DOD News Briefing with Lt. Gen. Caldwell via Teleconference from Afghanistan
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MR. GEORGE LITTLE (Defense Department Press Secretary): Good morning here, and good evening in Afghanistan.
I’d like to welcome back to the Pentagon Briefing Room Lieutenant General Bill Caldwell, commanding general of NATO Training Mission- Afghanistan and Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan.
General Caldwell assumed his duties in November of 2009, when he activated his multinational command in partnership with the Afghan Ministry of Defense and the Afghan Ministry of the Interior. Now, nearly 22 months later, he joins us from NTM-A headquarters in Kabul to provide an update on the training and development of the Afghan National Security Force. The general will make some opening comments and then take your questions.
And with that, I’ll turn it over to him. General.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL WILLIAM CALDWELL: OK. Well, thanks, George.
I assume you all can hear me OK.
Let me just start off by saying, look, I appreciate this opportunity to have the -- really, to come back and talk to you all. It’s been well over a year since I last talked to the Pentagon Press Corps. But there’s really been some significant progress and changes that have occurred over this -- really, not only in the last year, but the last two years, when I look back.
You know, two years ago, when we made the decision -- NATO did -- to stand up NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, the key thing they did was, they made sure we had the right resources with the right strategy, with the right kind of people that were necessary with the skill sets, and then put the right organization in place that really enabled us to get after this mission that was so critical, so much so that, you know, today I can say the return on the investment that we’re starting to see is pretty significant from these efforts made over the last two years by the men and women of this international community.
Now, to me, it’s a clear sign that the Afghans are moving forward and will have the ability here in December 2014 to assume the lead for security here in their country. So when I say tremendous progress has been made, I guess to put it in perspective, September 2009, only 800 young men decided they wanted to join the Afghan National Army. This past month in September, we had over 8,000 young men decide to join the Afghan National Army. And that’s not something that just happened this month; it’s been going on since December of 2009, where we’ve had more than ample recruits every single month volunteering to join and become a part of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. Over the last 23 months almost now we’ve grown the Afghan police and army by over 114,000 new personnel into each of those forces, which are really helping the Afghans move forward. And very often you hear of the surge -- well, we call it the Afghan surge, which is really starting to make the tremendous difference here today in Afghanistan and has set the conditions that will enable the draw down of combat forces that will start taking place here this December, and then of course in much greater numbers next year.
We’ve also seen the geographic transition start to take place -- again, seven areas already at this point, while obviously with more coming here in this fall.
The one thing I will tell you that NATO Training Mission has been able to do is to get things standardized. There is a lot of individual disparate efforts, great pockets of excellence out there around this country in many different areas. But one thing NATO Training Mission was able to do was to get a standardized program of instructions set not only for the army, but also now for the police forces too of Afghanistan, a major step forward and that everybody around Afghanistan today is now receiving the same identical type of police training.
We reduced the untrained police that we found in 2009 from about 50,000 out there who had never gone through formal police training down to about 20,000 today, a significant step forward. Still some more to go, obviously, but there’s a plan in place, and we’re deliberately, methodically getting at that and bringing them out of the fielded force back into a formal training system, putting them through the eight weeks week of training and then returning them back to where they had come from.
We’ve also increased our amount of civilian police trainers. Again, when we stood up the command in November of 2009, we had one civilian police trainer in this entire organization of about 1,200 people at that time. Today we have over 525 civilian police trainers. These are true people -- these are the Royal Canadian Mounties. These are the bobbies from the United Kingdom. These are the gendarmerie and the Carabinieri and the Guardia Civil from throughout Europe. So it really has made a significant uplift. And recently we’ve even had the Australian Federal Police started to join us in contributing to this effort.
The other thing we’ve really worked hard at doing is going from what was an all-contractor-based training program, basically, here in the fall of 2009 to a coalition-led training program now evolving into an Afghan-led training program. Key there is that today we over -- we have over 3,100 Afghans assigned to training instructor positions with a very deliberate, approved program of certification that takes place, and today with over -- just over half of those, about 1,500, having been certified through a very deliberate process, with the others still going through that, eventually leading to December of 2012 when the Afghans will be in the lead for training at the very basic level at all of our training institutions here in Afghanistan, which will be, again, another significant step forward in giving them the capacity and the capability to make this a long-term and enduring thing.
