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DoD Briefing with Col. Schweitzer and Maj. Gen. Khaliq via Video Conference from Afghanistan in the Pentagon Briefing Room, Arlington, Va.

Presenters: Colonel Martin Schweitzer, Commander, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division; And Major General Abdul Khaliq, Commander, Afghan National Army 203rd Corps
June 20, 2007
            COL. GARY KECK (director, Pentagon Press Office): Welcome, everyone, to the Pentagon briefing room. Today we have with us from Afghanistan Colonel Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division – we lost the video for a second, but you’re back -- from the All American Division, and Major General Abdul Khaliq, commander of the Afghan National Army 203rd Corps. The men and women of Task Force Fury and the 203rd Corps are partnering to improve security and stability operations in southeastern Afghanistan.    
 
            Gentlemen, thank you for taking time today to bring us an update on the operations in your area.   
 
            Colonel Schweitzer has been commanding his unit in Afghanistan since January. This is his second briefing with the Pentagon press corps. This is General Khaliq's first briefing with us. And they are both speaking from Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost province. Colonel Schweitzer will start with his opening comments and will turn it over to General Khaliq for his opening comments. And as you can see, General Khaliq has an interpreter, so please be patient as we work through this.   
 
            As I've told the Pentagon press corps, Marty, the audio going to Afghanistan has been giving us a little difficulty this morning and sometimes they can't hear us at all. I may repeat a question for you from up at these microphones, just in case, to see if it gets through. And if we totally lose the ability for them to hear us, they will just conclude with their closing comments for today if that happens. So hopefully we'll work through this and it will be fine. 
 
            With that, I'm going to turn it over to you, Marty, for your opening comments and General Khaliq's opening comments. 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: Okay, great. First of all, thanks for giving us this opportunity to share with you today what we've been doing really since the end of April to combine our capabilities together. The 4th Brigade of the 82nd is a subordinate formation to Colonel Khaliq and the 203rd Corps as we continue to try to separate the enemy from the population and provide an opportunity for governance to get down to the people, giving the people an alternate view from what the Taliban had been providing. 
 
            Let me just give you a brief update about U.S. formations and our new organizations since I spoke to you last. First of the 508th is still the theater tactical force down there in RC-South doing great things for the commander of RC-South. The 1st of the 503rd, the battalion out of Italy, U.S. battalion out of Italy, has replaced 2nd of the 87th from the 10th Mountain Division, and they're now working along Eastern Paktika along the border area. We had the -- privileged to have the Polish Battle Group TOA last week -- transition of authority -- and so they're now part of Task Force Fury. They're doing a fine job in western Paktika. 
 
            We've got 473 and 2508, as well as one of the four PRTs that are organized underneath our Tactical Operations Center here forward in Ghazni working for General Khaliq in support of Operation Maiwand. And our Special Troops Battalion is still a battlespace-owner in Paktia doing a phenomenal job in Paktia and Lowgar. And our logistical battalion, I don't know how they're doing it, but they're providing logistical support and enabling us to maintain our operational tempo throughout 27,000 square miles of battlespace -- doing a phenomenal job. 
 
            And with that -- that's just a brief update just to let you know things are still going pretty well for us out here. And we've been fortunate, as I indicated in the opening comment, to be partnered with General Khaliq and his formation. He is the commander of the 203rd ANA Corps. He developed this plan that we're currently executing. As one of his subordinate formations and having said that, I'll turn it over to General Khaliq. 
 
            GEN. KHALIQ: Thank you very much. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is a big honor for me to take part in this VTC conference. I just want to tell you in brief about the Operation Maiwand, which is the first operation planned, resourced and executed by the Afghan Army. 
 
            This operation, almost -- over 1,400 soldiers and officers have participated. And within these 20 days of operation, we have opened the schools, clinics and the community centers, which the Taliban claimed that the ANA and the ANP would not be able to open it. And also, we had committed about -- over 27 shuras -- that is the local meeting, where the government leaders and – (inaudible) -- with the local elders, which is very, very critical and important for their contact with their governments. 
 
