GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Major General David Rodriguez, the commander of Regional Command East and Combined Joint Task Force-82. Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you again today about eastern Afghanistan and answer your questions.
Every day in eastern Afghanistan, we see progress in security, development and governance. The Afghan national security forces are making progress, bringing security for all Afghans. And supported by their international partners, Afghanistan continues to make progress in social infrastructure and economic development, and the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan's making progress in extending governance.
Yes, there are still challenges to overcome before Afghanistan reaches the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, but it's making slow, steady progress toward these goals.
The Afghan army is showing increased capacity to lead operations in the field, and they're continuing to grow every day. Afghan security forces are participating at all levels to provide security and disrupt the command and control capability of the enemy.
Many, many insurgent leaders have been removed from the battlefield, many of these by the Afghan national security forces. And the Afghan National Police, while behind the army, has seen its capacity expand, with some support from the Afghan National Army as well as focused training of their police.
There are also visible signs of progress in development in Afghanistan, a huge increase in traffic, travel on the roadways, and the majority of provinces see the rise of local business.
This, of course, has been made possible by increases in security and reduced travel time to get from one place in the country to the other. As you know, the licit economy is growing faster this year than the narco-economy, and agriculture expansion has been tremendous over the last several years. And for the first time in 10 years, the grain harvest was sufficient to meet consumption needs internal to the country.
The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is also making progress in its governance role. The emphasis on local governance has resulted in significant increase in district centers just since the past year. It's a clear sign that the central government's linkage to the people is improving.
Provincial development plans were produced in all 14 of the provinces in RC East, as opposed to four that were done last year. This cooperation to build these clearly shows growth in government capacity. The provincial councils are also taking an increasing role in governance, such as in crisis action planning.
The Afghan citizens are noticing these improvements. The latest surveys show that the local communities actually start to feel that some of the police are providing security for them, which at the beginning of the year was only a very small percentage of people, and now it's almost half the people.
The substantial improvement from the first surveys has been because the police have been out there working with the people and connecting with the people at several of the district and provincial levels. And half the population expresses satisfaction with the ability of medical care, drinking water and education, and which were all very, very low before.
These indicators show Afghans making progress; however, there are still challenges here to overcome. The Afghan National Police lack the complete police leadership to fully continue to progress as fast as they need to. Corruption, of course, continues to be a problem that plagues the government, but the good news is that the Afghan people have had enough and are really giving their -- holding their government leaders accountable for corruption. And when you think about a few years ago they weren't allowed to complain about corruption to now being one of the biggest things that they're upset about and stuff, that's a pretty important and significant change.
Not long ago, they had absolutely no ability to voice any dissatisfaction.
And this is a change completely, and many of the the back-and-forth arguments, again, end up getting a better answer at the end even with the -- in the local shuras that they hold all the time.
There continues, though, to be a widening gap between popular expectations and government capacity, and the expectations continue to grow faster than what the government or the international community can deliver. But Afghanistan will become self-reliant, self-securing and committed to a representative government. This can be accomplished with realistic objectives, continued international support and expanded regional support. And while it won't happen overnight, it will continue to see slow, steady progress towards this end state.
Thank you, and I'll take your questions now.
Q General -- (inaudible) -- ask you about the situation along the border with Pakistan and on the other side of the border, in terms of what sort of cooperation are you getting in recent weeks from the Pakistan military. And also, to what extent are you seeing, you know, infiltration continuing from the other side of the border to al Qaeda havens?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Right now, as far as the infiltration, it's actually been a little bit down lately. It's actually down less than it was the same time last year. That's due to several reasons. One, of course, is the instability and what's going on in Pakistan and some of the challenges that are going over there -- going over in Pakistan.
We've had some success on the border, interdicting some of the enemy that crossed over there. The Afghan national security forces and the Afghan border police -- there are more of them there than there were last year, so they're able to interdict a little better. And then, of course, right now, in addition to that, of course you've got the weather that makes it that much tougher during this time of year to infiltrate across there.
