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DoD News Briefing with Brig. Gen. Livingston from Afghanistan

Presenters: Commander, Combined Joint Task Force VI Brig. Gen. Robert E. Livingston Jr.
November 09, 2007 9:45 PM EDT
            STAFF: Well, good morning, everyone. Welcome to the DOD Briefing Room. A pleasure to be here today. 
 
            And it's my distinguished pleasure to introduce to you from the United States Army Brigadier General Robert E. Livingston, Jr. He is the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix VI, and this is the first time General Livingston's been with us. And Task Force VI is responsible for the training and equipping of Afghan national security forces throughout the country.   
 
            Brigadier General Livingston is coming from the great state of South Carolina, the National Guard, and has been mobilized to be the commander of Task Force Phoenix. And he took command in May of this year. And he's at Camp Eggers in Afghanistan today. 
 
            So with that, General Livingston, I'm going to turn it over to you for your opening comments. 
 
            GEN. LIVINGSTON: Okay. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I'd like to take a few moments to discuss the progress that we're making with the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police, and some of the challenges that we face, and then I'll take your questions. 
 
            Our goal as Task Force Phoenix, which is part of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, is to stand up an independent, well-trained, ethnically balanced, respected and sustainable Afghan national security force that can create and maintain a stable security environment in Afghanistan using the rule of law. 
 
            The Afghan National Army has made significant progress. Currently they are 50,000-plus strong, and it's on its way to its goal of 70,000 by the end of next year. The Afghan army performs well in combat, fighting side by side with the coalition forces, and are actually taking the lead in many -- (short audio break). From planning through execution, the Afghan army continues to improve on their ability to take lead in operations.  
 
            Just as important as their combat skills is their respect among the Afghan people. Public opinion polls reflect that the Afghan army is the most respected institution in Afghanistan. The army is extremely motivated and performs very well at different levels based on their experience.  
 
            Many units at various levels already needing very little mentoring from the coalition to get their job done. Some Afghan army units will be standing on their own by next spring. We're now focusing efforts on improving operations at the battalion, brigade and corps level, where extensive line and staff coordination is the key.   
 
            Of course, there continues to be challenges. The building and maintaining of an army while it is fighting an insurgency is a great challenge. As we are experiencing in our own armed forces -- (audio break) -- is a difficult problem. Individual soldiers and units need time in garrison to recover, refit and undergo necessary training. MOD continues to exercise personnel and equipment accountability.   
 
            To achieve a secure and stable Afghanistan, we must have a professional police force as well as a professional army. This police force must be able to protect and serve the people of Afghanistan. They are the most critical interface at the district and community level. Therefore we need to achieve the same success with the police as we have with the army.   
 
            Again we have made significant strides in the short few months we have been conducting direct mentoring. According to recent Afghan polls, the police are better respected than in the past and are becoming comparable to the army in the respect of the Afghan people. However -- (audio break) -- into an effective force and a professional organization.   
 
            Working with the ministry of interior, we're implementing measures to transform the police. We have recently completed a comprehensive census of the police to establish baseline accountability. There are more than 57,000 policemen serving the citizens of Afghanistan with an authorized end strength of 82,000. We're conducting a rank reform that will reduce the bureaucracy and put more police officers on the street and in the local communities. Pay reform will create an equity between the army and police pay, and will continue to help in recruiting.   
 
            In addition to the normal mentoring and training, we are implementing a program called focused district development. The district in Afghanistan is the building block of the police in this country. It is the face of the government and the first-line protection for the people. Focused district development will better focus resources on the district uniform police.   
 
            Our goal is to better integrate the district police force reforms with the complementary development programs of other government agencies to firmly establish the rule of law in all the districts. There are already visible signs of progress. Earlier this summer, I was seeing too many reports of the Afghan national police being overrun and district centers following.   
 
            Now, more frequently the ANP, Afghan national police, is being successful against the Taliban. Most district centers resist the attacks, and the force is suffering far fewer losses. The policemen are being paid on time and they are developing a great pride in their service.   
 
