DoD News Briefing with Gen. McKiernan from the Pentagon
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Good afternoon, everybody. You're authorized to smile in here. (Laughter.)
I know you probably think this is a -- I'm here in Washington to coincide with the president's announcement yesterday, but believe it or not I was -- I'm here for a two-day Army conference and it just happened that timing lined up. So -- but I am very delighted with the president's decision yesterday to send additional U.S. forces to reinforce our efforts in Afghanistan. I will use most of those forces in the southern part of Afghanistan, an area where we do not have sufficient security presence, an area that has deteriorated somewhat, an area where we need persistent security presence in order to fight a counterinsurgency and to shape clear, hold and build in support of a rapidly developing Afghan capacity.
Those forces, of course, are aimed at being operational by the highest part of the insurgent fighting season this summer, and to be in place and operational before the projected elections in August of 2009, and really to give us a security foundation that will allow the other lines of operations, in governance and socioeconomic progress, to take place and change what I've called a stalemate in the south.
But I would like to reinforce what the president has said, that this is not going to be won by military forces alone. And while this will give us a security foundation, we certainly need additional contributions, civilian capacity building programs that will enable people in Afghanistan to feel hope and to develop their abilities to take the lead for their governance. And I don't think any of this decision prejudges the strategic reviews that the new administration is doing and -- which will lead them into further decisions in the year.
And I -- even with these additional forces, I have to tell you that 2009 is going to be a tough year. There are the baseline problems of poverty and literacy and violence that have occurred over the last three decades in that country, so that's not going to turn around quickly. But we do see, with these additional forces, an opportunity to break this stalemate, at least in terms of security conditions in the south. So I look forward to the arrival of these capabilities and to the further contributions and commitment by the international community.
So let me stop there and take questions.
Q General, you mentioned the ongoing administration strategic review of Afghanistan. What do you see needs to be changed?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I think, first of all, there are several different strategic reviews, and I know President Obama has to be -- feel comfortable that he -- he's brought all these together, and it's a strategic review that he is comfortable with. And to explain, I -- no matter what happens in terms of ends and ways, we know we need additional means in Afghanistan. Whether they are security or governance-related or socioeconomic-related, additional resources, I think, are the common denominator.
Q Beyond troops -- I know at one point you thought that troops were the most important asset or --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I've always said -- actually, I've always said that this will not be a military outcome; this will eventually be a political outcome. It will be decided by people that live in Afghanistan. And so developing governance at all levels and socioeconomic programs are certainly very, very critical to this.
Q Can I ask you your impression of this new -- the Swat agreement that was announced yesterday by the Pakistani government? What are the military implications to the U.S. troops and NATO troops in eastern Afghanistan? Are you concerned that this will embolden the Taliban to increase their cross-border attacks from the FATA area?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, certainly one of the long-term reasons why there has been an increase in violence in Afghanistan is -- is because of the sanctuaries that exist in tribal areas of Pakistan, although Swat is not in a tribal area of Pakistan. There has been a history of political agreements in some of the areas in Pakistan which have not played out real well in the past. So we're going to watch this very carefully and see how that does affect our -- the insurgency on the Afghan side of the border.
Q One follow-up. Does this agreement cause you concern that Pakistan will ever become a reliable partner in the quest to stabilize Afghanistan?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I think -- I think it's in -- first of all, it's in the view of the international community and the United States this is a regional challenge. That's why you hear the term "Af-Pak." But I think from my time in that region and my discussions with leaders in Pakistan, they certainly tie the stable result in Afghanistan to a stable outcome in Pakistan. So I think they see it as a common problem.
Q General, can I follow up on that? On Pakistan right now, do you at this point think the Pakistani government and the Pakistani military is doing enough? What more would you like them to do? And how can you have success, military or otherwise, in Afghanistan unless you solve the problems across the border in Pakistan?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I think we've all said that, first, it's a regional set of challenges that are going to require a regional outcome. As you know, my mandate stops at the border between the two countries, and my concern is improving mutual border security conditions between the countries through the tripartite process. But certainly there -- I'm a firm believer that the sanctuaries that have existed in the tribal areas -- as long as they remain sanctuaries, we're going to have an insurgency problem on both sides of the border.
Q Well, let me turn it this way. Is Pakistan specifically doing enough to control both the eastern border and, in fact, the southern border? Are they doing enough?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I think -- I think Pakistan is trying to do more. I put it in my frame of reference of the time I've been over there, from last summer until now. And we have taken steps between Pakistan military, Afghan military, and ISAF, to improve border security. It's not enough -- we need to do more -- but it is a start.
