DoD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Sherlock from the Pentagon Briefing Room, Arlington, Va.
GEN. SHERLOCK: Good afternoon. I have a few brief comments and then I'll be happy to take your questions.
In anticipation of requests for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the commander of U.S. Northern Command has ordered the deployment of U.S. Army North defense coordinating officers and a defense coordinating element to assist Midwest residents suffering from the heavy ice storms and extreme winter weather. Those officers' role is to coordinate the use of all active duty personnel and equipment that may be asked for as a part of a potential response effort.
Security trends remain positive in Iraq overall. The trends are still going in the right direction despite the enemy's latent ability to conduct spectacular attacks. That progress is still fragile, and as some groups, however, become moved out of their areas of operation and areas become less permissive to them, such as Anbar or Baghdad, al Qaeda and other extremist elements are seeking opportunities elsewhere, as along the Tigris River areas and along northern areas of Iraq.
However, conditions in that area have significantly changes since al Qaeda was last influential in those areas. They're now encountering increasingly capable Iraqi security forces, both the army and the police, and a population that grows less receptive to their despicable acts of brutality as the days go by.
In Afghanistan, the trends in terms of violence by Taliban and other criminal and extremist groups have gone up slightly, but their results are not producing the effects they seek. As has been reported this week, the Afghan army led an operation along with coalition forces that cleared a Taliban haven in Musa Qal'eh in the southeast. After several days of sometimes intense fighting, the town has been restored to the Afghan people, and NATO's International Security Assistance Force is maintaining the initiative, along with the Afghan National Army, who is preparing to have a sustained presence in Musa Qal'eh to help with rebuilding and revitalization projects.
And as we are the Joint Staff, I'd like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the deployment of Teddy Roosevelt's Great White Fleet. There will be a celebration at Naval Station Norfolk tomorrow to commemorate that. The Great White Fleet departed from Hampton Road 100 years ago this month with 16 battleships on a 14 month journey that covered 43,000 miles and made 20 port calls on six continents. It was a seminal event for the U.S. Navy and an important day for the United States, as it marked our arrival as a significant world power.
Finally, I'd like to encourage all of us to keep those who are in harm's way and away from their families during this holiday season in our thoughts and prayers. We should always be mindful of the great sacrifices of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, along with their families, during this time of year.
And with that, I'll be happy to take your questions.
Q General, the secretary's in -- or has been in Scotland, obviously talking to NATO leaders about the need to fill some of the urgent needs in Afghanistan. But at what point, if the NATO countries don't pony up the additional two battalions that commanders say they need there, does the U.S. take a serious, hard look at whether U.S. military troops need to fill that void?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Thanks, that's a good question. As the secretary has said this week, he's not ready to let NATO and individual NATO members off the hook just yet.
So as you said, he is in Scotland having that discussion with his counterparts in a number of different NATO nations.
There are two types of requirements. There are those that individual NATO nations have signed up for and they're still working to fill those requirements for which they've signed up to perform, and then there are also requirements that as of yet no NATO nation has stepped up and said, "We will fill these requirements." That, I think, is where the secretary's efforts are focused this week, and I think we should let that develop.
As for a future event that would cause the U.S. to step in, I think a lot of that has to do with conditions on the ground in Afghanistan. The International Security Assistance Force and the commander, General McNeill, review those all the time. And based on the conditions on the ground, based on what the status of the training efforts are and based on all of those things, we'll continue to review those, but I don't want to get into setting out some kind of a course at a future date for something that hasn't happened yet.
Q Do you see the need in Afghanistan at the moment primarily as training, or is there a combat maneuver element requirement as well?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, it differs by different areas in Afghanistan. You know, Afghanistan, like Iraq, is a very difficult situation. You have areas that require combat forces. You have areas that require as much as possible the Afghan national security forces to be in the lead for those combat operations. So you really need both. Depending on where you are, the RC Capital, the RC North, the RC West are relatively calm. Sixty percent of the country has fewer than one incident a week. The incidents are largely centered in the south and to a little bit lesser extent in RC East. so, depending on where you are really reflects that.
Now, with regard to training the Afghan national forces, as in Iraq with training the Iraqi army, our goal is to make them responsible for and capable of providing their own security. So, obviously the faster we grow that capacity, the faster we're going to be able to turn that responsibility over to them and reduce coalition requirements. So, really both are required.
