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DoD Briefing with Lt Col Allison from the Pentagon Briefing Room, Arlington, VA and Mr. Shawn Waddoups, Via Teleconference from Aghanistan

Presenters: Lt Col Gregory Allison, Missouri Army National Guardand Mr. Shawn Waddoups, Department of State
September 26, 2008

COLONEL GARY KECK, U.S. ARMY (director, DOD Press Office):  Well, good afternoon, everyone.   

 

            And good evening to our briefers from Afghanistan.  Let me just make sure they can hear me okay.  Gentlemen, this is Colonel Keck at the Pentagon.  Can you hear me all right?   

 

           -  Yes, Colonel, we can.   

 

            COL. KECK:  Okay.  Excellent.   

 

            Today, we have Army Lieutenant Colonel Gregory Allison and from the State Department, Mr. Shawn Waddoups.  Lieutenant Colonel Allison and Mr. Waddoups operate the provincial reconstruction team in  Nangarhar province and work to provide reconstruction development and security assistance for the people of this province, located along the eastern border of Afghanistan.   

 

            They have just concluded a video teleconference with President Bush and President Karzai and discussed some of the work that they are doing there.  And they have decided to provide us with an understanding of what they're going to be doing after this important meeting.  And we appreciate that.   

 

            I believe at least Lieutenant Colonel Allison has an opening statement.  And after that, we'll see if Mr. Waddoups does.  And if not, we'll go into Q&A.  So let me turn it over to Lieutenant Colonel Allison.   

 

            COL. ALLISON:  Again, Lieutenant Colonel Greg Allison with the 935th Agriculture Development Team, from the Missouri National Guard, located in Nangarhar Province, Jalalabad.   

 

            Our overall primary mission as the Army's first agribusiness development team has been to assist with the reconstruction, agriculture reconstruction within the province.   

 

            Within our first few, eight months in province, we established an excellent working rapport and relationship with the director for the Nangarhar ministry of irrigation, agriculture and livestock -- (name inaudible) -- who actually just returned back from a trip to Washington.   

 

            We've got 48 soldiers, all from the state of Missouri, from the Show Me  State.  We're proud to be the first ADT, understanding there's another ADT in south, down south, as well as some other ADTs will be arriving in country in the near future. 

 

            MR. WADDOUPS:  I'm Shawn Waddoups.  I am the Department of State representative in Jalalabad for the PRT.   

 

            We just finished up our meeting with President Bush and President Karzai.  We were there together with our sister and neighboring PRT from Kunar province.  And these are two of the provinces along the eastern border of Afghanistan, where it meets Pakistan.  And in many ways, despite the fact they're neighbors, the situations are very different.  And Kunar is much more kinetic or a much more violent situation than we have in Nangarhar.   

 

            And Nangarhar, it's one of the most densely populated parts of the country, but also one of the most peaceful and prosperous parts of the country.  It's where we're seeing great success in the Afghan security forces taking charge of their territory.  And they are basically in the lead on the security front in Nangarhar, particularly in the capital city of Jalalabad, where rarely do our security forces patrol.   

 

            So my role on the team is primarily to be a governance adviser. We do this through mentoring, engaging with the governor.  Governor Sherzai from Nangarhar and Governor Wahidi from Kunar were in the meeting with the presidents and were able to share their perspectives on what it means to have a PRT in their province, how much of a difference it makes for the people who live in that area.   

 

            So the opportunity was basically to share some stories about the interaction we have with the folks living in our provinces, the difference it's making, everything ranging from success that we've had in that part of the country in reducing the poppy crop and making it so that these two provinces are now considered poppy-free, all the way to helping out with schools and clinics and particularly roads, irrigation and bridges in the two provinces.   

 

            And so the president's comments were, you know, this leaves us with the prosperity and the progress is going forward well. 

 

            COL. KECK:  Okay, gentlemen.  We appreciate those overviews.   

 

            And I would, as usual, remind you that they cannot see us, so please tell them who you are and what organization you're with.  When you ask a question, obviously, please identify the individual to whom you would like to address your question. 

 

            So let's go ahead and begin. 

 

            Q     Good morning, gentlemen.  I'm Bill McMichael, the Military Times newspapers.  We'd just like to get a little smarter on the make- up of your team.  What are the specialties involved with your -- they're not hearing me. 

 

            COL. KECK:  Try it slower. 

