COLONEL DAVID LAPAN (Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Media Operations): Good morning to those here, and good evening in Afghanistan. I'd like to welcome back to the Pentagon Briefing Room Army Lieutenant General David Rodriguez. General Rodriguez is the commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, also known as IJC; and also, the deputy commander of the United States Forces- Afghanistan.
General Rodriguez's current tour began in June 2009. He became the first commander of the IJC in October of that year. Prior to that, General Rodriguez was the commander of Regional Command East for 15 months, from January 2007 to April 2008. Next week, after two straight years in command and more than 40 months in Afghanistan over the past four-and-one-half years, General Rodriguez is scheduled to change command and return stateside to head U.S. Army Forces Command.
The general most recently joined us here in person last February, and we're very grateful to see him this morning via satellite for an update on operations before he changes command.
And with that, general, I will turn it to you.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, good morning, Dave, and thank you for that introduction.
And as most of you know, I'll be returning home to the United States later this month. And my friend, Lieutenant General Scaparrotti, will be taking my place as commander of the ISAF Joint Command.
Now, "Scap" and I have done this several times before, four to be exact, and he followed me, of course, to the 82nd as well as Regional Command East. I feel a little bit sorry for him. He keeps getting stuck with -- stuck with me. But in all seriousness, he's the right guy for the job at the right time.
Now, we began a new approach in the summer of 2009. It's evolved, but it's important that we briefly review the basis of the plan. So I'll give you an overview of our approach; then I'll tell you where I think we stand with regard to achieving our objectives as we prepare for some of the troops to return home in the future; and finally, I'll give you an idea where I believe we are headed.
As you know, our objectives remain the same: to deny al-Qaeda sanctuary and prevent the insurgents from retaking Afghanistan. To do this, we have and will continue to destroy or degrade the insurgents' infrastructure, build the Afghan National Security Forces strong enough to lead in providing security for their country, and ultimately mobilize the people to stand up against their enemies.
We are meeting our objectives because we continue to execute an operational plan that works. First, our plan focuses us on key areas throughout the country -- population centers, commerce nodes and routes -- because a majority of the population lives in less than a third of the country. Now, we are fighting a rural insurgency. It lies in the villages, and the first line of assistance for the villagers is the district government.
Second, it effectively prioritizes and sequences how we execute security, governance and development. And third, it grounds us in what I call a trinity of good governance, capable security forces, and the people. When all three work together, we know Afghans can arrive at viable local solutions.
This approach has allowed us to effectively implement the right plan. As a result, the coalition now has the momentum. Progress is indisputable. Where we have focused our efforts, we have degraded the insurgency, built the Afghan National Security Forces and ultimately mobilized many of the Afghan people against those who threaten their way of life.
Let me talk a little bit about what we have accomplished. The growth and development of the Afghan security forces is on the right path, and each day they are taking on greater responsibility and helping prevent spectacular attacks across the country -- for example, the recent incident in Kabul where the Afghan National Security Forces successfully prevented numerous suicide bombers from killing hundreds of civilians in Inter-Continental Hotel.
With regard to sequencing and prioritizing our efforts, we have aligned with our civilian partners. We are no longer clearing areas again and again and again. Now in advance of clearing the areas, we create the conditions for government and development to quickly follow after security is established. So we spend the bulk of our military effort on degrading or destroying insurgent infrastructure, but we also ensure that the planning for local security and good governance begins early enough to be implemented as soon as the security conditions allow.
Now, we have made great progress with our civilian counterparts, both in the Afghan government and the international community, to coordinate these efforts. Evidence of our progress is clear. This winter, we took the fight to the insurgents in key areas across Afghanistan, and we have helped our Afghan partners increase their effectiveness at the same time.
Now, we targeted insurgent leadership command and control, their support bases and their infiltration routes. And together, we have captured or killed over a thousand insurgents in the last six months, approximately 250 percent more than in the same period last year. And together, this spring we have seen a 300 percent increase in the number of caches found, compared to the same period last year. Many of these finds have been the result of the Afghan security forces and tips from the local people.