And developing these trainers has been key, but the institutions have really been the hallmark of what we’ve done. Since day one, we’ve said our number-one priority here in NATO Training Mission is leader development. And we’ve trained just over 50,000 new police and army officers and noncommissioned officers and added them to the force, where there was a significant deficit that existed in 2009.
So while we are growing the force, this 114,000 additional folks, almost half of them have been leaders that we’ve been able to put into that force, which is now starting to make a real difference out there in how they’re not only performing, but more importantly, how they’re starting to professionalize as we move forward.
The institutions that we’ve put into place -- there was the National Military Academy of Afghanistan in place already, that we’ve now expanded to and brought in the first class of 600 students this past March, and now -- will now remain in effect for the out years. We’ve stood up officer candidate schools for the police and the army, sufficient numbers now today that were able to produce the required officers for each of those organizations.
And then we’ve got other things going on, from noncommissioned officer courses to the National Police Academy of Afghanistan. And as you might have heard, in 2013 we’ll stand up what we’re calling ‘Sandhurst in the sand’ which will replace the army officer candidate schools with a one-year officer program that will also then continue feeding leaders into this army in the out years.
Again, if we want this investment that is being made here to endure, it’s going to be critical that we stand up those institutions that will enable that to happen, and that’s what we’re doing through those leader-development programs.
We’ve also started a very deliberate effort to start professionalizing this force. We’re now developing the first time the important specialty skills out there that are really essential. We started developing combat forces first. We’re now getting into the much more challenging and difficult area of developing speciality skills. This past May, we opened up the last of our 12 specialty vocational schools doing everything from engineering, human resources, communications -- those type of skill sets that are absolutely essential for a police and an army force -- again, to become more professionalized and be more self-sustaining on their own.
We’ve all -- we’ve been able to do this by putting a very robust literacy program. Again, when you look at the fact that every recruit that we bring in, only about 18 percent are literate -- in other words, only maybe 1.8 out of 10 can read and write -- that means at least eight of them have no idea what a number is and what a letter is. They can’t read the serial number on their weapons; they can’t read a manual to do any kind of maintenance; they can’t count the money that they’re getting paid. They don’t understand the inventory of what equipment they’re supposed to have been issued.
So the literacy program that we’ve put into effect in about March of 2010 is really now starting to reap real rewards. We have over 3,000 Afghan teachers that we’ve hired to work for our organization. They work for us full-time. And again, that number’s been just increasing over time. But the literacy rate has been dramatically increasing over these last six to eight months as we fully implemented this system. We’ve now trained over 120,000 Afghans into some form of literacy training that are currently today now serving out in this force of about 305,000.
By this December we estimate that about half of the Afghan army and police will have been -- will have received some form of literacy training that they didn’t have before they came into the military or the police force. And again, this sets the foundation enabling us to get at the professionalization that really is important long term.
As we’re continuing force two, we realize too that we’ve also been spending time getting advances in areas like their growth objectives. We know that in 2011, the army and the police will both meet their growth objectives that have been established for them, will, in fact, hit what is stated to be a goal of 305.6 thousand, moving towards 352,000 by 31 October of next year. We know that we now have the systems in place that we need to do the professionalization of this force, the leader development programs.
The things that we’re still working on right now, that are still going to be challenging, but it’s what we’ve deliberately put into the development plan, is now getting after logistics and maintenance and medical. Those are three areas that we’ll start focusing more and more on -- again, with the foundation being literacy to enable us to do those specialty skill trainings to start standing up those systems to make them far more robust and independent than where they are operating today.
So, specialty skills is an area that we’ll continue to focus on. Stewardship will be another one. There’s been an enormous investment by the international community here over the last couple years of giving them infrastructure and equipment and material. We now need to make sure that they become good stewards of this in maintaining care and continue to keep good control of that.
We’re also going to start working on also sustainable systems. And again, like I talked about, that’s the parts about maintenance and logistics and medical that, again, are going to be so important.
I would tell you that after two years as we look at what we’ve really learned from this, it’s become very apparent that the number one thing in a mission like this is leader development. If you’ve got able, capable leaders, you know, it doesn’t matter what kind of materiel you have or what kind of institutions out there or foundations you have. You can build anything if you’ve got capable leaders. And so leader development has been and continues to be our number one priority.
