(Note: Maj. Gen. Durbin and Lt. Gen. Karimi brief via video-teleconference from Afghanistan.)
MR. WHITMAN: General Durbin and General Karimi, can you hear me? This is Bryan Whitman at the Pentagon.
GEN. DURBIN: Bryan, we hear you fine.
MR. WHITMAN: Very good. Well, general, thank you for joining us today, and welcome to the press corps this morning, and this evening to you over in Afghanistan.
Our briefers today are Major General Robert Durbin, who is the commander of the Combined Security Transition Command in Afghanistan, and with him is Lieutenant General Sher Karimi -- I think I said that right -- who is the chief of operations for the Afghan National Army. General Durbin and his troops are helping to rebuild and further develop the Afghan security forces. General Durbin and General Karimi are speaking to us today from Camp Eggers in Kabul. They both have a few opening remarks that they would like to make, and then will take your questions.
So with that, let me turn it over to you two gentlemen to get started.
GEN. DURBIN: Okay, Bryan. Thank you. And greetings from Afghanistan.
I'd like to take just a few minutes to give you an update on the progress of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police programs. General Karimi will then have some remarks, and then we'd be happy to take your questions.
Let me begin by telling you what a magnificent job the young men and women of the Department of Defense and the Department of State are doing each and every day in Afghanistan. Their professionalism and dedication to their mission is evident as they go about assisting the Afghans so that one day they will, with limited support from the international community, be able to provide safety and security for all Afghans.
And I would be remiss if I did not mention the contributions of our international partners, to include NATO ISAF, the International Security Assistance Forces, the Department of State, the German Police Project Office, and many other members of the international community.
Today, I'd like to address three specific areas. First, the current status of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. Second, the cooperation developing between the Afghan ministries of Defense and Interior. And then, lastly, the road ahead.
As background, the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan has the mission of manning, training and equipping both the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. We are helping the government of Afghanistan build ministerial capacity, and our mentors/trainers are working closely with the ministers to build a foundation for success. These professionals are at every level from the minister of defense and minister of interior down to the individual soldier and policeman. Our mentor/trainers are helping to build the capabilities that the Afghan national security forces will need to conduct combat and security operations throughout Afghanistan.
The Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police have already conducted multiple successful joint operations, including crowd control, patrolling, cordon-and-search missions, and the ongoing spring offensive, Operation Mountain Lion, where they have been effective at disrupting and destroying the enemies of Afghanistan. The Afghan National Army is being built from the ground up, while the Afghan National Police are in the process of reforming after years of cultural corruption.
The Afghan National Army is one of the only all-volunteer armies in the region, and the nationwide recruiting centers are enlisting brave young warriors to serve Afghanistan. That's remarkable when you consider that the U.S. military with over 200 years of service has only had an all-volunteer force for the past 30 years. And presently, the Afghan national security forces, consisting of the Afghan National Army and Police, number over 60,000 trained and equipped soldiers and policemen.
The Afghan National Army has grown to nearly 30,000 with close to 4,000 in training and growing at a rate of nearly 1,000 a month. The army is composed of five corps and 10 brigades. It is an infantry-centric force focusing on counterinsurgency capability. The training base is sound having their own version of our Fort Benning at the Kabul Military Training Center, KMTC. The Afghan National Army has its own West Point equivalent in the National Military Academy of Afghanistan as well as an officer candidate school modeled after Sandhurst. The army is also in the process of building a professional non-commissioned officer corps, the backbone of any professional army. So today, the Afghan National Army and coalition forces are fighting side by side conducting limited, independent operations at the company, battalion and in some cases brigade-levels.
A close, trusted friend of mine, Major General Ben Freakley, commander of CJTF-76, summed it up best when he said, and I quote, "I've been a soldier for 30 years and served with some of the most professional, competent and capable soldiers ever fielded. I can tell you without reservation that I would be honored to have the soldiers of the Afghan National Army in my formation." I share his assessment.
On the police side, the reform program has produced over 30,000 trained and equipped national policemen.
That number includes eight brigades of border police, numbering over 5,000, and nearly 25,000 uniformed police at the provincial and district level, the equivalent of our state, local or parish-level police.
There are nearly 3,000 police in training at the central training center in Kabul or at one of the additional seven regional training centers throughout the country. In addition, quality police officers are being trained and educated at the Afghan National Police Academy.
The Afghan National Police are becoming a national presence and are developing regional command and control centers. The police have an enormous task. They must maintain domestic order, protect the rights of all Afghan citizens and secure their borders from terrorists and other criminal elements. The end state will be professional and competent security institutions that are sustainable, affordable, respected and dedicated to protecting all the Afghan people.
