Gen. Jones via teleconference.
BRYAN WHITMAN (deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs): I've got 1:30, so why don't we go ahead and get started.
Good afternoon, and welcome.
General Jones, Bryan Whitman here at the Pentagon. Can you hear me okay on the line?
GEN. JONES: Bryan, loud and clear. Thank you.
MR. WHITMAN: Very good. Well, it just seems like recently that we had you in the room, and you're back in Belgium now. And we always welcome the opportunity to have a chance to talk to you here in the briefing studio, even if it's by telephone. This is General James L. Jones, and he is the U.S. European Commander as well as NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. And he's talking to us from Belgium, and he's going to give you an update on NATO operations in Afghanistan as well as some feedback from his most recent visit to Afghanistan with the NATO secretary-general.
And he obviously knows most of you, so when we get to the questions, if you'd just identify yourself for him, that would be helpful.
General Jones, let me turn it over to you.
GEN. JONES: Thank you. And thank you all for being there.
I thought it might be useful, in the aftermath of the immediate trip to Afghanistan, to talk a little bit about what's going on there and what we plan on doing about it.
By way of background, I escorted the secretary-general and the North Atlantic Council on a three-day visit to Afghanistan starting Monday of this week and just finished late last night. During that time, the secretary-general signed a partnership agreement with Afghanistan on behalf of NATO. We met with President Karzai in full session with the North Atlantic Council.
Ambassadors were able to travel throughout the country to visit different aspects of the engagement strategy of NATO.
And then on Wednesday we went en masse to Kandahar, where we received an operational briefing from the Canadian commander on Operation Medusa, which is the current operation that has got people talking about in the media.
Let me simply say that what's going on in Afghanistan currently, particularly in the southern region, is while not a complete surprise, certainly the tenacity of the resistance is a little bit of a surprise. We all know that in the springtime traditionally hostilities do start up again. We expected a certain amount of it. In the southern region it's turned out to be more than we expected, but certainly by no means unmanageable.
The reason that this is an important time in Afghanistan, particularly in this region, is because the southern region is the traditional home of the Taliban and its leader, Mullah Omar. It's also the kind of center mass of the narcotics cartels and their production efforts. It's also a region that has not seen a lot of permanent troops. In the last few years most of the Operation Enduring Freedom actions were generally temporary, short-lived, special operations-type missions.
It's also a region where the Karzai government has not been able to conduct too many outreach programs. It's been beset by corrupt leadership, corruption in the way people do their business, an ineffective police force. I mean, you name it, if it's a problem in Afghanistan, it is in the southern region.
When NATO decided to expand this operation into the southern region on the 1st of September, we did so with the full realization that we were going to stir up a hornet's nest and that there was going to be some violence before we were able to set the conditions where reconstruction and development could come in. And that's still very much the plan. As a matter of fact, there is considerable amount of reconstruction that's going on as we speak in the areas of the southern region that aren't affected by the current level of violence. But essentially what this moment is, is a tactical moment that's important in that particular region in Afghanistan so we can set the conditions for reconstruction which will follow very quickly once this difficult period is over.
I believe that it's fair to say that the alliance is being tested by the opposing forces. I think that as you all recall, there was a lot of debate before NATO committed to this mission. There was probably -- there were probably some signals that caused some people to believe that NATO would not do as well or fight as capably as the forces in the southern region have demonstrated. All that has been answered more than once as to our capabilities and our tenacity.
And this current battle with the opposing military forces will end favorably. It's going to take a little bit to achieve that. And because of that and as a conclusion of our trip to Afghanistan, I have asked that we pay renewed attention to the basic plan that was developed 18 months ago, before we ever agreed to move into the southern region, that called for a certain amount of military capability.
About 85 percent of that plan was generated by nations, and that is a pretty high percentage for any NATO operation. And it was the recommendation of the military community, myself, to the NAC that we were ready to start expansion into the southern region in Afghanistan, anticipating a certain amount of resistance because of the nature of the terrain.
