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DOD News Briefing with Brig. Gen. Putt from the Pentagon

Presenters: Deputy Commanding General of V U.S. Corps, Director, Afghan National Security Forces Development, International Security Assistance Force Joint Command Brig. Gen. Thomas E. Putt
August 01, 2012

            MS. TARA RIGLER:  Good morning here in the briefing room, and good evening, Kabul, Afghanistan. 

            I'd like to welcome Brigadier General Thomas Putt, deputy commander, V Corps and ISAF Joint Command, director of Afghan National Forces Development, to the Pentagon briefing room. 

            Brigadier General Putt has served in the Canadian army since 1976. In his previous assignment to Afghanistan in 2005 he was appointed deputy commander, Task Force Afghanistan, Rotation 1. 

            Brigadier General Putt was decorated with the meritorious service medal for his performance in Afghanistan. Following his return from the mission in August 2006 -- he returned from the mission in August (inaudible) returned to Canada, the 41 Canada Brigade Group, which he commanded from 2009 to 2010. 

            In the fall of 2010, Brigadier General Putt became the deputy commander, 1st Canadian Division headquarters. In June 2011 he became the deputy commander of Land Force Doctrine and Training System in Kingston, Ontario. 

            This is the first time Brigadier General Putt has joined us here in the Pentagon briefing room. Today, he will provide an update on the achievements and challenges of Afghan national security force development and take your questions. He will give an opening statement, and when he's done he'll turn it over to us. 

            Please remember to state your name and affiliation, and then I'll call on you. 

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

            BRIGADIER GENERAL THOMAS E. PUTT:   Thank you very much. 

            Ladies and gentlemen, good morning from Afghanistan. 

            As introduced, my name is Brigadier General Thomas Putt and I am the director of Afghan National Security Force Development for ISAF Joint Command, commonly known as the IJC. 

            By way of introduction, I am currently the Canadian exchange officer with V U.S. Corps as one of the deputy commanders, as was mentioned earlier. 

            And as you know, V U.S. Corps makes up the core of the U.S. contribution to the IJC headquarters. 

            Also as mentioned, I'm also on my second tour in Afghanistan. My first tour I was down in Kandahar in 2006. And I think that is an important point, because it is evident to anyone who visits IJC that the commander, General Terry, and most of the staff are veterans of multiple tours -- sometimes three and four tours -- in this country. This depth of professional knowledge and leadership experience at the operational and tactical level is critical as we work together with our Afghan partners on the road to 2014. 

            In particular, as the director of ANSF development, it is my job to work with all of the multinational ANSF development and field advisory teams deployed in the respective regional commands across the theater. I also work hand-in-hand with our Afghan partners who are in the field taking the fight to the insurgents. 

            Essentially, I am a champion of the ANSF and IJC for the fielded force, both the ANA and the ANP down range. I also work closely with NTM-A, our training authority, which provides not only the school houses and equipment that fields the ANSF, they also possess an incredible wealth of institutional knowledge that is invaluable to all levels, and they are superb partners in this mission. 

            Since coming into the theater, as part of my duties I have visited most of the regional commands and their partnered Afghan corps in order to gain a better perspective for my work down to the kandak level. Frankly, I have been impressed with remarkable improvement since 2006. 

            Today we are witnessing ANA corps like the 205th in Kandahar conducting independent brigade and multi-brigade-led operations with advisers only in support of police and governance-focused objectives in the province of Kandahar. Other ANA corps are also conducting operations in similar scope and scale across the theater. This was -- this was considered unthinkable not 24 months ago. 

            What I have seen is that the ANSF is capable of fighting and winning at the kandak infantry level.  However, this does not mean that there are not challenges.  As veteran Afghan combat commanders are promoted into key command and staff positions at the brigade and corps level, IJC and ANSF development staff have adjusted our collective efforts on mentoring this new generation of Afghan warrior to be able to plan and execute more complex missions and operations at the brigade and corps level. Therefore, it's important to note that while the ANA continues to demonstrate an emerging confidence at the brigade and corps level, there is still much work to be done over the next 29 months. 

