American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2010 - After years of fighting the war in Afghanistan without enough NATO or U.S. forces, new agreements reached at the NATO Summit this weekend have brought unity to the multinational effort in that nation, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.
Appearing this morning on CNN's "State of the Union" and ABC's "This Week," Navy Adm. Mike Mullen discussed progress in Afghanistan and other national security issues.
"As we have changed the strategy, focused and gotten the resources right over the course of the last year, this is the first time we really are where we need to be in terms of executing a comprehensive strategy," Mullen said.
As the summit ended yesterday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a declaration of "enduring partnership," and representatives of 48 nations that contribute to the U.N.-mandated International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan issued a declaration affirming their resolve to lay foundations there for long-term security.
Mullen said he was encouraged by the declarations in Lisbon, Portugal, where NATO and the 48 contributing nations all affirmed 2014 as the deadline for turning security responsibilities over to Afghan security forces.
"I would describe it much like what we just went through in Iraq, where clearly they have the lead for their own security," Mullen said. "We are there in some capacity in a training, advising and assist mode, which we would expect to be for some time. But in terms of combat operations, they would have the lead."
NATO also affirmed the transition would start in the spring, the chairman said, and will be based on conditions on the ground as well as on "district by district" recommendations from Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan.
"We've laid out a plan, we think it's a good target, and [we have] an expectation that it will be achieved," Mullen said.
With more than 650 coalition troops, including 451 Americans, killed in Afghanistan so far this year, Mullen said this period has been particularly difficult because of the influx of many more troops to the war zone.
"I would expect next year to be a very difficult year as well," the chairman said. "That said, the security situation has started to change, it has started to get better. We have sacrificed greatly -- tragic losses, far too many always -- but we've also succeeded in starting to reverse the momentum ... in some significant places.
"It isn't irreversible and it's still fragile," he added. "That's really where we are right now in this fight."
Mullen said he doesn't expect "any great strategic shift" to come from the review due out in December on progress in Afghanistan.
The review, he said, is "focusing on having gotten all the inputs right, how are we doing in implementation. And it's starting to move in the right direction."
In response to questions about the importance of having the U.S. Senate ratify the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty before the end of the year, Mullen noted that the lack of a treaty would endanger national security and threaten the important new relationship developing between the United States and Russia.
"There's no better example than this weekend, when [Russian] President [Dmitry] Medvedev was in Lisbon with all of NATO and supportive of a missile-defense capability in the future," the chairman said. "A year or two ago that just would not have been possible.
"The Russians have supported us in Afghanistan -- allowed us to transport some of our most significant equipment [through their territory]," he continued. "They've also helped in other ways that wouldn't be widely known. The relationship is maturing very specifically, and it's one that's helped us in Iran. There's an awful lot tied into the improvement of this relationship."
The new START also promotes transparency, predictability and understanding between two nations whose arsenals comprise more than 90 percent of the nuclear weapons in the world, he said.
Mullen also addressed a pending report about how the Defense Department should respond to a repeal of the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law associated with whether gays and lesbians should be able to serve openly in the U.S. military services. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced today that the report would be released to Congress and the public Nov. 30.
Many U.S. military allies, including military services in England, Canada, France, Australia and Israel, allow gays to serve openly, and Mullen said that information would be part of the final report.
Mullen said he personally supports the repeal "because [the practice] belies us as an institution. We value integrity and asking individuals to come in and lie about who they are today goes counter to who we are as an institution."