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DoD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Carter at the Pentagon Briefing Room via Teleconference from Afghanistan

Presenters: Commander, Regional Command - South, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Maj. Gen. Nick Carter
May 26, 2010

                  JAMES TURNER (deputy director, Pentagon Press Office):  Good morning.  We're privileged to have join us today British Army Major General Nick Carter.  He is the commanding general of Regional Command-South of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. General Carter assumed his duties in Afghanistan in November of last year.  He joined us previously in this format in February, and he joins us today from his headquarters in Kandahar Airfield.

                 General Carter will be making some opening comments and then he'll take your questions.  And with that, General Carter, I'll turn it over to you. 

 GEN. CARTER:  Jim, yeah, thanks very much.

                 What I thought I'd do for you this evening in Afghanistan -- this morning in Washington, if you like -- is to give you a sense of where we've got to on Operation Moshtarak.  When I last spoke to you about it, it was about a week after we had done the launching of the clear phase of the operation.  And we now find ourselves at about D-plus-102, so some three months into that phase.

                 I hope that you've got in front of you a little diagram explaining the battlefield geometry of central Helmand.  And if you have, that'll be good, because I'm going to talk to it.

                 The first point I'd make about the picture you have in front of you is it refers to central Helmand, and that includes the districts of Nahr e Saraj, Nad e Ali, the municipality of Lashkar Gar, the district of Marja, and the district of Nawa.

                 Now, within that area, around 600,000 people live.  I'll emphasize that figure:  around 600,000.  And the reason that so many people live in there is because of the significant irrigation projects that took place in the '40s and '50s, paid for at the time by USAID, with the Corps of Engineers in support.

                 Now, the operations that we mounted starting on the 13th of February were designed to reassert Afghan government authority and control over much of central Helmand.  They were focused principally on the district of Nad e Ali, where around 100,000 people live; on the district of Marja; and the area of Kariz e Saydi and Badula Qulp, just to the northeast of Marja on that battlefield geometry diagram.  And in that area, around 80,000 people live.  So we're focused on between 180,000 and 200,000 people.

                 Now, since the operation was mounted, things have moved on.  And in Marja, we find ourselves now in a position where we have a security presence throughout Marja.  We have, entirely as we planned to do, conducted a relief of place with the original Afghan National Army troops that did the operation, and replaced them with new Afghan National Army kandaks in full partnership with the U.S. Marine Corps who are based there.

                 We have Afghan National Civil Order Police still stationed in Marja, which again is what we'd planned to have up until about D-plus-150.  And they are providing the close protection to the population. Most of the security infrastructure is now constructed so that throughout Marja you would find a series of police checkpoints and small patrol bases all partnered up with U.S. Marines, the ANCOP and the Afghan National Army.

                You'll find around eight of the 15 schools are open, with teachers.  You'll find all the bazaars are functioning.  And you'll find a good deal of cash-for-work projects going on under some of the USAID projects, under ASI.  And you'll find that the USAID AVIPA Plus projects -- that's the agriculture voucher program -- is working well.

                 What you'll also find, which is important, is the district governor, one Haji Zahir, who's becoming increasingly assertive and is outreaching to the population, trying to connect himself and therefore the Afghan government to the population.  And that's all very positive.

                 That said, we are not that -- not yet where we need to be.  It's very important that Haji Zahir's community council, his shura, becomes genuinely representative of all of the people in Marja.  And at the moment, that is not the case.  

                 And my sense is it will probably take another 90 to 120 days before all of the population feel entirely confident and comfortable with representing itself in his community council.  What is instructive is that the queues outside his district center are constantly at around 300 or 400 locals.  But once again, they're locals from around the immediate area of the district center.

                 And of course, what everybody would like to see is all the locals in the population, in Marja, being able to come from throughout Marja, to see the district center and to see Haji Zahir and his administrative team.  

                 Now, the reason that they're not forthcoming just yet is because there's still a level of intimidation in Marja, which will take the time that I prescribed to sort.  And that intimidation is quite subtle.  

