COL. GARY KECK (Pentagon press office): Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Colonel Gary Keck, as probably most of you know. And it is a pleasure today to have with us from Afghanistan General David Richards, commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force. He's commanded NATO's operations in Afghanistan since May of this year. And as many of you know, he took command of stability and security operations for the entire country when the Stage 4 transfer of authority took place earlier this month. General Richards commands a force of approximately 31,000 men and women from 37 nations. This is his first briefing back to the Pentagon, and he is here to provide an operational update on the stability and security operations in Afghanistan.
Please remember, when we start the Q&A, that he cannot see you, so please provide your news organization and your name. And we also have a bit of delay today, about three seconds, so give him time to respond, and hesitate between question and answer.
And with that, General Richards, I'll turn it over to you for any opening comments.
GEN. RICHARDS: Well, Gary, thank you very much.
And it's a great pleasure to be with you all. You do have the advantage over me; you can see me, and I can't see any of you. I'm told I look great, by a great American here. Only you can judge.
A couple of introductory remarks, if I may. First of all, speaking, as I am, to an American audience, it's a huge privilege for me to have a large number of American troops under command. And I take that privilege very seriously. But I can tell you they are, as far as I'm concerned, my troops, and I care for them and respect them as much as I do any other nation's troops here. It is a great privilege and they're doing fantastic stuff for me and for the alliance.
Where are we today? If I may just give you a feel before I take your questions. NATO/ISAF undoubtedly had a tough summer. We took over the south of the country in the end of July. The Taliban had exploited our arrival to try effectively to deter us from doing our job. And we needed to prove, both to them and to the people of this country, in particular people of the south, that NATO ISAF was up to the job that we had been entrusted with, building on the great work of the U.S.-led coalition.
That meant that we had to fight, and fight we have. And I think as a result of a successful tactical victory in an area southwest of Kandahar, that is known as Operation Medusa -- it involved troops from Canada, the United States, the Netherlands, Denmark for a while, and the United Kingdom, as well, importantly, as the Afghan National Army and police -- I think we have now established the psychological ascendancy over the Taliban in a military sense.
There is no doubt anymore that NATO can fight if and when it's required to do so, and it inflicted the biggest single defeat on the Taliban that had occurred since 2001. And in fact, their own spokesman conceded that when he said that they are conducting -- this was some weeks ago -- a tactical withdrawal. So we established we could fight, and it forced them to revert to asymmetric tactics -- suicide bombing and that sort of thing.
But having done that, we are now in a position where we've got to build on it, because fighting for its own sake in a counterinsurgency will get us nowhere over time.
We have now with the government and with the international community to exploit the window of opportunity without being too cliched, I'd hope, that we now have, as a result of military success, to deliver the reconstruction development and the improvements in government -- governance -- that's President Karzai's key part in this -- that the people of this country want to see. They need to appreciate that it's not all going to happen tomorrow, but that is, if you like, on an upward curve continuing sense of improvement, and that will build confidence that all this effort is worth it and the fighting when it occurs is worth it and leads to a better future. And I'm confident that that is firmly understood by everyone here.
If we fail to deliver on the promises that they feel have been made to them, quite understandably, for another year -- and a lot of it is perception rather than reality, I have to say, but perceptions matter don’t they -- then I think the position next year in 2007 will be made better than it was in the summer of this year. If we can deliver it and we start to persuade moderate opinion -- which is still a vast majority in this country, they want us to succeed -- that we are up to it, then things could be much better by April next year, and that is our aim jointly, with the government, with the international community and obviously within the band, the grouping, of those that constitute the security forces at work here.
Now, just if I may on that last note, today I spent the morning with the chief of the Afghan army and the chief of the Afghan police being briefed and then giving final direction on the first pan-Afghanistan security operation in which the whole country will feel the effect of properly coordinated security operations. And this is one of the great advantages of NATO-ISAF expansion, because for the first time we have a single commander with a single headquarters with whom the Afghans can now operate and cooperate. And we gave clear direction, I hope, about how we are to take forward our operations together this winter, and those operations will include, through the Tripartite Commission, involvement and engagement with the Pakistan military to make sure that that important part of the equation is not overlooked.
