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DoD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Freakley

Presenters: Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, commander, Combined Task Force 76 and commanding general, 10th Mountain Division
March 16, 2006
DoD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Freakley

            BRYAN WHITMAN (Pentagon spokesman):  General Freakley, this is Bryan Whitman at the Pentagon.  Can you hear me? 

 

            GEN. FREAKLEY:  I can, Bryan.  Good morning. 

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Good morning, and thank you for joining us. Perhaps I should say good afternoon to you and good morning to the press corps here. 

 

            Our briefer today is Major General Benjamin Freakley.  He is the commander of the Joint Task Force 76 in Afghanistan.  He and his troops are responsible for the security operations in Afghanistan.  He took command last month, and he's been generous enough to give us some time early into his command to provide us with an operational update here.  And I notice today that we have a bit of a delay, it's about a three-second delay.  So once you ask your question, there will be -- it takes some time for the relay to go through, and you'll notice that on the screen.   

 

            So with that, General, I think we typically open this up with giving you a few minutes to give us kind of an assessment and overview of what's going on, and then we'll open it up for some questions here. 

 

            GEN. FREAKLEY:  Okay, Bryan.  Well thank you for that introduction.  And good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  As Bryan said, I'm Ben Freakley, the commanding general of the Combined Joint Task Force 76 here in Bagram, Afghanistan.  And I'd like to just give you a short current operational update, and then I'll be glad to take your questions. 

 

            As we enter this fifth year of operations in Enduring Freedom, we can see significant accomplishments.  And while there's still a great amount of work to be done, we think that also this nation of Afghanistan clearly is moving forward every day.   

 

            The Combined Joint Task Force is focused in three major areas. The first is security.  In the security mission, we have about 21,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines in the Combined Joint Task Force. About 15,000-plus are U.S. forces, and 4,300 are coalition forces made up primarily of Canadians, United Kingdom, Dutch and Romanian in the Southeastern part of Afghanistan, and that number continues to grow as NATO contributes forces to the Southeast of Afghanistan. 

 

            From the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, New York, which is the centerpiece of the Combined Joint Task Force, we have the division headquarters; we have the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, elements of the 4th Brigade Combat Team that is stationed at Fort Polk but supports the coalition brigade down south; we have the Combat Aviation Brigade and the Sustainment Brigade.  And this marks the first deployment of the Army's modular force to Operation Enduring Freedom. It also marks the third time that the 10th Mountain Division has come to and been employed in Afghanistan.  About 50 percent of our soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division are combat veterans either in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Thirty-five percent of the soldiers that we brought from Fort Drum are indeed Afghan veterans.  There's a saying that says the sun never sets on the 10th Mountain Division.  Indeed, that's true today, with one brigade in Baghdad, Iraq, and then the rest of the force here, and then one brigade back at Fort Drum, New York, preparing for future combat operations, the remnants of the 4th Brigade down at Fort Polk, Louisiana. 

 

            This is a great joint team of Marines.  Our joint fires come from an Air Force centerpiece, and we have the Navy doing the great work with us as well.   

 

            The keys to this security pillar that we're working is partnership with the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police, and the Afghan Border Police.  We are fighting daily with the Afghan army in our operations here throughout Afghanistan.  We're also partnered with the Office of Security Cooperation Afghanistan, which has the mission to train the Afghan army and the Afghan police.  And we're also joined with -- or led by Combined Forces Command Afghanistan, which gives us military direction in our work. 

 

            We're also partnered, as you know, with the Pakistan military in trying to do combined operations when we can or cooperative engagements along the border when we can.   

 

            The second pillar that we're focused on is governance.  And you know about the provincial reconstruction teams, that are comprised of a military portion, State Department, United States Agency for Internal Development, as well as United States Agriculture Department. This is where the interagency happens in Afghanistan.  And these great provincial reconstruction teams are out with the local governors, with the local police force working on developmental plans to further the infrastructure and governance internal to each district and province that makes up this country. 

