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DoD News Briefing with Col. Ives and Lt. Col. Kim at the Pentagon

Presenters: Commander, Task Force Cinncinatus Col. Jonathan Ives and Commander, 924th Medical Support Group of the Republic of Korea Lt. Col. Kim Seoung-Ki
June 28, 2007
            (Note: Colonel Ives and Lieutenant Colonel Kim appear via teleconference from Afghanistan.) 
 
            JAMES TURNER (deputy director, Pentagon Press Office): Okay. I guess we'll get started.   
 
            Good morning. Colonel Ives, this is Jim Turner in the Pentagon briefing room. Can you hear me? 
 
            COL. IVES: Good morning, Jim. Yes, I can.   
 
            MR. TURNER: Great. Okay. Let's go ahead. 
 
            Recently we discussed security operations and the Afghan National Army, and today we're going to hear from Colonel Jonathan Ives, commander of Task Force Cincinnatus of the Combined Joint Task Force 82. And joining Colonel Ives is Lieutenant Colonel Seoung-Ki Kim, commander of the Republic of Korea's army's 924th Medical Support Group.  
 
            Task Force Cincinnatus is responsible for operations in five provinces in northeastern Afghanistan, part of NATO's Regional Command East. Colonel Ives is a mobilized Reservist from Seattle, and he has assumed command -- he assumed command in February of this year. Lieutenant Colonel Kim's primary mission is to treat and aid local nationals as an outpatient care facility.   
 
            Both of the colonels are speaking to us from Bagram Air Force -- excuse me -- Bagram Airfield today and have agreed to provide us a comprehensive view, focusing on governance and development operations and health care for Afghans.   
 
            Colonel Ives will start with his opening comments, and then we'll turn it over to Lieutenant Colonel Kim for his comments before they take your questions. And with that, Colonel Ives, over to you. 
 
            COL. IVES: Thank you very much, Jim. 
 
            Good morning. I'm Colonel Jonathan Ives, the commander of Task Force Cincinnatus, located in Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. This morning I'm going to give you a brief introduction to our mission, our ongoing activities here, my observations, and then I'll be happy to answer any questions you have. 
 
            Task Force Cincinnatus is composed of approximately a thousand service members from the U.S., New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, and Turkey. I consider this force to be a model -- (audio break from source) -- presence in the future after Afghan national security forces, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and ISAF forces have created a secure and stable environment throughout Afghanistan, which is predominantly PRT development, with -- (audio break) -- combat force and a required base operations support for our area of operations. 
 
            Our mission is to support and extend the reach of an Islamic Republic of Afghanistan by cooperatively developing the -- (inaudible) -- national security capabilities of their ANP and to support the growth of governance and development within the provinces of Bamian, Panjshir, Parvan and Wardak, to help build a stable Afghanistan. 
 
            Specifically during this year, my emphasis has been on education, information and employment. The task force supports coalition and U.S. provincial construction teams that are one Department of State -- (audio break) -- U.S. team in Panjshir, one combined Korean and U.S. for Parvan and Kapisa, a Turkish team in Wardak, and a New Zealand team in Bamian. We provide security and operations for Bagram Airfield and Camp Eggers, to include support to the U.S. embassy in Kabul and operational support for Kandahar Airfield and Salerno, which extends our command over 400 miles across Afghanistan. 
 
            Our current security operations, Tiber Salab (ph), is taking place in the Tagab and the Nejrab districts of Kapisa province. This operation began in May to separate the Afghans and the Taliban insurgents who operate in that area. Since we have limited security forces, we must capitalize on our partnerships with relationship building with AIRO officials, ANSF and other coalition forces to bring stability to this area. 
 
            During our relationship building shura meeting in Tagab, we confirmed that the villagers want coalition-led development, and they are worried about the Taliban threat. The population in the valley is worried that the local ANP force is not capable of providing security, so we are training and mentoring the police to improve their capability. At the same time, we are encouraging the elders to help themselves by not growing poppy and to embrace the USAID's Alternative Livelihoods Program and to notify the police if Taliban are living among the populace. This way, in their valley -- and if they want security -- it has to be a voluntary program, and we are helping them to build Afghan trust in their police. The benefit of the security to their valley is to increase the security and international aid in development, enabling them to have a better future. 
 