Q But the unfilled requirements that you just mentioned are primarily training or --
GEN. SHERLOCK: It's a variety of things. There's Provincial Reconstruction Teams, there's Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams, there are also embedded trainers, and there are also some combat requirements.
One of the other things that would be very helpful, as different NATO nations send forces to Afghanistan, is for them to not put a number of caveats on those forces, so that they can conduct a variety of operations.
Q (Off mike) -- Iraq. When we were there last week, commanders for MND-North told us that they need more troops there, to deal with the flow of al Qaeda that's coming from Anbar and Baghdad up. Can you tell us if there's been any action on the requests for additional U.S. forces in the Diyala area, and north of that as well?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, a lot of what MNF-I looks at, and General Petraeus and also the Multinational Corps looks at is, they look at, what are their abilities to maneuver forces within Iraq? And so first, they would look at, how can I position forces? How can I position Iraqi security forces and coalition forces in order to address whatever may be emerging?
So as al Qaeda moves out of Anbar and moves out of the Baghdad area and is pushed north along the Tigris River Valley and into the Mosul area, they are looking at what I've referred to before as the battlefield geometry, so that they can reposition forces they have at hand to be able to deal with that. One of the things, as I said earlier, is different now than when al Qaeda and various extremist groups were there before, is that there are more Iraqi national security forces, Iraqi army, Iraqi police that are capable in that area.
The other thing they'll find different about those areas now, rather than three years ago, is that the people are much less willing to put up with the kind of brutal attacks that those groups bring on the people. They're killing more Iraqi civilians than they are coalition or Iraqi security forces, which I think shows their disregard for the people they claim to be fighting for. So I think that as those things occur, and as those shifts are needed, they'll first look internally, to see how they can position forces in order to take care of that.
Q I know there's already two Iraqi battalions that are scheduled to go back up to the North, but I'm asking specifically about additional U.S. forces. Do you know if there's been any decision made?
GEN. SHERLOCK: I don't know that there's been any decision made. I don't know that there's been anything requested that would cause additional forces to go, other than what's programmed. Again they would look at the battlefield geometry to be able to take and address those problems with Iraqi security forces first, then potentially with other forces from the coalition, before they would request any additional forces.
Q General, how many Iraqi army battalions are now stood up? How many are in the lead, as DOD defines it? And how many can operate completely independently of any American, any U.S. logistic of administrative support?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, there are over 110 battalions, that are actually in a lead role right now, of the Iraqi army.
But again to say that they can operate completely independently, they are in a lead role, but there are some logistics functions; there are some support functions that coalition forces still provide. There are some number of those that are planning and conducting and executing their own operations.
And again the first level of effort in standing up the Iraqi army and the police was to stand up the combat power. As that is becoming more mature, and they're gaining more experience, our level of effort now is turning more and more to help them grow the capacity to sustain those and to resupply those and to replenish those. And so I don't know that you could say they're operating completely independently, because some coalition forces are still helping them recover and reset and get ready for next actions, and to provide advice. So they're in a lead role, but not necessarily independent.
Q Pardon me, if I could just follow, so no Iraqi army battalions can operate without American --
GEN. SHERLOCK: That's not what I said. I said they are in a lead role and they are planning and conducting and executing their operations. Where our main emphasis now is, is to support those operations and, where necessary, to provide support for those units to sustain the operations. To give you an exact number, I would have to go back and get that data and provide it to you.
Q I'm sorry, then, perhaps I'm not being clear. Are there any Iraqi battalions that can operate without any U.S. support whatsoever?
GEN. SHERLOCK: I would have to get you that information, specifically with regard to the number of units or which levels of overwatch or strategic overwatch that those are in. I don't have those data in front of me.
Q You have 110 in the lead role, or over 110 in the lead role. Is there a difference between those battalions and the battalions, some number of those that can plan and conduct operations with American help?
GEN. SHERLOCK: There are a variety of Iraqi army units. And again the Iraqi army is continuing to grow and they're continuing to add other units. So there is a whole spectrum of capacity within the Iraqi security forces -- those that are capable of planning, executing in a lead role. There are those that are still at the other end of the spectrum as well, and training and still forming. And so to give you an exact number, I would have to go back and get those data.