Next I'll briefly discuss the increased teamwork and cooperation between the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior. The two ministries are working together to provide the effective command, control and coordination necessary to plan and execute joint operations. These operations range from quelling a disturbance, conducting joint cordon-and-search operations, to conducting counterinsurgency operations.
As we speak, the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police are working together with coalition forces, conducting limited independent company, battalion and brigade operations to find and destroy the enemies of Afghanistan.
Let me wrap this up by talking about the road ahead. While much has been accomplished, much more must be done, and the road ahead is indeed challenging. The Afghan people are building a national security force while fighting a war. The police must overcome corruption as they train and develop a professional police force. Afghans are beginning to take charge of their country, and in many ways success can only be defined in the eyes of the people of Afghanistan.
Let me close by extending an invitation to you to visit Afghanistan yourself. Come and see what is going on and how the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police are progressing. Witness firsthand the great work being done. I think if you do, you'll be as impressed as I am with their progress.
I'd like to provide Lieutenant General Karimi the opportunity to make some remarks. General Karimi, sir.
GEN. KARIMI: Thank you, General Durbin.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen in Washington. I am Lieutenant General Sher Karimi, chief of operations for the Afghan National Army.
Before I answer any questions, I would like to thank the U.S. people, the U.S. government, the U.S. military forces, NATO and ISAF, and other coalition nations, personally and on behalf of the chief of the general staff and the minister of defense.
Our people appreciates what you have done for us and what you are doing in future. We are grateful to the U.S. and coalition and NATO nations. Without U.S. support and without coalition and NATO support, it wouldn't be possible to have peace in Afghanistan.
We have achieved a great deal in the last four years. I'm not going to go into the details in this moment. I would like to say that we all appreciate the work of CSTC-Alpha and their efforts for building up ANA.
And also I would like thank Major General Durbin heading and leading the CSTC for his hard work for development of ANA and his wise guidance and mentoring our staff and the Ministry of Defense general staff level.
It will be an honor for me to take your questions and not to take your time on details. I think the details have been given already by General Durbin.
MR. WHITMAN: You might notice that General Karimi wears the United States airborne wings on his uniform. He has been to the Infantry Center at Fort Benning. He's also attended the Command and General Staff College here in the United States. I know he wouldn't tell you about that, so I thought I'd mention it.
Anyway, let's have some questions.
Q General Durbin, this is Bob Burns from AP.
In your opening statement, you said, I believe, that one day with limited support, the Afghans will be able to provide their own security. And my question is, when do you see that day coming? Is it in the next couple of years? Will it be five or 10 years? And by using the term "limited support," I'm wondering if that suggests that, in fact, American military support will be required indefinitely.
GEN. DURBIN: Bob, I'll tell you that they will be able to do that, and that one day will be Tuesday. It will not be next Tuesday. And I would tell you it is probably a multiyear process.
And in answer to your question about limited support, as we build the capability of an infantry sentry force for the Afghan National Army, and they can be a full partner with us, then international community will be providing those enablers that are appropriate for any advanced military that would be provided for a partner similar to Afghanistan as they continue to build their capability over time.
Q I have a follow-up.
MR. WHITMAN: Certainly.
Q Got a quick follow-up, general, from Bob Burns.
Is there no general timeline, in fact, for ending your mission, the training mission?
GEN. DURBIN: We have a timeline that's associated with the availability of funding that has been programmed. And as you know, the programming of that funding is year to year, so we have established a program that would define the increased capability that we are able to assist the Afghan National Army and the police build over time.
MR. WHITMAN: Thank you, Bob.
Will, go ahead.
Q General Durbin, Will Dunham with Reuters.
What percentage of the country do Afghan security forces currently have responsibility over? And what percentage of the country do you expect them to have control over by the end of this year?
GEN. DURBIN: Well, since Afghanistan is a sovereign nation, then they do have control over all of their sovereign territory.
To better answer your question, though, we have Afghan National Army presence in each of the regions in the country. We have broken it out Regional Command North, West, South and the East. And as I mentioned in the opening statement, we also have presence of Afghan National Police throughout the country.
So I would answer it to the respect that it is sovereign territory, and they are growing capability each day so that as they continue to fight side by side, we can eventually have Afghan lead in those counterinsurgent and other operations.
MR. WHITMAN: Pam.
Q General, this is Pam Hess with UPI.
Could you tell us how large you expect the Afghan government is planning to grow the army and the police force?
