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DOD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Hook via Teleconference from Afghanistan

Presenters: Maj. Gen. David Hook, Royal Marines, Director of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Force Integration Cell
February 22, 2012

[NOTE: this is the first part of a two-part Defense Press Briefing that included Maj. Gen. David Hook, Royal Marines, Director of the ISAF Force Reintegration Cell (FRIC), and Brig. Gen Carsten Jacobson, German Army, ISAF Spokesman.]

            CAPT JANE CAMPBELL:  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. 

            Good evening, sir.  Sorry for the slight delay.   

            We're going to adjust a little bit.  We're pleased to have Major General Hook with us this morning.  We'll let you know that at the tail end of General Hook's briefing, we will also have the ISAF spokesman coming in to give us a short operational update on events in Afghanistan today.   

            So again, my great pleasure to introduce to you again, because Major General David Hook is joining us again in the briefing room -- he was last with us on the 8th of December.  But at that particular time we had some technical difficulties, so, sir, we're going to keep our fingers crossed.  We'll do that.  We'll keep our fingers crossed that the technical difficulties do not jump in and get us this time. 

            General Hook is the director of ISAF's Force Reintegration Cell, a position he has held since October of last year.  From October of 2008 to October 2009, he served as the deputy commander of Regional Command South.  Following his opening remarks, we'll take your questions. 

            And with that, sir -- I don't want to delay it any further -- over to you. 

            MAJOR GENERAL DAVID HOOK:  OK, thank you.  And good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for attending today. 

            As you've just heard -- and let's hope we don't have the same problems as we had on the 8th of December where, after I gave my opening remarks, the connectivity dropped out.  I'd like to cover a few points on the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program, reemphasizing some of the key points I made on the 8th of December. And then I'll open it up to the floor for questions. 

            The APRP is a peace program that has been designed, implemented, led and executed by the Afghans.  This makes this program very powerful in Afghanistan, and is one of its main strengths.  The program is implemented at a local level, but directed and coordinated at a national level.  So the crucial work of negotiating and reaching out to insurgents, taking them through the demobilization process and, finally, reintegrating them into their communities, is carried out at a district and village level by Afghans for Afghans. 

            The APRP is a nationwide Afghan program.  It provides insurgents with an opportunity to peacefully and permanently leave the battlefield and rejoin their communities, with their dignity and honor intact.  It is not a surrender program; nor is it an amnesty program for criminal behavior. 

            Any counterinsurgency strategy includes a nonmilitary solution that reaches out to insurgents with the goal of peaceful reintegration where everyone benefits.  This program ambitiously seeks to do this and to deliver peace at a very local level. 

            A cornerstone of this local approach is the resolution of grievances that led people to fight or became -- or become insurgents in the first place.  It's accepted that the overwhelming majority of those fighting the south and other areas are fighting for nonideological reasons.  It becomes clear, then, that addressing their grievances can draw them back into society. 

            The whole aim of the APRP is to build trust and confidence amongst people who have been fighting the government and each other for far too long.  Therefore, an Afghan-led peace program supported by ISAF and the United Nations is central to success. 

            I always think it's worth remembering that this program is relatively new and has been running only since October 2010.  To date, nearly 3,100 former insurgents have officially enrolled into the program.   

            Let me again dispel a few myths surrounding APRP.  Insurgents are not paid to stop fighting.  Reintegrees are provided with a transitional allowance of $120 per month for three months, enough to meet the basic sustenance needs of their families while they undertake disengagement training. 

            Previous programs sought to pay insurgents to stop fighting, and they failed.  Furthermore, within APRP, reintegrees are not immune from prosecution.  The decision to prosecute is made on a case-by-case basis by the Afghan government.  The program is for verified insurgents only who -- and who have taken up arms against the government of people of Afghanistan, not for common criminals. 

            APRP does not allow compromise on human rights, particularly women's rights. 