Q General, when your top trainer, General Cone, was here last fall, he talked about doubling the size of the Afghan army and accelerating that effort. And he said he could reach 134,000 Afghan troops by 2011 rather than 2013, if he got more trainers. Is that still your goal?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: It is. It's still our goal to attempt to accelerate the growth of the Afghan army, but to make sure we do -- yes, out to 134,000, which is about double the size from when Bob Cone made that statement.
But we need to do that in a smart way. We need to do it in a holistic way, so it's not just a question of numbers, it's a question of training, equipping, leader development and their employment.
So we do want to do that. We want to bring it to the left, which will require not only more trainers and more of a partnering, mentoring effort, but also additional funding to move it left. But that's what we'd all like to do.
Q So when you talk about working alongside the tribal militias or whatever you call it there now -- community engagement --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Let's stop there for a minute. I have never talked about tribal militias.
Q Well, tribal elements or working with the tribes somehow -- sort of a security watch kind of effort -- there are some pilot programs that are being planned now. Can you just talk a little bit about that?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I can. I'm a believer that we need to support a bottom-up approach in Afghanistan as well as a top-down approach, and by that I mean there are programs that -- we want to support the extension of central governance from Kabul out and down. But at the same time, I think it makes sense, given the history and the environment in Afghanistan, to also support a bottom-up approach where local communities have a role in their governance and their security and their priorities and their voice to the central government.
And so there is a program that's an Afghan-led program called the Afghan Public Protection program that is accountable to the minister of interior, supervised by the police, that will -- that we want to run a pilot in -- the Afghans want to run a pilot in. And we -- the United States wants to support that pilot to improve security from a bottom-up kind of place. But that is different than a -- that is not tribal militias. It's a community-based -- to represent everybody that lives in that geographic area.
Q How are you going to support them? With training or with --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: We will support it with some funding that will help with projects, that will help with, for instance, vehicles and communications equipment and clothing.
Q Any weapons?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: No. The United States will not provide the money for the weapons. Those weapons will be provided by the Afghan government through the minister of interior.
Q (Off mike) -- for additional 30,000 to be sent to Afghanistan, and now the decision to deploy 17,000. Do you think this is enough?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, my look and my -- I've never -- the numbers are roughly 30,000, and that was to look out -- to try to look out to about a three-to-five-year period. Some of those have already been provided. We have the 3rd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division now in operation in the eastern part of Afghanistan.
The decisions that the president made are really forces of that total requirement that we would reasonably expect to get into operations by the summer. So there's a remaining requirement that I think is to be determined, based on strategic reviews and decision points that will come later in the year.
Q But this is --
Q You mentioned -- if I could follow up, sir, you mentioned that 2009's going to be a tough year. Do you think we may expect in the near future -- you ask for more additional troops?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I don't think I'm going to ask for more than I've already asked for.
Q General, could you just quantify -- you know, because you obviously did have a requirement out there, request for forces -- how much of that has been filled and how much remains to be filled?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Yeah, I hesitate to put a number to it, but I think we're probably about roughly two-thirds.
Q Two-thirds of 30,000?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Roughly two-thirds of what I asked for. I --
Q Okay -- so therefore, that's another 10-12,000 troops you would like to have in Afghanistan?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: There are -- there are decision points later in the year that we need to look at where we're at and see if United States wants to put additional force capabilities over there, whether they're from the United States, whether they're from international community -- and seen and balanced with growing Afghan capability.
Q If you get those troops in the time that you want to get them in, when does the president have to make that decision about additional troops?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I would not presume when the president has to make that decision. But he's made a decision that will get us what we need up through the summer months and the election in Afghanistan.
Q General, can I just ask a follow-up? How long are these additional troops going to be needed? Or how much do -- will that -- how long will that elevated force level be required? You've avoided using the term "surge" before because you've talked about the long- term nature of this. Should we presume that the extra forces announced yesterday will have to be replaced in time?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I think -- and I would reinforce what I said -- that this is not a temporary force uplift, that it's going to need to be sustained for some period of time. I can't give you an exact number of -- the year that it would be. But I've said I'm trying to look out for the next three to four or five years.
Q (So it'd ?) be several years of that kind of force level.
GEN. MCKIERNAN: It could be as much as that.