            The spearhead for development and governments throughout our Provincial Reconstruction Teams that help extend the reach of the government is also -- it goes without saying -- that the PRT efforts are very closely tied to the Afghan National Compact's obligations to the international community. Our PRTs have focused their assistance on the ANC goals of the Afghan National Development Strategy in the sectors of infrastructure, education, health, agriculture, rule of law and working with the local government to mitigate -- integrate all of those provincial development plans, which is really a grassroots democratic approach to project nomination from every level in the community. 
 
            The PRTs have supported the provisional infrastructure development with the use of over $20 million of the Commanders Emergency Response Program, building schools, bridges, roads, clinics and much more. The schools we have built across the province have been critical in achieving the compact goals of 75 percent of primary- age children in school by 2010, to include books, curriculum and teachers. An example of our success -- in the area of Bamian Boys High School, which was originally designed for 500 students, currently supports improving education for over 1,200 Afghan students.   
 
            The PRTs continue to support the development of governance, in partnership with the Department of State representatives on their teams. Bamian's Governor Sarabi is an international figure, lecturing worldwide on women's -- (audio break) -- within her province. In Panjshir -- (audio break) -- Governor Bahlul, a former mujaheddin commander, to provide a stable and effective government. The Panjshir is best known for the final stronghold of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Lion of Panjshir, and they take great pride in their military history and remaining strong.   
 
            (Audio break.) To me, this is evidence of the slow, deliberate cultural acceptance of the hope for a better and peaceful Afghanistan. The strengths of Task Force Cincinnatus are not the number of our servicemembers but our alliances with our Afghan people, ANSF, AIRO and coalition forces. Our coalition partnerships have strengthened our awareness and assisted us in helping the Afghans to improve their future.   
 
            I'll be followed by Lieutenant Colonel Kim, the Bagram Korean Hospital commander.   
 
            LT. COL. KIM: Good morning. I am Lieutenant Colonel -- (audio break). I'm privileged and happy to have this opportunity today to -- (audio break).   
 
            (Audio break) -- 924th Medical Support Group has been participating in Operation Enduring Freedom since the Korean government announced its commitment in September 24th, 2001, to support the international community in the war on terrorism. The first rotation of the hospital was deployed in February 2002.   
 
            And now the 11th rotation is in service to continue the mission. 
 
            I would like to mention that the Korean engineer group was deployed along with the Korean hospital. The engineer group has been providing construction, supporting on operational facilities for U.S. and other coalition forces on the base. The ninth rotation of the 100 Engineer Group was deployed in April this year. The engineers have about 20 construction projects on the way, including on the extension of the airfield mooring pad. The Korean hospital provides medical support for the people of Afghanistan and the coalition forces on the base. We also conduct public health education and the humanitarian relief activities for the local people. 
 
            To enhance a close relationship with the coalition forces, we actively participate in many activities held on the base. We are introducing traditional Korean culture such as tae kwon do and the traditional Korean cuisine. The tae kwon do class is getting very popular among the service members on the base. It is held twice a week at the clam shell here on Bagram. The Korean hospital has 60 of its members, including nurses, medics and four doctors. They see an average of 4,000 patients a month, roughly 200 patients a day, while maintaining love and care for the people. 
 
            Most of the patients come from the nearby Parvan province and Kabul. Some patients, however, come from as far away as Kandahar, which is 200 miles away from here, and even from areas near border of Pakistan. From time to time we do receive emergency patients with serious injuries from mine explosions and gun shots. For these cases, we maintain a combined treatment system in which we give first aid to the patients and quickly evacuate them to the U.S. hospital. 
 
            The Korean hospital has been carrying out its mission for five years and four months now. On June 21st, the total number of patients we treated reached 240,000. We will be having a celebration ceremony on the 3rd at which the government of Afghanistan will award a certificate of appreciation to us. The Korean hospital has been providing wholehearted medical support with unique kindness and love of Koreans. We have received a warm welcome and a good response from the people of Afghanistan. 
 
            We are determined now to make more effort to give hope to the people. We will continue making contributions to bring on the establishment of peace in this land. I am very proud to be part of and to make contributions to Operation Enduring Freedom. I really appreciate this opportunity to introduce the Korean hospital to a very important and large audience today. 
 