 

            Q     I'm Bill McMichael with Military Times newspapers.  We're interested in the make-up of your team, the 48 soldiers.  And how many civilians do you have on the team as well, and what sorts of areas are they working in? 

 

            MR. WADDOUPS:  Colonel, that's very difficult to understand. Could you repeat the question for us, please? 

 

            COL. KECK:  Yes, I'll be happy to.  Bill McMichael from the Military Times was interested in getting a little more information on some of the specialties -- capabilities of your Provincial Reconstruction Teams.  What kind of things can they do and -- 

 

            Q     Numbers of -- 

 

            COL. KECK:  -- numbers of individuals total that you have involved in your effort? 

 

            MR. WADDOUPS:  I'll say a couple of words about the PRT and then I'll hand the mike over to Colonel Allison to talk about the agribusiness team.  The PRT is mostly composed of military folks.  We have Army active duty, Army Reserve.  We also have Air Force active duty and we have Army National Guard who make up the bulk of our security force that travels with us. 

 

            We have a couple of different components of the PRT that actually go out and do most of the engagement and work with people in the province.  We have a civil affairs team where they go out and they engage in classic counterinsurgency techniques and build relationships with the local populace, find out what their needs are and make sure that as those needs are in line with the priorities of the Afghan government, we can help the Nangarhar government to provide the services the people are asking for. 

 

            Now, we also have an engineering team.  And one of the things that's unique about Nangarhar is that we're in a situation where  really Nangarhar is set to absorb much more large-scale economic infrastructure type of assistance; we're talking major roads, a regional airport, improvements to the irrigation infrastructure.  And a big part of it is electricity.  That's the major constraint right now on economic growth in Nangarhar.  And if we can help the government of Afghanistan to get those things to the people in Nangarhar, they're ready to really take them and do things with them. 

 

            It's amazing when you travel through Jalalabad in particular, but all through the central corridor of the province, there is an astounding amount of economic activity going on, given the constraints that these people face. 

 

            And people in Nangarhar have just decided they're going to get on with life, and they're doing the things they need to, to maintain the stability of the province.   

 

            COL. ALLISON:  The agribusiness development team is made up of 47 soldiers, Missouri Guardsmen.  Most of them are what we call traditional Guardsmen.  There are a few full-time active Guard and Reserve Title 32 soldiers from the state as well. 

 

            What makes the team unique, other than having our own security force and small staff, is the skill sets that we bring within the agriculture team of 10 folks.  And within that team, I have expertise and skill sets ranging from crop consultants to agronomists, hydrologists, cattle farmers, crop farmers.  Also, the head of my Ag team is actually an instructor and professor at the University of Missouri and teaches Ag Econ.  So -- have a very diverse bunch with a lot of different skill sets, which is the key to our success as far as the agriculture team goes. 

 

            MR. WADDOUPS:  And I failed to directly answer your question. The PRT has about 80 folks that are assigned to it, including a Department of State representative, an agriculture adviser from the USDA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and also a USAID officer who supervises some of the programs out there. 

 

            COL. KECK:  Let's just start and then we'll go across.  Mike, and obviously they're having a little difficulty hearing, so speak up. 

 

            Q     Folks, this is Mike Mount with CNN.  I heard you say earlier that in your region there you're virtually poppy-free.  Maybe you can talk a little bit about how you all managed to kind of get to that level and if there's something a little more unique about your teams that is able to keep poppies from growing, as opposed to other methods that have been used with other troops or other groups within the country.  Is there just something different you all are doing than what else is being done in the country to keep it poppy-free in your area? 

 

            MR. WADDOUPS:  Sure, I can address that.  This is one of the primary things that I've worked with Governor Sherzai, our provincial governor in Nangarhar, over the last year to address.   

 

            Nangarhar -- last year there was about 20,000 hectares of poppy cultivated in the province.  

 

            To put that in context, that's the second-largest crop of any province in Afghanistan.   

 

            And about a year ago I sat down with Governor Sherzai after I'd arrived here and we talked about the problem, what are we going to do? And basically he told me:  Don't worry about it.  I'm going to take care of this.  I understand the threat this is to our government's ability to keep control in the province, but also with the damage it does to Afghanistan's international reputation.  And insha'Allah, I will be able to wipe out the poppy crop.   

 

            And I thought:  Oh, no.  This is a big promise.  Governor, don't promise more than you can deliver.   

