(Note: General Durbin and Minister. Khalid appear via digital video imagery distribution system from Afghanistan. Minister Khalid's remarks are provided through an interpreter.)
COL. GARY KECK (director, Department of Defense Press Office): Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the pentagon press room. I'm Colonel Gary Keck. I'm the director of the Press Office. And Mr. Whitman is unable to be here today, so I will be moderating this briefing.
Today we have with us from Afghanistan Major General Robert Durbin, commander of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, and Abdul Hadir Khalid, first deputy minister for Security with the Afghan Ministry of Interior. General Durbin and his troops are helping to rebuild and further develop the Afghan security forces.
General Durbin and Minister Khalid are speaking with us from Camp Eggers in Kabul. They will both provide opening remarks and then take your questions.
Today's briefing is on the record. Please remember to identify yourself when asking questions. State whom you'd like to answer the question, between the minister and General Durbin, and wait for translation. The minister does not speak English, and we cannot do simultaneous translation, so you will have to wait for the translator to translate the question for the minister, for him to give the answer and then it be translated back into English for you. So please be patient with us.
Just to make sure, General Durbin, can you hear us all right?
GEN. DURBIN: I hear you fine, thank you.
COL. KECK: With that, I'll turn it to you and the minister for your opening comments.
GEN. DURBIN: Okay. Thank you, Gary.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am Bob Durbin, commanding general of the Combined Security Transition Command in Afghanistan. And as Gary mentioned, I lead the organization responsible for building the Afghan national security forces.
Joining me today from the Afghan Ministry of Interior is Minister Khalid, the first deputy minister for Security.
We will take a few minutes up front to discuss the progress being made by the Afghan National Army and Police, along with the challenges we face. Then we'd be happy to take any of your questions.
The international community, in strategic partnership with the government of Afghanistan, continues building the Afghan National Army while reforming the Afghan National Police. We are prevailing against the effects of a prolonged war, tribalism, poverty, illiteracy and the lack of infrastructure, and we're producing an Afghan national security force that is competent and capable of defeating a determined insurgency, while setting the stage for social and economic progress.
Our ultimate goal here is to assist the nation by building Afghan capacity and capability to secure Afghanistan's territory and provide an Afghan shield for the nation's continued development. This transition process will take time, but with steadfast U.S. and international support, it will happen.
The Afghan National Army has demonstrated and the Afghan National Police are beginning to demonstrate increased self-reliance in planning, preparing and executing security operations, a first step towards transitioning the lead of the Afghan forces throughout their country.
The strategic partnership between Afghanistan and the international community requires balance. This balance depends on the international community providing equipment, training support and facilities. To do their part, Afghanistan must provide well-led manpower in sufficient quantities and quality, and they are doing their share.
Focusing on the Afghan National Army for a moment, I can tell you that their soldiers are performing well in combat, fighting side by side with their international partners, and are now leading many operations. These successful operations are instilling more confidence, competence and professionalism within the ranks of their army daily. But challenges still remain.
Together with our Afghan partners, we're assisting the Afghan National Army in overcoming some of its most significant challenges. Improved living conditions both in the field and in garrison combined with pay reform and leadership improvements are resulting in better recruiting and lower rates of unauthorized absences. Building competence and professionalism through improved training and leadership development courses will also play a role in maintaining the positive trend of reduced unauthorized absences.
Currently 36,000 strong, the ANA is on its way to an end state goal of 70,000 combat and combat support soldiers skilled in counterinsurgency operations. Achieving the right balance is the key to success. Forming an ethnically and geographically balanced force in both the army and the police is critical to establishing a quality and enduring security force.
The United States has been working in partnership with Germany to reform the Afghan National Police. Organized under the ministry of Interior, the Afghan National Police is a diverse organization both in ethnic composition and mission.
I would now like to ask Minister Khalid to provide his perspectives on the Afghan National Police reform.
MIN. KHALID: Good morning. I want to thank General Durbin for this opportunity to talk with you. My name is Abdul Hadir Khalid, and I am the deputy minister of the Interior for Security. The Afghanistan National Police are under my command.
I want all Americans to know that Afghanistan is a friend to America, and we are deeply grateful for your assistance. Together we are partnered in developing this country and combatting our common enemy, terrorists.
The people of Afghanistan are good people, and we only want the very best for them. The Taliban and al Qaeda do not want peace; they are the enemy of peace and stability. They only wish to spread evil. They only wish to spread evil and hate and repress the people of Afghanistan. The vast majority of Afghan people do not support them. The government does not support them and will never support them.