 

            Thirdly is with reconstruction, our third pillar following security and governance, and that's where we are working with USAID, nongovernmental organizations and contributing nations to the reconstruction -- or construction, in many cases -- of Afghanistan. As you realize, the infrastructure here is very embryonic.  It's tough infrastructure.  And with infrastructure improvement comes security, and with security comes reconstruction. 

 

            The other piece I'll just briefly mention before questions is that this is a series of transitions.  We just recently took command of the area from Southern European Task Force last month, as Bryan mentioned, and soon we will do some transitions with the NATO ISAF force.  Over the past several months, 18 -- for instance, ISAF has led the north and the west regions of Afghanistan, and this summer they will take responsibility for what's known as Regional Command South, where currently we have the Canadian-led multinational brigade that's under our command.  And then as the summer goes on into fall sometime or before 2006 closes out, U.S. forces in Regional Command East will come under the command and control of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.  And this is a great opportunity for all of us in that NATO will take the responsibility for all of Afghanistan for security, reconstruction and helping with governance.  We think this is a logical and constructive step in the growth of the international community's assistance to Afghanistan. 

 

            And with that, I think I'll stop and be ready to answer any questions that you might have. 

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Well, thank you, General, and we'll open it here and start with Charlie -- I'm sorry; old habits die hard -- (laughter) -- with the new dean, Mr. Bob Burns of the Associated Press. 

 

            Q

 

             General, this is Bob Burns. 

 

            We just heard here today that the Afghan government and the U.N. have confirmed the outbreak of bird flu in Afghanistan, and I'm wondering if you can fill us in on what the implications of that are for U.S. forces' protection. 

 

            GEN. FREAKLEY:  There's not really much implication on U.S. force protection at all.  We don't really conduct any operations in and around where the birds are located.  We buy all of our food products from outside vendors exterior to Afghanistan.  We are -- have been, even before we deployed, talked to our soldiers about the dangers of bird flu and the precautionary measures to take with good health practices, good cleanliness.  I don't really see that this poses a threat to us at all. 

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Will? 

 

            Q

 

             General, Will Dunham with Reuters. 

 

            Could you characterize for us the degree of the threat and the nature of the threat currently posed by al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan?  And do you see them as getting stronger?  Getting weaker?  Staying the same? 

 

            GEN. FREAKLEY:  The -- first, I'll just talk about the nature of the threat. 

 

            Interior to Afghanistan, you have criminal activity based primarily on drug trade or motivated by Taliban or al Qaeda-paying unemployed men to carry out some crimes against coalition forces or in many cases Afghan national forces. 

 

            And then you have foreign fighters motivated primarily by al Qaeda, and they come in and do some training of the different insurgent forces and the extremists throughout the area, and provide cash and some instructions and sometimes even arming the forces. 

 

            And then, as you know, in the South of Afghanistan, we have primarily the Taliban, and the Taliban has operated in safe havens in and around parts of Afghanistan and in the border areas shared with Pakistan. 

 

            And then we also have the holdouts of the Haqqani network that operates in the center part of the eastern portion of our area of operation around Khost, and then in the North we have Hekmatyar's- driven HIG element. 

 

            And there's some disparate small forces, but really don't count as much as criminal al Qaeda, HIG and Hekmatyar. 

 

            We understand and are understanding more about the structures of each of those types of organizations and how they're motivated, funded, led and inspired, and we are attacking each of those structures in the way in which we apply governance, reconstruction and stability operations. 

 

            I would say that over what I've studied in the last five years in Operation Enduring Freedom, the level of violence ebbs and flows on many factors.  It could be weather, it could be motivation; sometimes it's because of the inability to pay the foot-soldiers that comprise the different insurgents' organizations and get them motivated. 

 

            We're currently seeing some open-sourced reporting and some statements made that the Taliban is going to increase their activities.  We see some movement of young military-aged men.  We don't know, quite frankly, if we're going to tag them as Taliban yet, but we're certainly watching for the indications and warnings of an increase in both improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers and direct-fire attacks against coalition and Afghan forces. 

