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DoD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Durbin from the Pentagon

Presenters: Commander, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan Maj. Gen. Robert Durbin
July 13, 2006 1:45 PM EDT
     BRYAN WHITMAN (Pentagon spokesman):  Well, good afternoon, and thank you for joining us today.  It's my privilege to be able to introduce to you, this time in person and not via the screen right here, where they normally see you, General, Major General Robert Durbin, who is the commander of the Combined Security Transition Command in Afghanistan.  He is the one that is helping rebuild and further develop the Afghan security forces.  Last time he spoke to you was in May by satellite.  And we're grateful that he has the time to give us another update and take some of your questions while he's here in Washington. 

           With that, let me turn it right over to you, General. 

             GEN. DURBIN:  Thank you.  Good afternoon.  I am Bob Durbin, and I am the commanding general of the Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan.  Those serving in my command are responsible for manning, equipping and training the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.  And it is great to be with you.  And I can report today that steady progress has been made since the last time we met in May. 


            I'd like to just take a few minutes upfront to discuss the strides being made by the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police, which together make up the Afghan National Security Forces. I'll also discuss the significant challenges they continue to face. Then I'll be happy to take any of your questions. 


            First, the Afghan National Army.  Since we last spoke, the Afghan National Army has taken a significant step in developing a professional non-commissioned officer corps.  On the 3rd of June, Sergeant Major of the Army Roshan Safi, was selected as the first-ever sergeant major of the army for the Afghan National Army.   


            SMA Roshan quickly went about assessing the training, readiness and morale within the Afghan National Army.  And I have no doubt that he will have a positive impact and will lead from the front in a campaign to professionalize the noncommissioned officer corps, the backbone of the new Afghan National Army. 


            On June 15th, with the Afghan National Army in the lead and coalition forces in support, the decisive phase of Operation Mountain Thrust began in southern Afghanistan.  The significance of this event cannot be overstated, as this is the first-ever large-scale operation in which the Afghan army shouldered and continues to shoulder a large portion of this operation, not only in planning and executing, but also as the highest percentage of the total force participating.  The ANA has more troops in this operation than any other country.   


            On July 3rd the Ministry of Defense broke ground for their new national military command center.  This facility will provide state- of-the-art enhanced command, control and communications for all security forces in Afghanistan.  And also earlier this month, the Afghan National Army received a large shipment of individual body armor and Kevlar helmets.  Selected Afghan National Army units will also receive up-armored humvees and M-16 rifles. 


            The Afghan National Police continue to make progress as well.  On June 3rd, President Karzai signed into law the second phase, of top 86, of rank reform within the Afghan National Police for their leadership.  This is a significant step because it shows the Afghan government's commitment to making the Afghan National Police a more effective force.  In essence, the Afghan government is putting into place a process that over time will lead to higher standards and professionalism.  The Afghan National Police will be led by the most qualified leaders, and their performance will continue to be evaluated throughout the course of their public service. 


            The Afghan National Police recently opened two of what will eventually be five regional commands.  On May 31st, Regional Command South opened in Kandahar, and on July 2nd Regional Command East opened in Gardez.  The Afghan National Police also recently received or will receive over 8,000 new vehicles, 45,000 new uniforms, millions of rounds of ammunition, and thousands of weapons of all types.   


            The end result will be an Afghan National Police that is more capable and more effective at providing security and law enforcement functions establishing the rule of law throughout Afghanistan. 


            Amidst the progress that the army and the police are making, significant challenges remain.  Though the numbers are going down, absenteeism continues to negatively impact unit readiness and more work needs to be done to address the root causes of this problem. Leader development continues to be a challenge.  Though recent improvements such as pay and rank reform are having the desired effect, the army and police need to continue to develop institutional solutions that will sustain production of high-quality leaders. 


            Perhaps the greatest challenge for the army and the police is that they face an adaptive enemy bent on destabilizing Afghanistan through any means necessary.  It is against this insidious threat that the Afghan National Security Forces must continue to improve their ability to plan and decisively execute a variety of operations, all while they continue to devote personnel and other resources to building enduring institutions that are absolutely critical to sustaining a professional army and a professional police force. 


            These challenges, while significant, are not insurmountable. Building an Afghan National Army from scratch and reforming an Afghan National Police would be difficult during the best of times, yet the Afghan people, with assistance from the coalition and the international community, are doing just that while continuing to progress against a ruthless enemy. 


