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DOD News Briefing with Vice Adm. Harward from Afghanistan

Presenters: Commander, Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435, Vice Adm. Robert Harward
November 30, 2010

                JAMES TURNER (Deputy Director, Defense Press Operations):  Well, let's get started.  Good morning here, and good evening in Afghanistan.  I'd like to welcome to the Pentagon briefing room Vice Admiral Robert Harward.  He is the commander of Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435. Admiral Harward assumed his duties in Afghanistan in November of last year, and his task force assumed command oversight and responsibility for U.S. detention operations in January.  Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435 is also responsible for biometrics and supports rule-of-law efforts in Afghanistan.  This is Admiral Harward's second time joining us in this format, and he joins us today from Kabul.  He will provide a brief update for -- on current operations and then will take your questions. 

                And with that, Admiral, I'll turn it over to you. 

                ADM. HARWARD:  Well, thanks, Jim, and good morning.  It's great to be back with you all.  I appreciate the opportunity to spend a few moments talking with you about our task force and bringing you up to speed on what we've accomplished since I spoke to you last time in August. 

                In September, with the addition of interagency partners, our joint task force, which was primarily a U.S. military organization, officially became a combined joint interagency task force, and now includes interagency and coalition members.  CJIATF-435 works with numerous Afghan ministries and includes interagency professionals from the Department of State, Department of Justice, FBI, USAID and others.  Our focus on detention operations continues, but we've increased our emphasis on other lines of operations, including rule of law and biometrics.  Ultimately, the desired end state of these cooperative endeavors is self-sustaining, secure Afghan national detention facilities and rule-of-law institutions compliant with Afghan and international law.  

                CJIATF-435 is closely partnered with the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan for rule of law and law enforcement, and recently stood up a new subordinate command:  Rule of Law Field Force-Afghanistan, commonly referred to as ROLFF-A.  In partnership with Afghan officials, ROLFF-A executes projects and programs to increase rule-of-law capacity throughout Afghanistan.  Rule-of-law reform enables conditions under which Afghanistan's formal and informal justice sectors can be strengthened without displacing traditional Afghan processes such as shuras and jirgas.  

                Another of our lines of operations, biometrics, will improve security and enable the potential provisions of numerous government services and processes.  The U.S. and Afghan forces currently gather biometric enrollments throughout the theater in support of the government of Afghanistan.  Biometric enrollments in support of the electronic tazkira, the Afghan equivalent of a birth certificate, will soon be an Afghan program for Afghans.  In the future, Afghans will have a unified national basis for voters, motor vehicles, business registrations, trade agreements and even school enrollments.  

                As I mentioned, CJIATF-435 is responsible for U.S. detention operations in Afghanistan, including operation of the Detention Facility in Parwan, referred to as the DFIP.  The DFIP was completed in September 2009 and was designed to accommodate detainee-reintegration efforts.  That focus on reintegration activities enables CJIATF-435 to better align detention operations with the overall counterinsurgency and counterterrorism efforts to defeat insurgents throughout Afghanistan. 

                We work closely with our Afghan partners, are making steady progress through the -- towards the condition-based transition of the DFIP to the government of Afghanistan. 

                Currently, our detainee-housing units are primarily manned by the Afghan National Army.  Specifically, 400 Afghan National Army soldiers are fully trained members of the detention-facility guard force. 

                Critical to our transition is transparency on detention- and judicial-sector operations.  Ultimately, we want perceptions to match reality, and the only way that will occur is through increased transparency.  Since January, more than 2,000 visitors, including government and military leaders, human-rights organizations, detainee-review board witnesses and Afghan and international media, have visited our facility.  Additionally, we developed a photo policy that balances our concern for security with our desire for transparency, allowed journalists to visually document day-to-day detention operations. 

                So that's a quick snapshot of where we are and where we've come in this first year of operations.  And with that, I'll be pleased to take any questions you may have for me.

                JAMES TURNER:  Okay.  Thank you, Admiral Harward.  Right here. 

                Q     Hi.  This is Kevin Baron from Stars and Stripes.  I wonder if you could talk a little about or give some details about the population in the detention facilities and any recent trends that could give us -- shed any light on the -- kind of the progress of the war.  Are we seeing increases in populations, decreases?  Are you able to handle them?  Where does all that stand? 