Q Sir, what won't you be able to do without this extra third of the force that -- you obviously had a requirement. You've stated that you needed 30,000 troops. This is short of that. What won't you be able to do without these --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I don't want you to misinterpret it. It's not short of that. It's the decisions that can prudently be made now, with additional decision points that come later. It wasn't all 30,000 would come right now. It's over time. But what this allows us to do is change the dynamics of the security situation, predominantly in southern Afghanistan, where we are, at best, stalemated and we need additional, persistent security presence in areas that we're not at today.
And then in turn, the intent is that that would allow governance and other programs that will enable the population to resist insurgency in the future.
Q So you have what you need now.
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I have what I need through the summer, what I've asked for. You know, having what I need is always a hard question to answer. I have what I've asked for.
Q General, you said that only military cannot solve the problem. And also Pakistan has not done enough work. What do you want Pakistan to do more now? What they have not done in the last eight years under General Musharraf?
And now Talibans are out spreading in Pakistan, not only in Afghanistan. And Afghans are not now happy because once they thanked the U.S. that they were freed by the United States. And now they feel because of the U.S., forces still are not there to protect them, but Talibans are there.
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Right. I don't think I said that Pakistan is not doing enough. What I did say is that there are militant sanctuaries that exist, in the Tribal Areas in Pakistan, that until there is a resolution of those militant sanctuaries, I think there is a threat, on both sides of the border, that threatens the government and the future in Afghanistan as well as the government and the future in Pakistan.
Q So what do you want them to do now? What they have not done in the last eight years? (Inaudible.) Now it has grown up.
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I think, there's a counterinsurgency effort that needs to continue, on both sides of the border.
Q General, the Taliban has never faced Stryker vehicles and that capability from the Army before. How do you expect to use that new capability into the summer?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I asked for a Stryker capability, with one of the brigade combat teams, so that it could provide the mobility, the situational awareness, the protection. And quite frankly it provides a lot of infantrymen. And that would give us an ability to maneuver capabilities in the southern and southwestern parts of Afghanistan.
Q Would that be possibly part of your border security?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Certainly some of it will be aimed at improving border security absolutely.
Q General, you used phrase clear, hold and build with these new troops that are going to the south, I believe.
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Shape, clear, hold and build.
Q Talk about, if you could, the missions that they're going to be asked to perform, how they might -- how they might differ from the missions that existed before, the capture and kill mission, for example.
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I did ask for these additional units coming in -- the Marine Expeditionary Brigade and the Stryker Brigade to be dual-mission; in other words to have counterinsurgency capabilities and provide security for the population partnered with the Afghan security forces in areas, but also trained and organized to work with the Afghan police, whether it's border police, national police, ANCOP, et cetera, so that they're dual-mission. They're battlespace owners conducting counterinsurgency operations, but they're also developing capacity and capability in the Afghan policing forces.
Q So it's a training role as well, that they're expected to --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Training and mentoring as well, that's correct. That's a change in paradigm a bit from the training teams, police mentoring teams that we have put in. This will be part of the unit's mission.
Q Could I just follow up one more? I mean, how short are you in terms of trainers for the Afghan National Army? And when do you reasonably need those to achieve this double-aim of the force that you're trying to achieve?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: That's a sort of a constant assessment, as we look at the -- not only growing the size of the Afghan army but where their readiness levels are by unit. And so with the additional forces arriving and with requirements that NATO and other troop-contributing nations will provide in OMLTs, we're still not -- we don't have enough. So there's still some open requirements, but we're trying to balance that as we grow and assist the growth of the Afghan army.
Q You couldn't -- if you got the full complement of the 30,000 and you combined that with the Afghan army, the ratio of troops to civilians would still be lower than it is in Iraq and lower than what most counterinsurgency doctrines suggest. Why the 30,000 cap? I mean, can you see it --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: It's not a -- it's not a cap. I've never approached it as a cap. And it's also related to the fact that we need to continue this to be an international effort. So there are NATO contributions and other troop-contributing nations. So it's not just U.S. military capabilities, it's international military capabilities while we are growing the Afghan army, the Afghan police, because what we want to get to is what I've called the tipping point, where the lead for security is in Afghan units, police and army, and we increasingly are more of in a training and mentoring role.
I think you can -- as the secretary of Defense has said, I think you can have too many forces -- foreign forces in Afghanistan.
It's -- I don't compare it with Iraq.
MODERATOR: (Off mike.)