            Reintegrees must renounce violence, cut links to terrorist organizations, accept the constitution and respect the rights of minority groups. 

            Reintegration is an essential element in the comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign being implemented by Commander ISAF, General Allen. 

            Unrelenting pressure on the insurgents from the surge have given them two choices:  Be killed or captured.  Reintegration now gives them a third choice:  Peacefully leave the battlefield with honor and dignity intact and rejoin society as a productive member of their communities.  It fits right in as a pillar of General Allen's campaign. 

            I mentioned in my opening remarks on the 8th of December that we saw four conditions that are giving APRP momentum.  First, the surge has had a deleterious effect on the capability of the insurgency on the battlefield.  Physically, mentally and psychologically, the surge has impacted upon insurgents, some of whom, when they come in, say they have become tired of fighting and are exhausted with the fight. 

            Secondly, international conferences, such as Istanbul, Astana and Bonn, and looking forward to Chicago and Tokyo, clearly demonstrate international and internal political support for APRP.  The traditional Jirga that took place in November brought together 2,300 Afghans from across the nation, and they clearly expressed their support for peace and reintegration, and then took that message back to their communities. 

            The third element is the increased capacity of the program itself.  The original Afghan goal was to have the program framework established and operational in eight provinces with a hundred -- sorry -- with a thousand reintegrees by October 2011. 

            Today, APRP is present in 28 of the provinces of Afghanistan.  And as I said earlier, over 3,000 reintegrees have come into the program, significantly exceeding what were considered challenging expectations at the start of the program. 

            There are still issues to be addressed, but the Afghans are fixing issues as they arise.  Make no mistake:  The program is working. 

            The final component is the winter effect on fighting in Afghanistan.  Many fighters are dislocated from their leaders, who have left Afghanistan for the winter.  Some are tired following the surge, and look at the insurgent leadership fighting in the relative safety and comfort of hideouts in Pakistan and make others do their fighting.  Afghan leadership in this program is essential, backed up with agile and responsive ISAF support, in taking these conditions and turning it into greater momentum. 

            Thank you very much.  I'll conclude my opening remarks there, and I'll take any questions. 

            CAPT CAMPBELL:  Thank you, General Hook. 

            And again, for members of the press corps -- would ask you to focus your questions on the reintegration topic, and then we'll look for any operational questions you have to the next briefer, so -- 

            Q:  Sir, Spencer Ackerman, from Wired.  Your predecessor, Phil Jones, briefed us in May of last year, and he said it would take between 12 and 15,000 insurgents entering the reintegration program to have a strategic impact on the war.  Do you accept that perspective, that assessment?  And if you do, how do you judge the impact of 3,100, as you said?  And is there any effect you're seeing from the high-level Taliban talks with the U.S. and the Afghan government on reintegration? 

            GEN. HOOK:  You draw up a number of issues there, so let me -- let me take them in the order that you briefed them -- or you asked the question. 

            First of all, I don't see the number in quite the way that you are -- have articulated it.  For me the key here is getting the key individuals off the battlefield.  So it's about focusing on those -- those individuals that are perhaps the mid- to low-level leaders who are driving the insurgency.  So whilst numbers are important, it's actually about the effect of taking key individual off the battlefield. 

            The second element that you asked about were the talks in Qatar. And I think it's fair to say that the Qatar talks have caused a great deal of confusion in the insurgency.  They're wondering, as you and I would if we were fighting somewhere in Afghanistan, what is going on with their leadership.  Their leadership seem to be looking to making a deal. They're involved in some sort of talks.  It's not quite clear who's talking to who.  But as I said, with the winter effect and fighters being removed from their leadership, they are wondering if they're about to be sold down the river or there's a deal being cut in which they're going to be cut out of.  So yes, we are seeing some dissonance through the organization. 

            Q:  Can I follow on that? 

