By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 5, 2013 – The chief of U.S. Central Command discussed progress in Afghanistan and the upcoming transition there and also outlined budget challenges triggered by sequestration during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee today.
“Our mission is succeeding,” said Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis. “The Afghan campaign is on track. It is, obviously, a combination of progress and violence, but I would say when it comes down to the [Afghan] security forces, they are proving themselves capable.
“Obviously, when we were looking at the drawdown numbers, there was a certain amount of forecasting that the Afghan forces would be capable,” Mattis added.
The general cited a casualty statistic to demonstrate Afghan forces have successfully transitioned to leading security in most of the country.
Since January 1, four U.S. troops have been lost in action, Mattis said, and in the same period, Afghan security forces have had 198 killed.
“There can no longer be any doubt,” he said. “It’s not an opinion, it’s now a fact -- the Afghans are doing the bulk of the fighting. And they’re doing it with our support.”
With 352,000 Afghans serving in their security forces, the Afghans are improving daily and their end strength will not be reduced as previously proposed by NATO.
“We’re seeing that these lads are willing to take it to the enemy,” Mattis said. “I think the Taliban have very little reason for comfort right now.
“They are getting better each day,” he continued, “and with 87 percent of the country now under their lead, and them proving themselves in combat … I support it.”
The current NATO mission in Afghanistan ends in December of next year. Although post 2014 troop levels have yet to be finalized, Mattis said he has recommended that 13,600 U.S troops remain in the country.
Discussing the Centcom region in general, Mattis noted there remains a “significant risk” to U.S. interests.
“Specifically, [there is] a perceived lack of an enduring U.S. commitment,” he said. “To counter this misperception, we must clearly communicate our intent and demonstrate our support through tangible actions.”
Mattis said the transition in Afghanistan has been “steady and deliberate.”
The United States is among 50 nations fighting together in the country as part of the largest coalition in modern history, the general said.
“[We are] providing continued support of the Afghan security forces as they set conditions for their long-term success,” he said.
Mattis said he will also need continued support from the Senate committee for military-to-military engagements, security cooperation efforts, military exercise programs, and information operations.
This includes, he said, innovative and flexible authorities, and the necessary funds to continue doing what is required to protect U.S. national security interests.
“As our nation confronts a period of fiscal austerity, our ability to adapt our ways and means to continue to meet our operational objectives is impacted by three key factors,” Mattis said.
“Right now, I do not have any budget certainty. Second, my need for time to adapt to reduced budgets and take the cuts smartly.”
Mattis said his third request is for flexibility to determine where to shift available funds in a manner that reduces risk and is consistent with the intent of Congress.
“And, of course, much of that flexibility must be granted to the service chiefs,” he said.
Asked what he thought would assist in meeting these factors, Mattis called for an appropriations bill that would replace the continuing resolution currently in place.
“I believe that if we got some degree of budget certainty through an appropriations bill that provides us as much as the continuing resolution does … we can make some wise choices,” he said.
“And the flexibilities you’re talking about for the service chiefs would be critical to those choices, obviously, consistent with congressional intent,” Mattis said. “We need that.”
“With your support and with the continued devotion to duty of our troops and the commitment of our military families, we will stand by our friends to maintain a measure of regional stability in defense of our values and our interests,” Mattis said.