                 And I'm just going to paint a short picture for you, about what life was like for an Afghan in Marja on the 11th or 12th of February, before the clear operation was mounted.  

                 And I want you to imagine a society in which there is no freedom of movement, in which you are confined to your house and to your compound and to your field, in which you are so suppressed and oppressed by the Taliban and the narcobarons, that you're not able to move out of Marja and go see your family in Lashkar Gar.  The Taliban control all the road junctions and all the exits to the area.  They tax you for all of the crops and in particular the poppy that you're forced to grow.  

                 You have no access to education or to any form of welfare or health support.  Your children therefore are growing up without any real opportunity or future.  And indeed if you have a legal issue, you've got no access to fair justice.  You might have access to pretty quick justice, but it's pretty harsh and brutal.  

                 I think that's difficult for our societies to imagine.  You're completely locked down.  And you have really no hope for the future. Contrast that now to other parts of central Helmand and the direction of travel that Marja is headed where in Nad e Ali, the other part of this operation, you now discover that we have a representative shura led by district Governor Habibullah.  

                 That shura, it's the second or third time it's been refreshed now.  And around 6,000 elders have got together, during the course of the last couple of months, to elect an electoral college of some 600 elders who 10 days ago elected 45 of their number, to represent the district of Nad e Ali.  

                 MORE    That means that the population in Nad e Ali is now properly connected with the Afghan government.  And that is the direction of travel that Marja is going in.  And my sense is that when one goes over the hump of intimidation that is out there, that you'll find Marja is in the same place as Nad e Ali.

                What is also striking -- remember I said we're focusing on central Helmand, of 600,000 people -- is that we now have freedom of movement throughout central Helmand.  Again, before the 12th of February, it wasn't possible for Governor Mangal, the provincial governor, to travel from Lashkar Gar to Nad e Ali or to Marja or to Nawa.  He can now do that on his own, with his own security detail. Before the 11th of February, he'd have had to have done it in a helicopter to go to Nad e Ali or Nawa, and he couldn't have gone anywhere near Marja at all.  Indeed, we didn't even fly helicopters over Marja ourselves.

                 So we're making progress.  But in counterinsurgency, it takes time, it takes patience, and it's frustrating.  And that is what we see at the moment.  But nonetheless, we're going in the right direction.

                 And the next thing I'd like to do is to turn to where Moshtarak is focused next, and that is on Kandahar city, its subdistricts and the rural environs.  And I'd ask you to look at the other diagram that you have, which shows all of that.  

                 To give you a sense of the scale on here, it's about 45 kilometers by about 75 kilometers.  And the urban area, which is numbered with the 12 districts of Kandahar city, is about 8 kilometers square.  And for those of you who know the city of Oxford in the United Kingdom, it's about the same size as Oxford, although I hasten to add, that's probably where the parallel ends.

                 I'm going to talk about the rural areas first of all.  

                 And I'd highlight a couple of things on that.  

                 The first one is the River Arghandab, which flows from the northeastern side of the diagram down into the west.  The river is significant in much the same way as the Helmand is significant in the Helmand River Valley, and it's significant because you've got a great deal of irrigation -- dikes, ditches, canals -- off the river, which provides very fertile ground.  And what makes life tick in economic terms around Kandahar are the fruit crops of grapes in the district of Zhari, center of the diagram, and Panjwa’i to the south, and pomegranates in the orchards of the Arghandab.  And that fruit provides the staple economy for most of what goes on in and around Kandahar.

                 Now in terms of the insurgency, the rural area of Zhari, between the Arghandab River and Highway 1, shown on the diagram there, is at the moment contested space.  And in much the same way as Marja was, you'll find that Zhari has the insurgent, with freedom of movement and the ability to control and suppress and oppress the population, as we found in Marja.  The same applies to the southwestern part of Panjwa’i, between the Dori River and the Arghandab River, shown there on your map.

