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DOD News Briefing with Brig. Gen. Cripwell via Teleconference from Afghanistan

Presenters: Director of Strategic Transition Group, International Security Assistance Force Joint Command Brig. Gen. Richard Cripwell
June 20, 2012

            CAPT JANE CAMPBELL, DIRECTOR, PRESS OPERATIONS:  Good morning here in the briefing room, and good evening in Afghanistan. I'd like to welcome the ISAF Strategic Transition Group Brigadier General Richard Cripwell, British army, to the Pentagon Briefing Room.

            Brigadier Cripwell assumed duties at ISAF headquarters in April of this year. Since 1982 he has served in junior regiment appointments with the Royal Engineers and the Queen's Gurkha Engineers and in field and amphibious regiments. He commanded 34 Field Squadron (Air Support) and 26 Engineer Regiment, supporting a number of Royal Air Force and mechanized brigade deployments.

            Brigadier Cripwell has also served in command and staff positions in Kosovo, Mozambique and Iraq. He has also served operations in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, and various parts of the Middle East and the Balkans.

            This is Brigadier Cripwell's first time with us in the Pentagon Briefing Room. He will provide brief opening remarks on progress towards transition in Afghanistan and then take your questions.

            And with that, sir, I'll turn it over to you.

            BRIGADIER RICHARD CRIPWELL:  Thank you.

            Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. As was said, my name is Brigadier General Richard Cripwell, and I am the director of the Strategic Transition and Assessments Group here at ISAF headquarters.

            Thank you all for being here. I'm pleased to have this opportunity to talk to you about the transition of security responsibility from ISAF to the Afghanistan National Security Forces, a process that is placing the lead for security in Afghanistan with the police and the armed forces.

            It is a process that was initiated by the Lisbon conference in late 2010, a process that is defined by the Inteqal agreement or the transition agreement and which is regulated by the Joint Afghan-NATO Inteqal Board, which is responsible for making recommendations to the president of Afghanistan about transition.

            There are plans to be five tranches to transition. And as you will be aware, on the 13th of May, President Karzai announced the details of tranche three. As a result of that, every capital in all 34 provinces in Afghanistan has now entered transition. This tranche will see three-quarters of Afghanistan's population living in areas where the ANSF is in the lead for security.

            The importance of this process cannot be overstressed. President Karzai stated in Chicago that it remains his highest joint strategic priority. And we are on track, with our Afghan colleagues, to complete the process of entering transition by the middle of 2013, with completion of the process by the end of 2014. After 2014, we will maintain an equally strong partnership with Afghanistan, as the Strategic Partnership Agreement and many bilateral agreements make clear.

            I would conclude these brief opening remarks by saying a few words about how the Afghan National Security Forces are going to assume the lead for security within the country. I am fortunate enough to work with the army and the police every day and to see them all over the country. The responsibility for leading security is not one they take lightly, but it is one that they relish.

            They are growing in capability all the time, and their confidence in themselves is growing exponentially. During recent high-profile incidents across Afghanistan, the ANSF have taken leading roles and responded aggressively, with little or no coalition support. In simple terms, they know what they have to do, and that they are proving that they can do it every day.

            Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes my opening remarks. Again, thank you for attending, and I look forward to hearing your questions.

            Q:  Hi, General. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News.

            I realize that current ops aren't really in your daily purview, but there was a suicide attack in Khost earlier today, and we've been having a hard time getting the ground truth on what happened. Can you give us an idea? It seems -- our understanding is there were both Afghans and Americans killed. Can you give us your understanding of what happened?

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  All I can tell you, and this is -- I've been, in fact, out of the capital for most of the day -- I'm aware that there was a suicide bomb attack in Khost, that there have been ISAF casualties, and I understand there have been a great deal of Afghan civilian casualties as well. But I have no more details than that, and I think it would be inappropriate for me to speculate. The ISAF spokesman will have more details in due course.

            Q:  General, Otto Kreisher with SEAPOWER Magazine and others.

            We've had another incident recently of green-on-blue. That's a continuing problem that kind of erodes the confidence our troops have in working with their allies. How do you appraise that situation? And what's being done, you know, to avoid those?