Over the past few weeks we've discovered more resistance than we thought, and we are continually and have continually tried to work with nations to generate the rest of the force, which is about 15 percent, which includes some attack helicopters, some inter-theater airlift, tactical theater reserve battalion, which would give the commander the operational flexibility he needs on the ground, and just some other aspects that would round out the force in a way that will allow us to achieve our goals in a shorter period of time with fewer casualties.
This requirement has been well known to nations for 18 months. Tomorrow I leave for Warsaw, Poland, to attend a two-day meeting with all of the chiefs of defense, the uniformed chiefs of defense of the alliance, all 26. And we are going to discuss, among other things, how we might further resource this plan, which was agreed to by all nations and needs to come to its full conclusion in order to help the ongoing situation on the ground.
Early this morning I held a conference with some European members of the press corps over here around NATO, and I said -- and I repeat -- that the ultimate solution in Afghanistan is not a military solution. There are some military aspects that have to be recognized, and one of those is in the southern region right now. But ultimate success in Afghanistan is going to be dependent on the cohesion and the consistent support of the international -- the international aid structure.
It is extremely important that Afghanistan focus on its judicial reform system, on a capable police force. It is vital that Afghanistan be empowered and enabled and supported in combating narcotics, which affects virtually every aspect of people's lives in Afghanistan -- economic, political, business, security.
And it's clear that the money that's being generated from this incredible bumper crop of narcotics, of opium, is providing the resources for the opposition. And so to not make any progress in these fields in the very near future is simply going to guarantee that the military effort will continue for a longer period of time.
If people want to understand the exit strategy for Afghanistan, I think I've just outlined it for you. It's not a military problem; it's not a military solution. Certain aspects are. It is a problem of showing the people of Afghanistan and enabling the government to expand its reach and bring hope and new standards of living and opportunities to the people of that country, who absolutely have shown by their courage at the polls that they're ready for this.
There are over 6 million children in Afghanistan going to school; 2 million of them are girls. Eighty percent of the people of Afghanistan now have some access to health care. Roads are being built. Agricultural reforms are being implemented. And so this is very much a success story in the making. It needs the focus and it needs the attention, and we shouldn't, I think, become too enamored with the idea that the military is going to be able to do everything.
The military sets the conditions, but it will all be for naught if a focused and cohesive international effort isn't brought to bear immediately following the military successes that I know we're going to have in the very near future, particularly in the southern region.
Anticipating a question that you might have on the transfer of authority to stage four, which is the U.S. sector in the east, we are, in fact, working very closely with the United States Central Command, General Abizaid and I have talked many times on this, trying to bring about the final arrangements that will effect a transfer of authority so that we can unify the chain of command, have unity of effort and greater clarity and cohesion as to how the military functions throughout the entire country of Afghanistan.
This will be a very proud moment for the alliance when it happens, it will be a very proud moment, I think, for the United States, and I think it will enable us to achieve our long-term missions in Afghanistan in a much more cohesive way.
Having said all that, I'm happy to answer any questions that you might have.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, thank you for that, General. And we do have a few here.
We'll start with Bob Burns.
Q General, Bob Burns from AP. Your comments earlier today were reported as calling for reinforcements in Afghanistan. And I'm wondering if that's the same way of saying that force levels there now are inadequate?
GEN. JONES: Bob, you know, I've heard that, and I'm glad you asked that question because I specifically did not use that word because of its -- it connotes a little panic and a little desperation, and that's not the case.
What we are asking for is full implementation of the plan that has been submitted and approved by all 26 nations, but, so far, only resourced up to about the 85 percent level. The rounding out of this plan will -- and the capabilities that we're currently lacking, will give the commander a cushion, would give him some insurance, if you will, that he has more than enough force to do the job. I do believe that even without it, he will be successful. I just want to make sure that we do everything we can to fully implement the plan.
David Richards, the commander of ISAF, stood up in front of the North Atlantic Council and specifically said that if you give me the full force list that has been agreed upon in the basic plan, I can do everything that you've asked me to do. He said that I can probably do it without it, but it will be a lot easier to have this insurance.
So it's not a reinforcement in the desperate sense, but it is prudent military advice that adds a certain measure of guarantee and cushion to the forces that are already performing very well on the scene.