Life under the Taliban and al Qaeda was very difficult for us. One-half of our society could not leave the home. Guns and swords ruled our people. All around us was darkness and evil. However, today life in Afghanistan has changed, but there is still much work to be done. I am reminded that Rome was not built in a day, and so it shall be for Afghanistan. It will take time. We have a long way to go before we can return to a life of joy. But we are fighting hard for that. Many of my countrymen have died in this fight so others can have a chance to live in peace and joy.
As the commander of all police forces, I would like to echo what General Durbin has said. The Afghan National Police have made tremendous progress in the past few years. Trust and confidence in the police is ever increasing with the people of Afghanistan. In a strategic partnership and cooperation with the United States, the police are being rebuilt, growing and improving each day.
The U.S. is providing training, equipment and other resources, while Afghanistan is providing quality personnel to fill the ranks. With Americans' help, we have for the past one year worked very hard at developing a professional, well-managed and trained Afghanistan National Police.
There are still many challenges ahead, but they are not insurmountable. The brave and honorable men and women of the Afghan National Police are dedicated to the interior security of Afghanistan and ensuring a future of peace and prosperity.
The police have had a history of corruption, but we have put in place many initiatives that are helping to eradicate corruption. Through various management with the senior leadership, the minister of Interior has made it very clear corruption will not be tolerated. To be effective, the police must be honorable and respectable.
Pay reform has led to police not only receiving more pay for the hard and dangerous work that they do, but also imposing systems that ensure they receive every dollar that they earn. The establishment of an Internal Affairs Department has created a means for citizens to report wrongdoings and a mechanism to hold police accountable for their actions. The newly drafted code of conduct reinforces the professional, legal and moral requirements found in the Afghan national constitution, penal code, and police regulations.
To further prevent corruption and other illegal activities, new recruits are thoroughly screened for past criminal activity and involvement with insurgent or terrorist organizations.
Building the force to an adequate level for the security of the country is also a challenge. Right now the Afghan National Police has just over 50,000 trained and equipped police officers. To ensure we have a police present down to the district level, this number must be 82,000. To help fill this immediate need, the ministry has recently created the Afghan National Auxiliary Police. This temporary stop-gap program will provide police officers through an accelerated training program, and they will be utilized at stated posts in some of the most important and dangerous regions, especially in the south and east.
The Afghan National Police is organizing itself to best suit the security needs of the country. In addition to the uniformed police, there is also the border police, civil border police, and the auxiliary police. Having the right balance of force with the right number of security officers is essential to an enduring police forces.
We are also dedicated to building a force that is representative of Afghanistan, ensuring that all officers represent their nation both regionally and ethnically. Our goal is to treat all citizens with respect and dignity while maintaining order and the rule of law. Respect for human rights is a top priority.
The Ministry of Interior works closely with many agencies in the government, especially with the Ministry of Defense and the Afghan National Army. As the army is a few years ahead of us in progress, we are watching and learning from them as they progress. Operationally, we coordinate and work closely with the army to ensure the safety and security of this nation. A good example of this is how we operate together to fight insurgency. After the army have cleared and secured area infiltrated by insurgents, the police assume the mission to hold an area and maintain laws, order, safety and security.
Today is a time filled with dangers and wonderful opportunities. With our American partners, we will be successful; we will defeat the new enemy. We will once again have peace and joy in our lives. The Afghanistan National Police will help lead this battle.
I would like to say that our success owes a great deal to the support of the United States. Through a strategic partnership, we, the people of Afghanistan, have provided qualified brave men and women to fill the ranks of the police forces. The United States, in turn, has provided equipment, training and other resources to ensure our success.
I want to close by giving a special thanks to all American fathers and mothers who have sent their brave sons and daughters to fight alongside Afghanistan's sons and daughters. We are a brotherhood joined in a common battle against evil. Thank you so much for that.
With that, I thank you for having us here today. We will now take your questions.
COL. KECK: Okay. Pauline, go ahead.
Q Pauline Jelinek of the Associated Press. I -- just to sum up the statistics I think you've given us -- I want to make sure -- Mr. Minister, you said your goal is 82,000 police, and you have 50,000. But, General, you said your goal is 70,000, and I don't recall what you said you're at now; and also, do you still feel you'll be finished with the 70,000 by mid-2009?
GEN. DURBIN: Let me clarify the -- from my perspective. What I was saying was the Afghan National Army presently has 36,000, and it is growing to 70,000. That will be combined with the Afghan National Police, which is currently at 50,000 and will grow to 82,000.
And, yes, the program growth has us completing those threshholds or end states by the end of calendar year 2008.
COL. KECK: Andrew.
Q General, Andrew Gray from Reuters. I think when you last spoke to the Pentagon press corps about six months ago, you said there was a significant problem with equipping the police in particular. Can you give us an update on how that is going and how close you are to equipping the 50,000 police that you have and what equipment you need?
