COMMANDER BILL SPEAKS: Good morning here in the pentagon briefing room and good evening in Afghanistan.
I'd like to welcome Lieutenant General Mark Milley to the Pentagon Briefing Room. Lieutenant General Milley has commanded the International Security Assistance Force, Joint Force Command since May of this year. As the IJC commander, he is the operational commander for Afghanistan, which is primarily focused now on train, advise and assist missions being conducted across the country with the Afghan national security forces.
General Milley was commissioned in 1980. His key staff assignments include chief of staff for the 25th Infantry Division Light; Joint Operations Division chief; on the Joint Staff, military assistant to the secretary of defense; and deputy director for regional operations, J-33, for the Joint Staff.
Lieutenant General Milley has held command positions in airborne, air assault, light infantry and special forces units. He commanded 1st Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, (Currahee). He commanded the U.S. Provisional Brigade Task Force Eagle, 25th Infantry Division (Light) during their deployment to Bosnia-Herzegovina in support of Operation Joint Forge.
He led the 2d Brigade Combat Team (Commando), 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He was the deputy commanding general (operations) for the 101st Airborne Division deployed through Regional Command-East, Afghanistan. He most recently commanded the 10th Mountain Division Light Infantry.
Lieutenant General Mark Milley currently commands the 3rd “Phantom” Corps out of Fort Hood, Texas. He will provide brief opening remarks and take your questions.
And with that, sir, I'll turn it over to you.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL MARK A. MILLEY: Hey, thanks, Bill, and I appreciate it.
Although I can't see the folks in the room, thanks for coming. At least the list of names I was provided, I know several of you from your tours over here in both Afghanistan and then previously in Iraq.
And I want to thank Bill for those -- that little bit of an introduction. And I want to thank everybody for joining me.
What I'd like to do today briefly is just give a little introductory statement, kind of on my perspective. And many of you have a lot of experience here in Afghanistan. I'm on my third tour. I came into this country with 2d Brigade, 10th Mountain at the beginning of the mission here in Afghanistan.
And I'd like to give a little bit of contextual perspective from a guy who's got a couple tours -- couple -- three tours here in this country.
And when I first arrived in this country -- like many of you can remember -- there was no Afghan national army and there was no Afghan national police. There was the remnants of the Northern Alliance. The Taliban had been shattered. And it was a state of minor anarchy that had been emerging from 30 years of consecutive brutal warfare, first under the Soviets; and then, when the Soviets left for a years there, under the Najibullah regime. And then, of course, it breaks apart into a civil war followed by the regime of the Taliban.
So in this country, if you're about 40 years old or younger, then you've experienced nothing but unrelenting consecutive war. And for me it looked a bit like the pictures I used to see when I was younger of World War II. The cities in Europe or the cities in Japan that had been all bombed out. That's what Kabul looked like. That's what many of the other cities looked like. They were rubbled. They were destroyed. And there was really nothing here.
There was no real health care. There was no water. There was no sense of hope. It was just a state in which the people had been devastated by years and years of war.
If you flash forward to today -- and I was here at the beginning, and then I come back in the '08-'09 time frame, and then I'm back now -- if you flash forward to today, you've got a significantly and, in my opinion, much more positive situation on your hands.
First of all, with the security forces, we in fact have almost 350,000 uniformed police or army and -- and multiple different types of police and army that are out there fighting the fight and carrying the -- carrying the load every single day. And, in addition to that, not only do they have the numbers, or they have capacity, but this army is capable.
So they've gone from zero to 350,000 in -- in a relatively short amount of time. And they are capable at the tactical level, every day, day in and day out, and they're proving it over and over and over again in this summer's fighting season, the first summer that they've really and legitimately been in the lead.
I've been here now for about four, going on five months. I've gone through the pre-Ramadan part of the fighting season where the enemy laid out their objectives. Things toned down a bit during Ramadan. They picked back up.
But, for the most part, this army and this police force have been very, very effective in combat against the insurgents every single day. And I think that's a -- an important story to be told across the board.
Have there been one or two outposts that have been overrun? Yes. But you're talking about 3,000 or 4,000 outposts that are in the country.
So the bottom line is, the Afghans have successfully defended the majority of the population of this country. If you looked at where they -- population lives, you got Kabul, Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, Jalalabad, Ghazni -- you know all of the major urban areas.
And then, roughly speaking, within about 25 miles or so of Highway 1 and Highway 7, Highway 4 and the other major lines of communication, that's where 80 percent of the population lives. That's where most of the Afghan security forces have focused their effort in order to protect the population.
So they're executing a full spectrum counter-insurgency -- the Afghans are -- and their design, their purpose is to protect the majority of the population. And they have effectively done that in the first four-plus months of the fighting season, in which they have literally been in the lead.
If you look back to kind of the '01, the post-9/11 period, all the way to about '06, I think it's fair to say that the United States and -- and other members of the coalition were in the lead fighting essentially unilaterally a counter-insurgency operation. Then if you look at about the '06-'07 time frame, we had at that time somewhere to the tune of 100,000 or so Afghan security forces.
So we started fighting what we called shoulder-to- shoulder. And the -- and the by-word of the day was shohna ba shohna.
