DOD News Briefing with Vice Adm. Harward and Ambassador Klemm from Afghanistan
COL. LAPAN: Good morning here, and good evening in Kabul. I'd like to welcome to the Pentagon briefing room Vice Admiral Robert Harward, commander of Joint Task Force 435. Admiral Harward assumed his duties in Afghanistan in November of last year, and his task force assumed command, oversight and responsibility for U.S. detainee operations in January. Joint Task Force 435 is also responsible for biometrics and rule-of-law efforts in Afghanistan.
This is Admiral Harward's first time joining us in this format, and he joins us today from Kabul, where his headquarters is located.
The admiral is joined today by Ambassador Hans Klemm, who was recently appointed coordinating director of rule of law and law enforcement.
At this point, I believe Admiral Harward will be making some very brief comments, and then he and Ambassador Klemm will take your questions.
And with that, Admiral, I'll turn it over to you.
ADM. HARWARD: Dave, thank you.
And good morning, D.C.
Let me just clarify a couple things you said, Dave. When we assumed the mission in January, we had just stood up the new detention facility in Parwan. We had just transferred all the detainees from the old Bagram theater internment facility, and we closed the Bagram facility.
Our first focus was to ensure that the perception of U.S. detention operations was in line with the realities of what we did. In doing that, we made all of our operations open, transparent and inclusive. And that was through the whole cycle of detainee life cycle. Hence, when any individual was detained in Afghanistan, we notified the government of Afghanistan, their families, their district leaders that he was detained.
In our detainee review boards, we opened that up to the Afghan public. We now have Afghan families and citizens testifying at that military tribunal. We've opened it up to the Afghan independent humans [sic; human] rights groups and other NGOs.
And then our release process is completely run by the government of Afghanistan, as seen in our last two releases in Khost -- no U.S. participation -- conducted completely by my deputy, Brigadier General Mohib [AfghanNational Army Brig. Gen. Mohibullah Rahman], and the government of Afghanistan.
Our priority at this point is transition of those U.S. detention facilities and operations to the government of Afghanistan. We've made a lot of progress. I have about 400 Afghan military police, corrections officers at our facility in the training pipeline. And in fact 126 of them are inside the facility conducting op [operational] guard duties at this time.
We will start the transition of those facilities on 1 January 2011, and complete that as quickly as possible, but no later than 1 January 2012, all of which will be condition-based.
But I'd be remiss if I don't bring you up to speed on our current evolution.
My joint task force is evolving into a combined joint interagency task force effective 1 September. In that role, I will support the civilian-led interagency rule of law, law enforcement and correction efforts led by my new partner, Ambassador Hans Klemm.
So I'll turn it over to the ambassador for any opening remarks before we take questions.
MR. KLEMM: Thank you, Admiral. If I could just supplement your opening remarks a little bit.
It was decided roughly in the spring of this year -- a decision that was reached by General Petraeus, Ambassador Eikenberry, and also senior representative Ambassador Richard Holbrooke -- that the unity of effort by the United States in the rule of law area was lacking.
It was decided at that point to create the combined joint interagency task force that Admiral Harward mentioned, but also to put into place a new position at the ambassadorial rank at Embassy Kabul to oversee all rule of law, justice, counternarcotics, anti-corruption activities, across the military and civilian spectrum.
And they -- I got a call in late March from Ambassador Eikenberry asking me to serve as his senior adviser on this very important task. And I was very honored and grateful to receive that invitation.
I arrived just over a month ago, and my work has largely been focused on a joint project that Admiral Harward mentioned, to stand up this new combined joint interagency task force that will -- on a new platform of resources provided both by the military and civilian agencies out here, that will allow us to better focus, better concentrate, and put into better alignment with Afghan goals, projects in the justice, rule of law, counternarcotics and anti-corruption area.
It's a pleasure to be with you this morning, and I look forward to your questions.
COL. LAPAN: Anne.
Q Admiral, the anti-corruption task force -- well I guess there are a couple of them that President Karzai got upset about yesterday -- includes as part of its mandate to try to collect information on the financing of insurgent operations.
Can you tell us what information you routinely seek from detained, suspected insurgents about where -- the source of their money and what they intend to do with it?
ADM. HARWARD: Well, I would tell you this, I wouldn't want to give exactly the information we're after.