            My particular focus over the course of this year is to look at how to improve key enablers for the ANSF. These enablers include command-and-control, supporting fires, intelligence, logistics and counter IED, but to name a few. 

            Currently, IJC is working hard on Afghan logistics and counter IED enablers at the brigade and corps level.  Indeed they are my two -- my two top priorities as we speak. 

            Concurrently, ANSF development is working on similar lines of efforts for the ANP, with a particular focus on enhancing the professionalism of the AUP in support of the Ministry of the Interior. 

            My team is solely focused on supporting the campaign as it evolves from a coalition-led combat mission to Afghan-led security. Ultimately, my role is to help develop an ANSF that assures lead responsibility for security in Afghanistan, and I believe that we are well along the way to doing so today. 

            I will be happy now to take any questions. Please proceed. 

            Q:  General, thank you. This is Raghubir Goyal from India Globe and Asia Today. 

            My question is that now U.S., NATO and Pakistan has signed agreement to open the doors which were closed by Pakistan due to drone attacks and other incidents on the border. What do you make out of this? Do you think now all the problems have been solved and resolved between the nations? And now Pakistan is also demanding the drone attacks must be stopped. 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  I think the important thing here is that the GLOCs were in fact open and very much needed in the country. The -- the issue of the cross-border incidents is -- is -- is something that's being worked at very hard both by the government of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and of course, ISAF in support. And I know that there are -- there are many discussions on that as we speak. And most -- most of us are focused on that as we go forward. 

            Q:  Yeah, Lalit Jha from Pajhwok Afghan News. 

            In your opening remarks, you said there's still much work to be done over the next 29 months for ANSF -- for Afghan National Army, sorry. Can you give us more details about it? What other -- what other steps of the work that needs to be done for ANA to become fully independent? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  Yes, that's a good question. And in fact, the work that's being done is as we move away from the kandaks being capable of fighting, we know that they're -- they've become very capable of that, both army units and the special forces. What we're looking at now is how we can enhance this army's capability to operate at the higher level, that is the brigade and corps level. And by that, what we're focusing on are things like logistics, the boring topic of logistics and how we supply and sustain our troops, and of course the ongoing issues with counter-IED. That's a very heavy push from ISAF IJC, and our training authority with our Afghan partners in that area. 

            And we've already started to make headway, and in fact in -- in R.C.-South 205 Corps, 201 and 203 Corps in the east are already demonstrating that. What we're doing now is with our Afghan partners is working on ways to enhance that capability on the road to 2014. 

            Q:  Sir, Richard Sisk, Military.com. How many of the Afghan units are capable of operating independently without -- without ISAF advice, instruction, going along with them? 

            Last week General Gurganus told us that in all of Helmand there was one. How many are capable of operating independently? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  Right now, the -- the assessment is, is that we're about 40 percent in terms of the kandaks themselves operating independently with -- with mentors as they go forward. In the north the percentage is higher. But the national percentage across the country is about 40 percent. 

            Q:  General, it's Mike Evans from the London Times. When you go around speaking to all the ANSF officers and other ranks, do you get a firm impression that they regard the Taliban as the enemy and that the reason why they're fighting is to fight the Taliban or are they fighting because it gives them a good job and money? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  In my circulation -- and I've -- and I've been downrange for the better part of three weeks -- mostly in the south, although yesterday was in R.C.-North looking at some police issues -- I have spoken to several kandak commanders and -- and I can tell you it's very much -- their message to me is that they are fighting -- they are fighting the Taliban or the insurgents, as they've called. 

            And it's interesting to note since 2006 how high their reputation has -- has evolved as we go forward. So -- I mean, I've been very impressed with that. And I've been in several FOBs, but more importantly I've been with kandak commanders and junior commanders and -- and they're -- they're the ones that are telling the message as we go forward. And they're pretty proud of what they're doing. 

