DoD News Briefing with Gen. McKiernan from the Pentagon
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Okay, everybody smile. It's okay. (Laughter.)
Well, good morning. I'm -- for those of you who don't know me, I'm David McKiernan. I'm the commander of ISAF; been in the job about four months over there in Afghanistan now. I'm back here for -- in Washington for a couple days of meetings, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to meet with you all this morning.
And I know you don't want to hear me talk for too long, so I won't. And then I'll be happy to take any questions you have.
What I have found after four months in Afghanistan is that the environment there is even more complex than I would have thought prior to my arrival. It's complex in terms of geography; it's complex in terms of demographics, of resources, or more specifically the lack of resources, to include what I normally like to refer to as the lack of human capital, the lack of -- the availability of people that can provide governance in Afghanistan, and that's probably a fact of education in many years to come.
It's a country where they have experienced 30 straight years of war that's left a traumatized society and a traumatized tribal system in Afghanistan. It's a problem that must be looked at, I think, as a regional problem, together with Pakistan and the rest of the Afghan neighborhood.
And there is what we call a nexus of insurgency. There's a very broad range of militant groups that are combined with the criminality, with the narcotrafficking system, with corruption, that form a threat and a challenge to the future of that great country.
Now, that said, I will tell you that I'm more convinced than ever that the insurgency will not win in Afghanistan. The vast majority of the people there do not want a return of the Taliban. They don't want a return of a radical form of government such as the Taliban, but progress is very uneven.
In some places in Afghanistan, we see very positive signs of improved security and governance and some economic revitalization or reconstruction in most cases. But in large parts of Afghanistan, we don't see progress. And we're into a very tough counterinsurgency fight and will be for some time.
We need more resources. It's not a question though of just military resources. It's a question of more civilian resources, more governance, more economic aid to Afghanistan and more regional stability as well. And I like to say that winning in Afghanistan is about the future of the Afghan government and about extending the authority of a legitimate Afghan government that meets the needs of the people there.
It's not about the future of NATO. It's not about any coalition success. It's about the Afghans and the Afghan government. So with that, I'll be happy to take your questions.
Q General, General Petraeus said, I think, yesterday that things were likely to get worse before they get better in Afghanistan. I'm wondering if you agree with that as you sort of look ahead to the next year there. And as you look ahead, how quickly do you need some of these additional resources that you've talked very openly about over the last several weeks.
Do you need them now to do the winter offensive that you've talked about? Or can you wait until later next spring? And have you gotten any commitments for the civilian resources that you need?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I think, we are in a very tough fight, a tough counterinsurgency fight. We're a higher level of violence this year, this time this year, than we were this time last year.
In the, in the East and the South, we are seeing a greater amount of insecurity in certain areas. So I won't say that things are all on the right track especially in the South and the East. So I think we are in a tough fight.
So the idea that it might get worse before it gets better is certainly a possibility in Afghanistan. We're facing a tougher threat right now especially in the East, where we have a U.S. division.
We seen an increased number of foreign fighters, non-Pashtun- speaking fighters in the East, increased levels of violence, people that generally don't feel secure, don't have freedom of movement. And so the additional military capabilities that have been asked for are needed as quickly as possible. And those are a range of assets.
It's not just additional boots on the ground. It's enablers to go with them. But at the same time, I would tell you that it's not just a question about more soldiers. It's a question about more governance, about more economic aid, about more political assistance for the government of Afghanistan, as well as military capabilities.
Q General, last time, I heard, the commander had requested four additional brigade combat teams. Is that still the case? Or do you need even more than that?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: What I had done was validate a requirement for three additional brigade -- ground brigade combat teams that my predecessor had made. That is three ground brigade combat teams, and then there's a series of enablers that go with them, things like helicopters, increased intelligence assets, logistics, transportation and so on.
Since I got there four months ago, we found we were in a heavier fight, a larger fight in the east than we had anticipated, so we asked for some immediate forces for Regional Command East where the 101st Air Assault Division is. And that's the brigade that was just approved for deployment to Afghanistan in the January time frame, the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division.
So if you want total those up, you could say it's four brigade combat teams with enablers.
