Categorized | News

Akaka questions Panetta, Mullen on U.S. strategy


U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka questioned Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen during an Armed Services Committee hearing on U.S. strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Akaka questioned the military leaders on increasing accountability for billions of dollars provided to the Afghanistan government since 2002, efforts to train the Afghan National Army and eliminate IED attacks on U.S. and coalition forces, and overall challenges facing the U.S. military going forward.

An unofficial transcript from the hearing is copied below:

AKAKA: I want to say good morning and, Admiral, welcome to our witnesses this morning. Adm. Mullen, and please give my love to Deborah as well. I join my colleagues in thanking you and your family for the many years of outstanding service to our country. And to my classmate*, Secretary Panetta, I want to say hello to you, too, and to Sylvia and wish you well in your responsibilities. I want to thank all men and women in uniform as well as their families of all of their sacrifices. As you both know, we face difficult decisions regarding our future in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the one thing that is not in doubt is the fact that our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines continue to serve with honor and distinction, and we are proud of them. Secretary Panetta, the special inspector general for Afghanistan released an audit showing that efforts to track the billions of dollars in aid provided to Afghanistan since 2002 has been hampered by numerous factors. As we look to the future, what are some of the adjustments that are being made to increase accountability of how these dollars are being spent?

PANETTA: Senator, one of my concerns is that I think we have to be able to audit the books of the Defense Department. And while this is done now in each of the areas, we don’t have an overall auditability for the Defense Department. The effort right now, I think, is on track for something like 2017 in order to complete that process. I think that’s too long. I think we’ve got to be able to be auditable. We’ve got to be accountable to the American people about how these dollars are being spent. And so for that reason I’ve basically urged all of the people in our budget shop to do everything necessary to try to speed that process up so that we can track these dollars and make certain that the taxpayers are getting the best bang for the buck.

AKAKA: Thank you. Secretary Panetta, last quarter, ISAF rated three additional units within Afghan National Army that are capable of operating independently. As we continue to transition regions of Afghanistan back to host nation control, what is the state of the remaining units that are attempting to achieve this high rating level?

PANETTA: Senator, and I’ll yield to Adm. Mullen who has worked directly with this issue, but my understanding now is that the number of units that have that capability has gone up dramatically. What I’ve seen, both in the trips I’ve taken there and listening to General Allen, is that there are more and more units that are operational, that are able to go into battle, that are able to conduct the kind of operations that have to be conducted in order to defeat the Taliban. So we are seeing — it’s taken a while. It’s taken a lot of training. It’s taken a lot of work. But what we are seeing are units that are increasingly capable of engaging in battle. And if we’re going to be able to make this transition, we’ve got to make sure that all of their units have that capability.

MULLEN: I’d just say, Senator Akaka, that over 70 percent of the police units are rated at the top, in the top three proficiency levels. Ninety percent of the overall ANSF units are partnered with ISAF and the ANSF lead occurs in about 60 percent of our operations. Now that is just a far cry from where we were 12 or 18 months ago. So the trend, as the secretary says, the trends are all in the right direction. I don’t want to overstate this. There’s an awful lot of hard work that’s left. But in this area, in particular, it has been extremely successful over the course of the last year and a half. And we look for that to continue and we see nothing that gets in the way of them continuing to take the lead, become more proficient so that they can have the lead throughout the country by the end of 2014.

AKAKA: Thank you. Admiral Mullen, the Joint IED Defeat organization was created in 2006, to reduce or eliminate the effects of all forms of improvised explosive devices used against the U.S. and coalition forces. What is your overall assessment of how the organization is achieving its three-part mission to attack the network and defeat the device, and train the force?

MULLEN: I think the Joint IED Force organization has been an enormous success. I’m not unaware of the amount of investment that it’s taken. What strikes me is when it was stood up and heavily focused, although not exclusively, on Iraq, it had an enormous impact across all three of those mission sets. First of all, it’s been led by — it is currently being led by somebody who’s been in the fight. And as we shifted the main effort to Afghanistan, the ID threat is still extremely difficult. And yet the enemy is shifting more and more to the spectacular attacks on the one hand and to a very heavy focus on IED implants. And it’s a different kind of IED set. And we’ve needed this organization, I think, to be in touch with the fight and to be able to respond as rapidly as we can. And, actually, I appreciate the efforts on the part of many here in the Senate, Senator Casey leading the effort to continue to put pressure on the ammonium nitrate piece in Pakistan so that we can cut that down as rapidly as possible. There is a view that we should integrate this into our overall organization. I’m not there yet. I think we need to wait until it’s much more obvious that we fully integrate the Joint IED organization, because oftentimes, in our big bureaucracy, that can bring an outfit to parade rest or elimination. And it’s too vital for our overall fight to do that at this time.

AKAKA: Thank you. Admiral Mullen, you are an outstanding leader and have served your country with honor over the last four decades. In your view, aside from budgetary issue, what do you see as the biggest challenge facing our military in the future?

MULLEN: Well, I think when people ask me about the future, as we look in the discussions that we’re hearing right now, I think if we are able to retain the right people, take care of our families, reset this force, we’re the most combat experienced force in our history. And that we not hollow it out. It may be best summarized by we may be the biggest threat to ourselves if we don’t get this right. But if we keep the people right – and that doesn’t mean keep all the people – if we are able to ensure that this best force I’ve ever seen in my life stays whole, at whatever size, and is supported, then I think we can address whatever threats are out there and provide the military capabilities and provide for the vital national interests. So it may be that in the budget world we have, our care has to be so precise that we don’t break this force, break faith with our people. If we get that right, I think we’ll be OK for the future.

AKAKA: Well, thank you very much, Admiral Mullen, and thank you for your service. And my best to you and your family in the future.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: