DOD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Mills and Governor Mangal via Teleconference from Afghanistan
(Note: Governor Mangal's remarks are made through an interpreter.)
COLONEL DAVID LAPAN (deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations): Good morning to those here at the Pentagon, and good evening in Afghanistan. I'd like to welcome back to the Pentagon briefing room Major General Richard Mills, United States Marine Corps. He is the commanding general of Regional Command Southwest. General Mills assumed his duties in Afghanistan on June 14th of this year, and he assumed his duties as the first commander of the newly activated RC Southwest on July 3rd. This is his second time joining us in this format.
Joining him today from his headquarters at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province today is the governor of Helmand province since March 2008, Governor Gulab Mangal. Governor Mangal speaks English but also uses an interpreter, so you will hear both from the governor and his interpreter today.
Both speakers will make some opening remarks, and then they will take your questions.
General, over to you, sir.
GEN. MILLS: Well, Dave, thank you very much, and good evening from Camp Leatherneck; I guess good morning back in the Pentagon. Certainly a pleasure to speak with you all again.
And I am honored to be here tonight with my good friend Governor Mangal, a man who has done so much for the people of Helmand province and has done so much to bring security and development to the people here. And it's an honor to sit next to him.
I want to keep my remarks short this evening to ensure the governor has ample time to speak and that we both have ample time to answer your questions. I'll have to warn you up front that the governor is a very modest man, but all of the -- he is responsible, really, for all the progress that we've made here within the province in the past seven or eight months. And his -- he's left his imprint on the people here through better governance, better development and better security.
Since the last time we spoke, much has taken place within the province. We've seen steady and unwavering progress in improving the security situation within the area. We've seen a steady withdrawal of the insurgents from key locations within the province. And although the levels of violence remain too high, we have seen a shift in the enemy tactics. Today they fight with nearly a total reliance on implanting IEDs and simple shoot-and-scoot direct-fire incidents. We see this vice his prior tactic of facing us in unit-size engagements.
We have seen a steady increase in the capacity, the capability and the confidence of the Afghan security forces, both the army and the police. Both of these units have increased in strength, but more importantly, they've increased in ability. We now see limited Afghan-led operations against the enemy by the army and independent operations by the police against insurgents and criminal networks.
Because of that, we have witnessed a steady decline in the capability of the insurgency to affect the daily life of the Afghan people here in the province.
Freedom of movement has improved, bazaars are booming, schools are open, many important road projects are under way. I can tell you that the elections were conducted with very little interference. Even such things as the gathering of religious scholars and a concert by a nationally known Afghan music star that took place in a stadium once used by the Taliban to offer public punishment all came off without a hitch.
The battle for Marja is essentially over. The battle for Sangin, however, continues. It's the final piece of key terrain that the insurgent can contest, and he's fought hard to stand his ground, but he has consistently retreated. It's come at great cost, but we're building on the success of the U.K. efforts in the past, the success of the combined U.S. and U.K. units that worked there all summer. And now U.S. forces in recent weeks have pushed hard. And so we are seeing continuing expansion of the security bubble there, and a consistent retreat of the insurgent forces.
Our SOF forces have played a significant role as we've maintained a ruthless and a deadly pressure on the insurgent leadership, a leadership that is spending longer and longer periods of time outside the province, a leadership that's finding it harder and harder to support the insurgency financially, and a leadership that we see bickering among themselves over resources and authorities.
And our intent is not to throttle back. We are currently executing an aggressive winter campaign that will maintain the pressure on the enemy throughout the traditional off-season over here. We will move into areas he thought unreachable by coalition forces. We will give him no rest. We will interdict his supply lines, and we'll continue to build on success and continue to move to our victory.
Now, I would be -- I also have to tell you about the local security initiatives that are beginning to flourish, and they've shown that the local nationals are willing to stand up within their own neighborhoods for their own security and their own rights.
And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the efforts of our U.K. forces that work under this command. Their efforts in the key central districts have deepened the hold for the government of Afghanistan, and they have taken on the last remnants of the insurgency that still lingers in the center districts. They continue to make great headway, and unfortunately continue to pay a stiff price.
Now, not all the progress has been in security. Development projects include canal work, road work, food programs, gender initiatives; and there are some 299 active CERP [Commander’s Emergency Response Program] projects at a cost of nearly $57 million under way.
I want to thank you for your attention this evening, and I will stand by for your questions. Thank you.
