By Sgt. Sara Moore, USA
American Forces Press Service
March 5, 2008 - The United States is making progress on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, but what makes that progress real are the partnerships U.S. forces develop with the local security forces and the people, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today. Having just returned from a trip to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen briefed reporters at the Pentagon about his trip, and the progress he saw.
In Iraq, Mullen said, the highlight of his trip was being able to walk down the streets of two formerly violent cities – Doura and Hawijah – and see first-hand the improvements in security and the resurgence of the economy.
"This week when I was there, shops were open, people were out, life was coming back," he said. "Security is undeniably better, even in Baghdad, where violent attacks are down."
The security gained in Iraq is still fragile, Mullen emphasized, and that's why partnerships within the communities are so important. The troops understand the importance of getting out in the communities, meeting people and trying to address their needs, he said.
A big part of the coalition's success in Iraq is the partnership with the Sons of Iraq, formerly called concerned local citizens, who now number about 91,000 and are working to secure their communities, Mullen said.
"I'm convinced this is going to be the real measure of success – the degree to which the Iraqi people take charge of their own lives and their future," he said. "They're beginning to have hope, and in Iraq, hope really can be a strategy."
Mullen said he didn't return from Iraq with any firm recommendations about future U.S. force levels in Iraq, but he will use what he learned to help craft the recommendation he and the Joint Chiefs will present to the president next month. However, Mullen said, he is opposed to any withdrawal of troops that would put at risk the security gains the coalition has made.
"We shouldn't carelessly sacrifice the gains we've made in security, and I still believe conditions on the ground count a lot," he said.
In Afghanistan, Mullen said, he also saw progress and hope among the people. The progress varies from province to province, and the Taliban remain a threat, he said, but the Afghan security forces are increasingly willing to partner with coalition and NATO forces, and the U.S. troops there are committed to the mission.
"To a person, they realize that they cannot, we cannot, truly succeed without the support and the strength of others by our side," Mullen said of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
In both Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. troops are concerned about lengthy deployments, Mullen said. These deployments are putting a strain on the military, and military leaders need to work quickly to reduce the length of deployments, while still maintaining the proper balance within the force, he said.
Army personnel now serve 15-month deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, and officials repeatedly have emphasized the tour length will go back to one year as soon as that's feasible.
In Pakistan, Mullen said, he met with President Pervez Musharraf and military leaders. Their discussions were "cordial and candid" and helped to build on the partnerships the U.S. is developing there, he said. He noted that the Pakistani military is facing a tough fight against terrorism, especially along the country's border with Afghanistan, and said the United States is ready to provide help should the Pakistani government ask for it.