LONDON (AFP) – The man named by President Barack Obama to be the top US military officer said Wednesday that American forces must adapt to an uncertain world after the Arab Spring and the death of Osama bin Laden.
In his first public comments since Obama unveiled him as his formal pick for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey also admitted that progress at a national level in Afghanistan was proving difficult.
“The killing of Osama bin Laden was a great moment in terms of taking the leadership of Al-Qaeda and creating difficulties for that organisation,” Dempsey told the Royal United Services Institute defence think-tank in London.
But Dempsey underscored the idea that Al-Qaeda was in some ways a “leaderless” organisation that might regenerate in unexpected ways after US commandos killed bin Laden in Pakistan a month ago.
“I don’t know that we have yet come to understand what his particular demise might mean for the future,” he said.
Dempsey told an audience of defence chiefs from countries including Britain, the United States, China and Brazil that the US military needs to adapt better to “viral” events like this year’s revolutions in the Middle East.
“Here I think our imaginations are just beginning to touch the edges of what it might mean,” he said, adding that so far “maybe we have not used our imaginations to the extent that we might use them.”
He added: “What brought down Mubarak was Facebook and social networking, a leaderless organisation that rose up and we call the Arab Spring. So things can happen much more quickly than in the past.
“So in the context of a viral world we are trying to build an army that meets requirements.”
Dempsey said that in Iraq there had been “vindication” for US efforts to hand over security to local forces, but in Afghanistan the “challenge has been and continues to be different.”
“There has been enormous progress made at the tactical level but the progress has been harder to link together with progress at the national level” in Afghanistan, he said.
US forces are due to begin pulling out of Afghanistan next month with a full handover from NATO to Afghan forces due at the end of 2014.
Dempsey, 59, who is the current chief of army staff, will replace Admiral Mike Mullen if he is confirmed by a Senate hearing.