            COL. IVES: That concludes our introductory comments, and we'd be willing to take questions at this time. 
 
            MR. TURNER: Great. Well, thank you for the overview, and we'll start with Kristin. 
 
            Q     My question is for Lieutenant Colonel Kim. 
 
            MR. TURNER: Can you please identify yourself. 
 
            Q     I'm sorry. This is Kristin Roberts with Reuters. My question is about the medical outreach that you mentioned in your opening statement. Can you give us an idea of how much of the Afghan population you're able to reach with medical outreach? And are you also able to get into some of the more remote areas of Afghanistan? 
 
            (Pause.) 
 
            COL. IVES: Did you understand the question? (Pause.) 
 
            COL. KIM: Until -- we treat 240,000 patients. (Pause.) Is clear? 
 
            Q     The question, sir, is really more about what areas of the country you're able to reach. Are you only providing services in the main urban areas where there's enough infrastructure, or have you been able to reach the rural, remote areas? 
 
            COL. KIM: Okay. Korean hospital just provide outpatient only, because our mission and our ability is not enough to outreaching patients. Okay?   
 
            COL. IVES: He also is located on Bagram, so those outpatients have to travel to Bagram Airfield in order to provide the service. So it's really not an outreach program where he is able to take his services to those. But they're actually -- from the local areas, specifically Parvan province, which surrounds us here, they're able to come here, where he gets the number. But they also will travel up to 200 miles at their own capacity, through their own vehicles, to come here and get the services because they really are well-respected in the community. 
 
            MR. TURNER: Jim. 
 
            Q     Sir, this is Jim Garamone from American Forces Press Service. For Colonel Kim, how many Korean service members in the full 11 cycles have actually participated in the operation there? 
 
            And for Colonel Ives, do the Afghan people understand why your task force is named after Cincinnatus? 
 
            COL. IVES: Go ahead and answer the first one, is how many total Koreans have served. 
 
            COL. KIM: Okay. Our medical group totals 50 members, okay? Four doctors, three nurses, nine medics, and 34 supporting members. 
 
            COL. IVES: And 200 with the engineers? How many with the engineers? 
 
            COL. KIM: Oh, engineers. Oh, 150 engineers. 
 
            COL. IVES: And then this is the fifth rotation? 
 
            COL. KIM: Engineers, ninth rotation. Our medical group is 11 rotations. 
 
            COL. IVES: So Jim, does that somewhat answer your question there, or -- 
 
            Q     Thank you. And the idea of Cincinnatus? 
 
            COL. IVES: Okay. Cincinnatus. Where I have access and discuss, specifically with governors, and we have meetings and they wonder about the name because it's not as easy as something like "tiger" or "lion" or many other names that might be used, I try to explain to them exactly what the idea of Cincinnatus is. And also, being a reservist, it means quite a lot to me to understand that I come and I serve the nation and then I return back to being a civilian employee amongst all the people of the United States. And so I relate that to them, that I'm a citizen soldier and I come forward to serve and then go back. And where they do -- they understand it, especially the "muj" fighters that were a part of the defeat of the Russians and then again that stood up as part of the Northern Alliance. They too have now resumed their jobs as farmers and/or local businessmen, and they really appreciate the idea of Cincinnatus as a whole. 
 
            Thank you. 
 
            MR. TURNER: Gordon. 
 
            Q     Sir, it's Gordon Lubold from the Christian Science Monitor. I wonder if you could just kind of give us an overview of the amount of violence that you're seeing. Is it up? Is it down? What kinds of violence? And also specifically with regard to IED attacks, what are you seeing there? 
 
            COL. IVES: We're fortunate in our five provinces that we're fairly permissive. However, I did discuss that in the Kapisa province we have a cell of Taliban that are operating out of there. The reason they're choosing that area is it's not only an ethnic base of operations; it allows them to work from that area, and they provide some support through that type of relationship that they already have there. But also it's fairly close to Kabul, it's about 30 kilometers to Kabul, and it's about 30 kilometers over to Bav (ph). So in that regard, it's strategically placed in order to create access or provide them access to areas of significant influence. 
 
