Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, would be heading to Pakistan and Afghanistan to make it clear that America’s strategy in the region would not change, a day after President Barack Obama nominated General David Petraeus as his new war commander in Afghanistan.
“My message will be clear. Nothing changes about our strategy. Nothing changes about the mission. Nothing changes about the resources we are dedicating, or the commitment we are making to defeat al-Qaeda and its extremist allies in the region,” Mr. Mullen told reporters yesterday at a Pentagon news conference.
“I travel tonight to Afghanistan and then on to Pakistan. I will meet with military and civilian leaders in both countries and spend a little time with our troops,” Mullen said at the news briefing which was also addressed by Secretary of Defence Robert Gates.
“We cannot lose the momentum we have, together with our partners, allies and friends, worked so hard to achieve,” he added.
U.S. troops and coalition partners are making extraordinary sacrifices in the fight against al-Qaeda and its extremist allies, Mr. Gates said.
“Our singular focus must be on succeeding in this mission without distraction or division. I’m confident we will be able to achieve this goal in Afghanistan under the command of General David Petraeus, who the President is nominating to become the new ISAF commander,” he said.
The Defence Secretary said General Petraeus has already established himself as one of the great battle captains in American military history.
His (Petraeus’) judgement, intellect and proven record of success as a theatre commander in Iraq make him the right choice to lead the military coalition in Afghanistan, Mr. Gates argued.
“This mission is, of course, an international effort. We continue to value the contributions and views of our NATO allies and partners. And they support the appointment of General Petraeus,” he said.
None, including adversaries, friends and troops, should interpret the personnel change as the slackening of the U.S.’ commitment to the Afghan mission, Gates said, adding it remained committed to the mission and the comprehensive civil—military strategy ordered by the President.
Mr. Mullen said the U.S. has made progress in Marja.
“It hasn’t been unopposed. We recognise that. But there are things going on in Marja that weren’t going on several months ago with markets open, schools open, actually local leaders coming out,” he said, but was quick to add that this does not mean the Taliban is not intimidating.
“This is classic counterinsurgency. We haven’t put off the operation in Kandahar. And in fact, there are shaping operations there. It’s an enormously complex operation. We understand that. We need to make sure we get the forces there to execute that,” Mr. Mullen said.
Mr. Gates said the progress in Afghanistan is slower than anticipated. “I believe we are making some progress. It is slower and harder than we anticipated. I think we are moving forward. The Kandahar campaign has, in fact, been under way for several weeks,” he said.