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American Forces Press Service

Mullen Urges Closer Ties With Central, South Asia

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2010 – The U.S. commitment to Central and South Asia is long-term and enduring, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told chiefs of defense from the region today.

Mullen underscored at the Central and South Asia Chiefs of Defense Conference the message that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates delivered last week during his visit to India and Pakistan.

“We are in this for the long haul,” the chairman said, emphasizing that the United States has “no designs on the region” or interest in occupying another country.

The chairman, like Gates, recognized terrorism as the common threat to the United States and the Central-South Asia region, and emphasized the importance of working together to confront it.

Terrorist groups have become much more collaborative in their operations, he said, recognizing what Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton increasingly refer to as a “terror syndicate” threatening the region.

“That requires us to be much more harmonious,” Mullen told the defense ministers, acknowledging that the United States hasn’t always focused on the region as much as it now recognizes it must.

He noted major strides in that direction since last year’s conference, the second U.S. Central Command has sponsored in as many years. There’s a renewed level of energy and commitment toward Afghanistan, Pakistan and the broader region by the United States, by NATO, by regional neighbors and within Afghanistan itself, he said.

Mullen expressed confidence in President Barack Obama’s new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan, and in the leadership being demonstrated by Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top commander on the ground, in carrying it out.

Particularly important to its success, Mullen said, is that it’s “population-centric” and emphasizes preventing civilian casualties as well as showing respect for Afghans’ property during military operations. “This is a hugely positive change, from my perspective,” he said. “We believe the population is the center of gravity.”

The new strategy also recognizes that long-term success in Afghanistan goes beyond security, to include development, economic opportunity and good governance. “We have all said this isn’t just about the military,” Mullen told the defense chiefs.

Additional U.S. forces are moving into Afghanistan to support the strategy, with the rest of the 30,000 troops to follow as quickly as possible, he said. They’ll serve as security forces, but also as trainers needed to boost capability within Afghanistan’s national security forces, he told the chiefs.

Mullen warned that violence is likely to increase before these forces, working alongside Afghan security forces, are able to help clear and hold ground now claimed by extremists. “We think this year is going to be a difficult year as we add these forces,” he said.

Mullen welcomed the conference as an opportunity for regional countries’ military members to build relationships, exchange views and foster regional-military-to-military cooperation so they can better face up to current and long-term challenges together.
He expressed hope that these military-to-military relationships can expand throughout the ranks, particularly for tomorrow’s military leaders at the mid-grade officer and noncommissioned officer levels.

“Having that foundation will be very powerful for the future,” he said.

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