Mullen tours forward outposts in Afghanistan
U.S. Navy Admiral, Mike Mullen toured forward outposts in Afghanistan and emphasized the need for for "enablers" (engineers, civil affairs, military intelligence, helicopters, military police, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets) to support units.
Commanders have had to make hard decisions between Iraq and Afghanistan to get enablers into the country, but they are starting to flow, the chairman said. Some of the units were set to deploy to Iraq, but have been switched to Afghanistan.
The military has to change institutionally to meet this demand, Mullen said. "One of the discussions in Washington right now is the fiscal 2010 budget," he said. "The big decision in that is to focus on these enablers." Army and Marine Corps leaders have increased the capacity, and though it takes time to train and equip the units, they must do it as quickly as possible, he added.
Part of the purpose of the chairman's trip is to meet with the men and women who are on the leading edge of the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan. "I'm very encouraged with what I see here," Mullen said. "Just the discussions we've had about development and the local people who are feeling more supported than they did a few months ago."
Mullen emphasized that the Afghan people are the center of gravity in the struggle. "What I'm most heartened by is that our people understand that," he said. "Everything I've heard since I've been here today is focused on the Afghan people, and that's the right answer."
Mullen cited progress here in Paktia province, noting road development that contributes to commerce. But he acknowledged the strategy in Afghanistan will take time to work.
"I'm hard-pressed to say whether this is going to take [a specific amount of] time," he said. "I think we need to make a lot of progress in many areas in the next couple of years."
What happens this year and next will give planners a much better idea of how long the campaign will take, the chairman said.
Mullen said he's noticed "significant improvement" since a visit to Afghanistan last summer. "But I can't measure that and say we'll be here three years or four years or five years," he said. "I don't know the answer to that."
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