Goals in Afghanistan Remain the Same, Dempsey Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 17, 2012 - While recent incidents have challenged U.S. operations in Afghanistan, the long-term objectives there remain the same, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey told Charlie Rose.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff appeared on the PBS interview show last night. He said the U.S. military is committed to conducting an investigation into the March 11 alleged murder of Afghan civilians by an American staff sergeant in Kandahar province.

Dempsey put the recent incidents in perspective. "We also have to be aware of the fact that we've had possibly 800,000 to 900,000 young men and women rotate through Afghanistan and they've served honorably, they've done the right thing, they've maintained their senses of discipline," he said.

The alleged murders, the Quran burning incident last month and images of dead bodies being desecrated all have converged, the chairman said. "We have to be introspective and learn what the past 10 years of war have done to us as a profession," he said. "In terms of whether these incidents have hurt the war effort, our goals and objectives remain the same."

NATO leaders agreed at the 2010 Lisbon summit to maintain security in Afghanistan and train Afghan forces to transition to the lead in their own security by 2014. Afghan government officials also agreed to these goals and objectives, Dempsey said.

"I think Afghan leaders understand that, but their outrage at a particular instance is understandable," he said.

"It should be clear that no one wants to put Afghans in the lead more than we do -- when they are ready to be in the lead," Dempsey said. "That's the conversation we've been having."

There are a number of areas where Afghan national security forces – the army and police – are in the lead. By next year that will increase dramatically, the general said.

Already, Afghan forces are responsible for protecting more than half of Afghan citizens. In 2013, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force will transition more areas to Afghan control. He said there will be "a milestone of sorts" next year.

Dempsey made a recent trip to Afghanistan and came away with the impression that the Afghans want to lead and want to assume responsibility. "I think that when given the opportunity to lead ... -– there are capability gaps -– but when given the opportunity to do so, they actually do better than we think they will and, importantly, they perform better than they think they can," he said.

Afghanistan is a very poor country with many disparate groups, which complicates efforts in the area, but the United States and its allies are helping build a sense of nationhood there, he said.

Pakistan is another wild card in the hand in Central Asia, and while Dempsey believes the state is more stable, it still faces challenges that terror groups, such as the Haqqani network, exploit. The November incident where NATO forces killed Pakistani soldiers on the border still colors relations between the United States and Pakistan and Pakistan leaders closed a NATO supply route.

The United States has quietly worked with Pakistani leaders to mend relations. "I think the best thing we've done is we've not conducted our engagement with them with a megaphone," he said. "We've communicated with them directly. We've communicated with them privately. We're back in close contact with them along the border. We have been in conversations about our mil-to-mil relationship, about our foreign military sales, about some of the common challenges of terrorism."

The Pakistani legislature is discussing what the new relationship with the United States might be. "I'm personally optimistic that we can reset the relationship in a way that meets both of our needs," the chairman said.

Still, the Pakistani military lacks the capability needed to end terror groups using the country as a safe haven. The Pakistanis may have the will to do something, but not the means. "I believe they will do the best they can, but it may not be enough for us," he said.

Dempsey used the Haqqani network as an example. He said the network has been in place for 20 years and is "intertwined" into the society of western Pakistan. It also received significant assistance from the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence organization. "I think they're intermarried," he said.

All this makes it difficult for his Pakistani counterpart, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, to deliver. Still the general said he believes Kayani will do everything he can against these terror groups.

Pakistan continues to have a bleak economic picture, a growing population and a policy that still regards India as the nation's existential threat, the chairman said.

Afghanistan was the country where al-Qaida planned the attack on the United States that killed 3,000 people. There has been significant progress against the terror group, Dempsey said, and while it still is a factor, its influence has waned and many of its leaders are dead or in captivity.

But the movement al-Qaida represents is still a danger on the Arabian peninsula, in Africa and elsewhere, Dempsey said. "We think those organizations have an ability because it is the 21st century and they can network have the ability to pass information, pass goals and objectives, and even exchange money, ideology, and people," he said.

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