Background Briefing on Section 1230 Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, Pentagon Briefing Room
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
CDR Bill Speaks: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the next iteration of our background briefings on the section 1230 report, which has gone to the Hill this morning. Our two briefers are [briefer name deleted], who you all know well, and [briefer name deleted] from the State Department.
[Briefer name deleted] will be a senior defense official, and [briefer name deleted] will be a senior State Department official for the purposes of this briefing, which is on background. The two presenters have just a few comments to kick off with, and then we’ll get to your questions. I’ll call on you. Please identify yourself and who you’re with, and try to limit your follow-ups so everyone gets a chance to ask a question.
With that, [briefer name deleted], I’ll turn it over to you.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay. You wonder why we’re so busy. That’s because this is literally hot off the press. It has only been printed in the last couple of hours, and so it was a just-in-time delivery. So as was just said, it was delivered to Congress this morning. It was delivered in a quicker — even before — a pre-print version and the actual print version just came out now. Maybe that’s why there’s been no press stories yet, even though we gave it to Congress this morning. That’s off the record, I think, isn’t it — that comment?
I — I do know a number of you, but not every single one of you, so again, I appreciate it if people introduce themselves when they ask questions. Those of you who’ve been at this before know that recently what I have been doing is taken to bring a whole copy — a whole set of all the prior 1230 reports. I want to stress that this is a legislatively mandated report that, if you look at it over time, if you look at our 1230 reports over the last three to four years, you will see both our evaluation of what we’ve done and our description of the resources we put in place, and what has happened on the ground.
We work very hard to be — to be very accurate to portray both successes and problems, challenges, areas where things have gone well. We describe areas where they could — where we continue to see problems we also work to describe. The purpose of the report is to give a credible report to Congress on where we are.
Now, again, this report, I’ll stress to everybody, that in the past, this is a retrospective. The reporting period ended at the end of October. So, since the — for the last four — four plus weeks, those areas are not included in the report, and each report covers — covers six months.
Let me just give you a couple of the highlights, and I hope all of you have had a chance to look at it. You got your copies before I did, as you just saw. So, hopefully you’ve had a chance to look at it. But one of the key takeaways from — that I would stress, are that the populated areas are more secure, that particularly in the most populous areas, security has achieved — security has improved more than elsewhere in Afghanistan.
That, even while the insurgency aimed to take back territory during this past fighting season — during the six months that this report covered, they were not able to do so; that in — that was a clear goal of the campaign — that they pushed forward. And, in fact, the insurgency has continued to lose territory.
Territory we’ve taken, we’ve held — and obviously we, I mean, us, the Afghans, our coalition of partners — but, most importantly is the way the Afghan Security Forces continue to take the lead. And, not only is the Afghan army and the Afghan police increasing in size, and they’ve met the goal of recruiting the soldiers that they need to have — they still have to put them through training, and actually deploy them, something that will take some period of time after this.
But, they’re the ones who are carrying out the operations in Afghanistan. They’re the ones who are leading the operations, are often carrying them out independently. Some of these operations are fairly large, in the thousands, couple of times in the 10,000 plus range. And, of course, as we’ve highlighted in the last several reports, the — our focus is shifting very heavily towards developing quality.
A number of you are very familiar with, but I’ll just repeat quickly, the progress in international support for Afghanistan, both the NATO summit in Chicago, and the Tokyo Assistance Meeting in July where opportunities that were seized by the international community, I think, to surprise, in many cases itself, the extent and depth and the willingness to put both monetary and other commitments on — on the table for support of Afghanistan, both now and after 2014. And, I would particularly say — mention after 2014.
For the United States bilaterally, our strategic partnership agreement, which President Obama and President Karzai signed in May during this reporting period, of course, was the signal event, and that has laid the basis for the discussions which we referenced briefly in the report, but are taking place now. [Briefer name deleted] is the one who you all know is in charge of that.
But, the strategic partnership, the Tokyo Meeting, the Chicago meeting really sent a signal, not just to people in Afghanistan, but to Taliban, to Pakistan, and to others in the area of this — of a commitment on the international to Afghanistan beyond 2014.
Particularly, on the United States’ side, cooperation with Pakistan has improved during this reporting period. Pakistan agreed to re-open the ground-lines of communication, which were closed in November of last year. The Pakistan — and meetings, both bilaterally between ISAF forces, and Pakistani military forces, and trilaterally with Afghan military forces as well.
Increased — there was a growing number of complimentary operations, which in the last reporting had virtually ceased.
And there remain, however, problems, particularly the issue of cross-border shelling, which is politically volatile in Afghanistan. And it’s a situation where both sides do, in self-defense, fire across — fire across the border.
