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DoD News Briefing with Col. Schweitzer at the Pentagon Briefing Room, Arlington, Va.

Presenters: Commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division Col. Martin Schweitzer
January 02, 2008
            COL. GARY KECK (director, DOD Press Office): Well, good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Pentagon. Happy new year to you all, and happy new year to our briefers in Afghanistan. We are pleased to have with us today Colonel Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, and the provincial governor of Khost, Arsala Jamal. 
 
            Colonel Schweitzer has been commanding his unit in Afghanistan since last January, so he's had a lot of experience, and this is his third briefing with the Pentagon press corps; and Governor Jamal's second briefing with us. So both are experienced, and they are speaking from Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost province. 
 
            As accustom, we'll let them provide any opening remarks they may have, and then we'll go to Q&A. So gentlemen, and with that, we'll turn it over to you. 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: Okay. First of all, thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to do this today. I just wanted to start this off, we're going to go a little bit different direction than we've done these in the past. We're going to look at the progress that we've made from a bit of a different prism. 
 
            We absolutely believe that we've been able to maintain -- and when I say "we," I'm not referencing coalition; I'm talking about the Afghan coalition team that truly is becoming more and more every day Afghan-led -- maintain the momentum that the 10th Mountain Division really started with applying the COIN methodology here in RC-East. We recognize -- you know, we've had some significant progress to date. Right now we think we're about 65 of the 90 districts that are in support of the provincial and central governments in RC-East, in our operational area, and that's about 10 districts more than the last time we did this early summer. 
 
            What we wanted to do is just give you some metrics or some points of where we were and where we are today institutional-wise, and then talk about some other areas that we've made achievements. 
 
            In 2002, just as a point of reference, you know, and Afghanistan had no president, no parliament, no ministries, one Afghan battalion, no police, no border police, two provincial governors out of 34, and no district governors. 
 
            Two years later, they have a president elected and seated; a parliament elected, and mostly -- and most of that was seated; ministries selected and most of those folks were seated; a growing Afghan army; a vision for the Afghan police; no border police; all 34 provincial governors selected, and 31 of the 34 were seated; over half of the 370 district governors were seated and were at work, trying to provide a better way for their people. 
 
            And as we close out 2007, where we're at is, obviously we have a president; the parliament is elected and seated; the ministry is (sic) selected and seated; an Afghan army that is clearly the most respected institution on the ground. The manning and the equipping of the Afghan police is ongoing, but frankly we have a long way to go with that particular capability within the Afghan security forces. The manning and equipping of the border police is under way; all 34 provincial governors selected and at work, as well as there's been rotation of a few because they're developing a bench that they can now do that and continually improve their own internal governmental capabilities. And then 365 of 370 subdistricts have their governors and seated and at work.   
 
            Other indicators of progress are the Afghan army is in the lead in most of the military operations that we're doing day to day within the six provinces that we're working in. The government is becoming the answer for more Afghan citizens each day, as indicated by the number of districts that are now in direct support or have pledged allegiance to their provincial and central governments.   
 
            I mean, I can use one of the most glaring indicators, and that's that Governor Jamal, when he's -- a year ago it took him three to four months to resolve tribal differences. He can now do it in three to four days. And that only happens when the tribes now look to their government for a better of way of life, versus the threat -- that clearly was an obstacle. I mean, overall, there's clearly -- there's been some significant progress in the institutional development here in Afghanistan.   
 
            We recognize we have a long way to go, and we certainly look forward to the international community's continued support to what we're trying to get done here. Specifically, we need assistance with agrarian development, natural resource development, like natural gas, et cetera, because there's natural gas in the ground here. And we need those smart folks to come over here and help us get it out, so you can turn it into a product that can help sustain the government and the country.   
 
            We need additional trainers, obviously, and that can come from the international community, particularly with the police development, so we can further hand this baton off, so it's not just, you know, five or six provinces that the Afghan security force has got the lead, but it's all throughout Afghanistan. 
 
            Governor? 
 
            ARSALA JAMAL (governor of Khost): Thank you, and good morning, ladies and gentlemen. This is Arsala Jamal, governor of Khost, and it's my pleasure to be here and share with you some of the successes we had in Khost within 2007.   
 
