DoD News Briefing with Col. Ives from the Pentagon, Arlington, Va.
(Note: Col. Ives appears via video teleconference from Afghanistan.)
MR. WHITMAN: Well, good morning, and thank you for joining us. And good afternoon, Colonel Ives. This is Bryan Whitman at the Pentagon. This is Colonel Jonathan Ives. I think many of you will recall him from the last time he joined us in a briefing of this format back in June. He is the commander of Task Force Cincinnatus of the Combined Joint Task Force 82. His task force is responsible for operations in five provinces in Northeastern Afghanistan, part of NATO's Regional Command East.
Colonel Ives himself is a mobilized Reservist from Seattle and assumed command in February of this year, and he's going to give you a brief operational update and then take your questions.
So with that, colonel, let me turn it over to you.
COL. IVES: Great. Good morning. Thank you very much.
Ladies and gentlemen, as mentioned, I am Colonel Jonathan Ives, commander of Task Force Cincinnatus of the Combined Joint Task Force 82 in Regional Command East. It's nice to be able to provide an update to the command here today and for you this morning.
This morning, what I'd like to do is to begin with a brief introduction of Operation Norouz Hallah (sp) -- it was conducted in Kapisa province in Afghanistan -- my observations of the status to date, and I'll be happy to answer any of your questions.
Operation Norouz Hallah was an Afghan National Army-planned and led mission. Brigadier General Zemarai, commander of the 3rd Brigade, 201st Corps, came to Bagram Air Field to pitch the plan early in July, when the threats within Kapisa province were escalating. The task force had been simultaneously working a plan to address the threat, which had the potential to affect Kabul and the international assistance community there if it was left unchecked, based on an assessment of our intelligence and reporting in the geographical proximity that the valley has to Kabul.
3rd Brigade's plan was simple: Enter the district of Tagab and Alasay in early August by placing their 3rd Kandak companies in the Kapisa province's three most-populated southern valleys of Afghania, Alasay and Budhro (sp). The companies would be supported by blocking positions and the known exit routes of the foreign fighters and insurgents that have established a support base there. The goals of the operation were to separate the enemy from the populace; provide development to demonstrate our commitment; establish an enduring presence with the Afghan National Army with coalition force partnering; and to establish mentorship of the national police while providing them substations on a north-south route and the side valleys of the major population centers.
Again, the strength of Task Force Cincinnatus is not our strength of numbers of coalition forces, but our alliances. These included the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police, and developing relationships in the valleys to promote the belief that the Afghans take the lead to help the Afghanistan -- to help Afghanistan and separate the populace from the enemy.
In cooperation with our Afghan police and army, we have continued to actively engage the enemy opposition. However, the real success was the support of the populace. Many of the locals came forward to identify the enemy and their caches of arms to the Afghan National Army. This allowed the army to fulfill their commitment to the people and the president of Afghanistan to ensure and preserve every life when targeting the criminals and the insurgents. Their efforts, supported by the people, continues to provide leads on criminals throughout the local area, and many are now facing criminal prosecution in accordance to the Afghans' rule of law.
We have also demonstrated to the populace that we intend to establish a secure area by building an enduring base that will house the Afghan National Army and Police members, as well as our coalition partners, devoted to the security of Tagab and Alasay districts of Kapisa.
The Afghan national security forces' dedication and devotion to duty, as demonstrated in this operation, is extraordinary, and every Afghan should be very proud of the national army and the police that carry out such a difficult task of stabilizing Afghanistan as it strives to meet the requirements of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and the Afghan National Compact.
And with that, I'd be happy to take any of your questions.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, thanks for that overview, colonel, and we do have a few questions here. Let's start with Jeff. Go ahead.
Q Colonel, Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes. A recent Washington Post piece said the Taliban had switched tactics from conventional attacks to suicide bombings, IEDs and intimidation. Is this -- does your experience bear this out?
COL. IVES: Jeff, we have a mix. In this particular area of direct attacks, what we see is their tactic is really that they watch where we're going in the valleys -- many of these valleys are very restrictive.
So they watch where we go, and then they will come back and emplace an ambush as we're coming back out of that valley. So they will sense and know exactly where we're at, and then they will establish a small, hasty ambush as we're coming back out of there.