 

            And he said:  No, you can cut off both my hands if I fail to cut the poppy crop.  

 

            And we proved tonight to the presidents that Governor Sherzai has both his hands.   

 

            The poppy-free designation is an official designation that's declared by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes, UNODC.  And they survey the province and find it.   

 

            What worked in Nangarhar this year compared to previous years and in some other parts of the country is that Governor Sherzai came up with a plan to engage the local community.  That plan -- the first step was to get other government officials, including the provincial council, who are the elected officials at the provincial level, on board in supporting the push to eliminate poppy.  And then they reached out to traditional leaders, to community -- people that were respected in the community, whether it be religious leaders, tribal leaders, former military leaders, and emphasized to them what benefits could come to Nangarhar and what the consequences of not tackling the poppy problem would be.  And it was primarily this engagement of the leadership structures that led to the success in Nangarhar.   

 

            Then there was also an enforcement side of it.  And it wasn't that they went out and eradicated every last crop they found or that they arrested every last person that they found.  But when Governor Sherzai made the declaration last year that we are not going to tolerate poppy in Nangarhar and he got the agreement of the community leaders that they would not tolerate it either, once they identified farmers who had planted poppy, he gave them the opportunity  to plow up their crops.  And if they chose not to do that, then they were arrested.  And it only took a few of these arrests for people to realize that wait a minute, something's different; the government's serious this year.  And so people chose to eliminate what seeds they had planted.   

 

            The third thing is that by engaging with the people, he found out what they needed and has taken steps to implement plans to bring services out into the province.   

 

            One of the big things about this is that by having such a drastic reduction in poppy, Nangarhar has earned $10 million in what we call Good Performers Initiative money.  And this is money that the province can now plow into some of the redevelopment projects that are chosen in consultation with the communities where the poppy was reduced.   

 

            So mostly what the communities have decided that they're going to use this money for is improving their irrigation infrastructure. They've chosen to construct some dams, probably about three dams up in some of the canyons, we would call them in the United States, but some of the

(inaudible) they call them here in Afghanistan.  And this will have the benefit of slowing down the water flow when the snow melts.  It will help control erosion.  It will create more ability to irrigate crops.  It helps recharge the aquifer.  So the fact that they are using this money wisely to do something more than just stop poppy growth but to benefit other parts of their communities is something that's very encouraging to see. 

 

            The final thing I'd say is, this engagement strategy has had benefits that we didn't necessarily anticipate.  Because Governor Sherzai engaged so broadly in the community, there are many parts of the province where people are closer to their government now than they have been in the past.  There's much more interaction between them and their government officials.  And that's one of the primary goals that we have as a PRT, is helping to extend the reach of the government of Afghanistan out into every part of this country and every part of Nangarhar. 

 

            Q     Hi.  It's Justin Fishel with Fox News.  So, just to follow up on this, what -- besides enforcement, what alternatives are you offering to the poppy?  What are you encouraging them to grow?  What are your agricultural experts encouraging them to do?  And how are the people doing without the poppy?  Are they happy?  Are they content? Is this something that you see is sustainable, or is it going to -- is it an easily reversed trend here? 

 

            MR. WADDOUPS:  No, this is the really big challenge, is maintaining the poppy-free status.  But a number of factors are working in our favor in Nangarhar.  Number one is that USAID has been running a program for about the last four years in Nangarhar called the Alternative Development Program, and they've been working with farmers to help them develop alternative crops.   

 

            And the challenge really is to capture the value of the crops. And Colonel Allison can talk a little bit more in detail about that and some of the work they're doing as well.  But the ADP program, the Alternative Development Program, has had a long enough time that they've really gotten their legs underneath them and the effects are being felt by people.  So they realize that they do have alternatives. This year they've documented cases in Nangarhar where people growing  vegetables, particularly onions and some higher-value vegetable crops, have actually earned more than they did in previous years growing poppy.   

 

            The other thing that's worked in our favor, frankly, is the fact that the global shortage of wheat has really driven wheat prices up and wheat is much more valuable than it has been in the past.   

 

            But it's also the fact that -- we can't just rely on the fact that there's going to be some magic crop out there that's going to take away the desire to grow poppy.  For most people, it's an economic decision, and that -- if they're farming, that means they want to make as much money as they can farming.  If they can do something else that earns them more money, they'll do that.   