In — concomitant with the move to greater — to greater lead by the Afghan security forces and reduced combat role, the ISAF role is shifting to security force assistance. That’s not just a shift in what we do, it’s also a shift in how we do it. So the security force assistance battalions that are — that are being deployed by the United States and by other countries are shifting both the size and the character of what the international military presence is doing in Afghanistan.
Those of you who’ve been to Afghanistan in the last couple of months, the reporting period, say September and October, will — will notice that there’s a huge difference in the number of operations that are being done by the — by U.S. forces and as well as by our allies — as well as by our allies.
That’s been reflected in reduced casualties. U.S. and coalition casualties continue to go down, well below 30 percent of — below a year ago, which is what you’d expect when we’re doing less fighting. Afghan casualties are up — up in absolute numerical terms, not up by 30 percent, but their numbers have always been greater than ours. Overall, levels of violence continue to go down, according to our measures.
And with that, I will look forward to your questions, but first ask [briefer name deleted] if he would like to say a few words.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Hi, everyone. The reason that I’m sitting beside you is that our policy on Afghanistan is much broader than the 1230 report itself, as you’re — as you’re aware. I would just mention to you the really five strands of our policy, or the five lines of effort, as it’s been called.
The first strand is strengthening the Afghan National Security Forces. And that’s well-covered in — in this report. We want the ANSF to be able to stand on its own, and we’ll be working intensively between now and transition at the end of 2014.
The second strand is the transition itself. At the present time, 75 percent of Afghanistan is under the control of the Afghan national security forces, with the ANSF in the lead. And again, you’ll see some details on that in the 1230 report.
The third strand is the peace process. We want to see Afghans talking to Afghans, and we want there to be a lasting peace.
The fourth strand is the region, where we are making significant — taking significant steps to try to bring about regional peace and stability. And I refer you back during this reporting period to the international conference at Tokyo and the framework that was set up, and in particular the excellent work that’s being done in the region on the new Silk Road Initiative.
And the last strand and the one I’d like to highlight for you is — is partnership. Last May, we were very we were able to conclude strategic partnership agreement with the government of Afghanistan that provides the framework for ongoing cooperation. What you’re seeing is we’re building on that strategic framework.
Part of that is — is the effort that I’m leading to conclude a — a bilateral security agreement. But, what you’ll see is an enduring relationship that looks at partnering in many areas. That would be rule of law, governance, the economy, as well as security. And, I think in the coming months, you’ll be hearing more about that partnership.
With that — with that I’ll conclude my comments, and I look forward to any questions you might have.
Q: Lita Baldor with AP.
[Briefer name deleted], two quick sort of factual checks. You mentioned October — you said most of the data’s through the end of September?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The reporting period ended in September, the report is — we had the month of October to write to report, then I — thank you very much for pointing that out. I misspoke.
Q: And, then one other quick question, and then a broader question.
In here — I notice that there’s a comment about Pakistan, that there’s still ongoing, or wrapping up negotiations to allow equipment to leave Pakistan.
Has not been happening at all? Is that — or, has that agreement, between the reporting time and now, been finished? Or — I’m just a little bit confused by that comment.
And, then the broader one, just on overall security. We’ve asked this probably at every one of these about the progress of the Afghan Security Forces. According to this, still just one brigade is operating independently with advisers. And, I’m just wondering, looking forward, it’s been very slow, and very incremental progress in sort of the independent operation of a lot of the Afghan units.
Can you just talk a little bit about — are we at a point where we’re going to start to see a bigger jump in this? I mean, has it just taken until now to get to this point? Or, over the next year obviously there’s going to have to be a significant improvement in the number of those that have to operate independently, so can you just talk about those…
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Let me talk about ‘independently’ a little bit, and I’ll get to the Pakistan question in a second.
You heard me earlier say, Afghan — the Afghans are in the lead, and carry out independently many of the operations. So, when — and that — and that measurement that we’re talking about, being operated independently, that means they have every — they have not just the — that their soldiers are capable, and that their leaders are capable, but they have the equipment, including the enablers, including the intelligence-collection ability, including the access to their own air force — air capability.
So, in terms of slow, I would actually disagree with you. I wouldn’t say it’s slow. I’d certainly say it’s been incremental. But, I think in terms of the fighting capability of the Afghan forces, the fact that they go out and carry out — carry out — independent operations at many levels, with some coalition support — sometimes that’s actual advisers with them, sometimes that’s fighting units with them, sometimes that’s intelligence, sometimes that’s air support either rotary wing or fixed wing air support — but, that’s the actual fighting, the actual operations on the ground, the actual patrolling is being done.
So, I wouldn’t — very careful to not confuse the term that we use, ‘independent operations.’