            Q:  Hi, General. It's Courtney Kube from NBC News. You mentioned to -- to Richard's question that 40 percent of the kandaks are operating independently with mentors. Are there any that are operating completely independently? And how many, if any, are providing all of their own logistical capabilities, if any? And if there aren't any, what's the time line on when that may start? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  Right. Well, it's sort of two questions. 

            There are -- there are kandaks that are operating on their own, in the north and the west, of course, as they do that. The ones in the south that are operating with mentorship, it really is to provide some of the enablers that you were discussing. 

            In terms of the leadership and taking the fight to the insurgents, they're doing most of that on their own. 

            Logistics is an enabler that I have spent three -- three hard weeks on trying to understand how we can work together to enhance that -- that particular one. 

            What we're talking about is not in terms of basic combat supplies; they don't have a problem in that area. What we're looking at now is how we can do things like enhance their ability in the field of maintenance and looking after other -- other enablers, such as artillery, and the higher functions that are -- that are expected of an army that is evolving. 

            Q:  And how many of those are -- how many kandaks are operating without any logistical support from ISAF? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  Right now I would say probably in the same range, about 40 percent, as they draw down. 

            Now, there are mentors at higher levels, so it's a tough question to answer. But -- but as I said earlier in my opening statement, really the brigade and the corps levels are those levels that we are now focusing our attention on. So that's a -- it's a big of an emerging skill set that we're working on, and it's not an easy one to -- to acquire overnight. 

            However, there are -- there are successes that are being achieved in logistics, but, again, it's in the combat supply area. We're working on the higher requirement. 

            Q:  Right. Can I just follow up one more time? I don't mean to belabor this point, I just want to make sure I understand and got what you're saying here. 

            So -- so you're saying that 40 percent of all of the Afghan security forces that are operating in the country right now are operating -- are providing their own logistical support? And I understand what you mean about maintenance and whatnot, but you mean they're providing their own intelligence and all of their own logistics and enablers? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  No. Logistics and intelligence are, of course, two different things. I'm focused specifically on logistics. And I've actually walked the lines of communication from the capital down to the kandak. In certain areas they're already providing all of their own logistical support as they go forward -- all the way from the depots down to the corps. What we're working on is areas like Class 9 maintenance supplies, the higher issues and how they get down. 

            So from a basic standpoint of logistics, they are looking after themselves. It's the higher issues that we're focusing our attention on. These are important pieces as we move forward, and they'll -- they'll take the better part of -- of my tour, at least, to make sure that they're in place for 2014. 

            But I am confident that they will be there based on my circulation of the battle space. 

            Q:  Hi, General. This is Kristina Wong from The Washington Times. 

            My question is, not including ISAF special operators, how many NATO trainers are there in total? How many do you need, for how long? And is it correct to say that the number of NATO trainers will only draw down? 

            And I have a second question, but I'll wait for that. 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  In terms of the NATO trainers, in fact this week IJC is spending an awful lot of time going through that to determine the level at which the -- the assessment -- I'm sorry, the adviser teams and the mentors are in fact required for both the ANA and ANP. 

            Currently, we are confident that we are in a position -- a strong position to continuing covering off as we go forward. But the decisions still have to be taken between the ANA, ANP and ourselves as to what level we want to mentor and cover off at. And that information will be -- will be out probably in the next two weeks and I'll be able to answer that question in greater detail. 

            Currently, there -- there is an adequate mentor coverage across the theater. 

            Q:  I'm sorry:  "in" or "adequate?” "Inadequate," or "adequate?" 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  Adequate.  

            Q:  Thanks for clarifying. 

            So we can't -- so we don't know whether the number of NATO trainers will only draw down? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  No, we don't right now at this time. 

