By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
July 26, 2010 - "We have left [Afghanistan] before," Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said to Kandahar community leaders here today. "It didn't work." The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff met with the four men at the Canadian-American camp in the city. It was the second time the chairman had met with the men. He held a similar shura, or meeting, with them last year.
The meeting gave the chairman an opportunity to hear from Afghans about what they believe are the problems confronting them. Mullen told the Afghans that he was pleased to meet with them again, and urged them to be candid with him.
And they were. "Do you bring security, or do you bring violence?" asked one of the Afghan leaders through a translator. The Afghans told Mullen they are concerned that Kandahar will become a battlefield, and that this should be avoided. All men spoke with the understanding that their identities will be protected, lest the Taliban retaliate against them or their families.
The Afghans told the admiral that not enough development money is reaching average Afghans, and that men are working for the Taliban as a way to feed their families.
And they want concrete steps taken. "The first thing is that nothing has changed," said one of the community leaders via a translator. The men had complaints about security, about the mayor and provincial leaders. The Afghans also told Mullen that they were worried about kidnappings and terrorist attacks from Pakistan.
"We hear that you are leaving," one of the elders said to Mullen. "Who will help us then?"
The chairman assured the men that the United States is not leaving Afghanistan. Mullen was referring to the end of the Soviet era in Afghanistan, when he'd told the Afghan men at the meeting that the United States had left Afghanistan before and the result was 3,000 American dead in the wake of terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and the thwarted attack that ended in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001.
"The operations piece is to focus on security," Mullen told the Afghan men. This, he explained, will allow civilian agencies – both international and Afghan – to focus on bringing good governance to Kandahar, the second-largest city in Afghanistan. The coalition and Afghan forces, he added, must "reduce the malign presence" the Taliban, crime families and narco-traffickers impose.
The military option in Kandahar City is limited, Mullen said.
"We are not going to be able to kill our way to success," the chairman said.
Creating jobs is a key to ridding Kandahar of the Taliban, Mullen said. He agreed with one of the elders that if they could produce 20 jobs for every 10 jobs lost, the Taliban would be gone.
Mullen also told the Afghan leaders that much progress has been made against the Taliban.
"We have learned and adjusted," the admiral said. "The next seven to nine months will be absolutely critical."
Mullen left the shura and travelled in a mine-resistant, ambush-protected Cougar vehicle to visit an Afghan police station. Some of the streets he travelled through were filled with trash and derelict buildings. Others were clean and the shops filled with produce, electronic gear and storefront car and motorcycle repair shops.
The convoy crossed a canal where some Afghan children were swimming. Some of the children waved to the convoy. Others threw rocks.
At the station, Mullen praised the Afghan police for their dedication and their willingness to step forward to defend their nation and the Afghan people.