Now, we've begun the process of working ourselves out of a job, meaning we will hand over the lead to the Afghans gradually, over time, and it's going to be beginning now. We intend to become what our Afghan partners call a sixth finger: not particularly useful anymore.
Now, later this month, we'll be transitioning the lead in seven locations: Bamyan province, Herat city, Kabul province minus Sarobi, Lashkar Gah down in Helmand, Mazar-e Sharif in Balkh, and Mehtar Lam in Laghman. And as we move forward with the plan, the transition will continue to be conditions-based. In the tougher areas, we will thin out forces and either shift forces to other areas or send some forces home.
Now, our Afghan partners will rise to the occasion. We will stay the course with a plan and not chase transition. There is no faster way to dilute our efforts and undo all we have accomplished. We will execute a plan that the Afghans have developed with us, and the natural outcome will be transition. The second tranche of transition should be selected by the Afghan government later this summer.
Now, I believe the transition is on track and we can achieve sufficient stability across Afghanistan by 2014, with the troops redeploying as scheduled. Now, we've made hard-won progress in Helmand and Kandahar, and there have been advances in a number of other areas in the east, west and north, aided by the growth of the Afghan and coalition forces over the past two years. Also, growth in government capacity, which of course lags -- but we will continue to make indisputable process. And even with the drawdown of 33,000 U.S. troops by the end of next summer, there will be a surge of 70,000 Afghan National Security Forces, and there will be over 350,000 Afghan National Security Forces in place to protect the people and continue the momentum.
Over time, the look and feel of the international community's presence in Afghanistan will be different. The government of Afghanistan will need to balance the responsibilities of providing security, rule of law, essential services and the infrastructure capacity for sustainable economic growth.
The coalition stated objectives are achievable in Afghanistan. And as we go forward, we must continue to apply the same discipline in allocating resources and stay on the campaign trajectory.
What is most critical is that we support good Afghan leaders and encourage them to build depth within their ranks, and inspire other leaders to join in helping create a hopeful future. If we maintain a momentum, it is indeed possible to achieve what both we and the people of Afghanistan desire and deserve.
Now, before taking your questions, I want to express my admiration and thanks to all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians and our international and Afghan partners. It was a privilege and honor to serve them all. I will treasure the friendships I have made and always remember the good friends who gave their lives.
Now I'll take your questions.
COL. LAPAN: Bob.
Q: General, this is Bob Burns from AP. Thanks for taking the time to do this today.
I have a question for you about the drawdown that you mentioned. When will it actually begin, specifically? How will it begin? Will it include combat units this year? And do you have any misgivings about the pace of the drawdown as announced by the president?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Thanks, Bob. The drawdown will begin this month, as was stated in the president's address. And it will include both combat troops and combat support troops as well as combat service support troops. It will be a gradual drawdown, and I'm confident that we can draw down those troops through the end of this year and accomplish our mission.
Next year, of course, it will be up to the leaders to see how it goes in the future.
Q: I have a follow-up. A follow-up, quick follow-up question, General, from Bob Burns. You say we'd start this month. Could you be more specific? Has it already started? Will it be -- what will happen this month that will signal the beginning of the drawdown?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, there are two battalions that will not deploy to replace two battalions that will redeploy this month, and that will be the initial return of the surge forces.
Now, as we move forward between now and December, that will be a gradual drawdown of forces. And again, that will be headquarters and combat service support troops, as well as combat support troops. And there is one other combat unit that will come back that I know of now, and the decision on the final drawdown of those 10,000 will be made later this fall with the -- between COMISAF and the new COMIJC.