Q General, the NATO ministers had agreed to do drug interdiction in Afghanistan and then, when it came down to it, had some trouble legally and as of December hadn't done anything. Has that changed? Have some of those issues been worked out? And if not, does that leave the door open for the U.S. to play a broader role in --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I think the broader policy approach that started with the discussion at the NATO ministerial has now given me the authority to go in and conduct, with military forces, interdiction operations where we can make a clear connection through intelligence with a narcotics personality or facility and the insurgency. Where we can do that, we can treat that as a military objective. Under the law of armed conflict, I have that authority, in my -- in a U.S. role and NATO. And then nations have to decide on a national basis whether they will participate in those operations.
Q Have they -- I mean, has that happened yet?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, we have some nations that have, some nations that have not been asked yet because we don't have a -- that military objective in their area. So a lot of that's to be determined.
Q And no operations have occurred?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: We have conducted a significant increase in operations, both in interdiction and in the support that we're allowed to, under our NATO mandate, to provide for Afghan-led government operations for eradication and other pillars of a counternarcotics strategy.
Q General, there were actually -- if you look at the numbers, there were less munitions dropped in Afghanistan in the last three or four months of 2008, compared to the last two -- three or four months in 2007. There were less munitions dropped overall -- (inaudible) -- despite the uptick in violence. Would you say that is because of the tightening of regulations, requirements for airstrikes?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: No, I really wouldn't look --
Q (Off mike.)
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I really wouldn't look at it that way. We've had a reliance on the use of air firepower in Afghanistan, and a lot of it because of the terrain, where it's very difficult to close with a military target, and some of it related to not having a lot of forces on the ground, where there's a greater reliance, then, on air power. And certainly civilian casualties remains an issue that we're all working to mitigate in Afghanistan, but I don't draw the parallel there.
Q You have the --
Q Can I just follow -- (inaudible)? I'm sorry. Then do you think with more ground troops in Afghanistan that you'll be less reliant on airstrikes?
Can we expect to see less airstrikes in Afghanistan with the addition of these troops?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I think there's a possibility in many areas, but you have to look at it in terms of the threat, in terms of the terrain. But I think there's a possibility to have less reliance on air firepower.
Q General, you speak to soldiers sometimes on -- at the combat outposts along the border, and they'll question their effectiveness along the border. These are small outposts, platoon- sized units, on a long border. And, you know, they'll also say, well, we don't have that bird-size -- you know, bird's-eye view of what's going on. But you do. I mean, have you had any thoughts about these outposts and their effectiveness, I mean, as you look at kind of focusing on population centers?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Yeah. Well, I've got a -- I've got a lot of thoughts about it.
We start with the fact that there's about a 2,500-kilometer-long border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And there are very, very few -- in fact, there's only one border coordination center in existence, where Pak military, the Afghan military and ISAF, U.S., are together at. So there are literally hundreds of unattended crossing sites that have been used for hundreds of years between the two countries. So we don't have enough security, either in forces or technology or ISR, along this very long border. So we need to do more on that.
But again, one of the reasons why there is a high level of violent acts in Afghanistan is because of the relative freedom of movement that insurgent groups have back and forth across the border. So we've got to do more. So I could understand where a platoon outpost might look like they're -- you know, "I have minimal effect on the border."
And so we've got to do more of that. We've got to put them in the right places. We've got to enable them. And most importantly, we've got to continue a collaborative effort between the Frontier Corps and Pak military, Afghan Border Police, Afghan army and international forces.
Q So are you thinking about moving any of those soldiers from these (combat ?) outposts to population centers?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: No, we've got to do both. We got to protect population, but we've also -- have to have a capability to interdict the movement of insurgents across the border.
Q General, are you -- sir, are you comfortable with General Kayani? Because before you've been dealing only with one man, General Musharraf. Now you have to deal with the military and also -- as well as a civilian government in Pakistan.
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Yeah, I --
Q And -- (off mike) -- this was done the last eight years and now -- (off mike).
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I was not here in this position in the Musharraf years, but I do see General Kiani on a fairly regular basis, and we discuss security concerns that we both have.
Q General, can I follow up on your response to the question about the border outposts? Are you getting the ISR assets that you need? Or is Iraq still sucking all those assets that way?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: We could use more ISR assets, not only along the border, but elsewhere in the country, too. We don't have enough ISR assets, what I would like to see for our security operations.
Q And what do you need?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I need more ISR assets. (Laughter.)
Q And after that follow-up, I'd like to ask my question. In the past year, the past year saw the most -- the highest number of military and civilian casualties in the seven years of the war. In the past couple of weeks, we saw coordinated, sophisticated apparently, suicide bombing attacks on government installations. And we've seen some pretty sophisticated military operations against some of those outposts by the -- you know. So can you describe just who -- who is this enemy? Why do they appear to be perhaps better at what they're doing now than they were before? And do you have any ideas on their numbers? Are their numbers actually increasing? And what is the mix of al Qaeda and Taliban?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: That's about the seventh question there, but -- (laughter).