COL. LAPAN: Anne.
Q: General, this is Anne Flaherty with the Associated Press. I -- you mentioned that the battle for Marja is essentially over. Can you describe what the military posture there is like, how many troops remain, and whether or not you expect that to decrease any time soon?
And then also, a question for the governor: If you could talk about how soon you think before U.S. troops could leave or at least decline in significant numbers in your province, please.
GEN. MILLS: If I could just interject and ask if the governor would like to make an opening statement, and then we would -- then we'll absolutely answer that very important question.
GOV. MANGAL: Good evening. In the name of Allah, the most compassionate and the most merciful, I would like to convey my regards to guests and staff at Pentagon and also the journalists who are waiting there.
I would like to justify whatever General Mills said about the progress and about the development that has taken place within the Helmand province. Specifically in the past year, we have had massive security achievements. I would like [sic; you] to appreciate that.
In the year 2008, Helmand province was one of the strongest centers of the insurgents, or enemy forces.
And at that time, out of 13 districts of Helmand province, only in six districts of Helmand province we could see the dominance of the central government of Afghanistan, and that dominance of the central government of Afghanistan was only within the district centers.
All the roads leading to the districts were closed and the people did not have the freedom of movement. And also, the government employees did not enjoy the freedom of movement within the province of Helmand.
And at that time, the district offices of the districts of Helmand province was only like a military post, and they did not have the capacity and capability to provide the people of Afghanistan and the residents of this -- those districts with basic services.
But by the deployment of U.S. Marine forces down in Helmand province and a strengthening and development of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police forces, lots of things have changed in Helmand province, and now Helmand province has better picture.
Right now, in 10 districts of Helmand province we see the dominance and we enjoy the dominance of the central government of Afghanistan. And the district offices or the local government offices in each district in each of those 10 districts of Helmand province are adding to their capabilities, and they are providing the residents of those areas with agricultural services, educational services and more development on the irrigation system.
The establishment of the 215 Corps of the Afghan National Army, the strengthening of the Afghan National Police, reduction of corruption within these forces and also adding to their capabilities -- they have been a good partner, they have been a good aide with the international security forces in achieving what we have achieved.
The security developments that we have achieved within the province of Helmand has paved the ground for more reconstruction, rehabilitation, and more development in various fields. And we see that lots of projects are ongoing in the development section in different areas of Helmand province.
The production of power within Kajaki power production facilities have been doubled. A new airport has been built. Roads to the -- leading from Lashkar Gah to different districts of Helmand province or -- are either being paved or we have projects to be started in the near future.
When Operation Moshtarak was conducted in Marja -- in Marja district of Helmand province, lots of people had concerns that this operation might not be as successful as it is. And today we see lots of developments and a different feels [sic; feelings] in Marja district of Helmand province. And right now our employees working at the Marja district enjoy the freedom of movement, and they are taking road trips to go back and forth.
In the year 2008, only 56,000 students were going to school, but now we see that 135,000 students are going to school. We have an active airport in Lashkar Gah City; we have colleges and we have schools that people enjoy going to them.
And on the field of eradication of narcotics, serious struggle is being continued. Comparing the production of narcotics today and 2008, there has been a 40.7 percent reduction in the production of narcotics within this province. Hundreds of tons of narcotics have been destroyed, and the smugglers have been given to the judiciary and law enforcement organizations.
All the achievements, developments and successes that we enjoy today are the results of the ultimate sacrifices made by ANSF [Afghan National Security Force] forces, ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] forces, NATO forces and Marine forces. The people of Afghanistan will not forget within history of Afghanistan the services and the successes that the 1st Marine units under the leadership of General Larry Nicholson and my friend General Mills have brought to the province of Helmand.
Thank you very much. I'm ready to answer your questions.
COL. LAPAN: Okay, Anne. You remember?
GEN. MILLS: Address the -- yeah, I can.
Q: If you could just address the force posture in Marja as it is today, and if the governor can talk about how soon before he thinks U.S. troops can leave or at least decline in significant numbers.
GEN. MILLS: Sure. Let me start off and discuss Marja. As I said to you earlier, the Marja fight is just about over. The enemy has been pushed to the very outskirts of the district, and around -- and the city center itself, the district center, if you will, has been cleared of insurgent activity for some weeks.
