By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
July 25, 2010 - The U.S. mission in Afghanistan has not changed, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said at a news conference at the Government Media Information Center here.
"We are still going to dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and its extremist allies, and prevent Afghanistan from ever becoming a haven for them again," the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
The goal of international partners is a secure and stable Afghanistan, Mullen said, a country that can defend itself, provide for itself and its citizens, and contribute to the economic betterment of the region.
The strategy calls for a broad and deliberate counterinsurgency campaign to protect the Afghan people. "Again, none of this has changed with the arrival of (Army) Gen. (David) Petraeus," he said.
Mullen is visiting Afghanistan where he met with troopers of the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team at Jalalabad and Forward Operating Base Joyce. He then moved to Kabul where he spoke to Petraeus at the International Security Assistance Force headquarters and with the U.S. embassy staff. "We are in fact making slow, but steady progress toward our goals," the admiral said.
Counterinsurgency is a complicated fight. "There are ups and downs, setbacks and steps forward, but I am ... more optimistic than I've been in the past," he said.
The Helmand campaign is making progress. Afghan national security forces are making contributions and building capabilities in the province, Mullen said. Governance is lagging, but improving, he said, adding that Helmand may have been the most important Taliban base in Afghanistan, and they are fighting back.
The Kandahar campaign is growing in size and scope as additional U.S., coalition and Afghan forces flow in. Special operations forces are conducting missions to kill, capture or drive off Taliban leaders and their al-Qaida allies. Afghan and U.S. military police have established checkpoints through the city, and additional U.S. and Afghan brigades are partnering outside the city to expand security.
"The enemy is clearly feeling the pressure and lashing out," the admiral said.
Recent fighting has caused civilian casualties. "In the last two weeks, the Taliban have murdered 45 people countrywide, and wounded another 100 or so," Mullen said. "In that same period, four innocent civilians were killed in the course of Afghan and ISAF operations, and another four or five wounded."
ISAF and Afghan forces want to reduce civilian casualties to nothing. "The enemy cannot say, and most certainly will not strive for, the same result," he said.
Security is a prerequisite for progress in Afghanistan, Mullen said, enabling the government to put in place programs and to build projects that benefit all Afghans.
Mullen again explained that the July 2011 date for U.S. troops to begin withdrawal from Afghanistan does not mean the United States won't continue to support the region. He repeated the message he delivered in Pakistan the day before: U.S. forces will leave only "as fast and as far as conditions on the ground permit. No one is looking for the door out of Afghanistan or out of the region."