Q In other words, I want the whole -- I want the whole -- (off mike).
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Yeah, okay, and I won't remember the first six, but -- but, look, I'm not here to tell you that there's not an increased level of violence, because there is. And I've consistently said I believe that's because of three different factors. One is, we face a very resilient insurgency. It's a mixture of several different groups, sometimes facilitated by organizations like al Qaeda.
But they have continuously adapted their tactics. And so this year, this past year, let's say compared to the year before, they've increasingly conducted smaller-scale, complex, asymmetric attacks against softer targets -- against government targets, against convoys, against police. And so that accounts greatly for an increased number of events in violence.
Combine that with the fact that international force presence and Afghan security force presence is larger this year than it was a year ago, so we're operating in areas where we weren't at before. That's going to bring with it, at least for a period of time, an increased level of violence.
And third is this continuing problem of sanctuaries that exist along the border area, that fuel the insurgency on both sides of the border. When you put all three of those together, that equates to increased levels of violence.
Now, your point about the recent events in Kabul -- I think that's what you were referring to, the fairly complex, organized, coordinated attack by a variety of suicide bombers, probably organized by the Haqqani network out of Pakistan.
If I could, I think, I brought a picture here. I wanted to -- can I show that? Yeah. That's a picture taken that day in downtown Kabul. Those are Afghan policemen that are reacting to what we believe was about eight different suicide bombers.
Only one of those suicide bombers really detonated and achieved his tactical objective. And so what I'm trying to tell you, even though there were more than 20 innocent Afghans killed, in that complex attack, the reaction by the Afghan army and the Afghan police and their national director of security was exemplary.
It was aggressive. It was quick and it was something they probably could not have done one year ago. And so if you want to compare that to, say, Mumbai, I wouldn't, because I don't think they're the same. And in the course of that afternoon or morning and afternoon, in downtown Kabul, there's probably one other thing I'd like to share with you that's not commonly known.
The deputy minister of interior, General Mangal, who's the head of their police, personally went into one of the ministry buildings unarmed, went up to the second floor and was directing the tactical actions inside that building.
The chief of the Afghan army, General Bismillah Khan, went down to the ministry of justice, went into the building himself to do the same thing, direct tactical level actions.
Soldiers said, we can't let our chief of the army go in there by himself. So they upped their reaction accordingly. So what I'm trying to tell you is, although the headline is, you know, Resurgent Taliban Tightens Control over Kabul, words to that effect, it's really not that case at all.
This is a complex attack. It was largely defeated by very aggressive actions by the Afghan security forces. And I think that's a real positive. They would not have been able to react that way a year ago.
Q And are you facing larger numbers of enemy forces?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I don't think we're facing larger numbers. We're facing very resilient numbers. And again we're not going to resolve this ultimately by military action.
So we're not going to run out of people that either international forces or Afghan forces have to kill or capture. It's going to be ultimately a political solution. It's going to be decided by people.
Q General, the Army two-day meeting that you're here to attend is taking place just as Secretary Gates is -- talked about trying to -- he's looking at the strategic reshaping of the U.S. military. Are there ways that you, as a commander, would like to see the Army strategically reshape in any way to support Afghan-like missions?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: We could probably talk about that for the next several hours. But this Army conference was scheduled a year ago, so that's not really tied to anything else, here. It's a recurring strategy.
But I think there are lessons that we have certainly learned over the last seven years in both Iraq and Afghanistan that should shape the future of our military forces, not just the Army. And so concepts such as what does full-spectrum capability mean are things that we -- the Department of Defense is now grappling with as QDR and other forums come up to look at how does -- how does our military remain relevant and meet the nation's needs throughout the 21st century?
Q So are you --
Q General, one more on the troop --
Q General, you were talking about the -- you know, a resilient Taliban. General Petraeus has said that eventually he'd like to talk with a reconcilable Taliban. Does that make sense to you?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I leave the talk about reconciliation with the Taliban and the political arena. I -- that's an Afghan government lead.
What I've consistently said is where individuals wish to lay down their weapons and support the constitution of Afghanistan, then I think we, the international military, the United States, should support an Afghan government lead for that.
