By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 27, 2009 - The most challenging security threat troubling the United States lies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it will take cooperation from throughout the region and support from much of the world to reach success, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said during a news conference at the Foreign Press Center here today. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen answered a barrage of questions from foreign reporters about topics relevant to their countries, but few answers went without including the need to stabilize the entire region.
"When I talk about a regional approach, I include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, as well as India," Mullen said. "And I think the regional countries there have a very significant stake in stability and in outcomes which are positive.
"With respect to Afghanistan, a regional approach is critical," he continued. "And, to the degree that we are able to dialogue with them that finds some mutual interests, there is potential there for moving ahead together."
Military leaders and the national security team are working to craft a new strategy for the way forward in Afghanistan, which President Barack Obama wants to be "appropriately inclusive with our relationship with Pakistan as well as other nations in the region," Mullen said.
The Joint Staff at the Pentagon is ready to contribute to this strategy and implement the new president's guidance, he added.
"You all have been covering recent events in Afghanistan long enough to know that the situation there grows increasingly perilous every day," he told the reporters. "Suicide and [bombing] attacks are up; some say as much as 40 percent over the last year. The Taliban grows bolder in planting fear and intimidating the Afghan people, and the flow of militants across the border with Pakistan continues."
For those reasons, the Pentagon has been working for months to increase forces in Afghanistan and meet the requests of ground commanders there, he said. Some 20,000 to 30,000 additional troops are expected deploy to Afghanistan in the coming months, which is more than double the number of American forces there now.
Mullen said the contributions of foreign troops in Afghanistan are extremely valued as well. With 10,000 more NATO troops there now than last year, they are training Afghan security forces, working with local governments and improving infrastructure. Mullen stressed that more will be needed, but not just military.
There are "upwards of 42 countries in Afghanistan," he said. "And we need the assistance across a broad group of requirements, not just military, to assist in moving us forward there in a very positive way. Though military forces will never be enough to achieve a stable Afghanistan, we all agree that the security they provide is a necessary component to that success."
Mullen explained a need for a significant increase in the number of civilians from U.S. government agencies to impact Afghanistan. Those additions may improve the economic plight of the Afghan people and governance so the political piece can move forward, he said.
"[The military] can't do it alone under any circumstances," he said. "And all the additional troops in the world aren't going to make any difference if we don't get these other pieces in place as well. [The military] can do a lot, but we have limits. And if we're the only part of a solution in Afghanistan, it's not going to work."