Q And does that include the request for 3,500 trainers or is the trainer request on top of that?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: The trainer request is being reviewed right now, because what we're looking to in the future there is having units come to Afghanistan that are trained to conduct counterinsurgency operations, but are -- also have been trained to work with the Afghan army and the Afghan police. So that might change the requirement for what are called the training teams or the police mentoring teams in the future.
Q Sir, how do you balance the need for more troops but also the concern that the larger footprint you have, the Afghan's are going to react against that and treat you like they did the Soviet military?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, first of all, I see absolutely zero comparison between what's going on with ISAF and the United States now in Afghanistan and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
But what we need is additional military capabilities to provide security for the people in Afghanistan. And until we get to what I call a "tipping point," where the lead for security can be in the hands of the Afghan army and the Afghan police, there's going to be a need for the international community to provide military capability.
So, yes, is there a -- is there a balance between having foreign presence in Afghanistan and being seen as an occupier? That's always a possibility. But until we get to having developed sufficient capacity and capability inside of Afghanistan we're going to need a continued international military and government presence there in that country.
Q Thank you, sir. I'm wondering if any thought was being given to migrating the lessons of the Iraq Awakening to Afghanistan to get some of these tribal leaders to have their fighting forces work with you, either because it's the right thing or just for the money, or is the situation so different that that's not applicable?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I think the similarity is the fact that we need to leverage the tribal system in Afghanistan as was done in Iraq, as -- for a community, bottom-up based approach to security and connection with the government. That part's the same.
What I find in Afghanistan, however, is a degree of complexity in the tribal system which is much greater than what I found in Iraq years ago.
And I also find that of the over 400 major tribal networks inside of Afghanistan, they have been largely, as I said earlier, traumatized by over 30 years of war, so a lot of that traditional tribal structure has broken down.
But the question and the need to engage the tribes, to engage tribal authorities and use those values at a local level to enhance security, governance, needs of the people to be able to express grievances with the government of Afghanistan, I think, is an important concept and one that we have to continue to work in support of the government of Afghanistan.
Q General, President Karzai has spoken in recent days about the fact that he's reached out to Mullah Omar, he's enlisted the Saudis as mediators in that, and called on him basically to try and work to create a stable Afghanistan. How do you judge those efforts? Is that compatible with the NATO or U.S. objective, to reach out to someone who gave shelter to Osama bin Laden?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, the idea of reconciliation certainly needs to be a government of Afghanistan-led effort. What I have said -- as a military officer, I've said that the -- ultimately the solution in Afghanistan is going to be a political solution, not a military solution. We're not going to run out of bad guys there that want to do bad things in Afghanistan.
So the idea that the government of Afghanistan will take on the idea of reconciliation, I think, is appropriate, and we'll be there to provide support within our mandate. It won't be a military-led operation.
Q Previously, commanders certainly talked about people who are reconcilable and people who aren't, people who would be beyond the pale. Is Mullah Omar not in that category for you?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I think that's a political decision that will ultimately be made by political leadership.
Q Thank you. This is actually a follow-up to Jennifer's question. Secretary Gates last week expressed some skepticism about whether more U.S. troops were really the answer in Afghanistan. He said that the answer may be -- in his mind was building up the Afghani army rather than having more U.S. troops. Is there a gap in thinking between you and the secretary?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: No, I don't think there's a gap at all. I think we're totally in agreement that ultimately what we want to do -- winning this campaign -- is about building Afghan capacity and capability. So recently there's been a -- an international support to increase the size of the Afghan army. We need to increase the size of the Afghan police. We need to continue to reform the Afghan police. But until such time as we get to a capable Afghan security organization that can provide security for the people, there's going to be a reliance on international forces. So I don't think the idea is incompatible at all.
Q And you're confident that Secretary Gates shares that view that you just --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I believe he does. We've talked about it.
Q General, we are seeing reports now that there's a push from the Pak army to back tribal militias in the Waziristan area to sort of rid al Qaeda from that area, similar to what we saw in the "awakening" in Anbar, that kind of strategy.
Are you seeing this? And would you welcome, would you support that kind of an effort from Pakistan?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: We have seen some reports of local tribal leaders and tribes acting against some of the militant sanctuaries in the tribal areas in Pakistan, and we think that's an encouraging development.