The second thing is the -- probably the importance of literacy. It would not have personally -- and I’ve told this story many times about when I arrived here. It became very apparent that within the first two or three months, very much thanks to the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who continually talked to me about this issue, that nobody had ever really taken it on. And he was exactly right. If you have that foundation, then you have the ability to move forward and really start the professionalization of the force.
And then the third one would be the relevance of NATO. And again, I was probably a skeptic as to what the future of NATO would hold. I will tell you had it not been for this NATO organization, we would have been unable to achieve and accomplish the mission we set out to do. We started with two nations. We now have 37 different nations contributing trainers here on the ground as a part of our overall effort, about one -- if you think about it, it’s about one- sixth of the world’s countries today involved in this training effort here in Afghanistan. And again, we went from literally one police professional to now just about 525, an enormous uplift in our ability to really get at and accomplish the police mission.
Well, what I need to say is that kind of gives you a quick recap of where we’ve been over these last two years and some of the challenges we see out ahead that we’re going to take on and work as we continue moving forward. But if I could, I’ll turn it back over to you at this time, George.
MR. LITTLE: General, thank you very much for that excellent recap. And we’ll go ahead and start with questions. I’ll call on questioners from here in the Pentagon Briefing Room.
Q: Yeah, General, can you give us an idea of how you assess the performance of the Afghan security forces in these recent attacks in Kabul, including the one on the U.S. embassy and the NATO headquarters? And then, a second question is, can you also tell us how has the ethnic balance evolved in the force and what is -- and do you think you’ve addressed the shortage of Pashtuns that was always a concern?
GEN. CALDWELL: All right, Dan, thanks. You know, what I would tell you is -- again, only because I’ve been on the ground here almost two years now -- as I’ve watched the response by the security forces here in Kabul, the thing I would tell you is they are learning from each incident and they’re adapting. They’re getting better each and every time.
This most recent attack was probably the most vivid example I saw in terms of how they handled that with a very deliberate, methodical approach, you know, as the ambassador here calls it, the harassment that occurred on the American embassy there; but how they took down that building to minimize civilian casualties and to ensure minimal, you know, damage to private property as they took down that facility. But I was very impressed by their overall command and control.
Did we still learn lessons from that? We sure did. And the after-action reviews that were conducted, which we were able to attend and be a part of with the Afghans, once again showed us some more areas to continue to refine and work on. But it really was interesting to watch.
What struck me the most about the 13 September attack was the fact that for the first time, you really did see the police force out there learning to serve and protect the people. They were willing to lay their lives down for the people of Afghanistan. What you don’t hear very much in the press is the stories about those police that gave their lives that day. You know, there were suicide bombers also around the city -- mostly, in about a 30-minute period that they all activated themselves. There was one at a local high school.
A suicide bomber was moving into near where the crowd and where the students were, and he went in and literally took and did a bear hug around the suicide bomber when he blew himself up and there in the process obviously had killed himself, but he was willing to give his life to help protect the people of Afghanistan. And that was a police officer by the name of Jan Ali that did that.
Over at the ANCOP [Afghan National Civil Order Police] headquarters there in town, when the suicide bombers approached there, the ANCOP were able to shoot and kill one of them, but the other one was able to get in close to the ANCOP. And again, there was a senior ANCOP officer who did the exact same thing. He ran up and he hugged a suicide bomber so that when he did detonate himself, only him and the suicide bomber were killed, and then the other ANCOP soldiers that were around the policeman received minor injuries.
And in another MOI facility where another suicide bomber occurred, again, police officials approached what they thought was a suspect out there. Gunfire ensued between them, and in the process, one police officer was killed, the other was wounded, but they were able to kill the suicide bomber before he was able to set off his bomb. So I mean, on that very day, in multiple places right around here inside of -- in Kabul, policemen were really doing heroic deeds that received very little press other than just a little TV here inside of Afghanistan. So for us, they learn, they adapt, they continue to get better.
Now, in the ethnic balance piece, what I’d tell you is, we do continue to watch it very closely. It is fairly balanced out there in the forces. We watch it between the -- obviously the -- all the different ethnicities and the Pashtun and the Tajiks and the Hazara and everyone else. The southern Pashtuns is what we do still have a very intense focus on, are trying to raise the levels of numbers that we are able to recruit.
And I say "we"; I’m talking about the Afghans.