 

            You may see some spikes in violence, and I will tell you that's because of offensive operations being conducted in partnership with the Afghan National Army and going into locations where heretofore coalition forces in the ANA were not able to go into because of the size of force, training of ANA, or perhaps local governance.  And in many cases, we're being asked by either police forces or local governors to go into areas that we would consider to have possibly been safe havens.  And therefore, because we're there, and forces there don't want us to be there, there’s a fight. 

 

            So we have to be careful about who we measure, who has the initiative.  I will tell you my sensing right now is the Afghan National Army and the coalition forces have the initiative.  We're taking the fight to the enemy, and we'll continue to help extend this government by prosecuting this fight against the different groups I laid out. 

 

            Q

 

             Just to briefly follow up, General, are you saying, do you think al Qaeda and the Taliban forces are in fact getting stronger right now and that you anticipate that they're going -- that at least some of them are going to mount some kind of an offensive coming up? 

 

            GEN. FREAKLEY:  No.  As I said earlier, I think you see over the course of the year an ebb and flow of violence brought on by the Taliban or the al Qaeda, and what we see is that there is potential for increased violence because the weather is actually quite good here.  The snow is melting in the passes, so some of the lesser-used infiltration routes between safe havens or between the border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan are now opening up.  So they certainly have the opportunity.  But I don't see any increase in violence currently from when we first took command and what was occurring as we took command. 

 

            Again, I state if you see an increase in violence here in the coming weeks and months, it's probably driven by offensive operations of the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police and coalition forces are taking to look for Taliban and al Qaeda organizations and try to defeat them. 

 

            Q

 

             General, Lisa Meyer from AP Radio. 

 

            You were talking in your opening statement about the fact that U.S. troops are going to be under NATO command.  That gives some people back here at home pause for thought.  What would you say to them about the way that that is going to pan out?  And how would you allay their concerns? 

 

            GEN. FREAKLEY:  Well, first of all, the NATO headquarters that's going to take command from the current International Security Assistance Force is centered on the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, led by Lieutenant General Richards, a United Kingdom officer.  As you probably know, Lisa, that headquarters is comprised of NATO officers. So for instance, the operations officer, the G-3 for that force, is an American. 

 

            As that force comes in and transitions with the current ISAF force, I will be dual-hatted as the deputy commanding general for security.  And in that role, it will be my responsibility to look at security operations across initially Regional Command North, Regional Command West -- (audio break from source) -- conduct U.S. operations through my headquarters with Regional Command East. 

 

            When we go to phase four and ISAF takes control for all of NATO, I will still be the deputy commanding general for security, and U.S. forces will take actions and orders through me. 

 

            I have known General Richards since in the fall.  We have done some training with his force.  This is a very capable force that comes in to lead this effort.  And again, it's multinational and has a large contingent of U.S. support inside this NATO headquarters.  And I think our soldiers and sailors, airmen (sic) and Marines and in fact the entire force will be high -- well-led, and I have high confidence in the leadership that's coming here to continue this endeavor against those who would oppose the nation of Afghanistan. 

 

            Q

 

             If I could just follow up for a second, General, what would happen in the event that, you know, in the heat of battle there was a disagreement between yourself and General Richards? 

 

            GEN. FREAKLEY:  Well, I'm a soldier, and I follow orders.  But I will tell you that through our -- the training exercises that we've done and the discussions that we've done, we have worked through all the different issues, I think. 

 

            Now of course, something can appear out of the ordinary, but each of the nations of NATO contributing members have laid out their national concerns and the left and right limits for their forces, their rules of engagement, if you will.  I think they're fairly clear, and I think we can work this coalition warfare well.  And it'll be a positive outcome as we stay focused on not so much national interests but the interests of the people of Afghanistan. 

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Let's go to Jim Mannion -- (off mike). 

 

            Q

 

             General, Jim Mannion from Agence France-Presse.  You said that there's been movements by young military-age men.  Could you be more specific about the area where these movements are occurring?  For instance, are they moving across the border from Pakistan?  You know, what kind of numbers?   

 

            And as maybe part of the answer to that question, there has also been, you know, a lot of suicide bombings and techniques that have been used in the past that are reminiscent of Iraq.  Can you explain how you think those techniques are migrating into the Afghan theater and whether -- you know, what that process has been, whether it's individuals who are bringing those skills or some other means of communicating that know-how? 