So I hope that gives you a feel for where I think we are. We're cautiously optimistic military success. We now need to build on it over this winter to deliver that continuing upward trajectory of that perception of success and optimism which leads to a continuing consent of the people, which is always what a counterinsurgency is about fundamentally.
So, Gary, I think with that, over to you, and I'm very happy to take any questions.
COL. KECK: Okay, sir. We appreciate those comments. And we'll start with Pauline.
Q I'm Pauline Jelinek of the Associated Press, sir. Could you give us a little more detail about this countrywide operation, winter operation that you were just talking about? Is it mostly security or security and reconstruction? Just tell us a little bit how it's going to work.
GEN. RICHARDS: Okay. I couldn't hear you brilliantly, but I just picked it up, Pauline.
Essentially, my command is split into five regional commands. One regional command is commanded by a U.S. two star, Major General Ben Freakley, for example. So I've got five altogether. And the Afghans, both their police and military, replicate those boundaries, give or take.
So what we have agreed today is to coordinate a series of operations that will take place across the country that will bring together the -- and I'm sorry to get a bit technical here -- the effects required on the ground that allow us to create the coherent reconstruction development improvements in government, mixed with security. That will lead to this impression we need to create in the minds of the average Afghan that the government is working, the international community is delivering on its promises and that NATO/ISAF, in its new guise, is able to deliver the required security.
Because we can't cover every part of the country -- because none of us have the capacity to do that -- we have selected certain areas within which we'll focus all that activity, and that is what today's planning conference was about, where will we be doing it, what effects are we trying to achieve and to make sure that we are fully tied in with each other's operations.
And it will include, for example, ensuring greater security on the highways, particularly the ring road that leads from Kabul down through the east, along the south, and up to Herat, because the people need to feel that that is under the control of the government. And that is part of this operation.
So it's stringing together all sorts of effects-based, sub-regional campaigns to make sure they work together. And where I, at my level, can give troops to another commander, if he hasn't got enough, or we need more police, or we need more Afghan army, that we've got that all firmly understood and we know how to go about doing it in the right time, the right place. It's actually quite basic, but is a very important part of our overall coordination.
COL. KECK: Tom.
Q General, Tom Bowman with National Public Radio. Could you just clarify, these series of operations you're talking about, are these required before you mount the reconstruction effort? And also, could you specify what reconstruction you're talking about, what projects they are? You know, do you have enough money, or do you still need a lot more money from the U.S. and Europe?
GEN. RICHARDS: Right. It's a bit of both. In some parts we can and are getting on with reconstruction. But in others, for example southwest of Kandahar, this Operation Medusa area, and in parts of northern Helmand, which is a big opium -- poppy-growing area, then we need to precede the reconstruction effort in those areas with some security operations. In the case of Panjwayi, that's that area southwest of Kandahar, most of that is done, but we're now building up the police force and, in fact, creating an auxiliary police force, if you like, a community police force recruited from within the villages and districts there, so that we have an enduring police presence. Because one of the things that has happened in the past, your troops have done brilliant work defeating the Taliban, and then they've moved on to another area and found the Taliban come in like a sea behind them. So we've learned collectively from that. And one reason we're doing it in bite-size chunks is we don't want to move on to the next stage until we've got an enduring security presence in the first stage. So all that explains, I hope, further in my rather inadequate answer to Pauline's question, why a lot of detailed coordination is required.
As far as more money, (inaudible) enough right now this year, although more money would always be useful, it's a matter of spending, to a large degree, the money that's already been allocated to development and reconstruction in the country.
Some of the projects that, for example, USAID are funding -- and they're by far the biggest contributor, for which many thanks, incidentally -- are stillborn because they're constrained by security consideration.