I agree with General Petraeus's characterization of there are some that are reconcilable and there are some that are irreconcilable. And I think the effects that I would say are most important are what happens at the local level with fighters, those who wish to lay down their weapons, choose another future, maybe through other employment opportunities, through education, something that's an alternative to fighting in an insurgency.
Q General, the Khyber Pass this year, how concerned are you that Taliban is executing a constant strategy to try to block that supply route? And what progress are you making with Russians and other nations for alternate routes in case the Khyber Pass route is blocked?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, the second part of that, I don't really do the outside of Afghanistan negotiations with the Stans or Russia or anybody else on lines of communication. But what -- I know that's ongoing discussion at CENTCOM and other places.
I'm always concerned about our lines of communication, both air and ground, to either bring forces in, forces out, or supplies. And certainly the long ground line of communication between the Port of Karachi up through the Khyber Pass and into Afghanistan is a constant concern, but it's also a concern for people who live on both sides of the border, because much more than bringing military equipment and supplies in, it's the major avenue of commerce between two countries. So that's very important.
And as we bring in these additional forces this spring and summer, those ground lines of communication are even more important. And so we -- that's always a topic on my list to discuss when I do meet with people like General Kayani.
Q Are you more concerned, though, than you were like three or four months ago, though? The Taliban has been consciously targeting convoys. Is it --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I think there have been a few instances where they have targeted convoys or a bridge. But again, you have to look at each of those and put it -- put it holistically together.
The bridge that was dropped a few weeks ago, if you'd have read the paper the next day, you'd have thought it was a bridge over the Rhine River. It was an eight-meter-long bridge that trucks were bypassing within a day.
And the -- there was a military bridge put on top of it, and the next day we had 200 trucks cross -- which is a high number, 200 -- carrying military supplies. So it's a constant concern. It's something we're always watching.
Q Secretary Gates has talked about not wanting the U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan to get too big. And the troop increase announcement yesterday means it's about to get bigger, particularly in RC-South. Do you hear any concerns, either from the Afghans or U.S. allies?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: What I hear from the people in Afghanistan, especially in the provinces, down in the local level in the south, is they want additional security forces. They're -- they will welcome the presence of additional U.S. forces to help with their security in the south. I think President Karzai has clearly said he -- he's very happy to see additional forces coming.
And -- but I also certainly understand and agree with the secretary of Defense that this is not -- you know, there's a -- I don't know exactly what the number is, but you -- there is a point where you have too many foreign forces in Afghanistan, and in that environment, in that context, you could have too many.
Q Do you see this shifting the balance in RC-South if -- U.S. troops going from a minority there to, I presume, a majority?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, if it shifts the balance in terms of better security and shifts the balance so that it's further disruptive of the insurgency.
Q Quick clarification. You said that you didn't -- you weren't getting the full ISR that you wanted in this deployment. If you don't have enough ISR, my first question is how can you make your strategy on the border work if you don't have sufficient ISR? And you don't have sufficient ISR for all the troops you're putting there. And this extra one-third that's still unfulfilled, could you clarify, is that still a fourth combat brigade plus a training brigade?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, there -- let me take the second part. There are additional capabilities: A brigade that would specifically be missioned to work with the Afghan army and the police forces, CSTC- A Alpha, the training command.
Q So there's one more training brigade.
GEN. MCKIERNAN: And there's a -- there's an additional, whether it's a brigade combat team or a regimental combat team, that I think the decision could be made on much later, that might be in effect next year.
Q And also a combat aviation brigade?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: No, that's the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade that's been approved and it's come in --
Q (Off mike) -- an additional one beyond that?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: No. No. And there are certain combat support -- combat service support enablers to go with all that.
Q And ISR -- if you're not getting enough ISR, can these troops be fully useful to you?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: There's probably no commander that ever said he had enough ISR. But additional full motion video, additional signals intelligence capability, imagery -- we certainly could use more in that country.
Q Basically have you --
Q But the question, sir, is -- your strategy is send these troops out to control the border. If you don't have the overhead border surveillance you want, how do you make the --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, it's a question of priorities. As -- if -- we adjust those ISR priorities, and as we're conducting operations out along the border and we need certain of those platforms or capabilities, then that will be a decision that we make in terms of prioritization.
Q General --
Q And General, what specifically are you requesting? Are you able to tell us that?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: No.