 

            GEN. FREAKLEY:  That's a great question.  It's a complicated question.  First of all, on the movement, we haven't seen any legions of men moving around.  When I say we've seen some military-age men moving around, that could be as many as one to two that we're questioning, all the way up to maybe 15 to 20.  We haven't really seen any large masses of people moving around.  And part of it is that they're also unarmed.  And as I said earlier, the weather is getting warmer, so in some cases some of these men may be moving around to find work in the agricultural sector.  We're just not sure right now, but we're trying to watch to see what might occur.   

 

            There's nothing that says that they couldn't ban together to conduct a military operation, but the patterns here in Afghanistan have not been that way for several years because of the capabilities of joint intelligence, joint fire power, and also the Afghan people starting to come forward and telling us more and more, as governance and security takes deeper root, of people moving into their towns that they're concerned about.   

 

            Of course, because we're responsible for the eastern and southeastern portions of Afghanistan in our current joint operational area, that's the area where I'm seeing them, down in the south around Kandahar, and up in the north in and around Khost. 

 

            Some of this is natural movement, and some of it could be, as I said earlier, looking for work.   

 

            With regards to your term about "a lot" of suicide bombs, I wouldn't classify that in Afghanistan there have been "a lot" of suicide bombs.  There have been "some" suicide bombs.  And we've seen most recently a vehicle laden with some artillery rounds that struck a Canadian convoy.  And then you're well aware of the missed attempt in Kabul recently against one of the ministers of the government, part of the jirga.  And we continue to watch this.  Before, suicide bombing in Afghanistan was pretty abhorrent to those that were here.  But some leaders, like Mullah Omar, who is the Taliban leader, have been calling for some suicide bombings to take place.  He will say that he's had young men volunteer to do this.  We're continuing to watch how strong that statement bears out about whether it's volunteerism or whether there's some work done on prepping and promises made to the suicide bombers.  Where the motivations come from and where the techniques come from, we're trying to watch and look for linkages from outside of Afghanistan.   

 

            With regard to IEDs, clearly, we're starting to see some tactics, techniques and procedures that you could draw a conclusion that may have come from training in Iraq.  But how they got that, about how that was passed, that training was passed, where the bomb-maker came from and how the bomb-maker passed those techniques on, we're still trying to get full awareness of.  I don't want to go into too much detail about it because I don't want to give the enemy any advantage about what we know about suicide bombing techniques and IEDs.  I will just tell you we're using a full spectrum approach to countering the IED.  I think we're doing a great job.  In the last several months there's been 75 IEDs across Afghanistan; only 75 percent [sic: 25 percent] of those were what you would call effective in that they actually detonated at or near perhaps what was viewed as the target.   

 

            We, as I said, a full spectrum approach.  We're getting help from the local population.  We're getting help from technology.  In many cases our Marines, our soldiers, our airmen, our sailors, they're the ones who find the IED first just because of good training and looking into the environment where they're operating in and separating the normal from the abnormal, focusing on the abnormal and taking action.   

 

            So I'm very proud of what they're doing about the IED awareness, and I think that we'll continue to look at these two areas and try to do all that we can to mitigate any growth here in Afghanistan. 

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Gordon. 

 

            Q

 

             Sir, Gordon Lubold from Army Times.  I wondered if you could just speak to the opium trade.  It's never been completely clear to me what the relationship is between those operations and the funding of al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan.  And if you could, just talk about the coalition's ability to have an impact on those fields. 

 

            GEN. FREAKLEY:  Well, again, it's a good question.  It's a complicated question.  The opium trade -- I'm going to talk about that as a separate and distinct aspect of the environment we're in.  As you know, we do not conduct counter narcotics operations here in the combined joint task force.  We can in extremist respond to requests to help those who are trying to eradicate the drug.  But I'll just focus on one area, and that is Helmand, Afghanistan, and microcosm to give you an idea about the extent. 