And that lasted -- shoulder-to-shoulder -- from about that time all the way up through the surge period, and really until last summer -- toward the end of the summer -- August, September, October time frame -- we started very progressively, very deliberately having the Afghan security forces in the lead where they were capable of being in the lead.
And that really was symbolically addressed in the Milestone 13 Tranche 5 ceremony that occurred last June, 18 June. But in fact, from last winter, and into the early-late winter and the early spring and now into the summer, they have progressively taken the lead. And they are, in fact, right now, leading well over 90 percent of the operations that are occurring.
And what does that mean? That means that they are planning, they're coordinating, they're synchronizing and then they're executing combat operations every day. About 1,000-plus patrols a day. Just this week, they're doing 35 named operations at kandak level or above. They're running multiple special operations throughout the AOR.
We do support them. We provide advisers. We train. We advise. We assist. We do enable with intelligence capabilities. We have close air support. We provide rotary wing. But for the most part, and well in excess of 90 percent, the -- the Afghan security forces have completely taken the lead in this fight.
This is a different fight today in Afghanistan than what I saw before. This is a fight in which the -- the forces of Afghanistan, the forces of the government are, in fact, engaged every single day, which you can tell, as you know, from casualty rates, et cetera, have gone up on the part of the Afghan security forces.
So the bottom line is, that's a huge change. That's a significant condition change that has occurred, really in the last few years over here, and it's culminating right now.
Secondly, I think you have to talk a little bit about the enemy. The enemy that I've seen this tour is quantitatively and qualitatively different than the enemy I've seen in the previous tours. They go by the same names -- Haqqani, Taliban, et cetera. And you know all the names. But their capabilities are different.
So far this year in this fighting season, what have they been able to do? They've been able to do some suicide bombings. They've been able to intimidate some people. They've been able to do assassinations. They continue to do IEDs. There's some small-arms attacks, et cetera.
What they can't do is they can't build, they can't provide an alternative form of governance. They don't have a political agenda that's acceptable to the vast majority of the people of Afghanistan.
All they can do, and all they've been doing this year, is terrorizing people. And that is not playing well with the people of Afghanistan.
All the information we have, both classified and unclassified, clearly indicates the vast majority of people in this country reject the agenda or the program that is being offered by the opponents, the enemies, of Afghanistan right now in all the various radical groups.
So there's two significant things that I think are different that have occurred over time and that we're witnessing the fruits of that labor right now.
If you look at a couple of other things I think that are really significant that have changed, I've had some guys on my staff do a little bit of research on what causes, you know, societies to change, and look at some of the fundamentals that -- that cause societies to change. And if you look at this country, in the last 12 years -- these aren't things that catch headlines per se -- but in the last 12 years there's been really some significant change in this country.
If you look at something like the business you're involved in, the communications business, the media business, that's huge. Where there was no media, essentially, 12 years ago, today there is a press corps here. There are 75 TV stations. There's 175 or 180 radio stations throughout this country. And that didn't exist 12 years ago under the Taliban.
And in addition to that, you've got all kinds of high-speed communications around here, from Internet to telephones, all the cell phones, text messaging, Facebooks, all the social media. That is very significant. That communication explosion in Afghanistan, in a country of 30 million, is making a difference day-in and day-out.
If you shift gears to landline in communications, this country, as you know, is tribally compartmented, mountainously compartmented by the physical terrain, et cetera. Roads make a difference in a rural country that is fundamentally agrarian based. So in order to get goods to market et cetera, you have to have roads.
In the last 12 years, there's been over 24,000 kilometers of road. That -- those road networks are serving to connect the people of Afghanistan to each other. So where you have people in valleys that have never gone outside their valley their entire life, that is now happening.
So there's a tremendous amount of movement. If you look at the airlines of communication, there's 52 airlines flying in and out of KIA every day -- international airlines. Now, when I first came here, the only thing flying 'em out was the U.S. Air Force. Now, you've got 52 international airlines flying in and out.
So you've got international communications now in Afghanistan that never existed before. What's the "so what" of all that? Well, that to me matters. But when you expand knowledge at the rate at which knowledge is being expanded in this country over a mere 10 years, that has significant societal change written all over it, where people are exposed to ideas, knowledge, science, education, and so on and so forth, that were never exposed before.
And what does that mean to the enemy? That's not a good picture for the enemy. I often hear people say time's on the side of the guerrilla, time's on the side of the Taliban. That's not true. In this particular case, in this country, with this explosion of information, time is on the hand -- on the side of the government of Afghanistan, the people that are supporting a progressive Afghanistan, and not on the side of the Taliban.
The Taliban is out there trying to control information, trying to deny people information, trying to deny people knowledge. That's a huge change.
Another one is education. This country's only got 30 million people or so. About 10 million of them right now are engaged in some form of education, either at the primary level or at the secondary level or at the university level. There's almost 200,000 university students. I think there's 17 universities spread throughout this country right now. There's several hundred thousand elementary and secondary school teachers in this country.
The education boom in this country is significant. Again, that does not augur well for the opponents -- the Taliban, Al Qaida and the rest of them, because they are opposed to that. They're not in favor of education. They want to control education. All they want you to do is go to a madrassa and study the sharia. That's all they -- that's all they want. They want nothing more than that. And that's not what's happening in this country.
