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DOD News Briefing with British Army Lt. Gen. Adrian Bradshaw via Teleconference from Afghanistan

Presenters: British Army Lt. Gen. Adrian Bradshaw, Deputy Commander, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)
May 09, 2012

            (Note:  General Bradshaw appears via teleconference from Kabul, Afghanistan.)  

            CAPT John Kirby:  OK.  Good morning, everybody.  Welcome here to our briefing room, and good evening, sir, out in Kabul.  I'd like to welcome the deputy commander of ISAF, Lieutenant General Adrian Bradshaw, to the Pentagon briefing room.    

            He assumed duties as ISAF deputy commander in November of last year. During his more than 30 years of service in the British Army, he has been a tank troop leader, intelligence officer and helicopter pilot. He commanded the King's Royal Hussars, a cavalry regiment of the British Army, in the mid-1990s, a tour that included operations in Bosnia.  

            General Bradshaw was deputy commander of Task Force West during operations in Iraq in March 2003 and then took charge of 7th Armored Brigade during initial stability operations in April of that year.  By 2006, he was director of Special Forces.  In March 2009 he was appointed commanding general of the 1st Armored Division of the British Army.    

            This is the general's first time with us here in the briefing room.  We very much appreciate his time on what is a very busy, busy day there in Afghanistan.  He'll provide some brief opening comments and then take your questions.  

            As we've done in the past, I will moderate the questions.  So I will call on you.   Please identify your name and who you're with before you ask the question.  We've got about 30 minutes, and we'll get started.  

            So with that, General, sir, welcome, and we open up -- we'll turn it over to you for any opening comments, sir.  

            LT. GEN. ADRIAN BRADSHAW:  Well, thank you very much indeed, and good morning to all of you there in Washington.  It's a great pleasure to speak to you.  

            What I want to do this morning is just give you the message very loud and clear from here in Kabul that the campaign is in a good place right now.  In 2011 we saw the momentum of the insurgency reversed for the first time in a number of years.  Their ability to be able to deliver attacks on the ground was reduced by about 10 percent, which was a significant achievement.  All the things that they really wanted to do -- to regain ground in Kandahar and Helmand, to get attacks into the capital, to disrupt the major activities of the capital -- all of those things they failed to do.  

            They did manage to get some trouble into Kabul, but the major events of the year -- the loya jirga, the opening of parliament, the opening of the Ghazni stadium -- all those sorts of events were undisrupted. And we saw them effectively having their momentum reversed for the first time in a number of years.  

            At the same time, across the theater we saw Afghan national security forces increasing in strength, capability and confidence -- planning, leading sophisticated brigade-level operations, well coordinated with -- between police and army, well coordinated with the civil authorities, with ISAF troops more and more stepping back into the background and providing advice and assistance but letting the Afghans get to grips with the major combat operations.  And they have surprised us and I think they've surprised themselves with how well they've performed in a whole range of different sorts of operations across the theater.  

            I've been out on the ground in the last couple of weeks with U.S. troops up in Kunar, on patrol, meeting ALP, Afghan local policemen, in their sites, and I can attest to their high morale and confidence. I've been on foot patrol with British forces down in Helmand, and again, morale is high, they're well equipped, they're confident, but they -- (audio break) -- I've been out with attack aviators from Italian forces, and again, the same there -- high morale, an awareness of the threat, but a confidence that we are on track.  

            So with that, I'll welcome your questions.  

            Q:  Hi, General.  Jon Harper with the Asahi Shimbun.  Thanks for speaking with us today.  I was wondering if you've seen any increased Iranian activity in Afghanistan since the strategic partnership with the U.S. was signed?  

            LT. GEN. BRADSHAW:  Yeah, thanks very much for that question. Clearly, the strategic partnership agreement has been a major achievement of the past few weeks.  It's put the campaign in a very good place, with much increased confidence amongst our Afghan partners that we're going to be here supporting them into the future after 2014.  It sets a very good baseline for the Chicago conference, where we hope and expect that nations will come forward and commit funding to the Afghan forces for beyond 2014.  And so it's a major achievement.  

            Clearly, Iran may not be completely comfortable with some aspects of a continued Western presence here.  But I think for them, it's important to understand that what we're here for is to deliver peace and stability in a neighboring country to them, which can only be of benefit for them.  Of course, there are shared interests.  They have a serious narcotics problem.  And it's one of the things that we would hope that the government of Afghanistan will more and more get to grips with.  So I think they have nothing to fear from this agreement. And in a direct answer to your question, no, we haven't seen any increase in hostile activity.  

