DoD News Briefing with Gen. McNeill from the Pentagon
MODERATOR: Good morning, and thank you for joining us early today. I know this is a little unusual, to have a briefing at this time, but we had a unique opportunity to have General McNeill, General Dan McNeill, back with us today. He just relinquished command of NATO's International Security Force, after 17 months of duty, just 10 days ago. And so I think that having the opportunity to hear his perspective and to take your questions was something that we really wanted to take advantage -- even if we're doing it at this early hour.
I was reminded General McNeill has also served in Afghanistan as the commander of Operation Enduring Freedom and Combined Joint Task Force 180, and I just want to personally thank you for everything that you've done and for giving us the time throughout your tenure to help us understand the difficult challenges in Afghanistan and to be here to be able to explain that. Thank you.
GEN. MCNEILL: Appreciate it. Thanks a lot.
Good morning. And here I am, back again, maybe for the last time, as I'm in the throes of trying to get my retirement physical done here at Walter Reed. And that's my apology for the early hour. They asked if I would come and do this. This is when it fit best.
Just as a matter of a quick review, I left Afghanistan on the 3rd of June, completing 16 months, having arrived there in January of '07, arriving just a few months after the NATO mandate extended across the entire country of Afghanistan.
As you recall, NATO took over late summer early fall of 2003 the ISAF mission and in a phased sort of way began to spread out across the country -- around the second week in October eventually was all across Afghanistan.
When I came in we had a force -- 36, 37 nations and an aggregate number of troops that was about 36,000. When I left, we were up to 40 nations declared. There are actually a few more that don't really advertise they're there, but there's a few more than 40. NATO recognizes 40. And the figure was a lot closer to 52,000.
And I bring that point up just to remind all that much of the reports about Afghanistan in late 2006, 2007 had to do with the alliance will fracture, the alliance is frayed and the alliance cannot get this job done. And in fact, that has proven not to be the case. The alliance is a far more capable force and, certainly in aggregate numbers, far more bigger than it was when we first took over last year.
The news also at that time had the Taliban as a resurgent force, as the force on the battlefield. They were coming with a spring offensive, which did not pan out. Then next, they were coming with a summer offensive in '07 which did not pan out, then an Eid offensive, then a Ramadan offensive, then a winter offensive and all. It simply didn't happen. And I believe that's a statement that the combination of the international force, the OEF forces along with their Afghan brothers are indeed the credible force on the battlefield today.
Many signs of visible progress there, some more visible than others: more roads than the country's ever known; 6.2 million Afghan children in school this year, the most the countries ever known. That's up from a half -- up by half a million from last year when there were 5.7. More Afghans within reasonable proximity to health care right now than the country's ever known -- I think the U.N. figure's 85 percent right now.
I'm a hard-bitten dude, been a soldier most of -- well, all of my adult life, and here's one that appeals to me, the fact that they have made some strides in the reduction of infant mortality, Afghanistan being one of the three countries that leads the world in infant mortality. And the strides have resulted in these numbers: This year, somewhere around 87,000 Afghan infants will live that would have died a year ago.
I think I'm right in saying that the U.N. number last year was 11 new universities opened.
And the list could go on. I'm simply trying to make a statement that there has been progress here. There's certainly progress in the security sector. There is progress in reconstruction.
Just to give you one small example, I remember a news article of last year about an Afghan farmer who grew pomegranates in the Arghandab district of Kandahar, touting the fact that now because of a USAID funded cold-storage facility built in Kandahar late 2006, in 2007 he was able to export pomegranates, some of them making it all the way to the United States, but many of them making it to the Gulf.
So he saw some future in that. That's one small anecdote. There are many more about the 26 PRTs that are part of the International Security Assistance Force that are allowing reconstruction to be pushed out to some of the furthest corners of Afghanistan.
