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DoD News Briefing with Lt. Col. Phillips from Afghanistan

Presenters: Commander Nangarhar Provincial Reconstruction Team Lt. Col Gordon Phillips and State Department Representative Shawn Waddoups
August 22, 2007 9:00 AM EDT
            (Note: Lieutenant Colonel Phillips and Mr. Waddoups appear via teleconference from Afghanistan.) 
 
            COL. GARY KECK (director, Department of Defense Press Office): Well good morning everyone and welcome to the Pentagon briefing room. I’m Col. Gary Keck, the director of the press office, and it’s my privilege this morning to introduce our briefers from Afghanistan. We have Lt. Col. Gordon Phillips, commander of the Nangarhar Provincial Reconstruction Team, and Mr. Shawn Waddoups, the Department of State representative for the PRT with us today. They are both based out of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, and they’re here to provide us with an update on reconstruction and development efforts in their province. 
           
            Both Lt. Col. Phillips and Mr. Waddoups have opening comments, so after they’ve completed opening comments then we’ll go to Q and A. So with that, let's turn it over to Lieutenant Colonel Phillips. Go ahead. 
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: Thank you, Colonel Keck. 
 
            Good morning from Jalalabad, Afghanistan. On behalf of the men and the women of the Nangarhar Provincial Reconstruction Team, the PRT, I thank you for this opportunity to share our mission.   
 
            The PRT is made up of airmen and soldiers from the active duty, National Guard and Reserves, and also includes representatives from the Department of State, U.S. Agencies (sic) for International Development, and the USDA, Department of Agriculture. 
 
            The PRT is a highly motivated and skilled team with a great variety of skills, particularly from our Guard and Reserve members, who bring the talents of their civilian professions to the mission. My team was first formed in January of this year, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where we trained together for three months before we deployed.   
 
            The PRT main focus is improving security, governance and reconstruction in Nangarhar province, following nearly 30 years of war. 
 
            Our mission takes us on daily convoys throughout the entire province, where we interact with Afghans in remote areas, assisting them in revitalizing their communities. Nangarhar is located in eastern Afghanistan, with an extensive border with Pakistan. Roughly the size of New Jersey, Nangarhar's 2 million residents are primarily farmers, but one-quarter of the population lives in the provincial capital city of Jalalabad. The remaining population resides in the province's 22 districts, much like counties in the United States. 
 
            After being on the ground for four months of our one-year tour, we've seen significant progress. During our missions, we assess community needs, and in cooperation with the government we build schools, government centers, roads, medical capability, and other basic infrastructure projects, using Afghan contractors and labor. We also provide economic development opportunities, many designed to aid women and disabled Afghans. 
 
            Most importantly, we maintain close daily relationships with our partners in the Afghan community and security forces to help provide and sustain development and security in the province. 
 
            Recently the state of Missouri and the National Guard Bureau have committed to deploying a second PRT in Nangarhar. It focuses primarily on agriculture. It will be known as the agribusiness developmental team. It begins operations in February of next year. 
 
            Afghans are making great strides in the area of development. The provincial, district and religious leaders, in partnership with the PRT, have undertaken the enormous task of creating the provincial development plan, the PDP. It was a month-long process to identify projects from the community and district level up to the provincial leadership. The PDP resulted in identifying 80 developmental projects in eight key sectors. It involved directing our actions between the tribes, the districts and interest groups, including women and disabled persons. In fact, women made up 25 percent of the planning groups.   
 
            The intent of the PDP is to build ownership into a comprehensive development strategy, with an end result that addresses the needs of the Afghan people and reflects their opinions, cultures and beliefs. All PDPs were then forwarded to Kabul to form the Afghan national development strategy.   
 
            The key goal is strengthening the Nangarhar economy and government, and providing the Afghans with essential services and security. The PRT currently has 33 ongoing reconstruction projects worth more than $17 million in the planning and approval process, and we've completed 11 projects worth roughly $800,000 since our arrival. 
 
            Together with the Afghans, we are executing a multi-million dollar contract to build roads linking the entire farm-to-market strategy and the Afghan development zone. This is a critical, economically rich area of the province along the Kabul River. These efforts will create jobs and create sustainable capacity. 
 
            I'll now turn it over to Shawn. 
 
            MR. WADDOUPS: Just by way of background, as Colonel Phillips mentioned, I'm one of three civilian members of the PRT here in Nangarhar. I have two colleagues from the United States Agency for International Development. One of those is focused solely here in Nangarhar on -- and working together with me on governance issues and local development issues. The other member of our team, from USAID, is working on the alternative development program, and he has responsibility for four provinces here in the eastern region of Afghanistan. 
 
