(Note: Major General Tucker appears via teleconference.)
BRYAN WHITMAN (deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs): Well, General, thank you for taking some time this afternoon to be with us. And good morning to the press corps.
This is Major General Michael Tucker, who is the deputy chief of staff for operations for NATO's International Security Force, as well as the deputy commander for operations for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. General Tucker's been in his current position since June of this year. And this is the first opportunity that we've had to have him in this venue, but many of you know him from when he was most recently here in Washington in his last assignment.
Today he's going to do as we normally do -- provide us a brief operational update on stability and security operations in Afghanistan and has agreed to take some of your questions. So with that, General Tucker, let me turn it over to you.
GEN. TUCKER: All right. Well, greetings from Afghanistan. It's about 7:30 in the evening here. It's starting to get a little cool. We anticipate the snows to begin tomorrow, in fact.
As you well know, we have a great use for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, ISR assets over here to help us complement other forms of intelligence. And what I wanted to start off this evening with is to show you an example of how we've used ISR to complement our other sources of intelligence.
So if we could go ahead and roll the video, I'll show you a recent example of how we used ISR to help us identifying a team that's planting an IED. Could you please play the video?
If you look closely, there are two men in the middle of the road in the center of the video. The one on the lower left is moving up and down. He has a pick axe which he's digging a hole in the center of the road. Another gentleman is standing to his right. These IED emplacers were identified using various other detection systems that we had cross-cued. And then we used a predator to strike.
And I'm unable to see the video, so if somebody could tell me once it's finished playing, I can continue.
(Pause while video plays.)
MR. WHITMAN: Back to you, General.
GEN. TUCKER: All right. We can go ahead and open now for questions if you have any.
Q General, this is Andrew Gray from Reuters. We hear increasing talk here in Washington about the idea of a surge in Afghanistan, obviously drawing on the experience in Iraq. Do you think that's an appropriate term? And what elements of the surge from Iraq do you think can be applied to Afghanistan, and which are not appropriate?
GEN. TUCKER: Well, I think General McKiernan would tell you that it's not necessarily a surge as much as it is a reinforcement. Our intent is to shore up security so that we can set the conditions for governance to take hold. There is a big push for us to reach down, in cooperation with the Afghan government, to touch people in their villages. As you well know, the center of gravity in a counterinsurgency fight is the population, and so we need more forces in order to reach out to greater portions of the population in order to take advantage of security operations and allow the conditions for governance to take hold.
As you well know, the Afghan country has not had a strong history of centralized government. And about 80 percent of the country is rural. And so there is a big need, huge need, for us to cover a lot of the area in the rural areas of Afghanistan, and of course we'll need more forces to do that with.
MR. WHITMAN: Tom?
Q General, it's Tom Bowman with NPR. We've been hearing a lot over the past year or so about lift capability in Afghanistan and the need for more helicopters. I was over there back in October, and the Green Berets actually had to borrow helicopters from the 101st to complete a mission. Could you talk about how severe the shortage is of helicopters and how many more you need?
GEN. TUCKER: We do have a shortage of helicopters, but the Department of Defense is answering that need as we speak, and we have a date by which we expect after the beginning of the year we hope to get a brigade of helicopters in here to fill that void. But due to the tyranny of the terrain over here, some of our troops operate up at 10,000 feet, all the way to the desert expanses. There's not a lot of highway network to move on. Helicopters are a primary means of moving our soldiers and providing the logistics, so there is a great need for them. And we're encouraged by the responses that we're hearing from the government.
Q Will that brigade be announced, that brigade of helicopters? Do you need more than that?
GEN. TUCKER: Well, we're anticipating some Marines coming in, and the Marines will provide their own lift as well, with medium- and heavy-lift helicopters.
So we -- currently, as we assess it, that will be enough.
MR. WHITMAN: All right. Let's go to Daphne and then Jim and then we'll hit Jeff.
