DoD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Scaparrotti at the Pentagon Briefing Room, via Teleconference from Afghanistan
JIM TURNER (Pentagon Press Office): Good morning, everyone. General Scaparrotti, this is Jim Turner in the Pentagon Briefing Room. Can you hear me?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: I can hear you. Thank you.
MR. TURNER: All right. Let's get started.
Today our briefer is Major General Curtis Scaparrotti. He is the commander of Combined Task -- Joint Task Force 82 in Afghanistan. General Scaparrotti and his troops are responsible for security and stability operations in NATO's Regional Command East. This is our first opportunity to get an operational update from General Scaparrotti, who assumed command in -- on June 3rd of this year.
And with that, General Scaparrotti, I'll turn it over to you for opening remarks before taking questions from the press.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, thank you. Hello everyone. And thank you for joining me this morning on what is my first Pentagon press conference as Combined Joint Task Force 82 commander.
Two months ago, the 82nd Airborne Division Headquarters replaced the 101st Airborne Division Headquarters -- that was Combined Joint Task Force 101 -- during the 3 June transition of authority ceremony at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Since then, Combined Joint Task Force 82 has worked hard to build on the work of the 101st with Afghan government officials and Afghan National Security Forces within the 14 provinces of Regional Command East.
Although predominantly Army, we have significant contributions from the Navy, Marines, Air Force and Special Operations.
These sailors, Marines and airmen fill critical needs throughout the command, ranging across the entire spectrum of operations.
I want to begin by paying tribute to our fallen heroes. Here, far from home, brave men and women have given their lives for the cause of freedom in Afghanistan, but also to keep all Americans safe and free. To their families, friends and comrades, I offer my heartfelt condolences. No words can -- no words can diminish the grief you feel, but I want you to know that all of us honor them for their service. We will remember them and you each and every day.
Many of you are familiar with Regional Command East. The land area comprises 120,000 square kilometers, the same size as New York or Mississippi. Most of the area is steep mountains and channelized terrain. Even in the areas that are relatively flat, the high altitude is still a limiting factor for a number of agriculture and commercial activities.
Nine point five million people live in RC East, mostly in the areas that radiate from Kabul or within 75 kilometers of the Pakistan border. That population lives mostly along the roads, but a significant number is quite isolated. In these areas, anti-Afghan forces attempt to intimidate through violence and coercion.
Here in RC East, our main priorities are to protect the population, to help build the Afghan government's capacity to serve its people, and to help enable sustainable development to improve the lives of all Afghans. The security of the Afghan people is our main focus, and we carry that out through close partnering with Afghan government officials and Afghan National Security Forces.
A key part of our approach is information, which we see as the key domain in counterinsurgency. We understand that the true center of gravity is not the Taliban but the willing support of the Afghan people. Here in RC East, we're working hard not only to counter the enemy's propaganda and misinformation, but to anticipate and expose them. We are doing this by taking a proactive approach to seize and retain the initiative by preempting events and exploiting opportunities. We see the information line of operation as our primary line of operation.
Along our security line of operation, we strive to protect the population by, with and through the Afghan National Security Forces. We partner our forces at every level to build their competence, capacity and credibility, and we also learn from our Afghan partners, many of whom are skilled and experienced soldiers and commanders.
In the areas of development and governance, we are working more closely with our civilian counterparts than ever before. In my long career, I've never seen a more focused whole-of-government approach pushed down to the lowest levels. For instance, we have integrated Civil-Military Action Group, Provincial Reconstruction Teams, Agribusiness Development Teams, district support teams, et cetera.
Along our governance line of operation, we are working with our civilian colleagues to connect the people to the government by linking local leaders to government resources through accountable measures. The civilian surge now under way will be a critical enabler here.
Along our development line of operation, we partner with the Department of State, USAID and other U.S. government agencies, as well as the Afghan government, to build sustainable development through economic growth. Mutually supporting efforts with the U.N., the independent elections commission and other international organizations are also a big part of this effort.
This month, Afghans will go to the polls to choose their next president. The Afghan elections are one of the most important things that will happen during our deployment. Close to 1.5 million people in RC East are now registered as first-time voters for the upcoming election on 20 August.
The Afghan people -- the Afghan people are clearly making their choice for freedom and did so when they turned out at voter registration drives. This is an Afghan-run election, and we will not take sides. But we have an important role to play in the process.
We have troops on the ground, to support the Afghan national security forces through this process and the Afghan people who make the decision to vote in this election.