Q General, on the -- (off mike) -- operating force. Realistically, do you think that the violence is likely to get worse and things are likely to escalate before they get better?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, if I could answer that -- let me answer that question by using a historical vignette. Last spring we introduced the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit down in southern Helmand, in the Garmsir southern Helmand River Valley area, where we had not had a security presence. This Marine unit in a very expeditionary manner went down into that area and for the first three or four weeks had significant contact, a significant spike in kinetic actions and probably killed in the neighborhood of 3-400 Taliban that chose to for a period of time stay and fight so that the Marines could not extend their security presence in southern Helmand.
After than point, they backed off, though they used other interdiction lines coming out of Baluchistan. But the level of violence then went down and leveled off as the Marines then started to be able to transition into holding, protecting the population down there and setting conditions to build.
And so what happened was, people started to move back into that area, into the Helmand River Valley, which traditionally has been the populated area in the south there. They held the first shura, or local community meeting, in three years, in Garmsir. The bazaar, the -- really the center of gravity at the local rural population, where people come to talk and bring their goods to, reopened.
They're starting to be able to take those goods up to Lashkar Gah north and sell them and bring the proceeds back. The local police started to be able to operate again. So it was the shape, clear, kinetic, hold and set conditions to build.
And so the answer to your question is there are areas where we're not at today that when we do put additional security forces I would expect to see a temporary time where the level of violence might go up until we transition into holding and setting conditions to build.
Q (Off mike) -- looking at the big picture, what is the earliest that you would project that this time -- that that tipping point might be reached?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: You know, that's a million-dollar question. I don't -- it's always hard to predict years out. But we have a program to accelerate the growth of the Afghan army, as we talked about earlier, to 134,000. We know we need to increase the size of the police and train and focus our efforts there and reform in many cases. Those are programs that are at least going to go out over the next three to four years.
So I -- let me answer the question by saying for the next three to four years, I think we're going to need to stay heavily committed and sustain -- in a sustained manner in Afghanistan.
Q One more on the border. There were plans to create several of those stations along the border. Why have not more been set up by now?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, it takes time. It takes funding. It takes resources to do it. We're in the process of building the second one. And eventually we want to put -- six are the plan right now.
Q So has there been sort of obstruction or unwillingness by the Pakistani side or even --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: No. No. No. There's a growing recognition, I would say, that it's in the mutual interest of both countries to improve border security.
Q General, why should the U.S. expect to succeed in Afghanistan where other superpowers have failed?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Because it's in our vital national security interest to succeed as the United States of America. It's a country that is absolutely worth our commitment, the Afghan people. And it's a region that is absolutely worth the commitment of the international community to ensure that it's stable at the end of this.
And I know there is -- especially with the history of Afghanistan, there's always an inclination to relate what we're doing now with previous nations and history that have been in Afghanistan for other reasons. And I think that's a very unhealthy comparison.
We're in Afghanistan with the support of the Afghan people, to bring stability and a better future to that country. That's a, certainly, far different reason than, say, for instance, the Soviets were in there. So I think that to a certain degree is comparing apples with oranges.
And I think the insurgency is not going to win in Afghanistan. The insurgency is not going to win in Afghanistan. By any metric, by any polling data, the vast majority of the people that live in Afghanistan reject the Taliban or other militant insurgent groups. They have nothing to offer them. They do not bring any hope for a better future. The insurgency will not win in Afghanistan.
Q General, do you want any other nations, like India, to do more? Or what role India is in your -- will play in the future?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I think there's certainly a role for other countries in the region, to include India, to play in -- not necessarily security, but in economic relations, in political relations, certainly in regional -- shaping regional conditions there. I think the entire international community has a role to play.
Q Sir, are you just going to shape, clear, hold and build? What conditions would you not in clear, hold and build?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, I like to put the word "shape" in front of it, because there are a series of actions in terms of understanding the environment where you're going to work, understanding who lives there, what are the dynamics of the people that live in that area, what are the dynamics of the agriculture system, of the terrain, of the irrigation systems, of governance, intelligence building? What needs to happen before you move a capability in there to clear -- meaning separate the insurgent from the population? There's a whole series of actions that can run from being very non-kinetic, such as coming in with projects, to very kinetic.
Q To follow up on that, are you confident that the governance part is going to be there from the United States, from the Afghans, from other nations, to allow you to do that shaping and then to do the -- particularly the building, because obviously if you create that bedrock of security but then nothing is built on it, you can't sustain it.
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Yeah. Yeah, you're exactly right. Governance is a line of operation that we're very concerned about. And it's governance at all levels, starting from the village, up to the municipal level, the district, the province, and the national level. Governance is a line of operation that is lagging in Afghanistan, and we should not be surprised at that: a country that went for 22 straight years with no government -- not good government or bad government, no government -- a country where the literacy rate, at best, is estimated to be 30, 35 percent; a country that doesn't have human capital to do this.