Q: All right, please, and one last quicky? Sorry, just one last one on that same point, General. The two battalions that are going to be off-ramped in July of this month: Is that the only drawdown for the -- for the summer and it will be -- the rest of it will come later in the year?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: They will continue throughout the summer. It will be a gradual drawdown throughout the time. I think the next one, big group will occur in -- still in the summer, and then the rest in the fall.
COL. LAPAN: Anyone besides Bob? (Laughter.) No -- we're good. Courtney.
Q: Hi General Rodriguez, it’s Courtney Kube from NBC News. On the same line of questioning, the other combat unit that's going to come back: Who is that? And is that a brigade-size? And are you -- do you anticipate that the drawdown of the 10,000 this year will be more troops that are coming back and not being replaced, but they're still coming back at their normal end of deployment versus being brought back early?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: The majority of them will come back and not be a redeployment coming behind them. That's how we'll try to do it with the majority of them, but there will be some that their tour will be curtailed a little bit. And again, the final stages of that drawdown will be determined at a later date.
Q: Who is the combat unit that you mentioned that you know of that's going to be coming back and not be replaced?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: There are two units, one here in Kabul -- it's the 2nd of the 134th [sic; 1st Squadron, 134th Cavalry Squadron] -- and further a little down in the -- later in the summer, at the end of the summer [sic; fall], the 3/4 Marines [3rd Battalion, 4th Marines Regiment] will come out and not be replaced, and there's also another one that won't be replaced here, the 1st of the 141st [sic; 1st Squadron, 113rd Cavalry Regiment].
COL. LAPAN: Julian.
Q: General, Julian Barnes, Wall Street Journal. Thanks for coming out. What is the level of violence that you've seen this summer, and how does it compare to last summer, and are you judging the indisputable progress on lowered violence, or is it other factors that create -- lead you to say indisputable progress?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, as far as the violence levels, it's a mixture. Some of them are up a little bit; and in places where we focused our energy, they are down. It is a slight increase overall since last year.
And no, that is not the only indicator of progress. The most important indicator of progress is really how the Afghan people go about their daily business and participate in their daily lives and participate in their government.
But we look at six factors. We look at the strength of the threat, the strength of the Afghan National Security Forces, the strength of the government and the strength of the people as they go about their daily business. And we take a combination of those things, to include the violence levels, as you stated.
Q: I'm going to take my follow-up. When do you think -- when do you anticipate -- when would you anticipate the overall violence level to go down? I mean, in Iraq it was, you know, by six months into the surge, saw violence in Iraq go down dramatically. Here in Afghanistan we are way longer into the surge, and overall level of violence has not gone down. Do we think -- is it fair to assume that we will see that go down later this summer, or could it be next year?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: It -- that remains to be seen. It will actually probably be next year. What the difference is, of course, is that it's a rural insurgency. So what we see happening is the violence is now on the edges of the population center instead of the center. And also, there is a significant increase in direct fire attacks that are very, very ineffective. And that's what we'll see continue as a trend into the future until it starts to decrease sometime in the future.
COL. LAPAN: Jennifer.
Q: General, it's Jennifer Griffin from Fox News. What evidence are you seeing of Iran -- Iranian involvement in the conflict in Afghanistan? We've heard reports from Senator Graham speaking about -- who's recently back from Afghanistan, speaking about Iran positioning weapons in Afghanistan. But in the press, when we've asked this question, we hear that there have been a few interceptions of weapons, but not many. Can you point to any change in Iranian involvement?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: It's been pretty consistent, ma'am. And that level is just about the normal level of arms and ammunition that crosses borders in this volatile region each year. And they do not -- have not increased significantly in the past two years.
Q: Can you quantify how many you're intercepting on -- you know, in a given time period?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: No, I can't, ma'am. You can get that information from us later. But like I said, it's not any increase or decrease, and it's been pretty consistent for the last several years.
COL. LAPAN: Thom.