Q General, in a situation where these northern commanders are asking for more help, and you said MNF-I's looking at it, and it seems not to be easy, even with the improved security elsewhere in the country, it seems not to be so easy to find either Iraqi or coalition forces to send up there, isn't that a particularly difficult environment then to start a drawdown?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Iraq itself and Afghanistan alongside are both difficult environments. The enemy will move to areas where they perceive they can take an advantage. What the commanders in Iraq and the commanders in Afghanistan focus on are, how do we adjust to how the enemy is trying to adjust, and how do we counter or take them out of their game plan and throw them out of what their plan is, while not giving up any gains that we've made along the way?
And so one of the things that's enabling us to do that more and more is the fact that we have more and more capable Iraqi security forces, and more and more capable Afghan national security forces. So as the commanders on the ground, who look at that battlefield geometry and who look at, how do I reposition my forces and my capacity, they take all that into account. And so the ability for us to draw down forces is not necessarily to give up any gains, because of the increases in capacity of the local security forces.
Q So are you in the broad view of the Joint Staff and the commanders in Iraq still confident that you can drawdown the surge forces as planned without impacting -- negatively impacting the security situation?
GEN. SHERLOCK: I haven't seen anything that would indicate that we're preparing to change from what the president's announced.
Q You know, back to the idea of support for Iraqi security forces. Last week the Pentagon inspector general released a report on the administration of this 5 billion-plus dollars for support for the reconstruction and construction for Iraqi police and security. It detailed millions of dollars of waste, largely because of lack of oversight. I know this is maybe a little bit out of your lane, but could you comment at all about how that kind of waste undercuts the war effort? I mean, for instance, one example cited was $32 million for Iraqi army barracks that were never built.
GEN. SHERLOCK: I have seen that report. I've also seen some open press reports on that. I really don't have any information for you on that. I'll have to provide that later.
Q But would you agree, though, that the U.S. military needs to do a better job in administering these funds, because aren't -- I mean, when you have something like millions of dollars that's supposed to be going to build barracks for the Iraqi military and they're supposed to be key to the future of the country, it seems like that's a pretty significant waste of resources.
GEN. SHERLOCK: I know that all of that's under review. Again, I've seen those same reports. I don't really have anything for you on that today. I'll have to provide more information to you later.
Q A couple months back with the whole situation between the PKK and Turkey, there was an effort to improve coordination between Turkey and the U.S., CENTCOM, EUCOM, all the players in the region. I think you were actually personally involved in that effort. Can you update us on how things have changed since then, what's new, what's different? Is there an improved line of communication now in terms of coordination?
GEN. SHERLOCK: I think there is. I think there's an improved line of communication both with us and Turkey. Also what I think has improved is the communications between the government of Turkey and the government of Iraq. What we have said with regard to the Turkey PKK issue is this is not a Turkey versus Iraq issue or a Turkey versus the Kurds issue. This is a situation where both the government of Turkey and the government of Iraq -- and, oh, by the way, the European Union and the United States recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization. There's a growing acceptance on the part of the governments of Turkey and Iraq that these are issues that need to be dealt with and they need to be dealt with now.
The government of Iraq has taken some positive steps as the Kurdish Regional Government has taken to restrict the PKK, to start to restrict their financing, to start to restrict their movements, and the PKK are feeling the effect. What we are doing is we are helping to continue and foster and facilitate those discussions between the government of Turkey and the government of Iraq who both need to deal with this. This is not just a military issue. Again, as I've said before, you can't deal with every terrorist organization in the exact same fashion, and so you have to bring in other governmental elements -- economic opportunities; you have to bring in other informational opportunities and other elements of power. And that's what I believe is a benefit of the discussions that have been going on so far.
Q Can you provide some examples of what -- of those improved lines of communication in addition to the intelligence which we've heard about before?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, we work very closely, obviously, with the government of Iraq and the Iraqi military through MNF-I and the embassy in Baghdad. We also have a senior Defense representative in the Office of Defense Cooperation in Ankara, who works with the Turkish general staff and the Turkish military, as Ambassador Wilson, the ambassador to Turkey, who's had several discussions with the Turkish leadership.
We've also facilitated leadership discussions between General Cartwright, the vice chairman, General Saygun, who is the vice chief of defense in the Turkish General Staff, and General Petraeus, who are part of the tripartite agreement the president announced early in November. They've talked on the phone. They've also met face to face. They are continuing to have discussions and will have future meetings in face to face that we are in support of. So those are some of the specifics where we've -- where we've helped facilitate those conversation.
