United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share


Deputy Assistant Secretary Collins Media Roundtable on Afghanistan

Presenters: Joe Collins, DASD (Stability Operations)
December 19, 2002

Thursday, Dec. 19, 2002 - 10:01 a.m. EST

(Media roundtable on humanitarian, reconstruction and civil affairs activities in Afghanistan).

Staff: Well, folks, thanks for coming in this morning. This is another in a series of briefings that we've been doing at the end of the year. Many of you know Dr. Joe Collins. He's the DASD for Stability Operations. But more importantly, he's really been the lead for our department on Afghanistan relief and reconstruction. He's been to Afghanistan now three times; just returned last month. And he's kind of here to give you the latest update and assessment of where we're at.

Everything today is on the record, and we have about 30 or 40 minutes, or when you run out of questions or issues for him. So let's go ahead and get started.

Thank you, sir.

Collins: Great. I'm here in this season of good news to talk about the good news in reconstruction. And I rarely volunteer to do things with the press, but I was happy to sort of volunteer to do this one because I think there is a sad tendency to sort of compare Afghanistan unfavorably with other places or other operations, and that is not really -- I think, starting from the beginning, so much has been done this year, there really is a lot of good news. And I can see out here that this was obviously going to be a good news story, so not many people came.

To begin -- to talk about reconstruction, you have to ask yourself what was the original construction like. And that's the mystery chart here. The problem of Afghanistan is summed up in this chart that has the three numbers on it.

The first number, 23, is the number of years of war that Afghanistan went through -- 23 years of war, beginning in April of 1978, culminating in December of 2001. Twenty-three years of war.

The second number -- 169. The U.N. Development Program has a thing they call the Human Development Index, which attempts to measure what's it really like to live as a person in this country. In 1996, the last year that they had good enough information to rate Afghanistan, Afghanistan rated 169 out of 174 on the UNDP's Human Development Index.

Q: That's bad? (Laughter.)

Collins: Yes, that's the bad end of the scale, exactly.

Just to pick out one sort of set of statistics, maternal child health, which I'll come back to toward the end of the briefing, 15 percent of Afghan children die before age one; another 10 percent die before their fifth year. Being a mother in Afghanistan is, I think, the equivalent at least of being a front-line soldier in severe combat; so many of them die.

The third number on the mystery chart is four, and that is, after Afghanistan was rated, after Afghanistan was rated 169 out of 174, we had four years of Taliban rule and four years of drought. Four years of drought in an agricultural society that's at its wit's end proved to be absolutely devastating.

So the bottom line here is -- and this is the construction that we're reconstructing -- at the end of the war in December of 2001, the U.S. and its partners faced an exhausted nation on the brink of a great humanitarian disaster. When the fighting stopped in Afghanistan, we still held an account of somewhere between 5 and 8 million Afghans were at risk of either starvation or freezing to death last winter. Thank goodness, very little of that happened.

So when people ask me how goes relief and reconstruction in Afghanistan, I tell them it's going great. And I tell them it's going great because I think I've got at least a small picture of where we started.

Let me give you some indicators of that progress -- political, economic and security -- starting with the political, which I think in the long run is probably the most important. Little more than a year ago, Afghanistan was ruled by the Taliban, one of the most ignorant, repressive and ineffective governments ever to rule a country on the Earth. At the same time, the country was a wholly-owned subsidiary of the al Qaeda terrorist movement. It was a quintessential failed state. Today it has a leadership chosen by a democratically elected loya jirga, a tribal council, which is the traditional Afghan way.

That government is developing its capacity. President Karzai, whom I've had the honor to meet on four occasions, has taken command of the fledgling state and has an impressive array of ministers, I think the most impressive of which is his finance minister, Mr. Ashraf Ghani. And as the finance minister, he's made remarkable progress in just one year. He is in the process of changing over the currency, modernizing the laws, and at the same time, with help from the U.N. and the United States and other countries, he's taken control of reconstruction, developing a national development framework which is, in effect, the master plan for reconstructing Afghanistan.

