(Note: General Anderson appears via teleconference from Afghanistan.)
BRYAN WHITMAN (deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs): Well, good morning, everyone, and welcome to the Pentagon briefing room. It's my pleasure to welcome today, for the first time, Brigadier General Rodney O. Anderson, the deputy commanding general for support, Combined Task Force-82; deputy commanding general for support, 82nd Airborne Division.
Brigadier General Anderson became the deputy commanding general for CJTF-82 in February of this year and has agreed to take time to brief us today about ongoing security operations in their area in Afghanistan. And he's coming to us today from Bagram Airfield.
So with that, I'm going to turn over to General Anderson for his opening comments, and then I'm sure he'll be happy to take questions. Sir?
GEN. ANDERSON: All the way.
Good morning from Bagram, Afghanistan. I'm Brigadier General Rodney Anderson, the deputy commanding general for support, Combined Joint Task Force-82 and Regional Command East. Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today, as well as to speak to the American people and provide an update on the progress in governance and development in Regional Command East, Afghanistan.
Regional Command East is about the size of the state of South Carolina, with 14 of the nation's 34 provinces and about 25 percent of its population.
We arrived in February 2007 and are fully engaged in building Afghan governance, development and security capability.
Afghanistan supports the United Nations' adopted Millennial Development Goals. These goals are focused on improving the health, education, economic and social lives of the people of Afghanistan.
The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is finalizing an Afghan national development strategy that provides strategies and milestones in establishing and sustaining a five-year plan to advance security, governance, development and cross-cutting issues.
The central government recently completed subnational consultations that provided a key milestone in governance and development. The consultations began with ministerial strategies followed by community, district and provincial consultations.
Overall, the process included central government top-down guidance with bottom-up refinements from the people. This process advanced governance by allowing and enabling the levels of government to participate in a very promising planning process.
The results of these consultations were provincial development plans for each of the 34 provinces. These plans offer great hope and opportunity to improve the lives of the people while strengthening their confidence in the government. Our partnership with USAID and international organizations is creating a very productive reconstruction and development synergy in improving the lives of the citizens of Afghanistan.
Now, there are many positive, encouraging signs in both governance and development. Yes, but there are some challenges, among them security in select areas in RC East, corruption, narcotics and limited government capacity at the community and district levels.
In summary, there are many, many significant positive signs of progress in governance and development. The upcoming building and growing season holds bright promise for continued progress in governance, development and security, all in building a stable Afghanistan.
Thank you for this opportunity. I would be happy to take your questions.
MR. WHITMAN: Okay, sir. Thank you for those opening comments. Let's go to Q&A.
Q Sir, it's Kristin Roberts with Reuters. You mentioned corruption. We've heard a lot about corruption among some government agencies in Afghanistan. I'm hoping you can give us a little bit more detail about the extent of the corruption in your area, what agencies it particularly affects, and how that's impacted your ability or the coalition's ability to advance the training of police and other security forces.
GEN. ANDERSON: There are -- there's evidence of corruption throughout the government in almost every activity. And depending on the area and the officials involved, it can be a hindrance.
However, overall, the corruption is not to the point where overall it limits development. Some of the signs of corruption have to do with a culture of paying kickbacks. And so it is our aim that in contracts and in all that we do, we seek to uphold the values that they've established in their constitution, which do not include corruption.
Q So you said it doesn't hinder development? Can you help me there? I don't actually understand how corruption could not hinder development
GEN. ANDERSON: Let me clarify. Corruption, where it's evident, does in fact hinder but it doesn't stifle development.
Let me give you some examples. There are cases where some builders believe that they have to pay a kickback to whomever in their particular area. When that's discovered, then we quickly come in with the Afghan officials, namely, the provincial governor and the sub- governor, and clarify the situation. And so it is there, but it doesn't stifle development.
MR. WHITMAN: Barbara?
Q Sir, could you bring us as thoroughly up to date as you can on the threat situation in terms of a couple of things? We're hearing here today about the ongoing and stepped-up fighting, albeit in the south, around Kandahar, against quite large formations of Taliban. Are you shifting any of your units down there? Are you doing anything to help out in that situation? And what are you seeing currently in the threat situation much more directly in your own area?
GEN. ANDERSON: In Regional Command East, we have not seen a significant or any increase in the level of enemy activity since Ramadan.
The enemy continues harassing attacks against our outposts -- some small-arms, some indirect-fire -- but there's not been a significant increase in activity.
In terms of Regional Command South, I really don't have information on what is going on there, and there's been no requests or no directive to provide any assistance to Regional Command South.
Q Sir, overall -- what is the U.S. military's overall assessment at this point of the strength, coordination and capability of the Taliban in Afghanistan?
GEN. ANDERSON: The Taliban is able to conduct limited harassing attacks in Regional Command East, primarily against our platoon-sized outposts. Most significantly, they've been able to conduct suicide attacks against innocent citizens, which is their principal choice of attack in Regional Command East. And so they do have the ability to organize and move into some populated areas and carry out these attacks.
