CDR BILL SPEAKS: Good morning here in Washington, and good evening in Afghanistan. I'd like to welcome back to the Pentagon Briefing Room Lieutenant General James Terry, United States Army. He is the commander of ISAF Joint Command and deputy commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.
This is General Terry's third tour in Afghanistan, and he assumed his current duties in July of this year. He took command of U.S. Army 5th Corps in November 2011.
Prior to this assignment, he served as commanding general, 10th Mountain Division Light, Fort Drum, New York, from September 2009 to November 2011, and was deployed as commander, ISAF Regional Command-South, from October 2010 to October 2011.
From August 2004 to February 2007, he served as the deputy commanding general for operations, 10th Mountain Division Light, and deployed as the deputy commanding general for operations for Combined Joint Task Force-76, Afghanistan, from January 2006 to February 2007.
He last joined us in August of last year when serving as commanding general for Regional Command-South. This is his first briefing with us as COMIJC.
General Terry regularly travels throughout Afghanistan to gather a full picture of ISAF's coalition and partnered efforts, and he joins us today from ISAF Joint Command Headquarters in Kabul to provide an operational update. He will make some opening comments and then will take your questions.
And with that, general, I will turn it over to you.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL JAMES L. TERRY: Well, Bill, thanks for that introduction.
And I'd like to say good evening to all of you in the Pentagon Press Room. It's good to be back with you, but as usual, looking at this camera it's always too bad that I can't see you out there. I'm sure there's some faces I'll recognize.
I'd like to start by saying thanks for the opportunity to talk to everyone tonight. I think we all recognize we're just six days away from the 11th anniversary of September 11 attacks. This will be my third 9/11 in Afghanistan.
Each of these anniversaries serves to remind me of why we are here. I understand the importance of this mission, and over time my understanding of Afghanistan has grown, as had my appreciation for the people of this country.
I'm now into my third tour, spread over the last six years. Currently I'm approaching the 90-day mark as commander of the ISAF Joint Command. I left Kandahar last October having served as the Regional Command-South commander for a year, and in 2006 I served as the deputy commander of CJTF-76, which of course back then consisted of both Regional Commands-East and Regional Command-South.
With that base as background, I'd like to provide you my assessment of where we are today.
There has been tremendous progress since my first tour in 2006, specifically in the Afghan national security forces. Back then they were barely 132,000 strong. The ANSF are now approaching 352,000, and more importantly they are growing more capable every day.
Now, with tranche three, the Afghan National Security Forces are now in the lead of security in districts covering about 75 percent of the population of Afghanistan.
Now, the insurgents, while still threatening and deadly, and trying hard to stay relevant at this time. What is important is that the insurgents' position with the people of Afghanistan -- these are the very people the insurgents seek to control -- is continually eroding.
What the insurgency now faces is an international community that has expressed its commitment to stand by the Afghan people well after 2014 and into this decade of transformation.
But more importantly, the insurgency is facing a progressively more capable Afghan national security force, which is bearing every day an increasingly larger burden as it moves into the lead for security here in Afghanistan.
The insurgent-led campaign is killing and maiming the Afghan population at an alarming rate. Their intimidation/assassination campaign is working against them, their leadership is under constant pressure and their resources are strained.
The majority of Afghans, quite frankly, are tired of war, and more importantly they're tired of the heavy handed approach of the insurgency, an insurgency that attempts to control the people of Afghanistan by limiting their education, controlling their freedom of movement and intimidating them.
The combined team -- in fact, this combined team and its campaign is a continuum. As we move forward and we look forward into the next 28 months, we have -- we have come to a logical point of transitioning the Afghan national security force into the security lead, as established at Lisbon.
The surge has served -- the surge has served to break the momentum of insurgency and has provided the time and space for our Afghan partners to develop. Our aim is to establish a more stable Afghanistan secured by Afghan national security forces, which then affords an opportunity to develop the institutions of government.
We are setting the conditions for Afghanistan to contribute to the stability of the region and the achievement of our objective that Afghanistan will never again provide safe haven for terrorists. The next logical step, then, in the campaign is to move the Afghan national security forces fully into the lead. The recent progress in the ANSF is enabling a shift from a coalition-led counterinsurgency approach to an ANSF-led counterinsurgency operations supported by ISAF.