In a few places in the valley, we've seen IEDs, and they're starting to place them more, as they start to see and develop a pattern of what we're doing on a daily, weekly basis. I think the more that we're there, they more -- they know where to emplace IEDs and also provide places where they can be protected, and also be able to be in an overwatch position of those IEDs. I have not seen a drastic change from their direct attacks to the IEDs in this valley, or in this particular AO, because we haven't had those direct attacks in the past. There have only been scattered ambushes. But I do realize, across all of RC-East, that IED attacks are not necessarily on the rise, but they've been used more frequently. And so we are definitely ensuring that our soldiers are secure and that we have the proper equipment and training to have them identifying the IEDs as they come about them.
MR. WHITMAN: Courtney, go ahead.
Q Colonel, this if Courtney Kube from NBC News.
Just on that same note, can you give us sort of a snapshot of the violence in your area since you've been there for the last eight or nine months? Have you seen an increase in that time or a decrease, and just any kind of attacks at all against coalition and ISAF forces?
COL. IVES: I'm sorry, Vicky, could you repeat your question? It -- you were breaking up just a little.
Q That's okay. Can you just give us a snapshot of the violence in your area since you've been there for the last eight or nine months, both -- any kind of attacks at all on both coalition and ISAF?
COL. IVES: What I understand is that you're looking at the picture of the violence that exists in that area. Particularly in the northern areas, it's limited. We are -- in the provinces that I have overseen -- Parwan, Kapisa, Panjshir, Bamian -- those areas are fairly secure. And what we see mostly are criminal activities that exist through there -- smuggling and that type of enemy activity.
We do have Taliban activities, where we relate them back to attacks on the girls’ schools. We had, in the near -- just near, recent past, attacks on two of the media -- female media personalities and owners of radio stations that were here. Zakia Zaki was one of them -- who was Freedom Radio's owner and a great outspoken person for women's issues in Afghanistan. They did attack and kill her.
And so those type of incidences that are occurring in our area, specifically down in the Tagab area, where we're conducting this operation, where we know there's a support base for Taliban. We understand that there's a number of different criminal activities. There are some power struggles between the officials that are emerging, as far as the local government are concerned, as well as the past ex-commanders from the mujaheddin. We also have the foreign fighters and the Taliban that are there creating an insurgency, and also a criminal insecurity.
In addition to that, you have a criminal element that's working both from the poppy and the drug trade, as well as they're unemployed. So they're taking opportunities to create unrest and insecurity through just having the availability of weapons and being able to really target personnel or people that are living there in peace. And also there's revenge killings that occur on occasions.
So between those four areas, it's -- we have to try to identify exactly what would be considered steady state, if we could take the insurgency out, and how do we best address each of those type of criminal instances that exist in there.
And every time that we get a report of a killing or a death, we have to go back and make sure that it's -- is it an insurgency related, is it a criminal activity or is it a cultural type activity. That we have to first understand that and then make sure that we're targeting the appropriate people when we go back in to discuss, or whether we're talking to the mullahs, the religious scholars, or we're talking to the leaders or the officials that are there, and then try to make sure that we also have contacts with the ex-commanders and try to find out exactly all the information so that we know whether or not are we going to arrest somebody or is this becoming an area that's important for us to go back in and clear Taliban from.
So that may not directly answer the question, but you can see from that that there is a variety of different criminal activities or insurgent activities that end in deaths that we have to be able to go back into. Otherwise, we deal with ambushes, direct attacks, and IEDs have been coming into play.
MR. WHITMAN: Go ahead.
Q Sir, this is Donna Miles with American Forces Press Service. I'm curious, now that you're seeing an increase in the presence of IEDs -- can you hear me?
COL. IVES: I hear you. And your comment, your question is about the IEDs, but I didn't get exactly what it is about the IEDs.
Q With the increased occurrence of these IEDs, what -- that you can describe this -- how are you altering your techniques, tactics and procedures? And what lessons are you taking from what's happened in Iraq?
COL. IVES: Okay. You're looking at our changes in order to address the IEDs. As we move into areas where we have known choke points where IEDs can be incurred, we do move in a different manner than we do on the open MSRs. So we will change to make sure that we identify those areas. We have techniques that allow us -- or really that we prescribe -- that allow us to get out of the vehicles and move about to secure the area. It's a little bit slower-moving, but what it does is it provides an opportunity to see the area ahead of us, the land ahead of us and anything left and right of the road so that we can identify IEDs that are placed in those areas as they become hot spots that we track as far as the significant number of incidents that happen within a particular area.
And due to the geographical restraints, the enemy knows certain areas where they can come and be protected, be concealed, operate at night, not be seen by the local populace, because when they are seen by the local populace, a number of the IEDs that we've found when they've been emplaced haven't been detonated because the local populace, as I said, have been coming to the Afghan National Army, have been coming to the police, have been coming to our soldiers and warning us where these IEDs are placed, and we're able to go out there with an EOD team and disarm the IEDs before we get there.