The second part of your question, as far as coordination, we have great military-to-military coordination with the Pakistani military on the border. Over the several years, the coalition forces have been able to develop some improving trust between the Pakistani mil. and the coalition forces, and now that is starting to extend to the Afghan military forces. All the Pakistani military leaders that we talk to want to do the same thing. They realize it's a common enemy that we're fighting, and in a common cause, they're trying to do the best they can to prevent that from happening.
Q Do you believe that the Pakistani army itself needs to take a greater role in these border areas, where it's generally had a more hands-off policy in the past? And what impact has the turmoil in Pakistan had on any timetable for the army to do that?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: The Pakistani military has been involved in the border and in those -- the Federally Administrated (sic) Tribal Areas. I know that -- and you know that since the summer they've lost a significant amount of people in operations in those areas, trying to expand security into those areas. So I think that that's what the Pakistani military's trying to do.
I think that it will be a long-term process to change the dynamics in the FATA because it's the same as some of the areas in eastern Afghanistan. It's rugged, rugged terrain. And they've been able to establish some support bases over time, but it's the same problem you have in both sides of the border. I mean, we have to disrupt the support bases so that they can't survive in those areas, and support the development of governance and development in those areas. So I think it will be a long time to change that momentum -- or not the momentum, but change the situation there. And again, I think the Pak military is committed to doing that.
Q General, we've heard officials are considering sending about 500 MRAPs to Afghanistan. It seems kind of counter-intuitive given Afghanistan doesn't really have a road network. Can you talk about what benefit to U.S. troops these vehicles could provide?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: The new MRAP vehicles will continue to improve our protection against the improvised explosive devices that are over there. The road network continues to evolve in Pakistan (sic) and based on the analysis we did, which included places where they could not go. Just like you said, there are places they can't go, but there are plenty of places they can go. And based on our analysis of the terrain, the roadways, as well as where the IEDs are going off, we requested that a little under 600 MRAPs. And the road network continues to improve and we're confident that we'll be able to use those effectively in the majority of areas, not all of them.
Q And when you say use them, do you mean convoy operations --
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Convoy operations and patrol operations, et cetera, yes.
Q So are you suggesting that there are fewer Taliban infiltrations into Afghanistan because the Taliban are staying and fighting in Pakistan?
And do you have any concern that there are members of the Pakistani military higher echelon, who are in the ISI, who are still to this day supporting the Taliban movement? Is this a problem that Pakistan created that is now coming back to bite them, as far as you're concerned?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: There's less coming across now for again multiple reasons, one of them being the weather, two of them about what's going on over there, because there's some instability right there, and I think that the --
Q (Off mike.)
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, the enemy -- we try to take advantage of some of the challenges they're having over there right now, yes.
And as far as the senior leadership being not committed to do the right thing in Pakistan, I don't believe that at all. I believe all the senior leadership in Pakistan wants to do the right thing for both countries. I think they acknowledge the challenges on both sides of the border, and they're committed to do the right thing for the stability of both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Q But are you noticing that the top echelons of the Pakistani military are more concerned about the Taliban threat in Afghanistan, now that they're facing it back at home in Pakistan?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes, I think that that is a growing realization amongst all of them, that everybody needs to do more together.
Q Have they asked for more help from you?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Pakistan -- not from us. What we do, our role, is again coordination between the forces that patrol the border. So no, they have not asked for more help. When you say more help, I mean, we all share information. We communicate, and anything more from either side that can help defeat the problem -- they ask for that type of help, yes.
Q General, how concerned are you that incidents like the Serena Hotel attack might slow the pace of reconstruction & development projects in Afghanistan, forcing contractors and aid workers to retreat to more fortified places, and creating more distance between them and the local population?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, we're concerned about it, but we have not seen a lot of signs of that. The development and the construction programs that have gone on continue to go on very well and are not for the most part threatened, except for in a couple bad areas, by the insecurity. And while the government, I'm sorry, the Afghanistan contractors and everything -- they're continuing to work. They're continuing to grow their capacity quickly, and the quality of their work gets better every single year. So that continues apace, and there is not any kind of limitation or turndown of that. Obviously the Hotel Serena attack creates some fear in some of the people but as far as construction projects, I've not seen any negative impact of anything like that since I've been over there.