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  Well, firstly, I'm not aware that there have been any recent green-on-blue attacks, although I'm aware there's been some accusations of them. But to approach your question more broadly, of course any death out here is an absolute tragedy, and it is more so when it is caused by Afghan forces.

            But I should be clear, firstly, that it's a tragedy as much for the Afghans themselves.

            Every single day there are tens of thousands and more ongoing relationships between ISAF forces and the Afghans. We work extremely closely. We work extremely well together. These attacks are absolutely not representative of the huge, huge majority of the Afghan forces, and they are dismayed by them as we are.

            In answer to your question of what's being done, I -- the Afghans are doing an enormous amount to ensure the loyalty of every single member of the police and the army. The deputy commander here has spoken about this in the past, but it includes biometric testing, it includes the deployment of a national directorate of security officials into units. And as I say, they are turning every stone they can to ensure the loyalty of their own forces.

            Q:  Yes, thanks for speaking with us. This is Kristina Wong from The Washington Times.

            Last summer there was a highly critical ISAF report called “The Crisis of Compatibility,” on the relationship between ISAF and Afghan National Security Forces. I'm wondering, what recommendations from that report have been implemented? And has that relationship between ISAF and ANSF forces improved?

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  I can't speak to the detail of the report, but I can tell you -- and as I said in my introductory remarks -- I am out almost every day with Afghan army officials and Afghan police officials, and that we work extremely closely together. And we see that in my area in transition all of the time.

            The whole point of transition is to put the ANSF in the lead and for ISAF to be in support of them. And those relationships, day in, day out, across the country are working extremely well.

            Q:  What metrics are used to gauge the ANSF other than performance in those high-profile attacks?

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  I'm sorry, could I ask you to repeat the question? It got lost in transmission.

            Q:  What metrics are used to gauge the progress of the -- and competence of the ANSF other than performance during those high- profile attacks? And why are they -- why are they deemed better than expected?

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  I think that -- actually I think it's not just that they're doing better than expected; I think they're also surprising themselves with their ability and their capability. It's not simply an ability to deal with high-profile attacks. The fact remains is the Afghans are out dealing with incidents of all sorts every day. Their ability to plan and conduct operations is improving all of the time. And they are now routinely, for example, planning and conducting brigade operations around the country. This is very serious soldiering, and it's a significant achievement on their part to have -- to have come this far in the time that they have.

            Q:  Dan De Luce from Agence France-Presse.

            What would cause you, if anything -- what would cause ISAF to reconsider the pace of this transition? Is there anything that could somehow slow down this scheduled transition?

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  I've certainly seen nothing to date at all that questions the pace of transition.

            As I'm sure you are aware, transition is simply about the security forces being able to be in the lead. It doesn't necessarily mean that all of the challenges that lie within a district or province have been solved. But to date, in tranches one and two there has been no regression in terms of security or governance or development in those areas.

            And whilst clearly there are challenges ahead in tranche three, I've seen no indication at all that either the Afghan national forces would not be able to deal with those problems or that they would put the rough timetable for transition into question.

            Q:  And then in that context, how concerned are you about the ethnic composition of the Afghan force and the relative shortage of southern Pashtuns in the force?

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  Well, the details of the makeup of the ANSF are, you know, beyond the issues that I look at. But all I can say is that whatever the ethnic diversity of the security forces, I've seen absolutely no impression of that in the areas that I visited and in the reports that I read of their performance around the country.

            Q:  Hi, my name is Ben Iannotta. I'm editor of an intelligence magazine called the C4ISR Journal.

            The decision not to plug the ANSF into the Afghanistan Mission Network, is that driven by strategy or cost, or is it a sign of a lack of trust between ISAF and ANSF?

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  I don't know is the simple answer to that question. I think I'd have to refer you to the spokesman or to a particular expert on that.

            But there is no -- to be clear, there is no lack of trust in the ANSF. We are going on operations with them every day. They are leading, certainly in transitioned areas, nearly 50 percent of operations. You absolutely have to trust your comrades and colleagues when you're operating in that kind of environment. So there is absolutely no lack of trust between us and our Afghan colleagues.