Q: Sir, it's Thom Shanker from The New York Times again. Thanks for your time today. My question is about the Afghan security forces, which you've cited as a rising capability, but you also referenced the hotel attack. And as we sit back here in Washington, it's hard for us to understand whether that was a glass half empty or a glass half full. Yes, indeed, local forces resolved that, but the attack itself was quite violent, and I'm sure quite disturbing to you. Give us your after-action review of that and what lessons you've learned and what it says about the capabilities of local security forces.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, in the Inter-Continental Hotel attack, the Afghan security forces responded very, very quickly with the crisis response unit, who were the ones who led the way as they cleared the floors of the Inter-Continental Hotel and basically put the enemy on a -- in a situation where what they did was they ran through the hotel, up to the top of the hotel, which is where the remaining enemy was killed by the combined force.
And they also -- afterwards, there was a fire after a couple of suicide bombers set themselves off, with a very small loss of civilian life, and the -- they responded with a fire department who came and put the fire out. And again, it was a great response. They were very, very effective, and they all put it together very, very quickly. They have done that multiple times in the past, and I believe they'll continue to do that more effectively each time.
Q: So sir, the response was very professional and positive; we understand that. But was there a gap in capability or intelligence or security that allowed the attack to take place, and have you tried to plug that?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: The intelligence support that -- required to prevent those attacks continues to get better, and the number of those attacks that are thwarted are many, many times greater than the individual ones that get through like that. And we believe that that will continue to be a positive trend in the Afghan security forces here in Kabul.
Q: Thank you.
COL. LAPAN: David.
Q: General, David Wood from the Huffington Post. You mentioned that there had been a 300 percent increase in caches that you're uncovering. And I wondered if you could tell me a couple things about that -- number one, how many caches we're talking about. And secondly, if these are ammunition and bomb-making materials and so forth, is there any indication that the insurgents are actually running short as a result of your uncovering these caches?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, the caches are multiple sizes, so I couldn't give you a characterization of the exact number, but the bottom line is we have destroyed the support bases and their supplies and -- and get a -- put a significant decrease in their capability to supply themselves. At the same time, we're interdicting the supplies that are coming in, and absolutely, there has been much intelligence that says that they are having a tough time supplying themselves as easily and in as much volume as they would desire.
COL. LAPAN: Kevin.
Q: General, this is Kevin Baron from Stars and Stripes. In your opening, you seemed to -- as I know your superiors in Washington have -- support the president's drawdown plan and pace. You said it's -- you know, it's a good plan, it's a goal that's achievable. Do you think that there is any unnecessary risk in that plan that has been criticized since, you know?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: No, I don't. They -- the decision's been made, and now it's our turn to execute the decision, and we can do that without a significant change in our -- in risk that puts any of the mission at risk at this point in time.
COL. LAPAN: Sir.
Q: General, Chuck Hoskinson from Politico. You said before that with the problem of infiltration of Taliban into Afghan security forces as the Afghans take over more and more responsibility, that there might be a need to accept the greater risk in terms of dealing with that problem. How would you assess the possibility of that risk going forward now, and what steps would you be taking to mitigate it?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: The mitigation of that risk is being done by a combination of counterintelligence efforts by all the coalition forces, but most importantly, the Afghan National Security Forces are taking this head on.
And it's an issue of leadership and knowing your people. And again, the Afghan leadership and the chain of command is taking that on, and believe we're moving in the right direction with that risk.
Q: Michael Hoffman with Defense News. Good morning, General. I was wondering -- just to change the subject real quick -- with the upcoming transition coming within the Army, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your interactions with General Odierno and your thoughts on his leadership for the Army going forward.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: I've had just one interaction with him, at a four-star conference, on a video teleconference. But I've known General Odierno since we were 18 years old, and I'm confident he'll be a great leader -- (audio break).
COL. LAPAN: (Following audio break.) Can you hear me? We lost your audio and video there shortly. (Pause.) Are we back up now?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, I can hear you loud and clear.
COL. LAPAN: All right, sir. Great.
Q: Could he repeat – finish that thought?