            Q:  And second question, The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the shortage of aircraft for Afghan troops. The equipment that's being provided right now in training, will that -- will that same equipment be left behind for Afghan troops? And when will that be determined? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  The -- the Afghan air force is -- is really the third in the order of march of priorities as we've developed the ANSF. And they're really just getting going in terms of what we're looking for down the road. 

            But the equipment that's been provided here for training and in fact for operational purposes, including the helicopters, will remain and in fact grow. And we expect that the Afghan air force will grow from its current strength of about 4,000 people to about 8,000 by '14 to '15. 

            Q:  General, Nathan Hodge of The Wall Street Journal. I'd like to follow on the question about the Afghan air force. 

            As you mentioned, the stand-up of the Afghan air force got off -- is -- is, as you said, third in the order of march or getting off to a somewhat later start than the rest of the ANSF. 

            How long will the Afghans depend on the coalition, in your estimation, for things like MEDEVAC, for intra-theater lift, for close air support? And is there any effort to try to accelerate the stand- up of the air force so that they'll be more self-sufficient? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  Yes, in terms of air support, air support is expected from ISAF until 2014. And there is an accelerated program being developed in place focused on rotary initially, but certainly on -- on transport further down the road as we go forward. 

            But I think there is every indication that as part of the enduring investment into this country that the air force development will go on after 2014. 

            Q:  A quick follow-on. How many Afghan units or kandaks have been able to independently conduct air assault? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  I don't have that answer right now, but I will get it for you and we'll get back to you right away with that. But it has been done. It's being done frequently in -- in 215 Corps and R.C.- Southwest and in 205 Corps from -- from the section to the company level.  But I'll get you the exact numbers off-line. 

            Q:  Sir, following on that, have the Russian helicopters, the Mi-17s, have they arrived yet? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  Well, Mi-17s in fact have been here for quite some time. And what's happening now is that the maintenance for those helicopters and the flight training has now been enhanced by our mission and additional helicopters are being looked into. 

            So currently, they're still flying on their current fleet of helicopters. 

            Q:  General, what I meant was the sale. The U.S. is buying from the Russians, I believe it's 26 Mi-17s for delivery to the Afghan air force. Have they arrived? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  They have not arrived, as far as I know. 

            Q:  One more question from The Washington Times. 

            You mentioned counter-IED. How many Afghan troops are trained on anti-IED capabilities? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  Basically, all the soldiers that go through their basic training receive sessions on mine awareness as they go forward, and then at our regional training centers in the various R.C.s, it's continued there. Our specialists, the Afghan (inaudible) clearance companies which are doing remarkable work, are obviously the experts in that area. And it is -- it is a major, major push by both MOD, MOI and ourselves to develop that. 

            We hosted a Shura here on the 16th of the month -- last month, actually -- to take a look at both logistics and counter-IED. And what we came up with were some fantastic recommendations from downrange. In fact, there was an engineering combat major from the British army who proposed a training -- 14 days of training to basically make them aware of counter-IED, IED, how to move about the battle space and survive in it without the necessary equipment. 

            It's only a start, actually, and it's going to be a major push for us this year. As I said in the opening address, logistics and counter-IED are our number one, number two priority, and they're interchangeable because they're so important to moving the ANSF ahead. 

            Q:  General, Viola Gienger, I'm a freelance journalist. 

            I wanted to ask you about women in the ANA and ANP. You have a few hundred in ANP, I believe, and quite a few in ANA as well. 

            What role are they playing at this point? And considering the traditions there, are you finding that they are really serving the kind of utility that -- that was envisioned originally? And -- and how -- what's the retention rate among women? 

            And a separate question is, what has been the effect of attacks such as assassinations against leadership and units of ANA and ANP especially? 

            Q:  What sort of effects have you seen on the leadership ranks, if any? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  Okay, the first -- in response to the first question, in the ANP as of this month, there are 1,409 women serving in the various pillars of the police force. The army is less. The ANA currently has 379. In the army, it's an emerging capability and -- and basically they're very much at the entry level working their way in. 