My view is that David McKiernan, who replaced me -- a fine soldier, a much better soldier than am I -- has all the tools he needs, and I think you will continue to see progress there. I'm not saying that the fight is over, that the battle is won. It's not. But if our aim is -- and I think this is what our aim should be -- to enable Afghan security forces to take responsibility for their own battlespace, to take responsibility for taking on this insurgency, then I think we're well on the way of doing that and I think you'll continue to see that.
Certainly the Afghan National Army, which was probably in the range of a little better than 20,000 in uniform when we arrived there last year, and I think today is closer to about 58,000 -- and what Bob Cone, that fine American general leading that coalition under OEF called CSTC-A, is doing in not only training the army but the police -- you're beginning to see momentum in this focused district development concept of the police for the first time.
So again, I see that the prospects are good and that progress there will continue and that our national objectives -- not "our" national objectives, meaning the broadest collective sense, all the members of the alliance -- are still achievable.
Certainly, I think, some people who want to have a view of Afghanistan make a mistake in that they look at Afghanistan only in the context of Afghanistan. It's a regional issue. Afghanistan has six neighbors, and every neighbor should not wish anything upon Afghanistan that they wouldn't wish upon themselves, because I believe the region is tied about that tightly. So it will be important, not only today but tomorrow and all the tomorrows to come, that all the neighbors take on their burden, their portion of the responsibility to guarantee long-term security and stability in Afghanistan. And if indeed they do, then I think there is no reason that this progress will be inhibited, and it will continue to move forward.
So I'll stop there and take whatever questions you might have.
Thank you. Yes, sir?
Q General, if the Taliban is not resurgent in Afghanistan, how would you describe it?
GEN. MCNEILL: Well, saying that they're resurgent in Afghanistan is one thing.
Saying they're resurgent in the region, yeah, I'll concede that to you.
If there are sanctuaries that remain just out of the reach of the security forces, who are inside Afghanistan and who have mandates that go only as far as the borders of Afghanistan, it's going to be difficult to take on this insurgent group or these insurgent groups, in the broadest sort of way. So there will be a challenge about that.
So they are certainly resurgent in some areas that are just out of reach of the security forces. And if they are able to freely move across borders into Afghanistan, then that's certainly problematic.
Q Can't those borders ever be secured?
GEN. MCNEILL: I think when you consider that there are more than and, I suspect, we should speak plainly here. You're referring to the portion of the border that's shared by Afghanistan and Pakistan. And in my last reckoning on that, it's a little better than 2,000 kilometers.
And I think you have many Americans, who are from the Southwest, that can say securing porous borders is a challenge. We have many German colleagues who can say securing a border is a challenge. We've got many Korean colleagues who can say securing a border is a serious challenge.
And so closing borders down is probably not a goal we should aim for. I think that's far too great of a challenge. Controlling borders a little better -- is that possible? Absolutely, but there is movement across those borders that does not pose a threat to countries on either side of those borders. Nor does it pose a threat to regional security and stability.
In some cases, it's nomads who have done this for generations and centuries. They winter over in the lower, warmer areas, where their stock can take grass in the pastures. And when the spring and summer comes, they move across borders. They move up to the high pastures again just to simply feed their stocks.
There are families who are on both sides of the border. And those families feel stronger about their ethnicity than they do their nationalities. And then there are some who cross borders for illicit means. But that doesn't necessarily pose a threat to regional security and stability. It's the movement of gasoline or foodstuffs or wood or what have you.
So absolutely shutting down the borders, I think, hard to achieve, and maybe something that we don't have all the resources to do. And so we should look at it in a different way. Control borders better.
One way to control them better is security operations on both sides of the borders.
That's why the Tripartite Committee, the frequent meeting, which has been difficult to put together over the last three or four months or -- of my tour, between the head of the Pakistani military, the head of the Afghan military and the NATO commander there, facilitating that meeting is very important. So not only can security items be discussed but perhaps information can be exchanged, operations that can be planned that occur simultaneously on either side of the borders and are very supportive, and you get a synergy from that.
So I think that will be one of the more important things for Dave McKiernan to do to reenergize this tripartite gathering.
Q Well, can you even be more plain-spoken about what you're really saying here in terms of the strength of the Taliban, Pakistan's cooperation? Let's start with why -- if you're saying you haven't been able to get a tripartite meeting in the last three to four months, number one question, why can you get a meeting? What is the strength of the Taliban in the border region, especially on the Pakistani side? You have said in the past you're not getting the cooperation from Pakistan that you like to see. Can you just plainly walk us through all of that?
GEN. MCNEILL: The difficulties that we had in getting the tripartite meeting together -- now, it was still occurring at lower levels. Rodriguez (and Schlosser, Jack O'Page) and Marc Lessard in the south were still having their meetings at division and lower level. Battalion and brigade commanders were meeting. And members of my staff and the Afghan general staff who would meet with the -- their counterparts in Pakistan to put together what was eventually a four- star meeting -- that was still going on.
But there were three different delays coming from the Pakistani side that caused the meeting to continue to be pushed to the right. The last one should have occurred the last two weeks I was there. And I spoke with General Kayani on the phone, and he found it too difficult. And why did he find it too difficult? I'm only offering conjecture here. He didn't offer me the reasons. I think because of a very difficult political situation in his country he was finding it difficult.
There are some in Afghanistan who are argued that there was a level of dysfunction as they transition from one government to the other in Pakistan that probably exhibited -- or was a dysfunction at the higher level and you might find even in Afghanistan, which I thought was an odd comparison, but at least that was uttered to me several times.
I don't think that the head of the Pakistani military was necessarily trying to avoid these talks. I think he found himself in a tough domestic situation. And I think he believed that that required more of his focus than the dialogue he would have.
As to the numbers of Taliban -- I think we've had this conversation before, Barbara. And I don't use the term "Taliban" too much. I understand the history of Talibs, university students in the '60s who took to the streets because they didn't like the direction their country was taking. That sounds oddly familiar to me. It sounds like some American cities. And they somewhere morphed into something far more extreme and far more radical and now I don't see the insurgent as a monolithic or homogenous entity at all. I think they're separate and distinct groups that once in a while loosely --
Q What's the level of the insurgency you're facing?
GEN. MCNEILL: I've seen a host of intelligence estimates, keeping in mind, it's a 40-country alliance. And inside of Afghanistan, the estimates range from 5,000 to greater than 20,000. I don't know the answer. And there are more on the other side of the border. I don't think there's any question about that. How many more? I don't know. But that's not what I see as the greatest risk.
The greatest risk is the possibility of collusion between the insurgents who are indigenous to that region and the more intractable, the more extreme terrorists who are taking up residence there in the North-West Frontier Provinces.
Q Can you just continue on this thought? When you say "taking up residence," is this something beyond the central al Qaeda corps that has been there? Are you seeing new people? What is the strength of the al Qaeda corps? And just go back and explain to us your view about the level of -- or lack of cooperation from Pakistan in the FATA that you have spoken about before.
GEN. MCNEILL: Pakistanis, you'll recall, last year -- I think we spoke about this once before -- probably for the first time came to the realization that there was an insurgency in the North-West Frontier Provinces. They've had one for years in Baluchistan and they have fought that insurgency. They've had something of a -- something stirring and rolling around in the North-West Frontier Provinces, but I don't believe they've ever recognized it as insurgency.
It's my view that they came to that realization last year, and this was before the present chief of staff of the Pakistani army. This was his predecessor. And one of the things that brought home that realization was the Red Mosque event, then the huge spike in suicide bombings that occurred inside of Pakistan and what appeared to some as a focus of the insurgent more towards Islamabad than towards Kabul. And they set about taking it on.
And they had some days, mostly using the Frontier Corps, in which they were in some pretty good fighting, sustained some significant losses and whatnot.
Somewhere in that process they had a change in military, and I believe their military came to realize that their force was neither trained nor equipped to do proper counterinsurgency operations. So they began in -- dialogue with a number with a number of Western nations about the possibility of training and equipping their force to fight a proper counterinsurgency. And that appeared to most of us by late last year as the direction in which they were traveling.
Then the changes occur in the Pakistan government. The president takes off the uniform. They have elections. A new government, more or less, is installed. And it -- suddenly it -- then we seem to have yet another change. The tack to take is, we're going to enter into dialogue with the insurgents, and we're going to have -- I think they're typically referred to in the newspapers as "peace deals" -- even though the history is that those peace deals have not worked, not worked very well.
And so presently it seems to me that's one of the issues, that there are -- that there is more talk afoot, and I think what's missing is action to keep pressure on the insurgents, because certainly when there had been pressure on the insurgents, and then we run the operations we run on our side of the border, the untoward events tend to go down. When there are talks, especially when these talks culminate in a peace deal -- I mean, we're got clear evidence in numbers that the untoward events on the Afghan side of the border go up.
So what I am offering and what I think that Dave McKiernan is likely to be engaged in trying to do -- to have these conversations about getting back into coordinated and synchronized operations on either side of the border, to get the right kinds of pressure on the insurgents on both sides of the border, so that we might achieve some levels of security and stability that we saw we were moving to last year, especially in the east or in the southeastern provinces.
Q It doesn't sound like you're too happy with the current Pakistani military priorities and their government priorities.
GEN. MCNEILL: Well, I'm disconnected by about 10 days now and so I won't offer a view on it. I'm just simply going to say I think there has to be pressure on the insurgents on both sides of the border if we are to keep moving this thing towards better long-term security and stability.
Q General --
Q General, what do you see as the impact on all of this of the air strike the other day that apparently killed 11 Pakistanis? That's obviously not going to make it any easier.
GEN. MCNEILL: Well, again, I'm disconnected by about 10 days. And I've been in the throes of the VA system and the Walter Reed system and everything, so you'll have to forgive me if I'm not well- informed on this. I will point out that from my time there, I don't think anybody rejected our position that we had the inherent right to self-defense. And along this border, which is ill-defined, if we saw a threat posed to our force, we had the right to do something against this imminent threat. I'm presuming that what occurred there is something along these lines. And just as we have had events in times past, it is difficult, once these events occur.
But I've grown to believe that this one -- and I don't know any more than you do -- that this one occurred probably -- likely after some cross-border dialogue saying, "We see this. We're seeking a little help. This is what we want to do."
I think at this juncture, the best thing to do is let both sides -- all sides need to look into it and see what actually happened, because typically when these events occur there is a lot of misinformation and disinformation that's immediately uttered from the insurgents. And I think we ought to let this one work its way through a little bit, and then I'm confident everybody will say, "Here's exactly what occurred."
But yes, whenever you have one of those events, it is a bit of a challenge.
Q Do you see potential in trying to work with the Frontier Corps, make that a better force? Or do you think a different approach is needed?
GEN. MCNEILL: I think that's what the Pakistanis would like us to do, is -- would like the international community to better enable the frontier corps. I'll leave that to policymakers and other types of decision-makers if that's the right course to pursue.
Q General, just to follow up on that, I mean, give us your best military advice. You're someone who's looked at the situation closely for a long time. Is the Frontier Corps a reliable ally, a reliable force for that sort of mission?
GEN. MCNEILL: What I see existing in the North-West Frontier Provinces are some elements of extremists and terrorists that are pretty high-side. And my experience is, it takes well-trained, well- equipped forces, disciplined, to take this thing on. My understanding of what the Frontier Corps is, is they're pretty much tribals themselves. They might find it more challenging than would regular front-line well-trained, well-equipped soldiers, well-led soldiers.
Q Do you prefer the Pakistani military per se to do that?
GEN. MCNEILL: I'd prefer the Pakistani government to take on the insurgency that's in their country, which actually produces a sanctuary that allows insurgents to come over to where the international force is.