So this is where this much more -- this much closer coordination with our own efforts comes into play. I can say, "Right, USAID. You want to free up development on a dam," which is one of the existing issues. I will now construct a security operation that allows that work to start and then will ensure a continuing level of security, so that it can go on.
So not a big issue. We would like a bit more money to spend on immediate requirements, as opposed to development -- the longer-term development stuff. I think that's in the pipeline both from your own ambassador here, Ambassador Ron Neumann -- he's doing great stuff -- also the World Bank have just announced yesterday, at a meeting chaired by the president to look at this very issue, that they're putting more money in. So I think people are getting the message that we have this window of opportunity, which we now will need to exploit.
Ask me the question in two months. I might say it hasn't yet arrived. But I'm cautiously optimistic that the message is there and the money is there. We now need to come together to spend it.
COL. KECK: (Inaudible.)
Q General, Andrew Gray with Reuters. Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with Pakistan? I believe you met with General Musharraf last week. How are relations there? And in particular, how do you now regard the deal with the tribes in Waziristan? Is that a help or a hindrance to you?
GEN. RICHARDS: Well, it's a key question for us all, because -- (audio break) -- close cooperation with Pakistan, there can be no long-term solution.
That said, most of the problems of -- confronting Afghanistan -- most -- do come from within. It’s 28 years of war, this country has been afflicted by huge devastation, huge requirement for reconstruction and development, and there's a sense of frustration.
But the fact is, as President Musharraf has been on -- is now on public record over, there is a Taliban problem in Pakistan, and they do cross the border -- not freely; the Pakistan army does great work in preventing much of it.
But the fact is, it's an 1,800-kilometer border, it's not easy, and I know this from my own experience in Northern Ireland where we only had an 84-mile border, and we never managed with 30,000 troops, much greater density of troops to control it. You have problems with all the resources, technical and otherwise, you chuck at your border with Mexico. It's -- none of these things are easy, and I think we've just got to, you know, keep a sense of proportion about Pakistan's efforts.
But we do have a very good working relationship with the Pakistan military this Tripartite Commission, and we're going to build on that, so that together we can compensate for each other's weaknesses where they exist and exploit each other's strengths. And I think if we continue to develop that, then I'm optimistic, and certainly the message I got from President Musharaff is that we're in this together. They are totally opposed, as a government, to the Taliban. They see that a strong Afghanistan is good for Pakistan, but we've now got to deliver on all those good intentions, and that is the work that through the Tripartite Commission we'll all be focused on over the rest of this fall and into the winter.
As far as the peace deal in Waziristan's concerned, obviously it needs a chance to bed down. I have no doubt about the good intentions of those who've signed the deal. We now need to see that it does deliver the goods, and a key part of the arrangement, which I have absolutely no doubt the Pakistan army intends to deliver on, is to control cross-border movement. At the moment, because it's very difficult to do that, given the mountainous terrain and the length of the border, there is some doubt that that part of it has yet been achieved. But we've got to give it a chance. We'll -- we will do our bit on our part of the -- on our side of the border. They will continue to work on theirs, and through the Tripartite Commission -- and the next meeting is on the 11th of November -- we will come together to review progress and to see how we need to take it forward.
So I'm cautiously optimistic that it will be okay, and let's face it, if -- and I went -- this goes back to my answer of previous question -- if you do not have the consent of the people in a counterinsurgency, at the end of the day you're probably going to lose. So we need to explore these ways to get the people onside.
If it fails, if the experiment fails, then okay, we know where we are, and I have no doubt the Pakistan government, from all they've said to me, will review it very, you know -- in the way you and I would wish them to do.
But so far, so good. And let's just see whether we can exploit it and perhaps even learn some lessons on this side of the border about how we go about dealing with similar problems.
COL. KECK: Pam.
Q General, this is Pam Hess with United Press International. The program that you've laid out for the next six months is logical, practical for textbook counterinsurgencies. And you've said a couple of times, now we've got to deliver on all those good intentions. What's been going on for the last five years? Why is the plan that you're outlining for now going to work this time?
