Weakened Taliban Step Up Attacks, Mullen Says
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 11, 2007 Taliban attacks have picked up this year, but the Afghanistan-based insurgent group is nonetheless growing weaker, the senior U.S. military officer told a congressional committee today.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen told U.S. House Armed Services Committee members that earlier this year he’d predicted a resurgence of Taliban attacks. However, Mullen acknowledged, he was only partially correct.
“Though the Taliban has grown bolder in recent months, particularly in the south and the west, they’ve lost a significant number of their leadership and failed to fully reassert themselves, reverting instead to terror attacks, thuggery and intimidation,” Mullen said.
Consequently, overall violence is up in Afghanistan by about 27 percent from a year ago, including a significant increase in suicide attacks, Mullen reported.
In southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, violence is up more than 60 percent, Mullen said. Al Qaeda and foreign terrorists, supported in some cases by Iran, are contributing “to the deadly mix,” the admiral said.
Yet, Mullen reported some good news from Afghanistan.
“Six years after the fall of the Taliban, most Afghans still see that overthrow as a good thing,” Mullen said. Nearly 75 percent of Afghans polled say they support the U.S. prescense in Afghanistan, and most want peace and stability for their country, he added.
Provincial reconstruction teams operating in Afghanistan “are having a real impact on the quality of thousands of lives,” Mullen said. Six times as many children are in school across Afghanistan today, compared to six years ago, he noted. And almost a third of Afghanistan’s 6 million students are girls, Mullen added.
Some U.S. legislators want to reassess the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, Mullen said, noting he hasn’t made up his mind about that yet. However, Mullen told the committee that he’s convinced that U.S. and coalition efforts in Afghanistan constitute important work.
“It is important, critical work and it must continue,” Mullen said of ongoing military and reconstruction operations in Afghanistan.
Democracy had been relatively unknown in Afghanistan, Mullen pointed out. “We are sowing seeds of freedom in unaccustomed soil,” the admiral said.
U.S. decision makers must be patient and realize that U.S. operations in Afghanistan are being conducted under resource constraints, Mullen said.
“Our main focus militarily in the region and in the world right now is rightly and firmly in Iraq,” Mullen said, emphasizing that the efforts provided by U.S., coalition and Afghan servicemembers serving in Afghanistan are no less valued, important or supported.
It is simply a matter of resources and capacity, Mullen said.
“In Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must,” the admiral said.
This is why it remains critical that NATO, which assumed responsibility for Afghanistan operations in October 2006, continues “to lead and to lead well,” Mullen said.
Afghanistan now seems to be experiencing “a classic insurgency” that requires a well-coordinated counter-insurgency strategy that touches upon military, diplomatic, political and economic realms, Mullen said.
Mullen praised NATO’s International Security Assistance Force for “stepping up to the plate” in Afghanistan. However, the ISAF in Afghanistan “is plagued by shortfalls in capability and capacity and constrained by a host of caveats that limits its ability,” he said.
Caveats are restrictions some nations place on how their troops can be used. The admiral urged NATO’s members “to do all they can to fulfill the commitments they have already made, completely, and with as few conditions as possible.”
Ultimately, real, enduring success in Afghanistan will be predicated on the progress of the Afghan government and its people, Mullen said. Some $7.4 billion in spending approved by Congress for Afghanistan this year went toward training and equipping of that country’s soldiers and police, Mullen said. But because fast-growing Afghan army and police forces are straining training resources, the admiral said, he is monitoring the situation closely.
Afghan soldiers are taking the lead in more and more anti-insurgent operations, Mullen said. However, there’s been less success with the Afghan National Police, he acknowledged, as that force suffers from training deficiencies and corruption. Training police forces is a skill that not too many countries do well, Mullen explained, and he said there’s a long way to go get Afghanistan’s police up on their feet.
U.S. troops in Afghanistan are performing a vital, important mission, Mullen said.
“We know and we remember the great sacrifices being made by each of the over 26,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians deployed there, as well as their families, who so steadfastly support them,” the admiral said.