Q General, you've expressed frustration in the past about the Pakistani counterterrorism efforts on their side. Can you give us your current assessment of the operations along the border, particularly in the Bajaur operation they have now, but also in Waziristan?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I'm -- Eric, I'm cautiously optimistic. I think that what we're seeing is Pakistani leadership taking on a deteriorated militant sanctuary in the tribal areas that has deteriorated over the last several years. And now there's a recognition among some that that poses a(n) existential threat to the future of Pakistan. And I am encouraged by the military operations that the Pakistani army and Frontier Corps have undertaken in places like Bajaur. And we're watching those very closely to see if there's a cause and effect with the strength of the insurgency on the Afghan side of the border. But we think that's a positive step that they are taking on those militant sanctuaries.
Q So you haven't seen any effect -- cause and effect on the other side yet?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: It is probably too early to see if there's been an effect on the sustainment of foreign fighters, of supplies, of facilitation on the Afghan side of the border.
Q General, as you prepare to take on the title of the commander of American forces in Afghanistan, I'm just wondering: How tough a sell is that among NATO allies? And how is that going to change the way you operate?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I think, as we sit here this morning, that hasn't happened yet. So I don't want to be premature on -- but I think it's a positive step in terms of unity of effort of -- for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. I don't know how -- if it was politically a tough sell with our allies. I would tell you that I think it's a good initiative, and it will create a greater unity of effort and unity of command in U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Q And in terms of that unity of command, what do you see needing to happen there? What do --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, what this initiative, if approved, if confirmed by the Congress, what it basically does is place all of the 101st Division under the operational command of commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan, as well as CSTC-A Alpha, the trainers that train the Afghan army and the police, and the tactical control of the Special Forces in Afghanistan.
Q Sir, I was wondering if there was any progress on the investigation into the Azizabad incident. And just sort of following up on that, I know, President Karzai has said that there should be some sort of new agreement on how American forces operate -- (inaudible). Could you comment on that?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, on the, on the whole effort, effort of or issue of civilian casualties, that certainly is one of my top challenges, to try to make sure we have the right measures in place to minimize the possibility of civilian casualties.
When we do have an operation that results in civilian casualties, it's been inadvertently caused, as opposed to our enemy, who causes civilian casualties on purpose.
We continue to work some initiatives with the government of Afghanistan for the future that says if we have allegations of civilian casualties, we need to quickly combine our efforts to jointly investigate these allegations instead of separate investigations. But the CENTCOM follow-on to the incident in Azizabad is still -- has not been finalized and briefed to command or Central Command. So I can't comment on that.
Q But is there anything that you -- I know President Karzai has asked for, you know, new rules. And you'd have to consult with the Afghan government before -- (inaudible) -- before bombing, stuff like that. Have you -- what do you think of those?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, we've, I've, I've placed some new tactical instructions to the ISAF forces that to a large degree reemphasize some cultural sensitivities in that country about knocking on doors, about targeting. We will continue.
I've told my forces to continue the effort to partner with Afghan forces. So we conduct more and more operations together with Afghan army and Afghan police. And as I said, I will -- we're working out a way ahead to jointly investigate any allegations of civilian casualties in the future.
Q As you know, a lot of folks here are talking about strategy and what the way ahead is for Afghanistan. As part of that, they talk about the reality that Afghanistan may look different and can't look the same as Iraq even does now.
What's your current assessment of what the ultimate endgame for Afghanistan can be?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I think first of all, I find it sometimes not very helpful to try to compare Iraq and Afghanistan. I think they're two very different environments. But as I said earlier, I believe that in looking at what is winning the campaign in Afghanistan, a couple things are important.
First of all, it's important that winning is seen in Afghan terms. It's about extending a viable level of governance in Afghanistan which is -- meets the needs of the people and provides for certain level of security and economic promise for the future.
I also believe that part of that solution in Afghanistan must be seen as a regional problem set. I've consistently said that it's very difficult for me to imagine the right outcome in Afghanistan without the right outcome in the militant sanctuaries on the Pakistani side of the border.
So I think it's a regional problem set that will require regional solutions. And I think that stability in that region is of a vital national interest to this country.