GEN. RICHARDS: Well -- hmm. It's a very good question, and a lot of us puzzle about it. I had the U.S. Army, Navy forces, others -- a Capstone course -- I was with them just before coming here, and we were talking about this. Because, you know, at the end of 2001, the Taliban were defeated, weren't they? You know, wonderful work by a lot of people, mainly American and Afghan, and it looked all pretty hunky-dory.
I think what has happened -- and, you know, this is not just my view but that of many others -- that -- (audio break) -- the benefit of hindsight, you know, we thought it was all done, success was there and we could adopt a sort of peacetime approach to it and didn't treat it as aggressively as a problem that with the bit of hindsight we should have done.
Your forces were doing great work, but they were almost in isolation because army and police, the Afghan army and police, weren't there to help at that stage. The international community's reconstruction and development efforts were pretty good, but for some reason, they didn't appear what was being promised to the people, and there's been a disconnect between expectations and delivery, both in terms of security as the Taliban got more confident and realized that it wasn't yet over and they had this opportunity and the same in terms of reconstruction and development. So if you like -- (audio break) -- to be created. And the Taliban exploited it, and they exploited this sense of frustration amongst the people who just didn't see all the good things that have been talked about, started to come about.
We've now got to the situation where I think if we don't now nip that problem in the bud by being very self-evidently delivering on it this time, that people will say, hang on, you know, NATO came along, 37 nations, we've heard more good intentions from people like me. How many more years are we going to listen to this without this perceived delivery on the promises?
And that's really why I think we are where we are today, and why it is so important that this time, with many more nations involved, I have to say, and with your own nation still shouldering the bulk of the burden, but nevertheless, you know, now coming together with these other nations who are now here to help, I think that's why I'm optimistic that we have understood the issue broader, the way I've just analyzed, learned our lessons, and now can take this forward aggressively to deliver on the promises.
Q Sir, Phil Dine, St. Louis Post Dispatch. As you know, the illicit narcotics is just exploding. It's up 59 percent over the past year. The number of Afghans involved in illegal drugs has risen from 2 million to 2.9 million in just one year.
Can you make the kind of progress you're talking about as long as illicit narcotics has a deleterious effect on the insurgency, on law and order, on economic development? And if not, how and when can this be turned around?
GEN. RICHARDS: Well, it's a key question, and thank you for asking it. I mean first of all, the international community and the government here will not have succeeded until it's dealt successfully with the narcotics issue. So there is complete unanimity of view on this. The issue now is how do we go about dealing with it.
The Taliban's primary source of funding is, we're absolutely confident now, opium poppy, which incidentally, for good Muslims is completely out of order -- yet another demonstration, along with things like suicide-bombing, of the hollowness of everything they purport to offer the people. And I should say, the people of Afghanistan are extremely intelligent. They may not all have had a great education, but never, ever confuse that with a lack of intelligence. And they do see the hollowness and the hopelessness in what the Taliban are offering. And that's our great, great advantage.
But returning to the lead question of narcotics, we all need to deal with it; it's now a matter of how, when, sequencing, prioritization, and where do we first tackle what. Is it the warlords who are actually manipulating it and making a fortune from it, or is it the farmer? Can we divide one from the other, if so -- we must, incidentally -- if so, how do we go about it? We do not want to alienate the farmer.
We therefore have to give him not just alternative livelihoods, which is a bit meek, you know, of a different crop to grow, which may work or may not work; we have to create an alternative economy, not least because 60 percent of the Afghan economy, particularly in the south, is actually based on opium.
So if you cut it away to straight tomorrow, the economy would collapse, and that would mean awful hardship for the people, which would cause us problems, et cetera, et cetera.