Q General, this is Daphne Benoit with Agence France-Presse. I was wondering if you could address the counternarcotic operations that the NATO allies decided to pursue in October in Budapest? Has any of these operations started to be -- to take place? Has anything been implemented? And if not, is it still in debate among the partners who decided to be part of it?
GEN. TUCKER: We have received the -- the additional authorizations from NATO and, in fact, from the secretary of defense's office in the United States. And since the 20th of October, we have taken on a much more aggressive approach towards counternarcotics.
We've had a series of operations already, multiple operations, in light of these new authorities, with great results so far. And we anticipate more results in the future.
So I think we're on -- we're on the path to which our political leadership is guiding us to.
Q General, Jim Miklaszewski with NBC. First, to follow up on Andrew's question -- and then I have a question of my own -- you said you need more troops. How many more? We're hearing anything from four to six, seven additional brigades. And what would be the make- up? Would they all be combat brigades? Or would they be Corps of Engineers, logistics? Just how many additional forces are you looking for and how soon?
GEN. TUCKER: Well, we anticipate an increase of around 20,000 more troops. That is a combination of engineers, logistics, more -- more ISR and military intelligence, more helicopters, and, of course, more ground troops and mobile ground troops to help us pursue the fight over here. So we're optimistic.
The first lift of those forces should be arriving in January with the 10th Mountain Division, which we're prepared to receive already.
Q And I understand that three Canadian soldiers were killed in a complex attack outside Kandahar today, which apparently destroyed an MRAP in the process. Do you have any details on that? Were they killed inside the MRAP, or was it as a result of small-arms fire? And are they becoming increasingly effective in their IED attacks, so that the MRAPs may be more vulnerable?
GEN. TUCKER: Well, I can't discuss too much about the operation itself and the vehicle they used, or whether or not the vehicle was destroyed. It was unfortunate that -- that an IED took the lives of these two great Canadian soldiers today, and our hearts go out to their families and their loved ones.
But the MRAP is an enormously effective vehicle, especially against center-road IEDs, with its V-shaped hull. And we have had a very low KIA rate in MRAPs. And usually it's because -- if soldiers are fatalities in MRAPs, sometimes it's because of the -- of a rolling effect inside the MRAP, not necessarily that the MRAP was penetrated.
Q General, Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes.
You had mentioned that you expect some Marines with their organic airlift. Were you talking about Marines in addition to the MAGTF that's replacing 2/7?
GEN. TUCKER: We -- we do not have anything written so far, but we're anticipating -- we're anticipating some Marines to come in. And we've also anticipated that, should we get more Marines -- that they will come with their own organic air, yes.
Q In addition to the Marines, it's already been announced they're replacing the battalion.
GEN. TUCKER: Correct.
Q Any idea how many Marines?
GEN. TUCKER: I'm not at liberty to discuss that because those decisions haven't been made yet.
Q Just if -- I wanted to clarify something. You said in January a combat aviation brigade is arriving. Does that mean it's arriving with the 10th Mountain Division?
GEN. TUCKER: No, I said that -- I said that the 10th Mountain Division is arriving in January.
We have requested a combat aviation brigade to come in later in addition to the one that we already have.
MR. WHITMAN: Thom?
Q Thanks. General, it's Thom Shanker with The New York Times. You wear two hats, one for ISAF, one for U.S. Forces- Afghanistan. In what was described here as a major reorganization, General McKiernan -- as, of course, you know -- now has two hats, commander ISAF and commander U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. Can you describe, sir, what benefit, what goodness, what synergy has come from this dual-hatted role? And have there been any hiccups along the way?
GEN. TUCKER: I think one of the major benefits from establishing U.S. Forces-Afghanistan is it brought all U.S. forces here in the Afghanistan area of operations under one commander. As you know, before, we had various units throughout the country that were operating directly for organizations outside of Afghanistan, thus creating challenges with unity of command.