 

            And so it's more about creating alternative jobs.  And it could be in agricultural processing.  It could be in manufacturing of other kinds.  But really, the thing we need is to be able to get more electricity into Nangarhar, and that plays into many of the things that Colonel Allison is working on. 

 

            Q     So can he follow up on that?  What are the things he's working on in terms of getting electricity?  And that -- what is Colonel Allison doing? 

 

            COL. ALLISON:  Well, I can follow up just a little bit.  And the quick turnaround that, I mean, Shawn specifically addressed was kind of tied into the rule of law and the leadership from within the province.  The agricultural piece, of course, is a viable alternative, but it's not a -- it's not a quick fix.  It takes time for crops to grow.   

 

            In some of the rural and remote areas, irrigation is a problem. And most of your rural and remote areas is where your poppy is being grown.  So we have addressed some of the issues with irrigation. There's not a quick fix for it.   

 

            But to get the agriculture, economic growth that's needed, the market and the export, as Shawn mentioned, you're going to have to get large power to get the value added -- the enterprise, the processing facilities to freeze it, can it, juice it, store it, so forth and so on and then export it.  So until then, you don't really get the value- added chain. 

 

            In close, around Kabul and Kunar and the Grand Canal there's a lot of water irrigation.  It's just a matter of getting it where you want it, when you want it and being able to hold it as it flows off to the neighboring country. 

 

            So interim power within a strategy -- as some refer it, within Nangarhar, Inc. -- is the watershed piece that Shawn discussed, especially along the Tora Boras in the southern mountains, where they receive a lot of snowmelt as well as rainfall.  

 

            There are these -- (inaudible) -- or canyons or canals as we call them back home, that are optimum for a dam, say, a 10-meter-high dam that can capture water and produce either micro or macro type of energy, power generation.   

 

            But the watershed does just more than power production.  Shawn mentioned it.  Check dams --(Inaudible) -- further up in the mountains, slow the water down.  They catch the silt that gathers in the dam.   

 

            The Duranta Dam, for example, built by the Soviets in the 1950s, here in Nangarhar, is almost full of silt.  That's one of the largest problems with the Duranta Dam.   

 

            So it also allows for reforestation.  It captures some water up in the higher elevations and lower elevations, so that the people that live in arid areas or remote areas, where there's not much water, have a source through especially the dry season that they can water their crops and plant their crops with a water source available.   

 

            MR. WADDOUPS:  The electricity problem is particularly difficult. And it's not something that's unique to Nangarhar.  But it is particularly acute in our part of the country.    

 

            Part of what this is is working with the Afghan government, on their priorities, and helping them to reach out to get the resources that are either available through their own funds and through their own resources or else tapping into the donor community, international community for help in this.   

 

            One thing that we are fortunate for out in Nangarhar is, we have abundant water resources.  There's a great potential here.  But it's going to be a long-term project.  And we're going to have to come up with some interim fixes.   

 

            Q     Gentlemen, this is David Wood from the Baltimore Sun.   

 

            If your ultimate goal here is to achieve some kind of sustained stability, against the insurgency, apart from these very, very long- term things that you're talking about, like economic development, what do you have to do, at least in the short term?  What other challenges are you looking at to resolve in the next three or four years?   

 

            MR. WADDOUPS:  As far as stability goes, one of the major challenges is of course helping the Afghan security forces, whether  they be the army or the police, the border police, to take control of their territory.   

 

            Now, we're very fortunate in Nangarhar; we have good leadership.  We have strong leadership, an outstanding police chief who's well- respected in the community, a good army infrastructure.  And in Nangarhar, really, these security forces are in the lead.  The insurgents, frankly, they can't stand toe to toe with the Afghan security forces in our part of the country.  That may be unique along the border right now, but that's spreading.  And the way it's spreading is that there's more and more training of these forces going on.   

 

            In Nangarhar, we have what we call the Regional Training Center. It's a place where new recruits come in, whether it be to the border police or the Afghan police, and they receive basic training in their skills that they need to go out and do their job, but it's also a place where focused district development, a program where entire district police forces are taken out and brought to reorganize, to reequip, to learn more advanced skills.  It's conducted at the RTC as well.   

 

            These are the immediate things that have to happen, is improvement of the security force, and we're seeing that.  More and more of the offensive actions that are happening in Nangarhar are being initiated and carried out by the Afghans. 