            Q:  Real quick.  If the issue is getting mid- to low-level people off the battlefield, then where does that rank in -- what percentage of that in the 3,100 figure?  Because now it's difficult to understand how to interpret that 3,100 figure if you're saying the numbers don't tell the whole story. 

            GEN. HOOK:  Yeah, we're tracking about 20 to 25 percent of those that have come in of mid- to-level leaders. 

            And I think it's important to recognize that what we don't tend to see is individuals coming in.  What you tend to see is a -- is a leader of a group, generally between five and 25.  He decides to come in, and he brings his fighters in with him, so they -- those midlevel to low- level leaders coming off the battlefield bringing people in.  Because the leadership isn't there, then that delivers the effect we want, which is there's no local leadership of the fighters down at that level.   

            As I say, I sometimes worry that there's a -- that there's too much of a fixation on the numbers.  The fact is it's about bringing in people to deliver peace and those individuals going back to their local communities.  Once that occurs, you can see peace being delivered at a very local level.  And the trick that we're trying to pull off is to understand the broader impact of those groups coming in, and it's quite a difficult thing to measure.   

            And if I -- if I can put it in context, I've talked about the effect of the surge, that the psychological effect that it's had on the insurgency.  Those people have come in, and that has had an impact in some areas on the nature of the fighting in those areas.  But it is not necessarily just that that contributes to peace and a more peaceful space in the area where it occurs.   

            And what we're trying to understand is the relationship between the surge, the weather and people who just want to give up fighting because they've had enough and those people that are reintegrating. So it's more than just understanding 3,100.  It's trying to understand a combination of factors and deconstructing which bit is contributing to a safer environment in the area where it's occurring. 

            Q:  Thank you. 

            Sir, thank you.  This is Raghubir Goyal from India Globe and Asia Today.  My question is that -- so what you are saying is really the program you have now is working. 

            But can you have this program implemented or working fully without fully cooperation of Pakistan?  Because on the one hand, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan are meeting; on the other hand, Pakistan is not fully with the U.S., and finally, U.S., NATO and Afghanistan are fully engaged with this program.  So what is the future of this program, really, without Pakistan? 

            GEN. HOOK:  That's a very good question.  And the way that I would address that is, my role in supporting General Allen and supporting the Afghans who deliver this program is reintegration takes place within the boundaries of Afghanistan.  It's not within my remit to look outside of Afghanistan to other countries.  I think you would acknowledge, based on the recent visits that have taken place in Afghanistan and into Pakistan, by notable American politicians in particular, that they have made it clear that there needs to be efforts put into this on both sides of the border.  But in my particular role, I focus on those people that are fighting within the boundaries of Afghanistan. 

            Now, the key, for me, here is -- and whilst the point about Pakistan is important -- 80 (percent) to 90 percent of the people who fight in this insurgency never leave Afghanistan.  If I could achieve a perfect outcome and get those 90 percent of the insurgency to reintegrate, then the 10 percent that lives outside of Afghanistan would become much less important in terms of the campaign.  So as far as I'm concerned, focusing on those that are fighting within the country, if I can get them to come in and reintegrate, it effectively deflates the capability of the insurgency and makes Afghanistan a safer and a more peaceful place. 

            Q:  Quick follow-up.  Just a quick follow-up:  What do you see now, sir, as the mood of the Afghan people now as far as governance is concerned or as far as government of Afghanistan is concerned?  In the past, they were not very much with President Karzai.  Today do you -- do you think they have more confidence in the government of Afghanistan, especially the president, Karzai? 

            GEN. HOOK:  I tend to focus on what Afghans think about the peace and reintegration program.  And all of the polling that we've taken in the last 12 months suggests that there's been an increasing acceptance by the Afghan population for reintegration to actually occur.  So I'm very heartened by the fact that over 80 percent of the Afghan population want reintegration to work, to make a more peaceful Afghanistan.  And that's the area that I focus on, trying to explain and help the Afghan government explain to the Afghan people why this program is important.  And that message seems to be working. 