And could you talk a little bit about the threat that they're facing? Is it -- how large is it? Who makes it up? Could you break it down between sort of what we understand to be war lords -- Hekmatyar Gulbuddin -- former Taliban?
GEN. DURBIN: The tashkeel, which is the organizational structure for the Afghan National Police, is agreed upon in the Afghan Compact with Afghanistan at 62,000. For the Afghan National Army, the program dollars that we have at this time builds the army to 50,000 en route to 70,000 as an expected end state.
If I would address the threat array across the country, I would tell you that there is more of an active counter-insurgent operation that is focused in the eastern and southern part of Afghanistan, and the threat that is currently in the west and in the north is more in the terms of narcotrafficking, smuggling, common criminality, and to a lesser degree any active counter-insurgent operations.
MR. WHITMAN: Perhaps somebody has a question for General Karimi.
Q I do.
MR. WHITMAN: Okay.
Q General Karimi, this is Jim Miklaszewski with NBC News. What evidence have you seen that al Qaeda may still be influential and/or conducting operations in Afghanistan?
GEN. KARIMI: Thank you, sir, for your questions. You see, al Qaeda is an international organization supported from outside, maybe individuals, maybe governments. They are active in the south and southeast and in the east by some activities which are not the kind of warfare to face our ANA and coalition forces. They're active by training some elements to terrorize people and also use IEDs, remote- controlled mines on the roads and approaches, and also use some of the very minor tactics like ambushes, in some areas hit-and-run type of tactics. And of course they train some of the people which are for their benefit, like Taliban and also smugglers who are engaged in narcotics. So they have common interests in supporting each other.
Q And if I may follow up, General Karimi, is there any evidence that Osama bin Laden or his deputy, Zawahiri, are directly involved in commanding those al Qaeda operatives that are inside Afghanistan?
GEN. KARIMI: Well, the evidence that I could mention, some of the people that have been captured during the fighting, or some of the suicide attackers are Arabs; they are not Afghans, they are Arabs and some other nationalities. So the Arabs are directly connected to Osama bin Laden, and many other militants of extremists from other nations are also under the control and training of al Qaeda.
MR. WHITMAN: Al?
Q General Karimi, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. I wanted to get your assessment of the overall situation.
Why is it taking so long to end the fighting in Afghanistan, to put down the various insurgent groups? And what do you think it will take, in terms of military force, political moves or other steps, and over what period of time?
GEN. KARIMI: Let me say that the Taliban were running this country for five years. They were a government with a force supported directly by many nations, by many donors. They were developed, they were stationed, and all over the country. And what they did in the international level caused them to interfere -- for the international community to interfere in Afghanistan. And to eliminate or destroy that enemy which was well developed from the past in various areas is not an easy task.
The Taliban or Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda did not come to Afghanistan just on one day and they faced fighting with the coalition on the same day. They worked here maybe for many, many years to get to this situation, to run the country for five years. Now the same people have sanctuaries inside Afghanistan and outside in the neighboring countries. For that reason, it is not very easy to hand down an individual or small groups.
It is not a conventional warfare, to have force facing a force or a force having depth in front and flanks. It is a group of five to 10 people operating in a very rugged terrain, a very difficult terrain. And also, they have sanctuaries on both sides of the border. There are people who support them, local people, through intimidation and through misguidance given to them in the name of religion.
So it will take time. It is not easy to eliminate such people. It is like looking for a needle in a haystack. So it takes time, and we need very good intelligence. And I think intelligence training and intelligence work is more important in insurgency than having a real big force to use in an area. This is not the question of using a big force against this enemy. In fact, this is very important to use smaller force, well-trained, professional, for special operations to deal with this enemy.
ANA is well trained in conventional type of warfare. We are trying to now to develop ANA capabilities by giving special training and also special equipment so they can deal with the situation that is in Afghanistan with, of course, with the support of the coalition and NATO forces.
Q Generals, I have a question for both of you. It's Jamie McIntyre from CNN. There are a number of reports coming out of Afghanistan suggesting that the Taliban has been resurgent in the south, and also suggesting that they may be emboldened somewhat by the perception that NATO forces might not be as aggressive in counterinsurgency operations. I'm wondering if both you could address -- to the extent that you believe that the perceptions are accurate, is the Taliban resurgent? Are they emboldened by a perception of NATO as being perhaps not as aggressive?