            I recently observed a major clearing operation in the southern region, where the Afghan national police were treated and acted as equals to the Afghan national army and the coalition.   
 
            Just a few months ago, such cooperation was inconceivable, and they would actually be fighting among themselves. The Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior have made great strides in reforming the Afghan national security forces. Although we still have a long ways to go, we have seen an amazing transformation that is accelerating.   
 
            I will now take any questions that you may have. 
 
            STAFF: Well, thank you, sir. We appreciate that. And I just want to let you know on your end, sir, that on occasion we're having a short audio fall-out, so if I ask you to repeat a question, it's just because we probably lost audio for a second. And so that may happen. It's been very infrequent, but it is going on. 
 
            So with that, I would remind you to please let hm know who he's talking to when you ask your questions. Bob. 
 
            Q     General, this is Bob Burns from AP. With the crisis next door in Pakistan, I wonder if you could give us your assessment of the potential implications for the mission in Afghanistan. 
 
            GEN. LIVINGSTON: The crisis in Afghanistan (sic\Pakistan) certainly causes us some concern as far as the cooperation on the border, but what we have seen with -- what we have seen with the Pakistan border patrol is great cooperation with the Afghan border patrol, and so they've been able to control cross-border movements by the Taliban and other anti-coalition forces. As long as that cooperation continues, we do not see a great effect as far as the development of the Afghan security forces are concerned. 
 
            STAFF: Jeff? 
 
            Q     General, Jeff Schogol, Stars & Stripes. A while ago, CSTC- Alpha asked for 3,400 trainers, mainly for the Afghan police. Can you give us an update on how many of those trainers are now in Afghanistan? 
 
            GEN. LIVINGSTON: We have not received any additional trainers. However, many different officers are being staffed at this point. And we think that we will get some additional trainers in the spring. The current trainers are still having a great effect with the Afghan police. We just don't have the saturation we would like to have. But we are reaching at least 80 percent of the districts on a periodic basis. So we are able to have a great effect. We're also able to partner with coalition forces throughout Afghanistan to employ multipliers to have more effect on the police. So, although we have not gotten additional forces, we have been able to mitigate that effect to a certain extent. 
 
            Q     I was under the understanding that about 400 trainers of the 3,400 have been sent to Afghanistan. From your comments, it sounds like none of the 3,400 have arrived. Is that correct? 
 
            GEN. LIVINGSTON: That is correct at this time. The last trainers that we had were volunteers that came in from the great state of South Carolina. We had about a hundred volunteers from South Carolina to come in as trainers. We do partner with civilian policemen and we have about -- a little over 500 civilian policemen that are helping us with the training effort, but there has not been a recent -- (short audio break) -- additional troops into Afghanistan. The earliest that we would see that is in the spring. 
 
            Q     Kristin Roberts with Reuters.   
 
            On the training issue, can you tell us exactly how many trainers you feel you're short right now, and give us a little bit more detail about what types of activities you would be able to conduct and how far you would be able to reach if you had all the trainers that you require? 
 
            GEN. LIVINGSTON: Our request for trainers is 3,400, and that would give us essentially a training team per district and a training team per our military element. So that is certainly the ideal situation. What that would allow us to do is to have more one-on-one training with and mentoring -- mainly mentoring with the Afghan police force. (Audio break from source) -- a shortage does not prevent us from doing proper mentoring, and in some cases, it actually causes the Ministry of Interior to do their own police development. And so sometimes there's a slight advantage to being slightly under strength, but not the total 3,400. 
 
            Q     Sir, it's Justin Fisher with Fox News. Earlier this week, General Carter Ham of the Joint Staff told us that suicide bombings were on the rise in Afghanistan because the enemy's major combat efforts were over or had failed for the most part. First, is this your interpretation? And what are you doing to train these forces to combat that suicide bombing trend? 
 
