MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome, everyone, to the DOD Briefing Room. Today we have with us from Afghanistan the minister of Defense, General Abdul Rahim Wardak. We also have for the first time General -- Major General Robert Cone, who's the commanding general of the Combined Security Transition Command in Afghanistan.
Minister Wardak has been with us before, and we appreciate him and General Cone being with us today. They were in the United States for a few days and agreed to visit with us and talk to the media. And they would like to discuss progress in training and equipping the Afghan National Security Forces. They're here preparing to -- they’ve visited units that are preparing to deploy to Afghanistan, and they've agreed to tell us what they've seen and what they expect to happen and how things are going in Afghanistan.
So with that, I'm going to turn it over to General Cone, who has some opening remarks, and then he'll introduce Minister Wardak.
GEN. CONE: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Major General Robert Cone, commanding general of Combined Security Transition Command in Afghanistan, also known as CSTC-A. I lead the organization that is responsible for training, mentoring and equipping the Afghan National Army and Police. Those serving in my command are responsible for standing up an Afghan Army and Police force that can defend Afghanistan.
Joining me today is General Abdul Rahim Wardak, the minister of Defense for Afghanistan. We will take a few minutes to discuss the progress of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, along with the challenges that we face, then we'll take your questions.
First, the Afghan National Army. I've been the commander of CSTC-A now for about four months, and in this short time, I am impressed with the progress of the Afghan National Army.
My charter, with the leadership of the Ministry of Defense and the Afghan army, is to build a quality force that is capable of defending Afghanistan. Currently 50,000 strong, the Afghan army is on its way to its goal of 70,000, codified in the Bonn and London agreements. I remain optimistic that they will achieve this goal by the end of next year.
I can tell you that the Afghan soldiers are impressive in many ways. They are performing well in combat, fighting side by side with coalition forces. They are taking the lead in many combat operations. We saw the capability of the army during Operation Maiwand and Operation Khyber. These were both Afghan operations with Afghans in the lead. In both of these operations, the ANA shouldered a large portion of the operation, not only in planning and execution but also as a percentage of the boots on the ground.
The Afghan army is the most adaptable force on the battlefield. No one knows this terrain better than the Afghan soldier. I truly believe that the more they are in the fight, the more they experience, their confidence and their competence grows within the ranks.
But challenges still remain. The army is extremely motivated and performs very well at the individual and small-unit level. However, we see a need for improvement in the ANA's ability to operate effectively at the battalion and brigade level, where they will take the lead. This is why we are shifting our focus to concentrate more on the collective level of training. We are now at the point where we are focusing less on personal mentoring and more on collective mentoring of large units.
What is so different about the Afghan army versus our own Army units that we run through our National Training Center is that we are validating their readiness by observing them in combat. We will have some Afghan army units standing on their own by next spring, but building and maintaining an army while fighting an insurgency is a challenge. From that perspective, they are doing amazingly well.
We have achieved great success with the Afghan National Army, and now we are applying greater emphasis towards achieving the same success with the Afghan National Police. To date, more than 70,000 policemen are serving the citizens of Afghanistan. I believe that the police are the critical interface at the district and community level. In order to achieve a secure and stable Afghanistan, we must have a professional police force that can protect and serve the communities.
However, we cannot ignore the fact that corruption does exist. Before we can move forward, we must support the Ministry of Interior's efforts to establish a culture of accountability in leadership at all levels, so that any corruption that plagues the police force is mitigated.
One positive step taken is the implementation of rank and pay reform across the police force. Recently the Afghan Ministry of Interior, in collaboration with the international community, considered more than 17,000 Afghan National Police officers for rank reform. The result: 8,956 officers were selected for continued service. This effort was critical, because it allowed the Afghan National Police to right-size the officer corps against a population -- authorized population of 82,000 police.
Rank reform also allowed us to review the salaries across the entire police force. The result was realignment of the pay scale, bringing salaries more in line with what a professional police force deserves and on parity with the Afghan National Army.
In the coming months, we will introduce a new initiative called the focused district development plan. This plan addresses the problems of previous, unsuccessful strategies for developing a professional Afghan police force by taking a more focused approach towards assessing, training and mentoring and validating the uniformed district police.
The district is the building block of the police in this country. It is the face of government and the first line protectors of its people. Focused district development is a comprehensive deliberate approach to rebuilding the basic building block of the Afghan National Police, the district police forces, while also building the systems for establishment of the rule of law in the districts and integrating other elements required to establish the Afghan people's confidence in their government. Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan and the international community will play key roles in coordinating resources and mentoring Ministry of Interior leadership and by providing these leaders with the skills and tools to lead change through focused district development.