Q General, could you give us a little better read on what's going on there in the tribal regions in Waziristan and Western Pakistan? We hear that al Qaeda's regrouped there, but turning their attention more toward internal attacks against the Pakistani government.
We saw just within the past couple of weeks that at least one Pakistani military outpost was totally overrun and then another one abandoned. Just what forces are fighting whom? Who's joined together fighting the Paks? How capable are the Pakistanis in their ability not only to defend themselves, but to aggressively pursue either Taliban or al Qaeda.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, as you know, in the last couple months here several of the leadership of the insurgents have declared war against the government of Pakistan just like they had done against us several years ago. I think that for the most part that enemy is very opportunistic enemy so it's going to go where it can get the biggest gain and ???? fact of their operations.
When you say -- you ask who it is, I -think that many of them we have seen over the last year are coordinating with each other more and more based on their short-term goals rather than their long-term goals, which aren't necessarily the same. So I think that, again, they'll move where the best opportunity has to get the highest pay- off, and right now that's -- that probably seems to be in Pakistan, based on what's going on in the last couple months here.
As far as their ability to do -- to protect themselves, the Pakistani military, for the most part the Pakistani leaders are good leaders, trying to do the right thing, and again, they're challenged by many different things. They are working to, for example, to develop a better capacity to do counterinsurgency operations like many other nations are because that has not been their forte and what they've been trained on. It's a major focus here, but they're adjusting their military to do those things. But they're committed to do right things and they're going to continue, I believe.
Q And when you say coordinating with each other, I assume you're talking about Taliban and al Qaeda, is that right?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes, and there's other -- several other -- actually, now there are several other organizations and everything, yeah, but they're doing more coordination and more training off of everything from resources to intelligence and technical expertise and things like that, yes, that's shared a lot more than it has been in the past.
Q Well, is there any evidence as to who among al Qaeda is leading those operations or directing them? In terms of bin Laden, Zawahiri, who might be in charge of them?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: No, it's the same thing. I think it's a very, very decentralized organization that does things, you know, very loosely. And I don't think that has changed.
Q General, when Secretary Gates was at your headquarters last month, he held up the work of RC East as a very successful example of counterinsurgency operations. I think it's safe to say that things are not going quite as well in RC South. Are you in touch with your ISAF colleagues in that AO? Are you sharing with them what you're doing? And what's your military assessment about why they're having a tougher fight there?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, first of all, the -- it's a different fight and a different type of challenge in each different area. So again, each force is in there, whether it be RC East, Northwest, South or Capital or -- it -- different type of fight, it's a different type of terrain, it's a different type of tribal infrastructure, a different type of leadership in the Afghan government. So all those have a huge impact on the success or failure or how well things are going. So I think that's probably the biggest impact.
And as far as being in contact with the other regional commanders, yep, we're in touch with them all the time. We coordinate with them. We share lessons learned and work with them very carefully, closely, to share anything we have.
Each one of those is pretty interesting, because as you do those reviews and back and forth exchanges, many of the things that they learned aren't totally applicable to where we're at, and vice versa. So again, it's a very, very complex situation, each different -- of the regional commands, and they're faced with different problems. And all the lessons don't translate one to one, but we all talk about the principles and those things.
We also had a great meeting about two weeks ago with UNAMA, and they brought in all the experts on counterinsurgency and actually had the Afghan leadership talk about their role and what they thought about the counterinsurgency. So we continually share those lessons learned, and we think across the whole board that everybody continues to improve and gain capacity in those type of things.