            And also, within this operation, the ANA and ANP -- this is our National Police -- we have worked together with the support of the 4th Brigade of 82nd Airborne Division. We have achieved a lot of success in this operation. Just now the people -- (audio break) -- of these four districts which we are operating in this, the districts of Giro, Andal, Karabakh and Diyak, which belongs to the Ghazni province. They are supporting the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the enemy has been separated from them. They are just hating the enemy, because they understood that the enemy, that is -- that the Taliban and the al Qaeda net they are not giving them any good things, and that is the government of Afghanistan which always works for its people and give the people a very good condition of life. 
 
            During this -- within these 20 days of operations, we have delivered over 180 tons of humanitarian help; and as – (inaudible) -- we have given over 18,000 men, women and children their medical treatments; and as far as -- (inaudible) -- we have opened the school, as I told before. 
 
            And also the -- within this time of operation, the Taliban, they couldn't engage directly with the ANA and ANP because they know that they don't have such force and resistance to have -- directly engage with the ANA. They are -- they have divided in small groups, and all the people of this province, they know about their bad behavior with the people. And they were laughing that the ANA and ANP, they would not be able to get in and start the schools and the community centers. But they were all lies, and now they lost their -- (inaudible) -- on the people, and the people all are ready in supporting the government. They have already hated the Taliban. And they said that they would never allow the Taliban to govern on them in their district.   
 
            Thank you very much. 
 
            COL. KECK: Okay. Thank you, gentlemen. And we'll begin with questions. I remind you, again, they cannot see you, so please let them know who they're talking to. 
 
            Kristin.   
 
            Q     Sir, this is Kristin Roberts with Reuters. Over the last few weeks, we've heard from senior military and senior Defense officials here at the Pentagon that the long-awaited spring offensive by the Taliban had not materialized. But since then we've seen suicide bombings, and we've seen the Taliban take over a district in Kandahar. 
 
            Can you tell us whether you've seen a marked increase in Taliban activity in the last two weeks? And is this the spring offensive that some folks thought just was not materializing? 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: Okay, this is Colonel Schweitzer. Again, just as I spoke with y'all last time when we talked back in April, if this is the spring offensive, things are going to be just fine. You know, when you guys hear that there is a district center that was overtaken, what you need to understand is if there is a district center that is overrun -- is the term that we keep hearing -- that's not really what happened. If the Taliban uses an IO campaign as part of their strategy to get ANP or other folks to go ahead and move out of the AO while they come in for about an hour or two, they'll set a room on fire, and then as soon as the ANP or ANA come back in force, or coalition with ANA come back in force, the Taliban immediately pull out of the district center. 
 
            I mean, I remember when we were talking about this last time, the Giro district center was attacked, and so there was this impression that the Taliban had attacked with 2(00) or 300 people. And the reality of it was -- in our assessment was about 12 people that attacked the Giro district center back in April, caused the ANP to leave, and then within about two hours, they were kicked out and the ANP had restored confidence and credibility within that particular district center. 
 
            It's interesting to note with the Taliban what they are targeting. Right now they are targeting the ANP and the population. They don't dare touch the ANA, because they'll get whacked. And so when they do attempt -- when they do fight the ANA, they're not around to fight another day. And so they have figured that out. They know they can't really attack the coalition, they know they can't attack the ANA, so now they're trying to attack the ANP, which is a developing organization trying to, you know, to continue to win an IO campaign. And what they've always got out there are the innocents in the population when they apply their suicide bombings and their different techniques to try to get their IO message across that they've actually gained control. Frankly, they control nothing in Afghanistan, not for anything more than an hour. 
 
            COL. KECK: Mik. 
 