So it's a very complex issue. We are finding a route through it. We're all agreed it's got to be done, and we now need to tackle it in the right order. And my advice to those whose primary role this is, is that we do it linked to the reconstruction, development and improvement in governance that I described earlier, so that in these expanding areas, the people who might otherwise be growing poppy can see that there are other employment opportunities being offered, that there are irrigation ditches for different crops being constructed, and all the things that we're focusing our efforts on. And then they have no excuse, either, for growing poppy.
There are other initiatives, such as can we persuade some of the narco-warriors, the warlords, to invest their ill-gotten gains in legitimate areas, for some form of amnesty, perhaps? That would have a large, from my perspective -- that even if only 20 or 30 percent of them could be persuaded to do this -- and it's a tough call, ethically, I accept, but this is a practical soldier speaking -- that if we could persuade them to do it, then they have an interest in protecting their locality, as opposed to an interest in doing exactly the opposite, which is sowing greater instability and all those other things, because that's how they go about their business best.
So there are schemes like that that I know President Karzai and his advisers are looking at which we are obviously involved in on the periphery, because it has a security impact.
So I hope I've answered the question. We're all on side. It's a matter of how, when, where and prioritization. And I'm pretty confident that on the back of this joined-up work I've described, that we will find a solution to address or to ensure an improvement next year.
COL. KECK: You, sir. Jeff.
Q General, Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes. How long have you got to deliver on these reconstruction projects before you lose the faith of the Afghan people?
GEN. RICHARDS: Well, actually, it's a very good question, Jeff. Again, thank you. Very good questions from you all -- because there's a misconception here. The Afghans know they've got a hell of a burden ahead of them, a huge problem: to get from what they are today, after 28 years of war -- and think what they did for us, incidentally. I don't want to get into moralizing, but we really do owe these people something, not just out of self-interest, because we can't afford a return to the Taliban, but they've helped fight our wars for us, and we now need to deliver our side of that bargain.
And I think you'll find all the forces here really do believe that they are -- and some of you, I know, know Afghanistan -- they are a wonderful people.
But what we need to do is not deliver or attempt to say we'll deliver all these reconstruction and development projects overnight, because they know that's not possible. What we need to show is demonstrable improvement. I don't know if you can see my forearm, but if we're there today, what we need to do is to persuade the people that it's all worth it by letting them see this upward trajectory of continuing improvement. And if we can do that -- and that is what our campaign is all about -- then we keep the consent of the people. There will be ups and downs, but they'll be able to see that we are succeeding.
And everyone knows it'll probably take two generations to deliver, you know -- I hope it'll happen earlier -- a sort of India in Afghanistan or even a Pakistan with its, you know, ever-growing prosperity in Afghanistan. As long as they see we're getting there, then they'll stay with us. If they see us flat or worse, as was looking likely earlier this year, is downward, then we start to lose the consent of the people, and as you -- many of you know, that is what a counterinsurgency is all about.
Q A quick follow-up. So how long do you have to show demonstrable progress before you start losing the confidence of the Afghan people?
GEN. RICHARDS: Okay. Well, I've talked about six months because I think, if you like, in a military sense we've demonstrated unequivocally now that we can defeat the Taliban conventionally, and there is no real strategic threat, in my judgment, to the government or to Kandahar or to Kabul at the moment. We will have tactical setbacks, but it's not going to threaten the essence of what we're doing. But if next year it looks like the people, particularly in the south and some parts of the east, are going to have to suffer another six -- (audio break) -- and still at the end of it we haven't delivered on their expectations of progress – this upward line -- then I think we'll have a problem.
Not all of them -- and I have been misquoted recently -- are going to fall to the Taliban or start being persuaded by the propaganda, but increasing numbers will say, "Listen, we want you to succeed, but we can't wait forever. I've got children here who need security, who need to be fed, who we don't want to have the risk of being caught up in fighting. And we're happy to have fighting as long as we see progress, but if there's fighting and no progress, then at some stage we'd rather have the rotten future offered by the Taliban than the hopeful future that we all wish you to deliver, but I'm sorry, you're taking a bit longer in the delivery."
