21 December 2008

Mullen Stresses Need for Regional Strategy in Central Asia

The overarching strategy for success in Afghanistan must be regional in focus and include not just Afghanistan, but also Pakistan and India, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Dec. 20th.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told a news conference here that leaders in all three countries must figure a way to decrease tensions among them. The chairman is visiting here for meetings with Afghan and U.S. leaders.

The regional strategy here is aimed at addressing long-term problems that increase instability in the region.

The Pakistani and Indian civilian leadership has done significant work to decrease tensions over Kashmir. "In that reduction of tensions, there was an outcome that allowed the Pakistani leadership ... to focus on the west (border with Afghanistan) where they hadn't in the past," Mullen said.

The terror attack in Mumbai increased tension between the two nuclear-armed countries, he said. "In the near term, that might force the Pak leadership to lose interest in the west," Mullen said.

Mullen noted the immediate impact of the attacks, in which "10 terrorists, well-trained, could hold 15 million people hostage for 72 hours and bring two countries with nuclear weapons closer to conflict.

"Thinking about what that means for the future and terrorism and how we're prepared for that is something we're going to have to work our way through," he said. "I don't have all the answers there."

The Mumbai terrorists used a haven in Pakistan to train for the attack. "It was a tactical operation that could have huge strategic effects and it could bring two countries to the brink of nuclear war," Mullen said. "That is something we all need to be mindful of."

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan are an open sore in the fight against terrorism. The area – along the mountainous border with Afghanistan – provides havens for al-Qaida and other terror groups, Mullen said. "We need to keep pressure on them or we can't succeed (in Afghanistan)," he said.

The chairman gave credit to the Pakistani military and the new Pakistani civilian officials for operations they've conducted in recent months. He praised the effort in Baijur, Pakistan, that has put pressure on the terrorists on that side of the border. The Pakistani operations in conjunction with coalition and Afghans operations inside Afghanistan have disrupted insurgents significantly, he said.

"We're not where we need to be," the chairman said. "We need to be coordinated and synchronized on both sides of that border.

"But the Pakistani military has been committed to that and has done that in recent months. It has had a positive impact against the insurgents across that border."

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
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