                 Arghandab is also contested, to a degree, and the southeastern corner of it, where it butts on District 8, you will find insurgents who have a degree of control over the battlespace there.

                 And it's also the case that the insurgency comes down from the north, not shown on your map, but from the areas of Kakrez and Shah Wali Kot, to feed into the northern Arghandab.

                 We estimate that there are probably between 500 and a thousand insurgents who regularly operate in the Arghandab and in the areas of Zhari and Panjwa’i, and they will be a military challenge to resolve, which I shall come back to.

                 You'll turn now to the city, with its 12 districts.

                 Around 500,000 people live in the city, as opposed to the 400,000 or so who live in the rural areas.

                 What's interesting is that over the last eight years, there's been a significant rural-to-urban movement of the population, and the districts of 9 and 12, to the north of the city, are now a bit of a Soweto-like area where single-story mud buildings have grown up and around 80,000 to 90,000 new residents live, with not much homogeneity in terms of human cohesion and the population.

                 Now, to paint a picture for you about the city, remember, of course, that Kandahar is the historic capital of Afghanistan.  It has huge cultural as well as historic significance.  It's traditionally been an economic and commercial trading hub.  It sits on Highway One, the main Ring Road, that links Herat with Lashkar Gar, with Kandahar, and then up to northeast to Kabul.  But it also links 50 kilometers to the southeast with Pakistan and the Wesh-Chaman border crossing point at Spin Boldak.  It's therefore sitting on the confluence of significant routes and significant traditional silk roads.  

                 If you go to the city today, you'll find a thriving, bustling commercial environment, with bazaars and businesses and people earning a living.  What you won't find, though, is much investment, for there's been little investment since the 1970s.  You also won't find much electricity.  And indeed, if you measure the kilowatts per capita per year of the community in Kandahar, you'll find that they get half of what the average person gets in El Salvador.  So it's pretty challenging in terms of productivity and in terms of quality of life. Nor will you find much sanitation or much health care or, indeed, that much education.  

                 And for the average Afghan who lives in the city, he's challenged again.  

                 He has no right of legal redress.  His freedom of movement at nighttime is probably challenged by a degree of intimidation.  But what bothers him most is the level of criminality.  And it's a problem more of criminality and disorder than it is a problem of Taliban and insurgency.

                 And what is required in the city is bringing stability and organization to it.  In that city you'll find no vehicle registration; you'll find no registration for madrassas and seminaries. You'll find no registration process for boarding houses, guesthouses, hotels or any of the things that our societies take for granted.  You won't find a police force connected to its population and working in support and protecting its population.  And what's needed is that this registration and regulation and proper administration is delivered, so that the police force has something to get stuck into and to sort out and to bring order to the city.

                 What's also needed is that governance must be improved, because at the moment, the mayor's office is not more -- much more than one man deep, and similarly the governor's office.  And what's required is for the capacity of those offices to be built up so that they can begin to bring the sort of order and administration to the city that I've described.

                 Now, we will do this using the resources that begin to come online with the second force package of U.S. Army reinforcements that arrive in and around Kandahar, because that provides us with the wherewithal to train additional policemen, to partner up with them, to improve the command and control and information-sharing of the Afghan forces in the city and, importantly, to impose a ring of security around the outskirts of the city to keep any potential insurgent intimidation at bay and to keep it out in the rural areas.

                 All of that will begin to come in during the course of the next month or two.  And by Ramadan, probably, you'll see an improvement in terms of the security in the city.  

                 What will be happening in parallel though is that we'll be turning our minds to the rural areas, with a view to pushing a political strategy in its proper sense, which will see security being rolled out into those areas where the insurgent currently has freedom of action.  

                 And that will be a matter of four to six months worth of work from now onwards I sense.  But what you'll find also that is interesting about this is that we'll define success here by the extent to which we rolled out -- with Governor Wesa the provincial governor at the helm -- credible, transparent, inclusive and representative governance that is genuinely connected to the population.  