So, you got about a third of this country whose literacy rate has -- has sky-rocketed from a mere 10 percent all the way up to 28 percent right now. And it's climbing very, very quick. So the education level is significant. But even more important than that is the demographic of this country. Right now, you've got something like 68 percent of this country -- well in excess of 50 percent -- are underneath the age of 25 years as we speak. That population is getting educated. In a very short amount of time, five -- 10 years, those people are going to be coming into positions of significant influence and power in this country.
And I think the days of the Taliban are going to be behind them when that educated group of young people that are in existence today, that are learning the sciences, the maths, and all the social sciences, et cetera, assume positions of responsibility. And we're seeing that. We're seeing that all over the place with young reporters, urban intellectuals that are arising throughout the area. And we're seeing a very, very broad rising of young people that are clearly and unambiguously rejecting the agenda of the Taliban.
And if you look at health care, when I showed up in this country, the average age of an Afghan male was 42 years old. If you look at it today, depending on the study you look at, it's somewhere -- it comes in somewhere around between 52 and 56.
If you go back to London in 1750, the start of the Industrial Revolution, they were -- average age is 42 years old. If you come flash forward, it took them until 1870 to get to 52 or 56 years old. So this country has experienced a huge growth in positive health care.
Yesterday, I visited a hospital here in Kabul, the Afghan National Police Hospital. I've gone out to several of the hospitals in the various communities. Almost every single community now in this country has some kind of clinic, health care, doctors, nurses -- they have bandages. Is it the type of health care that you might want? Perhaps not, but it's a hell of a lot better than what existed -- anything under the Taliban. And the answer's absolutely yes.
And the people of Afghanistan are seeing that. They're seeing communications, they're seeing health care, they're seeing education.
If you look at the economy, when you came here -- some of you did 12 years ago -- there weren't a whole lot of cars driving around. Kabul today, you have traffic jams. So there's fuel, there's cars, there's maintenance, there's mechanics. There's an economy that's bubbling in and around this country that did not exist before.
The GDP here is still dependent on -- on foreign aid to a large extent, and unemployment is still much too high. But the positive signs are out there. There's early indicators of potential for this country, and I think that's all to the positive.
The bottom line is, across the board in 12 years, this country's come a long way.
This is not the same country I walked into back in the day, and it's not the same country even three or four or five years ago. This is a significantly advanced country, and most -- or significantly advanced from what they were. And it is mostly due, I think, to the Taliban and the enemy tactics of murdering people, terrorizing people -- they killed over 100 civilians just last month. That doesn't go well with the Afghan people.
And it's mostly due to the Afghan security forces and what they have been able to do in the last few years, and then all the sacrifice and the blood, sweat and tears that the forces of the international community, most significantly, the United States, have done over the last 12 years.
So, I -- I am someone here who can tell you by witness that things are quite a bit different and quite a bit better in Afghanistan then they were for sure under the rule of the Taliban. And I am much more optimistic about the outcome here, as long as the Afghan security forces continue to do what they've been doing this fighting season. And if they continue to do that next year and the year after and so on, then I think things will turn out okay in Afghanistan.
And with that, I'll be glad to take anybody's questions.
Q: General, this is Bob Burns with the Associated Press. You seem to be forecasting the demise of the Taliban. I'm wondering how does that factor into the prospect for political negotiations and the government, between the Taliban and the government, if the Taliban has no future?
LT. GEN. MILLEY: Well, let me -- let me revise and extend my remarks. You used the word "demise." This war is not over. This is a very resilient enemy. It's an adaptive enemy. And -- and I don't think for a minute that the Taliban or their kind are going to kind of fade away into the dust here in the next year or two. That's not going to happen.
On the other hand, the Taliban's stated objective is to seize political power in Afghanistan. I do not think at this point in time, with the strength and capability of the Afghan security forces, that the Taliban or any of their allies have the capability to re-seize political power in the country of Afghanistan under current conditions. And I don't think that that is a likely probability anytime in the near future.
So, I don't see the Taliban's demise, but I do not think they any longer have the capability or any political support to achieve what is their strategic objective. If history is a guide, we know that if you're going to be a successful insurgency to achieve political power, you've got to achieve a certain degree of political traction in terms of popular support. You have to have the proverbial water for the fish to swim in in order to have a successful insurgency -- "success" being defined as seizing political power.
So I don't think that condition exists anymore. The conditions still exist, however, for fighting to continue for a fairly long period of time. But I think the key word here is: Can the ANSF contain the insurgency; can they manage the violence so that the insurgents do not present an existential threat to the government? And I think the answer to that is yes. At least that's the indicators that I conclude from what I've seen so far.
There's still a couple of months left in the fighting season. I would never want to call the ball too early. But I think all indicators are the ANSF have done well. In fight after fight, day in and day out, they are getting the upper hand on the insurgency.
So I don't see the insurgency in all of its various groups being able to achieve their political and/or strategic objectives. I don't see that in the cards. But I also do not see them just disappearing or their demise.
The question on reconciliation that you asked, that's really a political question for the government of Afghanistan. And they've got to figure that out. And -- and they're working at that. That's not -- that's not a military task per se. That's not something that we are engaged in, but it certainly, as it progresses or develops, will have effects on the battlefield. But that's not something that we're engaged in. That's something for the government of Afghanistan to work out.