Q Can I follow up on that quick?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Yes.
Q In your view, at your level, do you feel that the intelligence the U.S. has provided and these high-level discussions with the Turkish military have tamped down the possibility of cross- border -- major cross-border incursions by the Turks for the time being?
GEN. SHERLOCK: That would really be a Turkish decision to do. What we are doing is we're providing them information on the PKK where we have it, and we are also providing them assistance in being able to determine what their long-term goals are regarding the PKK. And so we're not just working with them or to try to enable or tamp down a military operation.
What we're trying to do is get them to put this in a larger context and not -- realize that it's not just a, as their prime minister has said recently, it's not just a military solution, that there has to be a broader solution to this, and to develop what is their long-term objective, what are their long-term goals, and then how can they bring all of those elements, diplomatic, economic opportunity, informational opportunities and elsewhere to help deal with the long-term solution.
Q One follow-up. What is the current military situation right now in southeast Turkey? Have Turkish troops pretty much pulled away from the border now winter's set in? What's the --
GEN. SHERLOCK: I'd really -- I'm not familiar with Turkey repositioning their forces or how they position their forces, but from -- as you know, as the winter weather gets closer, you know, they will take that into account and they will have to position them how they see fit. But the -- as we get more and more dialogue going between the Turkish government and the Iraqi government both who recognize the PKK as an issue the better, because then that will develop a long- term, broad-based solution as opposed to a local solution.
Q Right now you feel there's a crisis -- the imminent military crisis has passed, the crisis of late October, early November, when there was a lot of concern over a cross-border incursion?
GEN. SHERLOCK: I think there's been a lot of progress. And I think the progress has not just been on the military side. I think the progress has also been, again, a dialogue recognizing that this is a broader -- needs a broader solution. And so I think that's where a lot of the gains have been made.
Q General, it would be really helpful for us if, as we try to write accurately about Iraq, for us to know -- and if you could provide this, it would be great -- total number of Iraqi army battalions. You said something over 110 were in the lead. I'd like to know how many over 110, what is that number. And also you said some number were capable of planning or were planning and executing operations, and I'd like to know what that number is, if you could provide that.
GEN. SHERLOCK: Sure. I'll have to provide that afterwards.
Q Thank you.
GEN. SHERLOCK: Yes?
Q To go back to something you said earlier, that insurgents in Iraq are targeting civilians more than they're targeting Iraqi security forces and coalition forces, is that a recent trend we're seeing? How far back do you think that trend started, that they shifted gears? Because it seemed like over the summer it was more kinetic contact between insurgents and coalition forces, and now it sounds like there's been a shift on their part.
GEN. SHERLOCK: I may have mispoken from the fact that they are targeting. The effect that they're producing is that they're killing more innocent Iraqis than they are coalition or Iraqi national security forces. And so that is not producing the effect that they want. I think that the people, as that has continued, that's one of the things that has caused the people to reject, in Anbar and many areas around Baghdad and in many areas of Iraq, the extremist ideologies, because though they claim to be defending the people, though they claim a connection to the people, the result is that they're killing more innocent women and children and Iraqis than they are coalition or security fores.
And the people get that. And as they see more and more of that, they're turning away from the extremist ideology. That's what's helping foster the ground-roots growth of reconciliation, the ground- roots growth of tribal awakenings that's enabling, then, the government to address those issues at a national level.
As they move to northern Iraq, as al Qaeda, as other extremist groups try to move into different areas where they perceive an opportunity, what they're finding is a population that's not hospitable to them anymore, and that's causing them, again, to be thrown out of their game plan.
Now, they will try, in an effort to say "we're still relevant," to produce a spectacular attack. And they have to be right one time in order to produce that and try to get press coverage to say "we're still relevant to the cause." But what they're finding is in the long term they're losing the support of the people because they're killing more of them than they are anybody else, and that comes shining through.
Q Are kinetic contacts pretty much as standard, or have they been even for the last couple months, or have you actually seen a drop-off?