 

            You have a confluence in Helmand of criminals and Taliban and poor farmers, and the poor farmers raise poppy because the Helmand River gives them a water source, the soil is good, and the climate is very good for growing poppy.  And so they can produce a rather large amount of poppy with a very small investment of time and labor in their fields.  That poppy then is produced by primarily narco- trafficking organizations that move it out of Helmand and into other parts of the country and then out of the country.  And with the funding that they get, they then can provide money to primarily Taliban, not so much al Qaeda, in Helmand.  They can provide funds to the Taliban to recruit fighters, to train fighters, to buy weapons and arms.  And in many cases, some of the farmers are threatened by the Taliban to either continue to grow the poppy to generate the funds or face death. 

 

            Now, the very encouraging thing that we're seeing right now that's been ongoing for about two-and-a-half weeks is the governor of Helmand very bravely went to the government of Afghanistan and said he wanted to eradicate the poppy in that region. 

 

            And the government put together a plan with the minister of Defense and Ministry of the Interior, and a combination of police and the Afghan National Army have moved to Helmand.  And the governor, under his leadership and using his chief of police and his vice governor, have gone into the southern parts of the Helmand province and begun an eradication process.   

 

            And we are led to believe that in the past two weeks or so, they have probably eradicated in excess of 1,200 hectares and continue to eradicate this, at their own peril.  They have had some small-arms attacks, there have been some IEDs, and there have been some assassinations of district chiefs in this process. 

 

            But I think this bodes well for the future, in that Afghans recognize the problem, Afghans are taking the problem in hand, and Afghans are trying to eradicate the drugs.  

 

            But this interconnection that you speak to, of the drug trade, criminals, poor farmers and Taliban coming together to counter those who would try to eradicate it, those -- that that isn't eradicated produces funds for the Taliban in particular, to raise fighters and arms and get motivation for the counter governmental activity. 

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Al. 

 

            Q

 

             General, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America.  You mentioned joint operations with the Pakistani army.  Can you talk a little bit more about those?  And is that primarily focused on finding the Taliban and al Qaeda leaders who -- and do you believe that they're in that border region?  How is that going? 

 

            GEN. FREAKLEY:  Well, what I believe is that the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is -- allows for movement of commerce, people and the enemies of Afghanistan and Pakistan to move back and forth.  I believe that Pakistan and Afghanistan have a common threat in these different groups of the insurgency -- al Qaeda, Taliban, the HIG and Hekmatyar -- to use whatever seam they can find to exist in these safe havens or sanctuaries. 

 

            What we're doing in particular is, we're meeting with the Pakistan military.  We are -- the Pakistan military is conducting operations against insurgents in Pakistan. 

 

            We're trying to coordinate where we can operations, understanding that Pakistan is a sovereign nation and Afghanistan is a sovereign nation, and we are here at the request of the Afghan government to conduct operations.  But we're trying to do all that we can in sharing of information, low-level meetings along the border to clarify what we're seeing and what we're doing to try to get coordination. 

 

            And we're continuing to grow that with exchanges of ideas and training exchanges between the U.S. and the Pakistan military and the U.S. and the Afghan military. 

 

            How do I think it's going?  I think it's going better, and I think we could continue to improve, and that's our aim, to do all that we can to bring the Pakistan, Afghan and coalition military together to fight a common threat that's found and embodied in these four different extremist groups. 

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Jeff. 

 

            Q

 

             General, you were talking about IEDs, and you said you were seeing I think the same -- where the IEDs being used in Afghanistan come from training in Iraq.  Are these the same people in Iraq?  Or is somehow -- yeah, is this the same organization?  Are its people training in Iraq and then moving to Afghanistan? 

 

            GEN. FREAKLEY:  That's a question that we're working on. 

 

            What we're seeing is is that some of the devices, whether -- what we've seen in the past primarily are IED cells that are Afghan-led. But some of the devices that we are seeing are similar to the devices that are being used in Iraq.  And our current line of thinking is determining what connects those two, and how is that technology transferred or that technique transferred from one location to the other, and we're looking for those threads as we continue to fight this common enemy. 

 

            Q

 

             (Off mike) -- to see if the devices -- which are similar to the ones in Iraq -- came from Iraq or came from the same people? 