Q General, just to follow up quickly on that, do you see the Frontier Corps, though, as an entity that likely is infiltrated by insurgents that might want to be attacking Afghanistan? And then secondly, you talked about the need to do more cross-border operations. You've been vocal about not having the forces to do that. Can you talk about the forces that you do need? And in particular, perhaps, what you see coming -- what you recommended down the road?
GEN. MCNEILL: Well, I -- if I live to be as old as Methuselah, I'll be forever scarred by one event that occurred, and that was the assassination -- and I don't have a better expression for it -- of Major Wesley Bogguss (sp), a fine officer of the 82nd Airborne Division, spring of last year. We had some friction between the Afghans and the Pakistanis at the border. There was actually shooting. And as is our wont, we said: Oh, hey, boys, settle down and let's talk and sort this out. So we met, bringing some Afghans along with us on the Pakistani side of the border and had a meeting trying to settle this out, which went well. But at the end of the meeting, when everybody was gathering to leave, and Major Bogguss (sp) was shot down by a member of the Frontier Corps, who himself was immediately shot down by an American soldier -- I think that anecdote doesn't define everything about the Frontier Corps, but it to this day troubles me.
And it's not my first exposure, that event.
We had a fine platoon sergeant, later a first sergeant, who went back to Afghanistan as a first sergeant, on my first tour there, if I remember correctly, late December 2002, who was shot in the neck by a frontier corpsman, as we were having a meeting at the border between -- (inaudible).
So there are indeed some challenges there. But for me to pick a few anecdotes and then indict the entire frontier corps, that probably wouldn't be fair. And it probably wouldn't be right and probably wouldn't be what a professional soldier ought to do.
I'd just simply leave it to say that I think the Pakistanis, in using the frontier corps as a military entity, to take on the insurgency, will find some challenges. And we are likely to, as we try to work with them, from our side of the border to their side of the border, find it somewhat challenging.
I don't typically talk about aggregate numbers of troops needed. But I do talk about capability needed. And I think I've been very clear in previous press reports.
NATO forces underresourced -- I'm not the only one saying it. The secretary-general has said it. SACEUR has said it. The head of the NATO military committee has said it. And at my last count, somewhere between six and eight ministers of defense or secretaries of defense have said it.
It's an underresourced force. There's no news there. The secretary-general has been saying it since January 2007. And it remains. Although it has grown, it remains an underresourced force. How badly is it an underresourced force? Well, that's subject to debate.
I will point out that many of you have written fine articles and touted U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine; a product of a couple of friends of mine mostly leading to that. And I think it is very good doctrine.
If you take the calculus out of that doctrine and say, what do you really need in Afghanistan, here's what you'll come up with. You'll come up with a force, a security force, that's well over 400,000. And that's on the basis of land mass, 660-some-odd-thousand square kilometers. Contrast that with Iraq, which is 440-some- thousand square kilometers.
Population is estimated to be 3-to-5 million bigger than Iraq's, somewhere between 25 and 31 million. And that's the best estimate we have, because they haven't had a census since the decade of the '60s.
You put all that together, as I said, it's well over 400,000. That would be a combination of international force and indigenous force. Well, that's an absurd figure. It's not likely to happen.
And, in fact, to get that much force there might be counterintuitive, because -- here's something I've found from the Afghans frequently when I was out in the hinterlands. They would say, "Hey, look, we don't want you here, you internationals, but don't you leave. We need you to stay here and do for us what you're doing for us." And about half of them, after they'd say that, would not look at me, but look off like this and say, "I wish my government could do for me what you do for me."
So going back to something I said earlier, the answer is we've got to get the Afghans enabled. But before we do that, we have to acknowledge that there are at least three grouping of wills at play here. There are the wills of Europeans governments and their peoples, the wills of the North American governments and their peoples and the will of the Afghan people. Those all have shelf lifes. They're perishable. How long will they last? Well, that's a good question. I think the most resilient one is likely the will of the Afghan people.