GEN. DURBIN: We are in the process of catching up for the amount of equipment that we need. The amount of dollars that were made available specifically from the U.S. Congress to meet our needs through the supplemental that we received in August has allowed us to start to acquire a significant amount of equipment in the November timeframe, and there will be a significant inflow of equipment between now and May. That will catch up with the 50,000, and then as long as we receive the resources requested for the next supplemental, we'll be able to continue to properly equip the police up to the 82,000. So it will take us until about mid-spring to be able to catch up to have all of the 50,000 growing by 2,000 a month properly equipped.
Q On the equipment side as well, and on the army side, can you give me an idea of what your wish list is for the kind of equipment, platforms and resources you'd need for the counterinsurgency effort you have going on?
GEN. DURBIN: There's two answers to that.
The first one is to ensure that we properly equip against the current needs of the force that's on the ground, 36,000, growing at about 1,500 a month.
Those would be your basic infantry, individual and crew-serve weapons, as well as the mobility platforms and the additional equipment, what is required to ensure that we can build this army 70,000 strong so that they can not just pick up the lead in the counterinsurgency, but also be able to conduct independent operations, meaning that they are untethered from the support that the international community must provide.
Then we need to provide them with the right enabling capabilities, such as the aircraft to allow them to be able to conduct cas-evac, medical evacuations, the intelligence capability to provide appropriate targeting, and then the artillery and perhaps some rotary and fixed-wing fire power to bring to bear so that the in-extremis support, as we call it, that today is provided by the international community for the ANA will be able to be organic or part of the Afghan National Army 70,000 strong that we're building.
Q As a follow-up to that, can you get more specific in terms of numbers that you're looking at for that type equipment?
GEN. DURBIN: I'll answer it this way. The focus at this point is in creating six commando battalions that are like the U.S. Ranger battalions. They will be better equipped and better led, and they will be the best force that the ANA has to bring to bear for the counterinsurgency. And then we will size their air, both rotary and fixed-wing capability, to provide the tactical mobility for those six battalions, and then eventually grow to be able to provide sufficient tactical lift for both commodities and for personnel to be able to conduct an effective counterinsurgency on their own.
Q General Durbin, Jeff Schogol, Stars and Stripes. Recently the aircraft carrier Eisenhower moved away from supporting operations in Afghanistan to go to Somalia. How does that affect the support that U.S. troops -- U.S. forces can give to the Afghan National Army?
GEN. DURBIN: That's more of a question that could better be answered by the operational commanders here. But I would tell you from my understanding and daily interactions with the Afghan National Army, fighting side by side with our coalition forces, that there has not been a degradation in the required air support, and there's been no degradation to the operational pace under which we're operating.
Q General, Gordon Lubold at Military Times.
There's a sense that police and army in Afghanistan have come along a little bit better, say, than they have in Iraq. And I'm not going to ask you to comment about that, but if you could -- are there some lessons learned, or some things that you've done there that translate well that you have conveyed to your counterparts in Iraq -- things that are working well that you've tried to get them to see?
GEN. DURBIN: I'll give you a short answer and then I would ask the minister to provide his perspective.
My counterpart in Iraq, who is now in charge of developing the Afghan -- the Iraqi national police is a superb professional that I have a tremendous amount of personal and professional respect for. And I've known him for over 36 years, and in fact was a roommate with him back at West Point. We share lessons learned both ways, and I think that we have taught each other what works and what doesn't work.
I'd now ask that -- I ask the minister to tell you what he thinks is most important about ensuring that we have the quality of the force that's being reformed in the Afghan national police.
MIN. KHALID: I can say that the reform was one of the most important step in Afghanistan, and it is the foundation of ANA and ANP in Afghanistan. Without the help of the U.S. government, we would not be able to do the reform process and develop and improve this much that today we are. He says that U.S. government helped us and equipped the ANA and the ANP, and we are at the good level, and we could finish the reform process.
The people of Afghanistan like the ANP, the police, and they are sending their sons to the police that we need equipped and professional police.
GEN. DURBIN: I would add that the fact that we have an ethnically balanced force -- and that is the key to success of the Afghan National Army -- that's something that we're working to ensure that we can attain and then maintain in the Afghan National Police.
Combine that with the fact that there has been a concerted effort to ensure that the vetting process and the vouching system, as the Afghans would refer to it -- that a young son or daughter who wishes to join the Afghan National Police or the army has to have a tribal elder or a mullah who will vouch for their integrity and commitment to the government of Afghanistan and the future loyalty that they will show. And they actually sign a loyalty oath, and they have a senior leader from their village to vouch for them. I think that's one of the key aspects of ensuring the quality and integrity of the members of the police force and the army that we have today.