Perhaps most importantly is that the police force in Marja, the local police force, the uniformed police force, have taken on significant responsibilities for the district's center. There are three police stations open now, over 300 police officers on duty. And they conduct their own security, their own patrols, conduct the things that you expect policemen to do, which is maintain order within the province.
Still in Marja are several units of the National Police, the so-called ANCOP, all of whom have done a very, very good job at both pushing back the insurgency and at putting order into the life of the average Afghan who lives in Marja.
The coalition forces for the most part now are active on the outskirts, along the perimeter, near the deserts, where the insurgent remains. He still comes out of his hole every once in a while from the desert, comes into town and takes the odd shot at us, but in effect, he has lost the ability to impact much on the people of Marja. His last technique was to try a strategy of murder and intimidation. And what he was met with was local nationals who organized themselves into neighborhood watches and who rejected both the violence he brought with him and the demands for money that he arrived with.
So in Marja today, if you walk near the district center, there's a restaurant that flourishes, there are shops that are open, and there's quite a -- you run into a traffic jam if you're not careful on the main street, Route (inaudible), which when we got here back in June, was virtually untrafficable due to IEDs [improvised explosive device]. As the governor said, his -- he has given a direct order to his government employees that those people who travel to and from Marja from the capital city do so by vehicle. And it's safe for them to do so and it's easy for them to do so, due to the road improvements that have been made.
I'll finish it up with, you know, there's a very healthy school population in the city of Marja, in new schools that have been built, old schools that have been refurbished, and school teachers who have come to us, who want to contribute to the future of Afghanistan. And certainly, the parents of Marja are contributing both by sending their older sons to join the police force, and sending their younger children to attend school. So it's quite a different place than it was just a mere three or four months ago.
GOV. MANGAL: My friend General Mills gave you the details of the developments that we witnessed in the Marja district of Helmand as of today. But besides that, besides all the other development that we have had, one of the things which is very important is the cooperation of the local residents of Marja; that they stood against the insurgents, they stood against the enemies of Afghanistan in order to defend their homes, their schools and their infrastructure in Marja district.
The police force in Marja are doing great. They have been reinforced, and they have acquired the capability to perform patrols independently. We are seeing a significant increase in the number of schools and in the number of students attending the schools. So these are those goals that we have achieved, that we have set forward last year.
Q: And the question of how soon do you think before U.S. troops can decline in significant numbers?
GEN. MILLS: Could you repeat that question, please? You came in just a bit broken up.
Q: Can the governor say how soon before he thinks U.S. troops can decline in significant numbers in his province?
GEN. MILLS: Yeah, I think that there is still work to do in the province, certainly, as you can see by our reports. We are still engaged heavily to the north, and there is still work to be done in certain parts of the province.
I think that what we're seeing is a rise in the capability of the Afghan security forces, both the police and the army. And I see -- I think -- I believe that we're seeing a corresponding decline in the capability of the insurgency throughout the province.
I don't want to discuss specific troop deployments or redeployments at this time, but I can say that I think that the situation on the ground will allow me to make some readjustments within my force as to where I apply my efforts and where I apply my main force and where I have people on the ground over the course of the next few months.
COL. LAPAN: Okay.
Q: General and Governor, if you could both respond to these questions. Do you have enough U.S. and coalition civilian personnel on the ground to provide the assistance that the governing structures there need? And what is the relationship? How strong or difficult is the relationship between the centrally appointed authorities in the area and the locally elected leaders there?
GEN. MILLS: I'll take the first part of that and then ask the governor to talk about the second part.
I can tell you that we have enough -- we have the forces that are required to accomplish the mission that we've been assigned. I certainly would not send anyone out on a mission without giving them the adequate resources to do the job. We have been well resourced in equipment.
I have forces with me, of course, under -- from the U.S. under my command. I additionally have a significant British force under my command, which includes units from Estonia and from Denmark, all of whom have shown themselves to be extraordinarily professional and brave and focused on the mission at hand. I also have Georgians who've served in this command, who have done a very, very good job and have their own battle space, which they operate in, to my far west. They've done a good job of taking over for U.S. Marine units that were there previously. I also have forces from Bahrain, who do a very important security mission for me here within the camp and save me, again, some coalition -- other coalition forces that I can use outside of my wire.
So all told, I have a well-resourced, well-equipped, well- trained, well-manned unit.
I know in the press lately there's been some speculation back home about the tanks that I asked for. That was a specific request that I made based on some -- the tactical situation on the ground, they give me a -- one more tool in the tool box that I can use against this enemy who prefers to fight without any morals, without any scruples, and who prefers to hide his explosives in the ground where anybody can walk on it, to include the hundreds -- the hundreds -- of local nationals who are crippled for life through the use of the insurgent IED.
But the tank, with its optics, the tank with its stand-off distance, the tank with its battle armor gives me a very, very good tool that I can use once again to bring very, very precise fires on the insurgents and ensure that civilian casualties don't rise, an issue that we are very concerned about here.
The governor and I work very closely, very closely. Whenever an allegation of civilian casualties arises, he and I are on the phone instantly, we discuss them, we ensure that a joint group investigates them thoroughly and that we arrive a mutually -- a conclusion that we both mutually agree on. He then is able to inform the people above him in his chain of command, if you will, and I'm able to keep the people above me informed as to what's happening.
We have found that in most instances of civilian casualties, by the way, those are simply allegations made by the enemy in a vain attempt to break us apart, to drive a wedge between the U.S. forces and the coalition forces and the Afghan people, and a way to slow down our efforts on the ground, all of which have failed.
I will ask the governor now if he would like to respond to the second question, on the relationship between the national government and the locally elected district officials here on the ground.
GOV. MANGAL: As the time passes, day by day, our offices down at the district level becomes closer and closer with the people down at the area, the local residents.
Right now, in five districts of Helmand Province, we have community councils, which are -- which was a very important part of the social outreach program.
The members of these community councils are actually representing the local residents of the -- of those districts. And they are working shoulder to shoulder with our representatives down at the district level. The ISAF forces have a good sense of relationship with people down at the district level, and we see that this relationship is being strengthened day by day. We see that ISAF forces are helping the people of Afghanistan in different fields, and they are bringing significant changes and facilities to their daily lives. They are providing them with irrigation projects, with irrigation developments and more infrastructure on that section. They are paving roads, they are building medical and health infrastructure, they are building schools. So that shows that they are closely working with people and into the favor of people.
Whenever the CIVCAS [civilian casualty] arises, of course people will be sad. I will be sad. Everybody will be sad. We don't want the children to lose their lives. We don't want the women to lose their lives as a result of operations. We have to increase our coordination and cooperation in that field in order to prevent CIVCAS.
One of the things that I shouldn't forget and I have to mention is that we know that CIVCAS, whenever it arises, we will all be sad. And I have always asked our ISAF partners, please exercise more caution in conducting these operations in order to prevent unnecessary CIVCAS. But the thing is that the insurgents or the enemy forces, they are using the civilian homes and civilian compounds where women and children live as their strongholds, and they fire from those homes on ISAF forces. So in my way of thinking, in my opinion, I think they're more [sic; to] blame than [sic; ISAF for] CIVCAS.
COL. LAPAN: Just address the level of civilian support that you have there in your area, both U.S. and international.
GEN. MILLS: Yeah, we have significant civilian support here, both from the international community and from the U.S. side of the house. From the international community, of course, we had the provincial reconstruction team, which had been on the ground here for several years.
It's a -- it's U.K. led. It deals with the development and the governance piece of the -- of our lines of operation. It is located in Lashkar Gah. There are American representatives to it. There are representatives to it from my command. They deal with the governor on a daily basis and work with him, again, in areas of development both from civil projects, from economic development, educational development, health matters, all areas in which the governor works very closely with the district governors to ensure the life and the lifestyle of the people of this province is raised above what it is -- what it is now.
This summer, we opened up a Department of State platform here, one of my partners. He is located very close by me here at the Camp Leatherneck, and we work together on a daily basis, again, in those -- in mainly developmental and economic issues dealing with the people of the province.
We also work closely together on such things as gender issues. We look at the -- at ways in which we can help the women of Afghanistan raise their educational standards and contribute more to their society. He works -- the head of that platform works, again, very closely with the governor, and again, working very tightly with the district support teams, all of whom are out in the district centers, to help raise the caliber and the capability of the local government both from the district level and here at the provincial level.
Both of those organizations are well-manned, they seem well- resourced, and I think work very closely together in a -- in really a four-part team between the governor, the leader of the PRT, the leader of the platform and myself to ensure unity of effort, to ensure that we're all focused on the correct end state, and to ensure that we're giving and providing to the governor and to the people of the province enduring projects. Not simply feel-good projects, but enduring projects that will last for years and will raise the caliber of their lives, raise the ability of them to enjoy a bountiful economic system, improve the health system here within the province and improve the educational system in the province, going way beyond perhaps the old system of simply putting out some playing fields or some feel-good projects that did not last beyond the time that you were on the ground.
So I think that I can say that there's very, very good civilian- military cooperation, and all of it is linked very carefully with the direction that the governor gives us as we -- as we move along.
COL. LAPAN: Mike?
Q: Mike Evans from The London Times. Could I ask the governor -- sorry -- just to repeat what he said about the amount of reduction of opium or poppy growing? I missed the figure he gave. And how much evidence is there that farmers are genuinely turning from poppy growing to wheat growing and other lawful crops?
And can I ask the general, please, how bad is it in Sangin and would he consider -- because it's obviously bad -- redeploying more of his forces into Sangin? And could that include sending British troops back into the area?
GEN. MILLS: I'll take the Sangin question on first. Let me just say that the fight for Sangin is a tough one. There is an entrenched enemy up there who is fighting desperately to hang on to really the last piece of terrain within the entire province that he -- of any meaning that he has any sort of control over. It is the last place in which he had his poppy and his narcotics processing plants, the tools that really funded the insurgency, and he is desperate -- desperate to hold on there. Once he loses there, he has in fact lost Helmand province, and he realizes that. So he's fighting a tough battle and a resilient battle against us in that area.
As I said earlier, we are building -- we have built on the success that the U.K. forces forged over the last couple years. They built a security bubble around the district center and pushed it out, and continued to develop a security situation in that area as -- in a very fine manner. We then worked together over the summer to expand that perimeter.
And now I have U.S. forces and some other coalition forces up here -- not British, but other coalition forces up there that are continuing to push that perimeter further and further along, up towards the dam at Kajaki up towards Musa Qala, which we control, and down south, again towards Route 1 where we are building a very, very important road, Route 611 that will open up, I believe, the northeast sector to great economic deliverance.
I will position my forces on the battlefield as I need to, of course, as the tactical situation dictates. And as forces are freed in some parts of the province, I will apply them to the problems that are perhaps a bit more difficult.
I made the original decision to re-organize forces on the ground and move the U.K. forces out of Sangin in order to group the combat units under their own national commands. That will put U.S. forces under U.S. command and put U.K. forces under U.K. command. I have no intention of changing that organization. It works very well, it has unity of command, those commanding officers understand the units under them, know their capabilities. And where I have placed the U.K. forces in the center is very, very key ground.
My main effort, my focus of effort that I will not be pulled away from is the hold that we have right now in the center districts. That is my main effort, and I am putting a lot of time and troops into deepening that hold. That's where the U.K. forces are, I see no reason that I would ever pull them away from that for the time being.
The forces that I have to the north, up near Sangin, right now are adequate to the task, and of course, I -- something I look at every day.
GOV. MANGAL: From the year 2004 all the way to 2008, there was a slight increase in the production level of opium within Helmand province. In the year 2004 and 2005, between those years, 29,000 hectares of land was used for poppy cultivation, but by the year 2008, that was increase -- there was an increase, there was 103,000 hectares of agricultural land used for poppy cultivation.
In 2008, we developed a strategy called Food Zone Program, and through this program, we have been able to reduce the percentage of poppy cultivation between the year 2008, 2009 and 2010 by 40.7 percent. Between the years 2005, '06, '07 and '08, the production of wheat was very low, so low that even it was not enough for the residents of Helmand province. But in 2009 -- between 2009 and today, Helmand -- within Helmand province, more wheat was cultivated. Besides, it was enough for the local residents of Helmand province, between 60 (thousand) to 70,000 metric tons of wheat was exported to other cities of Afghanistan.
But I'm optimistic and I'm hopeful that by March and May of 2011, the reduction of poppy cultivation goes up to 50 percent. And those farmers who have stopped growing opium or poppy, right now they are growing wheat, grains, different kinds of grains. They have planted fruit trees, and also they are growing vegetables.
We're working with USAID in order to establish an agricultural industry park. So within that industry, we could have the facilities to process the products that are grown in Helmand province and also find markets to sell them.
COL. LAPAN: Barbara.
Q: General, you paint a picture of fairly unremitting progress in your area. And we've certainly heard these kinds of things before, but each time the insurgency appears able to regenerate itself over time. Specifically, what evidence do you have that they cannot do that to you again, that the insurgency -- do you have evidence the back of the insurgency is permanently broken? Can they regenerate come spring?
And for Governor Mangal, sir, absolutely with all respect, and meaning you no offense, you certainly know that you are personally a target of the insurgency, given your public position in Helmand. And again, with respect, I'm just wondering how much that concerns you.
GEN. MILLS: Okay, I will go first. And you really asked about the resiliency of the insurgency, and I -- I'll tell you, he is a resilient individual. He has shown the ability to come back. But I believe if you look at each time that he is -- he has come back, he has come back in a weaker mode. He has changed his tactics and his techniques because of the fact that he's been weaker. And each time he has had less and less impact both on the coalition forces, on the ANSF forces, and also on the civilian population.
There -- you very rarely see the insurgent now in formations of more than four or five individuals, where you had previously fought in squad-size units, 13, 14, 15, perhaps, individuals at one time. You see an insurgency that has -- coming to rely less and less on the ability to go toe to toe with the ANSF, stand up to the Afghan security.
Here within Helmand province -- I only speak about Helmand province -- but very few examples -- (coughs) -- pardon me -- of him attacking checkpoints and/or Afghan security forces when they're in-numbered. So you see a weaker and weaker and weaker insurgent each time that he comes back. When he comes back, he relies more on murder and intimidation and tactics and techniques that will frighten the population. And he hopes that that's going to re-win him his position here within the province. It's failed each and every time. He now has resorted to murder, intimidation, as I spoke earlier. And he's meeting the resistance of the local nationals. They organize themselves, perhaps most importantly, as they support the Afghan security forces.
Let me give you an example. Just this -- and this happened just today; this is brand new, so you can all get scooped. Even my public- affairs officer doesn't know this yet. But at about 1400 [2 p. m.] this afternoon, we received a report from a local national who walked into an Afghan police checkpoint not far from this camp and reported a suicide bomber that was about to embark on a mission. The Afghan security forces called us, and together we followed that tip.
We found the individual who was strapped for the suicide mission. He got into a car and began to drive towards his target location. He was followed by Afghan security forces and by U.S. -- or by coalition security forces. He was stopped in a remote area. And prior to him being arrested, he detonated and destroyed himself. We suffered no friendly casualties in that -- in that instance, nor did he come close to a coalition installation, or specifically the one that he was targeting.
I tell you that story because it's one of many, many I could tell you of the local nationals standing up, taking on their own security within their own hands, and taking action about it. That is the best symbol that I can think of the fact that he cannot win back the local population.
Our tip lines now are red hot with people calling up telling us where caches are, telling us where IEDs have been implanted, and, perhaps most importantly, telling us of Taliban recruiting parties that have swept into their villages trying to recruit, forcibly recruit, their young men to go out and do their dirty deeds. All of those, I think, show an insurgency who is backpedaling and on the back foot, and cannot win the locals back.
When you talk to the schoolchildren in many places, they will tell you that their families have been threatened to keep them away from school, and yet they attend every day -- once again, a population that will simply not abide by his threats, by his intimidation, and by his harming innocent people who have done nothing wrong. All of those, I think, add up to an insurgency that is becoming weaker and weaker and weaker.
There is also -- I have access, of course, to intelligence information that portrays an insurgency desperately short of money, that is having to scramble in order to resupply his people, is reloading his own ammunition because he cannot afford to buy ammunition on the open market elsewhere in the world.
It's an insurgency that is running out of money, running out of ideas, running out of support, and I believe running out of time. Again, I only talk to the area here in Helmand province -- that's my world, it's the governor's world. But we see an insurgency that is, while he is resilient, he is having more and more difficulty in getting support.
And the last point I'll make before I turn it over to the governor is, we see an insurgency whose leadership is fleeing the province. The senior leadership simply doesn't spend any time within Helmand province. The middle management has a very difficult time spending time in Helmand province; if they do, they're hunted down by Afghan and coalition's special forces and they're eliminated. So you end up with a very localized insurgency, not getting the support that it desperately needs to continue the fight, and quickly running out of motivation and ideas to continue the fight.
So while he may bounce back next year, I think that he will bounce back weakened and he will find a very, very different battlefield. When he returns to the fight in April, he'll find a battlefield where there's a strong 215th Corps that awaits him. He will find local police that are strong, well-equipped, well-manned who await him, and other security elements that are standing by to resist his actions. I think he will find a very different battlefield in April and May, and he will have to either adjust or simply go away.
