By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 18, 2009 - Results, not talk, are what's important in Afghanistan now, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today while en route to Iraq after visiting Afghanistan. Mullen spoke to reporters traveling with him soon after leaving Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan. He had spent two days meeting with American soldiers and Marines and with local Afghan leaders.
The admiral met with five Afghan leaders at Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar City, a meeting hosted by a Canadian provincial reconstruction team. He said what impressed him most about the meeting was the vehemence with which Afghan leaders told him they want to take control of their own destiny.
The Afghan leaders also emphasized that something has to be done about corruption in the country, Mullen said. "I was impressed with the strength of conviction that corruption is out of control and people are fed up with it," he said.
The bottom line, Mullen said, is that the Afghan people want results.
"We've got to stop talking, and we've got to start delivering – all of us," Mullen said. "I will work as hard as I can in generating results – that's what the Afghan people need to see."
The overall message from the meeting with Afghan leaders was that everything the United States, NATO and the Afghan government have planned is possible, the chairman said. "They are anxious to be consulted and be part of the solution," he added.
The chairman met with soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry, at Forward Operating Base Fontenac. "They were pretty upbeat," Mullen said. "I found morale pretty good, and I pulse that as hard as I can, and so do my people. This has been a battalion that has taken the most casualties in such a short time since 9/11."
Morale overall was very good, the chairman said. The battle space in Regional Command East and Regional Command South is very different. The fights are against different terrorist groups. In Regional Command East, the Haqqani network is the big enemy. In Regional Command South, the Taliban are the foe in greatest abundance.
But going to both places, Mullen said, helped to put things in perspective for him. He needs to see what's happening on the ground to ensure that the policy and advice he gives in Washington make sense on the battlefields of Afghanistan, he said.
In Regional Command South, the admiral visited Marines in Nawa and walked – without "battle rattle" – through the marketplace town. "To go into Nawa was very helpful to me," he said. "To go to Nawa and see the art of the possible – I mean the turnaround was amazing. The governor was ecstatic. At the same time, we're not done there, and we know it."
Marja – a region west of Kandahar – remains a Taliban hotbed. "It's been very clear for weeks now for the need to clear out Marja, and that's going to happen," Mullen said. "It's going to happen at a time and place of our choosing, but it's going to happen."
He compared the reception in Nawa with that he received walking through Mata Khan in Regional Command East.
"The Afghans I met in RC-East were very cautious. They avoided looks, [and] those that did wouldn't say 'Hi,'" he said. "The kids in Nawa – they were like kids all over the world. When they see Americans, they are all over us, just very upbeat. The kids where we were in RC-East were very, very cautious. They came in very, very closed, and that was very descriptive to me."
And yet a lot of progress has taken place in the overall Regional Command East battle space, he said. One innovation the command has is a seamless civilian chain of command aligned with Combined Joint Task Force 82.
"There is a lead civilian, and every civilian in the region reports up the chain to her," he said. "They are very optimistic so far, but I'm going to let results speak."
The change in strategy is being translated on the ground, Mullen said. He visited with a platoon that has been in Regional Command East since March. The soldiers told him that they have shifted the mission since they first came and said their mission today "is more focused and better and more appropriate than the kinetic mission they were doing before," Mullen said.
The response to the strategy change was positive wherever he went. "No one said to me, anywhere, that this isn't possible," the chairman said. "I was also struck that they all understood their guidance pretty clearly."