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DoD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Formica From Kabul

Presenters: Commanding General, Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan Maj. Gen. Richard Formica
March 31, 2009

                (Note:  The general appears via teleconference from Kabul.) 

 

                STAFF:  He's speaking today from Camp Eggers in Kabul and has generously given us some of his time to talk about CSTC-A Alpha's, as we call it, ongoing security, mentoring and training operations in Afghanistan.  As all of you are keenly aware of, with the announcements of the Afghan strategy that have just come out this week, General Formica will obviously be very key in this additional training component that the president has added greater capability to. 

 

                General Formica assumed command in this position in December of last year and is going to give you a brief overview of what they've been doing and then take some of your questions.  

 

                General, we did get the fact sheet that your staff prepared for us, and we appreciate that.  And so we kind of have some facts and figures here.  And let me just turn it over to you for some opening comments. 

 

                GEN. FORMICA:  Okay.  Thank you and good morning.  As Terry (sp) indicated, Major General Richard Formica here from Kabul, Afghanistan. And I appreciate the opportunity to discuss with you our ongoing activities here in the Combined Security Transition Command- Afghanistan, or CSTC-A, to generate and develop the Afghan national security forces, the Afghan National Army, the ANA, and the Afghan National Police, the ANP. 

 

                CSTC-A is a joint and coalition command under the operational control of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.  We have servicemen and -women from all three components, active, Guard and Reserve; from all of the services, Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines; and from coalition partners, all supported by a professional civilian workforce. 

 

                We have been charged with the responsibility to build the sustainable capacity and capability of the ANA and the ANP, so that they can bring stability and security to the Afghan people.   

 

                To build this sustainable capacity and capability, we're looking at three areas.  First:  to develop systems.  We've identified three for our current focus -- personnel management, logistics and financial management.   

 

                Second, we must continue to develop the institutional base, the training base, medical, logistics, communications, and the ministries, both the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior. 

 

                And third, we want to build the corps of noncommissioned officers in both the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.  Our current program builds the ANA to a size of 134,000, accelerated to December of 2011, and reforms the ANP at a size of 82,000.  Our approach is to sustain the momentum that has been established with the growth and development of the ANA while we add focus to the ANP.  Last year, the ANA expanded its capacity by just over 22,000 soldiers, and it's on track to achieve 134,000 in 2011.   

 

                We are concurrently improving its capabilities by the integration of enabling units, such as aviation, logistics, reconnaissance, engineer, and some field artillery units, by providing up-armored Humvees and NATO weapons and by improving the professional development of officers and NCOs. 

 

                And we continue to reform the police.  We are reforming at the ministerial level as well as at the provincial and district level. Our cornerstone program for reform at the provincial and district levels is the Focused District Development program, or FDD.   

 

                We currently have eight provinces and 55 districts enrolled in the current reform training effort.  

 

                We have initiated a similar program, Focused Border Development, to reform the Afghan Border Police.  We'll train 52 companies by August, about a fourth of the border police force.  Focused Border Development is a joint program that has been initiated in Regional Command East in conjunction with the Combined Joint Task Force-101. 

 

                Before I close, I'll comment briefly on the president's recent announcement concerning the strategic review in Afghanistan.  With his announcement, the president has reaffirmed our commitment to accelerate the growth of the Afghan National Army to 134,000 and to accelerate the reform of the Afghan National Police force at 82,000.   

 

                The decision to send 4,000 U.S. trainers is a demonstrable and significant commitment to the development of the Afghan national security forces.  And when coupled with the arrival of the additional U.S. forces, which will have embedded mentor responsibilities, and the provision of Operational Mentor Liaison Teams and police mentor teams by our coalition partners, we will be able to meet the established training requirements for the current year for the first time.  And the president has clearly left the door open for potential growth of the Afghan national security forces as we move towards the eventual transfer of security responsibility to the Afghans. 

 

                CSTC-A is truly part of the larger effort here.  We enjoy close cooperative relations with a number of coalition, governmental and non-governmental organizations.   