And it's why I'm not saying that we will have failed if we don't do it in six months, but we need in that six months we've got ahead of us -- because a wonderful period for us, having established psychological ascendancy over them, to get our act together in the way I've described earlier and start delivering on these things. And to be frank, if we can't this winter, then I'm going to be saying to all the other people involved in this, "What more can we do for you?" You know, we're giving you these opportunities. There are still risks, but start, please, delivering," because at some point the military can do no more because we don't offer solutions to all the other complex issues that are confronting the country.
We are just part of the solution, and we're doing our bit. Your soldiers' lives, my soldiers' across the 37 nations are all being risked, but it's got to be for a good purpose, and that's what we need to do this winter.
Q General, Peter Spiegel with the Los Angeles Times. Can I follow up on the earlier question about your meeting with President Musharraf? The ever-reliable British press, before you left, painted your meeting with the president in a much more dire light. They were saying that you were going with some intelligence about Taliban activity in the border provinces, also some complaints about the ISI involvement. I wonder if you can comment on those reports, because it seemed that you were sort of going over there with much more of a warning to Musharraf to sort of crack down more both on ISI activity and on Taliban activity. And what was his response to that?
GEN. RICHARDS: Well, that's another great question because I was really angry about that report. And I have to say, the journalist in question, and not many of you will know this, was really angry too, because they talked about me going to confront the Pakistanis, and nothing could be further from the truth. And I have actually had an apology from the Sunday Times journalist because she was so angry. And I know that you're all afflicted by editors who want to see sexy headlines or introductions. So there we are.
And I did have to explain early on to the Pakistanis that I was not going in a confrontational mood or mode, because both having had long discussions with President Karzai before I went, and with my own political leaders in NATO, that we are in this together. Pakistan and Afghanistan, who do have differing interpretations over what is happening here in terms of the insurgency, are quite clear that they've got to solve it together as a team, and that is the essence of the Tripartite Commission. And that is the spirit with which I went to Pakistan. I was very-well received. And President Musharraf -- without betraying confidences -- echoed what I've just said, that this is something that they need to deal with together. The Taliban are a threat to Pakistan, ultimately, as much as they certainly are to Afghanistan. And so they have a joint desire and need to deal with it.
And actually, all I am doing, as a soldier working for NATO ISAF, is facilitating what is a pretty good process between the militaries in order to confront it at the military level. Whether that develops into political dialogue of a similar nature, we wait and see. But I am quite clear that intentions are sound on both sides, and that's the message that I returned from Pakistan with, and it's the one I expected to return with before I even went there.
Q Sir, this is Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg News. I have a bin Laden/al Qaeda question. What is the level of effort ISAF is expending on the search for bin Laden? And two, is al Qaeda a viable, operational force in Afghanistan today, or has it been largely eradicated?
GEN. RICHARDS: Right. I am not expending directly any effort against al Qaeda. That is very much the residual role of the coalition, of your own forces here, those elements that are not under my command. So they get on and do that. We work closely together because on occasions, someone they're interested in may be inside Afghanistan. We have a very close relationship to make sure that there are no sort of blue-on-blue risks, and that they understand what I'm trying to achieve in terms of the counterinsurgency. So if you like, I could characterize it as we deal with the counterinsurgency problem, they deal with the counterterrorist problem, which is characterized most obviously by al Qaeda.
I hope that answers that bit of it.
In terms of the residual threat, there are some foreign fighters inside Afghanistan. Whether they are al Qaeda fighters or freelancers, if you like, that have come to help the Taliban, you know, it depends. Some I think are in some category, some in the other. But give or take, right now al Qaeda is not a big problem here inside Afghanistan. Your own troops have done magnificently reducing that to a minimum. But the foreign fighter element is still there. You know, who owns them, difficult to say.