            Q     Colonel, Jim Miklaszewki with NBC News. We understand that the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Laith al-Libi, was the target of a U.S rocket attack against a compound in Paktika province on Sunday, the one in which seven children were killed. We also understand that a number of enemy fighters' remains were found. 
 
            Has it been determined yet whether Abu Laith himself was killed in that U.S. assault? 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: Yeah, that's a good question, Jim. The answer to that is no, we do not have confirmation who was killed during that particular attack at this time. 
 
            Q     What efforts are being made -- is it possible to identify whether Abu Laith was killed in that attack? 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: Yeah, Jim, I'm -- I would suspect that it is. That's beyond my expertise level. I am an infantry brigade commander; I'm not a forensic guy. But I'm sure as -- we can confirm whether it was or wasn't, I'm positive that the community at large will know, but right now we do not know that answer. 
 
            Q     One more follow-up, if I could. We're also told that U.S. forces, contrary to earlier reports, knew that there were children in that compound at the time of the attack, but that the target was considered such high value that it was considered worth the risk at the time. Is that the case, and what was the thinking behind that? 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: That's absolutely not the case. That's an incorrect item that was reported. I read a similar report this morning on the net, and some of those facts appeared to be accurate. I can guarantee you personally, as well as what we coordinated with the different formations, that there was an assessment that there were no children on that particular target, and that was the assessment by the military community at large,  period. 
 
            COL. KECK: Pam. 
 
            Q     This is Pam Hess with United Press International, and this is for the general, and it's an overarching question. Six years after the Americans came and helped kicked out the Taliban, what's taking so long? Why does there continue to be fighting? Is it that the Afghans haven't fully embraced the new government, is it that they have any sympathy for the Taliban, is it that there are just not enough people there fighting to help the whole country? Could you explain what’s -- I guess, what's taking so long? 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: You're coming in broken. I think I got the gist of your question. Let me share it with General Khaliq, since I'm pretty confident you can hear me. And then, if I got it right, go ahead and let him respond, and then we can go back and forth if I've missed the gist of it. 
 
            (To General Khaliq.) Sir, the question is: Why is it taking so long to make the Taliban go away and provide the villagers and the communities at large -- to start supporting their government and no longer accept the Taliban? I think that's the gist of it. 
 
            Yes, sir.   
 
            GEN. KHALIQ: Actually Taliban, they are not alone. They are connected to the network, to the al Qaeda net, and they are trained. They have been given money, and they have been provided with arms and everything from outside of Afghanistan.   
 
            So they are not alone here, just to neglect them, and although the people, they don't want the Taliban and their dark policy and what they are going to bring on the people. The people are hating them, but still they are coming by force. And our armed forces -- that is the ANA and ANP, especially the ANP, which is dealing with internal security -- it is new established. And we are hoping that within a short time, when once our ANSF -- that is the security forces, national security forces -- are growing, they are -- (audio break) -- them out from Afghanistan.   
 
            COL. KECK: Did you get enough there, Pam?   
 
            Q     I guess my -- the follow-up is, we're often told and read about counterinsurgency campaigns being about winning the hearts and the minds of the people. And I -- and it seems like he's saying that those hearts and minds have been won, but they just haven't handled -- but there just continues to be an outside threat. Is that correct?   
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: Want me to answer that?   
 
            Yeah, okay, again, you came in broken, Kim (sic), but I asked the general if I could go ahead and complete that.   
 
            The -- as we approach and we start focusing on the people, because the center of gravity is the population -- it's not the enemy. We're trying to get the people of Afghanistan, in the small villages and communities, to no longer fall under the oppression of the Taliban, and start working and looking towards their government for a better way of life. And initially we were doing this with a heavy coalition presence.   
 
            And over the last two years in particular, through General Khaliq's leadership, the Afghan national security forces, in particular the Afghan National Army, has been able to take a leadership role. And so they are now getting down there into the communities. They're now the first people that touch the communities and the villages within Afghanistan.   
 