So, the future. This coming year, December of '03 we have the Constitutional Loya Jirga where the people come together and reestablish their constitution. In June of '04, we have the first nationwide elections. And all of that seems to be very much on track at this time.

Politically, I think things are going marvelously. There are many problems; you read about them every day, and we'll come to some of them in the course of talking about other things.

On the economic front, in January of last year, less than -- nearly one year ago, 65 nations, led by the United States, Japan, Saudi Arabia and European Union, pledged $6.5 billion to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Nearly all of the $2 billion pledged for the year 2002 is on the scene, has been spent already or is in the pipeline headed for a specific target. By the way, the U.S., for the years 2002 and 2003 -- that's including its humanitarian expenditures before and during the war for 2002 -- will spend about $900 million. We were pledged for roughly a quarter of a billion (dollars) at Tokyo, and all that plus a lot more is on the ground already.

Increasingly, the Afghan government is calling the shots. And now to help them, we have a full U.N. mission, UNAMA, United Nations Mission in Afghanistan. And we also have, and this is new for this year, we have four senior U.S. coordinators on the ground in Afghanistan for economic issues. We have Ambassador William B. Taylor, and he is helping to coordinate economic and social reconstruction, working hand in glove with Ambassador Robert Finn. And on the security end, we have Major General Karl Eikenberry --

(To staff.) I'm sorry.

Staff: I just need to move those a little bit for you so they can hear you.

Collins: Thanks.

We have Major General Karl Eikenberry, who is coordinating actions in the security sector not only for the Army, but also for the Judiciary in counternarcotics and others. And I'll talk about other lead nations in a minute.

Back here in Washington on the State Department end, the Afghan coordinator is Ambassador David Johnson. And for the Pentagon here, our new Afghanistan reconstruction coordinator and fundraiser and chief is our comptroller, Undersecretary Dov Zakheim.

The U.S. lead agencies for economic reconstruction are certainly not in the Pentagon. They are primarily USAID and State's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. They have done a fantastic job, and frankly, I have to say they get very little credit for it. I went through a number of publications and called out some of the things that they've been responsible for. And in one year, they've managed to crank out 600 schools, 10 million textbooks, 7,000 metric tons of seed and close to $200 million for the Afghan refugees. And by the way, when people want to say, "How's reconstruction going?" I'm also fond of pointing out that over 2 million Afghans have voted with their feet, coming back in some cases from a couple of decades of being abroad to live and work in their own country.

Our soldiers have also entered into the humanitarian assistance fray, led by about 200 Army civil affairs specialists, 95 percent of whom are reservists. Our soldiers have built another 127 schools, 400 wells, 26 medical clinics. And all of these statistics and a whole lot more are in those handouts by the front door. Our soldiers have also refurbished the National Veterinary Center and the National Teachers' College in Kabul.

Their top project for 2003 will be a series of maternal health clinics throughout Afghanistan, to work on that terrible problem of -- that I mentioned at the beginning of the briefing. In partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, starting in Kabul, we're developing model clinics for both treatment and training of health care professionals, doctors, nurses, lab techs, midwives, et cetera.

By the way, I also need to mention here that none of this work that we're talking about the U.S. government having done would be possible without the help of about 150 NGOs and six U.N. agencies.

That's it on the economic front.

Turning to security, which of course is an umbrella that overarches both the economic and the political side of reconstruction, we have to take note, as President Karzai is fond of saying, that security is the first priority. You can't have reconstruction without security, and in the end, you won't have security without reconstruction.

We now believe that about 26 provinces of the 33 in Afghanistan have moderate to good security. There are major problem areas, major problem areas in the East, the Southeast and some of the urban areas.

The bad guys are -- have been dealt a devastating blow, but they're certainly not thoroughly defeated and in many cases have become even trickier to deal with because they no longer appear in groups but are back down to appearing in ones and twos to work their evil. And I use that word deliberately; it is evil that we're talking about here. There is no Taliban/al Qaeda reconstruction program for Afghanistan. There's only a destruction program, on the part of these people, for Afghanistan, and that's something that we have to remember.

