By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
June 16, 2010 - Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban, is the key to success in Afghanistan and the U.S. military is working with Afghan forces to turn the tide against the insurgents, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the defense subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee today.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates testified on the fiscal 2011 Defense Budget request.
Mullen told the senators that Kandahar, the second-largest city in Afghanistan, is the birthplace of the Taliban. Taliban chieftain Mullah Omar ruled Afghanistan from a palace in Kandahar. Today, the insurgents train, equip, plan attacks and intimidate Kandahar's citizens.
"Just the other day, in a village not far away, these people lynched a small boy of seven claiming he was a spy for the coalition," Mullen said.
Holding territory means little in a counterinsurgency fight, "but it is from Kandahar that the Taliban attempt to control the hearts and minds of the Afghan people," he said. "It is my belief that should they go unchallenged there and in the surrounding areas, they will feel equally unchallenged elsewhere.
"As goes Kandahar, so goes Afghanistan," he said.
Afghan and coalition efforts to counter the Taliban in the region have been underway for several months, Mullen said. Shaping operations in the form of kinetic strikes against Taliban targets and their facilities, and holding shuras – meetings – with tribal elders and others of influence in the area, are equal parts of the campaign.
The next step in the campaign is to improve security in the region. "With Afghans in the lead, we will bolster a police presence at security outposts and checkpoints around the city," Mullen said. "We will establish freedom of movement along the ring road and build a bypass south of Kandahar. And we will better control access to the city itself along its main arteries."
This will be tough -- as American, coalition and Afghan casualties attest, Mullen said. "But all of it will depend heavily on the continued growth and development of competent and well-led Afghan National Security Forces, as well as tangible and achievable political outcomes," the chairman said.
Protecting the people of Kandahar from the depredations of the Taliban is not a military objective. "It is a social, political and economic objective for which other agencies and other nations are needed and through which Afghan leadership will be vital," Mullen said.
The chairman said he is comfortable with the progress that has been achieved in Afghanistan, and with the sequence of the operations as they move forward. "I am also mindful of the need to monitor our progress continually to stay flexible and to adjust accordingly," he said.
Mullen also discussed the proper balance of forces and resources in the defense establishment between fighting today's wars and preparing for the threats of the future. "Winning our current wars means investment in this hard-won irregular warfare expertise, a core competency that should be institutionalized and supported in coming years," he said. "But we still face traditional threats from regional powers who possess robust regular, and in some cases nuclear, capabilities and so we must also maintain conventional advantages."
The American military needs sufficient strike aircraft and munitions capable of assuring air superiority. Afloat, it means having enough ships and sailors to stay engaged globally and keep the sea lanes open. On the ground, it means accelerating the modernization of U.S. combat brigades and regiments.
"On the whole, it means never having to fight a fair fight," the chairman said. "Again, it's about balance, about deterring and winning the big and the small wars, the conventional and the unconventional – two challenges, one military."
Mullen saluted the U.S. military's performance over nearly a decade of war, noting many servicemembers have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Our men and women are, without question, and almost inexplicably, the most resilient and battle-ready force in our history," he said. "We are turning away potential recruits, so good is our retention and so attractive are our career opportunities."
However, the strain on the force has taken a toll, Mullen acknowledged, noting the military has experienced "an alarming rise in suicides, marital problems, prescription drug addictions and mental health problems within our ranks."
To combat these issues the Pentagon has asked for budget increases for family support and advocacy programs to include counseling, military spouse employment and care for wounded, ill and injured members, the chairman said.
"This budget builds upon the superb support you and the department have provided our troops and their families," Mullen said.
The department, he said, also wants to dramatically increase the number of mental-health professionals on staff and advance research in traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress – the signature wounds of the current wars.
"We know the strain of frequent deployments causes many problems, but we don't know yet fully, nor understand fully, how or to what extent," Mullen said.