            In Khost, -- the Afghani security forces, the coalition, the civil administration are working together as a team. And this team believes that the war we have here in Afghanistan and also in Khost is the war of winning minds and hearts, and if it cannot be -- win -- it cannot be won by military means alone, but it has to be coupled with other efforts, like development and listening to the people. 
 
            That's why during 2007 the focus was on people and the people who are under -- in the center of our efforts, balancing development, security and reaching to the people.  
 
            Let me share with you some of the successes we had during 2007, and that's, number one, in 2007, Khost was a more secure and safe place to live compared to 2006 and the years before.  
 
            Second, in 2007, we have been able -- in Khost have been able to spend wisely and effectively six times more funding for development and assisting the people than Khost received from 2001 onward. 
 
            Third, in 2007, there have been more people looking towards government for receiving help and assistance as they did before, which enhanced Afghan leadership and Afghan ownership.  
 
            Fourth, in 2007, we deliberately worked towards building the capacity of Afghan institutions, enhancing leadership and ownership.   
 
            Fifth, in 2007, both the coalition and Afghan security forces and civil administration worked towards better understanding, coordination, cooperation, which reduced civilian casualties in the provinces. In 2007, we had less civilian casualties as a result of cooperation as we did in the previous years.   
 
            And lastly, in 2007, we have been able to make Khost as a model province. This model can be copied in other areas of Afghanistan, provided adequate and continuous financial resources are available, and this is coupled with military and security operations targeting towards creating Afghan ownership, leadership and also finally building Afghan institution. 
 
            Thank you very much. And I'll be available for questions if you have any. 
 
            COL. KECK: Okay. Pauline, go ahead. 
 
            Q     This is Pauline Jelinek of the Associated Press. We've been told variously in the last couple of weeks that there's been a 40 percent decline in attacks in your area and/or there's been a 40 percent decline in the entry of foreign fighters in your area. Which is it, or is it both? And can you talk a little bit about why that is and what's going on there? 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: I'll answer it and then see if the governor wants to add anything to it.   
 
            Look, it's the application of a counterinsurgency strategy that started about two years ago. When we stopped focusing on the enemy as the center of gravity and started focusing on the people of Afghanistan within the communities and the districts, and we used that as the metric of success and what are the indicators that tells us if we're achieving success with the people so they'll start engaging their government, and once that architecture was put in place, it wasn't a surprise that the people of Afghanistan started to choose their district and central government as the better way of life than the Taliban. 
 
            As a result of doing that, the safe havens and sanctuaries that the Taliban and the other threats were able to operate from are becoming less and less, which reduces their opportunities to spread fear and their ultimate vision to the communities. Absolutely, not only if you're just measuring activity, the direct fire and those type of activities, there's been a significant reduction, and I think after this last month it goes up from about 40 to 42 percent reduction overall the last year.   
 
            But in terms of the effect, it's incredibly significant, and I'll just give you a couple of data points. In May of -- this past May, there were 21 trucks of commerce that went through one of the districts that were troubled, the Andar district of Ghazni. Last month over 8,000 trucks of commerce went through that district, yet there still is a bit of the ACM's attempt to create intimidation and problems for that community.   
 
            But the fact is the communities are now starting to reject the ACM in a heck of a lot more of an open forum and overt set of actions by signing up to support the government. Right now ongoing in Khost, this time last year four of the 12 districts were in support of the provincial and central governments; right now 11 of the 12 support the provincial and central governments, and there's an operation ongoing as we speak, led by Afghan national security forces and the leadership of Governor Jamal, that we're pretty confident by about the middle to the end of the month, that will be 12 of 12 in the first province that completely is in support of its governance, both at the provincial and central government level.  
 
            I'm convinced it's the strategy. If we just respond to the enemies' threats and that's all we're going after, we're missing the boat. There's three kind of steps that we got to do.  
 
            We separate the enemy from the people, and that's the shaping operation. And then once you've created that separation, then what? And that's been the challenge with our past practices or application of strategy here in Afghanistan.   
 
            But really starting with the 1st Brigade of the 82nd, and really anchored in by the 310th and the entire 10th Mountain Division, partnered with Afghan forces, and then what we've been able to build upon from that great foundation we've been handed -- it's now figuring out, now that we've got a separation, then what? And that's getting government down there to the people, synchronizing the entire NGO and international community and the assets that we have, to be able to provide effects through the Afghan decision cycle on what they need to better their districts, their provinces and their governments. And when you look at that in its totality, it's not a surprise that the community is now rejecting the Taliban and accepting this central government. And I know that sounds a bit Pollyanna, but the fact is they haven't been -- many of these extended communities have not had -- have not been touched by their government.   
 
