Press Briefing with Admiral Mullen

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - December 10, 2009

                ADM. MULLEN:  Good afternoon, everyone.  I have just a few opening remarks and then I'll -- I look forward to getting to your questions.  Much of the focus these past two weeks has been rightly on the details of the president's strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan and about the process that led him to his final decisions. 


                Gen. McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry, as you know, have been here all week testifying in congress to those decisions and to their views on the state of the insurgency in Afghanistan.  Indeed, they were on Capitol Hill just this morning before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.   


                As I testified myself last week, I not only support the president's decisions, I support the manner in which they were derived.  More critically, it's my belief and that of our commanders  that this extended surge of 30,000 U.S. troops coupled with additional contributions from our NATO allies gives Gen. McChrystal all the forces he needs in 2010 to reverse the momentum of a growing and increasingly lethal insurgency. 


                Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to visit with some of the troops who will shortly be deployed to Afghanistan to fight that insurgency.  I thank them and their families for their service but I also urge them to think carefully about how they will accomplish the mission they have been assigned.   


                The debate is over.  The decision has been made.  It is time to execute.  That must be our focus now, our only focus, and it is.  Less than 72 hours after the president's speech, engineers, combat infantry and civil affairs experts were ordered to Afghanistan.  A battalion's worth of Marines will arrive next week, spending their holidays in Helmand Province, reinforcing the troops already there. 


                We're also accelerating deployment plans for the rest of the extended surge forces and I'm confident we'll be able to get the bulk of these troops to Afghanistan by midsummer, with the remainder arriving in the fall. 


                This is faster, even, than General McChrystal's original intent. And though it will be difficult, I'm confident joint staff and theater planners as well as those of the four services will rise to the task. We're all on the balls of our feet, leaning forward.  Several hundred new MRAPs are already in Afghanistan with dozens more on the way, rapidly being interlifted wherever and whenever possible. 


                Tens of thousands of tons of construction materials, winter gear and other supplies are also in the pipeline.  Indeed, hundreds of combat engineers and seabees are right now working hard to expand air heads  and forward-operating bases to accept the incoming material and forces.  But no one is underestimating the scope of the challenge here.   


                As I told the troops Monday in Fort Campbell and Camp Lejeune, Afghanistan is not Iraq.  We don't have, for that country, a major logistics hub akin to the one we have Kuwait. 


                We don't have in Afghanistan anywhere near the number of runways or rail hubs or road networks that exist in Iraq, and we don't have, quite frankly, the same ground to cover.  As one soldier told me on the first visit to Afghanistan back in 2007, the terrain itself is an enemy. 


                That said, one of the real hallmarks of the American military throughout our history has been the willingness and the capacity to literally move mountains when required.  It is required today, and I expect we will do just that.  And I really want to give credit to those in the logistics and operational planning business who have already given so much of their talent and their time to make it happen. 


                With that, I am happy to take your questions.  Ann (sp)? 


                Q     I'm going to get right into the waves.  The 400,000 goal for training the Afghan security forces, we heard a variety of things about that over the last 10 days or so.  Do you still consider it to be a commitment, a goal, something less, and how did the change --  


                ADM. MULLEN:  I wouldn't say that it's anything more than an aspirational goal.  It's very clear that this is one of the two most critical parts of the overall strategy.  There is considerable risk associated with the development of the Afghan security forces, both their army and the police.  They're very focused now on achieving the goal for 2010, which is about 134,000 in the Afghan army and I think it's about 109 or 110,000 for the Afghan police, from a baseline of mid-90,000 for both those two forces. 


                We know that we have to in fact decrease attrition, increase retention and increase recruiting.  In fact, I saw a report this morning that with the initiative to raise the salary of the Afghan security forces from about $180 U.S. per month to about $240 U.S. per month, that a significant number of additional recruits showed up, and that's a good sign.  And part of what we have to do is incentivize these aspects of it, the attrition piece, the retention piece as well as the recruiting piece. 

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