Q General, Nathan Hodge with Jane's Defense Weekly. I wanted to ask if ISAF has enough -- has all of the aviation assets that it needs to get the job done that you've set out to do. I know in the past there's been discussion among NATO-member states about making sure that members contribute, whether it be fixed wing for transport within the country, helicopter lift assets, close-air support. Is there anything that you need that member states are not at this point contributing? Or are there alternatives that ISAF might consider, for instance contracting out?
GEN. RICHARDS: Well, we are looking at sort of more novel arrangements such as you just mentioned, but they're still at the early stages, so I won't go any further into that.
Well, look, every general wants more. It's because we feel we could do things more quickly and more efficiently, with, perhaps, less risk to our soldiers' lives, although we always seek to concentrate force when we engage the enemy.
So of course I would like more. I am getting more. The Canadians are in the process of sending another two companies -- the best part of a battalion, therefore -- into theater, which will go into Kandahar, predominantly. The Romanians have very usefully just sent another battalion, which has freed up other troops for me to use in other ways. The Poles are sending well over a battalion, a thousand men, over here early next year. And I'm hopeful that other nations will continue to bite this bullet and send us more.
What I really want most, though, which SACEUR has very kindly and usefully banged the drum over repeatedly, is what is known as the theater task force. It's a theater reserve that I can use wherever they are most militarily required. And I don't have that at the moment. We are looking at ways of creating one from within my own forces here, and maybe with the arrival of the Poles, for example, early next year, we will be able to do that.
But I am unabashed about saying that I do need that reserve force, because at the moment if there's a problem or an opportunity, I find it sometimes hard to mitigate, on the one hand, and exploit, on the other. And just one battalion group properly equipped would be a priceless asset. We're getting by. We've stabilized the situation here this fall, but we could have done even better with that asset.
On terms of helicopters, you mentioned specifically, yeah, I could do with more helicopters. But funny enough, helicopters aren't the answer to every maiden's prayer here. You need protective mobility, too, because you need to be able to sustain operations. And ISAF's operation is in that respect a little bit different to that which we inherited from the coalition, which is very focused on the use of helicopters, short, sharp, tactical, highly mobile operations. We're into now exploiting the gift that they gave us in terms of the greater sense of security they created, but we need to sustain it, and that means more boots staying on the ground, whether it's Afghan army or Afghan police or our own forces.
And it's a combination of that sustained sense of security with mobile air delivered, heli-born operations, that we need to get a better balance over.
And so I'm not banging the drum specifically – “I must have four helicopters”. It's a balance force that we need to now generate, and I'm on track to do that, but I'm always happy to take more.
COL. KECK: Pam.
Q Sir, it’s Pam Hess. A clarification on something you said earlier. You said, when talking about that six-month sort of deadline, if we can't this winter do that and going to be saying, "What more can we do for you?" who is the "you" you're talking about? Is it the U.S. government, is it the U.N., is it Hamid Karzai's government?
GEN. RICHARDS: Right. First of all, it's not a six-month deadline. I'm saying in six months we've got to manage to have got this upward trajectory going again, and I believe we're already doing it incidentally. So it's not a great drama for me, but I just need to keep, you know -- I'm always under the sense of duty obligation of my troops to remind others that they have got to deliver in a timely manner on their part of the bargain, and that's why I'm talking about this six months or so.
But when I talk about the others, yes, it's everybody, including us. We've got more to do. This is a big team effort, because that's the essence of the counterinsurgency operation. The military can only do a part of it, and I feel that we haven't done badly this last three to five months. We now need to exploit that with the government doing their bit, yes, and they certainly are. I can tell you President Karzai personally chaired one of his outstanding new policy action group meetings, which brings all -- brings together all the key players. He personally chaired that, I have to say, with great style and great effect until after 10:00 yesterday evening.
I was then at this long conference, a decision brief, today where we're doing our bit. I know that Mr. Koenigs in the U.N. is actively engaged on delivering certain parts with the government on the government side, and I know that people at the World Bank, the key ambassadors, they're all on the case. So I don't want to create a picture where it isn't happening, but I do need to remind everyone it's got to happen, and all the right conditions are being set. And we now need to start seeing delivery to get this upward trajectory.