The way or the method will be security force assistance. This is also known as SFA. It encompasses all of the ISAF activities to develop Afghan national security force effectiveness. It includes partnering, advising, and enabling. Each one of the advisory teams is purposely designed to advise, assist and build capability within the army and the police.
Now, in order to enhance our ability to execute this concept and building on lessons learned, we are moving toward purpose-built security force assistance brigades. Each will man, equip, train and deploy together. They'll become typical brigade-level enablers in terms of battle command, intelligence, communications, fires, sustainment and force protection.
While we are moving forward and progressing, we're seeing insurgent campaign attempt to divide this coalition from our Afghan partners. Whether born from opportunity or planned, I assess these actions are driven by fear of an increasingly stronger and more capable Afghan national security force and as the insurgency is continuously degraded and discredited.
This is known as insider threat. This has the full attention of Afghan leadership, from the president down to the police and army.
Insider attacks also have the full attention of ISAF leadership as we work with our partners to eliminate this threat. Together, we are committed to stopping it. Progress in this campaign may not manifest it traditionally as we recognize it. Indeed, Afghans must find their own solutions as they take the lead.
Our resolve and our commitment remain strong as we move forward into 2014 and the decade beyond. From where I currently sit and from where I have been, progress is significant. Afghanistan has an opportunity that is born from the efforts of its national security forces and the coalition.
Now, this does not mean that coalition forces will not conduct operations in combat conditions as we support our Afghan counterparts. We will fight alongside them. It does not mean that there will be no challenges along the road ahead. It does mean that we have momentum. And while our role and our methods are changing, our commitment will endure.
Now, I've talked enough, and I'll now be pleased to take your questions.
Q: General, this is Bob Burns with the Associated Press.
Today, the Afghan Ministry of Defense said that it has removed hundreds of members of the ANSF after having checked their backgrounds again.
I'm wondering whether you've been given any details on that. It just happened in recent days. And is this really a difference maker given that they have been removing large numbers? As General Allen himself has said, for several months they've been doing this. So does it really make a difference at this stage?
And also, if I may, you just said a minute ago that you're committed to stopping insider attacks. Is it really possible to stop it entirely?
LT. GEN. TERRY: Well, first let me answer the first part of your question.
Let me -- first off, my condolences to all those who have sacrificed in relationship to this insider threat and their families that are out there.
As I said, the entire leadership of Afghanistan is seized by this and committed to stopping it, from the president on down. I know General Allen, as has General Bradshaw, have talked directly to the president. He's very serious about it. I know he called both the minister of interior and minister of defense leadership in; down to the corps commander level and the police commander level to reinforce that action now.
What this is moving toward specifically is implementing improvements in their vetting system -- their vetting system that's been established. It's also caused them to re-look back to their procedures and then re-look a number of individuals.
And I think that's what you're seeing in relationship to the announcement today inside the minister of defense. In other words, we're starting to re-look a number of individuals out there and improve the vetting process.
And, again, I've heard the numbers of 200 and 300. I've not visited with the deputy minister since late last week. I'll probably see him later this week. And this will be a topic of discussion that's out there.
In addition to that, they're looking at increased efforts to improve the living conditions for their soldiers and also how they prepare their soldiers for leave periods, and then specifically how they address those soldiers once they return from leave.
One of the things we're looking at in relationship to doing that are the religious culture advisers which plays a huge role in the everyday life of the Afghan policeman and Army soldier that's out there.
So, again, I would just tell you they're seized with it.
I think one of the initiatives they're going to take off here pretty quickly is probably a counterintelligence initiative that actually gets inside of the formation so that we can identify some of this threat before it actually materializes out there.
Again, my intent is to drive down and defeat this threat. The reality is we're going to face this. I think what you're seeing is an enemy out there that adaptive. His counter-IED campaign is not working. His assassination, intimidation campaign is turning the population against him. I think he's very concerned about the growing capability of the Afghan national security forces.
And as we move them forward into the lead and we work on increasing their capabilities, I think that's what their concerned with. And regardless of whether this is -- about 25 percent, 26 percent of these are insurgent-related -- that doesn't really matter -- the remaining percentage -- large percentage of which we don't know the exact cause, provides an opportunity for the insurgents to seize that and then try to drive a wedge between the coalition and the emerging capability of the Afghan national security forces.