COL. LAPAN: We lost you when you talked about knowing General Odierno since you were 18 years old, and then the signal dropped. If you could finish your thought there.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: I'm confident he'll be a great leader for the Army and lead the Army into the future very, very effectively.
COL. LAPAN: OK. Thank you, sir. Michael?
Q: It's Mike Evans from the Times, London Times, General.
Can I ask you, one thing you didn't mention in your introduction was the willingness of the Taliban to play a part in the future of a political solution to the country. What evidence do you have that the Taliban is genuinely interested in some sort of deal? Or are they seriously just biding their time before 2014 comes up?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: No, I think they're continuing to try to take back the control of the people in the areas that they lost last year. And what we focus on at the operational level is to reintegrate the local fighters. That reintegration process is starting to move in the right direction. We've had over 2,000 people formally reintegrate in that system and had -- have had another thousand and more who are basically silently reintegrating by just becoming part of their communities without going through the formal process.
So that's what we concentrate on, to bring the local fighters back into their communities with the local Afghan government. And that program continues to improve.
COL. LAPAN: Chris.
Q: General, Chris Lawrence from CNN. If you had the full force of the surge forces through the next fighting season, completely to the end of the year, do you think you could have waged a successful counterinsurgency campaign in the east like you did in the south?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: We think, again, that we're going to be able to wage a successful counterinsurgency campaign in the future. The timing on the -- how that occurs will have to be determined based on the success that we have the rest of this fighting season and through the winter, but I'm confident that we can still -- we can accomplish the mission with the resources we have.
Q: I just have one point of clarification. When you were talking about the assault on the hotel in Kabul, you mentioned that the Afghan security forces worked their way up from the ground floor up to the roof. Did the Afghan security forces actually kill any of the militants, or were the militants all killed by ISAF and coalition forces?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: They were killed by a mixture of ISAF and coalition forces. And again, what occurred was, is they chased the suicide bombers up on the roof. That was when our help was most -- you know, was used mostly. And again, all that did was hasten the demise of the enemy. They would have got to it in a little bit of time; we just, again, finished them off quickly when they got on the roof. (Inaudible) -- people basically defeated in the attack.
COL. LAPAN: David.
Q: General, hi. It's David Cloud with the L.A. Times. Just to follow up a little bit more on the violence levels, can you break it down a little bit? What are the violence trends in RC East in particular?
And do you anticipate over the next year and into next year a shift in effort to RC East, both shifting forces and shifting the main effort to RC East? Is that part of the campaign plan?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes, it is. And again, as we continue to maintain the momentum in the south and continue to build the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces, we will end up thinning out down there first and then focusing more and more of our energy in the east. As far as the timing of that, again, it will be conditions- based, and it's a little bit too early to take that guess right now.
Q: Can you answer about the violence trends in RC East?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: The violence trends in RC East are up a little from last year, but one of the bright spots is that we're finding more of the improvised explosive devices. And also, there's been a rise in direct-fire incidents that are less effective than the attacks have been in the past.
COL. LAPAN: Viola.
Q: General Rodriguez, it's Viola Gienger from Bloomberg News. A couple of questions really to follow up on the reintegration issue: More than 2,000 still seems like a fairly small number; even more than 3,000, if you add the other thousand to it. How many more do you feel like you need to bring back out of the field? How many more are out there?
And the other question is, on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan there's been -- there's been some reports. Pakistan has been complaining about some forces crossing the border from Afghanistan and attacking in Pakistan. And the general response we've been getting is, you know, vague comments about how the border is porous. But can you be more specific about exactly what's going on there? And, you know, are these complaints valid? And what are you doing to try to address those issues?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: On the Afghanistan-Pakistani cross-border issues, they -- again, on the border region, it's very, very rugged terrain. It is very, very porous, both ways. And some of those forces that reside in that area and move across that area have gone both ways, back and forth. And the -- both the Afghan security forces and the Pakistani military forces coordinate our efforts along that border, to be able to defeat those forces as effectively as we can. But that -- it goes both ways. And we have, again, done a pretty good job coordinating our efforts to defeat that threat.