What are we doing for security? First and foremost, we're combatting, I think in very good style, the remnants of the Taliban, the al Qaeda and the people who are working for another evil character, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Secondly, we're supporting and coordinating with ISAF, which of course is the 5,000-man international security force that polices about 240 square miles in and around Kabul.

Third, we're the lead nation for rebuilding the multiethnic Afghan National Army. The fifth light infantry battalion in that army will graduate at the end of December.

The first companies that have graduated through American training are now operating in the combat zone in the East. And they're operating to very, very high marks, I'm told, although I don't have any details to tell you, except that some elements of that company have been under fire, they have taken prisoners, and they have conducted joint patrols with police and military forces in the region. Our embedded trainers, our Special Forces guys that are with them -- the reports I have are that they're quite pleased with their performance so far. And this post-graduate training, if you will, in a live-fire environment, will continue on throughout the year.

In 2003, we will begin the training and equipping of a heavy brigade to be part of the Kabul Corps. We're building a base for them at Pul-e Charkhi in the eastern part of Kabul. And we're also going to be getting -- training higher-level staffs and providing advisors and assistance for the general staff in the MOD.

A fourth thing we're doing for security is, we're assisting other lead nations for the police, counternarcotics and demobilization, and these nations require more publicity for the great work they're doing. The Germans have taken the lead in the reconstruction of the Afghan police. The British are leading the way, with lots of U.N. help, on counternarcotics. And demobilization is a Japanese and a U.N. lead, with lots of help from a number of different countries.

Finally, we're transitioning in the future to a new security posture. Today the primary thrust -- or up until now, the primary thrust has been combat. But 1 January, we'll be transitioning to focus on stability operations. Now that's the name of my office, but that doesn't mean that we're in charge; the same people who have been in charge up till now will keep their jobs. General McNeill and General Franks will be the people who are running these operations out in the field.

Key to this new focus, as you've all heard in other publications, is going to be eight to 10 Joint Regional Teams, JRTs. Each will be commanded by a field grade officer and consist of about 60 people, including Special Forces, Civil Affairs, State Department, USAID personnel, and we're also going to have coalition representatives. Some of the JRTs in the future may even be commanded by our coalition partners. Depending on the situation, these JRTs will also have Afghan army or coalition combat or support units attached to them.

The purpose of the teams will be to facilitate reconstruction and to help spread security. They will also work to dampen regional tensions and serve as the eyes and ears for General McNeill and Ambassador Finn. One of the most important things the JRTs are going to have is communications, and they will be able to reach back to our forces and Task Force 180 and bring into those areas the things that are needed, particularly tailored for what they need -- medical teams, engineers, et cetera -- to solve specific problems.

So that and our advancements with the Afghan national army will, hopefully, be a big story for 2003, along with the progress in reconstruction and -- both in the small projects, some of which I mentioned, and in the larger projects, like the road from Kabul to Kandahar and Herat, which will be a joint effort by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Japan.

What we haven't talked about too openly in a lot of the press is the rest of the ring road in Afghanistan will be taken up by some of our coalition partners, as well as the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. So, if all goes well as planned, by the spring of this year, all of the major roads in Afghanistan will be having some initial survey work done. And I think that the building of those roads is just going to be a fantastic boost to employment of Afghans, reconstruction in general, and also, ultimately, to security.

I'm going to stop at that point and take your questions.


Q: All kinds of questions. The heavy brigade, what are the numbers of people that are going to be involved, and what will they be equipped with?

Collins: Most of the Afghan army that we'll be training have been light infantry battalions. The heavy brigade will have tanks and armored personnel carriers. It will consist of a few battalions probably, I think, with headquarters and support elements. I'm guessing on this number, but my guess is that it will have up to about 2,000 people in it.

Q: And will they be drawn from the folks that you've already trained in the light infantry battalions?

Collins: Some of those battalions will be converted to heavy units and some of the ones that are in training right now and about to be trained will also be included.

Q: Okay.

Collins: We are right now building with a lot of assistance from others; the quarters and base areas for them in two different places, one in the southern part of Kabul and the other in the eastern part.