 

            GEN. FREAKLEY:  Well, I don't believe they came from Iraq, or that the people came from Iraq.  I think that the techniques and some of the technology may have come from similar personnel who were instructed on how to build a bomb. 

 

            Really, it's a complex issue because we have different types of devices that are used in different areas, and that's about as far as I'm going to go into it. 

 

            But we're continuing to look for, is there a migratory pattern of IEDs from where they're seen in one area -- and you could say that IEDs used in Afghanistan might be used in Iraq.  I'm not going to -- that's not my conclusion because I'm looking at just the Afghan theater.  But we do see some similar techniques.  And so we're trying to determine how is the technology transfer occurring and how is the bomb -- who's training the bomb-makers, how are they being trained, and how are they getting ideas from one another. 

 

            Q

 

             Just a quick follow-up.  Have you asked for reinforcements? Hello?  Have you asked for reinforcements?  You said the Taliban has called in open sources --  Yes?  Can you hear me? 

 

            GEN. FREAKLEY:  I can hear you.  (Laughter.) 

 

            Q

 

             Have you asked for reinforcements for -- you said conditions are ripe for -- conditions are favorable, could lead to the opportunity of increased activity.  Have you asked for reinforcements? 

 

            GEN. FREAKLEY:  No.  The modular force that I talked about, that this is the first deployment of the U.S. Army's modular division and modular brigades to Operation Enduring Freedom, we bring some very much increased capabilities to this theater that the Army has fielded in our formations.  We have better intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment.  We have better sensor-to-shooter linkage. We have a reconnaissance formation called a battalion that is reconnaissance, surveillance, target-acquisition focused and can cover more of the battlefield looking for the enemy.  We have a very capable artillery and logistics formation, as well as modular military intelligence company, signal company, and engineer company inherent to the brigade that we brought.   

 

            Additionally, in the south, the 173rd Airborne from Vicenza, Italy, has been here for the last year, but they've been replaced by coalition forces in Multinational Brigade South that's led by the Canadians.  And each month, that brigade continues to build in capacity, and by the time the transfer is complete, there will be many more coalition forces in the Southern Command than heretofore have been.  For instance, we have put a U.S. battalion in one area that replaced an Airborne Battalion from Italy.  The Airborne Battalion in Italy was about 800 men strong, and our unit from the 10th Mountain that we placed in there is 1,300 men and women strong, that have their own internal artillery, have greater access to joint fires. 

 

            And of course, we brought over our own combat aviation brigade, which brings Apaches, Black Hawk helicopters and Chinooks, and it's augmented by Air Force rotary-wing aircraft for search-and-rescue missions.  And also then we have a great Air Force fixed-wing joint fire capability here with A-10s, F-16s, B-52s.   

 

            I think we're in great shape capability-wise.  In fact, our capability as we move towards NATO transition will actually increase, and then that's coupled with the Afghan National Army, that continues to produce battalions that are fighting beside us, and an Afghan National Police that is continuing to be improved.  And given all of that, I think we have the force that we need to defeat this threat. 

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  This will be our last question.  Lisa? 

 

            Q

 

             General, Lisa Meyer again.  You were just talking about the Afghan National Army.  And I know that Iraq and Afghanistan are apples and oranges, but there's been much talk in Iraq about security forces there taking the lead.  And I'm wondering what the status of things is in country for you.  Do you see a time also when you're willing to take a step back completely and let the Afghan National Army control major sections of the country? 

 

            GEN. FREAKLEY:  Well, I'll tell you where we are right now is we are working to be partnered at every level -- company, battalion, brigade, Afghan corps, staff, medical capability with medical capability, partnered across the battlefield, Lisa.  In some cases already, Afghan companies and, in one or two cases, Afghan battalions are conducting operations with just embedded training teams, small seven-to-10-man team that's helping bring enablers to them, like joint fires.  Clearly, I see the time when more and more Afghan battlespace will be turned over to the Afghans. 