                ADM. HARWARD:  Well, let me give you some history and some specifics.  You're right.  With increased combat forces come increased detention operations.  This year in the battle space, approximately 5,500 individuals have been detained.  Of those, around 1,100 have come to the Detention Facility in Parwan, and we've released about 550 this year, so an increase of the -- in the population of just over 500, but we've built capacity into the system to address that.  And that will -- as you know, we are bringing on more facilities that will come in line January, February, March of this year, which will double our capacity from about 1,650 to 3,200 spaces at the Detention Facility in Parwan. 

                Q     Admiral, thank you.  How big is the task force, and what is your action plan for transition towards handing over the entire facilities and the system to the Afghan security forces in the coming years? 

                ADM. HARWARD:  Okay, I'll repeat.  I believe you asked about the plan for transition.  We begin -- we've already begun the transition by training Afghan National Army members.  They're inside the facility guarding with us.  We officially begin that transition of January this year.  It's a condition-based.  We're partnered, we're working closely with our Afghan counterparts, but, again, it's going to be at their pace.  And we're not going to push them.  We want to make sure this is done right.  And we're going to be partnered with them closely throughout this transition.  And when those conditions are met in the eyes of the government of Afghanistan and our U.S. policymakers, we will complete that transition. 

                Q     The task force in terms of numbers? 

                ADM. HARWARD:  I'm sorry.  Could you say that once more, please? 

                Q     How big is the task force in terms of numbers?  And in its configuration, how many are for -- (inaudible) -- and others in -- (inaudible)? 

                ADM. HARWARD:  We're just around 2,000 people in the task force itself.  The tashkeel for the Afghan National Army to take on the responsibility is 2,600 Afghan National Army members.  We've got 600 fully trained up now, 400 of which are inside the facility.  And that pipeline is scheduled to be completed in 2011. 

                Q     It is 2,000 plus 2,600, right?  So it is 2,000, and then 2,600 is the Afghan National Army, so 4,600? 

                ADM. HARWARD:  Well, let me be specific.  When we began this mission, there were approximately 550 Afghan National Army military police who ran the Afghan national detention facility.  We expanded their manning document by 2,100 to make their complete force of the Afghan National Army military police for this mission to be approximately 2,600 Afghan National Army members. 

                Q     Thank you. 

                MODERATOR:  In the back. 

                Q     Admiral, Otto Kreisher with CongressDaily, National Journal.  Part of your mission was to rehabilitate these detainees and move them on to the -- back into civilian society, you know, as noncombatants.  How are you doing on that?  How have you -- what's your kind of recidivism rate you've seen, you know?  And what are you doing, you know, to keep -- to convert these people from combatants to good citizens? 

                ADM. HARWARD:  Boy, that's a great question.  We run a very extensive vo-tech and rehabilitation program, a -- really, a reintegration program, we refer to that -- in that we teach Dari, we teach Pashtu, we teach literacy classes, how to read and write.  We're teaching sewing, we're teaching agriculture, we're teaching life skills -- a very extensive program.  

                As I said before, I can give you the statistics for this year.  We've released 550 individuals.  And we refer to it as recapture, not recidivism.  Of this year, 550 have been released.  There have been four individuals recaptured on the battlefield, so less than half of -- about half of one percent, or less than one percent, of a recapture rate. 

                Now, I can't give you the recidivism, because maybe someone went back to the fight and was killed and we can't capture that.  So he wasn't recaptured.  But it's hard because the battlespace owners can't always clearly identify some of those combatants killed in the battlespace, in an airstrike or that -- so there's -- there may be more out there that I can't specifically prove.  But I can give you the facts on those who are recaptured and returned to the Detention Facility in Parwan.  And for this year, that's been less than 1 percent. 

                So that would be indicative, I think, of our reintegration program.  But let me be more specific, also.  In the individuals we've released all this year, they've gone out and they meet with the press.  And to a man, each of them have clearly articulated that they were treated with respect, that they good -- had good medical care, that they had good food; in some cases, the first time some of them had ever seen a dentist.  In fact, some have told us they learned more here than they did at a madrassa. 

                But at the end of the day, all that's -- (inaudible).  And some of them say, “I'd almost not mind staying there.”  But they like their freedom.  It's part of the Afghan culture to be a free man -- not be detained -- so the impact that detention has on that individual I think is indicative of those recapture rates.  They do not want to be incarcerated.  They want to go back to their villages and back to their families and live a productive life and a peaceful life. 

