By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, July 31, 2011 – The security aspect of operations in Afghanistan is going well, and now governance and development must catch up, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told reporters traveling with him that corruption is also a problem that good governance needs to address.
The chairman visited leaders and service members in Kandahar, Helmand province and Tarin Khowt yesterday. In all three areas, commanders told him that they have a handle on security issues, but they are not as confident on the governance side. However, there are encouraging signs, he said.
“I did see for the first time in both Helmand and Tarin Khowt the indications of the connections between provincial governance and district governance and the national government in Kabul,” the chairman said. “There is still a huge concern about connecting the provincial governance to Kabul.”
Local commanders also raised the issue of corruption. As security gets better, concerns about corruption are rising. These leaders were talking about criminal patronage networks in Afghanistan “and how they are woven into the fabric of how things get governed, the loyalties between people, how decisions get made and how that gets in the way of support for the normal Afghan citizen who is concerned about their government not delivering goods and services,” he said.
The chairman noted that connecting the local provincial and district governments with Kabul is key in the country.
“It’s the governance, corruption, development pieces – literally how do you get the money to flow, get good people in place, get the structure in place so they align between Kabul and the provinces,” Mullen said.
On the security side, the Afghan national security forces are making great progress, commanders told Mullen. The Afghan army and police are making a difference in numbers and in quality, he said. Commanders are also pleased with the capabilities that Afghan local police bring to the area.
Mullen discussed U.S. drawdown with new NATO International Security Force Commander Marine Gen. John Allen. He said Allen will present his plan for the draw down of 10,000 U.S. troops by the end of the year in October.
“I’m very confident that the needs on the ground as well as the deadlines and the goals that have been laid out by the president will be met,” he said.
The Taliban have not been able to mount a big military campaign in Afghanistan, the chairman said, which has led to a series of assassinations and spectacular attacks in the country. The coalition counterinsurgency campaign is on track, he said, pointing out that “it is still very much a part of what we have to do.
“The feedback I got publicly and privately was that (the counterinsurgency strategy) was working, particularly in security,” he said. “The security bubble, as it gets created, just provides opportunity for development and for governance and for getting at the corruption piece. That’s the point where we are in the overall strategy. Right now, I think it’s working and headed in the right direction.”
Mullen pointed out that there is time for the strategy to succeed, and people are working hard to meet their deadlines.
“Everybody understands where we are from a goal standpoint and what we need to achieve and by when,” he said. “And actually … that’s created a sense of urgency.”
Overall, Mullen said Afghanistan is making progress.
“I certainly understand this is year 10 in a war, but from a resource, leadership focus point of view it’s been only about two years,” he said. “I use the 10,000 Marines that came into Helmand in mid-summer 2009 as the first time we started properly resourcing this effort. From that standpoint, I’m pleased with the progress. I said at the time I think we need 24 months to see if this approach has legs. From a security standpoint it does.”
Mullen reiterated that, as the coalition and Afghan forces work to meet their deadlines, he is heartened by the progress in the security and military arenas while acknowledging that more progress must be made in governance and the struggle against corruption.
“The clock is running. Between what happening with security and the stand-up of the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces), I’m actually encouraged from the steps we’ve taken and what the military is responsible for,” he said. “The other steps of governance and development are areas of huge concern.”