            The ANP is much more advanced. In fact, in Kandahar last week, AUP were conducting the first in a series of community-based foot patrols moving around because the situation has gotten better there. And -- and I think at least a dozen AUP female police officers are now intermixed with their male colleagues out on the battle space. 

            I would say that the ANP probably has the lead in integrating women into the service and the ANA is really commencing that. 

            In terms of your -- in terms of your second question, the assassinations or the attempts on leaders in the ANA and ANP, the numbers are quite small. And in fact, it's having very little effect on the combat effectiveness of those two organizations. 

            Q:  General, it's Mike Evans again. 

            With the quite a large number of American troops and also French troops leaving by the end of this year, have you come across any concern amongst the Afghan commanders about the gap that's leaving? Or are you satisfied that that gap is actually being filled by the Afghans themselves? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  I am in fact satisfied. I've partaken in all of the discussions around that, and not only the ANA and ANP are filling in behind that, but they're taking the lead in the areas they fill in behind, which is exactly what we're looking for as we go forward. 

            Q:  General, Raghubir, again, from Asia Today. 

            My question is that you said earlier the major problem of Taliban and terror is in the south and some in the north. My question is, now that recently Afghanistan has been warning Pakistan as far as these attacks are concerned, or even that means Afghanistan's president, Mr. Karzai, is blaming Pakistan. So how serious is this problem? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  Well, I won't comment on political issues.  That's not why I'm here. 

            But in terms -- in terms of that, I believe that the -- the Taliban insurgency is a problem on both sides of the border and -- and that's why the fighting is concentrated where it is. And that's really all I have to say about that. 

            Q:  What are you doing about this? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  Pardon me, I didn't hear. 

            Q:  What are you doing -- how -- what are -- what steps are you taking to stop this? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  Well, there are continuous operations that are going on all across the south, from 201 Corps all the way across to the west, the 215 Corps in that area. And as I said in my opening statement, all these corps are conducting at least brigade- level operations in support of police operations to quell the insurgency. 

            And -- and it's an ongoing effort, 24 and 7, as they -- as they take the fight to the -- to the Taliban and the other organizations that make up the insurgency. 

            Q:  Thanks. 

            Q:  General, Nathan Hodge again with The Wall Street Journal. 

            My question is about ANSF casualties and this fighting season. Could you give us a general sense? From just reports that we've seen, it seems that the casualty rates are considerably higher than those of coalition forces in the past three or four months. 

            And has that been -- have -- have more attacks, Taliban or insurgent-initiated attacks been directed at things like ANP versus -- or ALP versus ANA? Is there any kind of sense that you can give us of what the casualties have been? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  Well, the reason we think that -- in fact we know that the ANA and ANP are suffering casualties is that they are -- they are engaged heavily in the fight as they go forward. And -- and, you know, the casualties go two ways, as you all know. So the numbers are commensurate with a fight that the insurgents are suffering, as well. In terms of numbers, it seems to be pretty evenly spaced out between the ANA and the -- and the ANP as it goes forward and ebbs and flows. But it's been -- it's been pretty consistent, and it's the determination of the Taliban to -- to fight an organization that is actually starting to challenge them and is challenging them for -- for supremacy in their operational areas. 

            MS. RIGLER:  We have time for two more questions. 

            Q:  How many -- what is the number of Afghan troops that is trained currently? I know we're getting to 352,000 by October, but can we have a status update on that? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  Sure, absolutely. In the ANA today, the rationed strength of the ANA today is 185,125. That's as of late June, early July. And the attrition rate within that organization is 2.4 percent across the board, as you go forward. 

            The ANP, the rationed strength is 146,641, the same time frame. And their attrition rate is about 1.2 percent at the height of the fighting season. ANCOP is actually only 0.1. And of course they're sort of the flagship organization right now of the ANA -- sorry, the ANP as it goes forward. 