 

            The interesting thing is, is that different from Iraq, we never took the ground from the Afghans and then our place to give it back. We have been fighting alongside the Afghans since OEF began, and as they grow in capacity and capability, they will be able to conduct more and more unilateral actions.  And I see over the course of the year we'll be going from coalition-led, Afghan-enabled operations, to Afghan and coalition co-partnered operations, to where, depending on capability towards the end of our mission here, our year, there will be areas that are coalition -- that are Afghan-led and coalition- supported in the course of the year. 

 

            I truly believe that capability is coming forward. 

 

            Q

 

             With that, do you envision a time, then, say within the next year, year and a half, where United States troops wouldn't be needed in Afghanistan proper? 

 

            GEN. FREAKLEY:  U.S. troops are going to be needed for a period of time.  If you've recently read Minister Wardak's statements that he made, he thinks that for the next several years, possibly up to five, the international effort is going to have to be partnered with the Afghan effort as they continue to build capacity.  We've got about 27,000 soldiers currently in the Afghan National Army, about 55,000 police, and they need to continue to be supported by the international effort to help them build their capacity. 

 

            The U.S. has an enduring commitment to Afghanistan.  We're going to stand -- the military is going to stand with the Afghan military. But as ISAF takes on more and more of the responsibility, the U.S. role won't be as great.  And so, we'll have to look at what capabilities are needed, where they need to train side by side with this, and where we can help them go from an emerging capability to a full capability.  And the timeline on that is just dependent upon how fast they can field the capability.  Some of these battalions have been fielded for over three years.  Some of the battalions are about six months old, and there's new battalions.  And so it's going to take some time for these soldiers, these non-commissioned officers and officers to be ready to go with independent operations. 

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  General, thank you very much, sir.  We want to give you an opportunity share any last-minute comments you might have. 

 

            GEN. FREAKLEY:  Well, I'd just say, first, thank you all for some great questions, and typical to the core.  They're not always easy, and I appreciate the depth of understanding that you have as you ask them. 

 

            What I would just tell you is that my time here in command, I'm just stunned with the commitment of our service men and women that are over here.  Reenlistments are happening in left, right and center, and I recently was present when a sergeant reenlisted.  And he looked at the team, and he said, "You know the reason I reenlisted is because my leaders, my fellow NCOs really believe in what they're doing, and they believe in me. 

 

            My officers believe in me, and I believe in them.  And this mission is important.  And I want to reenlist, and I want to stay in." 

 

            And as I mentioned, just speaking with the 10th Mountain, 35 percent of our soldiers that are over here are on their second or third time.  And many of our airmen and our sailors and our Marines can tell the very same story.  

 

            We're extremely well-equipped, as I mentioned about the modular force.  The training has gotten better and better.  I can tell you that in our training to come over here, we had participants from the State Department, we had academicians, we had journalists that came and talked to us about how Afghanistan was from their view, where Afghanistan was going.  And the American people continue to put more and more effort into training us to a higher degree, so that we're ready to come to the nation and operate with a good understanding of cultural sensitivity, and understanding that we're fighting with the consensus of the Afghan government. 

 

            I would also say that the Afghan army and police are a very well dedicated and committed force as well. 

 

            And I'm confident that over the course of this year -- and we're going to have some hard knocks, but we're also going to give them hard knocks.  We'll witness steady growth and progress in this great country, and I'm very proud of our men and women, and honored to be able to lead them as we continue with the war on terrorism. 

 

            I'd just close by giving you an invitation.  I'll tell you that progress in Afghanistan is steady, and you can really see it.  But you have to come to see it.  And seeing it -- may be that they'll put a small drugstore in a mud hut, now that Interstate 95 has just been built outside Kabul.  But you can see it.  And we'd invite each and every one of you to come over and spend some time with us, see the Afghan army, travel out to the roads we've built, roll up your sleeves with our provincial reconstruction teams and look at these Afghan folks that are working so hard to pull their country forward.  And I think you'd really get a good feel for the advances that are being made in this country. 

 

            Again, thank you for today.  Thank you for all that you do in keeping our fellow citizens informed about America's armed forces. 

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Thank you for joining us today, General, and thank you for all you do.

 

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