But we talk to every individual detained, through all portions of the life cycle, not only to identify funding sources, but also ties, and -- be it in government, be it in the insurgency and all other -- all other connections they have, to understand the human terrain and how it functions here in Afghanistan.
Q Are you receiving enough of that information as part of the detainee interview process, or are you trying to get more?
ADM. HARWARD: Well, we use all modes of intelligence to gather that information. Our strength is having a large population we have access to, that we can spend a lot of time talking to, and gaining more fidelity on how those systems and those individuals interact and how they function.
Q Admiral, Julian Barnes here. When we last spoke, I was with the L.A. Times, but I've moved over to the Wall Street Journal.
Question on the sort of reconciliation issue: How -- is that going at the sort of speed you want to see it? Are you able to sort of do some reintegration with the people in the system? Do you want to sort of speed that up?
And what do you think will happen, once the transition happens at the end of the year, with that process? Will it continue to go smoothly or what's the prospect for that in the future?
ADM. HARWARD: Hey, Julian. Good to hear from you, albeit it from a far distance. But I would tell you this is a focus of everyone here. Today I had several meetings with Minister Stanekzai, Hekmat Karzai and some of the other players bringing on the larger strategic reintegration programs.
As you know, our efforts have been with the tactical level, where we've taken these individuals, where their families, village leaders, governors, come in to testify at the detainee review boards. Then when they're determined to be released, we schedule a shura, where the individual signs a pledge he will not return to the fight. But so does his family, his district, those governor leaders. So we've created a process that I think becomes a good model for that strategic reintegration that has been very powerful.
In our first meeting, where we called back everyone we had released, or at least half, 50 of the first hundred, those pledges had been instrumental in ensuring that the villages, the district leaders, the informal system, looked after those individuals. So we think it portends well for the future.
We want to make sure these programs we are creating, just as you said, are sustainable and which can model for the Afghan system into the future. So we're looking how we're going to do that, how we're going to sustain that, not only systematically, but financially.
And we've become very creative. We think some of the money allocated by the donor nations for the Afghan Peace and Reconciliation Program is a good venue for that. But we're working through all those things right now, and so far everyone's focused on it. I'll have a better picture for you in about three months.
One other thing I would add, Julian. Another component that we've added is biometric. As part of the Afghan Peace and Reconciliation Program, it's a requirement to biometrically enroll all those individuals who reconcile, as we do everyone who processes through our system. That's a very powerful tool, and we're bringing that Afghan system of biometrics online right now, led by the minister of Interior, and we're supporting in that endeavor.
So I think that's the best snapshot I can give you of it right now, Julian.
Q Sir, this is Daphne Benoit with Agence France-Presse.
Can you tell us about any plans under way to maybe keep a part of those Afghan facilities under U.S. control and possibly detain some prisoners that were arrested outside of Afghanistan there?
ADM. HARWARD: That's another great question. We are concerned with that. But, no, we desire to transition all the facilities to the government of Afghanistan. And we're looking, as we've referred, to third-country nationals, those individuals who are not from Afghanistan, and how we're going to deal with them.
Our first preference is to repatriate them back to their host countries; if not, prosecute them in the Afghan legal system. And as you may be aware, we've conducted our first series of Afghan trials at Parwan. We've prosecuted seven individuals already. We're building additional capacity to do that.
So very -- our goal is to address those individuals through one of those two means during the transition period.
Q A follow-up. Do you rule out to keep some of the detainees under U.S. control, like those detainees we're talking about?
ADM. HARWARD: Our preference would be not to. But I would not rule that out as an option if the government of Afghanistan desired us to do that sometime down the road.
But I would tell you, President Karzai is very focused on exercising sovereignty of all individuals detained in this country. And we want to honor that commitment. But we are partnered and will act on behalf or follow the guidelines of the Afghan government as we go through this transition period.
Q Thanks, General. This is Raghubir Goyal from India Globe and Asia Today.
My question is that these days, one thing is going on, that image of America in the Arab world or in the Muslim world, especially where you are, in Afghanistan. What do you think now, what Afghans think about your presence there, and if you have improved a military viewpoint as far as the image of America in Afghanistan is concerned?
ADM. HARWARD: Well, let me tell you two things.