We have a good proportion, about 44 percent of the Afghan National Army today is composed of Pashtuns, but they’re not Pashtuns that are all from the south. In fact, this past month was the best recruiting month they’ve ever had bringing in southern Pashtuns into the Afghan National Army. And again, that’s because last fall the minister of defense made a very conscious effort and he put, in the two corps down in the south, a brigadier general in each one who is a southern Pashtun himself, to do more outreach to the community, engage with the local elders to encourage the young men there to serve in the army and to be a part of that whole recruiting effort down in the south.
So an upward climb, not where it needs to be yet, but the key is, in fact, improving. It’s improving slowly but steadily, and over time, if it keeps moving like that, then we’ll start seeing a much better representation of southern Pashtuns than we do today.
MR. LITTLE: David.
Q: General, hi. It’s David Cloud at the L.A. Times. I wanted to ask you about the sustainment cost issue. Admiral Mullen said last week that there’s now an effort to reduce that cost from around 12 billion [dollars], I think, to -- by 70 to 80 percent. I guess my questions are, how low do you think you can go there without jeopardizing the ability of the ANA and ANP to be able to sustain themselves once we draw down?
And second, what do you give up by going with such dramatic reductions? I realize, you know, over time there’s a natural reduction, but it seems like you have to -- going that low cuts into some core capabilities here.
GEN. CALDWELL: Well, I would never have thought two years ago I’d know as much about money and program and everything as I do today. But we spent a tremendous amount of time actually looking at these costs.
And we go out about seven years through a modeling effort that we use here that we run on an iterative basis, you know, obviously changing the variables all the time. But I can tell you in the out years what you normally hear is that the long-term sustainable -- the cost for a 352,000-person Afghan National Security Force is about $6 billion is what generally has been said and agreed upon as the long-term cost out there.
What I will tell you is from the efforts that have been ongoing here, it’s going to be significantly lower than that. We’ve actually over the last two years done a tremendous effort at making things -- we call it our CAS [capable, affordable, and sustainable] principle here. It’s how do you make it, you know, more capable -- capable for the Afghans, not for us -- affordable -- again, not for us because we have sufficient funding, but how do you make it affordable for the Afghans. And then most importantly, how is it sustainable by them? Do they have the human capital and the ability to sustain this which we are giving them?
And through that effort, we’ve been able to significantly reduce the overall type of equipment and quantities and organizations that we’ve built using this CAS principle. And again, I got it from the president of Afghanistan through one of the briefings to him -- you know, talked to me and said, hey, well, General, I just want to make sure that whatever you do is affordable in the long term.
What I will tell you, in the efforts we’re doing, the two things that have been very clear from, you know, Michèle Flournoy [Under Secretary of
Defense for Policy], who’s been very straightforward with us -- she said under no conditions could we sacrifice in quality that we’re producing or cut corners in the training programs that we’ve put into place so that whatever we do, it’s got to still maintain the same level of quality that we have today, and we can’t afford to give up any capability that’s required for them to handle the level of insurgency out there. But if you believe, and I do, that in the out-years this level of insurgency will go down -- though I don’t think it’ll quite ever go away because of the border region and everything else -- but it will go down.
And when it does, there can be some commensurate reduction in the overall size, too, of the Afghan National Security Force. So when that occurs, that in fact, in itself, obviously will generate a much smaller sustainment cost in the out-years.
But we constantly review this. It’s an effort that we continually work. We will be looking at sources from the international community to help pay for it in the long term, from the government of Afghanistan itself, and again, then, the contributions that the United States -- you know, which are significant -- that they are making to this effort, too. But we continually ask ourselves: Are we being good stewards of what we have? Are we putting in place the systems that are capable, affordable and sustainable, so that we get this return on the investment that the American taxpayer especially has made over here in this effort?
Q: Follow up real quickly? So how low below $6 billion do you think it’s practical to go, without giving up significant capability?
GEN. CALDWELL: I don’t -- you don’t give up any capability at all going down to $6 billion. You can maintain a 352,000 force, as currently configured today and in the out-years, with that amount of money -- coming from multiple sources, now, not just from the United States. But I -- I’m not sure it’s going to even be that expensive.
Again, here’s a great example. We’ve instituted a thing called Afghan First. We started it about 18 months ago. We asked ourselves: Why are we buying boots from the United States for this hundreds of thousands of men we’re trying to put in a pair of boots? And each boot was about $170 -- a pair of boots by the time that we got them here and issued them out. So we asked ourselves, why don’t we help some factory stand up here in Afghanistan and make boots indigenously to some quality-control standard? And we started that about 18 months ago.