            And really in the last two years in particular, what Governor Jamal has accomplished here in Khost has been a miracle. He's gotten to every village within all 12 districts.  He's extended governance down there and for the first time, these communities are being touched by their governance being provided for. And then, they're finding out it's a better way of life, from schools to medical facilities to jobs to the opportunity to improve themselves. Now, I'm not going to pretend to you and tell you we're there, but we're certainly on the way. And that and those are some of the indicators that we've used.   
 
            Governor.   
 
            (Cross talk.)   
 
            Q     Governor or Colonel, what is this operation that you mention that you currently have going on?   
 
            (Cross talk.)   
 
            GOV. JAMAL: Operation Matoon is totally led by Afghan security forces, the national Afghan army and the Afghan National Police. It's going on in the Sabari district. This is a district where we had some troubles in the last one years.   
 
            People from Sabari district have approached my office a number of times and they were asking the government to act against those bad guys who are creating insecurity in their areas. And once the operation started, the operation is achieving all its objectives it was started for. We are progressing very well.   
 
            The Afghan security force is in the lead. The coalition force, they are providing support from behind, but this is Afghan security forces that they are going from village to village, securing difficult areas.   
 
            And in the last one week we had three shuras with three meetings with a large number of the elders from the communities, and the communities task it upon themselves to provide more personnel from the security from their villages to guard schools, clinics and other projects we are -- we have there. And also, we will be having more projects. They have promised that they will keep the projects’ security and they'll provide all assistance, the government, is looking for. 
 
            So Operation Matoon has built the confidence of the community in the area and showed the power of the government and the people working together, and I believe we will achieve all the objectives we have started the Matoon operation for.  
 
            COL. KECK: Courtney. 
 
            Q     Hi, this is Courtney Kube from NBC News. Colonel, you mentioned the strategy going well there in Khost province, but if I'm not mistaken, isn't there already a higher literacy rate there and a higher level of education? Do you feel confident that that strategy can travel to other areas where the local population may not be already more conducive to the Taliban? 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: You know last year when we were -- when we came and replaced 310, this was the targeted most challenging threat area, and the question -- the first question I got last time was, because the literacy rate is so high, do you think they understand and their commitment to the alternate vision is so intense, and that's precluding them from supporting their central government. And so I answered it basically with what I thought the potentials were when the strategy was anchored in. 
 
            It's not the strategy itself. It's the people who apply the strategy. It's Afghans applying the strategy to the Afghan community. If it's coalition doing it, if it's United States doing it, you're not going to get the same effect or legacy effect that you will if the Afghan security forces and Afghan government are actually the ones implementing it. 
 
            With respect to, can you apply this throughout all the provinces; we are applying it throughout the provinces. That 40 percent decrease doesn't apply to just Khost. Khost has been about a 70 percent decrease in direct fire and those kind of threat activities. And 40 percent decrease throughout all of RC-East. So yeah -- and that's all 159 provinces that we've -- correction -- districts that we work within both Task Force Bayonet out of Italy and our brigade from the 82nd led underneath CJTF-82. 
 
            So yeah, I'm absolutely convinced it works. I don't think that the TTPs (Tactics, Techniques and Procedures), because we do have a higher literacy rate here -- the city of Ghazni, the city of Gardez and the city of Sharana -- that you can -- it's going to work with the same speed because, truthfully, there are some districts that are more easily accessed by their government than others. 
 
            So as we get to some of the farther extended communities, whether due to the geography or actual distance, you know, it takes a little bit longer to develop the trust and confidence. It takes a little bit longer to put the life support systems in place necessary so the Afghan security forces can in fact provide that necessary security that then enables the either district or provincial governors to get down.   
 
            So the short answer is, absolutely it works. The longer answer is, it takes a little bit of time and a little bit of an artist's approach, and truthfully, the -- General Khaliq, the 203rd Corps commander, and the six governors that we get to work with, get it. They've taken it over. They've put their own Afghan TTPs on it. And now we're following in support to help them realize that end state. 
 
            COL. KECK: Jeff? 
 