‘Independent operations’ means that they’re independent sort of from bottom through all the range of capabilities when you have a military. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t operate independently.
Many of the operations they carry out, we get fairly quick notification of and they often don’t rely on any assistance from us at all. So there are many, many operations that they carry out — the Afghan forces carry out without any assistance from us.
However, if they were to encounter a major problem and they would need in extremis support, we have that capability in the theater now. But not — we wouldn’t rate them independent without advisers until they — until they were at a very high level — so on that section.
On the Pakistan part, the Pakistanis agreed to resume the operation of the ground lines of communication in an agreement we signed in July. We began moving the containers that were already in the network. However, there had been a cessation for 10 months, and so we had to both re-contract with companies, re-contract with Pakistani companies, and move forward with — with — and to do that, we had to re-agree on a number of things we’d agreed on before with the Pakistanis.
And because of the fact that we’re shifting to bring things out of Afghanistan as well as in, we had to do a different kind of — different set of contracts. Right now, our logistics people are in the process of carrying out what we call ‘proof of principle’ shipments, where they’re putting the — they do the whole process, see how it worked, see where the problems were, and then if there are any problems, go back and address them.
So, the — the cargo that was already — that was held up back last November is moving. It’s not all finished moving. Some of it is still in the port of Karachi, still being moved out, because it had to be in some cases re-packaged, in some cases re-inspected. So that’s still moving.
And then this new stuff, this particular stuff we want to move out of Afghanistan, there are very small amounts that are actually moving, but the process — the logistics process is underway and is fully operational. We don’t need any additional agreements or anything with the Pakistanis, but it will take some time before it cranks all the way back up.
Q: Can I follow up? Elizabeth Bumiller, with the New York Times. Can I follow up on Lita’s question?
Well, then, by your measure, will — how many Afghan brigades will be able to operate independently by 2014 if they’re still — if they’d still need U.S. air support and enablers? I mean, will any — I don’t see how they’re — given the state of their air force and the state of their equipment, how they will operate independently at all by 2014?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: They already, as I said, operate — they carry out a lot of independent operations, including with their own air force. Their air force includes their Mi-17 force, their helicopters, which is what they — what they mainly use. So, certainly the objective is to have them in that — in the position where they are able to operate independently by 2014. We’re devoting a lot of effort to building up those enablers.
Is it going to be a challenge? I’d agree with you, yes, but — and will there continue to be a need for training and advising after 2014? Yes, that’s what NATO agreed on in Chicago and we’re going to have a continuing train, advise and assisting force after that. But the combat role is — already is more and more Afghan and will be — the objective is to have it be completely Afghan by 2014.
Q: Okay, just quick, on another topic, on the — on the levels of violence, the way you’ve been — military — the way you guys measure them, different levels of violence, and the enemy initiated attacks — I mean, if you look at the — the fine print in the back of the book here, basically violence is greater now in Afghanistan, by the military’s own measures, than it was before the surge if look at — if you look at ’09 compared to now.
So, how would you say the surge has been successful, given that statistic?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, I think I can go back to the first point I made, about populated areas. Yes there is — there is more violence in some areas, but there’s significantly less violence in the populated areas. And, we — if the — trying to think — good, we’re on the same page.
Violence — you’re — you’re right that violence is higher now, than it was in 2009, but it’s also on the way down. But, one of the — there’s a number of factors that contribute to that. One is the ability of the forces that are pushing the Taliban out to operate. And, while our forces have gone down — as you know, we’ve withdrawn 33,000 forces over the last — over the last year plus — the Afghan Security Forces have increased dramatically.
So, the Afghan Security Forces are operating in areas that they weren’t in 2009. So, in 2009 there — there were a number of areas, for example, in Kandahar province that we hadn’t gone into. We went into Helmand in early 2009, but the key areas in [Kandahar] — Arghandab, Panjwayi and Zhari — we just started going into later.
Now, those are some of the most — areas with the most enemy initiated attacks because of the Taliban heartland. The Afghan forces are there now. They weren’t there before. So, when the Taliban occupies an area — an important area, which they did prior to the surge, there is not a lot of violence because no one’s contesting it with them.
When — when we go in, our forces, the Afghan forces, coalition forces go in, obviously violence goes up, and while the Taliban are — are attacking back, violence stays high.
So, the point I — the point I would maybe try and sum it up by saying that the — even though the violence remains high, the fact it’s in the less populated area shows that it’s less effective violence, less effective in terms of altering the — the view of people in Afghanistan as to where the future lies, whether it lies with the Taliban or the government.
And, if you travel around any of the cities in Afghanistan, particularly, let’s say Kandahar city, now as opposed to 2009, it’s a completely different experience. Same thing with Lashkar Gah city, even Kabul violence is significantly down from 2009.
