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DOD News Briefing with Alisa Stack via Teleconference from Afghanistan

Presenter: International Security Assistance Force Joint Command Deputy Chief of Staff for Stability Alisa Stack
August 18, 2011

            MR. GEORGE LITTLE (Defense Department Press Secretary):  Good morning here, and good morning -- good evening in Afghanistan.  I’d like to welcome to the Pentagon Briefing Room for the first time Ms. Alisa Stack, the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command’s deputy chief of staff for stability operations.

            A senior member of the Department of Defense, Ms. Stack has served for more than 22 months at ISAF Joint Command since its inception in the fall of 2009.  In her position she is responsible for cultivating governance, development and unity-of-effort relations in Afghanistan.  She regularly works with Afghan government officials and coalition governments, and travels throughout the country both to address efforts in the provinces, to improve Afghan government services and the connections between Kabul and local government.

            Ms. Stack joins us today from ISAF Joint Command (IJC) Headquarters in Kabul.  She’ll make an opening comment, and then we’ll take your questions.  And with that, I’ll turn it over to her, and from here in the Pentagon I will call on reporters.  

            Ms. Stack.

            MS. ALISA STACK:  Good morning.  Thank you, George, for your introduction, and thank you all for the opportunity to discuss my experiences over the last 22 months that I have served as ISAF Joint Command’s deputy chief of staff for stability operations.  

            First I should make clear what my role in the organization is. I’m responsible for ensuring that security plans and operations are synchronized, with national and provincial plans for governance and development.

            In short, I’m focused on local government initiatives and work for those responsible for providing daily support to Afghan citizens.

            Working with coalition members and our Afghan partners here at IJC has been a truly rewarding experience.  For almost two years I’ve witnessed firsthand the extraordinary progress of Afghan communities. And from personal experience, I can verify that our partnered efforts have brought about some truly remarkable achievements.  And I’m confident that as I prepare to depart, I’ll be leaving an Afghanistan that has the opportunities to govern and deliver a better quality of life for Afghans.

            Let me give you a few examples of concrete progress in governance.  In Helmand province, the security situation has improved sufficiently that work is now under way to add justice centers in Marja, Nad Ali, Gereshk, expanding on the success of the province’s initial center in Lashkar Gah.  

            To complement that work in Helmand’s justice field, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission just held a first monthly district outreach shura in Nad Ali, and the NGO Women for Afghan Women, based here in Kabul, is contracted to provided civil law, women’s rights and family counseling training throughout Helmand province.

            Across the country, communities are leading the way to progress by building bottom-up.

            Just last week, Kandahar became the first province to begin work on a comprehensive health strategy and implementation plan. Orchestrated by the Kandahar Department of Public Health, the strategy will benefit from input from a number of municipal departments, Kandahar University, the World Health Organization and USAID, among others.

            In Helmand, the first stage of construction on our new business park is more than 50 percent complete, and local businessmen and women are buying into it.  At least 15 business plans have already been submitted to the Afghan Investment Support Agency.  Similarly, our combined U.S.-German military effort is providing electricity to support a growing industrial park in Mazar-e Sharif.

            This is not to say that there aren’t challenges to governance and development as we move forward.  As you’re aware, last month seven areas around the country underwent a peaceful, successful transition of security responsibilities from ISAF to the Afghan government.  As security improves across the country and more provinces transition and assume their own control, each will face unique circumstances that will require tailored solutions to implement good governance and effective development at the provincial, district and municipal levels.

            To that end, our own force structure must adapt to reflect these evolving priorities.  It is now more important than ever that Provincial Reconstruction Teams, civil agencies, the international community and nongovernmental organizations in Afghanistan all coordinate efforts.  This will ensure that our Afghan partners have the assistance to develop the capacity and resources needed to carry out the daily work of making governmental and economic progress.

            Ultimately, Afghanistan’s success in this counterinsurgency must come from a capable government at all levels that can be trusted by the Afghan people.  Although it is not for us to decide what that will look like, government must be real, it must be fair and just and, above all, it must serve the needs and the will of the people.