The elections will not be perfect, but our outcome will determine who leads Afghanistan for the next five years, and their fairness will determine the credibility and legitimacy of the Afghan government.
With this as a backdrop, I'll be happy to take your questions at this time. Thank you.
MR. TURNER: Thank you, General.
Q General, this is Andrew Gray from Reuters.
You mentioned that you see information as your primary line of operations. Are you saying that's more important than fighting and protecting the population?
And can you explain what that means in practice, for your operations, and also provide some reassurance about what the difference is, between information and propaganda?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Yes.
As I talked about that, I meant, of the four lines of operation we have, information operations is the primary line here at the CJTF level. And so I'm making a difference in roles, between myself and my subordinate commander. So that does make a difference, in terms of the importance of the fight against the enemy.
I do see the center of gravity as the people. And the people are the most important piece of this. So no question that any of those parts or that portion of your question that you asked.
I do differentiate between what you called propaganda, as I look at information operations. It is really holistic in the sense that I'm talking about strategic communications and messaging. And I'm talking about information operations, in terms of the military term of that, which would -- you know, would include psychological operations, et cetera.
So it's an umbrella.
But, as you know, this is a war of perception as well, and we believe it is important to emphasize communications in all that we do. Here's my greatest emphasis. It is simply that we have a communications process and team here that speaks accurately and quickly to the different audiences. That's the primary piece, and that has to do with accurate, truthful information, good or bad, out as quickly as we can get it. Because, again, it is a war of perception.
And, as you know, there's been a great deal of discussion about our enemy and how quick they are in terms of strategic communications. Now, they don't have to worry about whether they're accurate or truthful, and most of the time they're not. They just try to be first. So we have a tough job here. We have to be fast, but, more importantly, I have to make sure that we're accurate. Hopefully, that'll answer your question.
MR. TURNER: Luis.
Q General, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News. General McChrystal issued a tactical directive recently. Can you explain what impact that may have had on the operations of your forces in your region since that directive came out? Or has this been something that -- has -- have you followed a consistent pattern even before that directive came out?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, I'll take the first part. The tactical directive was issued, and General McChrystal's intent -- the center of that is the protection of the Afghan people. That's the intent of the order. And, as you probably know, it deals with the measured use of force, primarily having to do with air power, indirect fire and munitions that can cause greater property and personal damage. But, again, it is the measured use of that in order to protect the Afghan people.
In terms of the impact on operations, we have been very deliberate about our use of any munition, and, in particular, large munitions, always with the view toward being careful, that we employ munitions where we would not endanger noncombatants.
We have refocused our efforts as a result of the tactical directive, being additionally cautious in this regard. I think that in some cases it may have slowed the pace of our operations, in the sense that we take more time. We allow a situation to develop, to ensure that we know whether or not civilians are in the area. We may maneuver a little more, to gain a more advantageous position where we know that we can exclude any civilian casualties. We may in fact back off and cordon an area, and then call out the enemy, for instance.
So it impacts it in the sense of the pace of operations. But I would tell you that, given the predominance of our force, that we can have tactical impatience -- tactical patience, and still defeat the enemy.
Finally, the protection of the people is more important than the pursuit of an insurgent. And that's really the -- the crux of the tactical directive.
MR. TURNER: (Off mike.)
Q General, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about partnering between your combat units and the Afghan national security forces in RC East. Is it fairly uniform across your area, or are some units more closely linked to the Afghan Army than others? And what are your sort of goals at sort of expanding that in the months to come?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Yeah, thank you. It's a good question, and it's an important one to me because, as I look at the first principle of protecting the population, the second major priority that I've talked to my forces about is building the Afghan national security forces.
Within RC East, we are not partnered in an even fashion throughout RC East. And that's one of the things here in the short term that we're beginning to plan with our partners and determine how to make some adjustments. That's primarily because the positioning of our forces and the positioning of the ANA or the police forces is just not ideal to get an ideal partnership.
A partnership, to me, means that we, in every case that we can, co-locate, particularly at headquarters level. So we're going to attempt to do that. That is -- we do that already in many areas, but not all. We obviously operate together continuously.
And then, I think that we're going to put greater focus on it now, to begin working at every level together throughout the force, but also in our planning.
My view is that my battlespace essentially is the battlespace of the 203rd and the 201st Corps commander of the Afghan National Army. And so as we develop our plans, execute our operations and consider both the threat and the security of the people, we've got to do that together in a greater way than we're doing it today. It's pretty good, but I believe we can make it better, and over the next several months in particular, we'll do that.
