistan.
“It is very clear to me that those who live in Europe see [the terrorist threat] differently from those of us in the United States,” he said. Why Europe “isn’t more excited about what’s going on there than those of us in the United States,” Mullen said, is a question to which he doesn’t know the answer.
Afghanistan, where NATO leads the ISAF effort, is “at the heart of NATO right now,” he said. “And I believe that whether NATO is going to be relevant in the future is tied directly to a positive outcome in Afghanistan. And we’ve got a lot of work to do there, [and] some significant challenges.”
Mullen spent most of the day at the Marshall Center, which opened in 1993 to promote dialog and understanding among nations of North America, Europe and Eurasia. He met with students halfway through the 12-week Program in advanced security studies, and others wrapping up the five-week program on terrorism and security studies.
Mullen noted that many of the students will go on to become leaders in their country’s militaries and governments, as one prime minister, three defense ministers, nine defense chiefs, four foreign affairs ministers, some 30 other ministers, 56 Parliament members and 82 ambassadors already have.
When they do so, Mullen urged them to apply the lessons learned at the Marshall Center and to return in the future to help educate the next class of students who will follow in their footsteps.
“We need great leadership for as far as I can see into the future,” Mullen told them, “because I also see nothing but challenges.”