            And as it stands right now, end-state numbers are well ahead of schedule, and by October of this year they should be at full strength. The school houses are full of -- of new recruits. As you know, is a voluntary system, so I sort of refute some of the issues about people walking away. People are looking for careers, particularly in the ANP right now. And with a focus on literacy rates and literacy it has become a real draw for the security forces as we move forward. 

            Q:  General, I wanted to ask you about literacy, actually. What is the literacy rate now in Afghan national security forces versus what it was, say, five years ago? 

            How much has it really changed and -- and what levels are we talking about here? How significant is it? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  I think it's quite significant over the last couple of years. I'll get you the exact stats off-line because I don't want to guess at it. You know, understanding that the literacy rate we're talking about is grade three or four in many cases, nevertheless it is a huge attractor to -- to young Afghans who are looking for a career in either the army or the police. 

            And it is also, I think, a secret weapon that -- that the insurgents can't provide, and that's one draw down the road that we think will pay huge dividends as we go forward. 

            But I'll get you the exact number as we go forward. Considerable efforts are made right now in both the ANA and the ANP to introduce literacy as a chief enabler. In fact, we probably won't be able to go forward in some of our enabler objectives if we don't increase literacy. So we're working very hard at it. 

            MS. RIGLER:  one last question. 

            Q:  Sir, Richard (inaudible) Military.com. Sir, could you clarify on the attrition rates for the ANP and the ANA? You said one point -- 2.4 for ANA and 1.2 for ANP. Is that per month, per year? What is the time frame, sir? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  It's monthly, is when we take a look at it as it goes forth, and it includes training as well. Just to give you an example of that, you know, currently in-house training in the army, there are 22,735 soldiers in the various schoolhouses moving in. And we've graduated last month, which is July, 8,763 across the board. 

            In terms of -- in terms of the ANP, again, the attrition's 1.2, a monthly rate. In training are 5,757 and our graduate rate for last month was 2,944. 

            So we track the numbers very closely. And in fact I sit as a co-chair on the Joint Attrition Working Group at the MOD, so I follow this data is very important to us as we go forward. And my co-chair is General Akram from the MOD -- and in fact he's the chair and I am his co-chair as we go forward. 

            And we look at everything from -- from attrition to training to quality of life; a lot of new initiatives that have been put in for us as we go forward, and we're pretty pleased with that. I mean, the AWOL rate in the height of the sort of the campaign season last week was down to 6 percent in R.C.-South and Southwest. The 205 Corps, 201 and 203 Corps which are -- are obviously heavily engaged in the counterinsurgency have seen, you know, basically AWOL has dropped considerably, which speaks volumes for -- for, we think, for the army and the police who are in the fight. 

            MS. RIGLER:  You want to follow up? 

            Q:  Yes, sir, if I could please follow up:  a 2.4 percent attrition rate per month for the ANA. So you're losing 25, 30 percent attrition rate for a year? 

            BRIG. GEN. PUTT:  No, it's not -- it's not anywhere near that high. It's not anywhere near that high. That's last month. It's lower than that as you go forward -- or sorry, as you look back. But I'll get you the exact quotes. The attrition rate is very low in both organizations who are in the middle of the campaign season. And I'll get you the exact numbers off-line. 

            MS. RIGLER:  Well, thank you for joining us today. 

            (AUDIO GAP) 

            PUTT:  I can't hear.  Sorry.  Are we disconnected or... 

            RIGLER:  Any closing remarks?  I'm sorry, I jumped the gun.  My fault. 

            PUTT:  That's all right. 

            Again, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for giving us time to speak to you about ANSF development from an IJC perspective.

            In closing, I would like to say it is an honor to serve in Afghanistan here with V Corps.  And as we say in our corps, it will be done.  Thank you very much, and I look forward to talk to you again soon.  Cheers.