There is a boot factory now that we buy our boots from. We get them at about one-third the cost now. I mean, just -- it’s enormous savings right there in itself.
We did the same thing with uniforms. We were buying all our uniforms out of the theater. So again we reached out and found people who were willing to stand up a business. We had -- we had signed contracts saying that we would buy so much if they were able to meet a certain quality standard of production. And again, we brought in outside experts that we have on our payroll and we pay who do nothing but quality-control checks at these different now Afghan-run and owned factories here in Afghanistan that are doing everything from our boots, our clothing, our sheets, our pillowcases.
Our best estimate right now is that on an annual basis, we’re saving now $168 million per year each year by being able to procure the equipment now being made in Afghanistan to the same quality standard. I mean, I can tell you I personally know -- I wear a pair of Afghan boots, have been now for seven months because I needed to personally validate for myself it really is good, as we were seeing when we went through the factory -- we now have three boot factories out there.
And they’ve started to diversify, and they’re doing other things now for commercial commerce for Afghan -- which is, you know, going to help it also be a long-term sustainable thing by producing sandals and tennis shoes and some other things like that for commercial use. But our estimate is that today alone we have saved over $650 million that we had programmed to spend, but because of the Afghan-first initiatives no longer now are required to spend. Yet we’re still buying the same quality and the same quantity that we had always wanted to get and use here for the Afghan security force.
Q: Yeah, General, Tom Bowman with NPR. Could you talk about how many Afghan army battalions do you have now, and how many of them can operate independently?
GEN. CALDWELL: Let me think. Right now today, I want to say there’s -- independently when -- again, there’s varying degrees of how they can operate. What I’ll tell you is that there’s some battalions out there today that require a tremendous amount of coalition assistance. There’s others that require coalition assistance but minimal coalition assistance. And then there’s those that, as you’re asking about, actually operate independently all by themselves.
I’ll go back and verify the exact numbers. I want to say today -- battalions that are currently today operating by themselves is about two, independently without any kind of coalition support. But out of the -- but there’s about another 124 that are operating very effectively with minimal coalition support. So, you know, as we always say, we -- we’re responsible to bring units to initial operating capability, but it’s the fielded force that then brings them to full operational capability. And it’s that fielded experience, it’s that partnering out there in the field that continues to help them evolve and develop. And so those that are out there today that are operating in that effective manner like I talked about will, with time, reach the point where they’re able to operate independently.
And again, only because I’ve been watching this on a monthly basis for two years, there is a nice upward climb. And I can tell you by December 2014, they will, in fact, have the ability to take the lead for security here in Afghanistan. But it will still take some coalition support. There are still going to be coalition enablers that they’re still going to be relying upon from us to help provide from everything from some intelligence support to some air support, and those type of activities that we are not building in a very robust, deliberate manner, because we don’t see that as a long-term necessity here for their security force.
Q: So they can operate independently out of -- out of a total number: What’s the total number of kandaks [battalions]?
GEN. CALDWELL: I’d have to double-check. I want to say it’s right about 180 today that we have out there, kandaks out in the force.
Q: Thanks, General. Spencer Ackerman with Wired. You expressed concern this spring at the Brookings Institution that the attrition rate across the ANSF was 1.4 percent per month. Last week Secretary Panetta testified that it was 3 percent or it was reaching as high as 3 percent per month. What accounts for the increase, and how can it be combatted?
And then second of all, Human Rights Watch has been documenting abuses like rape, murder and land grabs among the Afghan Local Police. Is it time to bring them into your training?
GEN. CALDWELL: Well, first of all, let me talk about attrition, and then we’ll go to the Human [Rights] Watch report. The first thing I’d tell you about attrition is, our first question is, is attrition too high that we can’t continue growing this force and making our growth objectives? And the answer is, no, it’s not. We are going -- with the current levels of attrition that exist today in Afghanistan, we in fact are going to make the October 2010 -- ‘11, I mean, and the October 2012 growth objectives of 305.6 thousand and the 352,000. And so I’m very comfortable that that’s going to happen.
The attrition you hear of 1.4 percent is the goal that we set. That’s what has been agreed upon, that we want to bring both the police and the army down to to make it, again, sustainable in the out years. The police today do have an attrition of about 1.4 percent, so they’re there. There are elements within the police force that are even lower than that. The one that has had the most remarkable progress has been the Afghan National Civil Order Police. Again, when we stood up this command, they were at about 120 percent attrition. In other words, they were in a negative flow of personnel in that organization.