Q A quick follow-up?
MR. WHITMAN: Go ahead and follow up.
But first, before we do that, just by way of explanation, the images that you're seeing on the screen here are photographs from General Jones' recent visit to Afghanistan, in case you were wondering where they came from and the time frame of those.
But go ahead, Bob, follow up.
Q General, one quick follow-up on your answer there. Are you saying that the full force level, then, is not essential to its success there?
GEN. JONES: You know, it's hard to -- it's hard to say at which point, Bob, that whether it's your thousandth soldier or your thousand and tenth soldier that makes a difference. It's a question of -- in my view, it's a question of a good plan that was well thought out, well conceived, approved by all 26 nations in the alliance, it's a question of those same nations who approved the plan to generate the force list.
Normally, in most operations we get by with about 80 percent, 85 percent of what we ask for because most of our operations are somewhat benign, for instance in Kosovo, in various other operations. But since this one has turned, in the south, at any rate, for a moment, pretty hot, it's, I think -- I think a good idea as an insurance to make sure that the operational commander has as much flexibility with his forces as we have, and getting that remaining 10, 15 percent seems like more necessary now than it was maybe a month ago. But, you know, what the tip-over point is, I couldn't tell you. I do believe that they'll be successful without it. But I think if we can do it quicker, if we can minimize casualties, and since the commanders have asked for the remainder of that force, I think we should do everything we can to support the commander on the ground.
MR. WHITMAN: Jamie.
Q General Jones, Jamie McIntyre from CNN. Can you put some -- just some numbers to what you said? Can you give us your latest figures on how many NATO troops are in Afghanistan? How many American troops are in Afghanistan? How many of the American troops are in the NATO force? And how many troops are you short? When you talk about 85 percent of the original plan, what are we talking about in terms of troop numbers?
GEN. JONES: Well, let me just give you some numbers here real quickly. In the 26-nation alliance in Afghanistan, we have 18,458 troops assigned to NATO; that means where the nations have transferred authority from national command to NATO command. Just to give you some of the major contributors -- the United States has 1,057 troops under NATO authority; the United Kingdom has 4,293; the Netherlands have 2,172; Italy, 1,431; Germany, 2,719; and Canada, 2,196. I'm just going to give you kind of those totals of the major contributing nations.
Now, in addition to the 26 nations, there are 11 non-NATO nations that have contributed a total of 598 personnel to NATO for a total of 19,056. The U.S. totals in their mission, I believe, numbers somewhere around 22,000-23,000, if I'm not mistaken.
And -- does that help, Jamie, in answering the -- your question? Oh, with regard to numbers for what it means with regard to the remaining 15 percent, I would like to say that it's the capabilities found in that 15 percent, the armed helicopters, the C-130s, the ISR equipment, and the tactical theater reserve, which is roughly about battalion size that really make the difference. The numbers is -- the numbers are not that impressive, but the capabilities they bring is really what we're looking for.
MR. WHITMAN: Will.
Q General, Will Dunham with Reuters. Can I just follow up on Jamie? I know you said that the -- you didn't give us a precise number of troops there. Are you able to say a precise number of troops you'd like to see, even if that in and of itself doesn't explain the capabilities?
And on a different subject, on your European Command portfolio, could you -- my understanding is that there was a SOFA agreement with Serbia. Could you explain that and what relationship you expect to see develop?
GEN. JONES: Sorry. You faded out on the last -- second portion of your question. Could you repeat that? On Serbia, the Status of Forces Agreement, was such an agreement signed today or recently? And could you explain what the relationship you expect to develop?
GEN. JONES: Status of Forces Agreement with the U.S.?
GEN. JONES: Okay. Well, let me answer the second question first. Having just got back from Afghanistan late last night, I've been focused on that. So rather than give you an incomplete answer, I need to -- I'll need to check. I -- and see what has been signed and that may have been signed in the last three days since I've been gone. I'm not certain.
But the overall goal in the Balkans is obviously focused for this month on Kosovo, and we hope that regardless of what the outcome of the status talks is, that we'll be able to not see violence of a kind that always exists in the Balkans.
