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Mullen Discusses Marja, Personnel Policy Issues

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2010 – Progress in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, the decision to allow women to serve on Navy submarines, and the year-long “don’t ask, don’t tell” review now under way are the topics the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff discusses in his latest podcast.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said the mission of Operation Moshtarak -- the anti-insurgent offensive in the former Taliban stronghold of Marja in central Helmand -- has transformed from the “clear” phase to the “hold” phase.

Yesterday’s raising of the Afghan government flag at a ceremony in Marja symbolized the end of Taliban dominion in the region.

“The raising of the [Afghan] flag is a significant symbol that that’s changed,” Mullen said.

In a rare glimpse at their playbook, U.S. and NATO military officials for months before the offensive remarked publicly on the strategic importance of the southern Afghanistan region and the goal to clear the area of Taliban fighters. The rationale for such a declaration of intent was to allow low-level Taliban fighters the chance to flee, and to warn civilians of the impending attack, officials said.

“We clearly informed the population before the operation,” Mullen said in his podcast, recorded yesterday. “One of the signature events, as far as I’m concerned, was a meeting of 450 Afghan elders from the area for almost two days, and they all signed up to this.”

Speaking about the decision to allow women to serve aboard U.S. Navy submarines, Mullen called the move “a natural progression.”

Officials previously had cited a lack of privacy and the cost of reconfiguring submarines as obstacles to allowing female crew members to serve aboard the vessels. But in a push that began late last year, senior defense officials began publicly advocating a reversal of the long-standing Navy policy.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates has notified Congress of the Navy’s intent to reverse the ban.

“I think it’s a very positive step to be taken in terms of the further integration of women into combat roles,” Mullen said.

On the current law that prohibits openly gay people from serving in the armed forces, Mullen said a year-long review now under way will seek objective data about the kind of impact a repeal of the law would create.

“Keeping military readiness and effectiveness is at the top of our priorities,” he said. “The review seeks that kind of feedback -- done in a systematic way -- where we would understand objectively what the potential impact would be should this change go into effect.”

In a congressional hearing earlier this month, Mullen embraced overturning the policy, calling it an issue that strikes at the integrity of the U.S. armed forces as an institution and that of individual servicemembers.

“Speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do,” Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee Feb. 2.

“No matter how I look at this issue,” Mullen told committee members, “I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”

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Navy Adm. Mike Mullen

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