They then this past month were at about 30 percent attrition on an annualized basis. So significant over the last two years, going from 120 percent down to 30 percent. But again, that needs to even go lower. You want it get it down to about, you know, 16 (percent) to 18 percent annually, which is about 1.4 (percent) per month, so that it is sustainable in the out years.
And so ANCOP is the one area, and we’ve got people -- trainers that are coming in specifically, about 120 of them that’ll be here by this fall that are coming in that we’re going to partner with the Afghan units where there isn’t a lot of that out there today to continue helping them develop and professionalize. Tremendous downward trend already -- needs to come a little lower.
So that’s the police force. There’s not really an issue there. It’s in the army that everybody is continuing to watch the attrition very carefully. It’s been steady out there over the last year. We have not seen the decline. But again, you know, as I talk to the Afghan leadership, the thing that we all keep talking about -- it’s really about leadership. It’s about having the right leaders out there that take care of soldiers, that ensure their pay is taken care of, that they get their leave, that their living conditions are appropriate, that their food is right. That’s the key to really all these different attrition studies we’ve done over the last two years. So we keep seeing it time and time again.
We’ve got a brigade down in Kandahar whose attrition is about 1.2 percent. Now, when you go down there and talk to the brigade commander -- he will tell you those are the things they’ve done: tremendous leader focus, real emphasis on taking care of their soldiers. And then the soldiers continue to serve.
I mean, when you stop to think about it, these are a hundred percent volunteers coming in. They’re coming in at 8,000 a month. You know, we turn away, you know, a thousand-plus every single month that we don’t even allow entry into the training base, one, because they don’t meet standards of varying kind that we’ve set, but two, we also can be very selective because our training base only requires so many per month right now to make all these growth objectives and continue on the glide path that we are.
So it’s something we watch carefully. We’re all concerned about it, but we also recognize we took an army that was about 95,000 two years ago; today it’s about 170,000 -- almost doubled in size in two years. And it’s going to grow another 25,000 more this next year. So this rapid growth and expansion can lead to some challenges. But what we’re looking towards is next October to have that really start settling down and starting to see the attrition be measuredly dropping towards December of 2014, when they’ve got the leaders out there and the growth has occurred.
Now, what I’d tell you on the Human Rights Watch report -- although I’ve not personally sat and read the report, I have -- I’ve heard some of the things about it. What I will tell you is that what we’ve done is, because of this report -- tremendously new effort being made on human rights training out there. I mean, if you just look at what we did in the Afghan National Police -- and again, I know you’re talking about ALP, the local police, but in the overall police itself, we just went to an eight-week program of instruction countrywide by all nations. And in that, we added, alone, in these two new weeks of additional training, 18 more hours of human rights training, because we recognize that’s something that you want to continually reinforce and emphasize in a country that has experienced 30 years of civil war up to this point.
The local police think that -- the element that has the responsibility to do that training and oversight, the special operations element, understands that this is something that needs to be further reinforced, themselves. We do take these allegations very seriously, as alleged in this report, that are out there. And they’re going to get at it, but they do know -- and we have been helping them, as we have been with some other elements, develop programs of instruction that could specifically get at that, that’s sort of internationally recognized and certified.
But again, key to a lot of this is just the partnering out there. Whenever you normally find coalition forces in adequate numbers partner with their coalition partners, you know, you rarely find that type of thing happening, because, you know, we’re instilling into them through our own actions and daily contact the appropriate kind of behavior.
Q: Follow on that? So you’re not going to take on ALP training?
GEN. CALDWELL: Well, we’ve not been asked to at this point. You know, obviously, if there was a -- as we call continue moving forward over here, if there is a request for us to, obviously, help and become more engaged in that, we obviously would, but at this point I think the special forces element that has responsibility for that clearly sees and understands what that report says. Again, like I say, we all take this very seriously. And I know that they’ve been back-briefing and doing modifications to how they do do the training as they move forward from here.
The second thing -- the thing we have helped with is getting with the minister of interior, because, you know, they have the oversight responsibility for the Afghan local police. And the thing we have been doing is retraining -- they have three-people teams out in all these districts that are from the minister of interior -- Ministry of Interior, that we have the oversight for. We’ve been going back out and doing retraining with them so that they know better what they should be looking for and observing in the ALP units in those districts.