If there are going to be sanctuaries just out of reach, it doesn't matter how many insurgents you kill or capture. They can continue to train -- recruit, train, breed. And so it seems to me, at some juncture, the Afghans have to take on their responsibility for security of their own battlespace. And I think they're well on the way of doing that. I don't -- they're not there. And they've got a few years to go yet before they get there, but I think you will see them start to begin -- I think you will see the beginning about August of them taking over battlespace. And it'll be a slow process, but it'll occur in that -- (inaudible).
So the question becomes can we get the job with the force we have done now (sic), which we all agree is an underresourced force? The answer to that is yes. It will simply take longer. Well, what does that mean? Well, if it takes longer, then we have shelf life of the three groupings of wills I mentioned. We've got a problem. If you want a faster rate of progress, you need a more capable force. If you're not willing to make the force more capable then you have to accept the pace that you're presently at, which, by some people's reckoning is somewhat slow. But I think the force could get it done over time. And I say that just on the basis of how much I've seen the Afghan army advance and how much I was encouraged up until my last day of what I saw in the police.
So I've seen numbers attributed to me -- aggregate numbers, more. I've never uttered an aggregate number. And if somebody else wants to utter it, that's fine with me. I've simply talked in terms of capability. You need more maneuver units. You need more flying machines. And you need more intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems.
Q You said -- how many troops would you need to do the job, sir?
GEN. MCNEILL: I said --
Q (Off mike.)
GEN. MCNEILL: If you took U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine and you simply took the math out of there, you're going to come up with a number that's well over 400,000. That number is computed on the basis of land mass and indigenous population. It's also -- has an underpinning of -- the aim of counterinsurgency operation is to defeat not the insurgent, but his strategy. And the best way to do that is to separate the people from the insurgent. Security operation is not the only way to do it. You need reconstruction. You need the right kind of governance.
And let's just say that somebody waved a magic wand and, by gosh, between the Afghans and the international force, you produced a force that was well over 400,000.
You'd have some instant quiet in a lot of areas of the country. But in some areas, you'd see a different kind of friction arising. And so it's probably -- to get that many in there would be somewhat counterintuitive.
Q Sir, yeah, I just wondered if I could ask kind of a broader question about Pakistan in a different way. If we assume for a minute that Pakistan remains in steady state and that they don't -- aren't able to do whatever it is that you --
GEN. MCNEILL: But that's not the predictions we're seeing in the newspapers.
Q Now -- but if we just said for -- just for five minutes -- is it possible to bring the kind of peace and stability you're looking for in Afghanistan without Pakistan's -- any help from Pakistan at all?
GEN. MCNEILL: I don't think so. Look, our Afghan brothers often utter that all their problems have to do with Pakistan. And you and I know -- if you've traveled in that region, you know that's not accurate. There's not a Pakistani miscreant behind every tree in Afghanistan. It's simply not so. And if you absolutely could -- and I don't think you can -- could close the border, you'd still have some interior problems in Afghanistan that would have to be dealt with. There are still insurgents there.
Six neighbors, and they all have a role to play, as I see it. Some might have sanctuaries that allow the recruiting and training -- the breeding, if you will -- of insurgents. Others perhaps turn a blind eye to the illegal narcotics traffic that passes across their common border with Afghanistan. Some are so concerned with what the government of self-determination that presently exists in Afghanistan might be that maybe their aims are more political, but because a government of self-determination frightens them, they're doing things that are not helpful.
I've said this before. Anybody who wants to have a view of Afghanistan and who does so only in the context of Afghanistan, in my belief, will opine incorrectly about Afghanistan about 99 percent of the time. If you cannot see it as a regional issue, you're not going to see it clearly.
Take the illegal cultivation of poppy, for example. In at least five provinces in the south, in a certain number of districts in those provinces, I became of the belief that illegal cultivation of poppy there was the insurgency or the insurgency was the illegal cultivation of poppy. And it's something the Afghans have to take on. I don't think the international community can do this for them. We can support them. We can back them up. But if they want the south a little calmer, especially in those five provinces, they're going to have to take on this business of narcotics and the illegal cultivation of poppy.