            GEN. LIVINGSTON: We are seeing a certain amount of a desperation in the anti -- (audio break from source). Every time that they are massed in order to conduct a combat operation, the -- either the Afghan forces or the coalition forces deal them a very decisive defeat. So they have started using bombings and more IEDs, but especially suicide bombings on soft targets, in order to create distrust in the Afghan government. I think that tactic is certainly going to backfire given the culture of the Afghan society because, such as in the recent attack in Baghlan, we had innocent civilians and children killed with no military value of that suicide bombing. In order to combat suicide bombing, we are training the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army in IED recognition and in suicide bombing recognition and how to deal with those bombers. 
 
            And they have dealt with several suicide bombers very effectively, and capturing those bombers or disabling them or killing them.   
 
            Q     Sir, Gordon Lubold from the Christian Science Monitor. Just two kind of quick questions.   
 
            So there's a shortage of 3,400 trainers. I'm sorry if you said it earlier, but how many total trainers then do you have now? And also can you kind of just give us some -- any kind of data on the amount of violence you're seeing and what you're up against as the trainer?   
 
            GEN. LIVINGSTON: Within our task force, we have essentially a brigade-sized element that's trainers: about 34 senior officers and -- 3,400 senior officers and senior enlisted people. But that's not the only trainers that we have in the country. As I mentioned before, we also have about 600 civilian policemen helping us train the Afghans. We have the European community that is contributing about 125 and eventually over 200 trainers. And then we have the partnerships with all of the coalition forces that contribute part of their combat forces to mentor and partner with both the Afghan army and the Afghan police.   
 
            So if you total all of the trainers that we have throughout the country, it's pushing over 5 (thousand) or 6,000 people that are directly involved in training and mentoring the Afghan national police and the army. And I would make a distinction between the training and mentoring, the mentoring being the person that sits day-to-day with those officers and with those army headquarters, helping them -- (audio break) -- helping them refine their systems, identifying and removing corruption, versus training that is just talking about specific classes. So everyone is involved in this mentoring process that continues to refine an army and a police that have already received a significant amount of training.   
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- second part, the security situation: Just kind of give a quick overview of what the security situation is, in terms of any numbers you have of incidents of violence.   
 
            GEN. LIVINGSTON: As kind of hinted at earlier, the direct conflict that occurs, the, what we call, troops in contact, is actually decreasing as the Taliban suffers defeats. We are seeing pretty much a steady -- (audio break) -- improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers. We have seen an increase in those over the last year. But the -- over the last quarter or half year, it has pretty well stabilized. But it again reflects that desperation, because it is -- we're seeing more and more soft targets attacked versus military installations or coalition forces.   
 
            STAFF: Al. 
 
            Q     General, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. On this -- on the trainers, just to get a little more detail. What reason has been given as to why it won't be until spring that you get some additional ones? And are you in fact expecting another 3,400, which I guess would double the number of American trainers and mentors you have, or is it going to be some lower number? 
 
            GEN. LIVINGSTON: I think we will see a lower number of trainers come into the nation, mainly because as they start moving in, we will see greater and greater effects and the need will actually decrease. The ideal situation would have been to have the 3,400 -- about 7,000 U.S. military trainers plus all the partners, which would give us a very heavy saturation of mentoring with the Afghans, actually give us a -- pretty much a one-on-one with key leaders.   
 
            And I think what we'll find is over the next year as we work on focused -- (inaudible) -- development, we continue certifying army units and they will actually start being able to stand on their own this spring, we'll start seeing a lesser need for the 3,400. Plus NATO is starting to contribute a great more troops to the army training effort with Operational Mentoring Liaison Teams. So as NATO contributes more soldiers, we'll start seeing the need for U.S. soldiers decreasing, and at some point those two pieces will meet as we start filtering in U.S. forces.   
 
            At this point we just don't have the available U.S. forces to bring in 3,400 and keep the same rotational schedules that are necessary to maintain U.S. troop training and U.S. troop levels. So it's just a matter of available soldiers and airmen, Marines and sailor given our current rotational schedules. 
 
            Q     Can you quantify in any way how big a setback or how long a delay this lack of availability of the U.S. troops now when you need them will result in? That is to say, how many more months down the road for some of these Afghan units to become fully operational and independent? 
 
            GEN. LIVINGSTON: I don't think the lack of trainers is going to have a significant impact as far as the army is concerned.   
 