The future of the Afghan National Police holds much promise because there is a resilient desire on the part of the majority of policemen and women who want nothing more than to see their organization recognized as a professional and respected police force committed to serving the people of Afghanistan.
Now, I'd like to ask Minister Wardak to share his remarks with you.
MIN. WARDAK: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I will have a few opening remarks, and then I will be glad to have your questions.
I wanted to thank Secretary of Defense Gates and his civilian and military colleagues for our constructive and open discussion of the issues we are facing together. I would also like to express my gratitude for the gracious hospitality they have shown me here in Washington and during my visit to different installations. I am here to discuss with my American friends and allies both the situation in Afghanistan and the progress we are making in building the Afghan National Army, the ANA.
The Afghan National Army has been one of the success stories of the last few years. The ANA continues to develop and grow in confidence and professionalism. It is increasingly becoming more effective and disciplined in a series of critical and decisive operations both this year and last year. We have demonstrated the capability of the ANA. The ANA is a tested and proven fighting force, an institution in which you can invest with trust and confidence.
We have achieved a great deal with limited manpower and old weapons and equipment. Imagine what we could do with better equipment and additional help.
Wherever the ANA goes, no matter how remote the village, these soldiers are received with great emotion by the people. The ANA is a genuine national institution - is as a symbol of hope that Afghanistan’s three decades of suffering will soon come to an end.
All this would not be possible without the generosity of the United States government and American people, particularly with the recent supplemental appropriation to support the ANA. The debt of gratitude that we owe the U.S. people and their armed forces can never be fully repaid. We honor their sacrifices, we mourn those who have given their lives, we pray for the families of the fallen, and their legacy and memories will remain in our hearts and minds for years to come.
The past two years have been the most difficult and challenging since 2001, and we are facing determined enemy and many challenges. The enemy has stepped up his activities operating in smaller units over a wider geographic area with heavy reliance on IED and suicide bombing. I am fully confident that, jointly, Afghanistan, U.S. and NATO will deliver victory, and there is strong evidence that, in the not too distant future, Afghans will be able to increasingly carry a greater share of the burden subject to our friends providing the needing training, equipment and support.
The ultimate formula for victory is that the Afghan government and its U.S. partners and international friends should do everything possible to accelerate the development, both in number and capability, of the Afghan national security forces. By growing faster and providing the ANA with enhanced protection, mobility, fire power and combat enablers, it will be more able to partner effectively with our international forces, operate more independently and more quickly take the lead on physical security. It will be economically most justifiable, politically less complex approach that we together can jointly adopt. It will also enable the Afghans to fulfill their historic responsibility and will save lives for our friends and allies.
Therefore we are asking for maximum help from the United States, as well as the NATO and other friendly countries, to enable us to maintain the pace of ANA development, which entails significant demand for trainers and equipment. We are all in full agreement that the only sustainable and enduring way to provide security in Afghanistan is to enable the Afghans themselves to defend the nation, as we have done for thousands of years.
For Afghans, the current struggle is a question of national survival. Our future as a nation depends on stabilizing our country and putting it on the path toward effective self-governance and prosperity. There should be no doubt about the government's determination to succeed, and we will spare no effort to ensure the inevitability of our joint victory.
Thank you and now, I will be glad to have your questions.
Q Minister Wardak, I'd like to ask you -- you mentioned in your statement there the problem of IEDs. And as you know, there are reports that Iran has been supplying some materials of that nature. I'm wondering if you can say to what degree Iran is interfering in Afghanistan, and to what extent is it actually supporting and arming the Taliban.
MIN. WARDAK: Actually from the beginning, since 2001, I think, we have enjoyed really good relations with Iran. And they have participated fully in the reconstruction of the country and have helped the government. In the government level, we always have enjoyed good relations. And we have every earnest hope that the same relations will be continued on the basis of mutual respect and non- interference in the affairs of each other.
However, recently I think we are also receiving reports, and our national directorate of security, I think, has collected evidences, which shows some type of that armor-piercing IED and some other weapons or -- and dispersal of Taliban in Afghanistan. So we are really carefully monitoring this development to determine that -- to what level there is the involvement of our western neighbor.
Q And how recent is this? How recently would you trace this back --
MIN. WARDAK: The last -- since -- well, past six months, I think, we are getting more reports about it.