Q: I have one more question. The JRTs -- it's an interesting change from the way that the Defense Department has conducted its eyes and ears till now, that, according to Secretary Rumsfeld, has been with Special Forces embedded with local warlords, who sort of act as an early warning. Are they still going to be there?

Collins: I would not -- we do have Special Forces and Civil Affairs small detachments around the country. To say that they were embedded with warlords --

Q: They were living in Ismail Khan's compound in Herat --

Collins: In some cases that's true that they lived close by, and in other it's not. Most of them have some kind of rented safe houses somewhere in the city. I've been to them in Mazar and in a couple of other places. But most of them are not sort of embedded with the warlords. In fact --

Q: Is that changing?

Collins: -- the Joint Regional Teams, the purpose of the Joint -- one of the things the Joint Regional Teams will be doing will be helping the central Afghan government to extend its powers into the regions, not as a -- they're not there to sort of combat the warlords, most of the important ones of whom are now government officials working with the central government, some more closely than others.

Q: Right. I'm just asking if they're -- does that mean that the folks that have been working so closely with the warlords, which is well-documented, are going to be pulled back? Or are they still going to be in on the combat end of things and the JRTs are going to be on the civilian side of it?

Collins: This will all be part and parcel of the regional teams, and it will be a coordinated effort.

Q: I don't think I understand that answer.

Collins: We're not going to have people out there working -- you keep saying "working with warlords." Those are your words, not mine. You keep saying that we have people working with warlords, and now we're going to have these other guys. We're not. We're going to have one consolidated Joint Regional Team, commanded by a field grade officer, and it will have any number of components to it, and one of which is likely to be Special Forces folks.

Q: Okay. So the Special Forces that now have good relationships with the local warlords, which --

Collins: Absolutely.

Q: -- which they absolutely do, and who they fought the war with them --

Collins: Surely.

Q: -- they are now going to be brought into the JRT structure?

Collins: And indeed, it might be in some cases more accurate to say the JRTs will be built around them and the civil affairs teams that are already out there.

Q: Okay.

Q: And when are these going to be operational?

Collins: There's a whole lot of the detailed planning that I don't have access to right now and that hasn't been completed and approved. So I can't give you a detailed time line. But this process is in motion.

Q: But within a month, with -- you know, or is this something that you're just looking at over the next year or sooner than that?

Collins: My guess is that to have this entire system up and running is going to take at least six months.

Q: You mentioned January 1st, though, as sort of the changeover in focus towards reconstruction. Is something actually happening in January or is that --

Collins: I don't remember. What did I say about January 1st?

Q: Stability operations -- (off mike).

Collins: Yeah. I would say in -- to be more accurate, let's just say early in 2003, the focus will shift from being primarily combat to being primarily stability operations.

Q: So some of the JRTs will be operational in early 2003, it's fair to say?

Collins: My guess is -- my guess is -- that is my guess, exactly.

Q: Can you say, the equipment for the heavy brigade, where will that come from? Does it already exist from old Taliban --

Collins: We are -- most of the equipment for that heavy brigade should come from inside of Afghanistan already. We made a decision early in 2002 that the equipment for the Afghan national army would be the equipment that is most prevalent in that country. And there are, right now, more than enough tanks and Howitzers and personnel carriers to form that brigade, with quite a few left over.

Part of the problem we've had with equipment coming into even the light infantry battalions has been that the equipment that was delivered on the scene was not adequate. And in order to sort of work a quick fix to that, we've gone around and gotten major shipments from a lot of our coalition partners in Eastern Europe and other places. Bulgaria and Romania made major shipments. I'm not sure whether the Hungarian shipment came through or not.

So there is a scarcity right now of some key items of equipment and weapons, but our guys are working through that, and we expect in 2003 that we're going to get a lot better cooperation from the Afghan authorities.

Q: (Off mike) -- the rifles were an issue earlier --

Collins: Rifles are probably not an issue anymore, but some of the heavier weapons for the light infantry battalion and then all of this equipment for the heavy brigade -- that will be coming from Afghan sources.

