By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 15, 2011 – The situation in Afghanistan continues to improve, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said on the “Charlie Rose” TV interview show last night.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen discussed a full range of defense issues with Rose, and Afghanistan was the hottest item on the agenda.
“Over the course of the arrival of these forces that President [Barack] Obama put in last year, we’ve seen security change for the better dramatically in the south [of Afghanistan] in particular,” the chairman said.
The improvement in security is because of the surge in coalition forces to the region, but also due to the growth in capabilities and numbers of Afghan security forces.
The security gains have been followed by economic and governance gains. Markets are open in Helmand province and the Afghan government is building infrastructure projects in Kandahar city.
“There’s still a long way to go,” Mullen acknowledged. “But actually, from a strategy standpoint, it really appears to have worked as we had hoped it would up to this point.”
No one can discuss Afghanistan without discussing Pakistan, the chairman said. “I spent, as you know, a lot of time in Pakistan. Many, many people are worried, including myself, about the trends in Pakistan, the increase in terrorist activity inside Pakistan, the challenge certainly that we have of late with the relationship.”
The Pakistani government is dealing with the fact that the No. 1 terrorist in the world was hiding on its soil. Mullen and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were the first high-ranking U.S. delegation to visit Pakistan after a U.S. Navy SEAL team killed al-Qaida chieftain Osama bin Laden.
“We met with the full spectrum of their military and civilian leadership. And while the meeting that we had was often reported as very tense, it was a very direct, very frank, very open meeting,” Mullen said. “I think it was recognition on both sides that it was at a really serious critical point post the bin Laden raid. We tried to be as frank as we could with what we saw as our ‘asks.’ They did as well on both the political and military side.”
U.S. and Pakistani officials are going to have to rebuild trust in light of the raid, Mullen said. He said he and Pakistani army chief of staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani are committed to this relationship.
“We’re going through a very difficult time right now, and we have to figure out how we’re going to see a future together,” the chairman said. The United States and Pakistan, he added, are committed to building their relationship.
The chairman said he is worried about Yemen and Iran. Yemen has the potential to be a failed state, he said, and that might allow extremist groups to find haven there. Al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula is based in Yemen and could become a power in the country.
“They’re very dangerous,” Mullen said of the al-Qaida group in Yemen. “They seek international terror, seek and support executing the kinds of operations that have been stopped.”
The situation in Yemen is of concern, he added.
“It’s another country that by and large is being overtaken, I think, by the internal requirements of its people,” he said. “We support that, but we can’t ignore the threat that’s there from the terrorist standpoint.”
Iran is still developing nuclear weapons and is looking to proliferate the technology. “They’re trying to take advantage of the Arab Spring in their own way,” Mullen said of the Iranian government. “And I think that’s very dangerous for the region.”