RUSTY HUMPHRIES: Major General Robert Durbin, welcome to the Rusty Humphreys Show. How are you, sir?
MAJ GEN DURBIN: I am excellent, and how about you?
RUSTY HUMPHRIES: I’m doing wonderful. Now you’re in Afghanistan right now, is that right?
MAJ GEN DURBIN: That is true, here all day long.
RUSTY HUMPHRIES: [Laughter]. Afghanistan seems to be in a lot of ways almost forgotten by the American public. Things are still pretty busy over there, aren’t they?
MAJ GEN DURBIN: I think every day is a challenge here, but every day we make progress. So you put the two together. Yes, it doesn’t make the top of the news, it’s below the fold if you would, but perhaps quiet success is the best thing for us here.
RUSTY HUMPHRIES: Quiet success. Tell me some of the successes. What are we accomplishing there?
MAJ GEN DURBIN: Just so that everybody understands, I’m the Commanding General for what’s called the Combined Security Transition Command, Afghanistan, and have a responsibility for manning, training and equipping both the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. That program that we have in assisting building those security forces with the government of Afghanistan has produced already 30,000 Afghan National Army soldiers who are trained and equipped, and in excess of 30,000 Afghan National Police. That, in and of itself is a success as the capacity for the government of Afghanistan to be spread throughout the country so that the presence of the legitimacy of the government is seen, felt and embraced by the people. That’s the success that we have.
RUSTY HUMPHRIES: I saw a story yesterday or the day before that the Taliban guys are getting back into the government and they’re starting to cause some trouble. Are you seeing that?
MAJ GEN DURBIN: I think what we’re seeing is what was expected historically this time of the year where there is increased activity. It was not unexpected. We are prepared for it, and in some cases, in many cases it is the coalition forces partnered with the Afghan National Army supported by the Afghan National Police that in fact are taking the fight to the enemy so that those areas that need additional security forces to provide sufficient presence on behalf of the government of Afghanistan -– in other words, we are taking the fight to the enemy. Part of what you’re seeing is the increase in activity.
RUSTY HUMPHRIES: You’re saying it has to do with something about this time of the year. What is it, because it’s spring and it’s getting warm again?
MAJ GEN DURBIN: Historically that’s exactly what happens, and in a very rugged terrain with some very, in this country, rugged terrain and some very harsh weather. Historically the spring offensives have unfolded and that’s what you’re seeing one more time, one more year.
RUSTY HUMPHRIES: You’re talking about the terrain. That’s one thing that a lot of people don’t understand. We think about Baghdad and Baghdad had infrastructure there. They had roads and they had toilets and they had electricity. Afghanistan was a complete mess before we ever got there. They’ve been fighting for 30 years.
MAJ GEN DURBIN: That’s a great point, and we could have Lieutenant General Karimi who has been a part of that fighting for the last 30 years speak to that, but I’ll highlight one point if you would. Afghanistan is the fourth poorest country in the world. It does not have an infrastructure. The mobility of security forces to get around is a great challenge. It’s something that needs to be addressed. It’s something that is being addressed. And part of the rebuilding of Afghanistan is not only focused on the security forces but also reconstruction efforts to build their infrastructure, to build their economy, and to help the governance increase and build in capacity each day.
General Karimi, do you have anything to add?
LT GEN KARIMI: Good morning sir, first of all. What you ask General Durbin, it may not seem achievement and progress to many of the international community. But for us, being in war for 30 years, having lost everything that we had, having no infrastructure, what we have now today after four years after the fall of the Taliban government and the coming of the international community, we have achieved a lot.
As a soldier, for example, I can talk on the development of ANA. As General Durbin said, we have development and achievement in all fields throughout the government agencies and ministries that you can think of.
I could say about the army, the army has been involved and fighting for 30 years, divided between various factions –- Taliban and internal warlords and various political parties from the time of the communists took over and then the Mujahideen and Taliban.
So the army that we had, we cannot call it army because the army was divided between all those various forces.
RUSTY HUMPHRIES: General Karimi, are you an Afghani?
LT GEN KARIMI: Yes. I am Lieutenant General Karimi, an Afghan, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, part of the ANA.
RUSTY HUMPHRIES: I’d like to get away from the military just for a second. What’s it like to live in a country that has been at war for 30 years? How does your family feel? Are things starting to change for your family there?
LT GEN KARIMI: Well, let me tell you about my own life in the last 30 years and then you can imagine from what I have been through, you can imagine what other people have gone through.
When the communists took over I went to jail and the reason was, I was educated in the United States of America, educated in England. I was trained in the West so it was a fault, a crime enough to go to jail. I stayed in jail until I became absolutely crippled because of the various difficulties, problems, atrocities and things that I went through, and after that about a year and a few months –
RUSTY HUMPHRIES: What would the communists do to you while you were in jail?
LT GEN KARIMI: The interrogation was by torture of various kinds, being out of sleep, being punished physically, and so on. Living in a very –
RUSTY HUMPHRIES: Lieutenant General, I’ve been at Guantanamo Bay a number of times. We’re giving the prisoners down there Pepsi and ice cream bars three days a week. Did you get that when you were in those prisoners?