Q: General, it's Courtney Kube from NBC News.
You mentioned that the enemy is qualitatively different than your last tour several years ago. Then you also said that they are resilient. What -- what reason do you have to believe that they're not just biding their time? There's only a little over a year left in this NATO mandate. There's no sign of any kind of -- of a decision yet for U.S. troops to stay after December 31, 2014.
So, what makes you think that they aren't just biding their time, and then after 2014, they'll adapt and -- and come back in Afghanistan and begin their -- their efforts to take over again?
LT. GEN. MILLEY: Great question there, Courtney. And I've asked myself that question a thousand times: How can I be sure that they're not just preserving combat power, husbanding resources, getting ready for the quote/unquote, "departure of the international forces" in order to launch an offensive and bring down the Afghan government?
Well, a couple of things I would say.
I mean, is that possible? Sure, that's in the realm of the possible, but I don't think so. My -- my professional judgment is the enemy is not biding their time. The enemy, according to their own strategic guidance, their own operations order that they issued out for this summer's fighting season, clearly indicated that they wanted to push the envelope, press the offensive fight during this fighting season, both against Afghan security forces and against ISAF.
So I don't think their intent was to hold anything back. And, furthermore, on -- and I won't give any specifics of classified -- but we have plenty of classified information to indicate that they're unhappy with many of their commanders for failing to show aggressiveness or failing to succeed on the battlefield. They've replaced several commanders, and others on the battlefield.
So there's plenty of indications, both classified and unclassified, for me to conclude that the enemy has tried to mount a significant offensive against the Afghan security forces and ISAF. And thus far have failed across the entire country.
Q: Dave Martin, with CBS.
I saw General Dunford quoted -- I think it was in the Guardian -- as saying that Afghan forces were sustaining casualties at a rate that could not be sustained.
One, is that true? And, two, how does that square with your portrayal of the Afghan security forces as becoming increasingly effective?
LT. GEN. MILLEY: Hey thanks, David.
Good to hear your voice. Hope everything's good with you and the folks back home.
The -- I read that article actually -- read both the transcript and what General Dunford said. What General Dunford actually said was, he didn't assume that it was sustainable, as opposed to declare that it was unsustainable. There's a slight difference, but I think it's a substantial one, or it has substantive different in meaning.
But bottom line is, here's my assessment: The Afghan security forces are suffering more casualties, no question about it. There's more Afghan security forces, and they're out there putting the wood to the enemy, every single day, day in and day out across the entire battle space. They're fighting significantly against all of the various groups. And they are suffering. They're taking casualties. They're inflicting a hell of a lot more than they are taking by the way, but they are taking casualties.
On average, they're -- it's probably somewhere in the range -- it depends on the week -- but somewhere in the range of 50 to 100 or so Afghan security forces are killed in action per week. And -- and that's not at all insignificant. That is significant. And we're paying attention to that, and we want to continue to work with them on the tactics, techniques, procedures of good sound tactics in order to minimize their own casualties.
So we're working heavily on counter-IED, for example. On all the technological devices that we use we are training the Afghans to use those; on proper movement techniques, et cetera.
Also a big one is medical evacuation, because any time you take casualties there's obviously an impact on unit moral et cetera. So you want to make sure that an individual soldier, regardless of what country they're from, any individual soldier wants to ensure that they're getting -- gonna get adequate medical care if they're injured.
So we're working hard to improve the medical evacuation system. Everywhere from point of injury all the way up to rotary wing medevac in order to evacuate the soldiers that are wounded in a timely way, and then -- and get them to appropriate medical care.
In addition to that, close-air support and attack helicopter support; we provide both of those for the Afghans when requested. But they are now developing an attack helicopter capability with their MI-35s and a lift capability with their MI-17s.
It's early. They've been running air assaults. They have been supporting themselves in a variety of ways, but those two capabilities are important in order to make the battlefield uneven in favor of the friendly forces.
Also, indirect fire -- the Afghans now, this summer, are employing D-30 artillery in much greater use than they were in previous years, and they're getting up -- trained up to a level where they can plan, coordinate, call for fire, address fire, et cetera.
Same thing, most importantly, with mortars. Probably the most responsive fire-support system that any infantry-based force can have is 60 millimeter and 82 millimeter mortars. So the Afghans are employing those to much greater effect than they have been in times gone by.
So that -- those capabilities, once they're brought to the fight at the unit levels will change, we think, the quote/unquote "significant amounts of casualties" that they're having.
The IEDs are big. Direct fire is big. IED, counter IED technologies, and tactics, techniques and procedures will work toward that. And then for the direct fire stuff, a lot of that -- in a direct firefight, as you well know, indirect fire tends to put the playing field in favor of the friendly forces.
So the bottom line is working on capabilities to address that.
But I think there's a broader question here on casualties. And I've given this a fair amount of thought over the summer. And some people say, well, you know, the U.S. Army or the U.S. Marines or the German army or the British army, et cetera, could never sustain those rates of casualties. And those rates approach rates that we took in Vietnam at the time.
But I think that the ability to take casualties is directly related to the political object to be achieved. And for the Afghans, I think that's significant. For them, they are fighting for their country. They're fighting for the very existence of their future. And I don't -- I -- of the -- there's 24 maneuver brigades out here. There's over 100 kandaks. There's six different corps. And there hasn't been a single unit, police or army, that has shattered and lost their cohesion, lost their ability to carry on the fight as a result of casualties.