And so now that they all work for -- through General McKiernan, it assists us and the Department of the Army and Department of Defense, the Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy, to streamline our communications assets, speak with one voice, and truly reach a -- an effort of synergy, so we do not have redundancy and we can achieve an economy of effort.
And it's been enormously successful so far. And General McKiernan has done a great job of wearing both hats in that regard, and it's been recognized by NATO as a success story so far.
Q (Off mike) -- example of something that you can cite that is working now that wasn't working before because of the new command structure?
GEN. TUCKER: We had other -- we had organizations here in Afghanistan that would request equipment, new equipment, operational- needs items, for example, that would go directly up to the services without General McKiernan having visibility of it, for example. Some of that equipment was redundant, was already requested by other organizations. And so by General McKiernan having the ability to have visibility over these requests, we can consolidate them and streamline them and achieve somewhat of an economy while still providing the troops with the equipment they need. As well as reporting. Reports would go up independent of a central headquarters, and so you'd get some confusion sometimes with reports and returns from higher headquarters to lower headquarters that are not necessarily vetted with the command.
And so now we speak with one voice, which is also a great benefit, especially to our political leadership and commanders.
Q General, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra.
I would like to ask you about the foreign fighters in Afghanistan, if you have seen or captured lately any of them, if you have any information, if they are coming from Pakistan or from Kashmir.
GEN. TUCKER: We have picked up, on occasion, foreign fighters in Afghanistan, through signals intelligence, primary due to the fact that they're speaking languages that are not indigenous to this area of operations.
And we've had some success at capturing them and in some cases turning them over to local Afghan authorities. And it's not necessarily epidemic. As you well know, foreign fighters are not necessarily welcome in this country. And we've been successful in identifying them when we get them.
Q General, Jim Michaels, USA Today.
I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the supply line through Pakistan to U.S. and NATO forces. Is there concern about the vulnerability of that supply line because of instability, in Pakistan, in the tribal area? And are you exploring other avenues as a result of that?
GEN. TUCKER: First of all, we are exploring other avenues so we're not, you know, so we're not reliable on one particular line of communication. We want to maintain flexibility.
But in regard to the line of communication that we currently use from Pakistan, as you well know, the Pakistan army had conducted operations, up in the Bajaur agency of the North West Province, across from Kunar in Afghanistan. (Inaudible.) Some of the insurgents had moved south and began interdicting the lines of communication which, in fact, our convoys used.
The Pakistan army reacted, with that -- by committing a battalion of infantry to escort vehicles, to protect them, which was quite effective. But it wasn't getting throughput. And so early last week, they committed an additional battalion. And now we have throughput more commensurate with what we're expected to.
But the bottom line up front is that Pakistanis are protecting our lines of communication and we have had no real effect in our logistics status here in Afghanistan because of that.
MR. WHITMAN: Let's keep hitting the second row here and then we'll go even deeper and we'll go to Carl.
Q General, Gerry Gilmore, American Forces Press Service. How important is it to eliminate those alleged camps in Pakistan, along the Afghan border, to the success of your operations? I understand the Pakistanis are cooperating more. Are you zeroing in more on that? And could you just describe that a little bit, how important that is to success?
GEN. TUCKER: General McKiernan would tell you that there can be no success in Afghanistan without addressing the issue of the porous borders and enemy sanctuary in the FATA and the North-West Province.
The enemy can come across the border, strike, and then go back into sanctuary. They can train and recruit. They can exploit bomb- making material. They can enlist and recruit suicide bombers and then export them across the border into Afghanistan.
And so, certainly, without the ability to interdict that and strike those particular sanctuaries, we'll never really achieve long- term success. We are -- have been quite effective in picking them up when they cross the border -- through very good cooperation with the Pakistan military and the Frontier Corps -- of recent.
And we've been quite effective at getting the Afghan Border Police and Afghan National Army also involved, and they've been very effective at -- at striking the enemy in its -- as they move into the Afghanistan area to conduct these operations.