            Finally, the American people should be extremely proud of the work being done every day by the young men and women of both our armed forces and their interagency colleagues, specifically those from the Department of State.  I've been a soldier for more than 30 years, and I have never been more proud than I am of these brave and dedicated professionals. 


            With that, I'd be happy to take any of your questions. 


            Q     General, the Afghan Defense minister this week was quoted as saying that an Afghan army numbering at least 150,000 to 200,000 soldiers would be needed to secure Afghanistan.  What size of an army do you envision?  And what's your reaction to his comments? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  The size of the Afghan National Army will be determined by the government of Afghanistan in consultation with the international community.  That consultation is already in writing with the compact with Afghanistan, which establishes a ceiling of 70,000 for the Afghan National Army.  As time progresses, the government of Afghanistan in consultation with the international community may revisit that number. 


            Q     And -- I'm sorry.  Can I follow up? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  Please. 


            Q     What is the current number in the army and in the police forces? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  Right now, we have a little bit over 30,000 in the Afghan National Army that are fully equipped and trained.  And in the Afghan National Police, we have a little bit over 37,000 that are fully equipped and trained, and the police force right now has the tashkeel organizational construct of 62,000. 




            Q     President Karzai also said earlier this week that he was going to continue to keep asking for more American troops, that he's asking now and he's going to continue to ask.  Do you see this as -- I mean, is it inevitable that we're going to send more U.S. forces into Afghanistan in the future? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  I'll refer back to the mission of my command.  We are charged with developing a professional Afghan national army and a professional Afghan national police force, which together would provide the sufficient security forces for Afghanistan to provide for its own security. 


            So the faster we can do that, the higher the probability is that the international community's commitment with additional forces could be reduced. 


            Q     Do you see the statement as any kind of a reflection on the quality of the Afghan national army right now? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  No.  I think I see it more of a reflection on his commitment to the security of all of Afghanistan and his commitment to the security of the Afghan people. 


            MR. WHITMAN:  Sir. 


            Q     What's the timetable for getting to full strength of the army and the police, and also, the timetable for getting all that additional 2 billion (dollars) in equipment for the forces? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  The growth pattern that we are on right now, based on the recruiting and retention for the Afghan national army, has us growing at about a thousand a month.  So if you do the math, you could figure out about how many months it would take us to get to the 70,000 threshold. 


            For the police force, we are under a reform process that will have us work through at least the next year or two in order to be able to complete the rank reform and have fully trained and equipped forces at the 62,000 level. 


            Q     And the 2 billion (dollars) in equipment? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  That will arrive over the next 12 to 18 months, and so it'll be synchronized with the growth pattern of the army for the arrival of the equipment and modernization effort for the army, and then it will also be in concert with the growth pattern of reform that we have for the 62,000 police force. 




            Q     Can you talk to us about the security environment that they're operating in -- and I'm referring less, actually, to the Taliban resurgence or whatever it is in the south and more to the culture. 


            For 20 years the security in Afghanistan was heavily localized: warlords would sort of keep track of things.  How do you go and impose police over that, or -- or army over that?  How do you -- do you work with them?  Do you say that they can't be any part of it?  How do you -- how do you conceptualize what security in Afghanistan needs to look like?  Because I'm not sure that how we think of it would be applicable over there. 


            GEN. DURBIN:  Your articulation of the fact that most -- over the last 30 years of war, that the most remote regions of Afghanistan have had their security provided by local elements, that in and of itself is one of the reasons why you have seen an uptick in the violence, because as the capacity and capability of the Afghan national security forces rises, combined with the increase of NATO-ISAF forces, there is more capacity to apply the presence of the government of Afghanistan legitimate security forces into regions that heretofore have -- we have not gone.  And I -- you -- we have called them anti-coalition elements, anti-government elements.  I refer to them as anti-change elements, because any element that has influence in a remote district or village would rather retain status quo and not have any change to their influence, and any government security forces supported by coalition forces threatens their influence as it is right now and causes change. 


            Q     But, I mean, is the approach then to just disarm them and be the force there, or is there some sort of cooperative arrangement that's being worked out district by district? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  I -- I think it's a combination of the two.  And when kinetic effects are required, they will be used.  When non- kinetic effects are equally effective or more effective, then the non- kinetic effects would be effect of choice.  And we're using a combination of both.  And even if we do need to use kinetic effects, it is immediately followed up by the non-kinetic effects to ensure that the change that has been provided with the new presence of the government of Afghanistan has a positive impact on the lives of those who feel it. 