                Q     Thank you, Admiral.  This is Raghubir Goyal, India Globe and Asia Today.  My question is that when you are training more and more people now, that means they have faith and trust in you, your presence there, and also maybe in the Afghan government.  Now that -- so can you say that now these people feel that they are -- they have safety and they believe in the Afghan government and they believe in you?  And how many people you think you are expecting throughout this year?  And more and more people are coming to join the civil society and to give up their terrorism or their militancy?  Do you believe that? 

                ADM. HARWARD:  Boy, I have to apologize.  I did not get all of it.  I think you might have been a little close to the mic.  But I think you're talking about the perceptions, and once people see that -- let me give you a vignette. 

                I just came from hosting approximately 20 of the Mullahs today up at the Parwan facility.  We met with the group before they came up.  And they had questions about interrogations, questions about torture.  You know, what they had heard and their perceptions going up to the facility. 

                And I said, yeah, the freedom -- we're an open-door policy.  We welcome all to come and see the detention facility.  And while they're there today, we'll take you to every aspect. 

                They went through the whole process; when a detainee is received, how he's checked medically, how he's biometrically enrolled, how -- the questionnaires he fills out.  Then they were taken to the communal living cells where the individuals were held and were able to talk to some of these individuals.  They went and saw our detainee review boards, the military tribunal that interviews and investigates the circumstances by which these individuals were incarcerated. 

                And then they see the process for -- that are used for the vo-tech programs.  And then we talk to them after.  And their perceptions were 180 degrees out.  This was not like anything they were -- expected.  They thought it was a wonderful program.  They wanted us to help inculcate that into the corrections and prisons throughout Afghanistan, which is part of the process of what we're doing. 

                They saw the Afghan guards working next to our guards "shana ba shana" [translation: shoulder to shoulder].  They were very excited about the opportunity to transition this facility to the government of Afghanistan, to have those Afghan guards.  But they still wanted us to stay partnered and mentored to make sure those same standards, that same education, that same training could be inculcated into these young Afghan men, some of which were illiterate and had come from all walks of life here in Afghanistan, the Badakhshan or Farah or Herat. 

                So I think -- that's the process, I think, the difference between perceptions of those individuals who have not been to the facility, and those after they see it.  And that's why we've worked closely with the press -- especially in a society that is somewhat illiterate -- to get those visual media out so people could see that in their televisions, see that in their papers where those individuals who could not make it to the facility could get those visual images, and understand what's really going on at the Detention Facility in Parwan, and how that becomes a model for the corrections facilities throughout Afghanistan.  So those were our goals and objectives, and why I think we're going to be partnered for quite some times to accomplish that goal, or whenever the government of Afghanistan decides they no longer want that. 

                Q     Can I ask you one more thing, sir?  How much prejudice do you see, as the Taliban is concerned now, among these young people? 

                ADM. HARWARD:  Oh, that's a great question.  The Taliban are aware of these efforts.  And in some cases, we have had historically where some of those released have been threatened or intimidated.  In fact, I think we had one individual released who was killed by the Taliban, because they thought he had turned and gone to the other side.  So that is a concern.  We work closely with the villages, the district and provincial leaders when we reintegrate these. 

                In fact today in Khost -- I'm sorry in Paktika -- my equivalent Afghan commander, Major General Marjan, who conducted the release, met with the village elders, met with the tribal leaders, met with the local mullahs, met with the governors to ensure that security and well-being and pledges from those to look after these individuals when they return. 

                So we're using those mechanisms to counter Taliban influence, threat, and any risks to those individuals when they return back to their families and villages.  And so far we think it's pretty successful.  But we're going to monitor it.  We're going to take lessons learned, and move forward to ensure that becomes a foolproof system as best we can. 

                But, again, we've only been in this just under a year.  We're not perfect yet, but we're going to do everything we can to make sure we get this as perfect as possible. 

                Q     Admiral, this is Kevin Baron again from Stars and Stripes.  I just want to get a clarity about, how do you decide who goes to one of your facilities, a military facility, versus civilian police activity, you know, when you're -- when, in this population-centric war, there's got to be a little bit of crossover.  Are there -- are there rules?  Has this -- has this changed at all?  That's -- you know -- I mean, I assume that the people that are in your facilities are assumed insurgents and battlefield captures, not, you know, gang activity.  I know this is a -- kind of a grey area for a lot of commanders out there. 