Q: General, it's Tom Bowman with NPR.
There was a lot of talk yesterday about reinventing the Afghan local police, some 17,000. But over the weekend we got a statement from British Lieutenant General Adrian Bradshaw that said this is just one part of an intensive effort to re-check the vetting status of the entire 350,000 Afghan national security force.
Can you tell us, why is it necessary to re-check the entire Afghan force? Do you think they built it up too quickly? And how long will this all take and what is the U.S. doing to help in this intensive effort?
LT. GEN. TERRY: That's a great question. It's an important question. One of the things we're helping is to provide some of our capability inside the MOI and MOD to help them look at themselves and see themselves in relationship to this vetting process.
And I think what we'll wind up doing then is, as we gain more information from our investigations and from the Afghan internal investigations inside of minister of interior and minister of defense, we'll probably be able to select populations out there within both of those ministers that we can better focus our vetting and screening efforts. In other words, go back in and look at specific populations that we think are at risk.
And I'm sorry, what was the second part to the question?
Q: Well, how long will this all take? And also how is the U.S. helping in this?
And also, if you could address why is it necessary to do the entire force? Clearly, it wasn't done well the first time.
LT. GEN. TERRY: Right. Again, I think what we're doing is going back and identifying through the analysis of what we are seeing, and then working with our Afghan partners, we're going to look at specific populations within the Afghan national security forces. And then that helps us actually prioritize where we need to look.
And in relationship to vetting the entire force, I'm sure it will take considerable time, but I think what the Afghans want to do is be very sure of their process and then go back and re-check.
But, again, we're going to help them prioritize that. We're going to talk to them about specific techniques that they can use in terms of establishing those priorities.
Q: David Martin with CBS.
Does it surprise you that 200 to 300 Afghan soldiers could be viewed as suspect and therefore taken out of the service? And do you know an overall number that have been cashiered out for suspect loyalty?
And one other thing, you're now describing this as an enemy tactic, the insider attack, and until today we'd been told that only 10 percent of these attacks were the work of the Taliban and the rest were the result of personal grudges, perceived insults, or just plain boredom.
So can you explain a little more thoroughly the nature of this insider threat?
LT. GEN. TERRY: The -- let me make sure we understand what the 25 percent is. Of course this is over time as it goes back to the tracking, back to 2007.
The 10 percent are directly connected in terms of insurgent activity. The remaining 15 percent, then, are insurgent-associated. In other words, there's some indication there as soldiers commit the offenses, they escape from the area. There's some insurgent facilitation that -- that helps them. So that's where you get the 25 percent from, and that's the insurgent involvement.
The remaining piece of that, there's a portion that is personal in nature, and another percentage that we cannot identify the exact cause out there.
So, let me be clear. The terms I use were either through direct influence, intimidation, impersonation, or through opportunity. We have a very opportunistic insurgent population out there that regardless of whether they plan this up front, will seize the moment and claim credit for it, and again, in an effort to divide us.
Q: The first question is about are you surprised that 200 to 300 Afghan soldiers could be viewed as suspect? And do you have an overall number that have been cashiered since there was this -- there has been this new focus on vetting?
LT. GEN. TERRY: I have no overall number. The number that came out, I have not confirmed with MOI or MOD.
You know, I am pleased that they are going back and re-vetting. Frankly, the number is, I think, an indication of the seriousness of the Afghan national security forces, specifically MOI and MOD. And I would probably say that they're erring on the side of caution out there in terms of this vetting process and pulling people in because of the seriousness that they take this, but I cannot confirm those numbers specifically.
Q: General, this is Phil Ewing with Politico. Can you please give us an update on the Afghan program to reintegrate former insurgents back into mainstream society? How many people have taken part in that, you know, according to your recent numbers? And how effective has it been in degrading the insurgency?
LT. GEN. TERRY: Yes, the Afghan Peace and Integration Program is alive and well. I think we're up over 5,000 that have formally entered the program. And I believe we've got a little less than -- I believe it's a little less than 1,000 who are waiting out there in the wings to actually enter the program. It's very effective. It's most effective where the provincial and district governors get involved in it. And I think it provides some opportunities for the insurgent population to come back home.