 

                Finally, as you all are well aware, it's our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians out there in the battlespace, on the ground, alongside our Afghan partners, who truly shoulder the burden of this war and face the daily dangers of the theater.  And they also make a significant contribution every day.  I would like to publicly thank each of them for their service and for the sacrifices of their families at home.  For those families who have lost loved ones here in theater, I extend our sincere and genuine sympathy on behalf of all of us in the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan. 

 

                Thank you very much.  And at this time, I'll take your questions. 

 

                STAFF:  Well, General, thank you for that overview.  And we do have a few questions.  I think we'll start with Andrew.  And then we'll go over to Brian.   

 

                Q     General, it's Andrew Gray from Reuters.   

 

                As you know, in the runup to the announcement of the new strategy, there was discussion about higher figures, higher numbers for both the army and police.  Ambassador Holbrooke said those numbers had been kicked around but not quite scrubbed yet.   

 

                What's your estimate of how much bigger the forces need to be? How quickly do you need a decision to start preparing to increase the size, beyond the current targets?   

 

                GEN. FORMICA:  Yeah, thank you for the question.   

 

                First, we, as I said in my statement, we're on track to grow the Afghan national army to 134,000 by December 11th.  It's important that we continue to progress towards that significant milestone, while at the same time consider the potential for further growth.   

 

                So I don't need a decision anytime soon.  But obviously the sooner that you have a commitment to grow, if there is going to be one, then we can put programs in place and start allocating funding against it.   

 

                We have made an initial assessment of the requirements, to grow the Afghan national army and the Afghan national police.  I know lots of numbers have been batted around, upwards of potentially doubling the size of the Afghan national security forces, with growth in both the army and police.   

 

                We have provided our initial analysis back to Washington.  As you indicate in your question, these have not been fully vetted.  Nor have they been scrubbed with our coalition partners.  And I think that's the work that's got to continue in the weeks ahead on that point.   

 

                And again I'd bring you back to; the president has left that door open.  He has acknowledged the need to continue, to grow to 134 and to reform at 82, and acknowledged that we will need to look at the size of the Afghan national security forces, as we get ready to transfer security responsibility.   

 

                Q     Just to follow up, General, I mean, is that idea of a doubling, is that about right?  Is that the kind of ballpark that you've looked at in your initial assessments?   

 

                GEN. FORMICA:  There's all sorts of numbers floating around out there.  We've looked at numbers that come close to nearly doubling, not quite doubling, both the army and the police.  But again that was based on our initial assessment.  It's not been vetted by the -- in Washington, nor by our coalition partners.  It's something that we'll want to completely scrub, with all of those with a stake in this, and to include with the Afghan -- with the MOD and the MOI.   

 

                Q     (Off mike) -- that would be -- and I understand that this is not a final figure, but it'd be a doubling of the current targets, roughly, the 134 and the 82

 

                GEN. FORMICA:  You -- you're -- first you asked me what the rough order was in our analysis, and I agreed that it -- that one of the things we'd -- we had considered in our analysis was nearly doubling. And now you're trying to pin me down to a number, and I won't get pinned.   

 

                But I will tell you that we have provided our analysis, that we see the potential for growth in both the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.  But that is something that has not been fully vetted.  It needs to be fully vetted.  And when it is, then we'll determine a number that makes sense for the security and stability of Afghanistan that the Afghan government and its people can sustain with the assistance of coalition partners and with the full concurrence and agreement of the authorities, not only in Washington but with the consultation of our coalition allies. 

 

                STAFF:  (Off mike) -- Bryan? 

 

                Q     Hello, General.  Bryan Bender with the Boston Globe.  I wanted to ask you a little bit about the personnel management that you mentioned.  What are some of the things that you're doing when it comes to vetting recruits for the Afghan National Army and the police? I bring this up because I know a few days ago there was an attack, I guess by an insurgent posing as a member of the Afghan National Army. So what are you doing specifically to avoid bringing, perhaps, insurgents or Taliban into the security forces?  And then I have a follow-up. 

 

                GEN. FORMICA:  Okay, thanks.  First, let me talk to that specific incident that you refer to.  As you did -- as you said, we had four sailors who were attacked in the north on Friday.  Two of the sailors were killed.  A third was wounded and a fourth put under observation.   