            Q:  Hi, General. John Harper with the Asahi Shimbun.

            How many ISAF troops do you think will need to remain in Afghanistan in 2013 to ensure the transition moves along smoothly?

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  You'll be surprised to hear that I'm not going to indulge in speculation over troop levels in Afghanistan. But I am absolutely confident that the ANSF, first and foremost, will be absolutely in a position to assume the lead for security across the country, supported by ISAF forces, by roughly the middle of 2013.

            Q:  Thank you, General. This is Lalit Jha from Pajhwok Afghan News.

            As we are post-2014, what do you think the key challenge is which ANSF are facing now and that needs to be addressed on a priority basis before 2014?

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  Well, I think the -- again, you'd be better off asking those who are responsible for equipping and training the ANSF that question.

            I've certainly seen on my travels nothing that is stopping the ANSF conducting operations as they choose to and stopping them from reacting to incidents in a manner that they choose to. ISAF support is there, but increasingly, the Afghans are more than capable and more than content to deal with operations entirely dependent on their own capabilities.

            Q:  Otto Kreisher again.

            Let me follow up on that. There's been, you know, substantial reports about their lack of air cover -- indigenous air cover, their logistics problems, their intelligence and communications. You don't see those as a problem?

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  All I'm saying, as I -- as I said to the -- to the last question, I think the details of those issues -- these are issues that are not affecting transition, and that that clearly is the bit that I am most focused on. I have not seen issues about enablers impacting on the ability of the Afghan security forces, be it army or police, to maintain the lead in transitioning areas.

            Q:  Good morning. Larry Shaughnessy from CNN.

            The talks to try to reopen the Pakistan border to ISAF convoys fell apart not long ago. I know the Northern Distribution Network is working, but at a tremendous cost. Is there something besides money that is a problem created by the lack of a southern distribution network, for lack of a better term, through Pakistan? Or is it just a matter of it costs more to do everything?

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  I haven't been privy to the negotiations that have been going on over the opening of the Pakistan GLOC. Now, clearly I'm aware that there have been some very detailed negotiations in the past, and I'm sure there will in the future.

            I'm not aware of the detail, other than to say -- as, again, the deputy commander said not so long ago -- that ISAF is managing perfectly well at the moment in its conduct of operations. But the detail of the discussions over the GLOC, I'm afraid I haven't got any information on that.

            Q:  If I could follow up. But beyond the discussions, in practical, day-to-day operations, is the lack of a GLOC with Pakistan causing you any operational, day-to-day problems? I know he's saying it's working right now, but do you anticipate a problem that cannot be easily solved using the Northern Distribution Network?

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  I'm not aware of one, no.

            Q:  Chris Carroll, Stars and Stripes.

            Is progress being made throughout the entire ANSF? We continually hear anecdotes about, you know, a large number of Afghan forces who are not well-trained and who are not easy to operate with. Is it the case that there's a small group or, you know, a minority of well-trained professional soldiers and a larger group that are not progressing at the same rate?

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  You know, I must say, I've never heard that.

            Again, at the risk of repeating myself, you can't -- you cannot mount -- wherever you may be in this country, you cannot mount, as the Afghans are doing, brigade-level operations and hope that a thin veneer of professionalism is in some way hiding a basic incompetence below that. You know, a brigade operation requires a properly trained and, indeed, resourced force. They're doing that around the country.

            So I certainly haven't heard the apocryphal stories that you mention, and I don't believe the evidence on the ground would support them either.

            Q:  Just a follow-up question. What kind of capabilities are the ANSF developing -- for example, explosive, ordnance disposal, logistics, special forces, you know -- that we might not hear about every day?

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  Well, it's kind of you to think that I would know, but I'm afraid that is -- that is well beyond my brief on transition, and you would be far better up close, not least because you would be speaking to someone who knows, to speak to somebody else on this.

            Q:  General, it's Luis Martinez of ABC News.

            Every region in Afghanistan brings its own security challenges. How do you tailor ANSF forces to each region? I imagine they bring their own unique characteristics that require specific training to -- and so it's going to vary from region to region. How can you -- how do you do that?