GEN. SHERLOCK: The number of attacks, the effectiveness of the attacks, the number of attacks overall have continued to go down in Iraq. The effectiveness of those attacks have also dropped. Where they have been able to produce an attack or an IED attack or a bombing, again, the effect is -- and the people are seeing it -- that they're killing more innocent people than they are the people they claim to be attacking.
And so again, that is a significant piece because it shows those groups actually hold the innocents whom they claim to support in disregard, because they're killing them.
Q General, last week when we were in Iraq, other commanders made similar suggestions that insurgents were going to shift to more -- larger attacks. Is there anything that you have seen that backs that up? Have you gotten any data that shows that there have been more spectacular attacks in recent weeks as opposed to a month or two ago, or is this just anecdotal at this point?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Okay, are you focused on Iraq? Because you said Turkey for just a second.
GEN. SHERLOCK: As you have al Qaeda and you have other criminal elements and other extremist groups who are forced out of the areas in which they've operated for some time, it is harder for them to plan operations, it's harder for them to conduct operations, and it's harder for them to have communications with each other as they have to change locations every evening to try to avoid being killed or captured.
The only thing they can do in those circumstances, when you can't plan and conduct an operation, is to try to create some kind of a spectacular attack to say "we're still relevant." That's the trend we've been seeing. As they get pushed out of their game plan and as they aren't able to operate in areas where they felt comfortable operating before, they're reverting to the only ting they can really do, which is try to pull off a spectacular attack. And again, in the very few times those attacks are effective at all, they are, again, killing more innocent Iraqis and, in Afghanistan, more innocent Afghan citizens than they are coalition or Afghan or Iraqi security forces.
Q Do you have any numbers? I mean, is this anything that you could get that show that indeed in recent weeks or months there have been, you know, a rise in --
GEN. SHERLOCK: I'll have to go back and take a look at that and see if we can develop that.
Q Secretary Gates a couple days ago in his Afghanistan testimony hinted pretty strongly that the United States might take unilateral action into the western districts of -- western regions of Pakistan. He hinted it wouldn't be a large incursion of forces. but I wanted to get your take at your level. What were the methods there? And is there planning going on at some level for potentially unilateral, small-level action into the northern and western -- southern Waziristan areas?
GEN. SHERLOCK: I can't really add anything to the secretary's comments. We do work with Pakistan every day through our senior defense representatives in Pakistan. We work with them to enable them and to help them conduct operations in Pakistan. We also work on the Afghan side of the border with ISAF and CJTF-82 to stop and, as General Sattler said Friday, separate from the gene pool those forces that are trying to infiltrate into Afghanistan.
So what we're trying to do is enable the Pakistani security forces -- who, oh by the way, have performed over a five-year period now a number of operations against extremists inside of Pakistan.
They've lost over 1,000 Pakistani soldiers over the last five years in operations inside of Pakistan against extremists. And they've also captured a number of very high-profile al Qaeda leadership inside of Pakistan, to include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
So we're working with them to try to enable them to help secure their areas. We're also working inside of Afghanistan to enable ISAF and the Afghan forces to secure their areas.
Q The secretary did say that we're working with the Pakistanis to make them more effective, either on their own or with us, but there may be situations, I'm paraphrasing now, but we might have to go in unilaterally. And I'm just pressing you here, is that a shift in the U.S. military thinking?
GEN. SHERLOCK: You'd have to ask the secretary that. I can't add anything to his comments.
Q (Off mike.) Do you have any numbers on the Defense Coordinating Elements that are going in, or any specifics, where they --
GEN. SHERLOCK: There was one -- I think it was from Region 5 and Region 6. They were going to Denton, Texas, and to Kansas City, Missouri. There had been a DCO and a DCE in Chicago, but I also believe those have been redeployed. So right now, they're not -- they are -- they would be coordinating a federal response, should a federal response be asked for. There has been no request to this point in time but in anticipation that there may be a request, Army North has deployed them to those locations.
Q Do you know how many soldiers?
GEN. SHERLOCK: I could get you that number. It's not -- they are a coordinating element that would coordinate the use of federal assets, not a number of soldiers that would use that. So the numbers are relatively small, I'd say, in the 20s total.
Q Kansas City, Missouri, or Kansas City, Kansas?
GEN. SHERLOCK: I believe Kansas City, Missouri. (Laughter.) But I think that as you drive around that beltway, you can go to both sides. That's right.
Q Thank you.
GEN. SHERLOCK: Thanks very much.
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