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Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen: US Is Committed to South/Central Asia for the Long Term

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central_south_asiaJoint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told chiefs of defense from central and south Asia that the U.S.  is “in this for the long haul.”  He reiterated Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ reassurances that the United States has “no designs on the region.”

Admiral Mullen also acknowledged the common threat of terrorism to the US and the region, emphasizing the importance of working together to confront it in the face of increasing collaboration among terrorists.  Secretary Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have referred to terrorist collaboration as a “terror syndicate” threatening stability in the region.  “That requires us to be much more harmonious,” Mullen told the defense ministers from countries in the region, acknowledging that the United States hasn’t always given the region the attention it is now clearly due.

Mullen noted the new “population-centric” approach to the Afghan conflict, and its emphasis on preventing civilian casualties as well as showing respect for Afghans’ property during military operations.  He said, “We believe the population is the center of gravity.”  The new strategy also recognizes that long-term success in the region requires infrastructure spending, economic development and competent governance. “We have all said this isn’t just about the military,” Mullen told the defense chiefs.

Mullen warned that violence is likely to increase before additional US forces are able, alongside Afghan security forces, to hold ground now claimed by extremists. “We think this year is going to be a difficult year as we add these forces,” he said, but expressed hope that the military-to-military relationships being forged in the region will contribute to the area’s long-term stability.  “Having that foundation will be very powerful for the future,” he said.

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