LT GEN KARIMI: I didn’t have proper meals, let alone ice cream or anything else.
RUSTY HUMPHRIES: I’m just trying to point out the difference here.
LT GEN KARIMI: I didn’t have a –-
RUSTY HUMPHRIES: You almost died in your imprisonment, and they’re getting 4200 calories a day.
LT GEN KARIMI: You see, I spend a year with four people in a room 2x2; four people in a room 2x2. If you come to Afghanistan I will take you to that room in the jail. And we spent a harsh winter with a blanket. So the weather also was enough also to make us crippled.
RUSTY HUMPHRIES: Unbelievable.
LT GEN KARIMI: We went –
RUSTY HUMPHRIES: We’re running short of time here, I know that. You got out of jail, then what happened?
LT GEN KARIMI: When I became very sick, so I became burden to the jail keepers and everybody, so they just let me go. They said I cannot do anything, nothing is made of me and they were not afraid of me. Initially I was a very important person for them. So they just let me go. I was under treatment for two or three years.
Then I went to the army of that communist government to give me retirement and dismiss me and they said I must work. So they tried probably they had planned to use me for some purpose, but they couldn’t. But time came that they were beginning to fail in their objective. They changed the whole system, what they call it national reconciliation. They changed the manifesto of the government and the political party, so they invited everybody to the government and give them an opportunity to prove, and that change helped me to survive. But I had some connections with the Mujahideen, working with the present Minister of Defense who is an old friend of mine.
Then when the Mujahideen came I stayed with them, worked with them until Taliban came. For some time I was in the country. I thought they would not bother me any more because I was just staying at home, and then I found out that they were after me so I had to run away. I stayed for three or four years in Pakistan, in the neighboring country illegally, you know, hiding here and there, and then I had to turn to UNHCR and ask them for asylum somewhere in the world because there was no more chance for survival and I was scared for my family and myself.
I was about to go to the United States of America as a refugee. I had finished my interview to come to the United States of America. The unfortunate incidents of September 11 happened. This was the time I called the US embassy and thanked them for their hospitality, for taking me to the US and I told them that the US is coming here so I don’t have to go to the States. I give the same answer to the UNHCR. I thanked them for their helping me to take me out of Pakistan to some other country to be safe, and I thanked them, I told them that the international community is coming to my country so I don’t have to go anywhere.
I have been working since then with my government in collaboration with the US, other coalition forces, and their donations to build up my country.
RUSTY HUMPHRIES: It’s an incredible story, and Lieutenant General Karimi, thank you very much for sharing. We pray for your country and we hope that things go better.
Let me talk to Major General Durbin one more time real quick and then we’ll let you guys go.
LT GEN KARIMI: Thank you.
RUSTY HUMPHRIES: Thank you, Major General, I know you‘re busy.
You’re the Commander of the Combined Security Transition Command in Afghanistan which means you’re working on transition and we’re hearing about more NATO forces getting involved, and maybe turning this country over to NATO. Is that right?
MAJ GEN DURBIN: I think what you’re seeing right now, I’m not sure all your viewers understand, NATO ISAF which is the International Security Assistance Force, has in fact been in charge and commanded half of Afghanistan for more than a year and a half. That has been a successful story to date. What is called Regional Command North and Regional Command West; so about half of the sovereign territory of Afghanistan has been commanded by NATO ISAF. That success is just being expanded into Regional Command South, and then eventually, condition based, into Regional Command East for the whole country.
I think what you’re seeing is NATO stepping up to the plate as part of the international community to be able to contribute here in Afghanistan for support of the building of these security forces. And inside of the command that I have the privilege of leading, it will continue to be US-centric, but it will grow in its flavor of international and NATO contributions. I believe that what you’re seeing is perhaps what the future’s going to be like as these new nations who want to be partners and equal partners in the international community, not the US only, but an international community effort to build the indigenous capacity of our future partners.
RUSTY HUMPHRIES: With more NATO does that mean less US involvement, less US money, less US troops?
MAJ GEN DURBIN: Well, for every troop that’s here there’s a potential reduction, a NATO troop to replace a US troop. For every dollar there is a potential, and I’ll use the term potential, for a reduction in US dollars. So we embrace that mightily so either we have a reduction in the US resources or we combine resources and more quickly achieve the capability and capacity that we’re trying to build here in Afghanistan.
RUSTY HUMPHRIES: Thank you so much for your service to your country. We are supporting you back here. I appreciate you being on the program. Major General Robert E. Durbin, Major General, by the way, that’s a two-star. Thank you so much for being on the Rusty Humphreys Show, and again, thank you for your service.
MAJ GEN DURBIN: Rusty, thank you very much. I’d just like to mention not only do we have great young men and women from the Department of Defense here, but we also have from the Department of State who are serving their nation as we focus on building, training, educating Afghan National Police forces here. You’ve got true interagency cooperation happening here on the ground that’s remarkable from my perspective.
RUSTY HUMPHRIES: Thank you very much. God bless. We’ll talk to you again soon. Take care.
MAJ GEN DURBIN: Thanks, Rusty.