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Forces Must Ready for Future Conflict, Mullen Says

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 30, 2010 – America’s military forces must be ready for future conflicts, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said today, underscoring what he calls the armed forces’ greatest challenge.

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Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff gives a thumbs up to Texas A&M University cadets after receiving an Aggies football jersey in College Station, Texas on Sept. 30, 2010. DoD Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

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“There is no tougher challenge than to prepare for the next war,” Mullen said. “If we fail to adapt the American way of war appropriately, we will most certainly undercut our nation’s defense and the global security we underpin.”

Mullen spoke to students and faculty at Texas A&M University’s Rudder Auditorium tonight. He discussed ideas for what he feels are the proper ways to use modern military forces. His conclusions, he said, could have “significant implications” for the future.

Three conclusions come to mind, the admiral said, as he thinks about America’s future national security needs and military.

“First, military power may prove to be the best, first tool of the state but it should never be the only one,” he said. “Second, when that power is used to apply force, it should, to the maximum extent possible,be done in a precise and principled way.  And third, the process of matching military strategy to national policy must be iterative and constantly informed by events on the ground, adapting as necessary to achieve our ends.”

Mullen underscored the first principle in his speech, noting the difference between military “power” and “force.” Force, he said, can be a single air strike or as overwhelming as a ground invasion.

Such actions should be the last resort, he explained, meaning that all peaceful resolutions must have been exhausted and failed.

“War is perhaps the most serious and certainly the most dangerous of endeavors that a people may enter into,” Mullen said. “We ought not tread such ground blindly, nor absent a clear-eyed appraisal of both the rewards and the risks.

“No one craves combat, certainly not those of us in the military. But we must be ready to go, last resort or first,” he said.

Mullen highlighted some of the missions in which U.S. military members are currently engaged, explaining that military force is only one aspect of military power.

He noted the counterinsurgency mission in Afghanistan, security assistance in Iraq, security for oil transits through the Strait of Hormuz in the Middle East, deterring conflict on the Korean peninsula, foreign internal defense in Colombia, peacekeeping in Kosovo, combating piracy near Somalia and other global counter-terrorism operations. He also noted President Barack Obama’s immediate decision this year to send troops to Haiti and Pakistan to support natural disaster relief efforts.

“For all these missions and more, your troops are trained, equipped and deployed,” he said. “And for all these missions, it may rightly be said that they are,and ought to be,the best, first tool of choice.

“These may not be missions that troops were originally intended, but they are missions for which we have prepared ourselves, adapted and readily assumed in this uncertain and dynamic security environment,” Mullen said. “They are missions not distinct from, but very much a part of, modern warfare.  And if I may say so, they are missions at which we excel.”

Mullen recalled the insight of a young servicemember he met recently in Afghanistan. The troop trains Afghan police and is proud of doing so, despite the fact it is not the job he enlisted to do.

“He was proud of what he was doing, prouder still of what the Afghan police were learning to do because of him and because of his battle buddies,” the chairman said. “And, without question, we are starting to see progress in Afghanistan, slow and uneven in places, but progress nonetheless.”

In Helmand province, a region in southern Afghanistan formerly known for being a Taliban stronghold, security is improving and the local populace is growing less and less afraid of the insurgency, he said.

Local Afghans are becoming more confident in themselves and less tolerant of the Taliban, he added.

These stories and reports underscore the success, so far, of Obama’s Afghanistan strategy, which initiated a surge of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan this year. More troops are tracking down and fighting insurgents, as well as working as mentors and trainers, like the young servicemember Mullen mentioned, for Afghan soldiers and police.

The right resources, leaders and strategy is in place, and U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan understand the importance of their mission, Mullen added.

“[Troops] understand well the difference they are making, and they are proud of their ability to do so,” he said. “They've become experts at counter-insurgency, at civic improvement, at tribal organization and a hundred other disciplines. 

“They know firsthand that improving other peoples' lives isn't easy,” he continued. “And they know that sometimes we defend our national interests,those greater and more important interests,best when we help others defend themselves.”

Although troops have adjusted and adapted well to the counterinsurgency fight, some of their core competencies and training have been neglected, Mullen said. He noted that military leaders have become somewhat accustomed to not doing some of the things they were originally trained to do.

“There are tasks we aren’t able to do anymore, missions for which we aren’t able to train, because we are so heavily engaged,” he said. “I worry about young Marines who have never deployed aboard a ship, artillery officers who haven’t fired a gun in years, fighter pilots who have not honed their air-to-air skills.  I also worry about the opportunity to exercise the full breadth of our national power.”

Securing American interests, Mullen said, must be coordinated with partner nations’ militaries and civilian experts. America’s security commitments cut across the lines of diplomacy, intelligence, economics and social progress, he said, noting that 47 nations fight alongside American troops in Afghanistan.

The multinational approach and military-civilian partnerships, he added, legitimizes the efforts there. The U.S. military will not win alone, he said.

“We need farmers and engineers, bankers and educators, merchants and diplomats,professionals to help us address the broad range of challenges before us, not simply because these experts are more knowledgeable, but because in some ways, they are more credible,” Mullen said. “Just because a soldier can, doesn't mean a soldier should.

Applying American influence solely through its military could be detriment to foreign relationships, he said. Although the military will always be the cornerstone of American security, they must be complimented by investments in homeland security, better coordination among the intelligence community and more emphasis on diplomacy, he said.

“In fact, in situations of outright defense of the homeland, I believe we should commit our troops only when other instruments of national power are ready to engage as well,” he said. “This will require broader, deeper interagency and international partnerships, consistent and persistent engagement, and shifts in investment to other areas equally central to our nation’s strength.”

Such challenges will require not only new budgetary practices, but institutional and cultural changes, he said, noting the progress being made through the Defense and State departments’ “whole-of-government” approach in Afghanistan.

“In or out of uniform, those serving in Afghanistan are a part of one team, and that team represents a critical piece to the stability of the entire region and, I would argue, the entire world,” Mullen said.

Improving this approach calls for learning to work together before a conflict begins, learning to plan, organize and operate cohesively and learning to process lessons learned, he said. Many of those answers will come from younger generations, such as students studying now at Texas A&M, he added.

“I have always believed our nation’s best hope for our future is our people, but safeguarding that future warrants a comprehensive effort using every instrument of power we have,” he said. “Because ultimately, the challenges we face in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the world in general are not military or State [Department] issues, or even American ones -- they are global.

“I urge you, to step forward and be that wellspring of ideas and innovation, be the leaders that so many young Aggies before you have been,” Mullen said.

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Navy Adm. Mike Mullen

Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife Deborah visit with U.S. Marine Cpl. Raul Olivares during a visit to the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio, Texas, on Sept. 30, 2010.  
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