With regard to Serbia, we have been consistent in our statements that Serbia has to show the international community that it is cooperating to the best of its ability in the -- in our quest to apprehend Milosevic and -- I'm sorry -- Karadzic and Mladic and get them to The Hague Tribunal, and that is something that's still very much at the top of our list.
With regard to your other question, I know you like precision there, but I truly haven't counted it. But if I were to make a guess at what the -- what -- how many men and women are needed to equip the airplanes and the equipment and the battalions, I would say it's something on the order of 2,000.
But I can't be -- it might be 2,500 or -- but it's not in the -- it's not outrageously high, and it is about things that the alliance has the capacity to produce. This is not something that we don't have in our inventories. It's a question of the nations stepping up to the plate and raising their hands and saying, "We'll do that." And I think we're at a moment where they should do that.
MR. WHITMAN: Go ahead.
Q General, Jamie McIntyre again, from CNN. Just one other quick number follow-up, to help us understand. Of the NATO troops that you talked about, how many of them are in the south, in this area of heavy fighting that you've been talking about?
GEN. JONES: In the southern region, Jamie, it's about 6,000.
MR. WHITMAN: Luis -- excuse me. Go ahead.
Q General, it's Luis Martinez of ABC News. Could you quantify what the number of helicopters and C-130s that you will require as part of this request?
GEN. JONES: Well, if we had a squadron of attack helicopters, and if we had about another two or three C-130s, that would make COMISAF's position in the -- not only in the south but in Afghanistan in general a very -- you know, a very -- it would enhance the position very much.
Helicopters for troop transport are also important because it enhances our mobility. But helicopters are very hard to generate in the alliance, because they're maintenance-intensive, they're expensive. And we probably have had more difficulty -- I have more difficulty generating helicopters in the alliance than I do F-16s, for example. We can -- we get plenty of F-16s and plenty of fighters, but the -- to -- for some reason, to get the helicopters generated has always been a problem.
MR. WHITMAN: John?
Q General, it's John Hendren at National Public Radio. It sounds like what you're saying when you say that you could do the job currently with the forces that you have, but you could do it faster and with fewer casualties -- it sounds like you're saying that this is something that can be measured in time -- and we've heard the estimate that Afghanistan has six months to sort of get things together -- and lives. Is that a fair assessment?
GEN. JONES: I don't know what you mean by the comment that Afghanistan has six months to get things together.
I think that obviously if we're talking about the operations in the south, typically, when the winter sets in, things slow down a little bit in Afghanistan. And I think in the southern region it will be a very good thing when we do in fact smash the opposition, as I'm quite sure we're going to do.
But I -- yeah, I think that obviously, when you have an enemy that's showing a willingness to stand and fight, which is somewhat new in Afghanistan, as opposed to taking potshots at the stronger military forces and attacking schools and harmless, helpless civilians in horrific murders, which ought to be expressed in outrageous terms throughout the world and condemned as a tactic, a certain principle of mass does come into play. And as long as they're there, then I think bringing more forces to bear is a prudent military tactic.
I must -- I might say that certain countries have already come to assist in this effort, notably Portugal. The Netherlands have produced a company that has joined the Canadians and the U.S., has been extremely helpful from the east with providing some rifle companies, a very, very generous amount of air support and other capabilities that are shoring up the capabilities in the south.
Our goal in pushing forward for the remainder of the combined statement of requirements is so that we can get those forces back to their parent units. We don't feel the need to collapse everyone around Kandahar over this issue, but we do feel that in the interest of the tactical moment and the opportunities we have, that we should capitalize on it and bring this to a swift conclusion.
MR. WHITMAN: Nick, go ahead.
Q General, Nick Simeone at Fox News. How much of a problem or a setback, if that's the right word, is it that poppy growers are now seeking protection from the Taliban?
GEN. JONES: Well, that's -- I must say that's a new one. (Chuckles.) I haven't heard that, to be honest, and my premise has been that there's increasing evidence that the poppy growers are in fact aiding and abetting the insurgency and criminal elements to encourage them to be a buffer against what they know is coming at some point, and that's narcotics reform. So -- and we certainly see that clearly in the southern region, where we are right now.