Q: When you say, "From Afghan sources," is it primarily old Soviet equipment?

Collins: I would say it's primarily old Soviet-style equipment. Its exact origins, of course, you know, are sort of open to question. As to whether, you know, it came from the Soviet Union -- or the Afghan Army prior to the Soviet invasion had lots of Soviet- style equipment.

Q: And when you talk about the Afghan National Army and after they finish their training, they're out there, and you mentioned that there's American Special Forces soldiers out with them --

Collins: Exactly.

Q: -- could you expand on that a little? And are these the soldiers that were training them when they were in their, like, residential phase of training? Are they with the same group?

Collins: On your second question, I could not guarantee that they are one and the same people. But I can tell you that -- and this was envisioned very early on in -- by people in CENTCOM and the Joint Staff -- very early on in the year 2002, it was envisioned that -- and this is very much supported by the Afghan national government -- that sort of the crowning achievement of their training would be actual operations out there, working with coalition forces, looking for the bad guys.

And so this is really -- what we're seeing right now is the culmination of something thought up a year ago. So you're going to see a lot more of that in 2003.

Q: It's like -- at this -- I'm just trying to understand the role here. At this point, are they working as, like, coalition soldiers, with the end goal being for the coalition -- foreign coalition forces to move out and then leave the --

Collins: Well, ultimately the entire strategy here has been, rather than to create a security dependency on the part of the Afghans -- was -- the strategy was to give them the capability of providing for their own border police, their own army and whatever. And I think we've made some fairly decent progress in the year to do that.

But ultimately that's what we're looking forward to. You know, we have our -- you know, the first nationwide elections in June of '04, and you know, within a few years of that date, we hope that Afghanistan is on its own feet, without the presence of very many international forces. And no one has the kind of vision right now to be able to predict what the timing and the dates are of that particular process, but the strategy has always been to exploit the Afghans' desire to defend themselves, and ultimately to have our trainers work themselves out of business.

Q: Does the transition to stability operations mean anything for the number of combat troops that are there from the U.S. or coalition? And does the transition to stability operations mean -- do we get to say that the Afghan war is over?

Collins: The first part, I think, is sort of wrapped up in this future planning that's going on right now, and I'm not privy to that and can't say. The war is certainly not over, and if anything, the shift to these JRTs reflects a changing threat, not the end of the threat.

Q: You said that the State Department and the USAID are doing the bulk of the work -- I mean, I don't want to put words in your mouth. But I'm curious as to how you see the mix. I mean, what percentage of humanitarian aid is being done by State and USAID, how much by Pentagon? Is it changing in the coming years? And how much cooperation is there between -- or coordination, I guess.

Collins: Yeah, the cooperation is intense at every level. Our guys, who are doing most of our humanitarian assistance projects, are working closely with USAID, and in many cases, working closely with NGOs or parts of U.N. agencies. And cooperation on the ground is very good.

The reason why I sort of flagged the importance of the State Department here is that in terms of humanitarian assistance, the Department of Defense is talking on orders of magnitude of $10 million to $12 million a year, and the -- AID and PRM, Population, Refugees and Migration at State, they're talking in the hundreds of millions per year. And so, you know, we need to sort of keep that scale in perspective. And we're very proud of what our guys have done, and it's gotten a tremendous amount of publicity, not just in our own service press, but also in the normal media, you know, throughout the nation. But I definitely have to say that the excellent work done by USAID, and PRM in particular, is something that requires a lot more attention.

QIs that mix going to stay the same over the coming years, the --

Collins: Absolutely, absolutely. Now -- the approximate proportions will remain the same.

QDo you have a time frame for the road reconstruction work? You said survey work will be fully underway on all the major parts of the ring road this spring. What is the completion date?

Collins: There is a time sequence. It's an -- overall, it's an AID project. And I would refer you to the appropriate folks at AID. But one thing you said, that survey work is going on right now, there's actual work going on on the road. And yesterday I received some pictures of it. And it wasn't a press event or whatever; it was a -- you know the pictures were sort of, you know, here's routine work that's going on. Of course, you know, in the areas around Kabul, you are subject to a little bit more severe of a winter than you are in places like Kandahar, which has a warmer climate. So there will be places along the roadway where work will be possible all year long.