I think there's a figure out there that perhaps we don't track and can't track at this point that frankly just come back home and join the community because perhaps they don't want to go through the formal process and the recognition that goes with it. I can't really give you a number for that one, but from where I sit right now, the formal program does provide the opportunity out there and it is -- it is effective where it's well utilized.
Q: General, Jim Michaels with USA Today.
Two related questions.
Do you know what was discovered in the background of the several hundred soldiers that were deemed suspect and removed from the ANSF?
And related to that, will this overall re-vetting process cause any delay in operations or training of any of the ANSF?
LT. GEN. TERRY: I have not seen the results of those reported 200 or 300. Again, I have not seen the acting minister of defense or the minister of interior since last week, so I can't give you specifics on that.
And then again, the second part to your question?
Q: In terms of the re-vetting process, will that lead to any delays in training or the pace of operations that the ANSF is involved in?
LT. GEN. TERRY: I don't think it'll slow down the pace of operations. As we re-vet it may cause some individuals to be held up from the institutional training program where we bring soldiers and police in as they enter that side of the house. But in the operational force out there, you're talking -- getting close to over 350,000 filled. I don't, frankly, see that slowing down.
Q: General, Chris Carroll from Stars and Stripes.
Tensions along the Afghan-Pakistan border have been rising, and the Afghan government has beefed up its forces there somewhat because of the continual cross-border attacks. Can you talk about what the U.S. will do, what the contingency plans are if fighting was to break out between the two countries?
LT. GEN. TERRY: Well, the first thing we're trying to do is make sure we're talking to each other and not shooting at each other, so to speak. We've come a long ways in my time here in trying to find a new normal, so to speak, and then to create venues for dialogue.
And in fact once we start talking then, the intent, then, is to increase our coordination or ability to talk to each other at our border coordination centers, which we started establishing back in 2006 kind of as a means for Afghans and Paks to directly talk with coalition forces that are in presence -- in present.
There are no specific contingency plans. I do not anticipate war breaking out between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
What I would offer is that we'll continue to make military-to-military contact, continue to talk about it as we do very frequently. And then that is going to provide a mechanism that potentially will be calming over time and reduce some of the tension that's up on the border.
Q: Gopal Ratnam, reporter with Bloomberg News in Washington. Thanks for taking my question, general.
One more question on the insider threat, in terms of the vetting, are you finding that the people who are being removed are radicalized after joining the ANSF or were they radicalized before they came into the force?
And a second question, are you concerned that those who are being removed from the forces might join the ranks of the insurgents?
LT. GEN. TERRY: Yeah, good questions.
The first one is -- again, I haven't seen the data that indicates that, you know, what the exact influence is in terms of potentially radicalizing.
I would again offer that there can be a number of things, as the MOI and MOD goes back through their vetting process, perhaps that Tazkira, which is the identification card is not -- does not look right or the letters from the guarantors, from the village and the tribal elders or the government officials that are out there. Maybe something wasn't quite right with the criminal records check out there or the paperwork.
So I'd be very hesitant. You know, it could be additional drug screening. I don't know specifically what it is that's in the database, so I would hesitate to comment on radicalization.
I would -- I would believe that if there were a radicalized population that was identified, that the Afghan national security forces would hold them for further questioning and possibly detention.
Q: Hi, general. This is Camille Elhassani from Al Jazeera English Television. Thanks for doing this briefing.
Back to the border question, the increasing problems at the border, can those be traced to the Haqqani Network? And if so, how are you guys dealing with that?
LT. GEN. TERRY: I think the question -- and I apologize, my hearing is a little aged -- is about how we are dealing with the Haqqani Network. Is that correct?
Q: Yes, sir.
CDR SPEAKS: Yes, sir, and how it relates to border tensions.
LT. GEN. TERRY: Yeah, the first thing is, you know, my area of operation is directly inside of Afghanistan. And so as we look at the threats that Haqqani presents, and again, it's a very lethal network. We have arrayed our forces so that we can counter that threat and at the same time, array the Afghan national security forces kind of, I would say, in depth from the border back.
Proves to be pretty effective, knock on wood. My time frame here, the at least the attacks that are going into Kabul, barring some recent ones outside of Kabul, have been reduced somewhat.
Q: General, it's Mike Evans from the Times.
