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American Forces Press Service

Dempsey: Partnerships Essential to Defense Strategy

By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 10, 2012 – The Defense Department depends on its relationships with partner nations, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said here today.

"Simply stated, we need them to make our strategy work," the chairman said during a speech at a National Press Club luncheon.

In the first year of his chairmanship, he's met 57 of his counterparts and traveled to 22 foreign countries, Dempsey said, all in an effort to build stronger ties around the world.

"We need partners who can bring to bear capability and credibility," he said.

Relationships often are hard, the chairman acknowledged, sometimes seeming as if they're more trouble than they're worth. But one-on-one communication is essential to ensuring messages are received accurately, he added. "When we get together in large groups, I think we take the risk of talking past each other," Dempsey said.

On every trip he has taken to Afghanistan, he has learned more than the last time he was there, the general said. He has conducted face-to-face discussions with Afghan and coalition leaders on each of his six trips to the country, he said, but more importantly, he gets a sense of how service members feel about the mission.

"I listen to their insights and then I thank them for their service on the front line," he said.

Attacks on coalition personnel by members of the Afghan security forces or insurgents wearing Afghan uniforms are designed to cause a rift between coalition and Afghan partners, and though the threat remains as officials address it, the so-called “insider attacks” must not deter the mission of preparing Afghan forces to take full security responsibility for their country, Dempsey said.

"The Taliban get what we're doing," he said. "They know that the bond between the Afghan security forces and our forces will ultimately be what causes them to be defeated."

Effectively partnering with the Afghans will require coalition troops to live and work with them, Dempsey said. The coalition can't be discouraged or dissuaded from its objectives by the threat of insider attacks, he said.

The insider threat is not jeopardizing U.S. objectives in Afghanistan, the chairman added, noting that it's possible for violence and progress to coexist. "We must keep our eye on that threat, … but our commitment to the relationship and to the objectives is strong," he said.

The Defense Department will determine troop levels for post-2014 Afghanistan early next year, Dempsey said. The struggle, he explained, is to find a balance between several sometimes conflicting needs: the requirements of agreements partner nations made at the last two NATO summits, maintaining a counterterrorism presence, enabling other agencies to continue their missions and continuing to train and advise the Afghan military.

"We'll take what we have there now, which is about 68,000 U.S. [personnel] and about [30,000 to 34,000] coalition partners, and we'll establish a glide slope to get from where we are to where we're going to be," Dempsey said. "The important point is that … our objectives remain both sound and achievable."

In addition to the Afghan relationship, Dempsey said, he's spent the last year working with his counterparts in Latin America and South America, particularly Brazil and Colombia. He's also been focused on the Asia-Pacific region, he said, reinforcing the basics of the U.S. strategy for the region at the “Shangri-La Dialogue” Asia security summit in Singapore in June: "More attention, more engagement and more quality."

"As you can tell, I'm working hard on my friends list," he said.

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