 

            Now, that's the short term.  In the military parlance, we say that that's kind of the holding action.  Really, the decisive action is going to be that the governance improves.  And so I spend a good deal of my time mentoring either the governor or the provincial council, some of the district leadership on -- and that mentoring includes conversations about what's working well for them, sometimes helping them to identify what's not working well and helping to rethink a strategy.  But that's the kind of thing that is going to have to go on continually for quite a while now to help build their capacity and help them reach out for the resources that they need. 

 

            COL. KECK:  Luis? 

 

            Q     Gentlemen, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News.  Can I ask you -- you spoke of a protective team that goes out with you when you're in the field.  Can you tell us -- what some of the risks that you undertake when you go out into the field?  And do the people that you come into contact, do they receive some sort of intimidation from insurgents or Taliban in your province? 

 

            COL. ALLISON:  As Shawn mentioned earlier, I mean, the majority of our province is secure on the kinetic side, as opposed to Kunar province to the north, which has a lot of kinetic activity. 

 

            In our province, the largest threat is IEDs -- vehicle-borne IEDs and suicide bombers.  Normally we roll out on a mission, and Shawn, he goes with us sometimes, as normally the PRT and the other interagency folks within the PRT, be it from USAID or USDA.  We roll out in our up-armored  humvees or the new MRAPs that we received several months ago.   

 

            So our number-one threat would be the IEDs throughout the province.  There is kinetic activity.  Most of that is close to the borders, south, in the Tora Boras -- anywhere you get up in a higher elevation, you run the risk of kinetic small-arms fire.   

 

            MR. WADDOUPS:  As Colonel Allison stated, I roll out with the military convoys.  I ride around in a humvee when I go out to most parts of the province.  And so we're out there together.  And we've been fortunate.  The entire time that I've been here, for almost 15 months now, our PRT has not been hit with any kind of engagement directly from any of the insurgents.  

 

            But the IED threat, that's the weapon of choice, asymmetrically for the insurgents in our part of the country.  I'm going to steal a line from one of my military colleagues, but they may have their asymmetric weapon, but we have ours as well, which is the development, the building schools, building clinics, particularly building roads and paving roads.  That makes it so much more difficult for an insurgent to plant an IED and successfully attack a convoy, whether that be a coalition forces convoy or a convoy that's operated by the Afghan security forces.   

 

            Really, in Nangarhar we see attacks directed more against Afghan government institutions and Afghan government security forces, which is an indicator that they are the threat that the enemy perceives in Nangarhar even more so than the coalition.  They know that they are gaining traction -- the security forces are gaining traction -- and so they're trying to weaken them.   

 

            COL. KECK:  We are going to lose our DVIDS at a quarter till, so I'm going to have to bring this to a close and give our guests an opportunity to provide any closing remarks.   

 

            So let's turn it back to you for closing remarks, gentlemen. 

 

            MR. WADDOUPS:  The thing to understand about Nangarhar is that we don't have a hot war going on in Nangarhar.  We have a relatively well-educated population that's active in the economic sphere.  The road construction, in particular, is helping them to get more economic activity going in the province.  Just to the north and south of us, there's more fighting going on, but there is a spot along the border where things are working right now.  That's largely due to strong leadership on the Afghan side.   

 

            And it's an honor as an American diplomat.  This is a little bit different than wearing a pin-striped suit and sitting in a capital in Europe, but it's a great honor to be a diplomat out here on the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, really connecting with people.  Made some of the most intense friendships of my life.  And I have a lot of faith that these people are going to go ahead and solidify the progress they've made and help it to spread to other parts of the country. 

 

            COL. ALLISON:  I'll just add to that, as mentioned during our meeting with President Karzai and President Bush, and both of them spoke about the progress and the hope, but the success that we've had, not just now but I remember President Karzai mentioned the fact that the last several years, they've had more progress than in many years. So we are making a difference.  It's one of those things that does take time.  As Shawn mentioned, power being a large piece to that, which will bring the true economic growth, bring it here much quicker. But we are making a difference, and we are successful and we are seeing progress. 

 

            COL. KECK:  Thank you again, gentlemen, for staying up so late and having this time -- sharing this time with us.  And we thank you all for coming. 

 

            COL. ALLISON:  Thank you. 

 

            MR. WADDOUPS:  Thank you very much.

 

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