            And so if you're a common villager, you used to see the coalition, and that really wasn't the picture of your government. Now you're seeing the ANA down there in those communities. And so you say, well, okay, then what's the end-state of that? How do you know if you're actually, you know, pushing or getting the government's message down there to the communities?   
 
            And the answer is, over the last year -- there's 83 districts in the area -- in Task Force Fury's area of operation. About a year ago, about 19 districts were in support of the government. About -- in January, we had about 30 districts that were in support of the government; today, after a series of ANA-led operations, where about 60 of the 83 districts, that the village and the community leaders and the district leaders look to their government for the answer versus the Taliban. 
 
            And then if you go, well, how do you know that, how do you measure it? You measure it by the shuras that are conducted, by the independent shuras that are conducted, where the village leaders or the mullahs if you're in Ghazni now are saying they no longer accept recruitment in the Taliban of their kids. And there's no better barometer than that that indicates that these communities and these villages are looking towards their government now versus the Taliban. 
 
            Now, I don't want to leave you with the impression that it's all fixed. There's a lot of work to be done, and I think that there's no other organization that better typifies that work than the ANA. You know, I was here five years ago when it was a developing organization, and now I'm back here today five years later and they are out front the most respected institution on the ground within these communities and villages. And it is impressive when we go into villages, they ask for their Afghan National Army, and they're not asking for coalition, and I think that's another indicator of the progress that is occurring. 
 
            Is it going to take time? Absolutely, it's going to take time. We're changing, you know, 10, 15 years of oppression and 30 years of war in the minds of the villagers and communities, and it's just not behaviors, it's attitudes and beliefs. And we think the strategy, the right strategy is to have the Afghans develop the plan, apply the solution and the better way of life for their communities, and that's where we're getting to right now here in eastern Afghanistan through General Khaliq's leadership. 
 
            COL. KECK: Jamie. 
 
            Q     Colonel Schweitzer, it's Jamie McIntyre from CNN. You said the Taliban doesn't control anything for more than an hour, but it does appear to be able to increasingly inflict casualties through roadside bombs and suicide bombers.  
 
            We just saw three NATO soldiers killed today by a roadside bomb. Can you comment on the increasing use of those tactics? And what effect is it having? Are they having, frankly, some success with that? 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: Yeah, okay, Jim (sic). You came in a little bit broken, but I think I got the substance of it.   
 
            The strategy of using these suicide bombs and IEDs, you know, if they were just targeting the, you know, coalition and NATO and ISAF forces, we're uniquely equipped and prepared to be able to withstand that kind of particular approach. What's happening more often than not, I'll tell you, about nine out of 10 times they're targeting their communities. They're targeting the children, they're targeting the teachers, they're targeting the doctors, they're targeting government officials. They're targeting the underbelly of the ANSF right now, which is the ANP, and that's only because -- and it's not long away before they become a real strong muscle for the community. 
 
            No, they're not having an effect. They're not having an effect on the ground with respect to being able to retain ground. They are having some IO victories with this stuff because it -- the way it plays out. But the reality of it is their -- this is not another -- this is not Iraq. The Afghan people do not tolerate that particular scheme of maneuver by the enemy. And it is not working in support of them. And I'm telling you we're pretty confident that these attacks on the civilians are helping the cause to get the communities and the districts to start looking to the government.   
 
            The Afghan people do not appreciate that particular approach. And despite what may or may not be hitting the airwaves, down there on the ground in these communities, in these surrounding communities, they tell us day in and day out that they don't like it, they don't want to be a part of it, and they want more Afghan National Army forces on the ground securing their communities. So that's the effect that's getting created. It's more of a rejection than it is an acceptance or an acquiescence. 
 
            Q     For the colonel and the general, if I may. Do you have the forces to sustain the gains that the general outlined earlier? 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: Sir, I'll turn that to him and then I'll answer on the coalition side when he's done. 
 
