Joint Chiefs head: ‘Enablers’ needed in troop-scarce Afghanistan

Adm. Mike Mullen is pushing to get more planes and helicopters there to make up for the lack of troops.

Robert Frazier
Adm. Mike Mullen spoke Sept. 26 at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast.

The Pentagon’s top officer is pushing to get more helicopters, remote control aircraft, and other “enablers” to Afghanistan to make up for what remains a shortage of American troops there.

It is the Pentagon’s latest focus as the Bush administration, in its remaining months in office, conducts a top-to-bottom review of its approach to the insurgencies in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Despite all the attention, the US will not be able to send substantial numbers of troops or make large changes to its strategy there until a new president is seated.

In the meantime, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is pushing to move as many additional resources to Afghanistan as possible, including remote-controlled airplanes to gather intelligence, helicopters to move troops faster, and intelligence specialists – all things the military calls “enablers” – to stretch limited resources.

“We’re going to push as many enablers there as we possibly can as rapidly as we possibly can,” he told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Monitor in Washington Thursday.

Some resources can come from Iraq, where the security situation remains much improved. “We can reapportion,” Mullen said.

Gen. David McKiernan, the top commander in Afghanistan, has asked for as many as 15,000 additional troops. He also asked for more remote-controlled airplanes and helicopters.

Mullen said he did not have a “specific list” of what he hoped could be sent soon, but that top leaders are focused on sending whatever they can. There are now 33,000 American troops in Afghanistan, as well as about 30,000 NATO troops there. The US has about 150,000 troops in Iraq.

The US is at a crossroads for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the same time it elects a new president during a war for the first time since Vietnam. Top commanders have also been surprised by the degree of violence, even in the American-led eastern sector of Afghanistan, which had been a model of success as recently as this spring.

The strategy review now under way includes not only the Pentagon, but also US Central Command in Tampa, Fla., which will soon be led by Gen. David Petraeus, a counterinsurgency expert and the former US top commander in Iraq.

The US will not be able to “kill our way to victory in Afghanistan or Pakistan,” and the ultimate strategy must be one for the long term, Mullen said. US strategy in Afghanistan must be “inextricably linked” to one for Pakistan, whose border region is used by Al Qaeda and other groups to stage attacks into Afghanistan, Mullen said.

“My whole focus is how to get this right and how to get this right for the foreseeable future.”

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