            All of us, including the military and civilian members of the team, have a responsibility and a very important role in maintaining productive relationships with the key leaders here in Nangarhar. We focus on the governor and his staff. We work with 22 district sub- governors, members of the provincial shura, or council. We work together with national parliamentarians who represent Nangarhar in Kabul, and the local directors for all the national ministries. 
 
            We also work together with traditional community leaders, such as local elders and religious leaders. And we also maintain close relations -- working relationships with the United Nations agencies through UNAMA, or the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan. We also work with key international and nongovernmental organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the Red Cross, Red Crescent.   
 
            We work extensively with local leaders through both Western and traditional Afghan-style meetings. This is, in fact, the biggest part of my job and the job of the PRT, building effective relationships with the people who are shaping the future of Afghanistan. 
 
            Sometimes we meet together at our small base here in Jalalabad, but we mainly engage these leaders in their own offices or else in the field out at the district centers. Wherever we meet, we always emphasize that lasting stability here in Nangarhar and throughout Afghanistan will be based on Afghan-developed solutions. And these leaders are proving that they can be successful at coming up with these solutions. 
 
            For instance, as Colonel Phillips mentioned, last week representatives from all 22 of Nangarhar's subdistricts, plus special interest groups such as women, nomads and the disabled, met for over a week, and in a representative process agreed on the prioritization of hundreds of projects for the entire province.   
 
            This was a historic event. Many groups whose voices had rarely been heard here in Nangarhar were given a forum in which they could speak up, and they did speak up. The really significant part, however, is that those traditionally in power here in Nangarhar stopped and they listened to these people.   
 
            We feel confident that these voices were heard. For example, the Nangarhar director for women's affairs, Shaihla Barbari (ph), assured me that the voice of Nangarhar's women was heard. The example she gave me is that through the provincial development plan process, funding for a walled women's park in a college preparatory facility in Jalalabad were included in the list that was sent forward to Kabul. However, she did not secure funding for a women's transportation system to support this project, but she has hope that that will happen next year. And that's really the vital part of what we're seeing here. People are gaining hope, and the kind of hope which is giving them confidence to invest in their future. That's what's going to build lasting stability. 
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: And now we'd be happy to take your questions. 
 
            COL. KECK: Well, thank you much for that overview, gentlemen.  
 
            And let's go to questions. And if you have a question for one of these two individuals, please direct it straight to them. And again I'll remind you they can't see you, so let them know who's asking the question. 
 
            Kristin, go ahead. 
 
            Q     This is Kristin Roberts with Reuters. Hoping you can tell us how the security situation there in your part of Afghanistan has impacted your ability to complete construction -- to complete reconstruction projects. Has the security situation delayed any of them? 
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: Kristin, I think your question was the question of security versus the ability to do reconstruction. And I will tell you that we've been able to move throughout the entire province and make reconstruction efforts happen.   
 
            They're -- the locals know that security is required to do most levels of reconstruction, and so they have been actively letting us know and letting the security forces, the Afghan security forces, know when the situation needs to be taken care of. And the Afghan security forces are actively getting involved, making arrests and making operations happen that allow us to make reconstruction efforts throughout the province.   
 
            MR. WADDOUPS: One thing I'd like to add on this is we've recently been able to add some team -- or some members to our engineering team of the PRT that are actually local nationals, Afghans. And they are -- they enable us to send these folks out to inspect the progress of reconstruction projects and have eyes on the project to make sure that progress is coming along. And that's enhanced our ability to monitor the progress and make sure that the quality standards are being met.   
 
            Q     So none of your projects have been delayed by security problems. You're able to move forward on track and on schedule.   
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: No, we haven't had any problems, any delays with any of our construction projects, based on security concerns.   
 
            Q     Bill McMichael with Military Times newspapers.   
 
            Is that due to the fact that you have -- because of your relationship, in addition to working with the Afghan security forces, with the ISAF forces that are in your province? And how close to the border are you able to operate, given that extensive border that you have with Pakistan?   
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: Sir, it's due to a number of different relationships. First off, our relationship with the people -- every day, we go outside the wire and we spend time with the tribal elders, the people, the religious leaders, and so we've got a good relationship with our forces throughout the entire province. It's also due to our relationship with our maneuver force. The maneuver forces are stationed throughout the province, and they let us know what's going on and what areas may get hot for a specific period of time.   
 
            And thirdly it's our relationship with the Afghan national security forces, the Afghan national army, the Afghan national police and border police, and we work well with them. In fact, we work in concert with them on virtually every mission. They go out with us. They lead the way and provide security, and we back them up in these operations.   
 