            And if we go back to my opening remarks, I mentioned that the traditional Jirga that took place in November, the 2,300 Afghans that came together from across the whole country, they came away with a very solid understanding of what the program is trying to deliver, but also went back and sold the message across Afghanistan that peace and reintegration was a way of delivering a safer and better Afghanistan for everybody. 

            Q:  General, Otto Kreisher, with AOL Defense.  Two questions: One, you said that these are legitimate insurgents, not criminals or, you know, artificial.  There's been some problems in the past of identifying those kind of people.  So what's the screening process that makes you know that these are legitimate fighters? 

            And the other -- I'll let you go with that one. 

            GEN. HOOK:  When people are in negotiation to join the program and they eventually make an intention to reintegrate, which is the start of the process, there's a very comprehensive vetting process that takes place.  Some of the criticism of the program about vetting occurred very early in the program, when the vetting process wasn't properly established, but the vetting takes place at two levels now and the government uses this process to assure itself that the people that they're getting into the program are actually bona fide insurgents.  

            And what happens is, when an individual comes in, he fills out a series of vetting forms at the provincial level with the provincial structure that does this, the provincial joint secretariat team.  Once those forms are filled out, they are vetted locally by the national director of security, the Afghan National Police, the provincial peace committee, and also the provincial governor.  

            Once they are happy that those individuals are bona fide insurgents, that process then moves up to Kabul, where at Kabul they're checked nationally.  And the same organizations, the national defense -- I'm sorry, the national -- the NDF, the MOI, the Ministry of Interior, the joint secretariat that runs at the Kabul level, and the high peace council, they all check as well. 

            And the reason there are checks at both levels is, early in the program, there were people entering the program when the vetting process wasn't right that were not being vetted at both levels, so there were some people allowed into the program in its early stages. 

            Many people have now been revetted, and there's a good example of how this vetting process is quite rigorous.  Very early in the program, 231 reintegrees came into the program in Sar-e-Pul.  Those people came in before the vetting process was probably established.  They have now been revetted, and 190 have not been allowed to enter the program because the vetting process has identified that they're not bona fide insurgents. 

            The key thing here is, it is the Afghan government that runs this dual vetting process, and the Afghan government decides who should and should not enter the program. 

            From my perspective, when I advise General Allen, I'm confident this is a robust system that meets the requirements to address the very issue that you raised. 

            Q:  Just -- in the past some -- and some of these people came in to be reintegrated and then supposedly left because they weren't getting, you know, jobs; they weren't really accepted; they had no way of supporting their families, so they went back to the fight.  Are you seeing any of that now, or is there a way to make sure these people have a long-term stability in a community? 

            GEN. HOOK:  You draw at a very important issue, which was a problem early in the program, again.  And it's worth just putting some of these problems in context, if I may, before I address the specific question that you've raised.  This program, when it was set up, it was being designed, led and executed simultaneously, so the concept was put in place before all of the structures were built.  And that led to some of these problems early on, and if we'd been having this discussion six or nine months ago, I would have been arguing or defending of the failings in the system. 

            I think most of those failings have now been washed out by the progress that has been made in the last 14 months.   

            Turning to your specific question, which is effectively about recidivism, let me talk about the individual first when he comes in. When an individual comes in, he accepts three months of transitional assistance.  In that three months, he does effectively demobilization training, and the $120 a month transitional assistance -- that was calculated by the Afghan government for a man to feed a family of six in Kabul during the period that he was going through demobilization training.   

            The deal with this program is that, once you get to the end of demobilization, you become a normal citizen of Afghanistan and, beyond that, there is no promise that you individually will be rewarded. This is where you see the power of an Afghan-designed system because the program focuses on the village that accepts the reintegree back.   