Q Have you raised it with the Tehran officials?
MIN. WARDAK: I discuss it myself. I think they totally deny it.
Q They just totally deny it.
MIN. WARDAK: Yes.
Q (Name and affiliation inaudible.) Can I ask my question in Dari, please?
MIN. WARDAK: Go ahead.
Q (Remarks in Dari.)
MIN. WARDAK: (Remarks in Dari) --
GEN. CONE: Would you like me to answer that?
Q Can you summarize the question?
MIN. WARDAK: Yeah, I will. The question is -- actually I will translate it. She's asking that, why our guys would not help, I mean, to develop their air force.
In a lot of cases, some of the districts fall, and you cannot react quickly to the situation. The result is that the district's fallen and then -- Afghanistan is a mountainous country; it takes a long time, I mean, to reach by ground.
And my answer is, I think, from the beginning, when the creation of the Afghan National Army was started, the air force piece was actually neglected from the beginning. It was not addressed. I think more focus was on the army part of it, not the air force. And we had some left over from the old days, which we are still using extensively. But since that appropriation of $5.9 million, which I have mentioned, now I think there is a program which -- we will develop this capability, which is definitely a requirement for the future.
So now I think we are in the process -- we're together with General Cone in the process of to first get this capability of fixed- wing and rotary-wing, of transportation capability and air mobility. And then we will further develop it to have additional capabilities like reconnaissance and ground attack. And I am also asking for the same capability intensively and emphatically because it is one of those instruments which will enable the Afghan forces to operate independently or with lesser support from coalition and NATO.
GEN. CONE: This is the priority for CSTC-A, and the United States has put about $750 million that we will spend in the next 18 months to demonstrate a significant increase in the capabilities of the Afghan National Air Corps. And again, it is focused, as the minister said, on air mobility, providing the critical rotary-wing aviation and fixed-wing airlift that the Afghan army desperately needs.
MIN. WARDAK: Yes, please.
Q Mr. Minister, can -- going back to the Iran question, you mentioned that Iran has been an ally of sorts to your country for many years, and you mentioned their involvement in reconstruction activities. Can you draw that out a little bit and tell us what other ways Iran is being cooperative with your government, what they're doing particularly perhaps in border control?
MIN. WARDAK: Yeah. Actually, you see what -- they have helped in reconstruction; I think they have helped about to the equivalent of $500 million. They have built the road between their border and Herat city, and also they have helped in building some border security posts. And there is some sort of tripartite cooperation on counterdrug operations, which the British -- (audio break). There might be other cultural assistance which -- I will not have the details at the moment.
Q And you said that you spoke with Iranian officials specifically about the charges related to the IEDs --
MIN. WARDAK: Yes.
Q -- and that they denied it. Do you believe them?
MIN. WARDAK: Actually, you see, I told you that we are monitoring the situation, so the future will prove it this way or that way.
Q A question for both of you. You know, you've talked about the -- trying to accelerate the growth and the requests to the international community to help you do that. Can both of you elaborate a little bit more on that? What exactly is needed, and what are you looking for from the community?
MIN. WARDAK: You mean as far as the acceleration is concerned?
MIN. WARDAK: Actually, you see, our ultimate goal is that the Afghans should be enabled to have the capability eventually -- not immediately -- to neutralize any external or internal threat. But at the moment, I think we are trying to gradually raise our capability in numbers to a level which we can start taking the lead from NATO, or to -- in other words -- I mean, to -- the Afghans shall take the lead in the operations and NATO in correlation will have a supporting role.
And the second phase will be that transitional phase that we will gradually -- the whole operations will be Afghan-led and NATO- and coalition-supported.
And then we have a third phase. If we reach that capabilities later on in the future, then there will be a lesser of international forces in Afghanistan, and we will be diverting to our enduring strategic partnership with U.S., NATO, U.K. and European Union. And that would be the time that our -- all the military institutions will be completed, will be professional, the level will be skillful enough, and we will be able also to pay some of our debt to international community by participating in peacekeeping operation or other operation of mutual interest and be a permanent part of war against terror.
Q But what specifically do you need from the international community so that you could --
GEN. CONE: The greatest shortfall that we face right now, both in terms of increasing the size of the training base and in taking units into combat and employing them, are trainers. And again, we are working very hard -- I know Secretary Gates is working hard with NATO to increase the Operational Mentor Liaison Teams that would assist us in having a greater number of trainers so that we can, as I say, get more of the Afghans in the fight. And that is what I think the Afghans want, and it is also what we as a coalition want.