But it needs to be addressed. And we're very optimistic so far with the Pakistan military's ability to begin operations over there in a deliberate effort.
Q General, I'm Carl Osgood, with Executive Intelligence Review. A week or so ago, there was a report in the British press that British military commanders in Afghanistan have expressed opposition to the new NATO counternarcotics strategy. Are you seeing any hesitation on the part of the British or any of the other NATO allies there to participate in these counternarcotic operations that you had mentioned earlier?
GEN. TUCKER: Some of the countries are reluctant to participate. All of their participation is predicated upon, what specifically we are talking about, in terms of participation. Some can provide medevac. Some can provide lift. Some can provide intelligence sources.
So it's different levels of participation. But I've heard none of the talk that you've heard of from the U.K. But we're pleased with what we're -- with the cooperation we're getting so far.
Q General, Otto Kreisher with CongressDaily.
You mentioned that you expect snow. There have been differing reports, as to whether you expect a continued heavy operation by the insurgents, in the winter, or whether we're going to continue pressing the offensive.
What's your projection for what's going to happen, when the snows fly and you get into winter, which is usually a slower time there?
GEN. TUCKER: Well, it is usually a slower time, because the enemy's freedom of movement is obviously reduced. They have to come out of the higher elevations, into the valleys, where they're exposed. Many of them actually send their families back into Pakistan.
We anticipate a very active, a very active winter. But in that anticipation, we are preparing ourselves to continue a very, very high OPTEMPO of operations, in order to interdict enemy's activities, attack him in his sanctuary and prevent him from continuing to disrupt and attack the good people of Afghanistan.
So we see no change in our operation. And if he wants to continue to fight through the winter, we'll be here to fight him.
Q General, I'd just like to follow up on what you said. And then I have a different question. But when you say attack in the sanctuaries, are you referring to outside the borders of Afghanistan?
GEN. TUCKER: NATO does not attack across the borders of Afghanistan. I'm talking about where he has safe houses and the like here in Afghanistan proper.
Q Thanks. What I wanted to ask about was, I don't know if you've had a chance to see the new directive that came out, this week, 3000.07, talking about increasing and institutionalizing the military's irregular warfare capability, counterinsurgency capability.
In addition, Secretary Gates has a big article in Foreign Affairs that just came out along the same lines.
And I wanted to ask you, how much of the capability for broad- spectrum counterinsurgency -- how much of the capability that you need do you have within the military and/or from other U.S. government or international organizations?
GEN. TUCKER: That crosses all three lines of operations: security, governance, and reconstruction and development. We have quite a bit of capability along to help us with the security line of operation. And we're continuing to get more. The secretary of Defense's ISR task force is leveraging a great deal of effort towards that to help us continue to pursue targets in that regard and to build intelligence.
We do need assistance in governance. There is a -- in these type of -- in these type of insurgencies, in this type of warfare, normally governance is lacking. And particularly here in Afghanistan, there's a huge void in human capital. And so there is a fear that security can outrun governance, because governance shores up what security you've attained. And without -- and governance, of course, is something that we can't do for them; they have to do for themselves.
What's missing are the -- are the mentors, the coaches, the teachers to help them through that process, because in some cases here in Afghanistan, particularly, they've not necessarily had much of a history in centralized government. And so that's some of the skill sets that we need in our arsenal, so to speak.
And then when -- into the development and reconstruction, obviously, you're not -- working with the United Nations and USAID and other nongovernmental organizations is paramount. And, of course, that needs some -- it needs some help. They're quite strong and very cooperative. But those are some of the areas where we need help.
MR. WHITMAN: All right. We'll get a couple of others from the back there. Tom and Jeff.
Q General, Tom Bowman again with NPR. You mentioned the 20,000 additional troops you expect to head there next year. As you know, there's not much infrastructure in Afghanistan. Where are you going to put these troops and what's the plan for housing them? Are you looking at, you know, a pretty sizable building campaign? Are you going to put them in tents? What's the plan?