            CAPT KIRBY:  Lalit.  

            Q:  Yeah, Lalit Jha from Pajhwok Afghan News.  Recently two senior U.S. congressmen went to Afghanistan, and they had a different feedback than you are saying right now, that this setback for the Taliban -- according to them, Taliban is much stronger than ever, and there is a  possibility that they might come back.  So how do you -- how do you view the assessment of the situation there?  

            LT. GEN. BRADSHAW:  Well, thanks.  That's a good question.  I haven't seen the material that the congressmen saw.  We had a little flutter of interest late last year when a report came out from the debriefs of some Taliban detainees, which gave, I think, a completely false impression of their position.  And it was based, of course, on the questioning from the most hard, the most determined, the most committed of the Taliban, who happened to be in our captivity.  So one would hardly expect them to say anything other than that they were on a roll.  

            I'm afraid the evidence -- I'm afraid for the Taliban, the evidence is rather different.  As I say, in 2011 we've seen their ability to deliver attacks on the ground here in Afghanistan reduced by just under 10 percent, and we're seeing a similar trend early this year.  We get reporting -- reliable reporting of Taliban commanders feeling under pressure, with lack of weapons of and equipment, with lack of finance.  

            Now, we recognize they're still a force to be reckoned with. They are still posing a challenge that has to be addressed.  But I would say that we have clear evidence that the momentum has been reversed.  

            And so I think that the line taken by the congressman is actually contrary to everything that we're seeing on our reporting.    

            Q:  General, I'm Carl Osgood; I write for Executive Intelligence Review.  Two questions about Pakistan.  One is what's this -- you've talked about the Taliban, but you haven't mentioned the Haqqani networks and operations in the East.  Secondly, my understanding is that the supply routes are still closed through Pakistan.  Can you comment on those?    

            Q:  You just lost the -- (audio break) --   

            LT. GEN. BRADSHAW:  -- the Haqqani network has been trying to do over the past 12 months is get attacks into Kabul and, in that, they've manifestly failed for most of the vast majority of their efforts.  We did have one attack into town -- a complex attack on the 15th and 16th of April, which I think people know about it.  I think they also know how well the Afghan national security forces contained what was a largely ineffective attack and dealt with it very efficiently.  But I think the point to note is that -- (audio break) -- and they either fizzled out of their own accord or a very large number of them were disrupted by the Afghan intelligence services and by a combination of Afghan national security forces and coalition efforts, resulting in the capture of over 300 people, the deaths of over a hundred insurgents.    

            So I would say that, again, we still have to deal with the Haqqani threat, and we treat it very seriously, but they are not succeeding in doing what they're attempting to do.  

            STAFF:  And you had a second question?  

            Q:  Yeah, we got cut off.  I had a second question on the NATO supply routes through Pakistan, if there's anything you can tell us about the status of that situation.  

            LT. GEN. BRADSHAW:  Yes.  I can tell you that we're currently in talks with our Pakistan colleagues on how we might get those routes open.  Clearly we're managing very well without them, but on the other hand, it would be extremely helpful for us if we had access to them. And clearly, the Pakistanis would derive some financial benefit from that as well.  So between us, we hope to get through the problems that we've encountered which caused the closure, which were highly regrettable, and get back on an even keel.  

            But I have to tell you that in our talks -- our ongoing talks with our Pakistan military colleagues, there is, you know, the rebuilding of a very good relationship there.  We've got a common interest in addressing the terrorist insurgent problem that crosses the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.  And things are moving in the right direction there.  

            CAPT KIRBY:  Carl, were you OK?  

            Q:  Yes, I got what -- yeah.  

            CAPT KIRBY:  Mathieu.  

            Q:  I'm wanting to know -- Mathieu Rabechault from AFP.  

            The president-elect of France said he would withdraw all the French troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year.  What would be the consequences on the ground in the Kapisa province, where they are deployed?  And are you concerned about a disorderly withdrawal of some other ISAF members?   

            LT. GEN. BRADSHAW:  Well, can I just start by praising my French colleagues for the fantastic job that they've been doing within this coalition.  Soldier to soldier, we have an excellent relationship between us, across the force.  We respect them hugely, and they've been doing an outstanding job in Kapisa, which, as you know, is an important area in terms of approaches into Kabul city.  

            They will take the decisions that they have to take based on their political requirements.  We very much hope that they will find a way to remain active participants in this coalition through to the end of 2014.  And we think that still remains a strong possibility.  But if they have to make another decision, well, we respect that, and we thank them for their fantastic efforts and for the sacrifices that their soldiers have made.  But right now they are still on the job doing a superb job and strong members of the coalition.  