            Q     General, you had mentioned that the Afghan national army is fielding an extra 1,000 soldiers a month.  At that rate, it would take about a little more than three years to reach the ceiling of 70,000. Can you talk about why it would take a relative -- such a long time to get such a relatively small army fielded? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  I think quality has a criteria associated with the growth pattern.  And based on how we have put the program together, we feel that the thousand a month is appropriate to retain the quality and establish the quantity that we feel is effective than that which would be needed. 


            Q     Just as a quick follow-up, getting back to the question of a 150,000-troop Afghan army, can you say would the United States object to an Afghan National Army that large? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  I couldn't answer that question.  That would be a policy question.  And again, the size of the Afghan National Army is going to be decided by the government of Afghanistan, with consultation with the international community. 




            Q     General, millions of Afghans were freed from the clutches of Taliban rule by the international community and the United States, and I'm sure they are very thankful to the U.S. and the international community.  But now in recent weeks and months, the president of Afghanistan, President Karzai, was not very happy the way the international community -- or they have not kept their promise or commitment, because he was complaining that the Taliban or al Qaedas were coming back from -- across the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan, and he has already told in his meetings to Pakistani authorities.  Now in Washington, foreign minister of Pakistan was here, and he said this is a blame game by the Afghan government and they are meeting and discussing this issue. 


            My question is that, how do you feel now, as far as Talibans are concerned, coming back?  Either they are being freed from Guantanamo Bay or coming back to fight against the international coalition forces.  Do you believe President Karzai, or do you believe, as an Army general, that there is a problem now, and how you can resolve this? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  As an Army general, I'll answer from a military perspective and not speak to President Karzai's political perspective.  


            There is a very porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the Duran Line.  It's a military challenge.  A very effective method that has been worked over the last two-plus years through tripartite with Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States in mil-to- mil relationships have established an improvement and an enhancement of that cooperation and communication between the Pak military and the Afghan military and the coalition forces. 


            I will tell you that it is having a positive effect and it is a very good step forward in order to deal with the situation that you're speaking to. 


            Q     May I have a follow-up, one more?  How can you assure the international community, especially civilians working in Afghanistan to rebuild Afghanistan, like a number of people were killed and kidnapped, like some of them were Indians, how can you guarantee their safety?  Because many are not willing to even come there because they fear their families will be killed at home or -- at home? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  In a theater of war, I'm sure I cannot guarantee anything. 


            But one thing I will give my full commitment to is that we have worked diligently and will continue to ensure that we have the appropriate amount of security established to support the reconstruction efforts of the international community, so that that end state of reconstruction, that'll lead to economic development, which is the true essence of success in Afghanistan can continue. 




            Q     Going back to the training, can you talk about what some of the biggest challenges are that you face with both the army and the police force?  And also have you seen at all an infiltration in these training groups organizations of either Taliban forces or insurgent forces? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  I think the greatest challenge is to ensure that we have effective leaders at all levels and as we're building an army, and it is a value-based professional force.  That's something that will take time, and we have conducted multiple reforms of the senior leadership within the Afghan National Army over the last three years. And the Afghan National Army's senior leadership now continues that process of identifying those leaders who do in fact have imbued the right character traits and characteristics of good leaders.  The same thing is true in the police.  But with a reform process, it's a little bit more difficult.  So it may take us a few more years with the police to establish a professionally-led professional force. 


            Q     Follow up with the question on the infiltration.  You're saying an infiltration -- 


            GEN. DURBIN:  To date, we have not identified an infiltration in either force. 


            Q     General, you talked about the Afghan National Army's performance in mountain threats.  Have you observed anything that you would characterize as perhaps rookie mistakes?  And if so, with an operation going on, is it possible to do lessons learned with them as it's going on, or is it something you're going to have to review after it's over? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  A more qualified individual to identify rookie mistakes would be my brother, Major General Ben Freakley, who's the operational commander of the 10th Mountain CJTF-76.  But I will tell you that the cooperation between Ben and myself, I believe that we've established a prudent method by which we would minimize the opportunity of those rookie mistakes.  I and all my people provide a(n) assessment of the capabilities at the company battalion brigade level.  Ben's folks, when they partner with him, a 10th Mountain unit partnering with an Afghan National Army battalion, also make a final assessment before they go into combat. 