            The army is far enough along and we have had a hundred percent of the required trainers for the army for several years. So we'll start certifying units and validating them this spring. So that won't be -- we won't fall behind on that schedule.   
 
            We have just started a mentoring effort with the police and it's too early to really tell the effect of having one police mentoring team per three districts versus one on one, but it certainly will have some delay. I do not think -- I think we're going to find that the police development is following the army model, that the Afghan Ministry of Interior is going to have several models to follow that allow them to accelerate the change with the police versus the -- starting it new with the army. So certainly it's going to have an effect not to have that one-on-one per district, but it's not going to have the same catastrophic effect that it would have if we did not have the models already established, and that the Ministry of Interior is very receptive to using those models.   
 
            As far as -- (audio break from source) -- but I would say that it's -- the delay is probably not going to have a significant impact at least for the next year. 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- the last sentence or two. 
 
            STAFF: Sir, you dropped out just -- sir, you dropped out audio on just the last sentence you gave. Can you repeat the last couple sentences? 
 
            GEN. LIVINGSTON: Sure. I was talking about the effect -- how many years or months is it going to add because we did not have a hundred percent mentor coverage. That's a very hard number to quantify, because we're seeing such proactive actions by the Ministry of Interior, we're seeing innovative programs being used -- (audio break from source) -- forces along with our mentors that are compensating for not having the one-on-one coverage with the police.   
 
            So I can't say if it would be a year or whether it would be two years, but I think we will see significant progress with the police by next summer, which would be -- we will see that change accelerate as the new mentor forces come into country.   
 
            Q     Just to clarify in that last bit you said, you're saying that this lack of availability of U.S. forces could set back the development of the Afghan National Police by between one and two years? 
 
            GEN. LIVINGSTON: No.   No, I said I could not say whether it would do that or not. In fact, I think we're going to see some significant progress by next summer. And I think certainly it will set it back some time, but I think that we will see the Afghan police within the next couple of years being a very effective force. So the programs are being instituted now -- the use of OMLTs -- Operational Mentoring Liaison Teams from NATO -- to allow more of our U.S. trainers to concentrate on the police, mitigates some of the problems that the lack of the 3,400 trainers cause.  
 
            So as we get into next summer, we will have much of the same effects that we would have had with the 3,400 trainers because of NATO stepping up and because of this innovative operations. So I can't really say timewise how much it's going to set us back, if it's going to set us back. It certainly has made it more challenging, but we can only get so much training done and in so much a length of time. So I can't really say it's going to set us back more than a year, probably much less than a year. 
 
            STAFF: Courtney. 
 
            Q     Hi, General. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. How many troops are you expecting, how many trainers in the spring? What country are they from? It sounds as if they're all coming from the United States, from the way you've been talking. And it seems as if this request for forces is about a year old. Why do you think that the NATO and coalition partners have been so hesitant to provide forces when it's a training mission? 
 
            GEN. LIVINGSTON: Well, we currently have 18 -- (short audio break) -- training teams on the ground working with the Afghan army, and we currently have several police teams down in the Kandahar area, Canadian teams working with the police. So we are getting a good contribution from NATO. We certainly are behind the schedule that NATO has published as far as mentoring teams are concerned. And if we had the mentoring teams from NATO, it would reduce the number of teams needed for the police mentoring because as NATO teams come in, we re- mission U.S. teams into the police mentoring arena. 
 
            Having said that, we are still having an increasing amount of support from NATO as more and more teams come in, and the fact is we are certifying a -- (short audio break) -- right now. We have an offer of about four or five more teams coming into country.   
 
            As far as the hesitancy -- being hesitant, let's try that way -- to get into the training mission, this is a training and a combat mission. The mentoring teams go with the Afghan army and with the Afghan police when they conduct operations. So when the Afghan army is engaged with the Taliban, so are the mentoring teams. 
 
            They're there to mentor, and they're also there to bring coalition effects to support both the army and police. So it is a combination of a training and combat mission for all mentoring teams. 
 