            So when an individual goes back to his community, when he's going through the process of demobilization, he asks his community for forgiveness as well as going through the vetting process.  The community, in 99 percent of cases, accepts the individual back, and they then become locked together in the Pashtunwali code.  The individual has asked for forgiveness, the community has said yes, so they accept ownership of that individual.  The individual has been accepted back and been forgiven; so he now is responsible for his behavior to the community.   

            So once you get to the point where the individual has been through his three months of demobilization training, he is locked into his community by this honor code within Pashtunwali.  Where there -- as I said, this program is extremely clever -- is -- if a community accepts an individual back, the community benefits.   

            There are tiers of grants.  We run two tiers within APRP:  Tier one is $25,000; tier two is $200,000.  And communities that accept individuals back can ask for a grant to improve the community. 

            The deal is that when the individual who is reintegrated becomes part of the community and the community gets the grant, the work that is provided -- some of those individuals who work on that program are actually reintegrees, but 50 (percent) to 75 percent are the local community.  And again, it locks the individual and the community together in a way that actually makes recidivism incredibly low. 

            To date, we're actually tracking between five and seven that we've identified are probably recidivists, and about another 20 to 25 that we think might be.  And we've asked the NDS to investigate those. In a program like this, 30 people being recidivists out of 3,100 is an incredibly low number.  And it comes back to the design of the program, which is all about locking the individual and the community together and not rewarding the individual. 

            And again, as I said in my opening remarks, Najibullah, when he tried to run a program like this, paid individuals to stop fighting. As soon as the money stopped flowing, all of those individuals went back to fighting, and that's why this country descended into chaos shortly after the Russians stopped providing the money. 

            Q:  My name is Carl Osgood.  I write for Executive Intelligence Review.  General, could you tell us a little bit more about your role in this process?  What kind and how much support does ISAF provide to this?  And what are the prospects of this program being able to continue without ISAF support, should that time come? 

            GEN. HOOK:  If I may, I'll take those questions in reverse. 

            One of the things that's very powerful about this program is it's being designed, led and implemented by the Afghans.  So in terms of when we talk about transition, there will never be a requirement for this program to transition, because it's currently owned, designed and run by the Afghans themselves.  So in my view, that gives it great resilience and makes it much more likely to run on. 

            In terms of ISAF support, we provide support at a number of levels. I work with Minister Stanikzai, who heads up the joint secretariat who runs the technical implementation of the program, and I see him probably two or three times a week.  And we talk about the things that he's trying to do where he needs ISAF help.  And an example would be when we're conducting biometric enrollment of reintegrees, ISAF can help by getting those biometric teams to the right place quickly.  So that's one example of where we can just expedite the process. 

            But throughout the rest of the force reintegration cell, my deputy works with the deputy minister of the program, and then the various branches I have mirror the branches that operate within the joint secretariat.  So I have an operations branch that helps the operations branch of the joint secretariat.  There's a programs branch, which helps with the delivery of small grants. 

            So we have a very close relationship. And whilst the joint secretariat is building its own capacity -- and I come back to this is quite a young program -- we provide some extra capacity to help them develop ideas.  But ultimately those ideas are always at the behest of the Afghans, and the Afghans themselves then take the work that we've done where we're helping them, "Afghanize" what has happened, and then it's their idea that's implemented in the way that they want. 

            CAPT CAMPBELL:  Two more questions on our end prior to the transitioning to General Jacobson. 

            Q:  Dave Martin with CBS.  Have you said what proportion of the total enemy fighting force this 3,100 represents? 

            GEN. HOOK:  I don't tend to look at it as a -- as a -- as I've said earlier about the figures, I see it through a different mechanism.  Three thousand one hundred are the number of people we have formally enrolled in the program, but in many respects, the more important thing is taking away the grievances that these people are fighting for.  One of the things that is clear, because we interview all of the people who reintegrate, is many people are fighting for non-ideological reasons.  They're fighting because of grievances.  If you can address their grievances, you not only remove the individual from the battlefield, but you also make it less likely that somebody is going to generate behind him because of a grievance. 