I think that speaks volumes. That speaks volumes about their cohesion, their dedication, and their willingness to defend their own country. And I think they are fully cognizant of the fact of the enemy they are fighting who wants to take over their country. And they are fully aware that if they fail in their fight, they'll live under Taliban rule again.
So they are determined -- and I've seen it over and over and over again throughout the last four months. These guys are absolutely determined to fight for their country. And they're doing a good job at it. And, yes, they are suffering.
Is it sustainable or unsustainable? I think that's an open question. I personally believe that -- you know, I walked around the hospital just yesterday. And I don't -- I think there was probably about 80 or 90 Afghan wounded in action in there. And these are pretty serious wounds.
And I got to tell you, these guys are hard guys. These are tough, physical tough people and mentally tough people.
And -- you have to almost go back in time to, I don't know, the middle of the 1800s or something like that in the United States where the Union and Confederate armies are marching in boots and bare feet back and forth over the mountains of Virginia and Georgia to find people as hard and as tough as these people.
So taking casualties is significant, and we, as ISAF and advisers, are working a whole wide variety of programs to try to reduce those casualties. That's on the one hand.
On the other hand, I believe this enemy is resilient. But I got to tell you, the Afghan security forces are very resilient. They're hard. They're tough. And I don't think the rates of casualties, although significant, I don't think that's going to shatter or break the security force.
Q: General Milley, Julian Barnes here, Wall Street Journal.
Do you think that the Afghan security forces post-2014 will still need some of those capabilities they're getting from ISAF that you just outlined -- close air support, the medevac?
And if they don't still have that level of support that they have today in those areas, will we see this -- this level of violence go up? Will we see the casualties go up? What's your assessment from where you sit today?
LT. GEN. MILLEY: Well, Julian, good to hear your voice as well.
A couple of things. One is that I would argue that it's probably a little bit too early to tell. We -- we need to get the full results of this fighting season, which we'll get those probably in October -- Octoberish, whenever the snows start falling -- Octoberish, Novemberish. And we'll do an assessment and analysis. And we'll provide a military recommendation to General Dunford, and then he'll provide a recommendation on up to the North Atlantic Council and the U.S. senior leadership, et cetera, as to what our best military estimate is as to what kind of capabilities are going to be needed in 2015 and beyond.
As -- as -- so, first of all, it's an ongoing process and it's not finalized. It's very much pre-decisional. And we -- we have to get some more data on exactly what kind of capabilities, where, what units, et cetera, will need assistance in January '15 and beyond.
But having said that, as you probably are already aware, there's -- there is a mission that comes after the current mission. The current mandate ends 31 December 2014. And then there's this follow- on mission called "Resolute Support," a NATO mission called "Resolute Support" that is in development now in terms of the planning of it, the size of it, the scope of it, the tasks and so on and so forth.
So, I think it's a bit premature for me to say exactly what will be needed. In broad terms, though, I do think that some element of support is going to be needed not so much at the tactical level, though. My observation is that the kandaks and the brigades that are out here every day, you know, the companies and the battalions and the brigades of the Afghans, and their counterpart police, they're pretty damned good at -- at, you know, shoot, move and communicate, and mounted and dismounted ground combat operations. They are pretty good. And they're doing just fine relative to this enemy in this country.
So, that part's okay. The parts that need I think additional work, and we're going to work hard over the coming months and year up until the end of this current mandate, is to shore-up things like logistics supply at the institutional level, like Class 9, which is spare parts for vehicles, spare parts for weapons that break, et cetera.
That's a very sophisticated logistics system, in order to make sure that we bring in the right parts and then get them distributed so you get the right part in the right vehicle at the right time. So, something like a logistics system at the higher levels, not so much at the lower levels. That definitely needs additional work.
Things like personnel management systems needs work; promotion systems, merit-based promotions and those sorts of things. Leadership development clearly needs work. The integration of combined arms I think is coming along pretty well, meaning that an infantry unit out there in contact has the ability to call for and adjust indirect fire from either artillery or mortars, and can either ground or air evacuate their casualties.
They're actually doing pretty good right now at indirect fire, in coordination with mounted and dismounted forces. But we need to continue to work that system so that it becomes self-sustainable over time. You've got to work ammunition resupply, fuel, water. You've got to do things like all of these compounds and bases that they're taking over, we want to make sure that, you know, basic things that you would imagine in any community -- you know, sewage, electricity, those sorts of things. All that institutional-type stuff has got to get worked.
With respect to close air support, attack helicopters and medevac, those are systems that are currently in development. I'll give you, like, rotary wing, for example. Rotary wing resupply and medevac, they ran an operation in Azra district which was a multi- kandak, multi-brigade operation last month. They planned it. They coordinated it. They synchronized it.
We had no advisers go with them on the ground. And they ran six different turns of air assault; brought their troops in on their own helicopters. They brought in, roughly speaking, 6,000 pounds or a couple of tons of resupply. They brought in humanitarian aid. They did all that on their own.
They did take casualties, and they were able to evacuate the casualties on their own. They flew attack helicopter support on their own. We had ISR support over their head with some unmanned aerial vehicles and some other capabilities. And we did fly close-air support, but we didn't have to drop any bombs.
