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DOD News Briefing with Gen. McChrystal and Ambassador Sedwill from Afghanistan

Presenters: Commander, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) U.S. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and NATO Representative in Afghanistan Ambassador Mark Sedwill
March 17, 2010

                 BRYAN WHITMAN (deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs):  Can you hear me okay?  It's Bryan Whitman. 

 

                GEN. MCCHRYSTAL:  Yes, Bryan, we've got you.  I'm here with Ambassador Mark Sedwill.  And what we thought we'd do is make brief statements to start off before we go to questions.  Does that work for you? 

 

                MR. WHITMAN:  You're on a speakerphone, though.  We're going to need you to get much closer to that speaker, because you're coming in a little broken here. 

 

                GEN. MCCHRYSTAL:  Yeah, sorry.  How's this now? 

 

                MR. WHITMAN:  That's a little bit better. 

 

                GEN. MCCHRYSTAL:  Okay.  I'll also try to talk louder. 

 

                What I thought we'd do is give brief statements and then go to questions.  Is that okay? 

 

                MR. WHITMAN:  Fine, General. 

 

                GEN. MCCHRYSTAL:  Great. 

 

                First off, let me thank everybody for the opportunity to talk to you today.  Many of you who are there have been out fairly recently and fairly regularly and seen us.  And hopefully you have a sense of where we're trying to go, and also you have a sense that the ongoing operation that everybody has been focused on in the Helmand river valley, Marja, which is the key area in that, that's still ongoing.   

 

                And I would just say that I am pleased with where we are, but I would also say that we are just really still in the back end of the military phase of this, and that the longer-term phases, which are the hold and build that we call it -- but it's really where we've got to establish credible Afghan governance, and that means the government of Afghanistan has got to do that -- is a -- is a significant task in front of us. 

 

                I think we're postured to do that, in partnership with the government, but it's going to be a significantly long process.  And there will be military challenges to that in the months ahead as the insurgents try to prove that we can't maintain enough security to do that.  But I think that we can, and I think we'll show that, but there will be ups and downs as we go. 

 

                At the same time, there is an awful lot of talk about what we're going to do next.  And the fact is we are going to increase security in the area of Kandahar City and what we call the environs around it, or the districts that are important to Kandahar City.  And instead of putting a date certain on which there would be a climactic military operation, I tell you, that process has already begun.  And it's a complex process that's going to involve a number of military things to increase security, along with police, but it will also involve a lot of political activities, as well. 

 

                And so what you're seeing is while Marja, and this part of the operation is continuing, that has already begun.  And it will ramp up in the weeks and months ahead.  And it will, of course, have a significant time period to it as well. 

 

                But I'd like to also today just for a moment talk -- remind myself and everyone that this fight is much wider than a couple of areas, particularly down in Helmand and Kandahar.  This week I did a bit of traveling.  I was up in Mazar-e Sharif with Regional Command North, led by the Germans, of course, taking a look at that.  They're focused on Baghlan and Konduz as well as a number of other areas across the north.  Although security there is relatively better than it would be, for example, in the south, there are still effective and focused operations to partner to make that work. 

 

                I also went out to the western part of RC North, to Faryab, and spent time with the Norwegian PRTs and in their partnership with the governor of Faryab and plans for operations there.  As you know, in the western part of Faryab, we still have a section of the Ring Road to be completed.  And so there are going to be ongoing operations in the weeks and months ahead there to maintain or to make progress there but also to increase security along the existing parts of the Ring Road and then also to push for completion of that last section of the Ring Road. 

 

                And what I see in those forces reminds me that across the coalition, every force brings different capabilities, different strengths, and in many ways some very innovative looks at how we can partner and move forward. 

 

                Then today I spent the day -- the first part of the day with the Turks in RC Capital, and what was most impressive about that is the connection with the people.  We went up to a number of areas.  We went up to the north of the city, went to a MEDCAP [Medical Civic Action Program] where Turkish female doctors were working a clinic for local Afghan ladies, and then, of course, there was a parallel male one.   