            And there was a recent example where a provincial peace committee negotiated a solution to an intertribal dispute that had been running for 30 years and had taken over 150 lives.  Now, whilst that wasn't directly related to the insurgency, it delivered a more peaceful environment through negotiation and grievance resolution, which is why, at the start, I talked about grievance resolution being an important component of the program. 

            Q:  Do you have an estimate of how many fighters there are out there? 

            GEN. HOOK:  Again, that's not, as I said, a way that I look at this, at the challenge. 

            If you think of the insurgency as able to regenerate itself based on grievances, then just taking individuals off the battlefield without grievance resolution means that you're not going to reduce the size of the insurgency.  That's why grievance resolution is an important part of General Allen's approach to reintegration, which is about taking away the causes of the fight and delivering peace through a mechanism that doesn't involve killing people.   

            And General Allen himself has said, and I'm sure all of the academic experts would say, you can't kill your way to access -- success in a counterinsurgency campaign; you need an internal political settlement and a desire for peace in amongst the communities.  So delivering that desire for peace and also taking away grievance means that the numbers become less important, but the peace effect becomes more pronounced. 

            Q:  (Off mic) -- another way, how much have you reduced the size of the insurgency, then, by this combination of people reintegrating and removing the grievances themselves? 

            GEN. HOOK:  Well, let me give you an example of where this has worked extremely well in Badghis.  Badghis is the -- is the province with the largest number of reintegrees; it's over 800.  And when I was talking to the provincial governor about 10 weeks ago, he said that before the reintegration program, he was unable to travel more than 10 to 20 kilometers outside of the provincial capital.  With reintegration having been successful and having brought people in, he now feels comfortable driving around 80 percent of his province. 

            The challenge for us is to deliver that same effect throughout Afghanistan.  And we're looking at ways of learning the lessons of Badghis and applying them more broadly. 

            As I say, it's not a question of numbers, although there have been a significant number of people who've come in.  It's about taking those people off the battlefield who have a grievance, having them resettle in the community, and then peace occurring at a local level and then spreading. 

            Q:  Hi, General.  It's Courtney Kube from NBC News.  Can you explain what you meant by saying that there are 20 to 25 people that you think might be recidivists?  What does that mean?  Have they -- are they missing or have they potentially -- you know, committed some crimes that -- what exactly do you mean by that? 

            And the five to seven that you said you're tracking, five to seven recidivists, what's the status of them?  Have they been arrested? 

            GEN. HOOK:  Well, let me start with the five to seven.  Those five to seven are people that have been investigated and we know have gone back to the insurgency.  So we have clear evidence that they are -- they have gone back to the fight.   

            The reason I say 20 to 25 is we have some localized reports that are being investigated.  Now, what we find is, when we examine the cases of recidivists, that there are some where individuals have a grudge against them and then spread rumors that they have gone back. So we have 20 to 25, as I say, that are being investigated by the NDS. We try, through our own channels, to understand where they are and what they are doing. 

            And it comes back to what happens at the end of demobilization. You become, at the end of demobilization, a normal citizen of Afghanistan.   

            If you decide not to work in one of the programs that's been established, we don't formally track those individuals because they are just normal citizens, and that's why we're not 100 percent sure on the number. 

            CAPT CAMPBELL:  General Hook, we are extremely grateful that you spent part of your evening with us here in the -- in the Pentagon briefing room, and we're grateful that you were able to do a repeat performance after the last time and our technical difficulties.  So thank you for coming back.   

            We'd now like to transition to General Jacobson.  So I realize that there's going to be a seat swap there in Kabul.  So I will slowly read the introduction of next briefer, as that technical swap-out takes place, and we will get into that very shortly. 

            Again, sir, thank you very much for joining us this evening. 

            GEN. HOOK:  OK, and thank you very much at your end.  

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