MR. LITTLE: Ma’am. Second row.
Q: Me? Oh, I’m sorry. Hi, General. Camille El Hussami from Al- Jazeera English television. Thank you for doing this briefing.
I wondered if you could assess the intelligence-gathering capability of the Afghan forces, particularly in light of all these incidents in Kabul. And what kinds of things would you consider doing in the future to improve their intelligence gathering?
GEN. CALDWELL: Yeah. Well, first of all, let me just say there’s a tremendous amount of, you know, attacks that have been planned that have been interdicted by the Afghan intel services, whether it be the national director -- NDS, national director of, you know, services or other intel elements that are out there.
We do have a program that we’re involved with in teaching human intel collection that’s pretty robust and is operating outside and through the country, mostly down in the south and out in the east and now in Kabul, too, that we’re involved with for human intelligence collection and trying to develop networks of information that would enable them to deter some of these kind of things. And part of that has been very, very successful. There’s far more attacks being planned and executed that are disrupted and equipment captured or people picked up that are able to ever actually execute because of those efforts. So you don’t normally hear about all those things, but those are going on at this time.
We also have an intel school we stood up this past year, too, for the first time. So we’re now starting to develop intelligence units that are now going out into the army formations. But again, that’s only in the last six months that we’ve been putting those out into the formations. So that’s fairly new, too.
And then the other part we’ve been really working hard is cross- sharing between the different ministries, between not only the national directorate of, you know, NDS themselves, but also between the MOI and the MOD, which hasn’t been there really in the past. And so that’s starting to help, too.
And then I’ll tell you the last part that we spent a tremendous amount of time is on biometrics. And, you know, the Afghans now have a national biometrics database and are able to very rapidly cross- reference when they’re either bringing people through a vetting process for a particular job or trying to work their way into the army or the police, or in fact, they pick somebody up and then they immediately -- they take their biometrics and match it back to the database, not only capturing that person’s information but comparing it to whatever may be in the Afghan national database, of which we do cross-sharing with U.S. intelligence resources, too.
So there is an intel effort going on. It’s pretty deliberate. I think it’ll be more than adequate for what they need in Afghanistan at this time. But again, we stay mostly just within the defense and the interior and don’t get involved in the national intel system itself. There’s some other elements at work with them.
MR. LITTLE: Time for two more questions. Courtney first and then -- (inaudible).
Q: Mine is quick, General Caldwell. It’s Courtney Kube from NBC News. I just wanted to ask one clarification on Tom’s question earlier, when you mentioned there are two independent kandaks. Just to be clear, those -- that means they’re operating without any logistical or medical support from the coalition. Is that correct?
And then also, can you tell us roughly where they’re operating, even what part of the country?
GEN. CALDWELL: As far as where they are, I’ll be glad to come back to George for that specific information. In all honesty, I monitor very closely all the training aspects. I collect that kind of data just so that we’re aware and have feedback as to where to help modify and adjust our programs to better produce forces in the future. So I’ll have to come back specifically. I’ll get -- make sure George gets that and tells you where it is.
But when I say "independently," I don’t want to mislead anybody. It does not mean they have absolutely no coalition support. You know, we keep saying that in 2014, December 2014, when the Afghans take the lead for security here in Afghanistan, there will still be coalition enablers here.
And the same is true today for those two units that are, quote, "operating independently." We have not yet fully developed their logistics system, their maintenance system or their medical system. Those are areas that we’re still focused on and working on.
You know, we had a very deliberate plan as to how to get at that. This is the year where we really start taking that on. We have about an additional 800 people, trainers, that are still coming inbound to us at the very time that you hear about a reduction in force here in theater in the combat side. We’re going to do an uplift of about 800 people by next March that will better help us start getting at some of these specialty skills now that really are very, very important that, you know, we’ve got two or three years now to fully get developed, get emplaced, partner with, so that they are much more able to operate without our support as we near 2014. But today we haven’t developed our systems to enable them to do that yet.
Q: General, this is Andrew Tilghman with Army Times. I’d like to go back to the question of long-term financial support for the Afghan security forces. Did I hear you correctly earlier that your long-term out-year projections suggest you’re going to need about 6 billion [dollars] a year to support to them? And if you can go lower than that, how much lower could you go before you think that you would begin to jeopardize some of the capability that’s needed?