Q General, I wonder if you could give us an assessment of your fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda. What's been accomplished in the time that you've been in command? What remains to be done? Can you give us some sort of an assessment that we could get our hands around in terms of what numbers are out there and what -- again, what will need to be done in the area of operations?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, the numbers, you know, are just those numbers. So they don't tell the whole story. But -- and we have about 160 districts in Regional Command East. And there's been somewhere between a 30 to 40 percent improvement in those districts in security, in governance and in development, probably a little bit more in security itself, because the governance and development, of course, develops a little bit more slowly.
So, what that has done is reduce the area from which the enemy has -- can conduct operations from or support bases that are out there, so we believe that we've significantly restricted their freedom of movement.
The Afghan national security forces have improved tremendously. Again, they now lead the efforts on the planning for the most part. And they lead the operations while they're supported in -- you know, there's still about the same number of coalition forces as Afghan forces participating in the operations, but again, they lead most the planning efforts. And we really have to help them with some of the critical enablers that take a lot longer to develop than just the infantry squads and platoons. So that's improved tremendously, with getting about two more brigade combat teams from the Afghan army into the fight.
The police have increased their capacity probably about 10 percent or 15 percent from what they had. So there are actually about seven or eight provinces now that the police can conduct -- I'm sorry, seven or eight districts where the police can handle themselves just about alone. But of course that's got a long way to go.
And then we've seen some huge improvements in the ability of the Afghan army to work with the police to help each other. And one of the success stories, the trust and confidence that the people have developed in the army have been transferred to the police many times when they see them working together.
As far as governance, again, the provincial development plans, which in a centralized society like they have in Afghanistan, the biggest thing the provinces can do is get together a plan and ask for resources based over, you know, what the needs of the people are. And one year ago we were able to get four plans in, and we called them wish lists because they would just say, "We need these things." This year all 14 of them have turned them in, and they had participation from the districts, the provincial council, to translate the needs of the people to the plan.
And so that's a big change in what the governance has been able to do because it requires a government bureaucracy that had not been there in the past, but a lot of great efforts from UNAMA and USAID helped put those plans together in concert with the Afghanistans. And I think they'll be able to do the majority of it on their own in this coming year.
Q Well, the figures you gave, 30, 40 percent improvement in those areas, on what do you make those measures?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: I base those things on a huge assessment that includes both assessments done by polling the people, by checking the number of incidents, the crimes against people, things like that. So it's a pretty complex assessment process, probably looks at about 15 or 16 indicators. And then again, a big part of that is how the people feel in those areas.
Q If I could just follow, do you need more troops? And if so, what sorts of specialties would you like to acquire?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: The -- no, we don't -- we don't need a whole lot more troops. Obviously, the one thing that has been asked for was for some of the more -- some more police trainers to help out there as we accelerate the police training.
But no, we got enough troops for what we need to do, and the Afghan troops is what we need more of and they're coming more all the time. And we'll have, for example, two more brigades in RC East next spring, and that's how fast they're building and they're doing a very, very good job.
Q (Off mike) -- training capability in RC East?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Training -- when you say -- we need a few more trainers for the police is what --
Q In terms of training and -- (off mike) -- troops?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, we have enough for what we're doing, absolutely.
Q Ballpark the number of trainers, the number of trainers you need?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, they asked for 3,000, and the secretary just committed to send about 800 --
Q (Off mike) -- you need in your area. You said you can use more police trainers.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, about 800.
Q Can we follow up on that just a bit? In your discussions with your counterparts in RC South, do you agree with the assessment, particularly the pretty vocal assessment from the Canadians that even with the influx of these -- the -- (inaudible) -- in April, that there still need to be more combat forces in the South?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: I couldn't tell you that. They'd have to make that assessment from RC South. From my perspective, where we are, we're fine with what we have.
Q Sir, can I just sort of follow -- (off mike) -- question? Last year at this time you were trying -- you were preparing for a spring offensive by the Taliban. And are you saying this year that -- you had to bulk up for that. Are you saying this year you have enough troops in place to counter any anticipated spring offensive?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, I don't think there'll be a big spring offensive this year in the Taliban spring offensive, but yes, we have -- again, by the next spring we'll have two more brigade combat teams from the Afghan forces, and we're prepared to handle whatever comes next year with that amount of forces, yes.