            Q     This is Jeff from Stars and Stripes. This is a question for both the colonel and the governor. We've talked to troops in one part of Afghanistan who said that they are right now just trying to hold on and are unable to make progress for a number of factors, one of which is the lack -- the shortfall of Afghan security forces, problems with their equipment, and also an effective intimidation campaign by the Taliban. I'm wondering if you are facing a similar situation.   
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: Okay, there's a -- you know, it's a pretty big country. There's 370 districts, about 355 which are formal districts and 15 which are informal. I can only reference RC East in the six provinces that I deal with, but I'm aware of what my teammates in the north are doing underneath the CJTF-82 flag. Simply stated, where we have quality governance and ANA leadership, we're able to create and apply the strategy as needed.   
 
            What clearly the answer is -- there's a short-term and long-term answer. The short-term answer is we get more security forces from the international community to facilitate the partnering and development of the ANA and the ANP, and I really highlight the ANP. And the more that we get the ANA and ANP out into the operational environment, clearly the quicker and more long-lasting effects we're going to have.  
 
            So, you know, what happens in the west or the south I'm not as knowledgeable on, but I can just tell you within our operational environment, where we don't have Afghan national security forces we're at higher risk, clearly, not to be able to create the effect that we're looking for, which is Afghans engaging Afghans through governance, through secure governance that's able to provide for their communities. 
 
            So I don't dispute that, and I think it makes sense. And the answer to your question, I really think, is we need more Afghan national security forces and we need it to go through the partnering and mentoring role, which is going to require additional resources, in my opinion, that can be sourced from the international community. 
 
            GOV. JAMAL: And also just to add that in Khost we are not facing a decrease in our national security forces. Yes, on the paper probably we had four, five years, a big number of soldiers. But now the real soldiers are not decreasing, and the more the people are getting confident, the more the district becomes secure, the more people are coming to us security forces and enlisting themselves. Equipment-wise, yes, we are progressing, but in case of police we might be progressing slowly, but in case of national army, we are progressing satisfactorily.   
 
            And I believe that -- our security forces, particularly in Khost, they are more powerful than they were before, they're more confident, and their morale is very high compared to before, but yes, there is a long way to go. And the more the Afghans get in the driving seat, the more they will become empowered. And Operation Matoon or the operation we had a few months back in the Kaji Pass is a good example of that. Four, five years back, no operation, even a small operation, could have been led by Afghan forces, but now Operation Matoon is totally led by Afghan forces. And it shows their strength, and this strength will continue. But yes, there is more support and more resources that are needed from the international community. 
 
            COL. KECK: Andrew? 
 
            Q     Colonel, this is Andrew Gray from Reuters. You said there is a long way to go in terms of developing the police. Can you talk a bit more about that? What's the current level of the police ability, and how many do you have in your area? And where do they need to get to? What are the steps they need to go through to improve? 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: Yeah, let me just generally answer that. It's a long way to go, no if, ands or buts. I was here in 2002, and when we started with one Afghan battalion, it wasn't what you'd call a very competent formation. Frankly, after the first 30 days it was disbanded and then we built additional formations. 
 
            The ANP is probably at the 18-month mark of where the ANA was in its very beginning. And so what does that mean tangibly? That means that when they're partnered with coalition forces, but more importantly, when they're partnered with Afghan National Army forces, they've done a pretty respectable job. And when they are not partnered with the Afghan National Army forces, the reflexive competencies are not sunk in yet, so you don't get the best behavior or the best performance.   
 
            And that's where we're at the greatest risk with the strategy that's being applied by the Afghans, because once you create that separation with the enemy, you can't allow for corruption to come in because then the communities will look at it as, you know, this is no better than the Taliban.   
 
            So that is absolutely the Achilles tendon. That's what we're trying to get after. We're switching our emphasis to development of the ANP because the Afghan National Army really appears to be on a pretty -- on a pretty solid glide path that enables us to start shifting focus and efforts to them. 
 
            And with respect to their actual abilities at the trooper level, they know how to do appropriate traffic control points. They know how to arrest folks. They know how do searches. It's really -- we're focusing at the leader level, where we haven't developed the same administrative and architecture that's necessary to sustain and run and implement rule of law on behalf of its government. So that's where we're at, and that's what we're focusing on. 
 