QCan you say how many Afghan soldiers are involved in coalition patrols now?

Collins: I would just say all that I know, which is that it's a few companies.

QTo go back to security for a moment, you mentioned the East and Southeast. There have been some indications that perhaps al Qaeda is even reconstituting training camps along that border. Could you talk a little bit about that, be a little more specific about it?

Collins: I don't know -- I have read that. I've heard startling things on the radio that don't equate with the sort of things I'm reading every day. But I'm not an expert in that and I would refer you to the Joint Staff or DIA through the appropriate channels here to get the right answer on that, because I would only be parroting, you know, one-tenth of what they know about it.

QTwo questions. Could you characterize in a little bit more detail the threat posed by Hekmatyar and his people, how many people there are and maybe how many incidents you believe they're responsible for?

And could you also address the number of refugees because, while I've heard the 2 million number as well, I've also heard there's a great deal of people collecting the stuff, marking them down as going back, and they're going back to Pakistan.

Collins: Yes. Second question first. We're pretty sure that the number of 2 million -- around 2 million refugees is a good number. Since refuges, when they come back, are given a certain amount -- a small amount of money for every member of their family, there's undoubtedly some swapping of cousins going on there, I'm sure. But the U.N., which runs this, has a fairly sophisticated baseline operation, where they're taking pictures and looking at folks and recording the names of people and interviewing the husband, the wife and all of the children in the families that come through, most of which are significantly larger than our own families.

Q: Thank you.

Collins: The business of people coming in, taking whatever they can get through the refugee processing, going back to Pakistan -- no doubt that's happened on occasion; it is not a mass movement. It is not a mass movement. And I've only had brief exposure to talking to these people on two different occasions, and these people desperately want to come back and go back to their home areas.

There is some problems in the refugee area with too many folks staying in the Kabul area, and part of that is transportation and part of that is it's a difficult place to get around in. And again, this is one of those things that although the road to reconstruction was not specifically pointed at the refugees, they're certainly going to benefit from that.

Q: Hekmatyar?

Collins: Hekmatyar. He is a -- he, of course, was a Mujaheddin leader. He was the leader of the Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin faction, which was one of the Peshawar groups that was very heavily supported by Pakistan. He had supporters in some areas of Afghanistan. I don't know much about his operations. I do know from the past that he is a thoroughly evil man, and he was one of the leaders of the resistance that was more likely to be causing problems among resistance people than he was in fighting the Russians. And I can't say too much about his operations, because I just flat don't know.

Q: Can you give us some information on what you think the importance of heroin is currently to the Afghan economy, and how counternarcotics fits into anything else that you're talking about?

Collins: Right. Counternarcotics is a major area of security reconstruction. The British are the lead. They're getting some good support from the U.N. and others. We are supportive of the British efforts, both directly and through our support to the German- led police program. It is a very big problem in Afghanistan. The money from drugs is a very, very great corrupting influence. And the British are developing plans this spring for their second counternarcotics offensive. And they have the complete backing of the central government, who will work with them to the greatest extent possible. And I don't know much -- I'm not a specialist in that particular area, but I do know that British-led counternarcotics efforts will be a good story for 2003.

Q: Can we talk about some of your relief efforts and the focus of concentration on the warlords? When I was there, I saw three separate occasions where there were U.S. military-led medical operations that were specifically -- they were not only geared towards the warlords, they were conducted in the warlords' compound. The beneficiaries of the medical care were the warlords, the warlords' military and their family. And family -- other -- people who were trying to get medical care were actually turned away at gunpoint by the militia forces, so they could receive the care.

How -- to what extent is this sort of aid being used a reward for warlords' cooperation, as opposed to actually trying to help the rank-and-file Afghan?