I -- frankly, I would consider it encouraging, if that were the case. And I will certainly post the system to see if there's any evidence, if that's the case. I think -- but I think the overwhelming evidence is that they actually are supporting the criminal elements, they're supporting the high degree of corruption that exists, they're supporting criminal activity and they're supporting the insurgency.
MR. WHITMAN: Mike.
Q General, it's Mike Mount with CNN. Going back to that requirement of attack helicopters and the two to three C-130s, can you say what countries you'd expect would provide those?
GEN. JONES: Well, I'm going to ask you to indulge me in not being so specific at this moment because I am going into a meeting tomorrow in Warsaw, Poland, with all 26 chiefs of defense. We're going to have some very frank discussions. We're going to lay out on the table which countries are in fact contributing generously and where the capabilities are in the alliance that other countries should be nudged and persuaded to step up to the table, and so I would rather not put the public eye on anybody at this particular point.
We do have a very collegial relationship with the membership of the alliance. It is hard work to generate forces. I'm not naive to think this is the only game in town; there's Lebanon, there's Israel, there's national forces deployed in Africa from some of our allies. So it is straining the effort to raise forces, but this is something that I think is compelling, and I'm hopeful that I'll be able to report back in a few days that we've done it.
MR. WHITMAN: Zack.
Q General, Zack Peterson with Inside the Navy. Switching for a moment to your role as EUCOM chief, there's been a lot of press reports lately about establishing an Africa command. And most of those assets would come from EUCOM, according to some of these reports. What's your take on this, and do you support the idea of an Africa command?
GEN. JONES: I think that my experience over the last four years in these two assignments that I've had are that Africa is a continent of immense strategic importance to the United States in a bilateral sense. It is something that I think we can and should pay much more attention to, not just from a security standpoint, but from a commercial standpoint, from an economic standpoint. There are very, very compelling -- there's a very compelling case to be made that our competitive stance in the world is going to be affected by what we do or don't do in Africa. There are certainly some overriding security issues that have to be addressed. But there's far more potential and far more reason for optimism than there is pessimism, in my view.
With regard to the existence of a new unified command, my opinion is that at some point this is something that we probably should do as a nation. We are currently studying the secretary of Defense's -- or answering the secretary of Defense's request for a study as to how one might do this, and we're doing this at EUCOM. There are different possibilities here that exist, perhaps one of them might be, for example, migrating through a sub-unified command before you get to a unified command.
Others might say go to a unified command directly. But this is all a work in progress, the study is ongoing, and I'm happy that we're actually discussing this because it shows that there is an awakening consensus that Africa is a continent of tremendous importance to us in the future, and we should do the right thing.
Q General, it's Bob Burns again. Your earlier comments about the fact that the Taliban have fought so fiercely in the south being somewhat of a surprise, somewhat unexpected, so I'm wondering what you think explains that, and whether there is something new that has entered the equation in terms of maybe Taliban leadership or training or access to arms.
GEN. JONES: The only way I can explain it right now -- and it's something that I'm very interested in getting to the bottom of -- is -- goes back to my opening statement, where I said that one of the things that has characterized the southern region has been the absence of permanent forces out there engaging at distances from the population centers. I mean, other than the relatively large bases, such as we have at Kandahar, most of our troop presence for the last several years has been in the form of the more offensive Connecticut (sic) -- kinetic drive to fight the opposition, hit-and-run, and so on and so forth.
It's clear that they've had a sanctuary in that part of the country. It's very large, as you know. It's also clear that this is the home of the Taliban in terms of their leaders -- Mullah Omar to name one. It's also very evident that this is the center mass of the narcotics problem; the opium production, the trade routes, the infiltration routes, the crime and corruption that has gone on there unchallenged for a long time is being changed. And I think that that plus the fact that the opposition, the enemy decided to test the resolve of the alliance, and I think they read our press like anybody else. There was some fairly direct suggestions that NATO wouldn't have the guts to stick it out or the staying power and wouldn't fight, and they found out that's wrong, and they're paying a huge price for it in terms of casualties.