However, in Regional Command East, the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police -- their capability is increasing daily. And so they have the primary lead to address these attacks.
MR. WHITMAN: Jim?
Q Jim Mannion from Agence France-Presse. Is -- in our area, is the Taliban gaining influence within the population? Is the support for the government -- has that grown more tenuous? Where do you see both of those trend lines?
GEN. ANDERSON: The support for the government has definitely increased over the last 10 months since we've been here in Regional Command East. The Taliban typically conducts harassing attacks in locations that do not have an Afghan National Army or Afghan National Police or coalition force presence.
The approach that we've adopted is to partner with the Afghan National Army and police to give really no sanctuary to the enemy in Regional Command East.
And while security is one element, governance and development likewise play a role. And so our approach is to support the local military or police forces but at the same time to partner with international organizations and USAID to provide reconstruction and development.
And in places where we've been able to establish security, principally through Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, and likewise deliver development and reconstruction aid, then the population has consistently in a very short period of time become very supportive of the government. And that has been our key to success, to have the Afghans take the lead, and to demonstrate to those locations that might have previously had a Taliban presence that reconstruction and development and the security of their own police is definitely in their best interest.
Q Can I ask a follow-up? What is the evidence that you have for this growth of support for the government, and also a turnaround of support in places where you've put in, you know, resources and economic assistance and that sort of thing?
GEN. ANDERSON: The recent subnational consultations that I mentioned were overwhelmingly supported by the communities, as well as the district. And by design, they were led by the Afghan government, with a mandate that 40 percent of the participation be women. And to our surprise, they all were conducted very well, and they all included an overwhelming number of women.
To your question regarding evidence, in locations where we've been able to establish and support the Afghan National Army and/or National Police and deliver development, we've seen a significant increase in reporting -- that is, tips by the local citizens, tips that include call-ins to identify IEDs, tips that include information to the Afghan National Army, who is well-respected by the citizens -- of those who might be coming into an area who are not from that area. And so those, as well as polls that we conduct locally, give us reason to believe that once established -- once security is established and once the delivery of reconstruction and development begins, then quickly the tribal elders and the citizens of that community believe in and support the government and the security forces in that area.
MR. WHITMAN: Donna?
Q Donna Miles, America Forces Press Service. Sir, can I ask you what the primary focus is of your reconstruction and development projects and how has that changed during your 10 months there? And where do you see the greatest need to lead to a more stable security environment?
GEN. ANDERSON: The -- our focus is to support the Afghan national development strategy, which includes security, governance and the rule of law, as well as economic and social development. The major area that we've concentrated on since we've arrived has been in the area of roads.
And in Regional Command East, thanks to our predecessors and our continued efforts for both international community resourcing as well as USAID, we've been able to build a total of 800 kilometers of roads in Regional Command East.
Now, mind you, many of those are gravel and in some cases dirt roads, but in places where roads have been established, then very quickly gas stations pop up and hotels pop up and there is evidence of commerce.
In terms of the specific areas of our development efforts, they basically mirror the Millennium Development Goals and they have to do with poverty reduction, universal primary education, gender equity, help to reduce child mortality, improving maternal health, and overall just social and economic development.
Q General, have you seen an increase in the role of foreign fighters in your AOR? And earlier you said that violence has not increased since Ramadan. Are you saying that it stayed the same, or has there been any decrease?
GEN. ANDERSON: The levels of violence have not changed, and they basically amount to five to six harassing-type attacks on an average day, or in an average day. And that's in an area the size of the state of South Carolina. And we see no evidence or we have no reason to believe that the enemy will do anything different. And as the winter months approach, we will continue to support the Afghan National Army, which, by the way, has conducted several major operations -- led several major operations and there are several additional operations being planned at present. And so there is really no evidence that the enemy intends to do anything other than continue harassing attacks in our area.
Q General, I'd ask whether you've seen any -- (pause) -- he's talking. I'm sorry, General, we couldn't hear you there. But I did ask about --
GEN. ANDERSON: Yes, to your question on foreign fighters.
MR. WHITMAN: Go ahead, sir.
GEN. ANDERSON: I'm sorry. To your question on foreign fighters, we have, through communications monitoring, we have heard the dialects that appear to be coming from outside the region. We have not gotten any specific information that would lead us to believe that there is a large influx or a significant influx of foreign fighters, but we have heard dialects that are not consistent with the dialects in the areas that constitute Regional Command East.
MR. WHITMAN: Courtney?
Q General, this is Courtney Kube from NBC News. You keep using the term "harassing attacks." That, to me, says that these must be no more than a nuisance. Are you saying that these attacks are not effective and people are not being injured or killed in the attacks, U.S. military specifically? And then also, can you give us an update on the situation -- the border situation in your area? Would you consider the area of border and RC East to be secure? And who, specifically, is securing it, Afghan or U.S.?
GEN. ANDERSON: To your question on harassing attacks, harassing attacks are indeed very dangerous because they do produce casualties, and casualties to innocent civilians as well as casualties to coalition forces.