 

                There is an awful lot of partnering there, and the Turks are, as well, training Afghan forces as a supporting effort to NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan.  They brought some additional trainers in, and they're training a battalion – 600 soldiers, initial entry soldiers - not part of what the formal NTM-A structure, but something that those trainings that we go through -- be able to go straight into the next phase of training under NTM-A.  So it's another way we can all pull together and get these things going.  But I was impressed there.   

 

                And then this afternoon I went down to Ghazni.  And what I saw there was very heartening, but also a little bit reminding of how difficult this is going to be. Went to a district in Ghazni where you have a small Polish element partnered with Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army.  They live together, they plan together, they work together, they operate together, which is exactly the format that we are looking for.  

 

                We went down into one of the local villages, walked around for quite a while.  And while the people are not negative to our forces or the Afghan national security forces, we also, to this point, have not been able to offer the kind of security that allows the people to make a full decision.  And so one man spoke to us for a little while, and then he said, "I'm going to get a night letter tonight because I'm talking to you."  He said, "There aren't a lot of Taliban in this area, but there are enough and they have enough eyes, that they can continue to make that kind of threat to us." 

 

                And we don't yet have enough forces there.  We don't have enough Afghan national security forces or to provide the kind of security that's going to let that man or his neighbors feel comfortable. 

 

                And then, as we met with elders in that same village -- we met them as they came out of afternoon prayers -- they, as Afghans will -- they were very candid in expressing their frustrations. After eight years, they thought that they had not received much from their own government, and they thought they had not received much from what they expected the coalition to provide either. 

 

                They were not unreasonable.  I mean, they described it in terms of their daily life, things that were difficult.  It was difficult to drive to Ghazni City because they would be stopped at checkpoints.  It was difficult to get into a government clinic without paying a bribe. So there were -- there were frustrations that we all know about, and they openly expressed them to us.  But instead of saying that they were going to join the insurgency over it, they looked us in the eye and they said, "You have to help fix it," and they were looking -- I was with the district sub-governor. 

 

                And so, while I'm heartened by what we are doing, I also -- am also struck by how much we have to do.  And I think that's -- I think that's well understood by all of us.  So, a bit wider look than just at the Marja and Kandahar efforts of the campaign right now, which I think, as we go forward, will be overlapping.  And I think the thing I'd ask you to remember: Marja will continue long after people tend to shift the focus of the lens elsewhere.  And Kandahar is already being shaped.  And hopefully, we'll be -- in the coming months ahead, be able to deliver significant improvement there. 

 

                And I will stop there and pass it to Ambassador Sedwill. 

 

                AMB. SEDWILL:  Hi.  Good to be with you again.  Having met some of the Pentagon colleagues last week, I'm glad to be involved with General McChrystal's men. 

 

                Let me -- let me just emphasize a couple of the points that he made, and then we can take questions, and try and remind you of the strategic context here.  As General McChrystal just said, while we are just coming to the end, in fact, of the first year of the Obama strategy set out last spring -- and then, of course, we had General McChrystal's own 60-day review and the debate during the autumn -- for the Afghans, this is year nine.  And they've heard many promises before, from their own government and from us, and they remain skeptical and to be won over.  And we've seen that, as General McChrystal did during his visits this week, and as we learned down in Marja when we were there last week and the week before with President Karzai and before that with Vice President Khalili. 

 

                And just to remind you of the key planks of the strategy again, that were that -- the challenges were set out by General McChrystal in his review about the strength of the insurgency and the crisis of confidence that people have in their government.  The key planks in the strategy you can summarize in many ways, but I'd like to characterize this as the three R's.  The first is to regain the initiative against the insurgency.  That's largely through the kind of security operations that we've seen in Marja and will see during the military phases in other places like Kandahar. 