COL. KECK: Joe?
Q General, this is Joe Tabet with Middle East Broadcasting Network. Could you tell us if the Pakistani government is providing any support in training the Afghani forces?
GEN. DURBIN: Are you asking if they're providing funds support, funding?
Q Yes, sir.
COL. KECK: Yes, sir.
GEN. DURBIN: We have offers of donations from the Afghan -- from the Pakistan government, and we are working that through the system, just like all the other donations. I will tell you that there are active donations that are working, most of them having to do with providing equipment, some personal equipment and some personal weapons. There also have been offers to provide assistance with training. Those have not come to fruition yet, and we are working through that.
The other thing I would say is that there have been mil-to-mil interaction, where we have units both from Afghanistan and Pakistan who have trained together to ensure that there is better cooperation and understanding and respect for each other's military.
Q Dennis Ryan, the Army newspaper the Pentagram. Either one of you gentlemen: Any progress to report in suppressing the narcotics trade in Afghanistan?
GEN. DURBIN: I believe that what we will see in the future is better success in attacking what is probably one of the biggest threats in the long-term future of the social and economic development of Afghanistan, and that's to effectively conduct a counternarcotics program.
The Afghan National Police are an integral part of that. They're the government of Afghanistan legitimate presence at the lowest level, and they can touch every aspect associated with narco-trafficking and the other smuggling activity associated with narcotics.
There is a special 2,600-man organization, Counternarcotics Police Afghanistan, that is being increased in their effectiveness and capability for eradication and interdiction. And I think it would be appropriate for Minister Khalid to add something here, since he was a previous commander of the counternarcotics element, within the Counternarcotics Police Afghanistan.
INTERPRETER: Yes. He says the opium is one of the big problem and challenges in Afghanistan for the people of Afghanistan and for the government. And the government of Afghanistan, the Interior Ministry and the ANP try their best to fight against the terrorism and against the opium and about the smugglers.
MIN. KHALID: Don't forget that Afghanistan passed the 25 years of war, and we have a lot of problems here like destruction, corruption, illiteracy, terrorism and other things, and the people of Afghanistan try to fight against all of them. And you know, poverty is one of the most important problem in Afghanistan which threaten the life of people and the Afghan society. So the government of Afghanistan, committed with the help of people, fight against opium and smugglers.
The police have a great role and I can say a vital role in fighting against the opium and transit of -- illegal transit of opium. And we've removed a lot of main sources of the opium in the country (inaudible). And now, with the help of all communities, and it is essential the help of all communities, essential for us, we can fight in future and remove all the sources in Afghanistan. This year we have special plans to fight and remove all the sources in Afghanistan, the opium, eradication of drugs.
COL. KECK: Minister Khalid, we appreciate you joining us today. We're at the end of our time. And we would invite you to return in the future to give us an update.
Do you have any closing comments you'd like to make?
GEN. DURBIN: The only thing I'd like to say, that although there are many significant challenges that remain -- and we touched on a few -- the Afghan national security forces continue to show great progress each day. And as we continue to stand by them through their struggles, we will continue to advance towards becoming effective and respected security forces for their nation. And I think that you could see today that there are some brave leaders of Afghanistan, like the minister here to my left, who are making the difference in ensuring that the quality and quantity of their manpower is sufficient to meet their needs.
And just let me close by saying how proud I am of all American and the international partners that I'm privileged to be able to serve with. The American people especially should be proud of the work being done each and every day by the men and women of our armed forces, the Department of State, civil service, and our civilian contractors.
Minister, any closing comments?
MIN. KHALID: At the end, I would like to say that it was grateful for me that the U.S. government is beside us and helping us at any level and at any situation. And I would like to assure the U.S. government that the people of Afghanistan always like them and -- (inaudible). And the U.S. government should stay with the people of Afghanistan and support them and effort them and help them to remove the -- to finish the problems and their challenges in future.
We are trying our best, with the help of all communities, especially the U.S. government, to establish a powerful ANP in Afghanistan, and the people of Afghanistan, the government of Afghanistan is pleased to have a good friend like you.
When I see my friends like General Durbin, who is beside me, and helping the people of Afghanistan like me, my power became more and more; I became more powerful, and I decide in the future to help the people of Afghanistan and fight against everything. And I'm sure with the help of the U.S. government, we will defeat the enemies in Afghanistan, and the Afghanistan will have a prosperous future and a shining future with the help of U.S. government.
Thank you so much, the people of the U.S., the people of America, and thank you so much.
COL. KECK: Thank you again, gentlemen.
GEN. DURBIN: Thank you, Gary.
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