(To General Khaliq) Do you have enough forces to sustain what you've achieved in Maiwand to date at the end of this? 
 
            GEN. KHALIQ: We have got enough forces, the ANA and ANP, to achieve the Operation Maiwand.   
 
            But still we are getting the support, especially the air support and the armor support and as far as the logistical support, from the Fury Task Forces.   
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: Along that same line, the coalition contribution that we're going to leave here, it's -- first of all, it's -- everything is combined. And so there will be a brigade commander from the ANA that -- General Khaliq's going to help orchestrate the security in this area with the ANP.   
 
            We're going to leave about three times the amount of forces that we had here previously, to continue to expand the security network in what we call the Ghazni belt.   
 
            So I think at the end state of this, General Khaliq has developed a plan, a stay-behind plan, that a month ago -- there's going to be about four times the amount of security forces from ANA, ANP and coalition that will remain here to further develop and enhance the security environment, allowing the government to get down here to talk to the people, to start providing for them, particularly at some of these remote village areas. And the end state of that is, that becomes its own security.   
 
            So there's going to be about four times the amount of security forces left back here. But as you start building on the effects created, the community will start providing its own security. 
 
            Q     General, this is for both of you. Bill McMichael with the Military Times newspapers. You say that more time is needed. There's a lot of pressure right now to see some success in Iraq and get forces -- U.S. forces out of Iraq at some point in the not too distant future. What do you think, in your view, it'll take to allow Afghanistan to operate on its own, without U.S. force involvement? Is this another South Korea? 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: (Chuckles.) Look, I've -- that is -- that's a question that I -- my own opinion is, that's probably not an appropriate question. I think -- because to compare Afghanistan to anything other than Afghanistan, I think, is a mistake.   
 
            This is my second time here. I can tell you this: that the people of Afghanistan are tired of war; that the people of Afghanistan have never allowed their country to be conquered by anybody, no matter what nation, no matter what capability, by no matter what power.   
 
            I think it's becoming very clear, on this rotation, on this time that I've been here, that the communities are now starting to choose their government. And when the people of Afghanistan choose their way, I can -- I view that as we're getting close to irreversible momentum.   
 
            The wind's starting to pick up, so I don't know if that came in. (Pause.) 
 
            COL. KECK: They've lost signal. We'll see if we hear anything from them in a minute. 
 
            (Pause.)   
 
            Marty, we can hear you.   
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: Okay, great. Did you hear the answer to the question or do I need to repeat it? 
 
            COL. KECK: Ended at "momentum was irreversible." We've lost picture, but go ahead if you have any more to add. 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: Okay. I mean look, it's -- the people of Afghanistan are now deciding that. They're now getting the opportunity to decide what they want. And it's becoming clear that the people are tired of the oppression, are tired of having their kids not being allowed to go to school, tired of their kids not being able to get medical treatment, tired of a way of life that's only threats.   
 
            President Karzai and his governors are constantly pushing what the government wants to offer. And the Afghan National Security Forces, particularly the army, that's now strong enough, are providing that secure environment -- in some of the areas, not all of them, because it's not big enough yet, and that's why we're working in a combined fashion to create that environment so they can continue to get to choose what they want to do. I can tell you this; every place that General Khaliq's soldiers go, every place, every district, those communities choose their government every time. 
 
            COL. KECK: Okay, let's make this the last one, since it looks like we're having some technical difficulty and may lose you. 
 
            Q     Colonel, we've lost your picture; we can't see you anymore. But I just wanted to ask you, have you been wounded or did you jam those fingers playing basketball? 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: (Laughs.) It was -- I fell down, okay? (Laughs.)   
 
            COL. KECK: One last real question. All right.   
 
            Q     A real question. 
 
            Q     Uh-huh. This one's for the general. You said earlier that the Taliban was really only staying on its feet by outside support. Can you characterize for us the level of support the Taliban is receiving from Iran and what needs to be done to eliminate that support? 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: Okay, a wind gust hit it right when you started talking, and so we couldn't hear anything. Give us -- just give us a second. It may be one of those awkward TV moments, but just give us a second while this current wind blast goes through. 
 