 

                Before I say anything further, let me extend the sincere and genuine sympathies of all of us here in theater, especially on behalf of all those in the Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan, to the families, friends and loved ones of those two soldiers who gave their lives performing their duties here in Afghanistan.  We will pray for them, as well as we will pray for the speedy and complete recovery of the sailor who's been wounded. 

 

                I won't talk any more specifically about that particular incident.  It is under investigation by both Afghan and U.S. authorities.  The investigations, while being conducted in parallel, will inform one another. And when the investigations are complete, we'll be in a better position to make our conclusions as to motive and cause of the attack. 

 

                As you know, force protection of our servicemen and -women is paramount for us.  Incidents of this type have not been the trend.  In fact, our mentor teams rely on the security provided to them by their partners in the Afghan national security forces.  And we have confidence in them. 

 

                When I first arrived, I went out and visited -- and I've visited several teams since I've been here, but I'll relay one story.  When I first arrived, I visited one team that was what I would say, kind of colloquially, out towards the end of the universe, and they were co- located with an Afghan unit.  And I asked the young officer and the NCO that I was with if they felt safe and secure.  And they described to me how they worked out security arrangements with their Afghan partners and how they really did feel secure in that environment. 

 

                And then this captain added -- he looked at me and he said, "You know what, sir? 

 

                Next week, an Afghan platoon is going to come, and they're going to be responsible for providing security around our little base here.  And when they do, we'll be all set."  And that's the kind of confidence that we have in the Afghan national security forces, and that's the kind of confidence that we have today. 

 

                Now, that said, and to your specific question, there are precautions that we take.  The Afghan national army and the police have their candidates vetted and vouched for by local community shuras.  They're screened when they first arrive at the in-processing station, and they are biometric tested and processed. 

 

                Q     And just the quick follow-up was on ethnic breakdown of the security forces.  How much is that something you're concerned about? And if you can, talk about what the breakdown is.  Are units one particular ethnic group?  Are there units that are mixed?  And how does that look, going forward? 

 

                GEN. FORMICA:  Yeah, specific to the Afghan national army, they are recruited nationally and employed nationally, and the units in the Afghan national army are in fact ethnically diverse and representative of about the ethnic population of the country.  And so you'll find in any unit, down to battalion and company level, the ethnic mix that's representative of the ethnic population here in Afghanistan.  And that's something that's worked very, very hard, even at the ministerial level, to maintain that ethnic diversity. 

 

                STAFF:  All right.  Gordon, we'll go down to you, then. 

 

                Q     Sir, Gordon Lubold from the Christian Science Monitor. Over the years, some trainers have said that there should be a blurring of the line between the police and the army, in terms of their roles and in terms of their training.  And I believe General Cone had said that, you know, they've looked at that in different ways.  Some people would say it doesn't work; others say it's a reflection of adapting to the realities there. 

 

                At the same time, I believe the French have suggested building a paramilitary force in Afghanistan.  Can you speak to -- to those issues? 

 

                GEN. FORMICA:  Yeah.  Let me talk first more generally at your question as you began.  I'm not familiar with the term "blurring of the line," and we don't use that phrase here.  We are training the Afghan National Army to meet the security threats that it currently faces.  It's an infantry-centric force.  But as I said in my opening statement, in order to be able to sustain itself and reduce its dependence on coalition partners, we are building some enablers in that force, and so that it's got a little bit more kick to it than just infantry-centric kandaks.  

 

                Police, on the other hand, as you suggest in your question, need to have some combination of training, both law enforcement and policing skills, but in order to survive in many areas of the country, particularly in the east and the south, much of their training is focused on security, organization of small units, medical and first aid, communications, small-unit marksmanship, many skills that have overlap.  And maybe that's the same as blurring of the line, I guess, but skills that naturally have overlap between what's required of a military force and what's required of a police force.   

 

                But the training can't be just solely on that.  And so how we train them is actually reflected in the organization of our police mentor teams, where they're formed by and around soldiers who provide many of those skills and tasks and train those tasks that I just talked about, but also have embedded in them two law enforcement professionals, and those two law enforcement professionals provide the specific instructions for the police for law-enforcement skills and for policing. 