            And in that area, I truly believe we are making real headway.

            Now I’d like to offer the opportunity for any questions.

            MR. LITTLE:  Kevin.

            Q:  Hi.  This is Kevin Baron from Stars and Stripes.  I wonder if you can say how the recent shift in violence directed toward local governments -- you know, the attack in Parwan, some of the assassination attempts -- have had or do have any effect on these efforts to build those local national government institutions.  And what does that do to change your role or your focus?

            MS. STACK:  The recent attacks haven’t adjusted or changed my focus or that, more importantly, of the Afghan government. Governors continue working.  In fact, in the case you cited in Parwan, first of all the Afghan national security forces reacted very well to that incident with minimal support from us.  Within hours, the Afghan government and private organizations were working to rebuild the damage to the district center -- excuse me, to the provincial center. And the governor remained working throughout that day and is working today.

            So it is absolutely a concern for the Afghan government officials and for ISAF, but I think it’s a testament to the growth of the security forces and to the strength of the administrative officials at the local level that they are able to respond to it.  And they are extremely resilient.

            Q:  This is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra.  I would like to ask you about the issue of corruption.  How much do you think the problem of corruption within the Afghan institutions is a real problem in pushing your plans forward?

            MS. STACK:  It’s a very real concern.  Afghans both in government and outside government tell me constantly how much they hate corruption, how they want to see this system change.  

            And they talk often about what they are doing to change it.  At IJC and at ISAF headquarters, we’re taking a holistic approach to the problem.  There’s Task Force Shafafiyat at ISAF headquarters.  Here, we provide a lot of information and support to those efforts and to efforts of other coalition governments.  It is a serious problem, and it’s one that the Afghan government and we are taking very seriously.

            Within our own plans, for example, at IJC, one of the things that we’ve done is focus on our own business practices, directed the regional commands and others to ensure that they are taking an Afghan-first approach in hiring and contracting.  That is looking for direct contract with Afghan businesses and local businesses.  

            We’re also doing a lot on -- in terms of transparency and working with other organizations such as Joint Task Force 2010 and private organizations such as Peace Dividend Trust.  So we are taking it very seriously.  We do take a holistic approach to it.  And I think one of the strongest things that we’ve done is change how we work, and that has a very strong effect then on the Afghan market and on the expectations of the Afghan people.

            Q:  Thank you.  Thank you.  Raghubir Goyal, India Globe and Asia Today.  My question is, madam, what message are you sending to the people of Afghanistani -- the people of Afghanistan and also to the Talibans when they hear that U.S. or NATO forces are going to leave Afghanistan?  So what will be their future, as far as security is concerned, for the people of Afghanistan?

            MS. STACK:  Well, my focus, as I mentioned, is on the local government level, particularly the province and the district, and what we can do to create security conditions so that governance and development can take root and the Afghan people can take that in their own direction.  So what we’re looking at that level is the transition process, in that it is a process.

            As I mentioned, seven areas have already started it; more will continue to go into it.  And it is a process of thinning out international forces and international support; not leaving, not handing off.  And that’s the message that I talk to the Afghan people about, that I talk to my counterparts in the Afghan government about. And that’s the message, more importantly, that the Afghan government is conveying to its own people.

            It is a new process.  Like I said, the first tranche has only gone through just now.  But here in Afghanistan it was definitely very well received; I think particularly in Helmand.  People look at it as taking control of their lives and getting sovereignty.

            Q:  Thank you very much. May I just quick follow up, madam?  As far as -- now as far as the U.S. military is concerned, there is a new boss in Afghanistan; and here also at the Pentagon, new boss.  Are you going -- do you think they’re going to change -- as far as you have new bosses in Afghanistan and the Pentagon -- situation in Afghanistan or in any other ways?