Now, I know the piece about those -- especially some of my European brothers -- that says: Look, you've got to give them some alternatives.
Last year the country of Afghanistan had its best moisture, by the reckoning of most meteorologists, since the decade of the '50s. And the moisture comes from snow melt in the Hindu Kush and the spring rains. What I understand about the civil culture (sic) of poppy and wheat -- wheat'll grow about any place that poppy will grow, most any place.
You can eat wheat; you cannot eat poppy, yet the people of Afghanistan, by September or October last year, found themselves going to neighbors saying: We need some help, we don't have all the wheat we need.
What's wrong with that picture? I mean, to me, that's pretty clear.
I think the Afghans must realize that poppy is literally and figuratively poisoning their children, and they can no longer go on like this. They have to take a stand on the thing.
There has to be a clear and unambiguous statement coming out of that government saying that poppy, presently, in many respects, defines our country. It's a negative definition, every trait and characteristic, and we're no longer going to stand for it. But we need our international brothers to help us deal with it, and they've got to get it under control.
Q Can I get your thoughts real quick? Admiral Mullen has said that if he could call up a brigade, the first one he would send would be a training brigade.
GEN. MCNEILL: I would agree with that.
Q You agree with that?
GEN. MCNEILL: Embed. I think he said embed. Yeah.
Q Yeah, as opposed to the combat forces.
GEN. MCNEILL: Check.
Q But also, without that brigade, how do you see the trend line of the ANA growing without that -- without any additional support?
GEN. MCNEILL: Well, the advent of the 24th MEU and the 2-7 Marine BLT was certainly a blessing for my time there. I don't think there's any debate about what the 24th MEU is doing down in southern Helmand, but I think what was occurring quietly and was even more noteworthy was what the 2-7 Marine BLT was doing backing up the police in the northern portion of Helmand, part of Farah, and eventually spreading out around the south. And I'll leave it to David McKiernan now to say what's important to him, but from my time there, I'm in agreement with the chairman that at the top of the list, if we had more U.S. resources to put over there, the embeds are likely the most important.
MODERATOR: We have reached the end of our time, so maybe just one more.
GEN. MCNEILL: Oh, yes, Anne (sp), it's good to see you again.
Q (Off mike.) Just to follow up on a couple of like statistical trends, is it true that the attack levels in April or May are higher than they were at the same time last year? And I know that obviously attacks increase when there is more intense operations, but isn't that also sort of revealing the intensity of the insurgency?
GEN. MCNEILL: First question first. My recollection is that we were up by about 50 percent in the U.S.-led sector, meaning RC East, in April, not throughout the country. But we were -- in the month of April, we saw about a 50 percent. And my view is that's directly attributable to the lack of pressure on the other side of the border. It may also be true that in the month of April, we were having a change-out. And Marty Schweitzer from 4th Brigade of the 82nd left. Pete Johnson came in.
And they figure out fairly quickly a week or two when there -- there are new units in, and they punch a little bit of the new unit. But I think if you go back and really analyze what was happening there, I believe we were out afield more and creating as many of those.
Now, here's something else. If we get an IED, the ISAF measurement was that was an insurgent attack. All they have to do is put a mine or an IED in the ground, and if we drive over it, we consider that an insurgent attack. And with the NATO way of doing it -- and I suppose I could have forced a change on that, but I still question the logic of that. And in fact, that's the technique of choice. We predicted it more than a year ago. Here's what's going to happen. After we pushed up to north Helmand, after the operation that was called Achilles, it became pretty clear they could not stand toe to toe with us. And so, indeed, IEDs are up.
We also said that suicide bombers were likely up. By the time I left for the year of 2008, they had not gone up in the ways we had predicted.
So I stand by what I said. I think the untoward events are caused more by the International Security Assistance Force, the OEF forces and the Afghan brothers than they are by the insurgents. And maybe how we account for this data is somewhat misleading. But no, I stand by what I said, that they're just --
Q And just to follow up on the geographic location, are you -- you know, it has traditionally been concentrated in these core districts. Are you seeing some spreading out of those core districts? And what about -- in the area of Kabul, specifically, are you worried about the increased around Kabal?