Collins: Now we -- first and foremost, we do work with regional leaders. We work with whatever security forces are in the area. I don't know of the incident of which you speak. It never made any reports that I saw, nor did I read about it in the press. But of course, you know, it may well have been some publication I wasn't reading.

We do not give aid to warlords. We give aid to the Afghan people. We work with local security forces from time to time. We are not, in large measure, funding local security forces anywhere throughout the country, and I said -- the "we" here is the Department of Defense.

The only Afghan military people we pay on a daily basis, day in and day out, are the Afghan soldiers that we have trained or that have been trained, in conjunction with us, either by the British or by the French.

Q: But when you leave two Black Hawk loads' worth of medical supplies in the warlord's compound at the conclusion of this exercise, one can probably safely assume that these medical supplies are not then going to be carefully distributed throughout this person's region of influence but may instead either go to his -- it's sort of payment in kind, isn't it?

Collins: I don't know the incident that you're talking about, I don't know the details, and I -- so I don't think it's fair for me to comment on it.

Q: There seems to be a bit of a disconnect between your -- in terms of economic development, in terms of what you were laying out and from what my limited exposure, granted, to some of what Karzai's people have said. There have been many delegations that have come to Washington and appear at forums, and they have expressed a lot of frustration about the rapidity and how fast the aid is actually getting out.

Collins: Yeah, absolutely.

Q: They talk about -- (inaudible) -- that sort of thing.

Collins: And that's one of the reasons why in the last five months of the year, the amount of aid and the percentage of aid and the tracking of aid improved tremendously. And my hat's off to the Afghans for bringing that out to other folks' attention.

Another major problem the Afghans frequently commented on was a shortage of funds for their own operational budget, which would enable them, for example, to pay teachers and civil servants and whatever. We've made tremendous progress throughout the year on that. And we've also made progress in eliminating Afghanistan's arrears with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, which is very important, because in the final analysis, these are not welfare agencies, they're banks, and if you owe them a lot of money, they're going to hesitate to lend you money. So a lot of that's been done; a lot of great work done by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and a number of countries -- Great Britain being one of them -- in helping the Afghans with their operating budget and their arrears.

Q: But just to be clear, there's been a stepped-up effort, it sounds like what you're saying, in recent months to make sure that aid, as it gets to the ground is witnessed by the people, and that kind of thing?

Collins: Absolutely. Absolutely. And a new trend, which I think will become the dominant trend in 2003, will be not the delivery of aid financing to aid agencies or NGOs, but the funneling of aid through the Afghan Finance Ministry so that the development budget of the state of Afghanistan will in fact become the governing budget for reconstruction.

Q: On the same subject, there was -- could you give us an update on where Europe stands on things? One of the Afghan leaders' complaints when they came here was that humanitarian aid was there, but the reconstruction money wasn't coming through, the U.S. hadn't lived up to its recon --

Collins: Exactly, yeah. I'm glad you brought that up, because that was sort of -- that was -- a few months ago, that was sort of the battle cry, that reconstruction hasn't started, and all of the money that's come here has gone for humanitarian relief. And my answer to that is, so? If you need humanitarian -- I mean, think about this in terms of first aid. You know, the first thing you have to do is, you know, clear the airway and then control the bleeding, and then you work on the broken finger, and then you begin to, you know, figure out what needs to be done, you know, by way of physical therapy for the future.

So it's sort of a normal process. When you have a country that was so far down at the bottom of the barrel as Afghanistan was in December, just one year ago today, it is just sort of natural that it's going to be an incredible sponge for humanitarian relief funds. I am absolutely sure that in the year 2003, the balance between humanitarian assistance and reconstruction will shift very, very strongly in favor of reconstruction.

The road project, by the way, will be absolutely essential for that. And it will, among other things, cause a tremendous gain in meaningful employment for Afghan males. And that will be important for a number of things, not only economically, but also in terms of demobilization-related issues. Right now a lot of people are sort of hanging around with the local leaders, you know, keeping their Kalashnikovs well-oiled because, well, that's what they've done for the last 20 years; and "Oh, by the way, these guys don't pay much, but they pay something." Or, "Maybe they don't pay at all, but they feed me." And that situation is going to begin to be redressed in 2003. 2004 and 2005, I hope the story is not going to be reconstruction. I hope the story in 2004 and 2005 is going to be business development and free trade.