 

                The second is to resolve the political tensions and grievances which fuel the insurgency, and I'll come back to that point in a moment.  But we again hear about that in places like those General McChrystal visited this week, and as we both did in Marja last week. 

 

                And then, thirdly is rebuilding and reinforcing, if you like, the institutions of the state in which the people have lost confidence. And those were dismantled under the Soviet invasion and during the civil war and under the Taliban.  And we haven't made enough progress in the past eight years in rebuilding them, but we need to really strengthen them -- strengthen them now, to win over the people's allegiance -- not to us, but to their own government. 

 

                When we were down in Marja last week at a shura which President Karzai held with the elders of that area, I think there were two or three things -- two or three things that were really striking out of it.  The first was the commitment of a generation who didn't get any education themselves, because of the various wars, to education for their children.  And that came across really powerfully.  They do see this as their next generation's way out of the poverty and conflict that they've experienced.  And that was as true for girls as for boys among that group of people.  They want -- they want that to happen, and they're aware of what they need. 

 

                They don't just want schools, they want teachers, and they want teachers who understand the local area, and they made that clear. 

 

                But the other thing -- and that's -- and that's, again, part of this rebuilding confidence in the institutions of the state.   

 

                The second thing, which was really striking, was -- and again, as General McChrystal heard in his visit today elsewhere -- just how disillusioned they have become with the way that state institutions, particularly the police, have been unable to serve them as they believe they're entitled to expect.   

 

                And that isn't particularly because the police is full of people who are bad or indeed the state institutions are, but those institutions have in some cases been captured by criminal networks, power brokers and others who turned them to their own use and against the people, rather than serving the people.  And there was a very striking moment in the shura last week, where one elder stood up and pointed across the room at some of the people he felt were responsible for that and had been responsible for the predatory nature of the police two or three years ago, under which they'd suffered and which had led them to welcome the Taliban when they entered that area. 

 

                Now Marja is a very extreme example because it's one of the few parts of this country where the Taliban [inaudible] actually flee.  And most of this country where the insurgency is strong is contested territory.  That was uncontested.  The Taliban were in charge there.   

 

                So it throws into sharp relief -- black and white, if you like -- many of the lessons which we are -- we are applying elsewhere, which elsewhere appear more in shades of gray.  But it's therefore worth just considering the lessons that we heard there. 

 

                But again, as General McChrystal heard today, the people of that area say: well, we had promises before.  The state has been here before for several years and has then gone away again, and we're only really going to give it our allegiance if they stay and they deliver for us. 

 

                And secondly, it's the real basic functions of government that people expect.  They want to see schools and hospitals, but that isn't what in the end will turn their allegiance from being willing to accept Taliban governance and preferring to accept the legitimate forces of Afghanistan.  Those boil down to security and justice.  Will the police and will the army, with our support, protect them?  And can they be confident that if they give their allegiance to the legitimate authorities, that they'll be protected if they do so? 

 

                And secondly, if you look at the -- look at the justice system, they can get brutal and repressive, but quick and probably reasonably fair justice from a Taliban motorcycle court, and they haven't had that in the state institutions.  And of course for somebody down at the grassroots level, that's part of security too.  If they have a dispute with their neighbor, do they get a fair hearing?  That feels like security.  Can their wife get to shops to buy goods without fearing a policeman on the street?  Can they get their goods to market without being rolled over several times on the way and have illegal taxes imposed upon them either by a corrupt police force or by the Taliban?  Can their kids get to school, if a school exists?   

 

                And that human security is in the end what is going to win this for the government of Afghanistan, and there is a long way to go until, not only that is provided, but people are convinced that it is going to endure.  And that's the scale of the challenge. 

 

                So as General McChrystal said, the military phase of an operation can regain the initiative against the insurgency, as it did in Marja, and that's the order in which it happened there.  But we also need to rebuild the institutions and build them strong enough to withstand the challenges they'll face, and we need to resolve all of those underlying political tensions at local levels there, but [inaudible] the way up to the national level and across the border with Pakistan, that can undermine those institutions and frankly empower the wrong people. 

