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Pentagon Spokesman Addresses Strategy Review, Budget

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 17, 2010 – The U.S. Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy is yielding results that are “trending in the right direction,” Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today.

During an MSNBC television interview, Morrell responded to questions on Pakistan’s role in establishing regional security, the purpose of the strategy review, the state of humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, and the Senate’s actions funding the military.

The Afghanistan-Pakistan strategic review, Morrell said, was designed to assess progress a year after President Barack Obama announced a troop surge to be followed by a gradual security transfer to Afghan forces.

“We're committing 30,000 additional U.S. forces [and] another thousand civilians. The allies are committing another 10,000, and it's only fair to those forces and their families that a year into this thing, we make a judgment call about whether or not it is working,” he said. “We're certainly not going to continue to sign deployment orders to send young men and women off to fight and potentially die if we're stalemated and losing.”

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in February that the strategy had to show clear progress by year’s end, Morrell said, and subsequent trips to Afghanistan have demonstrated that progress.

“When we went back to Afghanistan this summer, he walked out of there feeling as though where our troops had been the longest, there was proof of concept,” Morrell said. “On our most recent visit, he said, ‘I am convinced this strategy is working.’ So we saw signs for months that the strategy was working -- [that] security [was] improving in the east and south.”

Morrell dismissed the notion that improvements to the east and south mean increased danger in Afghanistan’s north and west.

“It's simply not the case,” he said. “Yes, some Taliban have been squeezed north and west, but they are isolated, they are away from the population centers, they are away from their support base, [and] their supply lines are being disrupted. That's not where they want to be. And we're fine to have them hang out up there while we secure the huge population centers.”

Morrell said that while the strategy review stresses Pakistan’s critical role in Afghanistan strategy, he believes the U.S. relationship with that country is evolving.

“I don't think it's static. I don't think it's the same as it was a year ago,” he said. “It's certainly not the same as it was two years ago, when they did not have 140,000 Pakistani military forces on the western border of their country, dealing with this threat that is potentially … imperiling their government, as well as the Afghan government.”

In assessing Pakistan’s role in events over the past year, Morrell said, analysts have to consider that nation’s efforts to deal with a devastating natural disaster.

“They dealt with a flood of epic proportions, dwarfing the death toll that was caused by the tsunami, the Pakistani earthquake, the Haitian earthquake,” Morrell said. “Extraordinary. And the military were the ones called upon to respond to that.”

The United States needs Pakistan, he said, and will continue developing a partnership with that nation.

Responding to questions on a recent International Red Cross report critical of humanitarian aid progress in Afghanistan, Morrell said there is “always a lag” between combat actions and subsequent civilian support for humanitarian aid.

“So it may not be happening as quickly as they like,” he said. “But … that's contrary to what I have seen when we were down south and east. It seems as though there is a very good and tight-working relationship between our men and women in uniform and the civilians who are key to our ultimate success there.”

Discussing Senate-approved funding for the military in 2011, Morrell said it’s unclear whether a proposed continuing resolution would be for 12 months or a shorter time.

“Hopefully, this will be a short-term bridging mechanism to get us to when we can take it up again,” he said. “If it's a 12-month [continuing resolution], we're going to have to do a lot of belt-tightening internally.”

An omnibus budget measure would allow the Defense Department to fund essential programs and organizations, including U.S. Cyber Command, Morrell said. “So obviously, we've got to figure out how to work this,” he added.

Finally, Morrell said while the war in Afghanistan has strained the nation, he believes Americans still strongly support their servicemembers.

“Our troopers need that,” he said. “If you look at polling, though, [Americans] clearly support the men and women in uniform. They may not be wild about the mission, and that's understandable. We have been doing this 10 years.”

Morrell said public opinion now offers a sharp contrast to 2007.

“This is not nearly as unpopular a conflict as that war was during the dark days of the Iraq conflict,” he said.


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