GEN. KARIMI: Okay. The few -- from the beginning of the winter, we've been foreseeing this, that once the weather gets warmer, the enemy will be more able to operate in the rugged terrain and sustain in that area. This is a question, natural question, that they can use up the land where they are going, where they have left, and that is in their favor. And also that doesn't mean that the enemy is getting stronger, but their -- we agree that their activities are growing up because of the climate, the weather, and also the support -- the clandestine support that they get from some elements from outside world and from some individual, you know, organizations. But that doesn't mean that the ANA or coalitions are not aggressive, they are not capable of fighting with them.
The planning that we have for operations in the spring -- we call it, you know, spring offensive -- we are moving forward according to the enemy movements. We were predicting that the enemy will get more alert, more active in the summer, so we accordingly planning to be more alert, more active and have more aggressive operations, offensive operations in many areas against the enemy. We are not waiting for the enemy to come to us. In fact, now we are going out to follow the enemy and go after the enemy.
MR. WHITMAN: General Durbin, maybe you want to address the NATO part?
GEN. DURBIN: As you have heard many times, this is a thinking and learning enemy, and it's an enemy that in some ways is quite sophisticated. No doubt they have strategic operational and tactical goals. It would be inconceivable for us not to know that they know the timing of the transition to NATO ISAF, and it would be imprudent for us to not believe that they would see that as a viable target. And I think that's what we're seeing. I think we anticipated this, and I think that we are increasing not just the capability, but also the capacity not just of ISAF forces in the south but also within the program for building Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police forces. There is an increase in the total capacity within what is the 205th Corps in the south to be able to deal with this increased activity that was expected.
Q Just a quick follow-up, general. What about the perception that the NATO forces won't be as aggressive in counterinsurgency operations? Is that a misperception?
GEN. DURBIN: In my view, it's a misperception, and the political will of NATO is being demonstrated by their arrival.
And I think that perception will be addressed over time as you see the effectiveness of NATO ISAF under Lieutenant General Richards.
MR. WHITMAN: Gordon.
Q General Durbin, it's Gordon Lubold from Army Times. I just wondered, I know you don't want to talk about timelines, but all that aside, can you talk a little bit about what the impact of NATO's increasing role in Afghanistan for stability operations, what impact will that have on the need for U.S. troops in Afghanistan?
GEN. DURBIN: Well, I think in the short term what we'll see is an increase in the total number of coalition forces that are available to assist the government of Afghanistan, ANA -- the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police. And the U.S. is still the major contributor to NATO. There will be coordination and cooperation challenges as the transition goes through. But as the transition is complete, we'll have additional capability to deal with the increased threat that's being addressed in the south.
Q Did General Karimi want to address that at all?
General Karimi, can you speak to what the -- how NATO forces will diminish, perhaps, the role of U.S. forces there?
GEN. KARIMI: Could you repeat the question, please?
Q I wonder if you could speak briefly to how NATO's increasing role there will have an effect on U.S. forces' need to be in Afghanistan helping you.
GEN. KARIMI: Well, you see for many people this was a misconception that the U.S. is leaving because the NATO is coming. This is not true. You see, the U.S. forces will be dealing, as they are, with the enemy, training ANA, training the police and jointly operating with them.
In some areas where the situation is much better, the NATO will be conducting security reconstructions in the form of PRTs, and building up, helping the good governance in every area.
But U.S. will be doing both things. They are in PRTs doing exactly the role of the NATO, and also direct fighting against terrorists. So there is no doubt in our mind for the support of the U.S. people, U.S. Army. And this is being discussed -- (inaudible) -- and the media to make the people understand that so they don't have to worry about the situation. But this question has been asked by many people, and they were concerned that it means that with coming of NATO, the U.S. will leave us. But it is clear to us the U.S. support will be there both on training and development, reconstruction, and also helping the NATO in the PRT and other jobs that they are going to do. And the same we'll be expecting from NATO. NATO will be also involved in security. But the U.S. forces will continue their support for ANA and National Police and also fight against terrorists.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, time has passed quickly, and this has been insightful. But before we close, let me ask General Durbin if he's got a few comments that he'd like to say in closing.
GEN. DURBIN: The only closing comments that I would have, I believe, have to do with what I started with, the building of Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police program is focused on assisting the leaders, like beside me, like General Karimi, so that they can take the lead. And I can't put a specific date. And as I said, it will be Tuesday -- not next Tuesday. But I believe very soon in the future we'll have a very capable partner who will be as committed to us as we are committed to them. And this long war against terrorism will be fought together with the great allies of the people of Afghanistan.
MR. WHITMAN: General Karimi, General Durbin, thank you very much for your time. And we hope that we can do this again soon. It's been very helpful for us.
GEN. DURBIN: Okay. Thank you very much.
GEN. KARIMI: Thank you.
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