            MS. STACK:  I was here when IJC was established in 2009, under Lieutenant General Rodriguez, and I was very privileged to get to see the transition to Lieutenant General Scaparrotti’s command here now. I think you see very different styles, but absolutely no change to the dedication to the mission, absolutely no change to the passion and to the intellect that they bring to it.  And I think that’s consistent across the board in our leadership.

            MR. LITTLE:  Next question?

            Q:  You spoke of the need for capable government at all levels. I’m sorry, Richard Sisk from The War Report.  Capable government, but it seems that right at the top right now it’s dysfunctional, parliament not being able to get together.  How does that affect the work in the provinces where there’s a lack of confidence in the central government, how does that affect your work?

            MS. STACK:  I think throughout Afghanistan at all levels, so the central government, provincial government and district governments and even to some extent in village or small community efforts, the capability, the capacity is growing in leaps and bounds, especially as security improves.  Wherever we see security improve, we see the capacity improve.  And I think that’s true at the central level as well.

            In the -- one of the areas of focus that we are looking at with the Afghan government, both we as the ISAF Joint Command but then also with the donor community, with key nations -- U.K., U.S. and then some of the multilateral donors -- is working on just what you highlighted, making sure that resources are able to flow from the central government to the provincial level and then down to the district, where you have service delivery.

            That is a challenge in any developing country.  Afghanistan has the added challenge of being a country currently at war and has vestiges of several different regimes left in its administrative system.  So what the Afghan government is doing, with -- again, with donor support and with our support from the security side, is a comprehensive review of its administrative structures.  There’s a civil service administrative reform process that ministries go through here at the central government level.  Many of them have completed that, and many of them are starting now to take it on at the provincial level.

            So you have highlighted one of the key resource management problems, and it’s a key area of focus, again particularly part of the transition process, but just part of the normal development for any country.

            We do see significant strength, though, as I mentioned, wherever communities get security.  The bottom-up community involvement is really remarkable.  Helmand, again, is a great example of this -- Herat, Mazar-e Sharif, Bamyan, some of the areas that have transitioned already -- where you have relative security, community councils come together, civil servants go to work.  As I mentioned, they are resilient in cases of threat.  And so that bottom-up process I have a lot of confidence in.  And I think that’s where to -- where Afghans looks for their government and for their governance.  And that bottom-up push matched with better technical assistance from the top- down-- I think it’s really going to help the administration here take off.

            Does that answer the question?

            MR. LITTLE:  We got a head-nod here at the Pentagon.

            Other questions?  Yes.

            Q:  Karen Parrish, American Forces Press Service.  We’ve heard a lot about various training programs for military specialties.  What are the corollary programs for civil service training?  How are you building the core of governance professionals that Afghanistan will need?

            MS. STACK:  That is a major effort, and that’s not one that is in my purview here at the ISAF Joint Command, but it is one that I work with our donor partners and particularly in the coalition members.  So I’ll highlight a couple programs that I think have been particularly important and useful for our security plans, because again, my focus is on integrating that security with the civil service training -- and the civil service, delivery of programs and the whole development piece.

            The core of your question, though, really the best agency to ask is U.S. Agency for International Development.  On the U.S. side, they have -- the majority of the programs that are focused on developing civil service capacity.  In fact, they have one with the Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission, so the U.S. government, through USAID, was a major sponsor of the Afghan Civil Service Institute, that in the past year trained well over, I think, 16,000 civil servants nationwide.

            Germany just started a program that’s focused on developing provincial councils, and so it’s not focused necessarily on the career civil servants; but again, that community bottom-up focus I was talking about.  Germany is looking at several of those in strengthening the ability of provincial councils to understand what it means to represent a constituency, how you run a council meeting, just the order for minutes, for notes, for follow-up.  

            Italy has taken similar efforts in the west, with some focus on civil service training.  Then the U.K. in Helmand has done a lot, where their PRT has done direct partnering in some cases with local officials.

            So those are some of the examples of the programs that different coalition members bring to the table.  But that is primarily the focus of traditional aid and development agencies.  U.N. Development Program and UNAMA are great coordinators for that effort outside of IJC.