GOV. MANGAL: In my point of view, the reason why the enemy forces selected Helmand province as their main focus, it was the reason is this -- that they -- Helmand province is -- has a geopolitical and geostructural location. And also the terrain of Helmand province, the agriculture that exists in Helmand province, and the way the maneuverability of the enemy forces in Helmand province, those are the reasons that they have selected Helmand. And before Operation Moshtarak, Marja district of Helmand province was one of their -- the main centers of insurgency within Helmand province and also for other neighboring provinces of Helmand province. They were organizing operations in other provinces from Marja district of Helmand.
Production of narcotics is one of the main avenues of financial support for enemy forces. We can say that the people of Helmand in certain areas are the Taliban, or the enemy forces', hostage. They make them -- they apply pressure on people to grow opium, so they could financially benefit and run their war machine. But I can frankly say that the battle machine of insurgents is broken down, their backbone is broken and they have loosed their -- lost their ability to run the war.
The enemy forces have lost the ability to fight ANSF face to face.
And the only ability that they have, they are implanting IEDs in highways, as a result of which civilian casualties are caused.
And on the other side, we see that right now the people of Afghanistan are greatly supporting the local government of Helmand and the central government of Afghanistan. As my friend General Mills said, the people are showing up, they are reporting IEDs, they are reporting suicide bombers, and they are reporting about whatever bad plans that enemy forces have. They are helping and they are cooperative.
Every day a bunch of people show up and they want to register their personal weapons, and later on use those personal weapons in order to provide security for their own homes, for their own villages.
COL. LAPAN: We have one more. Go ahead.
Q: General Mills, sir, Dan with Marine Corps Times. We've heard you have an interest in increasing the amount of non-lethal weapons that are in use to include, potentially, Tasers.
I was curious if you could speak to that, and also speak toward the aggressive winter campaign that you spoke of.
GEN. MILLS: Yeah. Yeah, certainly.
I am interested in non-lethal weapons. One of the -- one of our major concerns over here, as you know, is civilian casualties. We fight among the population. It's where the enemy chooses to fight, so we have to go in there and go in there with him. And we want -- are extraordinarily sensitive to the issue of civilian casualties.
You heard the governor speak earlier about that. It is a national issue over here, and one in which we are extraordinarily careful when we fight that we minimize any chance of there being civilian casualties involved.
I believe that the non-lethals gives me a -- one more tool in my toolbox, if you will, that a young Marine or soldier out on the ground, when he is confronted with a situation in which there's a question as to whether or not someone driving a car, perhaps, is an insurgent or not, that he has some way to elevate the situation without necessarily going immediately to lethal force. And I believe that as the insurgency begins to be pushed down to the level of criminal activity, that that capability becomes even more and more important to the individual, again, soldier, sailor or policeman who's on the ground having to make life-and-death decisions very, very quickly, and decisions that could have strategic importance in the relationship between our two countries.
So I am a supporter of non-lethal weapons. I always have been a -- and I would like to see some suite of those weapons provided to us over here. I think it would be a -- again, once again, an addition to the -- to what we already have to make our escalation- of-force incidents a little bit easier to handle, and some of other incidents a little bit less lethal, perhaps, to our civilian friends.
I'm sorry. What -- the second part of the question? I didn't -- I didn't catch it.
Q: Well, first, specifically Tasers, could that -- or a Taser capability, could that be part of it?
GEN. MILLS: I think that there are some Taser developments, which are interesting. I think that we all -- obviously, we have to operate within our rules and regulations, and there are rules and regulations that are published by the -- by -- both by the Marine Corps and Department of Defense. We have to operate carefully within those boxes. I've seen various weapons exhibited, which I think would be useful. And I think Tasers is among those weapons.
Regarding our winter campaign, again, as I said, there's a bit of a myth, but somewhat some truth to it that the tempo operations here tends to slacken off in the winter due to the bad weather, and just due to exhaustion, I think, on the part of the enemy forces as they slug it out over the hot summer months here. They tend to go to ground. They tend to spend a period of time refitting, retraining and reequipping their forces, and getting new volunteers to come to their -- to come to their assistance.