            In reference to your question about the geography, sir, if you're familiar with Nangarhar, you know that virtually the entire border of Pakistan is bounded by very high peaks. So most of our construction by virtue of that geography is done in the valley areas, where the water is and most of the agriculture is done.   
 
            Q     This is for Lieutenant Colonel Phillips.   
 
            Last year, the Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Regional Division, talked about doubling the number of reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. Can you talk about how that translates to the local level in your province?   
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: Yes, sir a couple ways -- of course, they're -- the Afghans are very enthusiastic about getting additional work, additional projects in their area. But that puts quite a heavy load on our quality assurance folks and our engineers to make sure that the projects, like Shawn said, are still being completed on time and to the quality that we expect. But the projects of course must be done correctly. We -- in fact, we had a building that was -- well, it was built in the first two months we were here. That was not done correctly, and we had to have the contractor tear it down and start over again.   
 
            And sir, could I get you to repeat the second half of your question again?   
 
            Q     I don't think there was a second half but basically -- well, let me follow up by saying, can you talk about trends? How many reconstruction projects are you doing per month, and is it going up?   
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: Sir, the answer is it depends, and the reason is because it's not necessarily how many. It's -- it depends on the resources that are available and how complex those projects are.   
 
            Like I said earlier, we have a number of projects going on, and we continue to put projects in to be resourced and approved. And we initiate those projects based on getting the resources that are available down from our leadership. 
 
            Q     This is Kokab Farshori from Voice of America Television. Are you getting any support from Pakistan in maintaining peace in the region? And the other thing is that, has the recently concluded Pakistan-Afghanistan jirga helped maintaining peace in the region and helped you in your reconstruction efforts in any way? 
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: Sir, the peace jirga, of course, was just about a week and a half, two weeks ago, so I have not seen any results yet. But I will tell you that we work very closely with the Pakistanis because it's dependent on them and the Afghans working together to guard that border area. The border area is very rugged. They are in -- the Afghan security forces are working very hard to employ additional forces to guard the very porous border, but we've had very good relations with the Afghan security forces throughout that extensive border with Pakistan and Afghanistan. 
 
            And sir, I would like to add that we meet with them on a regular basis, at least once a month, and we call those meetings border flag meetings and they're very productive. 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- in hot pursuit of Taliban and al Qaeda elements? 
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: Did you hear that, Shawn? 
 
            MR. WADDOUPS: I'm sorry. Can you repeat that? 
 
            Q     Pakistan has often shown concerns about the U.S. contention that al Qaeda and Taliban elements could be chased by U.S. forces inside Pakistan. Have you been able to address those concerns? 
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: Sir, I got the first part of your question. I think I'll go ahead and answer that, and if you have more, then let me know. 
 
            Pakistan has a very extensive military, very capable military, and we will do operations only within Afghanistan and in complete cooperation with the people of Pakistan. But we do not intend to take any operations into Pakistan. 
 
            Q     Folks, it's Mike Mount with CNN. Last fall, I spent some time with the Sharana PRT in Paktika, and one of the problems they seemed to have out in the rural areas outside of the towns was that the Taliban would come in. They would watch them as the PRTs would come into these villages and donate food or equipment or whatever, and then generally when the sun went down, they'd come in and they would then take the food or equipment or whatever. 
 
            Are you all running into that same problem there, and if you are, how are you handling that? And a second question, are you also working on roads to connect up to the Ring Road, and how is that going? 
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: Shawn? 
 
            MR. WADDOUPS: We often talk in our internal planning and our strategizing about addressing what we call fence sitters here in Nangarhar province. These are individuals that, because of the instability they've lived through for the last 25 years, have waited to make up their mind about which side they're going to support or not. This is a critical group for us in our success. 
 
            What we are seeing is that these individuals are more and more getting off the fence and not submitting to the intimidation that the Taliban's trying to use to keep them on that fence. They're more often coming to us with reports of where IEDs have been located, where fighters are moving. They're helping us, and they're displaying confidence not only in the coalition forces but in the Afghan National Security Forces and in the Afghan government. 
 
            They're showing more support and more confidence that the government is going to be able to provide the services that they need to improve their lives. So that's what we're seeing here in Nangarhar province. 
 
            As far as the second question about roads to connect to the Ring Road, we have recently received approval to build -- or to make asphalt roads that connect four of the important district centers here in Nangarhar to Highway 1, which is the main road that runs from Towr Kham gate, the border crossing point with -- between Afghanistan and Pakistan and runs into Kabul and connects with the Ring Road. 
 