But, in areas such as Maiwand district in — again, Panjwayi, Zhari — violence is much — is much higher than it was in 2009. Although security in the population centers there, and the district centers is better for most people, and their economy is much more integrated now than it was in — in the period where the Taliban was in complete control of those areas.
Q: Gopal Ratnam, reporter with Bloomberg News. And, a question on the readiness of the Afghan forces, you know, both — last two questions are also on the same subject, but I wanted to see if you would talk about, what’s the goal for the next reporting period, which is from October to March, in terms of the number of Kandaks, or the battalions, that’ll be ready to operate on the first level, which is independent with advisers?
And, I have one more question on the Pakistan —
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, our goal is actually to have them do more and more independent operations. And, that’s the distinction I was drawing in response to Lita’s question on the ratings of the units. Our objective is to get those units to those goals by the end of 2014. And as was pointed out before, that’s going to be a big challenge. But it is our goal. We believe we’re going to get there. As we move there, the — the objective right now is to have them do more and more independent operations.
So for example, a year ago in R.C.-South in the Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul area, the majority of operations, I don’t have the exact figure, but well over 50 percent of the operations were ones where coalition forces took — played the major role. By August and September of this year, 80 percent of the operations were led by Afghan Security Forces, and a large number of those were independent operations. So, I think you probably highlighted an area of our reporting that we need to do a better job on, making that distinction between independent operations and being able to operate independently.
Q: Is there a specific number of battalions that will be classified in that number one category by the end of this next reporting period?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: My answer to you is, no. But what we do expect, and what we’re on pace for is for the Afghans to be carrying out more and more operations independently, more — carrying out more and more of the fighting with U.S. — with coalition/U.S. forces more in the — in the — in the support role. So, that you’ll see fewer and fewer out with the Afghans, and you’ll — the number of operations, which is already fairly small — their unilateral coalition forces will be — will be much less. And…
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: … and — I apologize, one last point. At the NATO ministerial last — in — or the NATO — sorry, the NATO Heads of State discussion in Chicago it was agreed that in — sometime within the middle of 2013, Afghanistan would be in the lead for security everywhere. And that was a goal that was set, and we think we’re very well on the way to that. So, if you’re looking for goals, and — that’s actually — would be in the summer of next year, that’s the next major goal. And we would look for Afghanistan to be the lead — Afghan Security Forces to be the lead throughout Afghanistan.
Q: Question on Pakistan. The report highlights the continuing threat of safe havens in Pakistan as being an effect on long term security in Afghanistan. What progress — what steps do you see being taken to address the safe haven issue in Pakistan now?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, first I would want to say that over the reporting period and after, in the last couple of months, we have — our relations with Pakistan have improved. I think there’s now a positive trend in the relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And particularly Pakistani leaders, both civilian and military, have said that they now see a stable and secure Afghanistan as the primary security interest of Pakistan. And while we in the report, describe what we see on the ground, I would say what we’ve heard from the Pakistani’s over the last several months is very promising. I don’t know if you want to comment?.
SENIOR STATE DEPT. OFFICIAL: Well, we’re very encouraged by the dialogue that’s taking place between Afghanistan and — and Pakistan. And an important and essential part of that dialogue is the cross border situation. So we hope that dialogue will continue. We hope and expect to see confidence building measures from both the Afghans, and the Pakistanis. And to the extent that we would — we can be helpful, we want to encourage that dialogue in the interest of peace and stability.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: At the same time, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that we think everything is working well, because the safe havens do continue to exist and we — as we describe in the report, this is still a problem.
In terms of the security side of things, our objective is to work with the Afghan forces to give them the capability to defend their own territory, including from attacks in the safe havens. That is going to be a big challenge, but we believe that it’s possible. And as we go through the fourth and fifth — fourth and fifth tranches of transition, as described in the report, that will be in those areas — those will be in those areas close to the Pakistani border where those attacks and lines of infiltration come from.
Q: Lalit Jha from Pajhwok News and Press Trust of India. How (inaudible) reducing corruption in governance is going to be a challenge for you people, as you run down to 2014? And secondly, there was a news report in India in a Hindu newspaper, according to which Afghan government has approached India for direct military assistance for them. Are you amenable to that and what — if yes, what is your response to it? Do you support that move?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, first on India, India has been very supportive of Afghanistan in a wide range of areas. And — and we think that’s been very positive. In terms of discussions between the Afghanistan — any country, whether it’s India or any other country — about assistance in the security area, both we and the Afghans have developed jointly a fairly aggressive plan that includes a broad range of support from the international community for developing capabilities that Afghanistan needs to defeat its number one security problem, which is the insurgency.