                 And whilst that is partly a security problem, it's a problem that is political.  It's involving impunity and the culture of impunity that has grown up, during the last eight years.  And it's also about delivering the sort of stabilization and reconstruction projects which go to the heart of removing the causes of the insurgency.  

                 Now, how do we get to that point?  It's about connecting the population to the people, to the government.  And that requires building representative governance from the bottom up.  

                 And in the city, my sense is that the 10 or 12 subdistricts will over the next six weeks or so begin to develop these shuras, these community councils with district leaders who will be able to connect to the mayor and to the municipal plan.  

                 Now, by building these structures from the bottom up, one will compete with the parallel security structures and the parallel governance structures that have grown up as part of this cultural impunity during the last eight years or so.  

                 And I know that when I give you a chance to question me, you will ask me about Ahmed Wali Karzai recognizing of course that he does fulfill a constitutional position as the chair of the provincial council, whose proper function is to monitor and provide advice and support to the governor.  

                 Now, clearly, what is needed is for the governor's capacity to increase and for the governor to become connected to his population -- and that is what is happening at the moment -- whilst the provincial council plays its proper part as a monitoring process in support of the governor.  And that is what is currently under way.  And we will very much judge success by the extent to which that balance switches and, metaphorically speaking, the queue outside the governor's office goes up, and the queue outside the provincial council's office goes down.

                 Now, this is not going to be terribly exciting for you chaps in the press to look into; nor, indeed, do I sense that you will see a massive change overnight.  But I hope that by the fall the average citizen in Kandahar will wake up one morning, shake himself down, and he'll realize that he's got a better right of redress, he's got better security and, importantly, he feels connected to his government in a way that he wouldn't feel today.

                 I hope that gives you some context against which you can ask me some questions.  Over.

                 MR. TURNER:  And let's go into it.

                 Q     General, can you tell us whether you are on schedule to begin major operations in June?  And also, can you comment on the story this morning involving Governor Wesa, that he was once fired from a job with an American security contractor?

                 GEN. CARTER:  Yes, taking your first question, the answer is that we are on schedule.  But of course, this is being very much led by Afghans, and of course, it's important that the Afghan government and President Karzai directs what is happening.  So really, it's them who are setting the schedule, rather than us.  We are in support and partnership with them.  But as things stand at the moment, we are entirely on the line that we expected to be on when we conceived this a month or two ago.

                 Now, turning to Governor Wesa, I read the article.  The answer is that I don't know whether there's any truth in the article.  Suffice it to say that I work on a daily basis with Governor Wesa, and at the moment, he's asserting himself as the governor and he's confidently cutting on.  And I've got absolutely no evidence to know whether or not that article was true.  Over.

                 MR. TURNER:  Barbara.

                 Q    General, General McChrystal visited with your region a few days ago and was quoted as talking about the situation -- the public perception of the situation being a bleeding ulcer.  He talked about challenging the assumptions on that.

                 What is your sense?  Is it a bleeding ulcer right now?  Can you overcome the perception in many quarters of the public that the strategy is not working?  Did you tell General McChrystal any changes you'd like to see in the strategy, such as more troops?

                 GEN. CARTER:  Yes.  Last Thursday General McChrystal did come down to have a look at what was going on in central Helmand.  And I think, importantly, he didn't just look at Marja; he looked at Nad e Ali and he looked at Lashkar Gar, and he looked at the context, as I set it out for you a few moments ago in terms of central Helmand.  But of course, what he wanted to see was how all of central Helmand was evolving and how things were or were not improving for the 600,000 people that we're talking about. 

                 And he asked, as you'd expect a professional commander to ask, some difficult questions about whether we were going as quickly as we can.  And the answer is that, as the process we went through of all those difficult questions, we all concluded by the end of the day, that we were doing what was needed in the right way, that the strategy was appropriate and that it would deliver results.  

                 But as I said in my opening remarks, we'll have to be patient during the course of the summer watching as the intimidation reduces and the population becomes more on side.