 

                I am aware that the French have made an offer for gendarmerie to conduct some training.  That's still in the very preliminary stages, and so I really am not in a position to talk much about it.  But having police forces like the gendarmerie and like the carabiniere, who train here today the Afghan National Civil Order Police, having them available in theater to train police functions like the Afghan National Civil Order Police would be a welcome addition to our training team if they're able to commit to such a training package. 

 

                Q     Hi, General.  I'm Kevin Baron from Stars and Stripes.  And a similar, kind of blurring question, but more between the military role and the civilian role and the idea of increasing military trainers but also sending over new levels of civilian trainers:  Where are you seeing -- where are those two missions meeting on the ground, if there are areas?  And where is their dividing line, that you see, as when the role of the military in finding success in Afghanistan stops and the role of the civilian trainers would take over? 

 

                GEN. FORMICA:  Yeah, I think -- actually, your question really will go past the area of responsibility that CSTC-A has been charged with.  The military trainers that are coming in, the 4,000 specifically that President Obama referred to, will come in and work for CSTC-A and will provide embedded training teams in both the army units and in police districts, along with the additional embedded mentor teams that will come with those additional brigades that are coming in the south and the east, as I referred to earlier. 

 

                The increase in civilian capacity goes beyond the training of the Afghan national security forces and I believe is intended as part of the strategic review to look more holistically at the governance, areas of development, rule of law, the economy and such.  And so you'll see an influx of civilian trainers that will go beyond the Afghan national security forces into these other areas of government and development. 

 

                STAFF:  Go back to Ann. 

 

                Q     Hi, sir.  Ann Tyson with The Washington Post.  I wanted to ask you to flush out a little bit more how the additional 4,000 trainers from the 82nd would be used.  How specifically will they be divided up to partner with the army and police units?  And to what extent will they be, you know, performing a combat role?  So we can get some greater sense of how they'll actually contribute. 

 

                GEN. FORMICA:  Okay, first of all, as an administrative procedure, if I could ask all of you to go a little bit slower when you first do your name and where you're from.  I don't know if it's in a delay, but I'm not catching most of your names and only part of where you're from, and I'm able to figure it out.  So if I could just ask all of you that, it would help me, a little bit, focus on -- knowing who I'm talking to. 

 

                And seeing as you know who you're talking to, I figure fair's fair. 

 

                On your question, I'd really like to -- and I'm going to try to keep this from getting too complicated, so if I lose you, you'll have to speak up.  But there's two elements of the trainers that we're going to have in -- that will provide embedded mentors for both the army and the police.  Actually, there's three elements.   

 

                One element is the provision of the operational military liaison teams and the PMTs by the coalition forces -- and that's a given for the rest of my answer to your question.  So we will continue to depend on those, and we'll be happy for increased contributions of those in the future. 

 

                But with respect to the U.S. forces in particular, we're going to have two different forces providing embedded measures.  And I know this is going to sound a little confusing, but I hope I don't lose you.  First, and more directly, the 4,000 trainers that the president has announced will come and work for CSTC-A.   

 

                They -- we believe that's going to come in the force of a brigade combat team.  The decision has not yet been made, and a particular unit has not yet been ordered by the secretary of Defense, though I anticipate that that will come shortly, given the president's recent decision.  But when that unit comes, those soldiers will come over here and will work for us.   

 

                We already have one brigade combat team from the Army National Guard.  Today it's the 33rd Brigade Combat Team out of Illinois.  And, I might add, they're doing a phenomenal job.  They will be followed in the late summer/early fall by the 48th Brigade Combat Team, from Georgia.  When we get -- assuming that the 4,000 are sourced by a second brigade combat team -- this will enable us to focus the Army National Guard Brigade Combat Team by providing trainers in the north, center and east.  And we will put the second brigade -- and it will provide mentors in the south and in the west. 

 

                Now, those two brigades in and of themselves will not enable us to meet all of the requirements.  We're still going to require the U.S. forces that are coming, in the south and the east, as they implement General McKiernan's concept, where they will both partner and mentor.   

 

                And by mentor, they will provide embedded mentor teams.  And we'll focus them on providing mentor teams, for the border police and for some of the uniformed police in the south and the east.  And the remainder of the mentor teams, for the uniformed police, will be provided by the brigades assigned to CSTC-A.   