Q General, Gerry Gilmore, American Forces Press Service. Is it plausible to -- I hate the word speculate, but -- are we going to try to use these additional troops to hammer these militants that are operating along the Afghan-Pakistan border with Pakistani help, in other words, more unity of effort with the Paks as well? Do you see like a hammer-and-anvil type of scenario?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I think -- I think there is certainly an opportunity for greater coordination on both sides of the border on military operations and objectives, as well as mutual border security concerns. We are just scratching the surface, if you will, on how the Pak military and Frontier Corps, Afghan military and ISAF coordinate mutual border security concerns along a very porous, historically open border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. So I think there is a potential for increased military synchronization in the future.
Q Considering there's been an increase in foreign fighters, as you said, and the majority of the violence continues to be in the south and the east of Afghanistan, what's your assessment for how many of those foreign fighters are flowing in from Pakistan? And then can you talk just a little bit more about any recent agreements that the U.S., NATO, Afghanistan, Pakistan have to step up any additional efforts along that border?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, let me take the second part first. As a NATO commander, my mandate stops at the border. So unless there is a clear case of self-protection to fire across the border, we don't consider any operations across the border in the tribal areas.
The increase in foreign fighters -- and let's -- let me define what I -- what I consider foreign fighters: I say non-Afghan, non- Pashtun speaking fighters, the majority of which have come across the border from these tribal sanctuaries inside of Pakistan. So they can range from Punjabi dialects, Uzbek, Chechen, Arab, sometimes European, elsewhere, Saudi Arabian.
And I don't see that as being a shift. I know some people speculated that that's a shift from Iraq to Pakistan. I don't see that, but I do see an increased number of fighters that have come out of these militant areas in Pakistan.
Q Can you quantify that at all, how many you're seeing?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: No. It's very difficult to quantify. But based on signals intelligence and human intelligence, it's a -- it's a significant increase from what we saw this time last year.
Q Do you have any information about Baitullah Mehsud? There was a report yesterday that he died in the --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I don't. I saw that report -- very bad man. I saw that report, but I can't confirm it.
Q And are you considering or looking into a program that would be similar to the Sons of Iraq, where you would actually start paying some of the tribes, that the U.S. money would go to some of the tribes to get --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: No, the difference in Afghanistan is that needs to be an Afghan-led effort to engage the tribes. And there is a program called the Afghan Social Outreach Program which President Karzai is -- tasked one of his ministers to lead. But one of the real differences, again, between Afghanistan and Iraq was, if you recall, Afghanistan was in the midst of a civil war when we intervened. And that potential is still there, so this needs to be an Afghan-led effort on how to engage the tribes and what the incentives are and how to use the traditional tribal authorities to help with community security and community assistance.
Q General, to follow up on what you said earlier about the tipping point with the Afghan security forces, as you look down the road, how far away do you see this tipping point, considering what you've been able to assess in the last four months? And then just -- can you clarify a little bit what you were saying about the trainers? Do you not think you'll need those additional trainers because of this sort of dual-hatting that the other troops are going to do?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: No. We know we need additional trainers and mentors for both the Afghan army and the Afghan police, but we're going to review what the existing requirements are and look at changing the paradigm in the future so that we bring units that are dual-mission; they're trained in counterinsurgency, but they're also trained to go work with the Afghan army and the police. So that might change what the required number of training teams are in the future.
And -- I'm sorry -- the other part of the question?
Q The tipping point.
GEN. MCKIERNAN: The tipping point. I find it -- I can't put a time to it. We have, I think, a very good plan to grow the size and the capability of the Afghan army over the next four to five years. It's on the right path. The Afghan soldier is a very good soldier. He's got good leadership. He's very committed to his country. So if we get the training and equipping and mentoring right, that's growing the right capacity.
With policing, it's a tougher proposition. It's a question of reforming the police, of changing them basically from a very corrupt institution, not well-respected in Afghanistan, to one that is the primary protector of the people. That is just -- as all of you know, once you separate the insurgency from the population, it's the police that need to stay in there and hold and protect the people. And so we've got to put a lot of effort in the police in the future.
Q (Off mike) -- just unclear, on your -- on the trainers. The three additional brigades, after you get the 3-10 in January, will that suffice or are you still unsure whether on top of that you need --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I wouldn't want to -- I wouldn't want to put a finite number to it and say if you -- if we had three more brigades, that's the end of the requirements.
And remember, I said there are other enablers that must go with that, such as transportation assets, intelligence assets, ISR, et cetera. So that's a continuous assessment of what is needed there, but we know we need additional forces.
Q General -- ah, my question just escaped me. (Chuckles.)
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Shall I go back to you?
Q Yeah. Thank you.
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Okay.
Q Do you see the insurgency in Afghanistan and along the border region as a longer-term security threat to the United States than, say, Iraq?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: That's a difficult question. I'd see the insurgency as a -- is a regional issue. It's about the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan. And what we don't want to allow is the continuation of sanctuary areas that -- where global terrorist organizations can operate from, because that's the threat back here in the United States.
Q Sir, I want to go back to your question about what winning in Afghanistan looks like. You said earlier it was about stability and about the future of the Afghan government. Could you elaborate on that? What does a stable Afghanistan look like? What kind of government is in place?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Yeah. Well, the history of that great country is one that there's never been a -- the idea of a central Afghanistan government that reaches out into all the districts of Afghanistan. There's always been historically a balance between central government and local autonomy.
I -- that's out of my lane. I'm a -- I'm into the security business, as a military leader, but I would think that the future of Afghanistan -- winning will get to a level of governance that balances that central government that can provide the expected services and needs of the people, balance with a degree of local autonomy and the traditional tribal authorities that exist in most of the rural areas in Afghanistan.
Q Can you have, though, a secure Afghanistan with a fractured tribal system, or does that need to be --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I think it seems to me that it's a -- it's this comprehensive approach that has to put security, better governance and economic reconstruction and development together to create the conditions where some of those traditional tribal values and authorities can reestablish themselves.
Q Back, for a moment, to the tipping point question: I understand you can't put a time frame on it, but without respect to time, what will be the signals or the signposts that you're reaching or approaching that tipping point? What will you look to to -- (off mike)?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I think -- no, I think that's a question we're always asking ourselves. How are we doing? How do we measure ourselves? So it's a question of metrics. It's metrics that are -- that show certain security progress, freedom of movement being an example -- how are we doing on freedom of movement so people can get their produce from one bazaar to another market, how can they move around the ring road of Afghanistan.
So there are metrics on security, there are metrics on governance, how well are we doing at the different levels of governance in Afghanistan, starting at the local village level and working up through municipal, district, provincial and national level.
And then of course there are a whole series of economic and social indicators and metrics -- how many students are going to school, what's the literacy rate, how well is medical coverage improving in Afghanistan, how are the irrigation systems being reestablished in Afghanistan, agriculture, counternarcotics.
There's a variety of metrics that all have to be looked at to see how we're doing on getting to this tipping point.
Q Are you close on any of those metrics? Would you say that you are --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I think we're still some ways off in all three of those lines of operation -- governance, security and economic reconstruction and development.
Q General, it was alluded to earlier there's a lot of strategy reviews, a lot of close looks going on at the moment on the approach in Afghanistan. What's your message feeding into those; basically just keep doing what we're doing but ramp up the level of effort? Or do you see any major changes that need to be made in the U.S. --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, what I try to do is provide the best military advice, and I look at what we need to assist the Afghan government and the Afghan security forces in providing better security for the people. So it's my assessment and my input of what do we need in additional capabilities, whether they're American, whether they're from the rest of the international community or whether they're developing -- further developing the Afghan security forces. But I try to provide input on the security conditions.
Q So what is your -- is your advice that there needs to be any change in approach or just in terms of the level of effort?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I think -- I would say first of all the level of effort needs to be increased. There are certain areas that need to be focused on in the south and the east. And I think -- a topic that was brought up earlier -- I think there is a great promise in engaging through the Afghan government some traditional tribal authorities to help with the security situation in Afghanistan. I think ultimately that's going to play a big factor in this.
How about in the back.
Q General, both the secretary and General Craddock have spoken of the need for ISAF to take on poppy eradication as part of its mission. Can you talk about the benefits of taking on that mission, what are the challenges that would be posed by taking on that? And what explains the opposition by some of the NATO partners?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I'm not sure if taking on eradication is the -- it was -- is the topic, but I think there's a need for increased involvement in ISAF in assisting the Afghan government in counternarcotics efforts. This is a narcotics system in Afghanistan and it permeates governance throughout the country. And what I have said from the day that I stepped into the job in Kabul was where -- where we can make a clear intelligence linkage between a counternarcotics -- or narcotics dealer or a facility and the insurgency, that I consider that a force protection issue and we can deal with that in a military way.