Can I ask you, sorry, about the insider threat again? Since about 75 percent of the cases of green-on-blue appear to be non-insurgent-related, are you not more concerned about there being a build-up of cultural differences, cultural resentment between particularly the Americans as they are getting more of the victims and more of the cases than anyone else, and their Afghan partners? Isn't that something which should be of greater concern?
And you mentioned also one aspect that where Afghan soldiers go on leave. I wondered if this is a particular problem where it becomes known to the Taliban that a local guy has joined up, he's come back for a bit of home leave, is that a very vulnerable time when these guys might be either radicalized or intimidated?
LT. GEN. TERRY: Yeah, I would just say that we offered to the Afghans they ought to take a look at the leave period. I offered that one -- that one to them personally based on my experience in the United States Army.
I find that my soldiers are most vulnerable as they -- as they go out on leave as they expose themselves outside of the structure of the Army. And so I asked the Afghans, the national security forces to take a look at that.
We are – back to the cultural sensitivity piece of this – I would just say there are a number of factors that go into the remaining percent out there. We believe that 25, 26 percent of that -- that other percentage out there personal related. Some of that can be defused with a greater understanding of cultural sensitivities.
I would just say that what we all recognize is that this is a society that's really been traumatized by 30-plus years of war. It also has a gun culture out there. And we also understand that a lot of grievances and dispute resolutions are done, frankly, at the barrel of a gun out there.
So as we look toward cultural sensitivity, especially with things like Pashtunwali and greater understanding of the culture and of the religion, I think we also have to understand what this country and what this population has gone through over time.
So specifically we do export that back into the training base, not just on the U.S. side, but across all the troop-contributing nations out there. I fundamentally believe that this is, based on my experience of three tours over here, is that the closer you are in a -- in terms of a relationship and friendship with the Afghan partners, probably the safer you are. And that's counterintuitive. But a lot of that is really built around the Afghan out there, and specifically the Pashtuns and Pashtunwali.
And what we are moving toward and continue to train toward is that you've got to understand the sensitivities out there, and as you come into the theater, if you haven't been here before, that you understand how to build those relationships with your Afghan partners out there.
Thanks. That's a great question.
Q: General, Julian Barnes, Wall Street Journal.
You mentioned advising the Afghans on putting priorities on which groups to re-vet first in the security forces. I wonder if you could -- I wonder, A, did I understand you correctly; and, B, does that mean ethnic groups, does that mean regional areas, does that mean particular military units that might be in more intense fighting areas? Can you talk about that a bit more?
LT. GEN. TERRY: Let me just say this. We're going back through, along with our partners out there in MOI and MOD, a lot of information out there to try to pull together patterns. To say that we've found any one true discernible pattern at this time would not be accurate.
And, again, I think over time we'll develop some of that, and then we'll, as we play through all this with the Afghans, we'll be able to better focus their efforts based on what we're seeing out there in terms of analysis and trends.
Q: Sir, Richard Sisk, Military.com.
Can you give us, general, some idea of what actually happens in this vetting process? What are the nuts and bolts? Is someone called in for an interview? What actually happens?
And if this is going to be done for all 350,000, how long is that going to take?
LT. GEN. TERRY: Yeah, again, I can -- I can name you the eight steps in the vetting process. And, again, I think they're looking for inconsistencies in it, which helps streamline the process.
First is, you know, what we call a valid Tazkira out there, which recruits into the security force collection points or the Afghan national army volunteer center. So they have to have, number one, a valid Tazkira out there.
They have to have letters from guarantors out that, they're government officials or village elders. They have to have personal information verification, which they go through a pretty extensive interview process where they're interviewed about that information.
They go through a criminal records check. That's both ANP internal investigation and ANA, out there with a four-person council.
And then they apply. They have an application. That gets validated, and then the paperwork is moved to the recruiting authorities. They go through drug screening, a medical screening, and then biometric enrollment.
So, again, I think what the Afghans are doing at this point are looking at how to improve their vetting process so to get it straight for the future, and they're looking toward inconsistencies that they see in the current force that's out there that might cause them to bring people in and take a look at 'em.
I can't tell you right now how long this process will take.
Q: General, it's Jennifer Griffin from Fox News.