In fact today we just concluded a conference, a two-day conference, with our Afghan national security force partners, as well as our combined security force that's responsible for their training, to consider the options and the ways that we can improve our partnership.
Q Just to follow up on that, do you need more forces in order to do the partnership properly, or do you think you have enough forces in RC East if you move people around and move headquarters around, et cetera?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: I believe at this time I have enough to do the partnership in the way that I'm describing. What we'll need to do is just shift some boundaries and shift the ANA forces as well.
Now I would add that in terms of partnership and in terms of where we want to go within RC East that I do see a need for a greater capacity within the Afghan national security forces in RC East. So as you know and General McChrystal has stated, we look at not only building their competency but building their capacity at a quicker pace that what's laid out now.
MR. TURNER: Joe.
Q General, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. Could you give us an update about the missing soldier who was captured by the Taliban militants? What are the efforts that you are doing to bring him back?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Sir, since the time that he went missing, we've -- we started immediately extensive efforts to locate and bring Private Bergdahl back to our forces and to safety. And we continue extensive operations throughout our force and also with the help of our Afghan partners and other agencies as well.
I'd prefer not to go into it any further than that, because I don't believe it's helpful at this time. Over.
MR. TURNER: Mike.
Q General, it's Mike Mount with CNN. I just wanted to follow up on my colleague Luis's question about General McChrystal's directive. And if I could, if I could just boil it down to a much more simple question, are you having more or less success in stopping the enemy with this directive? You said it's slowing your operations, but in its most basic form, are you having more or less success in stopping the enemy with this new directive?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: In terms of the success, I don't really see a difference. We're operating a little differently, but, with this directive in mind, we plan a little differently as well.
The other thing that I would say is that there are a lot of areas in RC East, where I operate, that are very rural and very sparse population. And as a result of that, in those areas, in most cases the tactical directive is not of consequence: There's no population in the area where we fight.
Q General, this is Viola Gienger from Bloomberg News. Just getting back to the training question, can you give us an -- a status update of, like, how many Afghans you have in training for the Army right now? And are you also training for the police? If so, what are the numbers for that? How many are you able to sort of get through that program over a period of time, if you can just give us some figures on that?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Yeah, I -- I'm sorry, I really can't go into the details on that, because I'm not responsible for that training regimen. The CSTC-A, under General Formica, does the training and the institutional training. I take over the training once the unit is trained as a basic kandak -- a battalion, for instance, or a policeman -- and then they come back out to RC East. And we take their training from that basic level forward.
Essentially, they are -- we begin to work at a -- at refining their collective skills. And, in particular, we work very hard in their leader skills and their headquarters at company, battalion, brigade, and then even corps, who I partner with. So those are our focus areas.
The pace of training and production of the forces, I'm sorry, you'd have to go to General Formica as they look at that.
MR. TURNER: Andrew.
Q General, it's Andrew Gray from Reuters again. I wonder if you could tell us something about the tactics of insurgents in your area. We seem to be seeing some more sophisticated attacks, or we've certainly seen reports of those recently. Can you talk about the current tactics of the insurgents in your area and whether you're seeing any development or change in those tactics?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, actually, I'll talk a bit about this, because their tactics -- differs in different areas of RC East. I would say, though, that your comment about the sophistication increasing -- our look at this in RC East over time, at least in this -- I'd say the last six or seven months, as we've looked at it, and going into this summer, that the sophistication is, at best, about even, and maybe even a little bit less in terms of their effectiveness.
We have, as you know, had an increase in the number of significant activities. But I -- what I'm saying is -- is the effectiveness in terms of direct-fire contacts and their skills has probably diminished some.
That has to do with the -- with direct fire contacts.
In terms of IEDs, which is another of their tactics, obviously, and creates 70 percent of our casualties, there is increasing sophistication there. We're seeing some of the TTPs that were used in Iraq and common there migrate, obviously, here to Afghanistan. And they seem to be skilled in knowing what areas to use different types of IEDs and initiation devices. That's -- that is actually my most difficult challenge right now in terms of enemy tactics, and we're working that very hard.
As I said, really the fight is different in almost every area in RC East. And just quickly, you all understand that when you go up into the northeast, in Kunar, in Nuristan, very mountainous, very close fighting, a very different set of conditions there, and there we will from time to time see more skilled fighters in terms of what we call the ability to conduct a complex attack.
In other areas of RC East, the direct fire contacts are generally not as skilled. I think we use the term "complex attack" too freely. And then obviously as you move into Kunar and the western side of RC East, the IED's becoming more common.