And we — we think it’s important for — to continue working — working on the lines of that agreed plan. We have had discussions with the Indians about this issue and about the Afghans, and I don’t see any particular problems with the overall approach here at all.
Sorry, — yeah — corruption in governance, as we mentioned in here, remains a continuing risk factor, focusing particularly on the issue of corruption in governance in leadership in the military. That’s an issue which both ministers of interior and defense — Minister Patang and Minister Mohammadi — are aware of.
They’re looking at doing — at taking some, I think, fairly aggressive steps. Our Under Secretary of Defense Jim Miller was just in Afghanistan last — on Saturday for our security consultative forum meeting with the two ministers. And they’ve described their plans for improving the performance of their ministries. But broadly speaking, it’s a risk factor, as we and others have pointed out, and — but in the military as well, it’s an area that needs progress.
That said, we have seen some progress, but there certainly needs to be a lot more.
Q: Thanks. Kristina Wong, Washington Times. You mentioned, [briefer name deleted], that the insurgents were not able to take back territory within the reporting period; they continue to lose territory. But the report also cites they will likely to regain lost ground and influence through assassination. Is this expected to be a new shift or just a continuation of what they’re doing? And how big of a problem will this be as we continue to draw down troops?
And [briefer name deleted], you know, with the State Department expected to cut staffing levels, how will we be able to address the limited institutional capacity of the Afghan government and the endemic government corruption there?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: On the security side, and then I’ll turn it over to [briefer name deleted]. On the security side, what we describe is the objectives of the Taliban, which is to re-take territory and use the tactics that we describe in there, in an effort to undermine the morale of the population and to help them — help them win back control of territory. Because in the end, that’s what it’s about when you’re trying to take over a country, the way the Taliban are. They’ve not been successful in that, and as we said earlier, we have pushed them out of areas. And them both we, and our Afghan colleagues have pushed them out of more areas over this last reporting period.
And right now, either — right now the Afghan government controls — controls, or is heavily contesting at least, in all the key areas. Certainly they control all the key metropolitan areas, urban areas in Afghanistan, and key district centers. But, places — again I mentioned Panjwayi, Zhari, Maiwand districts in Kandahar are areas where they have security dominance, but where the Taliban continues to contest them through those tactics that you — that you described.
And so far, as we’ve shifted out of the lead combat role for the coalition forces, for the U.S. forces in many areas. In Helmand, I’d say that process is much more advanced, because we went in there with the surge a year earlier. We are not seeing the Taliban coming back. But we do see the Taliban intent on coming back. And sort of stepping a little bit outside the report, it’s very clear to us that the Taliban over this winter, are telling their forces to stay in Afghanistan, to fight at a higher level.
Because normally they go — particularly the leadership go back to Pakistan. They’re trying to — they’re trying to respond to the continued failure to take back key areas. While they’re giving that message to their troops — to their troops, to their forces, however you want to describe it, we don’t see that actually happening on the ground. And, that’s an area we’ll be looking at in our next report.
SENIOR STATE DEPT. OFFICIAL: As you probably know, there’s a broad, enduring presence discussion underway within the U.S. government, not just about troops, it’s about our entire U.S. government footprint in Afghanistan post 2014. And that decision will need to be taken by — by the president at some point in the future about precisely what our enduring presence will — will — will look like. I would say though that security is a vital issue for our diplomatic presence.
We believe that U.S. forces will need to continue to provide a level of security that allows our diplomats, and other U.S. government employees to travel. While we don’t know the numbers yet, we want to ensure an appropriate number of people in the country that can provide accountability, and can address rule of law issues. Just one further thought on the corruption issue, I would only point out that, you know President Karzai himself has made a public commitment to addressing the issue of corruption, and accountability.
And he made this in Tokyo, and has repeated it since. And we — we hope to see some — some — some progress in — in those areas.
Q: Just a follow up on the Taliban peace talks? Is there any update on that? I read some reports that the Afghans have a plan to meet up with the, you know, Taliban through Pakistan and U.S. officials. Is that — is that report true?
SENIOR STATE DEPT. OFFICIAL: I, you know I don’t have the latest on it, and that’s probably a good thing. Because what we would like to see is a dialogue that’s increasingly Afghan-to-Afghan. We’re encouraged in a number of ways to see that that dialogue is happening without — without the assistance of outside players. We hope that that dialogue can lead to a process of reconciliation, and you know ultimately for — you know, a real lasting peace, which would include Taliban as full participants, in the government, in the society.
Q: Can you discuss the impacts over the transfer of prisoners from Parwan to Afghan jurisdiction? How many prisoners are in question, and is one of the hold-ups that some of them are suspects in insider attacks and the U.S. doesn’t trust the Afghan jurisdiction over those individuals?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Um, let’s say that, first of all, we’re continuing to implement the memorandum of understanding that we’ve reached with the government of Afghanistan, and — that’s — a set of mutual understandings between the two governments, regarding the transfer of detainees.