I just wanted to follow up on Julian Barnes' question. When you talk about groups that need to be looked at first in the re-vetting process, how many of the 45 incidents in the last year were carried out by Pashtuns?
LT. GEN. TERRY: I apologize, I don't have that information on me. For me to hazard a guess would -- I'd give you some misinformation. I think we can probably take a look at that and get it back to you, though.
Q: Hi, general. Jon Harper with the Asahi Shimbun.
How many ISAF personnel have been designated Guardian Angels to thwart insider attacks? And how many units will that program cover?
LT. GEN. TERRY: Yeah, I would tell you that -- that the Guardian Angel concept and program covers all the units, and it's more a technique and procedure that I for operational reasons really don't want to discuss.
But it's really based on the lowest level commander's assessment of where he thinks he is actually headed into in terms of risk. It could be one, it could be five. It could be whatever number that level of command thinks that he needs to provide in relationship to that environment. Over.
Q: Can I follow up on that, general?
Jim Miklaszewski with NBC.
From a practical, operational standpoint, with the additional security precautions being taken, just how much does that undermine the mutual trust between the American and ISAF forces and their Afghan counterparts? And how does that affect the effectiveness of any operations if these ISAF and Americans have to have one eye on the enemy and the other eye on their Afghan forces?
LT. GEN. TERRY: Yeah, it's a good question.
The first thing I'll tell you is that I've discussed this topic with all my supporting commanders. At any time in the -- there's an assessed risk out there. I have guidances for our commanders to create some space, assess the risk, talk to their Afghan partners about it, make the adjustments, and reassess and then get back after the mission that's out there.
I would tell you that I have seen cases where this has happened, where at least one battalion commander shortly after the event actually re-huddled with his Afghan counterpart, hugged him, and brought the unit back together. There are at least three cases out there, after having talked to subordinate commanders, of where the Afghans have actually come back to the unit, made apologies, and then the unit has actually grown closer over time.
So I guess my comment to you is that it really depends on each one of those specific units out there about how they reestablish those relationships or how badly broken those relationships are before they reestablish and then move back out. So it's, again, I think it depends on each one of the individual cases that are out there.
Q: General, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News.
The surge drawdown is progressing towards the end of the month. Can I ask you how that's going? What numbers are you at right now? What do you have -- what are you -- what are the logistical challenges you're facing right now in getting to that goal?
And in the areas where you have drawn down, what is the preliminary assessment of how things are going there? And can I ask you specifically about the pace of the drawdown in Helmand?
LT. GEN. TERRY: Okay, about three questions there. The first thing I'll tell you is that the drawdown is on track. The drawdown, or let's just call it the retrograde has really three components to it. There's the basing piece. There's the personnel movement. And then there's the equipment movement piece of it.
We are on track. I think we had over 60,000 pieces of rolling stock. I think we're down to about half of that now, and then about an equal amount of containers. And in terms of getting down to the U.S. 68,000, we are well on track to that and will be there between middle and late September.
I'm sorry. You had a three-part question. I didn't get them all answered.
Q: Yes, sir. Specifically about Helmand province, we have numbers of how the pace of the drawdown is going there. Do you have a -- can you offer us a number actually of where you are right now for the whole country? And the third question was the assessment -- a preliminary assessment of how things are going in the areas where you've pulled out.
LT. GEN. TERRY: Yeah, again I think the majority of what's coming out will come out between now and 1 October. For operational reasons, I really would elect not to discuss specifically where that's coming out of and exact numbers of remaining units that are out there, other than just say we're on -- we're on track.
From the places that we have made the adjustments, we're seeing the Afghan national security forces make adjustments. And I -- it appears that things are going fine there in relationship to security and, again, in the areas where we've made the adjustments.
CDR SPEAKS: Okay, sir, that concludes our questions. We will now turn it back over to you for any closing thoughts.
LT. GEN. TERRY: Okay. Well, again, I want to say thanks for everybody for taking your time out to have me speak to you today. Some important topics.
There is progress over here in the campaign. We have momentum. And the Afghan national security forces, again, are steadily moving out into the lead. I think that the insurgents out there are really growing more concerned about that every day.
And then, finally, just to close it out, I'd like to provide -- I'd like to provide recognition of all those out there who have sacrificed, and especially their families. We will never let them be forgotten.
STAFF: Thank you, sir.