                 The point, of course, though, is that this is all about perception.  And counterinsurgency is about an argument between the forces of the insurgent and the policies of the government.  And what the population in central Helmand is doing at the moment is forming a view about whether it's better off with the government and whether it believes that its neighbors, which is often what the Taliban is in political terms, are also going to come across to the side of the government.

                 And that, I think, is the key point of this, is that it's a political movement, the Taliban.  And the extent to which your neighbor is genuinely on side with the government is something that you don't necessarily know.  And of course, like all political movements, it takes time for people to be convinced.  So what is going on in central Helmand at the moment is people are being convinced.

                 Now, of course, when General McChrystal referred to Marja as a bleeding ulcer, he was talking about the perception of the outside world.  And of course, in the same way that it's important that Afghan perceptions go in the right direction, it's important that the outside world also has the right perceptions.  And I think his feeling was that some people in the outside world would regard Marja as being a bleeding ulcer.  That's not the way he sees it in theater, nor, indeed, is that the way that the Afghans see it.  It's very important, I think, that things are set properly in context.

                 Q     Could I follow up, sir?

                 GEN. CARTER:  We have a proper process of review that has to be done regularly.   Over.

                 Q     Could I please follow up?  What if this doesn't work?

                 GEN. CARTER:  I'm sorry, I didn't pick up your question.  Did you say what happens if it doesn't work?

                 Q     Right.  Sorry.  What happens if it doesn't work?  What is plan B?

                 GEN. CARTER:  I mean, I think you have to ask General McChrystal that question, if you're talking about his strategy.  I can tell you what will work and what won't work at my tactical level.    Clearly my plan as commander of RC-South is about resolving the trials and tribulations of central Helmand and Kandaharis.  And I can tell you that given time, we have the resources and the willpower and the Afghan partners to make that work.  

                 In terms of the overall strategy at the Kabul level, that's a question that I think properly ought to be addressed to General McChrystal.  Over.  

                 Q     General, Mike Evans from The Times in London.  

                 If the level of intimidation in Marja is still fairly high, what concerns do you have that Kandahar which is considerably bigger, and presumably more insurgents there -- that the level of intimidation will continue for a long period in Kandahar and make your job more difficult?  

                 GEN. CARTER:  Well, I think the point I'd make is, within the urban environment in which some 500,000 people live, there is not a great deal of intimidation at the moment, not like there was in Marja, which was genuinely under the control of the Taliban and indeed the narcobarons.  

                 Kandahar is not like that.  I mean, it is under the authority of the government to one degree or another.  The challenge is more complicated than that.  It's about private security companies.  It's about militias.  It's about criminality, so it's more of a problem of order and organization and administration and basic policing and security than it is about contested space.  

                 So my sense is, if you provide all of those, then you're not going to have an intimidation problem at all.  Out in the rural areas, it's different as I described earlier, because places like Zhari, lower parts of the Arghandab and southwestern Panjwa’i are very much more contested.  

                 And indeed the insurgents have reasonable freedom of action.  And they are oppressing the population.  

                 And we will have to go through the same process we are going through in Marja and did in Nawa, Garmsir, Nahar Siraj and Nad e Ali, in order to get the population genuinely to believe that its government is connected and committed to it.  So it will require patience.  Over.

                 Q    General, it's Tom Bowman with National Public Radio.  I wanted to focus what you said on Ahmed Wali Karzai.  You emphasize that he has a constitutional function.  And as you know, there have been serious allegations of corruption and that he has too much power in relation to his position on the provincial council.  And I just want to focus on -- is your strategy to somehow dilute his power and make sure the governor has more power and tribal elders and shuras? Is that, in essence, your strategy here?

                 GEN. CARTER:  It's a complex strategy, and it hugely depends upon the expression I've used a lot, which is to do with connecting the population with its government.  And what is happening at the moment is that Governor Wesa is conducting a good deal of shuras with local residents and the population and out in the rural areas to connect to them.  