 

                And then CSTC-A's brigades, as I said, will provide the mentor teams for the ANA.  I hope that answers your question and was clear enough and simple enough.   

 

                (Cross talk.)   

 

                Q     I'm a little confused.  Okay, so the -- what I'm curious about is mainly the brigade we're assuming that's coming just to do the mentoring.  And I have, in my mind, a vision of, you know, paratroopers matched up with border police which, the ones I've seen in Afghanistan are not very highly trained or capable.   

 

                I'm wondering how these forces will work together.  To what extent, you know, if they go into an area, I mean, you know, who's going to be doing what?  How do you just see those forces working together?   

 

                GEN. FORMICA:  Yeah, this brigade -- this brigade, and you keep using paratroopers.  We'll see what the decision is made when the decision is made.  But this brigade combat team, assuming that it's -- the 4,000 are resourced as a brigade, as we anticipate, will come in and, just like the 33rd Brigade that's provided to us today, forms embedded training teams for both the army and the police.   

 

                And we expect that -- our current plan is that this brigade will be focused in the south and in the west.  It will provide the embedded training teams in the Afghan national army units, in the south and the west, again complemented by the many -- by the operational mentor liaison teams that are provided by our coalition partners in the south and in the west.   

 

                And they will provide embedded mentor teams or police mentor teams in several police districts.   

 

                And so they will break out into a -- at least 16-man, 16-soldier, teams.  Those teams consist of 13 soldiers, who will train on organizational skills, marksmanship, medical emergency first aid training, communications, et cetera.  And they will be complemented by two law enforcement professionals that are currently -- we get through a contract administered by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement from the State Department.  And we'll get those two law enforcement professionals and they will embed with that team, and they will train a police district just like we're doing with the brigade from the Army National Guard today. 

 

                STAFF:  Did that take care of you, Elizabeth? 

 

                Q     Could I follow up on that, as well? 

 

                STAFF:  I think we're going to have to make this the last one. Go ahead. 

 

                Q     Okay, just to get that clear.  My name's Elisabeth Bumiller from the New York Times.  So you are just speaking now very specifically about the training for the Afghan police, correct?  You are talking about 13 soldiers.  How big -- that's 13 U.S.?  And so therefore -- 

 

                GEN. FORMICA:  The training teams that will -- the training teams that will be provided by this brigade will be both for the Afghan national army and the Afghan national police. 

 

                Q     Okay.  And so for the army, how big of a unit are we talking about with the Afghan army?  How many U.S. soldiers will be working with how many Afghan national army soldiers?  I mean, what's the size of the units they're going to be working with? 

 

                GEN. FORMICA:  Well, we normally assign one embedded training team of about 16 soldiers to embed with each Afghan battalion or kandak, which is somewhere around five or 600 soldiers per kandak; depends on the size -- it depends on the specific unit.  But they operate at the battalion level, and then they extend down to companies for specific training tasks. 

 

                STAFF:  We look -- it looks like we have just a couple of quick clarifications, if we could, I think, if you've got the time, General. I know we've reached the end of the time.  Do you have a couple more minutes? 

 

                GEN. FORMICA:  I do, only because I know this is confusing, and I'm trying to do it as simply as I can in English, and I'd like them to be clear when we're done.   

 

                STAFF:  (Off mike) -- appreciate that, and we will keep it to two more quick questions, I think.  Dan, go ahead. 

 

                Q     Changing the subject, this is Dan De Luce from Agence France-Presse.  And there's been a lot of frustration expressed about corruption, pervasive corruption, especially in the police force. Could you clarify how you're trying to address that problem?  And do you see some strategy that might be promising? 

 

                GEN. FORMICA:  Yeah.  Thank you for the question.  First, I wouldn't be the first soldier sitting here to acknowledge that corruption is an issue and that it must be addressed by the government of Afghanistan. 

 

                You ask a question specifically about the police.  No one has embraced corruption reform more boldly or strongly in the Afghan National Police than the minister of Interior, Minister Atmar.  He has embraced the Focused District Development program as the flagship program for reform.  And it is the addition of the 4,000 trainers that will help us accelerate the application of FDD across Afghanistan. 