GEN. TUCKER: There's a very huge building campaign that has already begun. We're pushing dirt as we speak to prepare for the -- for the arrival of these forces.
And the Army, Central Command, the Joint Staff is working very closely with us so that we can set the conditions to receive these soldiers and provide adequate housing and infrastructure for them so that it's all set up prior to their arrival.
Q (Off mike) -- how many contractors are involved? How many buildings?
GEN. TUCKER: Oh, I'm not sure. I'm not sure the number of contractors, number of buildings. I know that we have -- we have done several -- for about the last month and a half, we have done in-depth studies on specifically, to the man, how many billeting spaces, how many helicopter pads, how much force protection we're going to need, how many latrines, how many dining facilities, things of that nature, down to the -- down to the actual number of boots on the ground, what would be required.
We have a lot of experience in this, obviously, in both of these wars. And our logisticians and our engineers, our contracting teams are all over this and are working very hard to move forward. We've already got a lot of the money already allocated to proceed, so we're -- we're optimistic.
Q Is this in Kandahar, in Bagram?
GEN. TUCKER: I really don't want to discuss our locations at this time, because some of those decisions haven't been made, and for -- obviously, for operational reasons.
Q General, Jeff with Stars and Stripes again. Have you seen any reduction in the Pakistanis' efforts on their side of the border following the Mumbai attacks?
GEN. TUCKER: We have not. Obviously, that was a concern. We stay in close dialogue with our Pakistani military counterparts in that regard, but to date we have not seen any reduction. And they -- they've told us that they're remaining committed to -- to their fight here on the western side of the border.
Q Quick follow-up. The assets that the Marines are bringing, do you expect that to include Ospreys?
GEN. TUCKER: I'm not sure. I know that they use them quite effectively in Iraq.
I think this would be a good theater for them to expand the use of the Osprey. And I'm sure the Marines are looking at that. It would certainly be worthwhile to use here.
MR. WHITMAN: We have time for maybe one more. Al, do you want to finish us up?
Q General, it's Al Pessin again. Just to follow up on our earlier discussion about full-spectrum counterinsurgency capabilities, just to clarify, is that something you think the military can and should bring to the fight, or is that something that other agencies should bring along, or some combination of the two?
GEN. TUCKER: I think it's the latter. I think it's a combination of the two. The military certainly can lead in establishing security in these type of operations, which obviously sets conditions for governance and for -- for development. And so it's -- without question, it's got to be a team effort.
Q Sorry, General, but, I mean, is it only the military's job to set the conditions, and then other folks do the soft power, or do you see it as the military's role to also conduct some of those governance and economic development operations that are talked about?
GEN. TUCKER: I think the military has to be there to participate within their capacity as the military throughout all three lines of operation, as you described. It's not a -- we establish the security and then cut and run. We should be here to help them through the process. Insurgencies often reappear. There is a sustainment piece to all this. And so I see it as a continuous operation in support of the other two lines of operation, yes.
Q Thank you.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, General, we have just about reached the end of our time. And in the last minute, I just wanted to throw it back to you to see if there's anything that -- that we may have missed or that -- something that we've, through our questions, stimulated some thoughts that you'd like to pass on before we bring it to an end.
GEN. TUCKER: I would just like to share with you that from our perspective here on the ground, fighting this war day to day, we are -- we are certainly optimistic. We're a glass-half-full perspective.
We have -- there's no doubt in our mind that we can win and will win this fight, and we will endure. And I'm sure that the great people of the United States and the great people of the NATO nations and contributing nations will continue to support us to stabilize this country and these great people of Afghanistan.
And thank you for the opportunity for sharing some of our thoughts with you, and I appreciate your questions.
MR. WHITMAN: General, thank you for taking the time. And we hope that in the not-too-far-distant future, we'll be able to do this again with you. Thank you.
GEN. TUCKER: All right. I'll be here.
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