            So I think between the two of us, we have attempted to be as prudent as possible.  We have had no tactical failures to date.  But I don't know if there are rookie mistakes that I don't know about. 




            Q     Hi.  You mentioned something about retention in the Afghan army.  We're talking about, you know, four years on now.  What is retention like for those first units that were formed? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  The Afghan National Army is an all-volunteer force, and that's something that the Afghans should be proud of, that they are able to.  And there is no problem with the recruiting.  If we wanted to have a growth pattern greater than a thousand -- there are many sons and daughters of Afghanistan who are willing to serve their country.  That's not the issue. 


            They sign up a commitment to serve for three years.  So we are going through a period now where many of the battalions that were formed three years ago are coming up on the end of their enlistment. We are running a little bit above the -- 35 percent for the retention. We would like that retention to be more like 50 percent as our goal, and that's the goal that the Afghan national leadership in the army, Minister Wardak and General Bismullah Khan have established.  And that's a goal that we will now work to achieve.  That would provide us the right retention statistics that are appropriate. 


            Remember now, the soldiers come in -- they get some pretty good education, to include literacy training and education.  And so therefore, there may be other opportunities that are available for them at the end of their three-year service to serve Afghanistan. 


            So 50 percent's probably reasonable. 


            Q     And they're all -- all the -- all the ethnic groups are still mixed together -- 


            GEN. DURBIN:  All the -- and that's -- I'm glad you mentioned that.  That is one of the -- I am most proud for the Afghan National Army in the fact that they do have an ethnically balanced force at all levels, and it is working.  It is not just statistically ethnically balanced.  I will tell you, the Afghan National Army is an ethnically balanced representative of the Afghan people, a professional force. 




            Q     General, if you were able to train the Afghan army units beyond sort of basic infantry tactics -- can you talk a little bit about what kind of counterinsurgency doctrine you're teaching them? And if the government's in as austere shape as it was last time I was there, there's not much non-kinetic stuff to plug into those operations.  How is that working? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  The decision's been made for us to establish inside the Afghan National Army what are called commando battalions.  They would be very akin to a U.S. Army Ranger Battalion, high-end infantry, that is better equipped and better trained than a normal infantry- centric force.  The Afghan National Army will remain an infantry- centric force, but it will have five battalions of commando, one for each of their corps, which is a two-star headquarters similar to U.S. divisions.  And then it will have one commando battalion that is a national asset, which is envisioned that perhaps it would then be the launching pad to get closer to special operations forces. 


            These commando battalions, besides being specially equipped and specially trained, would also be supported by an enhanced rotary wing and fixed wing transport to be able to make them more responsive to the needs for what is a company-level war in a counterinsurgency; to be able to move company-sized forces based on the actionable intel that you have.  So that enhanced tactical capability, the enhanced training, and the enhanced equipment would make those high-end units much more effective and responsive in a counterinsurgency force. 




            Q     Sir, General Eikenberry told Congress last month that the goal was to have 62,000 police trained and equipped by the end of next year.  Does that mean its police force is on a faster track than the thousand a month that you were discussing earlier for the army?  And -- 


            GEN. DURBIN:  No, what it means is that you -- we already have 62,000 policemen.  And so what we're doing is not recruiting them and training them, they already exist.  And so the challenge is to achieve the equipment that has been required to come online.  We have been training the Afghan National Police for the last three years.  So when I told you we had 37,000 trained and equipped policemen, I left out the fact that there's a much higher number of already trained policemen that just need their equipment.  That's why we can get there a little bit faster then in concert with General Eikenberry's schedule. 


            Q     So you already have an additional 25,000 police that are not equipped; is that what you're saying?  Because you said 62,000 now that you do have. 


            GEN. DURBIN:  We have trained a little bit above 58,000. 


            Yes, sir? 


            Q     General, who's providing that air support you mentioned? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  Right now the air support is provided by a limited amount of air by the Afghan National Army.  They have MI-17s, which are the troop carriers.  And they have MI-35s, which are the gunships. In Operation Mountain Lion, which occurred in the late spring -- March-April-May -- still ongoing -- there were more than 172 combat hours that were flown by the Afghan National Army to move equipment and personnel around the battlefield.   