So they are capable right now of doing some of those operations. What we need to get to here this year is we need to be able to see that across the board. That was done by 201st and 203rd Corps. We need to see that across all the corps, all the kandaks and a sustained level of effort over time.
We think it's achievable to get to a pretty high level here in the next year, year-and-a-half here before 31 December. We think that's achievable. And then what residual capabilities they're going to need starting January 15 and beyond, we think those will be at the higher level of logistics and institutional support, and not necessarily at the micro-tactical level.
I'm not sure that 100 percent answers the question you were after, but that's my assessment at this point, over.
Q: Thanks, General Milley, this is David Alexander from Reuters.
I understand that President Karzai's been quoted as saying he doesn't think it's necessary to have a post-2014 forces agreement in place until perhaps after the election. So I'm just wondering if that's -- is that, sort of, the new target, or is that pushing it a little too thin? When -- how's that going?
LT. GEN. MILLEY: Well, I'll be frank, I don't -- my -- my level is below the president of Afghanistan. I don't engage with President Karzai. That's -- General Dunford does that. The ambassador does that and others do that.
I saw the comment in the media. So I don't know. That's a political question. He's got to decide that. He's the sovereign leader of a sovereign country, and he's got to determine what he thinks is in the best interest, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Our position is, is we would like to have a bilateral security agreement. And I think publicly the chairman and others have stated they'd like to see that -- you know, in the October-November time frame. That's -- that's an -- that's one level above me. Does it have impact? Yes it does, but in terms of the day-to-day operational fight, no.
Where it has impact, though, is in what I would call a sense of anxiety, a fear of the future, a sense of hedging on the part of Afghans across the board, both the civilian elites, and military leadership, as well as, I would argue, a broad base of Afghans throughout the country.
So there's -- there's a degree of anxiety out there within Afghanistan about what 2014 means. And I think the sooner that various leaders define that with a degree of certainty, than I think the better it will be for the government of Afghanistan and the future of the people of Afghanistan.
But that's a political question, and I'm not sure, candidly, of the status of negotiations, et cetera. But, we don't -- obviously play a role in that. I think the embassy has lead on it. And they're working it. But, certainly we want it, and we want to get that done. And I think that's in the best interest of the -- of the campaign effort over here. But we'll have to wait until we see what the political leadership of all the various countries come up with.
Q: Joe Gould from Army Times.
You talked about the Taliban planning to push the envelope. There was a -- there was recently a complex attack in Ghazni that resulted in Afghan, Polish and one American casualty from the 10th Mountain. Do you expect that those kinds of complex attacks are going to increase, particularly as the -- you know, as the drawdown is coming and the fighting season is -- starts to dwindle? And also, what can you tell us about -- that attack?
LT. GEN. MILLEY: Well, the short answer is, yes. We do expect that the enemy will try to do -- and he stated he would try to do -- what -- what's called, generally, high-profile attacks, or what we call complex attacks, which involve dismounted forces, suicide bombers attempting to breach, et cetera.
That one on FOB Ghazni was a significant attack involving multiple suicide vehicle car bombs and an attempt by suicide -- dismounted suicide bombers to penetrate the perimeter, inflict significant amounts of casualties.
Unfortunately, we lost a great American there from 10th Mountain Division in that attack, but the defenders did extraordinarily well. All of the attackers were killed, but the Afghan security forces did well as well. And the Polish security forces -- or the Polish contingent did great, the Americans did great from 10th Mountain. That was a tough fight. It was a tough attack. And the defenders did well. And we were -- in my opinion, the enemy completely failed in achieving any kind of operational or strategic effect from that particular attack.
We do expect more of those against either fixed sites and/or key infrastructure in Kabul, political sites, et cetera. And they have had several to date, as well. So there's been -- in the Kabul area, for example, there's been 13 high-profile attacks since the beginning of May, about seven of them against ISAF facilities, and the others against the Afghan facilities.
And in all of them, I would argue that they were a resounding failure, both in terms of trying to make a political statement on the part of the enemy and/or having any kind of military, strategic, or operational effect.
You know, one of them -- they blew up a suicide bomber in the parking lot of the supreme court and they murdered a whole bunch of civilians. And another one, they attacked an international office of migration, a representative of the United Nations, a very soft target. And they killed some folks there. And they -- they attacked The Red Crescent in Jalalabad.
But I would not call those attacks anything that demonstrates any kind of viable capability on the part of the enemies of Afghanistan, except the fact that they're terrorists and they're murderers. Other than that, they haven't been able to achieve much success at all.
So we do expect more. This is a -- an environment in which the enemy has objectives. They are trying to achieve those objectives, and they're using the tool of terrorism to do it. And they're using the tool of wanton violence to inflict and undermine the legitimacy of the government of Afghanistan. And at least to date, they're having very little success in doing it.
CMDR. SPEAKS: Time for two more questions.
Q: General, it's Luis Martinez of ABC News.
Have there been some success areas that you did not expect? For example – after the transition? I saw recently that in Pech and Kunar, and there seems to be – have been quite a security turnaround there with the Afghans in lead – are there. Is that right? And are there other areas that are similar like that?