                 What he's seeking to do is to build representative governance from the bottom up through his district governors, through the mayor in the city, and through the district / subdistrict leaders in the city. And by engaging with the population, he will draw strength from that relationship, and that will give him authority that when it's matched to the additional capacity, which will happen as the Kabul level rolls out more civil servants and bureaucrats to work for him, so he will begin to be able to fill the space that at the moment is more filled by the provincial council and by Ahmed Wali Karzai and his elected cohorts on that provincial council.

                 It's also my sense that, in relation to Ahmed Wali Karzai, he would tell you -- and he's either a candidate for an Oscar or he's the most maligned man in Afghanistan -- that he is trying to help his country, that he's trying to help us and he's trying to help his people.  And he will also tell you that, as an avid Chelsea soccer club watcher and supporter, he'd rather be watching soccer than he would be providing governance.

                 Now, whether you believe it or not, the key to this is if you make it clear to him that it's the governor who's going to govern.  So I think he would increasingly stand out of the way and allow the governor to do that governing.  And that is the strategy that we're encouraging.  And the early indications are that he is creating the space for the governor to fill.  Over.

                 Q     And what will Ahmed Wali Karzai -- of course, he has connections to the Kandahar strike force and some other militias and security groups -- what will their role be in this upcoming operation?

                 GEN. CARTER:  Well, first of all, I've got no evidence that he's connected to any of the force elements that you talk about.  But whilst we're on the subject, private security companies and militias are a serious problem that we need to deal with.   

                 And when I refer to the culture of impunity, this is, of course, something that is of our own creation to a degree, because of course our very efficient logistic contracting process, where we contract out everything to the civilian market, has created these private security companies.  And of course they're paid a great deal more than our Afghan security forces, which in itself is counterproductive, because of course the temptation for a soldier in the ANP is to go across to a private security company, because he might earn double in pay.

                 So one of the things that we have got to do as part of what we do in Kandahar and in the rural areas is to manage the issue of security companies.  And what needs to happen is that not only do they need to become registered, they need to become regulated.  

                 And we are working hard at developing a strategy that will deal with this problem.  The private security companies have got out of the city and, over time, the need for the security companies goes away.  And that's an important plank in our overall approach and strategy.  Over.

                 MR. TURNER:  Luis.

                 Q     General, Luis Martinez, with ABC News.

                 If I could ask you about the operation, the upcoming operation in Kandahar, there's been much stress put on the fact that this is going to be much less of a military operation, and a holistic operation. How do you measure progress if -- you, being a military man -- how do you measure progress of this kind of operation as the months go on?

                 GEN. CARTER:  Well, of course, that's always our challenge, because we have to -- we have to assess it, for two reasons.  One, we have to measure progress, so that we know whether or not our strategy is going in the right direction and we can touch on the tiller as appropriate.  And of course, the other reason that we have to measure progress is to demonstrate to the doubting Thomas sitting in the room with you that we're going in the right direction.

                 And that is where it becomes really challenging, because, as I tried to set out in my opening remarks, it's very difficult for you guys and girls to visualize what life is like for the average Afghan, and what it's been like for the last 30 years.  So when I talk about freedom of movement and I talk about connecting to the government, and I talk about the range of stock on the shelves of a bazaar becoming more fulsome, and I talk about prices go down, and I talk about the ability for you to take your pomegranates from your orchard in the Arghandab and send them to a marketplace other than in Pakistan, those are things that are probably quite difficult for people to comprehend. But those, of course, are the criteria against which we will judge success, because that is what population-centric counterinsurgency is all about.

                 And what we have to do, I think, is to be much clearer about setting the baseline narrative about what life is like for an Afghan, so that you can comprehend how it is that some of these slightly bizarre metrics actually mean something to the outside world.  Over.

                 MR. TURNER:  Time for one more question.  Viola.

                 Q     General, this is Viola Gienger at Bloomberg News.  Can you tell me what you're doing specifically to provide protection to some of the Afghan leaders in the Kandahar area who are sticking their necks out and participating in some of this effort that you're talking about or connecting the population to them?  How intimidated are -- have they been by some of the attacks that have occurred? 

