Gates and Mullen Brief on AfghanistanFebruary 22, 2010 - 5:44 PM | by: Justin Fishel
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen spoke to reporters Monday for the first time since the operation in Marjah, Afghanistan got underway just over a week ago.
The press conference was held one day the after NATO forces conducted an air strike that mistakenly killed, according to Afghan officials, over 20 innocent civilians. The incident is under investigation and according to a military press release NATO commander, General Stanley McChrystal, spoke with President Karzai to express his “sorrow and regret”. McChrystal has has curbed the use of air power and said repeatedly that the new strategy for this war is to protect the lives of Afghan civilians.
Meanwhile, in Washington Admiral Mullen acknowledged difficulties in the Marjah operation, saying progress has been “slower than anticipated.” “In some places, the enemy fights harder than expected”, Mullen explained. “The IEDs he has planted along the roads and at intersections, though crude, are still deadly.”
Like McChrystal, Gates was apologetic about the loss of civilian life over the weekend, but with one caveat. “The thing to remember is that we’re at war”, an impassioned Gates told Pentagon reporters. “It is also a fact that the Taliban mingle with civilians. They use them for cover, which obviously complicates any decision process by a commander on the ground… I’m not defending it at all; I’m just saying that these kinds of things, in many respects, are inherent in a war. It’s what makes war so ugly.”
Gates pointed out that casualties had come on both sides. “We had a very tough weekend. There were I think nine American soldiers and Marines killed in this operation, another two outside of Kandahar.”
Mullen said that in the short term people tend to focus on the failures of war and that success will take more time. “If we’ve learned nothing else these past eight years, it is that failure makes itself plainly clear, but success takes longer to see. We will see success in Marjah, but we must be patient.”