LT. GEN. MILLEY: Yeah, there's -- there's several of them. You know, there's -- there's ups and downs. It's a war so there's -- there's puts and takes, there's goods and bads throughout. On balance, overall, there's much more goods than bads with respect to how the Afghan security forces are performing.
One of them, you pointed out, which was the Pech River Valley. As you're well aware, ISAF forces, coalition forces withdrew from -- in large part, from the Nuristan/Kunar area, for good reasons. There was -- there was a modest amount of population up there, and the cost was exceeding any kind of benefit, as we could tell. And so a few years ago there was a decision made to go ahead and withdrawal most of the outposts from up there.
So the -- so the Afghan security forces this past June -- 6th of June, in fact -- decided that they would go back up there, reassert governmental control in the Pech River Valley, the Waygal Valley, Chapa Dora, and a few others of the capillary valleys up in there.
So, on 6th June, they went ahead and conducted an operation where they put in an Afghan kandak by ground. They did make contact. They defeated the enemy that they ran into in and around those areas. And then they have essentially maintained pretty good control of that area since -- since 6th June.
And just this week, they're working to bring in a quote/unquote "holding force," in the doctrine there of a counter-insurgency. They'll bring in a holding force with police, which is a combination of Afghan uniformed police and Afghan local police. They've worked a variety of governmental actions there on behalf of Governor Nuristani. And they're pushing on further to secure the road all the way up to Paroon, et cetera. So they're doing a very good job with that. They put that together on their own.
Another one was the Hazara operation -- an Hazarajat operation that I mentioned before with an air assault for multiple corps into some very rugged terrain in an area that was kind of tough.
Another one, which surprised me, when I got back here, was, you know, down in R.C. South and Southwest, there was significant -- really significant fighting down in Helmand, Arghandab, Sangin, Panjwai, et cetera, just a few years ago. The level of security that's been brought to Kandahar and the areas in R.C. South and southwest, not only by ISAF but by now both the 205th and 215th corps that are operating down there is quite a bit different than -- than what I saw before.
So that -- that's a significant and positive change, I think. And it appears to be holding up pretty well.
So, Sangin, for example, the enemy has tried -- tried hard to re- take Sangin, but the 215th Corps down there in R.C. Southwest has done a very, very good job in holding that terrain and defeating the enemy offensives, such as they were when they tried to, you know, cut the road between Kajaki and Lash and all that.
So, there are several spots. If you go up to Mazar-e-Sharif, you go up to Kunduz; if you go out to Herat, those places are extremely stable. And -- and they are, relative to the insurgency. Is there crime? Yeah, there's crime. There's some other things. But -- and, you know, there's other types of bad activity, but relative to the insurgency, those other areas are quite stable.
Now, there's some areas that are tough. So it's not all rosy everywhere. Highway 1 south of Kabul, specifically between Wardak and Logar in Fayzabad district is -- is -- has been a tough fight this summer. The enemy, in combination with criminal groups, in combination with other, you know, miscreant-type actors, have been attacking various convoys, stealing fuel, torching trucks.
But that's about a 20-mile stretch of road in some compartmented terrain that -- that causes a -- a defile just south of Kabul. So that area has been contested all summer long. The 203rd Corps right now as we speak is running a pretty significant operation there to clear out the enemy support zones. So that's an area that's been contested.
Kunar is still contested, you know, as you go up to Barge Matal. That area is pretty contested as well. There are parts of Urozgan that are still pretty contested. As you get out into the west and you get into Farah and Gulistan, those areas are fairly contested and the Afghan security forces are in a fight there; parts of Zabul. But -- so there are areas in which there is significant ongoing fighting.
And if you looked at it geographically and you lay it out kind of district by district and geography by geography, there's about somewhere around 15 or 20 percent maybe of the geographical land-space of Afghanistan that is significantly contested, and about 80 percent of it is not -- is not very contested. It's clearly under government control.
If you look at it from a population standpoint, it's about the same. About 80 percent of the population lives in areas that are not significantly contested by the insurgents. Most of the insurgency that we see today is occurring in some rural areas of low-density population and that's where the Afghan security forces are trying to get after it.
CMDR. SPEAKS: Lalit
Q: (inaudible) -- number of foot soldiers, do you have any estimate of the number of foot soldiers Taliban have now as compared to what was three years ago?
LT. GEN. MILLEY: I'm sorry. I could not hear the question. I think what I heard was how many people does the Taliban have now. Was that the question?
CMDR. SPEAKS: That's correct, sir.
LT. GEN. MILLEY: Yeah, I -- I don't know for certain. And candidly, I'm not sure anyone knows, probably to include the Taliban, exactly how many Taliban there are. At best, you get a wide range of estimates, and then you have to define it even further. Are we talking about armed combatant-type Taliban? Or are we talking about supporters of the Taliban that lend some kind of logistical or political support, et cetera? So some of that depends on definition and so on and so forth.
As a broad kind of comment -- I would probably be reluctant to give precise numbers. But as a broad comment, you're probably looking at something of a low of 10,000 or 15,000 armed combatants, and maybe a high of 25,000 -- 20,000, 25,000 armed. And it's not Taliban. It's -- it's the -- it's multiple groups. So you've got Taliban. You know, you've got Haqqani. You've got HIG. You've got TMJ. You've got al-Qaeda. You've got IMU, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. And you've got about four or five other named groups.