            That airlift is augmented by CJTF 76 coalition aircraft to assist in getting more of the Afghan National Army to the right place on the battlefield at the right time. 


            MR. WHITMAN:  We have time for one or two more. 


            Q     Getting back to challenges, can you be specific about, say, a soldier, an Afghan soldier that's being trained, or police, versus being trained into the police force?  What are the specific challenges sort of on a personal level and cultural level that the U.S. Army, who are doing the training, come up against? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  The first challenge is the literacy rate.  And therefore, there is a higher illiterate percentage than we would normally be dealing with in our own forces.  But there -- we must all be clear to understand that "illiterate" does -- definitely does not mean "stupid".  It means a different learning technique.  And the Afghan soldiers are very quick to learn and to pick up the training. They are very intelligent in that respect. 


            On the police side, I would tell you that it is a relearning that has to take place, because, again, we are reforming an institution.  And there are, perhaps, many bad lessons or behaviors that these policemen have learned, and they don't understand the true essence of ruled law and to serve and protect.  And so, that training and education for the police are focused on relearning or unlearning some bad behaviors and embracing the rule of law and what that truly means. 


            Q     When you say "bad behaviors", can you be more specific? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  Corruption.  And the police force has a problem with corruption, and that's part of what the reform is focused on. That's why we need to get good leaders in there who establish the right discipline and the right behaviors for all their subordinates. 




            Q     Yeah.  General, given this timetable you've described, it's going to take three years to train up the Afghan army to full strength.   


            Does that mean at the end of this three-year period that the Afghan National Army is going to be capable of defending Afghanistan on its own, carrying the fight against the Taliban on its own without coalition support? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  What we have planned is the ability to equip and train the Afghan National Army so that they would have the ability to conduct independent operations with limited coalition support.  Based on the threat condition would give you the answer as to whether or not they would be able to do that independently with no coalition support. 


            Q     What do you mean, "limited coalition support"?  That sort of implies that there could be -- must be a possible drawdown of U.S. forces at that time? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  If the conditions are such that the operational commander -- he would make that decision.  Again, I'm focused on the development of the Afghan National Army.  So it would be the operational commander's assessment. 


            Q     But what is the breakdown of U.S. forces-coalition forces as we speak?  How many? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  Within U.S. forces and coalition forces? 


            Q     Yes. 


            GEN. DURBIN:  I'd have to get those numbers, because I don't have them with me right now. 


            Q     How many U.S. forces are doing the training? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  I have about 3,500 U.S. forces that are dedicated to training both the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.  


            Q     And -- (off mike) -- envision that U.S. forces would continue to train the army for the three years it's going to take to get to 7,000 -- 


            GEN. DURBIN:  And as you -- as the army matures and we have completed that stand-up of the initial battalions, then there could be a reduction in the embedded training teams that are dedicated to that effort and only a limited amount to continue the maturity of their  professionalization.  But we need more now as we're building towards that 70k. 


            MR. WHITMAN:  We'll make this the last one.  (Off mike) -- here. 


            Q     Just going back on something you said earlier, the number of police that are trained but not equipped, what are they doing now, and are their skills atrophying at all because they're not equipped -- 


            GEN. DURBIN:  Their skills are not atrophying, and they have completed their basic training.  They are on the street corners, if they're inside an urban environment, conducting their policing responsibilities.  And they are out in a village, if they're out in the remote countryside. 


            If they're out in the remote countryside and they're in a village, they don't have the correct mobility that's required for them to do their job, because they need mobility to get around.  That's part of the equipping.  Likewise, they may not have all of the communication gear that they need to operate in that remote environment. 


            So that's why it's important for us to complete the equipping of the Afghan National Police to make that trained individual fully capable of doing his or her job where they are stationed. 


            Q     What's the problem with that?  Why are you having a problem equipping them? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  It's not a problem, it's a matter of production, delivery and then distribution.  And it just takes time.  There's 86,000 vehicles that are required for the Afghan national police, and we're about at the 2,000 mark right now. 


            Q     Where are they being sourced from? 


            GEN. DURBIN:  Different locations:  U.S. as well as Thailand, as I recall. 


            MR. WHITMAN:  Thank you very much, everybody. 


            GEN. DURBIN:  Thank you very much. 


            Q     Thank you.



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