And part of that is our development posture that we're taking.
We're continuing to reinforce with the locals that are there, if they will help us defeat the enemy and separate the enemy, attack the Taliban in their strongholds and not in the villages, up where they're hiding, then -- and they can point those out and tell us right where they are, then what we'll do is continue the development, where we've been bringing in schools, we've been rebuilding their burned schools. We're building a road that's coming down there. We're redoing their district center, which was damaged. We're also developing projects in there to provide employment, such as poultry farming. And we're also looking to do some development for the women, where -- that they are having weaving opportunities, and overall creating an opportunity, so that they can have both employment -- it's a very impoverished area, very, very impoverished area. Substance (sic) farming and poppy growing had really put them into a position where they really are reliant on outside help, other than just their subsistence farming.
So all these things that we're bringing in there to help them are being well-received by the elders that run and support the populace there. And they've been a great help in helping us identify the IEDs.
So one of the -- I guess one of the answers there is not only what our soldiers do but also what the leaders do with the local leaders in establishing relationships, so that we can get the right answers of where the enemy are targeting us.
MR. WHITMAN: Mike, go ahead.
Q Colonel, it's Mike Mount with CNN. Can you give us a sense of the number of foreign fighters that you do see in your region? And has that increased in the time you've been there? And have you seen if there is an increase, or if not, if you've seen tactics on their part brought in from Iraq at all?
And also, how long has the PRT been operating in your region? And can you give a sense on how that has been impacting your relationship with the population?
COL. IVES: All right, Mike. The tactics and whether foreign fighters are there -- we see evidence in coordinated attacks that we can tell, especially in the ambushes -- the hasty ambushes, when they're done, just -- the fighting isn't coordinated. Their targeting is not very accurate. Their RPGs way overshoot the vehicles or undershoot the vehicles. The fighters that are using small arms against us are not directly coordinated.
And then in other instances -- and they've -- we've seen some change in that, where they're definitely coordinated, and they definitely have the -- they've been trained by foreign fighters, and we have some intelligence that identifies that foreign fighters are available to them and/or coming back and forth and doing support in their techniques and tactics, which improve their fighting capabilities. We see that.
We haven't seen a high number, but it is increasing, and we can tell mostly from the tactics that they use against us in the ambushes.
The other part that you were asking is -- the PRT itself has been operating since late 2003, really 2004, and where they picked up mostly in '05 and '06. In '06 they were able to get down in this particular area early on, but then for almost all of the remainder part of 2006 and the early part of 2007, when I was here, it was almost just an isolated area.
In fact, that's what I feel the enemy, the Taliban, are really trying to do, is isolate this particular area so they can control exactly what the perceptions are of the populace, they can control the information that they're receiving. They don't have much media there. They don't have TVs or radios. The radio reach into the valley is very minimal. There's a variety of different languages that we're finding that are different, and so even our interpreters are hard to talk with -- with the various different dialects that exist in there.
So all of these things have supported the Taliban support base that's in there from isolating any changes, so no information flows in there. And they can control exactly what they want to do.
By us having this operation, conducting the operation here in early August, we've been able to get in and pick up where we left off at the early part of 2006, almost a year ago, and get these projects back on line and get the commitment to the people.
And one of the parts that we did is we made a commitment to them that we would ensure that the ANA and our partnership would exist in the valley. And so by doing that, we established and built a fire base that's down very close to the district center, and many of the locals come over and they meet and they have tea and visit with our team leaders that are there, some of the elders that we know, the NDS chief, which is essentially like their FBI that work amongst their populace. They come and work with us and talk with us on a routine basis.
And so it really has been a demonstrated commitment to them that we're there to be part of their security and part of their future. And that part has been well received because they saw us as coming, conducting operations and then leaving. So again, it's this cooperation and commitment to the people of Afghanistan in the long term.
And it's not just coalition force. We have encouraged and built, with the cooperation of CSTC-A (Alpha), an ANA compound, an Afghan army compound right beside ours, as well as we're going to produce an area or build an area that will allow the police to be trained there as we recruit, train. So they'll be from the local area, they'll be trained there, and then they'll be able to go right back. And those are being done by our police mentor teams and training the police right there and then put them back into the valleys from the valleys.
So all those things are part and parcel to what the PRT is doing, as well as our cooperative effort with both Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.
MR. WHITMAN: Joe, go ahead.
Q Sir, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. How do you evaluate the role of the Pakistani forces on the border, on the eastern border?