We did transfer about 99 percent of the detainees were captured before that MOU was signed — we had paused the transfer. There were many detainees until — because we had some concerns about the future — about the complete implementation on both sides of the MOU. We are discussing now, that with the Afghans and transfers are — have — are continuing now, we are continuing to transfer.
I am not aware, myself, of any issues relating to people involved in insider attacks. So on that one I’m not aware of any concerns on that. In fact, what I would say — I’ve had the chance to go and visit the facility myself fairly recently in Parwan, that the cooperation on the ground between the U.S. and Afghan — officials who — and military and others who work on detainees, whose been really outstanding on the ground. And we have seen the — that the — a very professional, a very effective, both detainee process and judicial process on the Afghan side.
Q: Can you say how many prisoners are in question?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I’ll have to get back to you on that. We’re talking in the neighborhood of hundreds, but the exact numbers — I’m not even sure of. But, we’ll get back to you – and see if we can get you — several hundred.
Q: Carlo Muñoz from the Hill — just had a quick follow-up on the reintegration and — the reintegration numbers that were put into the report. Looks like across the board, those numbers have fallen off dramatically, except for RC-North.
My first question is, in the report did you take into consideration these — these — so-called informal reintegration numbers where folks who were either Taliban or Haqqani agreed to lay down their arms, but did not go through the formal reintegration process? And two, particularly in areas of RC East, do you find it difficult with the reintegration effort considering the differences between the Taliban and how that organization is — is grouped, versus the sort of tribal familial ties that would be with the Haqqani network?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, first of all, I agree with you that in many ways the informal — what you call informal reintegration, is the most important story. But, it’s also both the hardest story to report on, because a lot of what — we’re calling it informal reintegration in — people who are quietly laying down their arms and who don’t want to draw attention to themselves, who are not interested in being part of big, formal ceremonies that might put themselves, their families at risk, people who are voting with their feet, in some case, because they may — move — they may take themselves and their families to an urban area and stop fighting, move to an urban area, where they’re out of the range of retaliation.
So, yes, so we know there’s a fair amount of that coming — taking place by the — we don’t have anything that’s really quantifiable on that. And, so we’re very careful about not putting things in that aren’t quantifiable.
In terms of the distinction between RC-East and the rest of the country, our experience is that it depends on the level of security. And, I’ll use Helmand as an example. Where in Helmand there was very little informal reintegration that went on for the first year or so after we — we — we went in with some Afghan forces, and a number of our coalition partners in — in the first surge effort in February of 2009.
And, the second year, there was a little bit. And, then the last year, there’s been a fair amount, including even some fairly large numbers of people who’ve come over from Pakistan into areas that — that have been stable and secure for the last two years.
But, that’s all been — almost all been in the informal area, and the result has been that people continue to — to live a more secure life, and people — people go to school — children go to school in areas they never went to school before, business takes place where it didn’t take place before in areas like Marjah and some of the other areas there.
In the east, the situation is much more differentiated. There is some areas where that’s happening, many other areas where it’s not. And, a lot of it has to do with geography of east, it’s valley by valley there. And, yes it’s valley by valley in Helmand, but the Helmand is a — is a much broader swathe, and the differences in the east are much — are — are much starker, really when you go from one place to another.
Can’t say I’ve seen — I’ve heard of, or read about, or been to — have described to me any differences in terms of how the — of how the Haqqanis act. But, that’s an interesting question. I’ve never asked it, and I’ll — I’ll take it back, and then we’ll see if we can get back to you on that.
Q: Hi, Andrew Tilghman with Military Times.
I wanted to ask you about the insider attacks.
Over the course of this past six months, I mean, there was a lot of task forces, and those sorts of things, stood up to address that issue. I’m wondering is there — is there anything new that you all can offer in terms of insight as to what the dynamics that are — that are causing those?
I mean, it looks like, some of the language here suggests a — you know, you’re attributing a little bit of a greater role to the insurgency, but that’s just kind of vague. I’m wondering, can you offer any insight as to — any new insight as to…
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I can’t offer you, I don’t think, any new insights. Maybe some evolution. Certainly, we are, first of all, very concerned about insider attacks, and, as we are about anything that leads to the death of an American coalition or — or Afghan soldier.
We — because the insider attacks was aimed so — had the impact — and we’ll get to the issue of aiming in a second — had the impact on that bond of trust that was so important for the partnering and building of the Afghan security forces.
It was something that got — got a lot of attention, I think, even beyond just the — the — the tragedy of each individual — each individual death or injury.