            What we've seen as far as the violence in the local areas is it's increased a little bit in that there are IEDs and/or activities in around the Bagram security zone and also in Parvan. Specifically, recently you may have seen targeting against Zakia Zaki, who was a local reporter and a well-known female owner of a radio station, Radio Freedom, here, and she was targeted and killed in an assassination. 
 
            And we link those type of things, also the attack on a parliamentary member, a female parliamentary member, who's very strong on female education, and she's also local to the Parvan area -- her attacks -- individually, I think both of those relate both to the ideology of the Taliban and the restrictions on female education, as far as the future of Afghanistan. And both of these women stood strong in defending that and also looking at the constitution and hoping that -- in the future that women will be able to stand strong in the education arena here in Afghanistan and specifically in Parvan. 
 
            Q     Are you seeing more targeted -- more women targeted generally? 
 
            COL. IVES: No, I really feel that they're equal opportunists as far as their targeting. And it really becomes a target of opportunity, depends on where they are.   
 
            The escalation is not extreme as far as -- it's like risen from a minimal of two to a hundred, but -- ones and twos, but enough so that it makes our reasonably secure areas -- to heighten our awareness as we travel, both in IED finds and the targeting. 
            The equipment, though, that we're provided here, we are absolutely thankful for the capabilities of the United States to produce and arm our soldiers with the technical equipment that prevent a number of the IEDs from going out, and allowing us also to go out and exploit the IEDs, in order to bring that information back and share that with everybody within theater, wherever we do find them and whatever the trigger mechanisms are, so that we can exploit those in the future and continue to build more information to defeat their technical capabilities and also to provide security for our forces as we travel about and try to support the growth and development here in Afghanistan. 
 
            MR. TURNER: In the back. 
 
            Q     Colonel Ives, Paul Krawzak, Copley News Service. I have a related question. How would you assess the strength of the Taliban in your area, including reference to their numbers and their resources, compared to the past, compared to last year, compared to '05, for example? 
 
            COL. IVES: There is -- the assessment really in our particular area is that they have grown specifically in this one area, in this one district that we're dealing with, in the Tagab district. Part of that is recruiting. As you may know, 50 percent of the population here is under 15 years old. And they are really influential as far as being able to bring into the madrassas -- they don't really have madrassas, necessarily -- but within the mosques and being taught by the Taliban. They see them coming back here as -- they're usually literate. They're intelligent. They're educated. They've been educated in Pakistan. They come up and they're recruiting at a variety of ages.   
 
            The part that I said earlier about education, information and employment is really our key.   
 
            If we can provide educational opportunities where they've been denied, specifically in, say, Tagab, where they hadn't had really schools there and many of their women were not allowed to go to school, if we can provide the education to the youth that there's opportunities outside, also information, being able to get radios in there, cell phone towers, able for them to talk and communicate and find out that the world outside of that district is growing in the Afghan community, and that they're being surpassed, that maybe we can prevent them from going to the Taliban side and prevent them from growing that force.   
 
            What we've seen is an escalation of force in there from about 50 to 200, about fourfold this year, and that's a combination of factors. I think that there's a combination from not only the district being somewhat ignored in that we thought that it was safe and secure in this province, and so we considered it to be a non-threat area and so we didn't apply or maintain a security force. Neither we nor the ANSF and police or their ANA remained in the province, in the district, in a, you know, continuous state.   
 
            And that's really -- what we're finding here is that what we need is an enduring presence, a permanent presence, not coalition force but maybe coalition-mentored force that are police or ANA in these districts that might have an ethnic background that can be shared with the Taliban coming back in, with their Pashtun or such that allows them to come in and move freely in there. So if they would keep their police active in there and have trust in their police or the ANA, which we've now encouraged to come back into that area, we're going to be able to make some inroads in doing that. But if we go out and they go out, then what happens is, they'll fill that vacuum, and they did fill that vacuum in this case.   
 
            Q     Just to follow up on one point, you said, fourfold increase, 50 to 200 this year. What does that refer to?   
 
            COL. IVES: 50 to 200 of their fighters.   
 
            Q     Okay, so their fighters have increased from 50 to 200 this year.   
 
            COL. IVES: Yes.   
 
            MR. TURNER: Luis.   
 
            This is the last question.   
 
            Q     Colonel Ives, it's Luis Martinez of ABC News.   
 