            Q     Colonel, this is Jamie McIntyre from CNN. I'm just curious, one effect the turmoil in Pakistan might be having in Afghanistan, to whether -- extent you can say to the country as a whole and in your area in particular. Are you seeing any fallout or effect from what's going on in Pakistan? 
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: Yeah, clearly we're very interested with what's going on over there. We're watching it pretty closely. 
 
            But with respect to the tactical effects, to date they have been negligible at best. We've not seen a significant rise moving back and forth across the border. We have not seen a significant threat emerging. There has been a bit of a reduction along the border of the Pak military, but they're still conducting their duties and they're linked in with us. And frankly, we're getting better and better every day with our teaming with the Pak military. 
 
            There were -- and I'll send this to the governor -- there were some -- about 300 or 400 families that the governor took in in Khost and did a pretty good program to integrate them back into the communities. 
 
            Let me hand this to him. 
 
            GOV. JAMAL: Yes, we have received in the last two weeks or last 10 days a number of Pakistan refugees coming to our border areas -- districts, and they are settled with Afghan families because these families have -- live across the border in Pakistan for many years as refugees. 
 
            If I also touched the question you have asked, generally, I would say that the stability in Pakistan that will be more in the benefit of Taliban, and that will also have a negative impact on Afghanistan. This is the right time that international community and Afghan government and the Pakistan government join hands with each other and dealt with this terrorism that's taking place, that's taking shape in Pakistan, and also risking the Afghan life, and teaching Afghan security in Afghanistan. 
 
            I think this is the right time to Pakistan. The Pakistan people and the Afghan people are now fully aware of the risk that's coming from the Taliban. 
 
            And this is the right time to act together.   
 
            COL. KECK: Okay, we can do one more.   
 
            Q     Can you just clarify, Governor, your statement? They're Afghan refugees that were living across the border in Pakistan and then are now back in Afghanistan. Is that what you mean?   
 
            And then also, when you said that there's a small reduction in the Pakistani military, can you quantify that for us at all or give us a little more information that you have on that?   
 
            (Cross talk.)   
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: Yeah, let me take the second question first.   
 
            It's minor, a very small number. One of the border posts was reduced down to a very small formation. But for the most part frankly because of the increased cooperation, we're creating greater effects along that border area than we were last month, let alone last year. So it's just a minor number, nothing significant.   
 
            GOV. JAMAL: The families that came to Afghanistan -- they are Pakistani nationals and they're living with Afghans. They have not -- we have not created a separate camp for them, because they knew these Afghan families. And they are staying with Afghan families, because Afghan families lived with them before.   
 
            So the families came to Afghanistan. They're all Pakistanis escaping the war that's taking place in Kurram Agency of North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan.   
 
            COL. KECK: Okay, well, thank you, gentlemen. Appreciate it. Our time is over, and we're going to turn it back to you for any closing comments or remarks you'd like to make.   
 
            GOV. JAMAL: Yeah, again, thank you everybody. And as a closing comment, I would say that the progress we made in Khost -- (audio break) – there might be differences in some issues like education, but generally it can be applicable, provided that we bring tangible changes in the lives of the people. The people should see changes as a result of this government, in order to compare that with Taliban era. And the government of Afghanistan, international community need to be able to tell to the people that what's their offer and what's the Taliban offer.   
 
            So once we do this, I believe, the people will continue to stand beside their government and support this government, so that international community and Afghan government both are successful in Afghanistan. Thank you very much.   
 
            COL. SCHWEITZER: And we'd just like to first thank the Afghan leadership -- you know, Governor Jamal is a representative of 33 other provincial governors -- as well as ANSF forces, particularly the army, which -- last year, we had about 800 ANA forces in the field every day. This year, we're closing in on about 5,500 that are in the field every day, providing security for their communities.   
 
            I'd also like to thank JIEDDO again. That's our joint -- that's a counter-IED task force. The work that they do every day on behalf of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines over here in Afghanistan has resulted in tons of saved lives, both Afghan and coalition, which then enables freedom of movement between the different provinces, which allows commerce to move.   
 
            Finally and most importantly I'd like to thank our families back there. They're the ones who are making incredible sacrifices that enable all of us to concentrate on our mission at hand. Without them, we wouldn't be able to give the effort that we've been giving. So thanks again to all those military families. Happy New Year.   
 
            COL. KECK: Thank you again, gentlemen, and hopefully we'll hear from you one more time before you leave.   
 
            Thank you folks for coming.
 
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