Q And why not a big spring offensive this year? What do you base that on?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: I base that on the fact that the Afghan security forces and the Afghan governance and Afghan development has moved forward. The people of Afghanistan don't want a -- don't want the Taliban back, and the strength of their institutions has gone up significantly in the last year.
Q But is there -- (off mike) -- in your area internal?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes -- (off mike) – talking about RC East, sir.
Q Can I ask you -- there seems to be a debate over whether to increase or accelerate aerial spraying of poppy fields.
And I was wondering where you come down on that, whether that would be counterproductive in terms of what you're trying to do, or whether it would be a good thing.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: That's an Afghan government lead, and we only support the Afghan government lead in security. And we don't do eradication, so that's whatever the Afghan government and the leadership thinks. We support that.
Q You don't see it having an impact on security in your region, whatever they do?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: I think whatever they do, we'd be able to handle the security fallout either which way, whatever -- whatever they did at this point. Thank you.
Q Can you give us any numbers in terms of incidents being down in your area of operation this year, or number of soldier deaths or civilian deaths, anything that could help us quantify how things have improved there?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Again, I think the biggest thing to quantify the improvement is the improvement in the security and governance -- (inaudible) -- the Afghan people and the Afghan districts inside those provinces. The numbers go up and down for many, many different reasons based on what operations are going on. And again, I think the biggest one to quantify is the number of districts that have improved in both security development and governance.
Q What kind of lessons have you learned in RC East that are not applicable to RC South, and vice-versa? And is it your assessment that a lot of the troops coming from other NATO countries being sent out to help in Afghanistan are not training counterinsurgencies?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Most -- when you talk about the lessons learned that are not the same, it's because the conditions are different. So, for example, if you do not have a good police chief and you do not have a good governor, those things aren't going to work by getting the police chief involved to do more. So that's what I'm talking about. The local conditions are really -- the application of those principles and everything -- their principles are pretty much the same, it's just how you apply them that's different between different RCs, based on situations. It's different inside RCs.
The second thing is, on counterinsurgency training and the preparation, you know, my experience is that the majority of people have learned very quickly and everything.
I'll just tell you an example. The Polish battle group, about two years ago, 18 months ago, they came to the Joint Readiness Training Center to train with us. They brought about 10 soldiers because they were just starting to get ready to send their first deployment to Afghanistan. And as we talked to them about what we were going to try to do and how everything was occurring, they said, well you know, we don't do this very well; this is not what we trained for.
So I said, okay, well, that's what we're going to train for and work for and get to.
And I've got to tell you, the stark difference in how they're doing now is amazing. In their first six months, they did a great job. And then six months later, when their second rotation came back, they had been much better trained than the first one. And they also brought back police mentor teams, more engineers, more civil military operators and some people from the provincial reconstruction team to adapt their ability to, you know, fight in this kind of counterinsurgency.
So my experience on the tactical level -- it would be, the organizations that we've been working with has been pretty positive. But again it's a learning, adapting enemy which we fought, in 2005, different than we're doing now. So it's a continually growth process and it continues to challenge all of us, to continue to stay apace with what's going on, and then how to best address it.
Q General, could we just clarify the trainer number? You said you need 800 more police trainers roughly. How many do you have now?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: There's, you know, I don't know the exact numbers and everything, probably about 100-and-some, 150. But there's 3,000 required for the entire AOR, for all of Afghanistan. And again it's not -- doesn't fit exactly in a box, because they moved based on the needs of the provinces and stuff, but about 3,000 of them is what the whole country needs, and we bid about 800 about of them for us, yes.
Q You have roughly 150 now. You need 800.