            I would say across the coalition, cohesion is very, very good. And all I hear from chiefs of defense, foreign ministers and others that I brief here in Kabul when they come to visit is an absolute commitment to stay with the job until December '14.  And many of them are talking about contributing thereafter.  

            As I say, the French will make the decisions they have to make, and we respect their decisions.    

            CAPT KIRBY:  Richard.  

            Q:  Sir, Richard Sisk, The War Report Online.  One of the factors influencing the French is -- has been attacks on their troops by Afghans in uniform.  There was another incident this week in Helmand province, a Marine shot in the back by an Afghan in uniform.  How is that affecting the confidence of the troops?  Going forward towards 2014, are there any other initiatives under way to try to root out this problem? 

            LT. GEN. BRADSHAW:  Yeah, thank you for that very important question.  

            Well, of course the death of any of our troops is a tragedy, and if it's a loss to one of our fellow Afghans, especially so.  

            But I would say that the numbers of this sort of attack, when you consider that we've built a force very, very rapidly of a third of a million strong over recent years, the numbers of these attacks are very, very small.  Nevertheless, we treat everyone with extreme seriousness, and I can tell you that our Afghan partners do as well.    

            And regarding measures that have been taken to address this problem, the Afghans, our colleagues in the Afghan National Army and Police, have really seized this issue and are out to root out this problem with great determination.  We've had several hundred National Directorate of Security counterintelligence operatives now join the Afghan National Army on attachment.  They are embedded down to battalion level, and they are carrying out rigorous counterintelligence operations.  The commanders are taking great note of where their people go on leave, whether their families have come under pressure.  

            The vetting process for recruits has been sharpened up considerably, and there is retrospective vetting of people in the force, and there's a pretty ruthless approach to anybody who shows signs of not being a hundred percent committed.  Also, our Afghan partners have taken steps to ensure better communications security from their troops in the field.  So a number of effective measures have been taken, and we continue to bear down on this problem very seriously indeed.    

            CAPT KIRBY:  Do you have a follow-up?  

            Q:  Yes, sir.  If I could follow, what do you mean by a ruthless approach taken to any individuals who might be showing signs of complicity with the enemy?  

            LT. GEN. BRADSHAW:  Well, potential complicity with the enemy.  I would give you the example that the commander of the Afghan National Army has told his people who have family in Pakistan that they need to get their families into country and that his commanders are to take note of any possible linkages with insurgents, if people have come under pressure when they go on leave, that sort of thing.  And if there's any doubts -- as I say, people are interviewed thoroughly. And if there are doubts, they're after -- then they're asked to leave the service.  

            CAPT KIRBY:  That help, Richard?  

            Q:  Yes, sir.  

            CAPT KIRBY:  Craig.  

            Q:  General, Craig Whitlock, Washington Post.  

            I wanted to get back to your comments about how the Taliban's capability has been reduced.  And as you said, the momentum's clearly been reversed.  How far do you think those trend lines can be extended?  Do you think that the insurgency can be defeated militarily in some parts of the country where it's now active, or is the goal just, again, to weaken the insurgency to bring them to the negotiating table?  

            LT. GEN. BRADSHAW:  Yeah, that's a very important question.  Well, regarding whether we can keep this trend line moving in the same direction, I said that during the early the early part of this year we've seen a similar scale of reduction over last year.  So we seem to be hitting the same trend line and further reducing the momentum of the insurgency.  And we keep them under ruthless pressure, as you know, from framework operations on the ground, ruthlessly going after their commanders and facilitators through special forces raids, and they are feeling this pressure.  We get this from the feedback of people who've joined the reintegration process.  

            But for as long as they can operate with relative impunity from sanctuaries outside the country, it's quite difficult to defeat them militarily.  I would argue that in a counterinsurgency campaign, it's got to be a combination of military, economic, political and other measures anyway to effect a total elimination of this problem.  

            But we're heading in the right direction.  And with the growth in confidence and capability of the Afghan national security forces, we have full confidence that by the end of 2014 they will be able to take on a reduced counterinsurgency campaign and execute it with efficiency and to good effect, which will deliver security to the major population centers, the major routes; but I would say that the insurgency we wouldn't expect by the end of 2014 to be completely eliminated.  

            Of course, if we take -- if we make advances in the area of reconciliation, we could see the progress dramatically improve.  But, even without that, we're heading in the right direction.   