            So this is going to be important. It's important for the commercial side of life here in Nangarhar. It will make it so that individuals who are growing and being very productive -- that are growing crops and they can get those more easily to market. It makes it so that the security forces here, the Afghan security forces are able to respond more quickly and are more mobile to get out into some of these districts, and it will make life easier for the people who are trying to travel between some of the outlying areas and the provincial center here in Jalalabad and on to the capital in Kabul. We're very excited about this. We think it's going to be a big step forward. 
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: And, sir, if I can add to what Shawn just said -- I want to give you an example of the security essence of that question. What I've seen in the last four months of being here is we're seeing more instances of the local people turning in these bad guys who are coming down from the hills at night, as you spoke of, and intimidating the local villagers. We're also many more IEDs and suicide bombers turned in, and the Afghan National Security Forces are able to take over and make an arrest, and this is very encouraging. 
 
            COL. KECK: Kristin. 
 
            Q     It's Kristin Roberts with Reuters again. Can you -- do you have any statistics that actually paint that picture for you about tips that you're receiving from the local population from these people that you called "fence sitters"? 
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: I -- I think it was Kristin. Could say again the question? We heard the "fence sitters" part, but -- that and about statistics. Could you say it one more time, please? 
 
            Q     You both had referenced an increased number of tips. Do you have any statistics that paint that picture for you that show an increased number? I mean, what -- how many tips are you getting per month now compared with a year ago, for example? 
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: I think what you're saying is -- oh, tips. I thought you were talking about TICs -- that's what we call a troop in contact. 
 
            I have seen an increase. I will tell you that I know the increase because -- especially in a couple of the areas in central to south Nangarhar province, we've been getting a lot of turn-ins. But as far as statistics offhand right now, I cannot quote them to you. 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- something you could provide to us via Colonel Keck today? 
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: Possibly. I will tell you that Nangarhar is a fairly permissible province in comparison with other provinces. We have not had any troops in contact, with the exception of IEDs and suicide-borne vehicles in the four months that I have been here, and those have been fairly low in number. 
 
            COL. KECK: Bill. 
 
            Q     Bill McMichael with the Military Times newspapers. I'd like to follow up on the question about roads and the -- and relate that to your attempts to try to shift the economy from -- to a more legal farming sort of economy versus one that relies on the raising of drugs perhaps. What -- number one, is that an issue in your province, the raising of poppies versus other sorts of farming? And number two, what -- can you talk about the length or the mileage of current passable roads, drivable roads in the province and what you hope to try to get to, to try to -- in the efforts to try shift the economy around? 
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: Did you hear him, Shawn? (No audible response.) 
 
            I'll go ahead and responsible initially. We heard about half your question. 
 
            I will tell you that the objective when I got here for my team was to connect all the district centers -- and there are 22 district centers -- to the Route 1 that runs midline through the middle of Nangarhar province. 
 
            And as far as the roads, obviously, like Shawn said earlier, it brings increased security because the security forces, the Afghan forces and coalition forces can go deeper on better roads faster and get there and spend more time patrolling than going -- having to traverse down less passable roads. 
 
            Also, in regards to economics, we're able to get the fruits and vegetables that are being produced in these acres to market. Right now the statistics that I'm hearing from the USDA is about 50 to 60 percent of the produce that is produced in Nangarhar is left to rot either on the vine or on the side of the road because they can't get it out of market. So with the help -- also, eventually, some type cool or cold storage, we can get the vegetables and the goods stored, get them processed and then move them out of the market to bring in more income to the Nangarhar province. 
 
            MR. WADDOUPS: This is a primary focus of the alternative development program that's active here not only in Nangarhar but throughout the region. There's no reason really why the world-class fruits and vegetables that are grown here in Nangarhar can't be supplied to the international market, and we're trying to work on a way to help Nangarhar become more integrated into the international supply chain. 
 
            Those things that Colonel Phillips mentioned are key components, but we're also working on trying to bring more acreage under cultivation here in Nangarhar, and so we're working together with the local authorities to refurbish or to extend canal networks so that irrigation can be used more widely. We're planting a lot of -- or helping Afghans to plant more fruit trees. About -- over 3,000 new hectares of fruit trees have been planted within the recent past. In about a month, we're going to have the second annual county fair, if you will, here in Jalalabad. We'll have more than 140 different agribusinesses represented there, and we expect to have over 20,000 visitors, both Afghan and international visitors, come in to see the opportunities that exist here in Nangarhar. And that's one of our primary focus. 
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: Earlier about the agribusiness development team, these folks from Missouri National Guard and also the Air National Guard from Missouri, these activated folks are farmers and ranchers so they're going to bring the expertise from the Missouri farmlands and to Nangarhar. And realize they're not coming here to change the way that the Afghans do business, they're looking for Afghan solutions for Afghan people but using technology to better the efficiency and the produce that the -- the production that we get out of these fields here in the province. 
 