We're all in it. We all need to do more.
COL. KECK: Last question.
Q General, I'm Carl Osgood. I write for Executive Intelligence Review. You said earlier, in response to the question on the narcotics problem, that we have to create an alternative economy. That seems to me that means that you have to put an awful lot of people to work doing other things. So I'm wondering, are a lot of Afghans being engaged in the reconstruction? And can you engage enough of them in the reconstruction within the window that you're talking about?
GEN. RICHARDS: Well, I repeat we're talking about an upward trajectory, not instant success. But I'm sure you've got that. I think that we probably can create that perception of improvement that will achieve what you've just said.
Yeah, there are other things. I mean just for example, your ambassador here is making a big name for himself, to talk about certain types of road construction. Now, you can build a road in a highly labor-intensive way, which is what we would like to see here, or you can do it in a very high-tech way, which we do not want to see here. So we need to make sure that those who are responsible for delivering the new road network understand that it may take longer to do it in an old-fashioned way, perhaps, but that's the way we want because it generates employment opportunities.
There's quite a lot of money in the hands of individuals in large parts of the country. What it isn't doing is filtering down to the population as a whole. One quite wealthy Afghan said to me -- (audio break) – “I didn't know how,” and he didn't know how to set up a business. So I said to one of the PRC commanders, "Have you got a business adviser in your province?" -- and the answer is no. And I said, "Well, we need one." And so there is in that particular province there is now a business adviser, and we are looking at putting them into every province, for example, to allow people who want to generate small- scale, little businesses, but each one employing people, to get off the ground. And that's showing great promise, and there's a funding program, called a National Solidarity Program, which is going to look at investing in that sort of activity.
One of the other things, addressing your key question about speed, is the poor capacity of the Afghan government, particularly in the provinces. If you think about it, there's been two generations of the middle class here who have never had a chance to be educated in the skills that we associate with local governments.
That is being addressed too. The meeting yesterday, chaired by the president, agreed to send five experts, either international or Afghan -- hopefully the latter -- into each of the provinces -- that's a lot of people, costing quite a lot of money -- to kick-start improvements in governance to deliver on the projects in a much more rapid and visible manner than has hitherto just been possible.
So, I mean, I think the jury's out, but we are doing things that give me confidence that we will achieve what you're after.
COL. KECK: General Richards, we sure appreciate your time and certainly your generous contribution to providing information about your operation in Afghanistan. Before we leave, would you like to give any closing remarks?
GEN. RICHARDS: Well, thanks very much, Gary. And great to speak to you. I can't see you. I hope the person who said I was coming over all right was telling the truth, because it's quite disconcerting. But thank you for some excellent questions. I know some of you have come here in the past, and I hope will come again, and perhaps we can pick up on the detail on that.
But I leave you, if I may, with this sense of cautious optimism. The military have done better in many ways, partly because of the stupidity of the Taliban in bashing their heads against us in that area southwest of Kandahar, but also because of some good fighting elsewhere. But the military have established psychological ascendancy over the Taliban, and that has given a great fill-up to the people. We now need to exploit that opportunity to deliver on these other promises, which they're all desperate to see us succeed in. And if we can now start delivering, not complete the promises, but start delivering them -- and I'm confident that President Karzai downwards understands that -- then we can have a much better 2007. The Afghan army and police are growing in strength all the time, and we can see a route out of this. That should make us all, as I say, cautiously optimistic.
So thank you very much indeed. And maybe I'll do it again before I leave here in the new year.
COL. KECK: Thank you, sir. And I just want to ensure you, you look sensational. And we hope to have you back. (Laughter.)
GEN. RICHARDS: (Laughs.) I gave up a long time ago worrying about my looks! But it's good to hear. And I'm about to talk to the person that told me I was all right. But great to speak to you. Bye.
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