By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
March 27, 2009 - A great strength of the Afghanistan-Pakistan policy review President Barack Obama unveiled today is its regional approach, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today. The report, which Obama requested upon taking office in January, comprises input from U.S. military and diplomatic leaders, NATO and other allies, and nongovernment organizations, and links overall efforts in Afghanistan to its neighbor Pakistan.
"It's much bigger than just one or the other," Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said in an interview on CNN. "I would also add that India's an important player in this part of the world as well."
At the heart of the challenge, Mullen said, is the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which has long been thought to provide safe haven to al-Qaida and other insurgent elements.
"We worked hard over the last several years to increase our focus there," Mullen said, noting the involvement over the past year by the Pakistani army and Frontier Corps along the border area, known as the federally administered tribal area, or FATA.
Mullen noted that Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are likely taking refuge on the Pakistani side of the FATA. "They hide very well," he said.
Also regarding Pakistan, Mullen stressed the need for a fundamental shift in the role of the country's intelligence agency, known as the ISI.
Mullen acknowledged indications that confirm news reports claiming the ISI supports insurgent elements in Afghanistan and Pakistan with money, supplies and guidance.
The United States has raised the issue with Pakistani civilian and military leadership, he added.
"I have believed for a significant period of time now fundamentally [that] the strategic approach with the ISI must change," he said. "And their support for militants -- actually on both borders -- has to fundamentally shift."
The new strategy shifts Afghanistan from an "economy-of-force mission" to a "renewed commitment" to counter-insurgency effort, with a "refocus" on routing out extremists, the Pentagon's top policy official said today.
"In Afghanistan, this administration is committed to refocusing our operations to achieve a very clear and core goal. And that is disrupting, dismantling and defeating al-Qaida and its extremist allies and ensuring that Afghanistan does not return to being a safe haven for terrorists," Michele Flournoy, the undersecretary of defense for policy said at the Brookings Institution here.
During the unveiling of the policy review, Obama said the future of Afghanistan is "inextricably" linked to the future of Pakistan, as al-Qaida and other extremists have moved freely across the two countries' shared border since 9/11, planning attacks and training.
Speaking today at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building here, the president called the border region "the most dangerous place in the world" for the American people, but added that the issue is "an international security challenge of the highest order."
"The safety of people around the world is at stake," he said, noting that terrorist attacks in London, Bali, Islamabad and Algeria over the past two decades were all tied to al-Qaida elements and safe havens in Pakistan.
The administration's plan hopes to grow the Afghan army from 82,000 to 134,000 as well as increase the size of the police to 82,000 by 2011, which could occur as the United States and NATO work to turn over security responsibilities to Afghan national forces.
Administration and defense officials have stressed that increases in troops and military resources must be accompanied by civilian efforts, too, including State Department personnel and the U.S. Agency for International Development as well as their NATO and international counterparts.