We also, as you said in your question, paid a lot of attention to that, both with task forces on our side, by I would say, perhaps even more importantly, joint efforts with the Afghans where they have — they took it seriously from President Karzai on down. The ministers, their military and police commanders took it pretty seriously — took it very seriously.
They increased efforts to identify those who are likely to be potentially a — or individuals who are higher — had a higher probability of being — of being those who’d carry out insider attacks, looked into casual linkages, whether they might be in some cases people who have spent substantial amounts of time in Pakistan when they were on leave, or they had — had left the military, and then come back. That was clearly a link. And so when you start identifying those groups that are at higher risk, and paying closer attention to them, and then you are able to have a better chance at preventing them.
There have been significantly fewer of those over the last several months than before. However, I would be very loathe to say, in fact I — I would not ay that it’s a problem that’s been solved. It’s a problem we continue to address. But there were — there was a range of factors going into the issue of aim, and purpose you mentioned, or a range of factor involved. But whether the — the individual attacks were because people were put up to it by the Taliban, they were part of the Taliban, or they were of a personal nature, which some of them were. They were all used by the Taliban as part of their narrative to try and undercut that.
So, regardless of how many of them, and it’s very hard to — if you recall them from the earlier briefings, to identify exact numbers. Because so many of the perpetrators were killed, and a number of them — and the ones that weren’t killed, a number of them fled a well. Hard to determine why they did it. It clearly is a tactic the insurgency used. The Taliban and their messages — their public messages have called for more of them. The fact there have not been more of them so far has been positive, but we’re not resting — we’re not resting on — the fact that there has been this decrease. We’re — our objective is none, and we continue to work towards that objective.
Q: Camille El Hassani from Al Jazeera English. A couple of questions. One, I wanted to go back to reconciliation. Is it still the goal of the U.S. to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table? And the second question is about women’s participation in government. The report lists some positive gains towards women participating in the government, and the Afghan constitution allowing for women’s rights, et cetera. But there have been attacks on them, there continue to be. Are there plans to — to help the Afghans do — do more to protect women’s rights?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: [Briefer name deleted] do you want to take the reconciliation? And I can talk about women on the security side? However you want to do it, [briefer name deleted].
SENIOR STATE DEPT. OFFICIAL: Well in — in May of this past year, the president said that lasting peace is the goal of — of the United States. It is one of the pillars of our policy. We would like to see a reconciliation process where Afghans can talk to Afghans about that. And we’re — as I said before, we’re encouraged to see that it appears that that is what’s taking place. Since the president spoke out on this in May, he said they were going to double down on reconciliation. So, we — to the extent that we can facilitate the process we would like to do so.
And also we welcome the assistance of other countries that also want to see a reconciliation process take place.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: And then I’ll just add that, certainly from the Defense Department perspective, from the perspective of our — of our military leaders, they’ve been very clear. The objective is a political settlement. The objective never has been to kill our way to — to any objective, or to kill all the Taliban. The objective has to been to, and our experience is that these — that conflicts such as these are resolved through political settlements. And so we very much support that and that’s our objective as well.
On the issue of women, the report, as has been directed by Congress, does address those issues, and there certainly has, as you said, been a great deal of progress over the last 10, 11 years in Afghanistan. For example, from the first time I was in Afghanistan in 2002, there’s been a great deal of progress, from the education of young women to greater opportunities for women in many areas, including in the government, parliament, and also in the military and the police forces. So, we are working to train military — both women in the military and women in the police.
Women, of course, still face huge obstacles in Afghanistan, but their position is immeasurably better than it was under the Taliban and better than it was 10 years ago as well. We — I’ve met with and other of our Defense Department leaders have met with women, both in the military and outside the military, and they are very appreciative of the gains in security. And women, but at the bottom, to go back to the point that [briefer name deleted] made — security is what’s key. If you have security, then you can have gains for everybody, including women.
And that is why our focus has been on building the Afghan security forces so that Afghanistan can provide for its own security independently, as soon as possible.
Q: Jon Harper with Asahi Shimbun. What percentage of ANSF units are operating independently right now? And you seem to make a semantic distinction between operating independently and being able to carry out independent operations? And I was hoping you could clarify that.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Why don’t I clarify that and the — when I say ‘carry out independent operations,’ if you have a battalion, and that battalion sends out a patrol. And that patrol, the Afghan commander believes there may be a Taliban — sorry guys — might be the Taliban over there. And so, they send out a patrol to investigate. If that patrol leaves the operating base where the Afghans are, gets into vehicles, drives there, does a cordon and search, which is a normal operation, so the Afghan troops cordon off the area, search the area, maybe find some Taliban, maybe engage in gunfire; maybe there’s casualties.