            As far as the contributions that I was speaking of earlier, we are looking at U.S. forces coming in, a battalion-size element -- (audio break from source) -- and possibly a battalion-size element in the fall to supplement the training forces within -- the U.S. training forces within Afghanistan. 
 
            STAFF: Kristin. We'll also have to make this the last one. 
 
            Q     Sir, it's Kristin Roberts with Reuters again. I'm interested in your comments about the progress you expect to see with the police and also the involvement of the Ministry of the Interior in some police training. By all accounts, both the police and the Interior Ministry there in Afghanistan suffer from corruption on a number of levels. Can you tell us -- can you square that for me and talk to us about how corruption is impacting the training of the police there and the involvement of the Ministry of the Interior? 
 
            GEN. LIVINGSTON: Yes, and I will tell you from personal experience with the minister of Interior he is very dedicated to eliminating corruption within Afghanistan. And when we talk about corruption within Afghanistan, to a certain extent we're talking about self-survival. When you have police that do not have a way of making a living other than stopping someone on the road and asking for money -- the government was not capable of paying them on time -- you have a reason for this policeman to be corrupt. 
 
            The first thing that the Ministry of Interior has done -- and they've been very effective in this -- is they have removed reasons for corruption, and so the policeman does not have to make a choice between starving and acting in an ethical manner. And that's true throughout Afghanistan because this country has been so devastated by civil wars and other wars that people were just trying to survive, and that's what we -- that we classify the Western world was corruption. 
 
            So one of the big keys to dealing with corruption is removing the reasons for it. The Ministry of Interior has done that. They have set up a very effective pay system.   
 
            They have set up a very effective system to arm and train the police. So as we remove these reasons, then we can attack individuals who refuse to change their corrupt ways, and have them removed and have them prosecuted appropriately, according to the rule of law of Afghanistan. And we're at that point that that is now happening.   
 
            I think also the police have been maligned quite a bit, maybe inappropriately in some areas. As we go out and assess the police teams or the police districts, we have found some of them to be very effective. We have found some of them to be corrupt and ineffective. And we have found some of them not to exist.   
 
            However of the police that the ministry of interior has, we just did a census. And the international community felt like that -- or thought that we would find maybe 30 or 40 percent of the policemen on the job. Well, we went out there and we did a census by name that the ministry had on their roles, and we found 80 percent-plus of the police. So I think there are some police out there that are doing a very good job in combating crime and combating the insurgency. And what we're seeing highlighted are the police that are not doing a good job.   
 
            That is not to say there is not corruption. There is corruption in the police. The systems have caused a lot of the corruption. The history has caused a lot of the corruption. And we're attacking that one case at a time at this point, now that we've removed the reasons for corruption. The training -- (audio break) -- increase the effectiveness of the police. So with all of these things operating at the same time, including the focused district development, I think you're going to see a very -- an emerging professional police force as we move into late spring and early summer of 2008.    
 
            STAFF: Well, sir, we are at the end of our time. We appreciate your spending some moments with us today. As we close it, we would like to turn it back to you for any final comments. There also is a curiosity about what you do in civilian life, sir.   
 
            GEN. LIVINGSTON: Okay, first off, I would say thank you to the members of the press for telling the story of Afghanistan. I think it is a success story that still has quite a few challenges ahead of us. But it is a story that if you look to see where we were two months ago -- (audio break) -- two months ago with the police, we're making great strides and we continue to accelerate the pace of change.   
 
            So that is a good story. Unfortunately, it is marred by spectacular events that the Taliban would like the American people to see, such as the bombing that just occurred up north. But those are tragic events, but they do not prevent the steady progress of the Afghan security forces moving forward. 
 
            As far as what I do in a civilian job, I'm an owner and operator of kind of a medium-size electrical contracting firm back in South Carolina. And I appreciate the support that I get from my employees and my vice presidents that allows me to do this great service -- (audio break from source) - Afghanistan and serving the people of this great country and the people of the United States. And I appreciate the support of all employers out there for all the reserve soldiers that are over here making a true difference. 
 
            STAFF: Thank you again, sir. 
 
            GEN. LIVINGSTON: Thank you.
 
 
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