Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mullen: Coalition Maintains Momentum in Kandahar

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, July 29, 2011 – Despite the spikes of violence here coalition and Afghan security forces are keeping the initiative, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday.

Mullen, who arrived here today to meet with coalition leaders, U.S. troops and their civilian counterparts, spoke to reporters traveling with him.

Kandahar has seen a number of spectacular attacks recently. Ahmed Wali Karzai -- the half-brother of the Afghan President Hamid Karzai and an important political force in the region, was assassinated last month. Kandahar’s police chief also was assassinated last month, and yesterday the Taliban claimed responsibility for murdering the city’s mayor.

These types of horrific attacks aimed at individuals were expected, Mullen said, noting that former International Security Assistance Force commander Army Gen. David H. Petraeus predicted the Taliban would launch these attacks. Petraeus’ successor, Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen “has reaffirmed that there are going to be these kinds of spikes -- in particular these spectacular assassinations,” Mullen said.

“There are some who believe that this is really all they can do,” he added, “given the challenges the Taliban has faced over the last couple of seasons, including this one.”

Coalition and Afghan leaders are not surprised that the Taliban are launching these attacks, and they are working to protect local Afghan leaders and to go after the cells that plan and launch these attacks, the chairman said.

Mullen said he does not know what effect these spectacular assassinations are having on provincial and district leaders, and he will speak with Afghan leaders to make his own assessment.

Last month, Afghan forces began taking over security responsibility for seven areas of the country, covering roughly 25 percent of the population. This includes the security lead for the capital region of Kabul.

Mullen said he’ll reassure Afghans of the U.S. commitment to their country. Though coalition and Afghan forces have wrested the momentum from the Taliban and their terrorist allies, he noted, the attacks and the first phase of the U.S. drawdown in the country has made many people nervous.

The chairman said he will stress “the many successes we’ve enjoyed over the Taliban in the past year, [and] reassure them that continues to be the case.”

President Barack Obama announced that the United States will withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, and another 23,000 by September 2012. The chairman said he wants to make the point to Afghans that a substantial number of American forces will remain in country. “There will still be 68,000 [American] troops in Afghanistan, and a significant number of coalition troops,” he said.

Allen will determine the drawdown methods, Mullen said, adding that he is confident the drawdown will meet the president’s goal and deadline.

“There will also be a significant buildup of [Afghan security forces] over the course of the next year,” he said. “So I’m sure there will be enough forces to reassure the Afghan people.”

Today, roughly 295,000 personnel serve in the Afghan army and police, building to 305,600 personnel this year. The goal is to have a force of 352,000 -- 195,000 in the army and 157,000 in the police -- by Oct. 31, 2012.

The chairman brought a troupe of USO entertainers with him on this trip.

“This is the time of year I normally go, and one of the reasons I go in the summer is it is brutally hot,” he said. “It lets me see the conditions our young men and women serve in.”

This year, Comedy Central satirist Jon Stewart, basketball legend Karl Malone and magician David Blaine will meet with troops.

“More than anything else, it brings a little bit of America halfway around the world, and puts a smile on their faces,” the chairman said. “It reminds them that we appreciate it, and that a lot of people at home care about what they are doing.”

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