MIN. WARDAK: And let me add to it that we actually -- what we need -- we need protected mobility, we need air mobility, more firepower and more combat enablers and force multipliers and also a bigger size of force.
Q General, can you give us some numbers on the shortage on the OMLT Teams and other trainers? But I also wanted to ask the minister about the statement made by General McNeill earlier today. He talked about a convoy of EFP material for those high-powered IEDs you mentioned that was intercepted coming from Iran inside Afghanistan on September the 5th. And he was quoted as saying he couldn't imagine this could happen "without the knowledge of the Iranian army."
Is there more proof -- because you said time will prove it one way or the other. Is there more proof that's needed than that? And when was it that you got this response from the Iranians? Do you have any plans to go back to them again with perhaps more recent information?
MIN. WARDAK: As I told you, I think we are monitoring the situation really carefully, and it is a very significant development. And we are also collecting more evidences, and we are focusing our intelligence, I mean, to reach to the proper conclusion.
There is no doubt that there is something coming from our western border. There are weapons and maybe some financial supports and others. But to be really completely clear about it, I think it will take a little bit of time to come up with the right conclusion.
Q When did the Iranian leaders deny this to you, that you mentioned, that --
MIN. WARDAK: I have talked to them maybe even this last month.
Q So perhaps after the September 5th interception.
MIN. WARDAK: I will not be very sure about the exact date.
Q And General, can you give us some numbers on the OMLT shortage?
GEN. CONE: We'll be producing another four brigades-worth of combat power, will be coming off of the basic training and assembly line, essentially, between now and December '08. And somewhere on the magnitude, if you take the NATO original commitment and what they have provided and promised right now, it would be on the magnitude of about 60 teams that would work with the Afghan units. And again, there are right now about 22 teams in country, and I think there's somewhere another 20 that have been in fact promised.
So you need 60 altogether.
GEN. CONE: No, we need an additional 60.
An additional 60.
GEN. CONE: Correct.
Of which you have 22, with 20 more promised.
GEN. CONE: Correct.
Q And about how many on a team?
GEN. CONE: It runs about 16, but we give the countries the latitude to increase that number as they feel force protection would be required.
Q Thank you.
Q Minister Wardak, yesterday you said that there are more foreign fighters in Afghanistan than ever before. I was wondering if you could tell us why that is, what you can do to combat them, and if there are any numbers associated with that.
MIN. WARDAK: Actually, the numbers will be difficult to come up with an exact number, but there is no doubt there is more foreign fighters in Afghanistan. And also, based on some statistics, all the suicide bombers, 80 percent of them are foreign fighters.
The British also have came to the conclusion that one of the reason was that they couldn't find much local recruits like they used to, so one of the reason is that there are more. In Helmand, it was quite evident that there were more foreign fighters because locals were not cooperating with them. And also, another assumption will be that because of what is going on in Pakistan and what steps which the Pakistani are that -- the military operations which they have undertaken might have forced them also to come into Afghanistan.
Q Well, a lot of the success in Iraq right now is being attributed to the CLCs, the concerned local citizens. Is there any effort to stand up an operation like that in Afghanistan? Is that feasible? Would that be a way to possibly combat this new presence of foreign fighters?
MIN. WARDAK: Actually, there have been cases in Afghanistan which the people themselves have rejected Taliban and foreign fighters all together. There have been two, three incident in Helmand itself, and there also -- in Kandahar I think there have been cases in which they went and captured them -- (inaudible) -- there was one.
But I think the key to the success will be that if we can extend our outreach to the people, mobilize the people, organize the people and ask for their participation in the different aspects for the reconstruction and the governance and security and other things, and that is actually a part of our strategy. But we would like to work on it further in the future to -- because the key to success is completely lying in the mobilizing and organizing the people in support of the government.
Q Mr. Minister, if I could follow up on the foreign fighters question. Could you tell us what countries these individuals are coming from, and what is drawing them into Afghanistan? Is there an active recruitment taking place either on the part of the Taliban or al Qaeda to bring foreign fighters?
MIN. WARDAK: Actually, I think there is some regional, you call it, or the international networks which actually recruit them. So they are actually from North African countries, Middle East countries, and the Central Asian countries and also from our neighbor, from -- Pakistanis are all -- and also Chechens. Even a month back -- NDS -- our National Director of Security have captured a Russian in Badakhshan, but he might have been just an odd case which he was converted.
MODERATOR: One more question.