We just hosted all the ambassadors of Muslim countries who have embassies here in Afghanistan. They were all up at the detention facility in Parwan this week. I think they were all impressed by the facilities and the programs we're hosting.
I would also tell you, of those 200 individuals who we have released this year, all of -- (audio break) -- in front of the press and said, one, they were treated well, they were fed well, had great medical care, and, most of all, we treated them with respect. In fact, one individual, although I would not want to be competing with madrassa, said he learned more in our facility than he did at a madrassa.
So I think that's part of that -- our goal: to make sure people understand what really happens in a U.S. detention operation. But I would also note that all of them said, while they did not mind and in some cases wouldn’t there, they all enjoy their freedom so much.
I would also tell you that we've seen a very low recidivism rate. So I think the detention process has been helpful ensuring individuals do not return to the fight.
So I can't speak on the broader context; I'll defer to the ambassador. But from what I've seen in the individuals who have been through our facilities as -- (audio break) -- there, are very positive.
MR. KLEMM: I'm afraid I didn't quite catch the question. Could you repeat it, sir?
Q The image of America or NATO or your presence in Afghanistan?
MR. KLEMM: Yeah, I'm sorry.
ADM. HARWARD: The perceptions, what does the Muslim world think of our -- the perception of us being here in Afghanistan, I think is what the gentleman was saying.
MR. KLEMM: Oh, well, that's a very broad question.
Sitting here in Kabul, I do know that there is quite a large representation of other countries with majority Islamic populations. Also, there was a major international conference just two weeks ago at which a number of Islamic countries had very senior representation here. And all of them, together with the United States, together with other Western countries -- also Japan, China and others -- all pledged to support the further development of Afghanistan, and also to bring the insurgency to an end and to provide security for Afghan citizens.
Q And then quickly, in a different way, General, do them -- do Afghans believe you more now than the Taliban? Because in the past they were saying Talibans are better than the international community because they wanted the international community to do more for Afghanistan. What do you feel now as far as far as feelings of Afghans are concerned between you and the Taliban?
MR. KLEMM: Yeah, I'm sorry.
ADM. HARWARD: I'm still -- I apologize, too. I'm not getting all of the question. I think, again, you're talking, I think, the perception of most Afghanistan on our presence here or the international community here. Is that what you're saying, sir?
Q Yes, sir. And how do they feel between you and the Taliban?
ADM. HARWARD: I just don't understand the question. I think something about us and the Taliban, sir.
COL. LAPAN: Admiral, I'll take a shot from here at the lectern.
Yeah, the view of the Afghan public in general about U.S. and coalition forces and that -- as opposed to how the locals view the Taliban, and if that has shifted over the time you've been there.
ADM. HARWARD: Well, again, I have to go back to kind of what we're doing in detention operations. Perception and reality. I think the Afghans I've met, when I first came here in 1971 and hitchhiked across the country, every Afghan I met, because I was American, they wanted to talk to me, they wanted to understand about our country.
The people I come in contact today are no different than that. I think some individuals, it's a very rural country, who have not come in contact with Americans or by far the international community have negative experience, are more liable to respond and resonate with the Taliban message.
So I think it's important at the end of the day that we make that perception match reality. And that's what we're trying to do in detention operations, I think in the broader rule of law efforts as well.
MR. KLEMM: And if I might, polling that's done here in Afghanistan consistently shows that there's very little public support for the Taliban, and there's still quite a bit of support for both the government and the partnership with the United States in the effort to bring an end to the insurgency and to put Afghanistan on a sustained path toward development and democracy.
Q Admiral, this is Craig Whitlock with The Washington Post.
I wanted to follow up on Daphne's question about third-party nationals in custody. Can you tell us how many you currently have in custody as detainees, as well as give us a basic idea of how significant that population is and a general idea of where they come from?
ADM. HARWARD: Sure. I won't give you the exact number, but there are less than 50. Seventy-five percent come from Pakistan, one or two at most from any other country.
Q He's still talking.
ADM. HARWARD: (Audio break from source) -- foreign fighters at this location. This is a very local fight.
Q Sir, this is Kimberly Dozier. Like my colleague Anne Gearan, who you heard from to start off the press conference, I'm also with the Associated Press.