So for instance if there is a known heroin trafficker that's also trafficking in weapons or IED material or running fighters across the border from Pakistan or, you know, known linkage with the insurgency, that that's now, that's now a force protection issue. The -- that might not really be getting at the heart of your question.
Should the international community do more to support the Afghan government in counternarcotics? I believe the answer is probably yes. And I know General Craddock has approached NATO to look at reopening the mandate and relooking if there are some increased authorities that NATO should exercise in that business.
Q Sir, General Petraeus and General Odierno specifically said that they hope that the next president will listen to, you know, be in conversation with military commanders about the situation in Iraq, look at the conditions before they make decisions.
Without being political, what would you like the next president to do, in terms of your advice and the international community for Afghanistan?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I'm not going to be political. I'm going to give my best military advice to this president or the next president. And they will make a decision, which is what I do today.
Q Recognizing this is a stretch or you probably won't yield anything fundamental until a new president is here, what -- can you speak a little bit more as to what could be done here, now, in the next few months, that you could use? And what do you --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I think, I think, a large part of the need, and reviewing strategy is probably a running review that needs to be happening all the time. But I think to nobody's surprise, I think, we're looking at, you know, when and if we can shift some assets from Iraq to Afghanistan, U.S. assets. And I know that's a choice that has to be made here in Washington. And it is not just about additional brigade combat teams.
I'd like to say again, it's about other enabling assets. For example, with the size and the complexity of the terrain in Afghanistan, the helicopter is really our means of getting around that country.
We don't have enough helicopters. We don't have enough ISR. And so there's a full range of capabilities that the strategic assessment has to look at and determine whether we start to invest some additional resources in Afghanistan.
Q Are there things that you can realistically expect to kind of be delivered sometime in the coming --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I think so. I think so.
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Helicopters.
I mean, I think there's additional ISR assets that, I know, the secretary is adamant on procuring. And then continuing to work to build the Afghan army is another big one.
Q General, when you said the potential for civil war is still there in Afghanistan, can you talk about what you meant?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I mean that there's an environment of intra-tribal disputes that go back for years and years and years and centuries.
And so I find that the complexity of the tribal relationships in Afghanistan is a very complex one. And I -- and I would not want ISAF military commanders to be trying to decide which tribe should they support without letting the Afghan government do that. It's simple as that.
Q (Off mike) -- how likely a civil war is now?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I don't think it's likely right now. I think -- I think -- as I said, I think the vast majority of the people that live in Afghanistan, they want to defeat this insurgency first and they want a -- they want a secure environment and they believe in the idea of Afghanistan.
Q One of the very immediate effects of the recent fighting in the FATA is refugees fleeing from Pakistan into Afghanistan. The U.N. is saying there are several thousand that have entered Afghanistan in the last couple weeks. Is this considered by ISAF a force protection issue? Is there any kind of planning in place if, in fact, the fighting does continue there with the Pakistani military that NATO's going to have to step in and help the Afghan government? Can you update us on anything on --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I think there's a wide variety of international organizations to include the United Nations that are watching that very carefully. Thus far, there have been, as you said, some thousands that have come across the border from the tribal areas into Afghanistan, as opposed to hundreds of thousands that have been displaced inside of the tribal areas in Pakistan. So to date, it has not been a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, but I know there's a wide range of people looking at that all time.
Q Is there any consideration for a force protection issue?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Sure. Sure. Anytime you have migration of people across that border between Afghanistan and Pakistan there are force protection issues associated with it.
Q Sir, there's a lot of talk about the need for ISR and for helicopters, but in terms of an exit strategy, when we leave -- when ISAF leaves, when the U.S. leaves, do you see these as ready assets for the Afghan army? I mean, are they going to have access to these things? And if not, what then becomes the strategy for the Afghan army when all these assets are gone, for the most part?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I think -- I think -- first of all, I'm not even looking at an exit strategy right now, but I think as we develop the Afghan army, certainly the enablers like ISR, like -- there are Afghan army air corps, both fixed and rotary wing. There are logistics systems. There are intelligence systems. All those have to be in place so that they have a viable military force when we get to that tipping point we've talked about.