COL. IVES: I'm sorry. Can you repeat that again?
MR. WHITMAN: (Off mike) -- make sure I do it justice, Joe. Can you talk a little bit about your coordination with Pakistani forces along the border?
COL. IVES: We really have no border within our area. We are truly in the central portion of Afghanistan and really rooted up in the -- next to the Hindu Kush, so we do not have any of that -- the cooperation-type border agreements or negotiations that many of my counterparts in Fury and Bayonet have on a daily basis.
Our area is central to Afghanistan. It's really the commerce hubs just north of Kabul, and really provides an area that's developing quite quickly and is actually the hub right where Bagram Air Base is. It allows us to have freedom of maneuver throughout most of this area of Afghanistan.
MR. WHITMAN: Andrew, go ahead.
Q Colonel, it's Andrew Gray from Reuters. You mentioned poppy growing earlier and the problems that that has caused. Can you talk a little bit about what role, if any, you're playing in counternarcotics efforts and how big a problem poppy growing and opium are in your area?
COL. IVES: There is -- the opium portions in Tagab is part -- what I -- what we notice, though, is that they only did one planting, and they haven't done any more from -- you know, after that. It's an area that could easily have two or three plantings a year, and in fact, the Afghan central government tracked it as having planting opportunities for a couple times a year there. But we notice that in our overflights -- we saw it early on, and then they harvested that, and then they went into -- more into onions and a number of different other -- potatoes -- a number of different other vegetables that they grew, and they've been growing those quite a bit.
The one thing that we did -- have found out is that part of the Taliban payment for work in that area is done in refined opium products back to the people, either to sell internal to Afghanistan, and there also is an opium or a drug problem within the valley of Alasay.
And that's come to our attention, and I think it's partly, or we relate it partly to this method of payment that they're using: the drugs that they're buying from the farmers, whether it's there or in other areas, as payment back to them for their support and contributions to provide a secure operating base for them to work in. And that's something that was interesting to be seen, is that they were using product back as payment to the people, either for sale or for use.
But I think it does contribute to -- obviously it would contribute to the drug problem that exists up in Alasay, and something that we were looking forward into the future, as far as developing alternative sources and ensuring that the official central government and the provisional government is continuing to reiterate with them, that drugs are not good for them; it really is not good for their overall stance in the community, as well as Afghanistan altogether, and that they should go away from it. And many of the mullahs, the religious leaders and scholars, are the ones that we're trying to get that message to, so that they can continue to put it out in the mosques and tell the farmers not to grow it, and also to break the children from using it.
Fifty percent of the population is under 15 years of age. And if they get them into this habit at a young age, we're going to have a hard time keeping them in school, getting them educated and getting them opportunities other than joining and being recruited by the Taliban. Part of this is education and employment, as well as the information cycle that will break that recruiting possibility with the students or with the young-age children.
MR. WHITMAN: Let's go back to Jeff and then over to Donna -- (off mike).
Q Colonel, Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes again.
It's been almost six years since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom. Can you talk about how the Taliban are -- continue to be able to fight?
COL. IVES: Do I know how they continue to be able to fight after six years? I know that they have a strong recruiting base. It's evident in the numbers that they continue to bring back. They also have a means to work the populace at a low level.
I really think within our area of interest that the recruiting base of the young military-age boys and young men are susceptible to the recruiting mantra of the Taliban, and they view them as being educated, and the Talib Board, of course, is students. So they come back and they're educated, they talk to them, they work with them and they're constantly in their area, and eventually bring them over to the Taliban side. So their recruiting base is fairly strong, and that's the part that I really feel that I need in our area to concentrate on to break.
Collectively, as I said, education, information and employment to break the recruiting base and to demonstrate to the locals that there's something else in the world through media intervention, through TV, through radio, and if we can have opportunities for Internet access, those type of things that will get the information out that what Afghanistan is really trying to do is meet the national -- the development goals and move themselves away from this 25 and 30 years of war, the devastation that occurred; and get them into a place where they can be at par or out of the poverty level, which really got them onto the list with the United Nations and the Millennium Development Goals; and break that and get it out ahead to where they were back in the '60s and '70s where they were prosperous, developing, self-sustaining country, and that really was peaceful and looking forward to the opportunities to work cooperatively with the international community. And they're continuing to do that, but we need to look at helping the youth in education, employment and information, whether it's media or the radio, however it is, to provide the right picture, and that will break the Taliban's ability to continue to recruit over six years time, to recruit from in the populace.
Q Follow up quickly, why are the Taliban's recruiting efforts more successful than the Afghan national government's?