But all that happens, as it often does, with no U.S., no coalition participation at all. That’s an independent operation. However, that battalion that’s in that operating base, if it were to, and the Taliban doesn’t have the capability right now, but if it were to, and we have to be ready for this, if that — if they were to be attacked by a force of several hundred Taliban, they would likely need some kind of artillery support. Our intelligence would be useful. Intelligence might prevent it from happening. They might even need air support from bombers or whatever.
So, we have — that unit is not rated as able to operate independently because it doesn’t have all those capabilities, but it does carry out many independent operations. And so, again, I use the example of Kandahar or Uruzgan, Zabul — where about 80 percent of the operations are carried out either with the Afghans in the lead or independently.
There are quite operations where except for de-confliction, we have little visibility. The Afghan commander sees the objective, goes out, takes care of it. We’ll know the operation is going to take place, when it’s taking place. We’ll know what happened afterwards, but we don’t even play a role in designing it.
And what we have found, that was not the case in the spring of this year in Kandahar. So, they’re operating more and more independently. It’s a process. It’s not a break. And it’s not really so much — we do have a scorecard in there — in our thing.
And, from these questions, I’m realizing that we need to adjust our — adjust how we report this. Because, if you ask this question, there are a couple other questions as well, but it’s clear to us because we’re working on it from the inside is — is not always clear, and — and — and I apologize, not well enough communicated to you.
And our objective is, as I said before, is to have the Afghans in charge of their own security in all the areas — leading security with us still supporting them by the middle of the summer. And, then have them be able to do it independently with us just providing assistance, and of course, a lot of that assistance is monetary in terms of paying for the forces by the end of 2014, so that we’re not playing any combat role.
I hope that explains a little better. And, again I take as a — as a tasking from all of you, to do a better job of describing the issues of independent operations — operationally independent because that’s an area where this report needs to improve.
Q: What — what percentage of ANF — ANSF units are operating independently at a level that you expect them — expect all ANSF units to be operating independently at by the end of 2014?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It would be a very small percentage, but that’s all we would expect right now, because as some of your colleagues pointed out earlier, there are some capabilities, particularly the air capability, but also the intelligence capability that they need for — to be — to be rated that way, that are very hard for them to get up to, and still require additional resources, particularly, in the — in the air side.
So, the Afghan helicopter forces, are right now, still fairly localized. There are only a couple places in Afghanistan where they have enough helicopters to support their units. Also, a lot of the helicopter support, when and if they need it, is provided by us. We’re in the process of — of purchasing more helicopters, and even — even more challenging times training helicopter crews.
So, for a unit to be rated independent, it’s going to have to have access to those helicopters. But — but, in terms of the operations it has to carry out day to day, it may be doing those independently all the time.
And again, that’s an area, where as I said, I can tell from the question you keep asking me, and the fact that I keep giving you a different answer than your question, that we’re not really talking from — on the same basis. And, that’s why we need to do a better job in our report on this — on this area.
Q: (OFF-MIC) –you stated that this report is mandated by Congress. That means the first one was in the spring of 2008, right, the Bush administration?
Did you know that in the back it only goes to the spring of ’09, but that means…
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We did this report back in 2008, as well, yes. It began. And, I apologize for not bringing all the old ones with me, which I do in the past.
Q: So, spring of ’08 is the first one?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I believe so, but I wasn’t in this job then, so I — but we will get back to you for sure on that when the first one came out.
Q: Yeah, just a quick question, [briefer name deleted].
You — you mentioned the call by the Taliban leaders for the winter operation. It — correct me if I’m wrong, is that — didn’t that also happen like a year ago…
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Last year, yes it did.
Q: And the call was at the time, if I’m — if I remember correctly, a lot of the leaders were saying, ‘Oh, you know, stay is stay,’ but a lot of the actual leaders themselves went back to Pakistan, but — creating some, I guess — hard feelings or whatever on the part of some of the…
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Feeling some resentment on the part of — of the fighters, and that resentment played out over the summer as well. What happened this year, we don’t know. So far we — what we — this year, is they’ve made that same call, but we see no indication of increasing effort on the part of the fighters.
So, we find it interesting that they’ve made that call, but again, the — the winter season is still at the very beginning, so we can’t make any judgments.
Q: So have you seen some of the leaders — of themselves actually going back yet to Pakistan? Have you…
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We’ve seen a lot of leaders staying, and we have seen some going back, yes.
CDR BILL SPEAKS: Okay, we’ll turn it back over to you for any final remarks.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, thank you.
And again, I appreciate the questions, particularly the ones about the issues of independent operation, independently operating. I realize weakness in the report and we’ll try to work on it for the next one.
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