 

                He has already dispatched provincial audit teams to review personnel accountability, equipment accountability, and pay and financial systems.  He has invited international observers and is looking for complete transparency as they audit their provinces and districts.   

 

                He's embraced electronic funds transfer for the payment of police, and in fact over 60 percent of the police in the ANP today are paid by electronic funds transfer, which reduces the opportunity for corruption.  

 

                And he is developing a merit-based appointment system for the most -- for more senior members of the ANP. 

 

                He has replaced and relieved and subjected to prosecution corrupt officials at the police chief -- district and provincial police chiefs.  And so I think he's moving out on corruption reform. 

 

                That said, we've got a long way to go.  You know that.  This is not something that one man can do overnight, but I think he's embraced the programs and is moving in the right direction to achieve reform in the police. 

 

                STAFF:  Okay, we really got to make this the last one, Ann.  And -- (off mike). 

 

                Q     Okay.  Well, this is just to clarify on -- 

 

                STAFF:  (Off mike) -- clarifying. 

 

                Q     It's just a clarification on Andrew's question about the doubling issue, because we don't want to get the wrong impression that you somehow could be talking about doubling from the current size, such as 90,000 for the ANA, versus doubling from the 134,000 size. Now, the phraseology was "further growth," so, you know, you don't want us to walk out of here with that big of a misunderstanding. 

 

                GEN. FORMICA:  Actually, I'd like you to walk out of there without a number at all.  You asked the question.  What I -- the first answer is, the president has reasserted and reaffirmed the decision to go forward with 134,000 in the Afghan national army, accelerated to 2011, and the reform of the police at 82,000.  The question that was posed to me suggested that Ambassador Holbrooke and others had bantered around numbers upwards of doubling.  We have, in fact, done some initial analysis.  We have looked at the size of the ANA and the ANP.  Doubling from the current program is one of the considerations. 

 

                But again, that's not been -- as I said before, it's not a vetted number, it's not an improved number, and it may or may not turn out to be the direction we go.  But it's been our assessment, and we have provided that analysis back to Washington. 

 

                Q     Thank you. 

 

                STAFF:  And the last question, truly the last question.  Let's go to -- (off mike). 

 

                Q     (Laughs.)  General, my name's Luis Martinez with ABC News. 

 

                Following up on these questions about the nearly doubling and the not-yet-vetted program, what are the initial timelines that these initial assessments project beyond 2011? 

 

                GEN. FORMICA:  Yeah, see -- yeah, I'm not going to get into the timelines because we -- like I said, we did our initial assessment, we provided that.  The timeline that's currently been approved and established is 134 by FY '11 or by 2011, I should say -- by the  end of 2011.  And it's one of the things that we've got to continue to flesh out in a more detailed analysis on our part, in collaboration with the Afghan national -- or the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior; with OSD; and in consultation with our coalition partners is just how big is appropriate for the Afghan national security forces, how quickly we can get there, and how much it will cost.  And until that analysis is complete, we really won't be able to say any more definitively than we have already. 

 

                STAFF:  Well, General, I want to thank you for extending your time a little bit and taking on the additional questions.  I won't promise no numbers in any of the stories, but I think that you've been as clear as you can on that, and I trust that information will be handled responsibly back here. 

 

                But before I close it, let's go ahead and turn it back to you to ensure that there isn't anything that we haven't given you an opportunity to touch upon that you want to before we bring it to an end. 

 

                GEN. FORMICA:  Yeah.  Thank you for that. 

 

                First of all, let me thank each of you for your questions and for the opportunity to identify what we're doing here in CSTC-A over these next several months.  I will tell you that it's an honor and a privilege to serve here with the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians that have been provided by our country to serve here. They are doing exactly what our nation has asked them to do, and I expect that our nations -- all of them, all of our coalition partners -- can be very proud of the service that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians are doing here.  And we're very confident in the task that we have and our ability to accomplish the mission here in Afghanistan. 

 

                STAFF:  General, thank you again.  And we hope in a little ways down the road we'll get an opportunity to talk to you again in this format.  Thank you. 

 

                GEN. FORMICA:  Thanks so much.

 

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