COL. IVES: I think that -- the one thing that I see is there's a -- and we have it happen -- there's an intimidation factor within these isolated valleys and areas that the Afghan government really doesn't have a secure presence in. As we expand and we move into valleys, as we've done successfully with this operation, in cooperation with the Afghan National Army, who's absolutely well- respected within a community -- and actually, as I was talking to their parliament members early on and we were talking about this operation, and the governor at that time, the one thing that they really wanted to do was have the Afghan National Army, which is made up of soldiers from all across Afghanistan, brought together, trained well and are working there.
Now, that type of recruiting that they have for that Afghan National Army, the presence that they have and they bring, the honor and commitment that they have to their country is what Afghanistan needs to grow and -- emulating across other areas, like their police force. And as we develop the police force -- they are about three to four years behind, two to three years, I would say, than the Afghan National Army -- as that police force develops, we're going to have the same peer, and the police are closer to the valleys, they're closer to these small populations. And as they get developed, they'll have a better ability to recruit.
The Taliban at this time have an established rapport with the community, and sometimes they're seen as being the right answer or a secure answer over the unrest that may exist between the criminal element and/or the power struggles that exist from one to the other or other type of criminal killings, where maybe -- we call them criminal killings -- they're cultural killings, and they can go and answer that revenge because they have weapons and they're in the populace.
And then the young, impressionable boys see that they're strong and arrogant leaders -- I would say I'd throw in arrogant, but they're definitely strong leaders, and so that it's easy for these impressionable, young youth and young men to migrate towards the Taliban. We have to have that same presence, and the presence needs to be the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police as we develop them a little bit further. We've been focusing on the Afghan National Army, and it shows, it really shows, and so does the populace, sits there and comes back and acknowledges that.
If we can get the police into the same situation, move them down into the valleys and disrupt the Taliban ability, and they can start to see -- the young youth can start to see the police as somebody that they want to emulate, they want to be a part of, they want to do what they're doing in helping the community and helping Afghanistan and not fight against it, then we'll have that good relationship in recruiting. But presently, in some of these areas that have been isolated, we do not have that. (Inaudible.)
MR. WHITMAN: Well, I guess that's a good place to probably end, since we are out of time. And we want to thank you again, colonel, for spending a little time this evening with us and giving us an overview of what you're doing and some of the challenges that are there. We appreciate your time.
And before we close it, let me turn it back to you just in case there's something that has stimulated some thought on your part that we've missed or any closing comments you'd like to make.
COL. IVES: I really appreciate that, and I thank you for letting me share this time. I really appreciate the opportunity to share our experience here with you and your readers. I also appreciate the questions and hope that I've addressed them as best I can.
I would like to say thank you for all the support that we get from home and from our coalition partners, as well as the Afghan national security forces that together are supporting International Security Assistance Force here in Afghanistan.
I continue to witness the great thanks from the people of the districts -- of Kapisa, for example -- and they have specifically addressed to me and expressed their appreciation and heartfelt thanks for the Afghan National Army's commitment to separate the criminal element from the peaceful populace, and also their utmost regard for the citizens of Afghanistan and their respect for their culture, which they share with us. And by working hand in hand, we're able to see that and respect that and provide those opportunities.
This plan is, from concept to execution, a product of the Afghan national security forces, who really deserve an enormous amount of credit for the valor and patriotism that they brought to the completion of this mission. I feel privileged to have been able to partner with them and serve alongside them, as well as -- so do our soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines that are fighting as part of Task Force Cincinnatus.
And I firmly believe, in a cooperative effort, such as this operation, that really show an Afghanistan and that the ANSF is making a steady progress in stabilization, and we're going to continue to support their efforts. We realize, as do our ANSF partners, that there's a lot of work to do, and we are truly undaunted. Together with the NATO and coalition partners, and the support of the international community and Afghan people, we're going to overcome the devastation that this country has endured for 25 and 30 years, and we will overcome all these challenges and bring peace and stability and development to the future of Afghanistan.
So I truly stand in awe of the professionalism and commitment of the Afghan national security forces, given the three or four years they've come and really stood up here in Afghanistan, and how they take charge, come forward with a plan and execute a very difficult military plan in support of their own population.
In addition, I have to thank all the soldiers and sailors and airmen that are serving here and around the world. And I am sure that they would want me to thank their families and America for all your support and your enduring commitment to us here in Afghanistan and to the United States military across the board.
So I thank you very much from Afghanistan.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, thank you for your service, colonel, and thank you for spending some time with us this evening. Appreciate it.
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