I have some questions from some human rights lawyers I've been speaking to, so I'll act as intermediary. They raise some good points.
In terms of what you mentioned, your rule of conduct and your transparency, when does this start in terms of the cycle of the prisoner? Does it apply to prisoners detained in the field? How long can someone be detained on the battlefield, say at a safe house, before being transferred to your facility? And do these rules of conduct apply not just to the general purpose forces under General Petraeus' control, but also to the national and theater missions, special operating forces that operate in those areas?
ADM. HARWARD: Yeah, great question.
Yes, they all apply to everyone. When an individual's detained on the battlefield, forces under -- operating under ISAF have 96 hours before they have to either release the individual or turn them over to NDS [the government of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security].
There are national caveats to those guidelines by ISAF. The United States has a national caveat. They can detain an individual for up to 14 days at a field detention site. During that time, if they determine the individual's involved in the fight and a threat to Afghan or coalition forces, they submit a detainee transfer request to us laying out why they believe that. We then, if we accept that, receive that individual into our detention facility at Parwan. At the 60-day point, he goes in front of his first detainee review board. At which -- and throughout that process as I said before within that first 24 hours of an individual being detained, his family, the government of Afghanistan is informed. At that first -- when he's brought into the detention facility at Parwan, they are told about that event.
And my deputy, who sits with me every day, General Mohibullah, sees those reports every day. They're translated daily. He receives that information.
And then, at those detainee review board, all of those -- it's open to the public, it's open to human rights groups. So all of it's open and transparent, and those standards are applied across U.S. forces.
Q May I ask a follow? Do you have any idea of the census, the size of the population being detained for 96 hours to 14 days, and how many facilities across Afghanistan where that might be in effect?
ADM. HARWARD: Sure, I know exactly how much. I track each and every one of them and who's in them every day. We do not disclose their location, but they are enough to accommodate the operational forces.
So I track -- I'm responsible for the standards at each of those field detention sites, although they're run by the battlespace owner. So I track -- I track who's in them every day. I track to make sure they adhere to the 14-day guidelines. So we've added a great degree of fidelity on each and every individual detained in Afghanistan.
Q Just one last point of clarification. Does that mean it can take up to 14 days for the government of Afghanistan and the families to be informed of their loved one's detention?
ADM. HARWARD: No. The government of Afghanistan is informed within the first 24 hours. Now, their ability, being my deputy, General Mohib, to contact the family -- the family may be in the far outskirts of Badakhshan and not have power or cell phone. So he -- first place he usually goes is to the governor -- the provincial governors or the central prison directors or other parts of the Afghan bureaucracy that can locate and inform the families. But it's usually from the provincial level down to the district level down to the village level.
And it's been pretty effective. So no, usually they are informed -- I think the word trickles down in the first 24 to 48 hours, but I can't verify each and every case of that. But it's been very -- it's surprising when you have a -- from a kid up at Badakhshan, at the DFIP, and then 20, 30 family members show up for a detainee review board is pretty impressive and indicative of how word gets around here in Afghanistan, and their ability to move throughout the country, even though some of the infrastructure is difficult.
Q I thought that the first applied to the first 24 hours after they arrived at Parwan, not the detention field centers.
ADM. HARWARD: No, no. The first 24 hours when they're detained in country. General McChrystal -- and it's been confirmed again by General Petraeus -- signed out a tactical directive that any ISAF or U.S. force detaining any Afghan citizen or detaining anyone else in the country is required to inform the government of Afghanistan within 24 hours. Individuals will not end up at the DFIP.
Q Thank you.
Q Admiral, on the -- on your reintegration so far, have you seen a difference between fighters affiliated with the Haqqani network versus sort of Quetta Shura Taliban? Is it easier to get one group or the other group reintegrated? I mean, there's been the comment that the Haqqani network is much more of an irreconcilable force. Have you seen any difference at the sort of tactical level of reintegration?
ADM. HARWARD: Not yet. What we are concerned about, and we've had happen on an occasion, the health and well-being of those individuals once we return there. There have been some who have been in fear of their life, and hence did not want to be released in the public shura process. So we have a private ceremony involving his family and individuals because they feel they will be at greater risk once released.
So that's been our biggest concern. But so far, no, no differentiation other than that at this point.