How long they'll keep this up is anybody's guess. My personal impression would be that they'll keep trying a little bit longer, but ultimately, I think their losses will be unacceptable. I don't think they have an endless amount of manpower. I do think that the infiltration across the border from Pakistan is a problem, and I -- I didn't say this earlier, but I did take a side trip to Islamabad and met with the senior military leadership in Pakistan. And we did discuss NATO-Pakistan issues with regard to the border, and I received encouraging pledges from the leadership that they are going to take this seriously, they're interested in working with NATO, they're interested in doing what they can on the other side of the border to -- with regard to the safe havens and to working with us in a combined -- in a partnership to attack the border problems simultaneously in order to decrease the obvious immigration -- infiltration venues that have been existing for so long.
MR. WHITMAN: All right. I think we have one more here.
Go ahead, Lou.
Q Hi, General, Lou Martinez again with ABC. You mentioned a meeting with a Pakistani official. Was there any discussion of this agreement by the government of Pakistan with local leadership in Waziristan, that it kind of in effect creates a safe haven? Is that how it's perceived or what's your take on that agreement?
GEN. JONES: Well, I realize that it's been interpreted many different ways. I can tell you that from their perspective, that they have reached an agreement -- and this is their words, not mine -- an agreement that, if all parties respect it, will hopefully lead to more control over the border by the people who live there, with certain aspects with regard to foreign fighters and transit across the border to be enforced more locally but with respecting the territorial integrity of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and with the armed forces of Pakistan reserving the right to interfere if this agreement is not fully lived up to.
So we'll just have to wait and see how it plays out. I realize that there's probably a couple sides to the coin, but I think for the moment we take the agreement as it is and we see what happens.
But I think it's going to be very important for NATO -- the NATO military commanders and political leaders to stay in close contact with Pakistan and make sure that the synergy and the effort is harmonized in such a way as to really make some good progress along the border, because there's no question that the transit routes are causing problems, particularly in the southern part of Afghanistan right now.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, General, we know it's getting into the evening in Brussels. We do appreciate you taking the time today and on short notice to give us some perspective on some of the things that we were seeing.
And before I close, let me turn it back to you in case you have anything else you'd like to say.
GEN. JONES: I would just simply close by saying that it is well recognized in the alliance that this is NATO's most important mission. It certainly is its most ambitious ambition since the end of the Cold War. Almost 20,000 soldiers from our allies and friends, non-NATO countries alike, have committed to this mission.
For all the discussion we've had in the last few minutes about the fighting that's going on, we did not talk but I cannot close the discussion without emphasizing that in the north and in the west and in many areas of Afghanistan, reconstruction and development is going on with great progress.
But I will simply close by reemphasizing the fact that in some key areas, it's my judgment that the international community needs to do more, and to do more in a more rapid sense, to reform the police, to stand up a judicial system and a rule of law that is universally respected, to attack the problem of corruption among people who have positions of responsibility in the local and provincial and national governments; and above all -- above all -- to tackle the -- to begin to tackle with some degree of effectiveness in a comprehensive way the insidious, over-arching problem of narcotics that is going to be an albatross around our necks and the Achilles heel in the recovery of Afghanistan is we don't get on with it. Thank you very much for the opportunity to spend some time with you and for your interest and your questions.
MR. WHITMAN: Thank you, General. And you're welcome into this forum any time you'd like.
GEN. JONES: I hope to be able to report back to you in a few days that the balance of the force that we would like to have has been generated.
MR. WHITMAN: Very good.
GEN. JONES: Thanks.
Copyright (c) 2006 by Federal News Service, Inc., Ste. 500 1000 Vermont Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20005, USA. Federal News Service is a private firm not affiliated with the federal government. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the written authority of Federal News Service, Inc. Copyright is not claimed as to any part of the original work prepared by a United States government officer or employee as a part of that person's official duties. For information on subscribing to the FNS Internet Service, please visit http://www.fednews.com or call(202)347-1400