            (Pause.)  
 
            COL. KECK: Marty, can you hear me? 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: I can hear you. 
 
            COL. KECK: (Inaudible) – was assisting the Taliban, and specifically, can you ascertain the amount of support from Iran that's being provided, and are we doing anything about that. 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: Okay, is that a question for General Khaliq? 
 
            COL. KECK: Yes. 
 
            GEN. KHALIQ: I don't have any information, at least in area of our responsibility, that is the southeast part of Afghanistan. 
 
            Of course, there is no doubt that the Taliban is helped by -- out by some -- by outside of Afghanistan, but I don't have the information whether the Iranians are helping them or not. 
 
            COL. KECK: Quickly, Pam. 
 
            Q     Yes. Clarification on the first question. Does Colonel Schweitzer have certain knowledge that the district that was taken over -- or reportedly taken over by the Taliban is no longer, or was he answering just generally this is the pattern of what happens? 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: Good question, Kim (sic). That's a general response. I'm not privy to RC-South right now, I don't have visibility. We're out here at a small tactical operations center where we've combined our capabilities. 
 
            What I'm referencing is the multiple reports that we get of the Taliban taking district centers, and as soon as we can confirm what happened -- it was almost like a grab-and-go from a 7-Eleven by some little hoodlum. It is not what gets represented, trust me on this. 
 
            COL. KECK: Okay, Gentlemen, we thank you, and at this time, we'd like to give you an opportunity to provide any closing comments or remarks. 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: Okay. I'll just close out with just a couple things. 
 
            First, as I did last time, I'd like to send a special thanks to the JIEDDO, that's the counter-IED task force who every day, through those great soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, men and women, doing forensic analysis on the IEDs that enable us to identify and prevent the number of casualties we could have been experiencing. And I know you guys get reports of everyone that goes bad, but you don't get reports of the 20 or 30 that are found that don't go bad that ensures that we can bring more of these great Americans back home. 
 
            The second group of folks I'd like to thank again is the -- and it also belongs to JIEDDO -- are the law enforcement personnel, they're called LEPs. They're the civilian-retired cops that have been integrated into our battalions and brigade headquarters to help us get a better appreciation and understanding for the asymmetrical threat and challenges that are here in the battlespace. I got to tell you, they have been very solid MVPs, this whole JIEDDO task force, on what they do every day. 
 
            The last group, in terms of who's assigned to our team, we've got this group of folks called the Human Terrain Teams. Steve Fondecarrier, I think, is the guy who runs it back there in the States. These are four anthropologists that I have on my brigade staff that help us understand the human terrain and help us enable -- identify a better maneuver of tools than just bullets to create effects. And I got to tell you, about 80 percent of what we're doing here is non-lethal, and their contribution to that particular form of maneuver has been pretty significant. 
 
            And then, finally, as I did last time, I'd just like to say thank you to all the families for everything that they sacrifice every day on behalf of all the deployed soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines as we try to create a little bit of stability and freedom here in Afghanistan. 
 
            So thank you very much. 
 
            General Khaliq. 
 
            GEN. KHALIQ: Thank you very much. 
 
            As I said at the beginning of this conversation, this was the first led Afghan operation by the help of Task Force Fury, but I hope in the future, as has already been given to us, more help from the world community, especially from the United States people and the United States government.   
 
            I appreciate their help, and I hope they will give us -- they will help us more and more, especially our ANA and our ANP, to have the capabilities to defend independently and get success on all the insurgents and Taliban and al Qaeda which are making our lives, the peoples of Afghanistan's lives, worse. And I appreciate the world community's and the United States nation's help, which is already given to us. Thank you very much.   
 
            COL. KECK: Thank you again, gentlemen.
 
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