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Al-Qaida Remains Dangerous, Mullen Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2009 – Al-Qaida remains a danger, and the area along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan is the epicenter of global Islamic extremism, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at the Foreign Press Center here today.

Mullen reiterated to foreign journalists that he fully concurs with President Barack Obama’s decision to send another 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

“It is my belief, and that of the commanders, that this surge gives General McChrystal all the forces he needs in 2010 to reverse the momentum of what I have described as a growing and increasingly lethal insurgency,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal commands U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan.

The border area was where al-Qaida planned the 9/11 attacks, Mullen noted. “Should we be hit again, I’m convinced the planning, training, financing and leadership will emanate from there,” he said. “That is why we are so focused on it. That’s why we believe this mission is in our national security interests and those of our allies and friends.”

Mullen returned yesterday from visiting soldiers and Marines at Fort Campbell, Ky., and Camp Lejeune, N.C., who soon will deploy to Afghanistan.

“I thanked them for their service, and I told them that their mission to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and to degrade the Taliban’s influence and to prevent Afghanistan or Pakistan from becoming safe havens is not merely about killing or capturing the enemy,” he said. “It is also about protecting the Afghan people.”

The troops must earn the Afghan people’s trust and learn their culture. The mission is all about providing breathing space to build the Afghan security forces so they can protect their own people and stabilize their own country, the chairman said.

“The president has made it very clear, while our commitment to the people of Afghanistan is enduring, our troop presence will not be,” Mullen said.

American forces must work to train Afghan forces so they can provide their own security while creating breathing space so good governance can take root, Mullen said.

“In July 2011, we will begin the process of transition – of transferring more responsibility to Afghan national security forces and thinning our own lines,” the chairman said. “At that time, the Marines we sent last summer in Helmand province will have been at the job for two years. We will know by then if we have been successful.”

Winning in Afghanistan is not solely the responsibility of the military – it is not that kind of war, Mullen said. “Success will only come by and through a concerted effort by other agencies and other partners,” he said. “Ultimate success will be the cumulative effect of sustained pressure across multiple lines of operations.”

The chairman said the effort needs more civilian experts and help from international partners, and he expressed delight that NATO nations have pledged another 7,000 troops to the alliance’s effort in Afghanistan. He also said Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government must do its part.

“We need to see efforts on the part of the Karzai government to make good on promised reforms, and to extend the delivery of goods and services all the way down to the district and sub-district levels,” the admiral said.

All involved need to realize that the problems are not limited to Afghanistan, and that a regional strategy is needed, America’s top military officer said.

“A key part of the president’s strategy is to strengthen cooperation with Pakistan and to improve the level of coordination across and within those border regions,” Mullen said. “I believe that to the degree we can do this we can certainly help the Pakistanis themselves get at those safe havens.”

The chairman praised the Pakistani military for recent operations in South Waziristan. He said that Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani has been true to his word, “and I very much appreciate his leadership.”

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Navy Adm. Mike Mullen

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