Q Can I just ask, General, you know, you paint a clear and upbeat picture, and talked about progress on a lot of fronts. But yet when we look at Afghanistan as a whole last year, suicide attacks at a record high, more car bombings, more deaths among civilians. How do you reconcile that overall picture with the picture you're painting in RC East?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, the suicide bombers -- I'll just give you an example of that and everything.
First of all, there hasn't been, in fact, a suicide bomb go off in RC East in eight weeks. But the suicide bombs, if you look back and announce, you've got to be careful. Again, you know, you've got to be careful when you look at the numbers and everything, because they didn't actually start until about March of 2006.
And if you look from March to December of last year versus March to December this year, it's actually gone down a couple. And what you don't see is the effectiveness level and then who they have killed. So about 60 percent of them have been Afghan civilians. So the overall effect of the suicide bombing campaign ends up being a negative among the people of Afghanistan, which is more important than some of the other numbers that we're talking about here.
And as far as civilian casualties, that's been a challenging part of everything we do, but again, part of that is because of how the enemy fights and how they try to have civilians in there. The other thing that's hard to quantify is that -- it's really difficult, and we've had some huge challenges, especially through the summer there, but a civilian to some people is a person in civilian clothes. So we're really only worried about civilians not involved in active hostilities, which the number's significantly different than in what most people see when you say civilians.
Q Just to follow up on the point on the victims of the suicide attacks, I take your point that they are civilians, but doesn't that once again sow the fear -- you know, we had the same situation in Iraq, where once again the overwhelming majority of victims are Iraqis. But similarly, that contributed to an overall decline in the security situation and made the local population have less confidence in their government and in security forces. Isn't that a worry that you have?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Sure. And it's a worry we have, but again, it's how the people react and everything. And let me just tell you, one has gone -- one of the governors has had three of them personally come against him, and the strength and response that he's had has been a positive effect overall for that province, also after -- one of them had a huge demonstration against it. So the suicide bombers are not something that is acceptable to the Afghan people, their culture or anything else. So for the most part, they have a negative impact.
And there's going to be a level of violence, obviously, in Afghanistan that is not quite what we understand from Western standards. But it is a concern. And again, the people's perceptions are very, very important to us, which is why we track that and why that is involved in our estimates and assessments of how it's going out there.
Q If I could follow up on that, please. U.S. troop deaths at the end of -- (off mike) -- Operation Enduring Freedom. What do you attribute that spike to?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Several things; chief amongst them is there have been more troops there than there have been in the past, and the second thing is the activity level and the places that we've gotten to where we've not been able to get to and stay in the past.
Q How important is drug trafficking to the Taliban's ability to regenerate itself and launch attacks? And is the level of U.S. concern about drug trafficking, has that risen along with the amount of drugs flowing out of Afghanistan within the past or so?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes, the drug trafficking and the money generated from it is one of the things that is helpful to the enemy to regenerate and finance its operations. And yes, the emphasis and the concern about it has risen because the amount of it has risen over the last couple years.
Q You had said we don't expect to have a big spring offensive. Then why did the Defense secretary send 2,000 Marines into southern Afghanistan?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: I'm talking about in RC East.
Q (Off mike) -- RC East.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Jeff (sp).
Q With the 2,000 Marines going to the south, will you be getting back some troops that you had loan to the Southern Command? Is that still the situation? Will you be getting them back to help with your spring operation?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: We have a theater tactical force down there, which is a U.S. force, but it works for General McNeill, so it would be his decision on whether we get them back or not and everything. It's not my decision.
Q Do you feel that you need them in order to do what you have to do in the spring?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: It will be dependent among the effectiveness of those two new brigades that come out of the Afghans, and we'll just have to see how that goes. I couldn't tell you that at this point right now.
Q (Off mike.)
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes, theater tactical force battalions.
Q I also wanted to ask you about something General Hertling said yesterday about what he's seeing in northern Iraq. He said he's seeing some homemade EFPs or knock-off EFPs. Have you seen any of that in your AOR or heard about it elsewhere in Afghanistan?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: No, not in Afghanistan.