GEN. CALDWELL: Well, I think what I’d say is 6 billion [dollars] would be the -- I’d say the max in the out years that this force that we’re currently building, once it’s fully fielded and operational, would need for long-term sustainment costs collectively from the international community, the United States and the Afghans themselves.
But, you know, there’s a lot of variables out there. We’re assuming right now, when we say that number, that general cost figure, that that’s with nothing changing from what it is today.
We, in fact, do expect the level of insurgency to go down. We do, in fact, expect us to still find more efficiencies in how we do things. And how we operate that can, you know, further cut the long-term cost. So, you know, again, we do a tremendous amount of modeling and run lots of variables in this to look at, you know, the high and low -- always with the two things that, you know, we’ve been directed by OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] is: Don’t sacrifice their capabilities and still make sure that they have the same capacity and capability that, you know, they have today as we do this.
And so, you know, we work very closely with the Afghans on this, looking at those long-term costs. But again, the variables are, OK, if the level of insurgency has gone down to such a level, then you don’t need 352(,000); maybe you only need, you know, some smaller number than that -- you know, 50(,000) or 100,000 less. That starts to greatly reduce the overall cost.
Some of the things that we’re -- again, we’re just fully implementing now, that are going to show longer-term savings is, you know, we don’t -- for whatever reason, we were putting air conditioners in most of the places we were building here in Afghanistan two years ago. You know, today we don’t do that at all. We put in fans. You know, we’ve recognized what’s right for Afghanistan, what’s sustainable and affordable by them in the long term. Each time you put in another, you know, air conditioning HVAC- type unit, you’re requiring, you know, human capital that can maintain and sustain that; there’s logistics, supply parts that goes behind it; fuel required that has to be delivered and purchased. You know, I mean it just goes on and on, the enormous cost associated with something like that.
So we do keep looking at and ask ourselves, you know, how do we get the best return on this investment, so that in the out-years it’s the most sustainable at the lowest possible cost, while still giving them the exact, same capability they need to handle this level of insurgency?
So that’s a big part. But again, it -- there’s so many variables in the out-years, what I can tell you, it wouldn’t be more than that, but it will clearly be less than that amount.
MR. LITTLE: Sir, we’re going to wrap things up here. Are there any final thoughts that you’d like to share with our friends here at the Pentagon briefing room before we let you get back to the -- your evening duties?
GEN. CALDWELL: All right. Well, I guess, first of all, let me just say thanks for this opportunity. You know, we do most everything in our organization in a very unclassified manner. There’s a set of slides hopefully you’ll have got. My PAO Lieutenant Colonel Shawn Stroud’s name is in there. If you have any follow-on questions or information you’d like to know, you know, we’d be glad to provide answers to those -- again, because probably 95 percent of what we do is unclassified over here.
We will work to get those other answers back, George, that they asked about in terms of the kandaks’ effectiveness. We have that data readily available, I just don’t normally have it at my fingertips since the operational -- (inaudible) -- tracks that day to day. But I will get that; we’ll get that back shortly to you, George, so you can disseminate.
But I do want to tell everybody, look: I’m still very realistic about the challenges that lie out there ahead of us, because there still are some out there. There’s no question. But I can tell you after being on the ground here almost two years now, I’m also very optimistic about the future of what this place can hold for the Afghan people. And I see it in continued activities that occur, whether it’s out at a training center and seeing more Afghans in the lead, being responsible for training at some training site; whether it’s a senior Afghan official that’s engaging me with some incredible ideas about how to more efficiently or effectively do something; whether it’s the attack we saw here on the 13th where, you know, just heroic deeds by Afghan police giving their lives in this case to save other Afghans -- I mean, it’s things two years ago that I did not see that I much more routinely see and understand.
It’s the after-action reports they conduct and talk themselves through how they can get better at what they do, with -- and again, all this underpinned by leadership, with them understanding that leadership really is the key to making a difference here in this country.
And as they’ve embracaed and taken on these leader development programs, to the point we’re now starting to bring district police chiefs back and provincial police chiefs back, you know, for refresher courses of three to five weeks being taught by, you know, us, the European police and everybody working in tandem together, we are starting to see a real difference in their performance, and it really does give you a lot of hope for the future what this country may have ahead of itself.
MR. LITTLE: Once again, thank you, and thanks to all of you here in the Pentagon Briefing Room for joining us. Have a good day.