Q General, it's Mike Mount again from CNN. On that same topic, you had said you're seeing a lot of the same skills seen in Iraq and that you're also getting 70 percent of your casualties now from IEDs. What is happening there with the U.S. in terms of IEDs, or in terms of the counter-IED effort? The increase seems to be going up. Are there lessons learned from Iraq, in terms of what the U.S. has learned, being employed now in Afghanistan? Or is it just a whole new batch of lessons that you're having to learn over there?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: No, predominantly we're bringing all the expertise from Iraq and from the experience here in Afghanistan to bear here. We have quite a good counter-IED organization at every level here. I have one at CJTF headquarters that looks at all the different disciplines. We have experts from almost every field that would apply here working on this problem.
Essentially, what I would say is, is while the number of IEDs is going up, the percent of casualties caused by those numbers is staying about flat along the line. So that is our expertise and our countermeasures having an effect for the good of the soldier. But of course, as the numbers climb, the number of wounded will climb right alongside of it.
And there's some tough things here that we're dealing with, that we dealt with in Iraq, but they're just difficult problems to solve, in terms of technological solutions.
MR. TURNER: Joe?
Q General, again, this is Joe Thabet with Al Hurra. Do you think the Marines' operation in the Helmand province had any impact on the situation in your area? Have you seen any militant crossing in RC East, or crossing into the Pakistani border?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: I'm sorry, I -- the first part of your question, did you ask whether the operations in Pakistan have influenced me? Or was it the operations in Afghanistan to the southern part of my border?
Q No, I meant -- I meant the operation in the Helmand province, the Marines operation in the Helmand province, if this operation had any impact in the situation in your area, if you have seen any militants crossing into your area or into Pakistan.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: I've not seen insurgents entering into Pakistan as a result of the RC South or the southern operations conducted by the Marines. We do see that movement right along the scene between RC East and RC South; in other words, the southern part of my boundary as I enter into RC South. We do see movement across the border there, and then right along our seam. But this is an area that the enemy has -- has traditionally used: to run the seam between our two commands. And that lies right at the southern part of Ghazni and Paktika. And we're aware of that.
I can't say that I saw an increase or a decrease as a result of the operations in the south. I think as they expand their operations, that we will see an impact. And as commanders, we're planning for that as well.
MR. TURNER: One more question -- (off mike).
Q General, when you've captured IED cells, groups of militants who are planting bombs, have they turned out to be home- grown Afghans, or are they from -- in RC East -- or are they from Pakistan or other foreign fighters?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: For the most part, they're Afghans. We do see some foreign fighters. And obviously, in many cases, the foreign fighters are the ones that bring the higher skills and act as facilitators, leaders, trainers, et cetera. But they're not in great numbers. Of those that -- in the last 60 days, that we've captured or killed here that were some of the facilitators, trainers or main IED leaders of cells, that lead IED cells, the great majority of those are Afghan.
MR. TURNER: We'll squeeze in one more question. Luis?
Q General, Luis Martinez with ABC. If I could ask you about the Pakistani military operations, what effect are they having on the border. One of your brigade commanders earlier had spoken a couple weeks ago about that impact in Kunar particularly, that the kinetics had gone down there. Is that trend continuing or is it -- has there been a greater impact in other provinces as well?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Yes. We have seen a decrease in the cross- border activity throughout RC East as a result of the operation, as my commander noted, most notably in the Kunar. That was coupled with complementary operations in our part along that border in RC East. So there was not only the operations of Pakistan, but on our side, as well. And it did have an impact on the enemy's ability to move fighters across the border, as well as throughout time here we noted they've had difficulty resupplying those that are deeper into the Kunar and Nuristan as a result of our complementary operations on both sides of the border -- Afghan, Pakistan and coalition force operations.
In the south, while it's not -- there are not full-fledged operations there yet on the Pakistan side, they are operating there. We have seen somewhat of a reduction of cross-border activity there, as well, compared to the norm in the past.
MR. TURNER: Thank you very much for your overview. And with that, I'm going to turn it back to you for any closing remarks.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, thank you. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you.
In closing, thanks again or joining me this morning. I also want to thank all the great, supportive families back home for your unwavering supporting of the CJTF 82 team. We're 23,000 strong, and supported by great family members.
What makes our team special is the dedication, combat experience and the professionalism our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and the unyielding love and support of the family members and those local communities back home that support us so well. We're able to do what we do because of this kind of support and your support, as well.
Again, I appreciate the opportunity. Airborne.
MR. TURNER: Well, thank you very much. We hope to see you again soon in this format.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: We will. Thank you.
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