We do not intend to give him that luxury this year. We intend to continue to press extraordinarily hard on all fronts. We are going to -- we have a very, very aggressive winter campaign lined out that will be composed of conventional military operations, again, to go into areas where he has previously felt himself safe, where they go into key terrain that we want to control and shape for the oncoming summer evolutions. We want to use our Special Forces to -- again, to find him where he tends -- where he goes to ground, where he wants to go to rest, where he wants to go to refit. And we want to strike him there, and, again, cut off the leadership that is so vital to the continuation of the operation.
We're -- in conjunction with that, we also want to press very hard along the development front to get more projects undergoing -- to -- and to begin get more employment for the people here. This is an area in which jobs are tough. It's difficult to find employment sometimes. We want to provide that opportunity to the local peoples and want to press just as hard as we are militarily. We want to press also developmentally, to give them opportunities to get some infrastructure built, some improvements made and again to raise the quality of life of the individual Afghan.
We also want to surge our capability at improving the education system, at giving some improvement to the health system and in general to -- again, as I said, to the quality of life of the individual Afghan.
So it's a full-court press, if you will, across the entire range of our operations at a time that's traditionally been a little slower, at a time when the enemy's weaker. And I intend to take advantage of that weakness. As his numbers decline, as his leadership goes to Pakistan -- my counterpart, for instance, left the province recently dressed as a woman -- we intend to take advantage of that lack of leadership to press home our efforts to, again, as I said, change the battlefield significantly by spring.
COL. LAPAN: General and Governor, we've now taken a little bit over an hour of your time, so we'll close it off here. I'll send it back to you for any final remarks you'd like to make.
GEN. MILLS: Again, I would just like to finish up by saying here on December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day, that I'd like to remember all the families back home.
I know what we do out here comes at great cost and comes at great sorrow to many families, and it's easy sometimes to sit here and to move forces around and not understand sometimes the human cost involved.
I do understand it.
I do commiserate. I do send my highest -- my highest sympathies to the families, the friends, the spouses, the children of the many Marine soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country over here. I think especially on Pearl Harbor Day, it's a time to stop and reflect, perhaps, to understand the sacrifice that so many of our young Americans and our many, many Afghan friends. The sacrifice made by the Afghan security forces towards their own -- their own security is tremendous. And they do that very, very willingly and they fight alongside of us very, very hard.
And last, of course, I want to -- I also want to recognize our -- the other members of the coalition: the U.K. forces that have sacrificed tremendously, the Estonians, the Danes, all of the members here of the coalition who have sent their very best forward, their youngsters who absolutely represent the best our countries have offer -- have sent them forward willingly, knowingly and with a higher purpose in mind.
And those young soldiers go forward to battle knowing the risks, knowing the threats. On a daily basis, they pick up their equipment, they pick up their weapon, they strap it on and they go outside the wire into an environment that is extraordinarily lethal, that is extraordinarily dangerous, where the wounds inflicted are often horrific. Yet they go forward with a sense of courage, a sense of commitment that is absolutely awesome. I salute each and every one of them, and I would like to again extend my best wishes to their families and my deepest, deepest sympathies to all of the families who have lost -- who have lost people in this war of any nationality: both the U.S., all of the coalition members, and, of course, our good warrior partners here in Afghanistan who have fought hard and long alongside of us.
So thank you for that opportunity, and I'll pass it to my dear friend the governor.
GOV. MANGAL: I would like to appreciate the sacrifices that ISAF and NATO forces have made in Afghanistan, specifically in Helmand province, as a result of which the residents of Helmand province are enjoying the good security and they see the significant positive changes in their lives, and these developments are continuing.
As the governor of Helmand province, I would like to convey my regards and sympathy to the families of fallen Marine soldiers who have paid the ultimate price, losing their lives, in Helmand province. And I would like to share my condolences with the people of United States for sustaining these losses, and also would like to appreciate and convey my sympathy to the people of England and the families of those soldiers who have lost their lives in Afghanistan, and also for those Danish soldiers and Estonian soldiers who have lost their lives. And I would like to say thank you one more time for all the strifes and assistances and all the efforts that all the nations have made in order to bring these changes in Afghanistan.
We see doors of hope in Helmand province and also throughout Afghanistan. And based on the instructions of President Karzai and Lisbon conference, by the year 2014, we would very much like for the Afghan national security forces and also civilian administrations to acquire the capability in order to have the lead on security and provide security for Afghanistan, and for the administrative organizations to acquire the capability to run the daily business on their own.
Thank you very much. Thank you very much for all of you. And thank you very much for providing me this opportunity to talk to you.
COL. LAPAN: Thanks, gentlemen.