And they are principally indirect fire attacks where a rocket is launched at an area very inaccurate and in most cases lands harmlessly. However, on occasion, those rockets do inflict casualties and sometimes death. Likewise, the enemy conducts hit-and-run and ambush-style attacks. Probably the area where they've produced the greatest casualties against the citizens is through the use of suicide bombers, who typically go in and among the citizens and detonate themselves. That has produced a large number or a significantly greater number of casualties than the harassing attacks.
The border. The border is a -- is a place that is unmarked. It is very rugged. There are many passes. There are tribes that live on both sides of the border. There are several areas where the border is not recognized. However, there are three levels of coordination between the government of Afghanistan, ISAF forces and Pakistani military forces. And so at the highest level, there is a coordination session, a tripartite session, that takes place on a periodic basis. At our level we have one-star level coordination with both the border police, the Afghan border police, as well as the Pakistani military, and down at the unit level, there are battalion-level coordination with forces on both sides of the border.
So there is good communications and coordination between the Pakistani military along the border and the Afghan border police along the border, as well as coalition forces along the border. But the border is very, very long, and it would be almost impossible to prevent someone who really wanted to come across the border from doing so. If you'll think about our own border in our country and the challenges there, imagine that the border is much longer and significantly more rugged.
Q Barbara Starr from CNN. If I could just follow up, please, on a just more practical tactical, on the ground, day to day level, on the border, what are you seeing specifically in terms of fighters coming across from Pakistan? Are you seeing people you believe associated with al Qaeda, what types? You have always in the last six years found foreign fighters up there. Have you recently detained or killed or been in any fire fights with foreign fighters, or you're only monitoring their communications and you hear them on the radio? What kind of formations are you seeing? Are they organized, are they well equipped? Are you seeing any Iranian influence in terms of weapons, EFP-type things up there?
And a number of the attacks you had a few months ago were actual direct attacks on your fire bases.
Is that continuing? Has it gone away? Do you think the Taliban are regrouping for any type of, again, direct attempt against you?
GEN. ANDERSON: The Taliban have on occasion attempted direct organized attacks against our firebases. In each case, they have been soundly repelled. It is uncertain of why they do that, but they have done that.
In terms of Iranian influence, in Regional Command East, we've not seen any specific Iranian influence in terms of fighters in Regional Command East.
In terms of the insurgent formations and the insurgent tactics, we believe that the insurgents typically come across the border, mass with the population or without weapons, and then conduct their attacks or link up with their equipment once inside the country. Where the Afghan border police see them and can identify them, then they are detained.
And so in terms of activities along the border, a typical engagement along the border will in most cases go something like Afghan border police notice a suspicious movement of personnel through a pass, normally at night. They then, through their network, contact their counterpart across the border or they contact coalition forces who are in the area, who then make radio contact across the border. And so in many cases, there is good coordination and collaboration between the Pakistani border police and the Afghan border police and coalition forces in the area.
And so where we're able to identify and move coalition forces to the area, we then intercept them, detain them if detention is warranted, and that is the general concept of what takes place along the border in Regional Command East.
Q Is that a new tactic you're seeing from the Taliban, where they come across actually unarmed and they have some kind of pre- coordination or pre-positioned weapons inside Afghanistan or other fighters that they link up with? Is this something new?
And then just may I, very quick -- are you still seeing fighters in the Tora Bora region that you saw a few months ago? Are they pretty much -- have they left there?
GEN. ANDERSON: We have not recently seen any additional fighters in the Tora Bora region.
In terms of what the Afghan border police and coalition forces have been able to determine and what we've been able to find through interrogations with insurgents who have been detained, you know, that is what some of them have shared in terms of their process and their strategy.
MR. WHITMAN: Jim, let's make this the last one.
Q Jim Mannion again. I wanted to follow up on the dialects that you're hearing in radio communications. Can you give us an idea of what -- you know, what national dialects you're hearing? Are you talking about Pakistanis, Central Asians, Arabs?
And the other thing, I was wondering if in the case of the suicide attacks, is the evidence -- does the evidence suggest that most of these attacks are carried out by foreigners as opposed to Afghans?
GEN. ANDERSON: In terms of the suicide attackers, it has been a combination, a combination of foreign fighters as well as some Afghans.
On the dialects, I don't have the specifics on the dialects at this time. I just know that the reports have generally characterized some cases where dialects that were monitored were not of the local area.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, sir, we appreciate your time, and we hope that you have a chance to talk with us again down the road. We'd like to turn it back over to you for any closing comments or any information you'd like to impart before you finish today.
GEN. ANDERSON: Let me just say thank you very much for affording me this opportunity to speak to you, and I also want to take this opportunity to thank the American people for their support of our efforts here and to just tell you that there are many encouraging signs of governance, of development and of security. This will take some time, but in pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals and in supporting the Afghan national development strategy, we firmly see signs and clear evidence of movement toward a stable Afghanistan.
Thank you very much. All away.
MR. WHITMAN: Airborne, sir.
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