Q: Can you follow up on the reintegration question and the numbers? I mean, how many do you really need, and what -- how many do you need to reintegrate, what are your targets, and why has it lagged?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: The reintegration program that was really just started last year has not really lagged. It has taken time, of course, to get that policy and the procedures spread throughout the nation, but the Afghans have done that very, very effectively, and the good thing is right now, that is continuing through the violent season -- that they're continuing to reintegrate.
And as far as the number that we need to reintegrate, that's really, again, a conditions-based number that will be determined basically on how strong those communities are getting as they bring those local boys back into their communities. And again, it's that combination of good security, good governance and good development that brings those people back together, and when the strength of the community gets strong enough, the people will continue to reintegrate silently just to be part of a better future.
COL. LAPAN: Ros.
Q: Rosalind Jordan with Al Jazeera English. Someone just brought up the question of Pakistan. Given that country's political and military instability, how helpful has Pakistan been in helping ISAF stabilize and secure Afghanistan? We've heard a lot of promises from Islamabad, but in reality, how supportive has it been in your efforts?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, again, we need more support and help from the Pakistani military. We continue to coordinate and build the relationships so that we can better synchronize our plans across that border, but we still need some more support in doing that.
And again, if that continues to be a problem, what that drives us to on this Afghanistan side of the border, which is what I'm really focused on, is building the stronger community and security forces to be able to handle the challenges that they'll see in the future.
Q: When you talk about support, what specifically are you looking for? Are you looking for more direct cross-border operations? Are you looking for more intelligence? Is the apparent growing lack of trust between the U.S. and Pakistan having an impact?
GOV. RODRIGUEZ: What we really need is less of the IEDs and the homemade explosives across that border, as well as some of the bomb-makers and leadership that moves across that border. And those are the type of support and help that we continue to work with our Pak mil partners to help us with.
Q: Have you seen them actually try to show a more aggressive posture in stopping both the crossing of material and, perhaps more important, the crossing of the human capacity into Afghanistan? Are they up to the task? Are they willing to be there?
GOV. RODRIGUEZ: We've seen that in selected areas, but again, not as much as we would like. And we all think and know that they need to do more, and we -- that's what we work with them on every day to do.
Q: Thank you, General.
Q: General, this is Nancy Youssef with McClatchy Newspapers. Throughout this morning, you've said that overall violence is up, that you're not sure when violence will start to go down. You've also said that in areas where the United States has concentrated its forces, it's had an impact. And yet despite all that, you said that the drawdown of forces isn't -- there's no risk -- no real risk associated with it.
Can you help me understand how that is, given that -- given all those factors, that violence is up and there's no sign of when it will drop? Why is it -- why does it remain not as risky as it appears?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes, again, the in -- the effectiveness of the contacts has gone down, and that's important, and also how that can be -- the momentum maintained as we move forward is about the growth of Afghan National Security Forces.
And just like the surge last year, where we brought in 40,000 coalition troops, we brought in over 90,000 Afghan National Security Forces. And while we draw down those 33,000 U.S. forces in the next -- until -- you know, through late summer of next year, there will be another 70,000 Afghan National Security Forces built. So it's the growing capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces and the strengthening of their organizations that enable us to continue the momentum without increasing the risk a significant level.
Q: Also, the performance of the Afghan National Security Forces has been inconsistent. Is it fair to say going forward that the remaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan will have to do more with less, or will we see them having to do less going forward in terms of stabilizing and securing Afghanistan?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, as they look -- as we look forward, again, the Afghan security forces, as their capability builds, we'll do less of the direct lower-level fighting. And what we'll be helping them with is the enabling capabilities, such as command and control, access to intelligence, access to joint effects, logistics, medevac and such.