Q Yeah, I want to know your comment or opinion about suicide bomber or suicide bombing in Afghanistan, because it wasn’t common in Afghanistan.
What do you think about it?
GEN. CONE: It is very, very unfortunate, these suicide bombings. They're a real challenge for force protection and they have certainly not been indicative of the majority of certainly the Afghan people that I have known and have grown great respect for. So I think it's a terrible tragedy, and it has definitely posed challenges for us.
Q Why has it happened? Why has it become a tactic? How has it happened?
GEN. CONE: Well, I think that we've had some pretty good success on the battlefield in terms of thwarting the enemy in his more traditional and conventional attacks. And it is clearly an act of desperation that you would take some of these young people and ask them to sacrifice their lives in this manner. So it is -- I think it's an act of desperation.
Q Could you just update us on the statistics on attack numbers, and in different categories? Would that be possible?
MIN. WARDAK: We do have it but we don't have it in our pockets to give you. (Laughs.)
GEN. CONE: Right, right.
MIN. WARDAK: But there is definitely --
Q (Off mike.)
MIN. WARDAK: I think there is a 50 percent increase in the suicide attacks. (Off mike.) And there is a trend. I mean that in the last -- since 2003 and 2004 and 2005, there is escalation, as far as the violence is concerned. (Off mike.)
Q What about the IEDs and EFPs in particular?
MIN. WARDAK: I mean, EFPs are just a recent development. But generally the IEDs and mines have been extensively used in 2005, last year, extensively this year too. (Off mike) -- if you want, we will be able to give you an exact figure. We had it somewhere with us.
MODERATOR: Let's make this the last one, folks, one more.
Q One more, but I get in Dari the answer. Is it possible?
MIN. WARDAK: Okay, go ahead.
Q (Remarks in Dari.)
MIN. WARDAK: (Remarks in Dari.)
Q Can you enlighten us as to what you were saying, Mr. Minister?
GEN. CONE: Summarize quickly in English.
MIN. WARDAK: Actually, she has asked about my trip here, about how I do evaluate the trip, so I told them it was very constructive, very positive, I was very well received. We have met all those units which were going to be deployed in Afghanistan and I saw that they were going through a very deliberate preparation to be accustomed to the environment and also to cultural traditions and behavior in that environment, prior to their deployment, which I really appreciated all the efforts which were going on into this aspect of it.
And then I also told her that I have visited some dignitaries. I met Vice President Cheney, the secretary of Defense and also the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff and a number of high officials here in Pentagon and also in State Department, national security, and also in the Congress.
So they were already supportive of our effort. They have assured us of their continued support and cooperation, and also we have asked them for some additional help and assistance, which -- they are going to seriously consider it for the future.
So I have -- I rated my trip a successful trip. And I thank them all for their rich, sincere discussions and their hospitality and all that we have achieved in the -- I hope this is not a one-time trip, that we will have continuous exchanges. I think we will be receiving some of these dignitaries in Afghanistan also. So the trip overall has been very positive. This is what I have told her in my language.
Q General Cone, could you just clarify for me at least -- when you mentioned the 60 additional trainer teams that are needed --
GEN. CONE: Right.
Q -- is that in addition to the 20 that are already promised?
GEN. CONE: There's 22 on the ground; there's another 20 or so that are being promised, and then there's about 60 that would fill out the requirement.
Q (Off mike) -- to a hundred --
GEN. CONE: Correct. Yeah.
Q Okay. Thank you.
GEN. CONE: Thank you much, folks. Appreciate it.
MIN. WARDAK: Okay, thanks.
Q Thank you.
(C) COPYRIGHT 2007, FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC., 1000 VERMONT AVE.
NW; 5TH FLOOR; WASHINGTON, DC - 20005, USA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. ANY
REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION IS EXPRESSLY
UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION
CONSTITUTES A MISAPPROPRIATION UNDER APPLICABLE UNFAIR COMPETITION
LAW, AND FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. RESERVES THE RIGHT TO PURSUE ALL
REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO IT IN RESPECT TO SUCH MISAPPROPRIATION.
FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. IS A PRIVATE FIRM AND IS NOT
AFFILIATED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. NO COPYRIGHT IS CLAIMED AS TO
ANY PART OF THE ORIGINAL WORK PREPARED BY A UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT
OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE AS PART OF THAT PERSON'S OFFICIAL DUTIES.
FOR INFORMATION ON SUBSCRIBING TO FNS, PLEASE CALL JACK GRAEME