Q And actual EFPs coming from Iran, what's the status of those?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: We've had two major interceptions of those over the last six months.
Q I just want to follow up on that.
Have you seen the importing of tactics from Iraq in your area? And if so, what particular things have you seen? Is it coming faster, by the way? Is the importing of those tactics coming faster?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: I am not -- I do not think they've been coming faster. They do come. It's been about the same rate and speed it has been in the last several years. And most of the same type of thing transfers. As far as the IEDs and the differences and the adjustments they make in those to try to defeat us, with the exception of the EFPs that I just mentioned, have not, with the exception of those two times, come in significant numbers. That's not been transferred as directly as some of the other ones.
Q You know, a few of your guys obviously have been there 14 months, or going on 14 months. What's their morale like? How are they doing? Do they feel they're accomplishing the mission?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, they feel they're accomplishing the mission. They have a tremendous amount of gratification and satisfaction in what they're doing, and they think they've made a huge difference every single day out there. As far as their morale, they're doing good. They're looking forward to come home obviously after a long, tough tour, but they're doing very, very well.
Q General, can I ask, on troop numbers, bearing in mind the progress you've outlined, if these new Afghan brigades prove effective, is it a prospect you can actually reduce the U.S. force numbers in RC East over the course of this year?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: That's a good question. Again you'll have to -- it's based on so many things but sometime in the future, obviously that's the plan. The biggest challenge if we go through that is, you've just got to make sure that the durability in all things are there, just not there in the forces, because the forces alone cannot do it. They have to have decent governance; they have to have some development going on. And it's a complex equation to make that decision. But, you know, the growing capability of the Afghan army is certainly a big part of that decision.
Q General, last July, you said that the flow of foreign fighters into Afghanistan had increased by 50, 60 percent over the previous year. How has that changed in the ensuing eight or nine months? And what percentage of the insurgent force do you feel is made up of -- by foreign fighters?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: We have not seen a lot of proof of that over time. We continue to suspect that but have not seen a whole lot of proof in the last couple months about whether that foreign fighter flow is increasing or decreasing. As far as -- you know, it's a very, very small minority anyhow, we believe. And we have not, again, seen as much of that in the last couple months as we had before.
Q There have been a number of incidents in the past of airstrikes resulting in civilian deaths. I don't think that there's been anything recently. I'm wondering if we are doing things any differently than -- on that score than we were before.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Just like everything else, we look at everything we do and try to adjust and get better every time. I think there's been a huge improvement -- (inaudible) -- over time, for many, many reasons. And it's pretty interesting that, you know, where the airstrikes goes and where you have bad governments and where you have bad police and where you have, you know, a bad situation from the governance, I think it's basically a one-for-one challenge. But I think that we continue to improve and evolve, and we'll continue to improve and make that better and better over time. And like I said, they will adjust their tactics and we'll adjust ours, but I think we've made some significant improvements over time in that area.
Q So has the use of airpower in your -- you know, in RC East, has that declined because of the improved security?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes. Yep.
Q Significantly? Can you --
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Let's see. It has decreased gradually over time. It's commensurate with the increasing security. And it's only in about three or four areas -- that's it: along those up in Kunar, which is a challenging area, just west of the Bajaur Agency in the FATA. One of them is in the Tagab Valley, which is a historical, challenging area that's not far from Kabul. And then the other one is in Paktika and the Zadran Arc, which is right across from North and South Waziristan, which has been a challenging area, and that's it.
Q There's been some discussion in Washington over the last month about the potential for U.S. unilateral military action in the northwest -- in the FATA region there in Pakistan. Purely from a military standpoint, what are some of the impediments to U.S unilateral action, aside from the political problems it might cause with the population of Pakistan? From a purely military standpoint, what would be the obstacles of U.S. unilateral action?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: We're not planning that. Pakistan's a sovereign government, and we have no plans that I'm involved in or have even heard of doing anything like that. So I'm not going to comment on that.