So as that capacity grows, those'll be the capacities that take a little longer to develop, and we'll put them more and more in the lead and in the front with the fighting as we become more of an enabling force over time.
COL. LAPAN: Cami.
Q: Hi, General, Cami McCormick from CBS Radio. I'd like to ask you, on a personal note, how challenging this job has been for you; if you are personally satisfied with where the U.S. effort is right now as you're about to leave?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, this job has been a tremendously challenging job as well as a tremendously rewarding job, and I'm confident that we have accomplished the objectives that we set to date, and I'm thankful for the incredible sacrifice and service of the people, both Afghans as well as the coalition forces, who have made that possible this year.
COL. LAPAN: Luis.
Q: Hi, General. It's Luis Martinez with ABC News. As you try to match up units with the goal -- the numerical goals of the drawdown, can you describe how complex a challenge that is, and what are some of the factors that you look at in making the determination of when you can draw down a unit -- (audio break) -- specific area?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, those factors are really built around the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces and their leadership and their ability to plan and execute and lead operations. And again, the real issue for when we can begin the drawdown is when they can accomplish the mission with less of us. And that less of us starts with infantry soldiers, and the longer-term enabling factors that I just talked about will be what we enable and support them for the foreseeable future.
COL. LAPAN: AFPS.
Q: General Rodriguez, Karen Parrish from American Forces Press Service. In your briefing in February and in today, you've stressed the importance of the Afghan national government, the Afghan government capability for transition success. How do you quantify that success, and how does it stand right now?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: First of all, we look at both the provincial and the district government. And what they have to do is be able to be acceptable enough to the Afghan people that they don't have a negative impact on security. And when the people become mobilized and they provide -- or they build a representative shura that both represents their people and holds their government accountable, then we're on the right track.
That government, of course, also has to provide, first, security, as well as justice and a representative opportunity. And you can -- it's pretty easy for the leaders on the ground to see those things because, again, the people go about their daily business and live their life the way they want to.
COL. LAPAN: One more. Tony.
Q: Thanks, sir. Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg News. I have a contracting question for you. There's a number -- there's a lot of concern on Capitol Hill that U.S. tax dollars are going to Afghan companies with ties to the Taliban or other insurgent groups. You set up Task Force 2010 in the spotlight last year to stem this problem. How successful have you been in ensuring that U.S. tax dollars are not going to Afghan firms connected to the Taliban or other insurgents?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: We have a document that COMISAF and USFOR-A have put out called "COIN Contracting Guidance," and we're following that. And what that has done -- has enabled us to vet our contractors; also, break down the contract so it's spread more evenly throughout the nation; and also, involve the Afghan people, who are the ones who really hold the contractors accountable.
And we're on the -- on a great trajectory to continue to prove that over and over again, and I think we're on a good path for our level of what we do for contracting.
COL. LAPAN: Courtney, one.
Q: A really quick one. General, it's Courtney Kube from NBC News again. Just very quickly, you said several times today that the progress that you've seen is indisputable, but the words that you haven't used are two that we all have seared in our brains after hearing it over and over, and that's "fragile" and "reversible." Do you consider -- still consider the progress to be fragile or reversible?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, it is still fragile and reversible. And again, that's starting to get past that level in selected areas. But there are still very few. And again, what the -- because this is about Afghan people's trust and confidence, we've still got a little bit more way to go before we make it a little bit more durable, which is the objective here.
COL. LAPAN: All right, General, that's it from here. I will send it back to you for your closing remarks.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Now, based on my experience here, again, I have a lot of faith in the new leadership and General Scaparrotti, because, again, he's a great friend of mine; has followed me many times. I have a lot of faith in the coalition efforts and a lot -- I have a lot of faith in the Afghan National Security Forces and the local government to continue to make a difference and build the momentum and accomplish the mission.
Again, thank you very much for your questions and your interest in Afghanistan. Thank you.
COL. LAPAN: Thank you, sir.