Q (Off mike) -- for the Haqqani folks from the east, and -- affiliated with the Haqqani network, is that -- are they more in fear or the Taliban more in fear?
ADM. HARWARD: Well, let me again, I want to be pretty specific on this. A lot of the individuals we detain will not acknowledge that they're straight Taliban or they're Haqqani or other networks. And we've tried to determine that from our intelligence, our discussions with them. So in some cases, it's difficult to confirm his allegiance. But again, through the process, when they determine that this individual will not return to the fight, will not pose a threat to the government of Afghanistan or coalition forces, we release him.
Q Justin Duckham, Talk Radio News. Just a practical question. You mentioned a pledge for outgoing detainees. Can you clarify how this is enforced and what it may entail?
ADM. HARWARD: I'm sorry, could you say that once more please? Did you catch that, Ambassador?
MR. KLEMM: I think it had something to do with the pledge that outgoing detainees are required to make.
Q Can you mention how that pledge is enforced?
ADM. HARWARD: How the pledge -- Sure. And I don't know if "enforced" is the right way, but this was created by the government of Afghanistan, our deputy, General Mohibullah. So the individual at the release shura signs a pledge that he will not return to the fight. His family, his district and provincial leadership that's there at the ceremony sign the same pledge.
What it's allowed us to do is maintain contact with that whole informal network. So "enforcement" may not be the right term. It's been effective as we determine -- when we first tried to call back our first group of releasees, all of them showed up. They were well received by their villages, and their villages looked after them. So it's been an effective tool.
We'll do our next -- now that we're up to 200 released, we'll do our next post-release shura after Ramazan to again -- the effectiveness of that program and that pledge. But we think it ties the informal and formal justice systems together, and it's something they understand.
For instance, today there was a young man released to his mother and father, and the mother said she would take his legs off if he ever did this again. And so we're trying to leverage that informal network, those familiar bonds, to ensure these individuals don't return to the fight for the wrong reasons.
COL. LAPAN: Okay, time for one more. Greg.
Q Admiral, I know you said there are -- it's a local fight that's going on there, but if coalition forces were to capture Osama bin Laden or another high-value al Qaeda target, where would you keep them?
ADM. HARWARD: Well, I guess it would determine where we capture him. If he was captured here in Afghanistan, I'm sure he would come to our detention facility in Parwan at some part of the process. But again, that's a hypothetical. We'll see when we cross that bridge.
Q (Off mike) -- Afghanistan, and is it just a hypothetical or do you have plans in place?
ADM. HARWARD: I'm sorry, say -- oh, do we have policy in place for that right now? I didn't understand the question.
Q It was as you suggested, yes. If he was captured in Afghanistan now, do you have policies in place for how to handle him?
ADM. HARWARD: For UBL [Osama bin Laden]?
MR. KLEMM: Yes.
ADM. HARWARD: I wouldn't want to be hypothetical on that. That one is a very significant strategic target. I'm sure a lot of people would be interested in that one.
We have our processes. We have a world-class facility here. We can incarcerate anyone in a very humane, just standard. So that's all I can tell you. We'll have to see should we cross that bridge.
COL. LAPAN: Admiral and Mr. Ambassador, thank you again for your time. I'll send it back to you for any closing remarks you'd like to make.
MR. KLEMM: (To Admiral Harward) Closing remarks?
ADM. HARWARD: I think they wish them from you first.
MR. KLEMM: No. Well, yeah, if I could just wrap up very quickly, in addition to the work on detainee policy that Admiral Harward has been leading for the past eight or nine months, his work on biometrics, that entire scope is growing rapidly to now encompass the entire rule-of-law area.
The importance that the United States is placing on this, not only to get detainee policy right, biometrics right, but to do a better and more effective job in supporting the Afghan government in its delivery of -- of fair, transparent and efficient justice to its people, is represented by the fact that -- (audio break) -- in a combined effort to improve the delivery of our service and assistance to the Afghan government.
ADM. HARWARD: And I would just add, we're committed with all our resources and capabilities to support the ambassador in his rule-of-law and law enforcement efforts.
COL. LAPAN: All right, gentlemen, thank you again from the Pentagon.
ADM. HARWARD: Thank you.
MR. KLEMM: Thanks.
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