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  Well, you're absolutely right, of course, that the, you know, various parts of Afghanistan bring challenges of their own. And the Afghans deal with this as any other army in the world would deal with it, that there is -- there is always a level of basic training that is provided to every member of security forces, which is then honed when you get down to a unit in a particular area.

            It is the responsibility of the Afghan corps and the Afghan brigades to make sure that that -- the special training, if you like, sensitive to the environment, is conducted. And of course ISAF is absolutely part of that training process and mechanism in various parts of the country. But the Afghans would treat this in -- no differently to any other army in the world.

            CAPT. CAMPBELL:  One more.

            Q:  If I could follow up, sir. With the push into the eastern portions of -- eastern regions of Afghanistan this year, does that mean that you see more of a kinetic force among the ANSF that go in there? Or do you try -- find a mix, given that you're going to have to turn that over towards the security transition in the future?

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  If I understand your question correctly, again, I don't think that -- the nature of basic training doesn't change. Wherever a unit may go to thereafter, whether it be -- wherever it may be deployed in the country, there will always be special training that will be conducted before it goes into a certain area.

            I don't think, wherever you may go in this country, that you should assume that operations will be more or less kinetic. The important thing is that the forces will get the appropriate training, the appropriate assistance wherever they may get deployed.

            Q:  Another question. Can you describe from what you've seen, you know, personally, the relationship between ISAF and Afghan forces? How close do they interact when they're not training? Are they eating together?

            Are they -- can you -- are they friends? Are they -- you know, how do they interact with one another, besides from during training, that you've seen?

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  Yeah. I mean, working together means all of those things. Going out on a patrol or an operation is just part of working together.

            Our troops and Afghan troops absolutely in the field eat together. It's clearly difficult to socialize together, but they are -- they are together. And I think, as much as people who may well be speaking different languages can be, there are unquestionably some very close relationships all over the country between ISAF forces of all nationalities and the Afghans.

            So this isn't simply coming together as you prepare to go out the gate on a patrol. These are -- you know, as I say, the patrol is, if you like, just the pointy end of some very strong relationships across the country.

            Q:  Excuse me. General, Chris Carroll from Stars and Stripes again.

            Is there any update on the numbers from the recent 1230 report on the percentages of Afghan units able to operate, you know, with advisers or with partners, et cetera?

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  In simple terms, no, there isn't. As you know, the 1230 comes out every six months or so. The next one will be due in the late fall. And yeah, that will be the appropriate time, not least because, obviously, the data is being collected. So in simple terms, the answer is no to your question.

            CAPT. CAMPBELL:  General, we'll wrap it up with one last question here and then turn it back over to you.

            So one more question on our end, sir.

            Q:  Matt Schofield, McClatchey Newspapers.

            You know, going forward, the future of -- the future success of the ANSF, we've heard there is some backsliding on the success against poppy production. This is a primary source of funding.

            What's the -- what's -- going forward, how do you see that moving? I mean, is there -- does there need to be a renewed effort to go back after poppy, to decrease the funding of Taliban, et cetera? Or do you -- are you happy with the way things are going, or is that -- is that not an operational thing -- is that not a transitional issue?

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  It's not a transitional issue. But what I will say is that the governor-led eradication schemes this year have been more successful than they ever have been. And you know, as an example of the Afghans taking responsibility for their own future, I think it's an excellent example. But it doesn't impact on transition. No, it doesn't.

            CAPT. CAMPBELL:  General, we're grateful for your time that you've devoted to speak with us this evening your time, this morning our time. And I'd like to just turn it back over to you for a few closing remarks on your end, sir. And again, thank you from the Briefing Room.

            BRIG. CRIPWELL:  Thanks very much indeed. And thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your questions.

            I would just reiterate what I said at the start, that transition is a strategically important process for this country. It is one not simply that is being imposed on the Afghans; it is one that they are absolutely part of.

            And the success of the Afghan National Security Forces to date in assuming the responsibility for 75 percent of the population of their country, and the success that I have no doubt that they are going to enjoy in the future, is absolutely critical to them assuming responsibility and ensuring the sovereignty and peace in this country in the future.

            Thank you very much, indeed, for your time.

            CAPT. CAMPBELL:  General, thank you.