            Q:  Follow up, though, are you seeing -- given the progress you cite, are you seeing any signs or indicators that the insurgents are more willing to come -- to reconcile than they were a year ago?  

            (Audio break.)  

            LT. GEN. BRADSHAW:  -- of course, they see security being delivered by the government of Afghanistan and the Afghan national security forces and the situation in those areas much improved.  

            They also said they were fighting to get the foreigners out of the country.  And of course, the face of security now in those sorts of hard areas is more and more an Afghan face.  And so they've decided to join the program.  And I think this is quite significant in terms of an indicator for where we might go.  

            CAPT KIRBY:  Hate to ask you this, but if you could please repeat your last answer, we dropped the signal just after Craig finished asking his question of you, and we did not get to get your answer.  So if you wouldn't mind please repeating your answer back to Craig on the reintegration.  

            LT. GEN. BRADSHAW:  Yeah, the point about reintegration is that whilst a lot of the reintegration activity has been in the north and the west of the country, which is good news for the north and the west, we're particularly interested in seeing more reintegration progress in the south, the southwest and the east, which is -- (audio break) -- the program from the Zhari-Panjwayi area of Kandahar, west of Kandahar, which was a hard Taliban insurgent area until quite recently, when security has improved considerably.  

            They joined the program, and what they said was quite interesting.  They said that they were afraid of the strike operations carried out by ISAF forces, which shows that the relentless pressure being applied there is having a devastating effect. 

            But they also said that they had been fighting to deliver security in their home area, and of course what they're seeing how is more and more very effective security being delivered by the government of Afghanistan and the Afghan national security forces.    

            They also said that they were fighting -- they had been fighting to get rid of foreigners.  And now the face of the security of the ground is more and more an Afghan face.  And they appear to be considerably less willing to attack their Afghan brothers than they are ISAF forces.  So overall, the combination of transition to Afghan lead and the maintenance of relentless pressure on the enemy seems to be delivering.  

            CAPT KIRBY:  Craig, did that take care of it?  

            Q:  Yeah, thank you very much.  

            Q:  General, Karen Parrish, American Forces Press Service.  I've been reading reports of, again, increased attacks on civilian populations rather than -- I mean, and we saw this trend last year, going after a softer target of the civilian population and creating terror and insecurity in that sense.  What trends do you see in that area this year and what's being done differently to counter those attacks?  

            LT. GEN. BRADSHAW:  I take it that you're referring to insurgent attacks on civilians.  And whilst, of course, the insurgent focus is on coalition and Afghan national security forces, the fact is that the way they go about their business, using essentially terrorist means and largely indiscriminate terrorist means at that, does cause a huge number of civilian casualties.  

            In recent figures, 93 percent of the civilian casualties caused over a recent period of survey were caused by Taliban or insurgent violence.  

            What are we doing about it?  Well, the overall drive to improve security across the country is how we bear down on that.    

            And I would say also that, very regrettably, from time to time in the past we have caused civilian casualties ourselves.  We hugely regret that.  We feel very badly for the families those -- of those who have been killed.  But I would say that we're making strident efforts to bear down on that problem, which is very, very difficult to avoid the sort of circumstances that we face.  And over the last year we've seen a 65 percent reduction in ISAF-caused civilian casualties, which, as I say, are a tiny proportion of those caused by the insurgency.  

            CAPT KIRBY:  OK.  I think we have time for one more, if there's any more.  

            All right, sir.  I think that's all the questions that our folks have here today.  But I would like to turn it over to you for any last comments you might like to make, sir.    

            LT. GEN. BRADSHAW:  Well, thank you very much for the opportunity to talk to you this morning.  As I say, the campaign is in a good place. We've got plenty of work still to do.  We've got to continue building the capability, the institutional depth, I would say, of the Afghan national security forces, but they're showing great confidence, capability in a range of different combat operations across the theater.  

            The momentum of the insurgency has been reversed over 2011. We're seeing a similar reduction in the early part of 2012.  The campaign is moving in the right direction for our Afghan partners to take over a reduced counterinsurgency task and take full responsibility for combat operations at the end of 2014.  And by that time we expect to have considerably enhanced their logistics capabilities, their leadership, their capabilities across a range of areas which are being built right now.  And we have great confidence that they'll be able to take on the job and maintain security for the government of Afghanistan.  

            CAPT KIRBY:  Thank you very much, General.  We appreciate your time this evening, and we hope that we can have you back here in the Pentagon briefing room again in the near future.  Thank you very much, sir.  

            LT. GEN. BRADSHAW:  Thank you.  I'll look forward to it.

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