Q And do you see that as a realistic goal? Do you see that happening?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Absolutely. I think that the development of the Afghan army's on a very good path right now. It's more than just developing infantry. It's developing a full range of enabling capabilities that go with their army.
Q General, a question on this concept of some sort of Afghanistan awakening.
You said that the goal in this would be getting the Afghan government to empower these local tribes. But to some extent too, when you talk to folks they say, well, this is a strategy that was to some extent rejected early on because, you know, how would this impact the central government, empowering these local tribes; would that lead to decentralization. And, I mean that gets into issues of governments, and you said you're more of a security guy, too. So I guess the security question is, you know, would that be a security issue?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: First of all, I've never used the term "Afghanistan awakening." So don't -- please don't ascribe that to me.
What I've said, though, is that there is a traditional tribal structure in Afghanistan out in the rural areas, and that's 70 percent of the population. And it seems to me that with the lead of the government of Afghanistan engaging those tribes and connecting them to governance, whether it's at the provincial level or the district level, seems to be a smart thing to do to assist with the security of a huge country. But that has to be, again, a -- we are in support of the government of Afghanistan doing that. We don't do that. ISAF doesn't do that.
Q Do you have concerns that that would create some sort of a security issue for --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I think there's always concerns that it has to be done correctly or you get back into the problems of armed militias, of support to warlords, of corrupt practices. I'm sure that has to be looked at. But it needs to be a government of Afghanistan lead.
Q For a number of months, officials here in Washington have rejected requests for Minister Wardak to build the Afghan National Army. Those proposals have been accepted because of the security situation. Because it's easier to build an army than to build a government, are there concerns that the army and the defense infrastructure will become a rival center of power because the central government's struggling so much?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I don't see that. You know, that's who I deal with all the time, is the Ministry of Defense and the Afghan army. And I think they're very -- the leadership is very loyal to the idea of the future of Afghanistan. When I travel around Afghanistan, everywhere I go I make it a point to visit Afghan soldiers and talk to soldiers, and almost unanimously, the reason they serve as an Afghan soldier is the idea of Afghanistan. They're very patriotic and they want to serve to make a better future for their country. So I don't see that sort of rivalry developing.
Q Both presidential candidates have now endorsed the idea of sending more U.S. forces to Afghanistan. Does that give you optimism, looking ahead to next year, that the next administration, whoever is leading it, will be receptive to your requests for more troops?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I think there's a common view that we need to do more; that Afghanistan has been an economy of force for the last several years.
And so as resources become available, I think there's generally a uniform need -- a uniform view that we need to shift some of those assets to Afghanistan.
Q Have you briefed the two presidential candidates or any of their aides about the situation in Afghanistan?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I have -- Senator Obama came with a congressional delegation through Afghanistan -- I want to say about a month ago or a month and a half ago -- and yes, we did have the opportunity to brief him.
Q Senator McCain or his aides -- have you briefed them?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Not in the short time that I've been there.
MODERATOR: This will be the last question.
Q Minister Wardak, when he visited here a couple of weeks ago, spoke about a combined task force of Afghani/Pakistan/American forces along the border as being a potential solution for dealing with the cross-border insurgency issue. How practical is that, and is that a good idea?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I think it's a great idea. He surprised me a little bit because he mentioned that that was from the last Tripartite, which I was at. We didn't discuss that. (Laughter.) But I think it's a good idea. I think, in the future, I would certainly support the idea of combined patrolling along the -- along that border. And that border, you know, is not a border as we would know it in the United States. It's a very open, porous border. But the idea of a combined security effort there with Pakistani military or Frontier Corpsmen, Afghan border police, with ISAF coordinated along the border, I think, is a very powerful idea. And certainly I would like to pursue that in the future through the Tripartite process.
Q Do you think Pakistanis might be willing to accept that?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I think over time that there's a possibility, done the right way, that they would. There's -- there are mutual border security concerns that both the Afghans and the Pakistanis have. So the more we can work together to approach those concerns, the better off we all are.
Okay. Thank you very much. Good to see a lot of you again.
Q Thank you, sir.
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