GEN. MCNEILL: You'll remember, Anne, 34 provinces inside of Afghanistan, and within those 34 provinces, 364 districts. And we were sort of monitoring what went on in Afghanistan last year by province. And towards the end of the year, we realized we had to get a lot more focused on IEDs and where they would likely occur, so we went back -- this was in December of last year -- and we looked at every event that we had recorded and assigned it not by province but exactly what district did it occur in.
And we had a blinding flash of the obvious. We had an epiphany. We had something we intuitively knew, but we had no empirical data to back it up. We found that 70 to 71 percent of the events of all last year occurred in about 10 percent of the districts, 40 of the districts.
And we -- as I said, we just knew that intuitively. We didn't have the data to back it up. So we, this year, more closely assigned things to districts rather than paying attention to the provinces. And the day that I left, we were in about the same position. I think it was 76, 77 percent of the events through the 3rd of June had occurred in 40 districts. And oddly, they were about the same 40 districts as last year.
It sort of goes against those who say the insurgency is spreading. I'm not sure that it is. I think it's staying roughly in the same places. You'll get an event up north or you'll get some events out west. And certainly in Farah we probably created those when we pushed so hard in the northern part of Helmand, we got some -- fairly good intelligence says they simply shifted over to where we were a little bit lighter and a little less manned. And that would be in Farah province. And I suspect there's some in the upper tier of Nimroz, because we have nothing in Nimroz to put the pressure on.
So I don't think it is growing or spreading.
Now, if you want to really -- you can make an argument to say, well, if you know there are 40 provinces where you're going to have 76, 77 percent of the -- districts -- why don't you just fall in all of them? Well, guess what's the leading district this year?
And it was last year too but it's leading by a dramatic amount this year. It counts for about, through the 3rd of June, it accounted for about 11 or 12 percent of the events. It's Garmser in Helmand. Guess where the 24th MEU is operating? Hello.
So it's just something that we couldn't get to. We didn't have -- we knew it was a dark hole, and we had to get to it. We simply didn't have the force. Dr. Gates made the decision, hey, I'm going to give you these Marines, but they're not going to stay forever, and you had better make good use of them.
I believe the record will show we did make real, good use of them. But it's -- I do not share the view, that many do, that this thing is spreading. It's not. The empirical data doesn't support that.
Q Can we just clarify? The 50 percent is April year-over- year, not month-to-month.
GEN. MCNEILL: The aggregate number of untoward events, in the U.S.-led sector known as RC East, in April of 2007 -- compared to 2008, there was a 50 percent increase, if I remember correctly what -- (name inaudible) -- told me.
Q Can I sneak half a question in?
GEN. MCNEILL: Yeah.
Q The one thing you haven't mentioned at all, that I find fascinating, is Musharraf.
Given all your views now about the Pakistani government, the Pakistani military, the lack of dealing with all of this, in your view, from a military point of view, is Musharraf even relevant anymore? Is he so weakened that he's not a factor in this? What's his role, in your calculation and analysis?
GEN. MCNEILL: That's one outside of my lane, Barbara. And boy, that's one you should put to maybe the secretary of Defense or even the president of the United States, I suppose, because they deal at that level. And although I've had conversations with President Musharraf, the bulk of my conversations in Pakistan have always been with either Ahsan Hyat or Kayani.
Q But when you --
GEN. MCNEILL: Here's an American citizen's observation of what I see. And I'm not offering this as a NATO commander or a U.S. four- star; just an American citizen. I do it mostly on reading the newspapers.
There's a certain amount of dysfunction that exists in Islamabad right now. And it's probably a challenge even for the Pakistanis, to figure out who exactly is in charge of the government. And that's about as far as I could probably go on that one.
Thank you. Appreciate all the kindnesses you've extended to my family and myself and especially, Barbara, to my wife several years ago, on my first tour there. That was very nice of you.
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