            Q:  Yeah.  Hi.  I’m Carl Osgood with Executive Intelligence Review.  You’re talking about improvements in governing capacity at local and provincial levels.  But I’m wondering how resilient all of this really is.  There’s still a great deal of violence in the country.  There’s the problem of drug trafficking, which relates to corruption.  

            How sure are you that as NATO forces thin out, that you won’t have a rise in violence like what we’ve been seeing in Iraq, for especially the last few months?

            MS. STACK:  It’s absolutely possible that there would be a rise in violence.  We were expecting to see that this summer.  And through that violence, administrative work on the executive side and elections and council organizing are taking place at the local level in villages.

            So I think the Afghan government -- or the Afghan people’s -- really, its performance through this summer and through the last shows that resiliency and that persistence, the desire for competent administration, to be competent administrators, and to have control over governance in their area. 

            So what we are working on here on the civil side as well as on the security side is a focused partnership to develop the capacity and the capabilities, and providing some of the moral support of being there with our partners, facing the same things they face and helping them see that they can push through it.  

            More and more, though, as we get to transition, I think what many of us on the coalition side are seeing is that it’s the Afghans who are reminding us that we can push through it.

            MR. LITTLE:  Kevin.

            Q:  Hi.  Kevin Baron again from Stars and Stripes.  I wondered if -- you mentioned the seven districts and the first tranche of the transition.  Are you involved or how are you involved in what the next districts would be?  Are you advising -- how does it work?  Are you advising to the Afghans, here are areas where we think the local government is doing better and therefore should be head of the list? And you know, what are the areas around the country that you see are the better examples or the ones that are farther down the road?

            MS. STACK:  Well, transition is a joint process between international coalition members, UNAMA and, most importantly, the Afghan government.

            So we at the ISAF Joint Command are involved in that process. Assessments for us come from the bottom up, so they come from our task forces, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, the regional commands.

            Here, we have a Campaign Transition Assessment Group that takes a look at that material.  We feed that in on the ISAF side, into ISAF headquarters.  It ultimately takes it and then shares it with the Afghan government through a process called JANIB [Joint Afghan-NATO Inteqal Board], which is the Joint Afghan -- I’m sorry, I’m going to have to refer to my note for -- I -- I’ve been with Department of Defense long enough now that I only speak in acronyms, and so I’ve forgotten what JANIB stands for, or the “N” in JANIB.  It’s Inteqal Board, and “inteqal” is the Dari word for “transition.”

            So we feed into that -- into that joint board.  There’s a discussion at the ISAF headquarters level and with embassies, with the Afghan government.  On the Afghan side, it’s headed by Mr. Ashraf Ghani.  We have that discussion, and then coming from that joint board is a recommendation of areas that we’ll look at for transition.

            Our focus is on the security part of the transition.  Governance and development are factors, but our primary focus of what we’re looking at here is the security, the capability of forces to take that lead role; what it would take for them to take the lead role.  And on the governance side, we’re looking to make sure that there is sufficient government administrative and representative council support to keep the security going, to reinforce it, so that we have a mutually benefitting -- a mutually beneficial cycle between security and governance.

            And I’m sorry, I’ll have to get back to you on what JANIB stands for.

            MR. LITTLE:  Anything else?

            All right.  Well, thank you all very much for joining us today in the briefing room.  And thank you, Ms. Stack, as well.  Have a good evening in Afghanistan.

            MS. STACK:  Well, thank you very much for the time.  It’s a real pleasure for me to get to talk back to the Pentagon in my natural habitat.  I appreciate your questions and your interest.  I think this is an extraordinarily important area.  And looking out, I think Afghanistan’s success is going to come from a government that allows Afghans to pursue a better quality of life, and that will naturally flow from the security improvements that we’re seeing.

            So again, thank you very much.  If there are follow-on questions after this, I’m more than happy to take them later.

            MR. LITTLE:  Thank you.  And that’s a wrap.