You've got a potpourri of radical groups that generally have similar-type objectives. They're sort of this similar -- similar species of fish that are -- that are swimming generally in the same pond.
But they are not exactly unified by any stretch of the imagination, but taken as a whole that's probably in the range of accuracy, and that's probably about as good a guess as anyone would be able to give you in terms of a left, right book end of the numbers. It's a pretty wide range, I know, but I think that's a question that is not answerable with any high degree of accuracy, over.
CMDR. SPEAKS: Okay. With that, sir, we'll turn it over to you for any closing comments.
LT. GEN. MILLEY: Okay, I've got time on this end to take another question, if there's one more question, and then I can kind of wrap it up.
CMDR. SPEAKS: Okay, sir
Q: Hi sir.
For years, we've been hearing that the Afghan police are not trained up to the same sort of standard as the Afghan army. Yet, we keep hearing they're taking a lot of casualties. Is that -- are the Afghan police catching up?
And -- and just as another aside, the American and NATO troops have essentially changed the way they conduct business over the last year with the Afghans in the lead. How is that working, and how have they adapted to that role?
LT. GEN. MILLEY: The -- well, on the first question, to the Afghan police, the -- the training -- the level of effort in terms of training has clearly lagged behind the army from the very beginning of this operation. If you go back to the Bonn agreement and then you kind of trace that through the years, the level of effort was behind the army. And more training effort, equipment and -- and focus was put on the army.
That was recognized a few years ago -- I don't know, probably '08, '09, '10, something like that, and the gears started to shift to increase the level of effort to support police forces.
Now there's multiple types of police forces. So you've got the Afghan border police, which, obviously, operate along the border. And you look at the Afghan uniform police, which operate fundamentally in urban areas or higher density population areas. You've got the ANCOPs, the civil order police, which is sort of like a carabinieri type organization.
So you got different types of police and they're all at different levels of training. But a concerted effort has been done in the last couple of years, and we're continuing that today, to improve the level of training, leadership, and equipping of the Afghan police. And we're seeing a better performance on the part of the police this summer than we've seen in the past.
The enemy clearly is attacking the police more than any other force, both Afghan local police and Afghan national police because that police force is truly the front line of the government, and -- and they are not as formidable in -- in conducting small unit, dismounted, light infantry-type operations as the Afghan army.
So the Afghan -- or the enemies clearly target the Afghan police more than they do the army. And the Afghan police proportionally take more casualties than the army. In the aggregate the army takes more than the -- more casualties than the police, but as a matter of proportion, the police take more per the number of police.
But the police have not been shattered; they haven't broke. They're hanging in there. They're doing good. And they're improving in terms of their skills at both -- not only police work, but at their ability to operate in a counter-insurgency, terrorist type environment that you have here in Afghanistan.
So, hopefully, that answers the first half of your question.
As far as the relationship as to what we do, we -- we are clearly and unambiguously in the train, advise, assist part of -- or that is our mission, that's our task, that's what we do every day. We do not conduct unilateral offensive operations. We did that years ago. We do not do that anymore.
What we do is help the Afghans in their conduct of their counter- insurgency. And we train them. We advise them. We work schools. We help equip them. And then we assist them where needed and where requested. And that relationship has worked out pretty well. And the Afghans have stepped up to the plate, and as you can tell by casualties and other things, that they are in fact fighting the fight.
And let me -- let me just wrap it up. First of all, good to hear some of the voices I heard out there. And I hope everyone's doing well.
But with respect to Afghanistan, you know, kind of going back to where I started, a lot has happened in 12 years in this country. Some of which makes headlines, some of which does not.
But there is a significant degree of societal change, both in the security conditions, the security capabilities on the part of the Afghan government, and at least as important are the societal changes in terms of education and communication and so on and so forth.
Taken as a whole, taken as an aggregate, and again, you know, it's still early in the sense of, you know, how does this all turn out, but I would argue that the -- the -- the changes that have occurred in this country speak that or would suggest that the momentum of this war has shifted in the favor of the government of Afghanistan and not in the favor of the Taliban.
And I think the Taliban capability-wise and political action-wise do not have the capability to present an existential threat to this country, provided that we continue doing what we're doing, we stay on plan, we continue to advise and assist and work with the Afghan security forces.
So I -- my own estimate -- and this is my estimate, not any kind of, not anyone else's, but my own estimate is that the situation in Afghanistan is significantly better than what many people may appreciate it to be, given a 12-year view, or even given a 40-year view.
Most Afghans would tell you that the situation today is better than it certainly was 25 years ago or 20 years ago or even 12 or 13 years ago.
And I -- and I hear that repeatedly. And not just from people that are senior in rank in the Afghan security forces, but I hear that from lots of people all over the country of various walks of life.
So I think that the United States and the international security forces from NATO have got a lot to be proud of in what's occurred in the last 12 years.
Having said all of that, though, this war is not over. This war is still being contested. It is still being fought, day-in and day-out. And it is not yet won.
It -- right now, I would say, that the conditions are set for winning this war and, but it is not yet won and it is not yet over.
So with that, I'll -- I'll bid adieu, and wish you guys the best and appreciate the time.
CMDR. SPEAKS: Thank you, sir.