Q: On another subject, is the U.S. weighing in at all on the judicial side of things? During the Loya Jirga, there is some talk as to whether or not the sort of harsher parts of Islamic law would be put in place. Ashraf Ghani said no, on the record, but yeah, it is. Where are we on --

Collins: And that is an issue, the role of the Shari'a, the traditional Islamic law, in the Afghan code will be something that will be worked out this year. There are three efforts going on. The first is an Italian lead on an effort to rebuild the judicial system of Afghanistan. The second is a judicial commission. And the third is a constitutional commission, and their constitution will be the basic law and will make some basic decisions about the direction that it will go.

Q: And how much influence do you expect the Western world to have on that? Because obviously, that's the one thing that everybody sort of agreed that the Taliban --

Collins: I think we're working with them and whatever. And I had the great honor of having a conversation for half an hour one day in August with Mr. Karzai about human rights. And he is a great believer in human rights and said over and over again in the conversation that this one area where the Afghans have to hold to a higher standard, and that higher standard being pretty much the standards that are recognized throughout the world and that are codified in all the various U.N. conventions.

Q: Going back to your point about getting the control of this reconstruction money into the hand of the Afghan government rather than NGOs, one thing when you talk to people in Kabul that they complain about is the fact that so much of the government is basically controlled by the Panjshiris.

And what assurances do you have that the money that will now be controlled by the Afghan government will not be shared out by the Panjshiris to benefit only their own people, and that it will be evenly distributed?

Collins: The Afghan capacity for auditing and for making sure that money that's given to the Finance Ministry, which is very much of an up and up, modern-looking organization, headed by Ashraf Ghani, who is a former World Bank official and a great believer, by the way, in free trade and the free market. You know, what happens to that money after it leaves the controls of Ashraf Ghani, and how do we make sure?

Ghani has built into the Finance Ministry in a very quick fashion some impressive auditing mechanisms, utilizing contractors and other personnel. And that's going to be a continuing issue as time goes on. And it's going to be an area that's going to create some difficulties. Right now, for example, in a lot of money that we've spent, we know exactly where it went because our guys got it, it got converted into a huge wheelbarrow full of Afghanis, and we went and we accounted for each and every one of them. And, you know, developing the capacity for the Afghans to do that is going to be a real challenge. The Finance Ministry's working on it, and I think that, you know, it's going to be a key question and something to watch in the year 2003.

Q: How much control can the United States or any other outside country maintain over that, or even supervise that process once the money is now the government's money?

Collins: Yeah, exactly. Well, you know, the Finance Ministry we hope will have controls, and those controls will be transparent. Transparency is another thing that both Karzai and Minister Ghani are fond of talking about, and you've got to have that. It will be -- it's going to be real challenge. It's going to require a tremendous increase in the capacity of these ministries in Afghanistan to operate.

Q: You mentioned contractors and other personnel. Are those contractors Western American contractors, American accounting firms? And are any of the other personnel that are working with the Finance Ministry U.S. officials or U.N. officials? And could you just give us a sort of a feeling for what the accounting system's like there? I mean, do they have computers, or --

Collins: I wouldn't want to go into the second part of your question. But there's a number of national representatives who are helping out in the Finance Ministry and they have also gotten some support from the U.N. there. And they're using a number of highly reputable international contractors.

The best people to answer your question on that, because they have a guy in that ministry, is the Department of the Treasury. And Undersecretary John Taylor has been their representative at the higher-level meetings. And they're probably much better.

A second source for that would be Economics and Business, EB, over at State, and Tony Wayne I think is the assistant secretary there.

How we doing on time?

Staff: Thanks, sir. I think we're fine. Thank you for coming down today and sharing your experiences and --

Q: Thank you.

Collins: My pleasure. My pleasure. Thanks, and happy holidays and a good new year to all.

Q: Thank you.


Additional Links

Stay Connected