Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that U.S.-led forces are “not going to be able to kill our way to victory in Pakistan and Afghanistan” and a new strategy is needed to suppress a resurgent Taliban movement before it’s too late.
Violence has increased markedly since 2006 and “the trends are going in the wrong direction unless we take significant steps,” Adm. Mullen told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Adm. Mullen spoke as the Bush administration finalized a new National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan, expected to be released after the U.S. elections.
An intelligence officer, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic, said the estimate would confirm the pessimism of some U.S. officials over the situation in Afghanistan.
“It´s been very tough fighting this year” and “it will be tougher next year,” Adm. Mullen said.
The challenges, he said, require a new counterinsurgency approach that focuses on increased security, economic growth, political stability and the ability to “convince” the Afghan people that the U.S.-led NATO effort is “not an occupation,” the admiral said.
He said the U.S. and its allies must also develop strategies for targeting and eradicating poppy fields.
Opium production has increased, allowing militants to buy weapons and pay new recruits to fight foreign and Afghan forces - a significant enticement in a nation with few other jobs available.
Visiting Budapest on Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates also called on NATO allies to target the growing power of Taliban drug lords.
Afghanistan supplies more than 90 percent of the world’s heroin. The country produced 8,200 tons of opium last year, 34 percent more than in 2006, according to a recent report by Afghan and U.N. drug officials.
Gen. David McKiernan, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, said during a recent trip to Washington that hitting the militants’ estimated $100 million-a-year heroin industry is necessary to counter the growing insurgency.
For many Afghan families, poverty is coupled with a lack of security in a country “where even our own government is filled with corruption and people struggle to put food on the table for their children,” said Fazalyl, deputy editor of the Khost newspaper Wolas Hila, which means “Hopeful Nation.” Fighting has intensified in Khost Province over the past several months.
Taliban militants in eastern Afghanistan, particularly the areas bordering Pakistan’s tribal area of Waziristan, have been recruiting with the promise of “security for their families, $250 to $500 a month and transportation” as long as they are willing to fight against the coalition, said a defense official in Afghanistan, who asked not to be named due to the nature of his work.
“The Taliban used to mainly tax the farmers and drug lords to transport the narcotics,” the official added. “Now they’ve taken control of the fields, reaping a 100 percent profit off the sale and then killing U.S. and coalition soldiers with the weapons purchased from the dope.”