            Q     Is opium grown in the province now? 
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: I didn't hear that at all. 
 
            MR. WADDOUPS: I'm sorry, can you -- 
 
            COL. KECK: I'll repeat it. He asked if opium is being grown in the province and was curious to know to what degree you're having success in moving from possibly drug-related economy to a legitimate economy. 
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: I'll take it initially. 
 
            Definitely, sir, opium is grown in this province, and I would say, as far as effectiveness, we won't know yet. 
 
            October/November is the planting season, and it will be cultivated and processed in March and April. So we have a little bit of time to continue to make effect, continue to offer solutions using the alternative development program, and getting the message out through the government and through the Afghan national security forces that poppy growing and opium production is not acceptable. And we will offer reconstruction projects to those areas, so that they can have an alternative to poppy growth. 
 
            MR. WADDOUPS: And one thing that we realize as well -- the people of Nangarhar, people that live here in Afghanistan are like people everywhere, and they respond to incentives. And one of the things that we're trying to do is to provide incentives for them to engage in the licit economy, stay away from the illicit economy and engage in productive enterprises that build their communities. And that's the focus of the alternative development program and the governance programs that we have here. 
 
            We are seeing changes every year in the amount of opium that is produced. We're hoping to see a long-term decrease in that. But the way that we are going to do this is not by coming up with a magic crop, as some people have said, to simply replace poppies, but to develop a broad-based economy. And so we are working on that to build a skeleton, if you will, for development that can support that kind of long-range development. 
 
            Q     This is Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes again. I understand you're looking at long-range incentives to wean Afghan farmers off of poppies, of growing poppies. But it seems if they can make more money growing poppy than fruits or vegetables, how do you get them to grow licit goods? 
 
            MR. WADDOUPS: Part of that is through the support that we give to the regions that are doing a better job of keeping poppy out of their province. There are areas of Nangarhar where people are choosing not to grow poppies, and those are areas that we are supporting through our redevelopment efforts. 
 
            But the fact of the matter is that these individuals are seeing that they have alternatives now. And in the short term, they're still making up their mind, but the alternatives that are presented to them are much broader and much more accessible than they have been in the past. 
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: And sir, I will tell you that any time illegal activity happens, it will drive away private enterprise, and we are looking for private enterprise to come in here and with reconstruction dollars to aid. And if private enterprises see a continuing cultivation of huge amounts of poppy, they're going to be scared away. And the sub-governors know that; the governor knows that and he's been meeting with this sub-governors many times throughout the month telling them that the prosperity of Nangarhar depends on the ability to quit growing poppy and go to other legal crops. 
 
            MR. WADDOUPS: To answer your question more directly about short-term incentives, one of the things that we do through the alternative development program is what we call cash-for-work programs. Last year, we funded over a million hours worth of -- or a million employment days of cash-for-work programs; that's a million days that people here in Nangarhar could have been using to engage in poppy cultivation. Instead they were engaged in doing projects that to help to improve the situation in their communities. 
 
            COL. KECK: Gentlemen, specifically Mr. Waddoups, you just explained that you had a short-term program of a million employment days. There's some confusion exactly what that means. Could you simplify that as far as, you know, an individual allowed the opportunity to work one day would be one day, so therefore the number of people times whatever -- you've had a million of days of labor you've provided? 
 
            MR. WADDOUPS: That's correct. An employment day in our jargon here inside the PRT is one day that we have an individual, an Afghan, engaged in a cash-for-work program, and those could be things like cleaning out irrigation ditches or helping to shore up retaining walls. They're activities that go to building the basic infrastructure of communities, and so 1 million days last year divided among the various workers -- of course we had several workers who worked several days, and so that's -- but total over a million employment days last year. 
 
            COL. KECK: Okay. Well, we thank you, gentlemen. We are at the end of our time. We appreciate you being with us.   
 
            We'd like to turn it back over to you for any closing comments. 
 
            LT. COL. PHILLIPS: Colonel Keck, thank you very much.   
 
            Finally, I'd like to say that we cannot expect to see huge changes quickly. We need to be patient and confident in our long-term development plans, which are led by the Afghans, through the Afghan national development strategy.   
 
            I thank you for your interest in our mission and especially thank the American people for their support. 
 
            Thank you, sir.  
 
            MR. WADDOUPS: Thanks very much. 
 
            COL. KECK: Thank you again.
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