                ADM. HARWARD:  You know, Kevin, I think that's a great question and one that starts in the battlespace with the operating forces.  As you know, all our operations are partnered right now:  Afghan and U.S. forces in the battlespace.  So when an individual's detained, U.S. forces are authorized to hold that individual for 14 days to determine exactly what you're saying:  Is this guy really an insurgent, or is he a criminal activity?  After that 14-day period, or during that 14-day period, by the 14th day, that determination is made, and they send us a request called a detainee transfer request, where they say, Admiral Harward, here's the reasons we believe this individual is an insurgent.  If we endorse that, we then accept them at the detention facility. 

                Now, I would tell you there are unique ANA operations conducted on their own, Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, that go into the Afghan criminal system and into the Afghan prisons.  They, in fact, have the same issue:  identifying whether it's an insurgent or a criminal in their own prisons.  And so we've been partnered with them very closely this year to do that sort of classification.  

                And they have determined in their current population of prisons, in the 34 provincial prisons, with the population they have of about 18,000, they have 2,000 insurgents in those prisons.  So we're working closely with the government of Afghanistan to separate those insurgents from the criminals so that, one, they can’t influence the criminals or those others being held; two, they don't become a threat for the insurgents.  As we've seen in numerous prisons here in Afghanistan this year, the Taliban have attacked those prisons to release the Taliban that the Afghan correction systems hold.  So we're moving to remove those insurgents out of the prisons into the Detention Facility in Parwan, thereby separating the insurgents from the criminal activity; and therefore, defeating the Taliban's efforts to affect the insurgency within the wire of the correction facilities in Afghanistan. 

                So that's an ongoing process they're doing right now.  We've done it to some extent in very small numbers into the Afghan national detention facility at Pul-e Charkhi.  We're looking to expand that into the Detention Facility in Parwan as we transition it to the government of Afghanistan.  And, as I said, we will begin that in January of this year, 2011, the upcoming year. 

                Q     Just to follow up -- sorry, this is a remedial question -- but is Parwan the only facility where these suspected insurgents are transferred? 

                ADM. HARWARD:  That is correct -- well, the only U.S. facility, the only -- there is an Afghan -- Pul-e Charkhi prison has a facility referred to as the Afghan national detention facility, run by the Afghan National Army, that holds approximately 550 beds.  That's run by the same commander of the ANA who's partnered with us at Parwan.  So they have a capacity of about 550.  We currently have a capacity of 1,650.  We're building another 1,650 that will come online by March.  So that's the capacity of space we have.  But we're partnered with those.  So those are the only long-term detention facilities. 

                Of course, as you know, we have field detention sites throughout the country that we hold individuals for a very short period, up to 14 days, to determine whether they're an -- insurgent or a criminal or just someone incidentally at the area when the others were detained.  And then from that point they're transferred to our facility for detention. 

                MODERATOR:  In the back. 

                Q     This is Shin Shoji, NHK Japanese TV, and I have a question regarding photo policies.  I know the media trips to Guantanamo Bay requires a lot screening out of both still and video photos, and I want to know, with your facilities, what is exactly the policies in terms of allowing original pictures or film footage?  Just to stay or to be deleted? 

                ADM. HARWARD:  Yeah, that's a great question.  As you know, we worked hard to get that policy approved this year, so we could bring media in to take pictures and video. 

                At the same time, there was great concern about making sure we protect the individuals, because if those pictures of them got out on the streets after they're released, they may become a target for the Taliban. 

                So the arrangement is, before media shows up to take pictures or video, we sign an agreement that once they film that stuff, we are allowed to screen it with them, together.  We look at that to make sure no faces are shown, or any other characteristic which may reveal the identity of that individual.  So we do that together, and then once we've ensured that those criteria are met, they're used -- they're free to use that video or pictures in any forum they want. 

                But we want to make sure.  We want to get the word out to everyone.  We want to get the media to have access, but we will -- we have a responsibility to protect those individuals we've incarcerated at our facility.  So that's the agreement, that's the process and the arrangements we worked through. 

                MODERATOR:  Okay.  Well, it looks like we're out of questions here, Admiral.  So I'm going to turn it back over to you for any closing remarks you'd care to make. 

                ADM. HARWARD:  Well, once again, just thank you for your time.  All great questions.  I encourage all of you, or invite all of you to come and visit, see the facility.  It's one of those things you almost have to see and touch yourself to get the full comprehension. 

                I'm very proud of the soldiers, sailors, Marine and airmen who do the job.  It's a tough mission for young 18-, 19-year-old kids from our armed services, who do it each day, working some long hours.  And I think all of you would be very proud of the work they're doing.  So, thank you. 

                MODERATOR:  And thank you, Admiral Harward.