            You mentioned that it's going to take some time for the enduring presence in these areas to eventually overcome the Taliban. But it's going to take about another two years for the full Afghan police to be stood up. And though coalition forces have increased, you say that they're not going in those areas.   
 
            How do we prevent other areas from getting new Taliban recruitment or rising in Taliban levels, because Taliban recruiters move their and increase their force levels?   
 
            COL. IVES: Our way, again -- our way ahead is to provide the local populace with information about their future, to provide education that prevents the young from going over to try to, you know, be coerced and being essentially brought alongside of the Taliban thought process. The more education that we get out there, the more they'll be resistant to moving away from their way of life and into a -- away from peace and into war. So I really think that our enduring presence has to be both through the development of education -- which we're making great strides in doing; presently, they were -- 30 years ago, they had 1.2 million (children) in school, and right now this year, they have said there are about 6 million (children) in school, 2 million of which are girls. So that type of infrastructure that we're providing them is absolutely fantastic in the capability to prevent the young populace from moving into the Taliban. 
 
            If we can provide that, train their police to be a trusted opportunity for them to report to and deal with the Taliban, then that's exactly what we need to do as far as an enduring presence. And as we do that over the next two years, we'll be able to reduce our footprint and then be able to reduce successfully our military footprint through here and allow them to pick up and provide their own security, which they will do. And the ANA has already established that, and the ANP is a little bit behind because we focused on the ANA first. But the ANP is coming right along, and every single one of them that we train, their heart is in the right place; they just have to have the right -- they're equipped, they're ready to go -- they just have to have the right training and then, you know, just reinforcing that training continuously, that mentoring capability, as our soldiers would be or our policemen would be if they're starting out from a -- really from the ground up. And so as we do that, we'll develop that cadre of strong leaders within their military that will stand up and train them, and that's the enduring presence that we really need in Afghanistan, and I appreciate all the support that we get to do that. 
 
            MR. TURNER: (Off mike) -- well, thank you very much for your time today. We hope that you'll join us again sometime. 
 
            But before we close, let me it turn it back over to you in case you have any closing thoughts. 
 
            COL. IVES: I do. I want to thank you for allowing me to take a few minutes today to talk to you about the mission of Task Force Cincinnatus. I'd like to leave you with a few thoughts before I go. Our service members here in Afghanistan are performing admirably. It doesn't matter if they're soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines from the Korean -- from the Republic of Korea, from New Zealand or Turkey, the job they're doing here every day leaves a lasting, proud impression on the Afghans. When Task Force Cincinnatus leaves to return home, we'll leave behind a legacy of caring and commitment to the people of Afghanistan and a belief in their future. We'll have mentored the leaders and stood beside them through good times and bad and have demonstrated the will of the U.S. citizen to support a country that has been ravaged by war for over 30 years, the result of which is an illiteracy and a child mortality rate that rank in some of the worst in the world. 
 
            We have stood by and represent the United States citizen and dedicated to the development of their villages their health and education for a better future. And so we the service member, coalition partners and government employees of Task Force Cincinnatus thank the U.S. citizens and our families for their sacrifices and support, which provide the necessary resources to truly help the people of Afghanistan to help themselves, and so we thank you again today. 
 
            LT. COL. KIM: As you well know, after so many long wars, life is difficult for the people of Afghanistan. There is a very serious lack of hospitals, doctors, nurses and medicine. The mission and role of the Korean hospital is very important. From the bottom of our heart, all the service members of the hospital are well aware of the problem. 
 
            It humbles us all when we see the local people standing in long lines, starting at 5:00 in the morning to see the doctors. When we see them leave the hospital filled with joy after receiving their treatment, we are filled with pride and happiness. We provide the best treatment to the patients that need it. We will make every effort to treat the hearts and minds of the people hurt by the lingering wars. We might be a small hospital which can only provide level one treatment, yet we will put all our energy into our mission to play a bigger role for the hope of Afghanistan and world peace. 
 
            I pray that the Korean hospital will be contribution to the success of Operation Enduring Freedom and a stepping stone to the establishment of hope and peace in Afghanistan. 
 
            Thank you very much. 
 
            MR. TURNER: Thank you, gentlemen.
 
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