Q For a follow-up, in the last year has the military situation in the northwest deteriorated to the point where it would have been useful to have authority to conduct unilateral operations?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: I don't think that's a -- I don't think that's an area I can comment on at all. That's like -- so that's a bigger decision than me. But we have no -- we've seen no thing from our perspective that that would be helpful where we are.
Q Thank you.
Q To go back to the training, about a thousand Marines are being sent to Afghanistan in the spring, to provide training. Do you know how many will be assigned to RC East?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: No, they're trying to figure that out now and do the analysis based on the need overall, where it's most needed. And they'll be applied against where the trainers are needed most. And we're -- not done that analysis yet.
Q Do you know when that decision will be made?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Be done in the next three or four weeks.
Q If I could go back to a couple of points here, regarding the spring offensive, around this time last year, the reason that troop levels were boosted in Afghanistan was in preparation for the spring offensive.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes.
Q You mentioned that -- we talked about how the -- your casualty levels last year were the highest they've been in five years there. Yet you said that that was in part because of higher troop levels. Now we have additional Marines going in there to the station for another spring offensive, which you don't anticipate will be higher in your sector. Why were there casualties -- why were the levels of casualties so much higher last year if there was -- even without a spring offensive?
And can we expect the same level of kinetic activity? I mean, was it -- was that level of kinetics due to the fact that you went on the offensive in greater areas? Just looking at the numbers, I mean, the casualty rates were pretty standard, much the same throughout the entire year, even without a spring offensive.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Again, I think that with the increasing capacity of the Afghan national security forces, and the increasing ability to provide permanent presence throughout the breadth and depth of the area there, that will have a huge impact on stemming the violence level next year. And yes, I think, again, the reason was because of more activity through more places and a greater range of places that caused and contributed to more casualties.
Q So is it possible, then, that in a way, the fact that there was no spring offensive last year was a good thing, because it possibly could have been that casualty rates could have been higher if there had been, if it had been more effective --
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: It could have been and could not have been. I mean, it would have depended on a lot of things. You know, they had a significant amount of casualties in the Afghan security forces early in the year. That has tailed off as they've improved their capacity. And again, I believe that that trend will continue.
Q General, how long do you think it will be before the Afghan security forces can operate completely independently in RC East?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: It'll be several years -- completely independently. But I think it'll be a significantly shorter time, with just a year or two, where some of the units will be able to do it with just a minimum amount of neighbor support and embedded training teams inside them. So I think that will not be long at all until they can get to certain units, will be able to do with just the neighbors' support.
Q So it's a number of years in the future before -- (inaudible) --
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, it takes a long time, for example, to develop a medevac capability and logistics and some of those things. Those are the things that will take longer term for them to support on their own.
Q Could you put a time -- (inaudible)?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: No, I really couldn't. It would be, you know, a couple years, though, at least for all the enablers.
Okay? Okay. Well, thank you very much. Appreciate your questions today. And like I said, there's been a lot of progress made.
And we continue to be proud of all our partners from the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the national security forces as well as the international partners who continue to bring slow progress to Afghanistan.
Thank you very much.
(C) COPYRIGHT 2008, FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC., 1000 VERMONT AVE. NW; 5TH FLOOR; WASHINGTON, DC - 20005, USA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. ANY REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED.
UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION CONSTITUTES A MISAPPROPRIATION UNDER APPLICABLE UNFAIR COMPETITION LAW, AND FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. RESERVES THE RIGHT TO PURSUE ALL REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO IT IN RESPECT TO SUCH MISAPPROPRIATION.
FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. IS A PRIVATE FIRM AND IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. NO COPYRIGHT IS CLAIMED AS TO ANY PART OF THE ORIGINAL WORK PREPARED BY A UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE AS PART OF THAT PERSON'S OFFICIAL DUTIES.
FOR INFORMATION ON SUBSCRIBING TO FNS, PLEASE CALL JACK GRAEME AT 202-347-1400.