AFP – September 11, 2008
US Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen has warned time was running out to defeat an intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan and said he was "not convinced we're winning" in the country.
Perimeter of US base in Helmand
Mullen, the top military advisor to US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said he has commissioned "a new, more comprehensive military strategy for the region that covers both sides of that border" between Afghanistan and Pakistan, an area the United States says is being used as an insurgent safe haven.
He called the recent decision by US President George W. Bush to send 4,500 troops from Iraq to Afghanistan "a good and important start" even though it fell short of commanders' requests for three more brigades or about 10,000 troops.
"Frankly, I judge the risk of not sending them too great a risk to ignore," he said at a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee.
"I'm not convinced we're winning it in Afghanistan. I am convinced we can," he said.
Without a broader international and intra-governmental approach, he said, "no amount of troops in no amount of time can ever achieve all the objectives we seek in Afghanistan."
"And frankly, we're running out of time," Mullen said.
At the same briefing, Defense Secretary Gates said Bush's decision to draw down only 8,000 of the 146,000 troops from Iraq by February, and shift about half that number to Afghanistan "represents not only the right direction but the right course of action."
"I believe we have now entered that end game (in Iraq) and our decisions today and in the months ahead will be critical to regional stability and our national security interests for the years to come," he told lawmakers.
Gates acknowledged the rising insurgent challenge in Afghanistan, but he warned that risks of reversals remain in Iraq despite progress on the security front.
He worried that the gains made have "the potential of overriding a measure of caution borne of uncertainty."
"The planned reductions are an acceptable risk today that also provide for unforeseen circumstances in the future," Gates said.
"The reductions also preserve a broad range of options for the next commander-in-chief who will make his own assessment after taking office in January," he said.
"As we proceed deeper into the end game, I would urge our leaders to implement strategies that while steadily reducing our presence in Iraq also take into account the advice of our commanders," he said.
Gates added, however, that the United States should expect to stay involved in Iraq for "years to come, although in changing and increasingly limited ways."
Gates and Mullen said insecurity and violence will persist in Afghanistan until the insurgency is deprived of safe havens in Pakistan.
"We can hunt down and kill extremists as they cross over the border from Pakistan," Mullen said. "But until we work more closely with the Pakistani government to eliminate safe havens from which they operate, the enemy will only keep coming."
Gates, however, suggested that the United States wanted to avoid confrontation with Islamabad.
"During this time of political turmoil in Pakistan, it is especially critical that we maintain a strong and positive relationship with the government, since any deterioration would be a setback for both Pakistan and Afghanistan," he said.
In Afghanistan, Gates said, "persistent and increasing violence resulting from an organized insurgency is, of course, our greatest concern."
Bush decided to send a Marine battalion and an army combat brigade to Afghanistan "in response to resurgent extremism and violence reflecting greater ambition, sophistication and coordination," he said.
Mullen said US military leaders initially disagreed on the best course of action, but ultimately compromised and arrived at a consensus in favor of modest troop cuts in Iraq and a smaller boost in forces in Afghanistan.
"That said, General McKiernan has asked for three more brigades, and it's going to be a while before we get them there," Mullen said, referring to General David McKiernan, the top US commander in Afghanistan.
Last updated 16/09/2008