                 And what do you think has slowed the progress in the central Helmand area, especially in Marja, specifically, that you can sort of learn a lesson from and translate, to some extent, to Kandahar?

                 GEN. CARTER:  I think, first of all, I'll pick up your point about slowed progress in central Helmand and in Marja.  I mean, the answer is that I think at our level we always predicted that it would take time and it would take patience.  I think there were people in the outside world who perhaps were looking for some sort of utopia overnight.  I don't think any of us pragmatists on the ground ever thought that that would be the case.  So I don't detect that progress is going any slower than we expected.  

                 But your question about Afghan human capacity and protecting it is a great question, because we're doing a lot of engineering work at the moment, and you might be surprised at the three priorities that I've set for engineering support.  Priority one is protecting Afghan governance and human capacity, priority two is about building the security infrastructure, and priority three is about our own infrastructure. 

                 And what we're doing to protect Afghan governance is, first of all, some of the key players will have private security details and vehicles to drive around in, but we will also assure that we create accommodation which will be unobtrusive and will be properly protected, in which Afghan civil servants and officials can reside.

                 It's particularly important that we do this for judges and the whole rule-of-law community, as well. 

                 We will also be ensuring that we improve their freedom of movement where we can.  We'll also be providing training for them in terms of security, so that they avoid setting patterns and they understand what's going on.

                 But I think really importantly what we'll be doing, and we're well supported by Kabul in this, is encouraging the Afghan Civil Service Commission to try and come up with incentive schemes for people to work in the south.  You'll know that we incentivize the ANP and the ANA to work in the south -- they get danger money.  Well, the same needs to apply to Afghan officials and civil servants.  And I think that we will find more people will come and work in the south if we can roll out the security I've described, and, of course, incentivize them in terms of their remuneration, as well.  


                 MR. TURNER:  Okay --

                 Q     Can I ask him just to clarify one thing?  General, in your opening remarks, you talked about the March ISAF presence around central Helmand for, I think you said, D-plus-150 days, and that you're now at D-plus-102?  Do I have those numbers right?  And then you spoke a minute later about needing perhaps another three months until a lot of the population there felt comfortable with the local shura.  Are you predicting that there will be a larger ISAF force presence in central Helmand as a result of that lack of confidence?

                 GEN. CARTER:  No, I'm not predicting that at all.  And indeed, we have the numbers in central Helmand that we forecasted we would require when we planned the operation back in January, because, of course, what you do with these operations is to plan them from the finish back to the start, because what we've learned over the last eight years in Afghanistan is it's critical to have the right force densities, both in Afghan security-force terms and also in ISAF force density terms.

                 And our sense is, is that we have the right force densities in central Helmand at the moment.

                 What we're talking about here, is about people's perceptions, and about convincing them that the government is committed to them. And that takes time.  

                 And Nad e Ali is a case in point.  You know, the presence in Nad e Ali arrived there about a year and a half ago, and it's taken, you know, the better part of a year for people to be completely convinced. It's taken three refreshes of the district community council, the shura, before you've got something that's genuinely representative of most of the community in Nad e Ali. 

                 And what will be instructive -- quite soon, I think -- will be to see what the first shura in Marja looks like, how representative it is and how often it has to be refreshed as it goes forward in terms of delivering the connection to the population.  And that's the bit I shall be watching with interest.

                 And as I say, my sense is that we'll know pretty soon how well that's going.  But it could be another 90 days before we've got a shura that is more representative.  And if Nad e Ali is anything to go by, you might be looking even further downstream.  It's frustrating. It takes time.  But it's about convincing people, and that's a political problem.  Over.

                 Q     Thank you.

                 MR. TURNER:  Okay.  With that I'm going to turn it over to you, General Carter, for any closing remarks you would like to make.

                 GEN. CARTER:  No, that's kind.  Thank you very much for your questions and for your interest.  I hope you now feel better informed. And I'm sure you'll be watching this space with interest during the next few months.  A very good morning to you.

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