Q But, for instance, what happens, then, if you do your -- is there going to be a commensurate surge, if you like, or build-up of governing civilian capacity to do that, to do that work in that very difficult terrain? Are the -- (off mike) -- going to be there?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Well, there's certainly a desire on my part to see that.
And I think the President has also expressed that this is again more than military capability. This is about civilian capacity-building as much as anything.
Q You haven't seen anybody say, don't worry; we're going to get you X number, or there are going to be more PRTs.
GEN. MCKIERNAN: In the last year or so, I haven't had anybody come to me and say, don't worry about anything.
Q Do you have any commitments from any -- (off mike) -- that they're going to send more people -- DEA, Agriculture, the other -- (off mike) -- talking about this for years.
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Yeah, we have. I think there's certainly an intent, on an interagency basis, to provide more capacity. And in some cases, it's a question of Y amount of requirements and X amount of inventory. And so decisions have to be made.
But there are -- you mentioned DEA. We have additional DEA capability that's in the country now and coming. And so there has to be a parallel commitment of civilian capacity-building that goes on.
Q (Off mike) -- kind of a financial terrorist, financing cell that go after the money?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: In the part of trying to break this nexus, between narcotics and the insurgency, certainly the financial part of the network is important. And there are several organizations that are looking at that, how do we break that connection, the financial connection.
Q (Off mike) -- 500 more troops today. Do some of the NATO countries still have caveats? Which ones do? And which ones --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I won't speak in terms of particular nations and particular caveats. But yes, nations do have caveats. And every time I'm asked about caveats, I say, I put it in this context. Caveats reduce the inherent advantage that we have over the insurgency. We have advantage with our military capabilities, with speed, with mobility, with intelligence, with firepower, with logistics. When we place caveats on our military contributions, we tend to reduce those advantages.
The other thing we do, I believe, is we place our men and women at greater risk when we have caveats placed on them. And if you can picture a young, 20-year-old male or female soldier or sailor, airman or Marine, out somewhere in very difficult terrain at night, in conditions they're very uncomfortable with, facing a threat that in many cases would like to just come in and slit their throat, and you place caveats on those men and women, I think, you place them at a greater risk. And those are two things I tell every visitor, every country that comes to see what's going on in Afghanistan.
MODERATOR: General, they'll probably keep you here all afternoon if you'd like, but --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: But you're not going to. (Laughter.)
Q Yeah. That's why we have a -- (off mike).
Q Okay. Last question -- seven questions. (Laughter.) You haven't talked very much about -- you talked a lot about the Taliban and the Haqqani network, but not very much about al Qaeda and specifically about al Qaeda central -- over the border of Pakistan. My question is, what evidence do you see these days of al Qaeda central, essentially bin Laden, Zawahiri and their associates, exerting their influence back into Afghanistan these days? Do you see communication, financing, training? Are they anything -- are they just propaganda figures or are they exerting influence on your battlespace?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: As you know, my focus and my mandate is not aimed at al Qaeda in Pakistan. But I do believe that al Qaeda and other insurgent groups fuel the insurgency in a variety of ways in Afghanistan. Sometimes they provide funding. They provide facilitators, weapons, IED material. They recruit suicide bombers and all those things and organize them and send them, sometimes, across the border into Afghanistan.
Q And Iran?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Iran -- we're always concerned about Iranian influence in terms of providing material support to the Taliban and trainers. I have not -- in the time I've been there, we have not physically found a trainer in Afghanistan that's Iranian, but we're always watching for that.
There's a balance, I think, between a legitimate Iranian influence in Afghanistan in terms of education, culture, politics, commerce, but then there's a bad influence in terms of doing anything to facilitate the insurgency. So that's what we're focused on.
Q General, a follow up on that --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Help me out here, guys. (Laughter.)
Q I was wondering --
MODERATOR: This will be the last question, okay?
Q Very good.
Q -- how our -- U.S. Predator strikes in Pakistan have impacted your life. Obviously, they've hit some high-level insurgents, but at the same time, that's upset a lot of civilians within Pakistan, who have been -- protested and encouraged a tax on U.S. supply convoys --
GEN. MCKIERNAN: I'm not --
Q Is that positive?
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Yeah, I'm not going to comment on Predator strikes.
MODERATOR: All right, thank you.
GEN. MCKIERNAN: Thank you.
Q Thanks for coming.
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