 

                So Marja is an example of that.  In Kandahar it will happen in a different order, as General McChrystal said.  But the -- resolving the political tensions and strengthening, building, reinforcing the government institutions is already under way, because that is contested territory, and the government is already there.  And the effort to regain the security initiative against the insurgency will come as part of that process, but not in the beginning of the process, sometime in the next few months.  All of these things will have to be in parallel, and the really hard work of this is in strengthening the government of Afghanistan to withstand not only the threat from the Taliban but the threat from -- the threat from within.  

 

                And that work isn't glamorous, and it isn't photogenic, but it continues, and that is the work that will determine whether or not we succeed in the next year or 18 months in this campaign. 

 

                MR. WHITMAN:  Sir, can you hear me? 

 

                AMB. SEDWILL:  Yes. 

 

                MR. WHITMAN:  Yeah, I'd like to -- I don't want to cut you short, but we really do have some questions here for General McChrystal, and if you could bring it to a close we'd like to get started on those, if we could. 

 

                AMB. SEDWILL:  We have finished.  And if you just want to ask General McChrystal, I'll go and get some supper. 

 

                MR. WHITMAN:  Well, who knows.  There may be a question for you or two here.   

 

                But again, gentlemen, we are -- we are having some difficulty hearing you.  I'd ask you to consider, when you -- after you hear the question, when you're answering it, to pick up the handset in order for everybody to hear you clearly here.  And we'll get it started with the Associated Press. 

 

                Q     General, my question is, you mentioned that operations in Kandahar have already begun, or the process has already begun.  I'm wondering if you can give us more details on that, what to expect in the weeks and months to come, and also if you can compare it to Marja. This area is very large in comparison, and the sentiment among the locals is very sympathetic toward the Taliban.  How do you secure an area that large? 

 

                GEN. MCCHRYSTAL:  Yeah, thanks.  First off, it is a much bigger area, and it's actually a more complex area, although Marja internally has a tremendous number of complexities. 

 

                What you are going to see in the months ahead, without giving too much detail, is a number of activities to shape the political relationships in and around Kandahar.  As you know, it's a complex grouping of tribes and then other relationships that define how power is shared in Kandahar, and that's traditional, although it has become a little bit damaged -- and let me put it this way, it's become very damaged and mutated in the last years.   

 

                So one of the things we'll be doing in the shaping is working with political leaders to try to get an outcome that makes sense. That would then be supported by security operations, and that will, in some cases, be increased partnering inside the city with the Afghan National Police.  We intend to put more forces in there to get a better presence and better support to their internal security.   

 

                But then in the environs -- what we call the environs, the districts, the places like Zari, Panjwai, Arghandab, [inaudible], we are increasing our forces.  We have already increased our forces somewhat, and we will continue to increase Afghan national security forces and coalition forces in the months ahead. 

 

                If you control the environs around Kandahar, you go a long way to controlling Kandahar.  And so unlike a Marja operation, where there was a D-day and an H-hour for part of the operation, it is more likely that this will be a series of activities that target different parts of it to increase that security. 

 

                MR. WHITMAN:  Let's go over here to Barbara. 

 

                Q     Barbara Starr from CNN.  General McChrystal, a few weeks ago, your intelligence chief put out in public a very detailed report about the types of intelligence you were not getting and what you needed. 

 

                Now that that is all out in public, what is your view?  What intelligence are you not getting?  What do you need?  How is it that after eight years, U.S. troops are not -- still not getting the intelligence they need?  This according to General Flynn, of course. And how surprised were you to find out you had a contractor conducting activities that now the Pentagon even says were potentially inappropriate in gathering intelligence? 

 

                GEN. MCCHRYSTAL:  Yeah, thanks for the question.  I don't know much about the allegations against the contractor.  I'm going to let the investigation go forward with that.  I certainly would never condone inappropriate activities under a contract. 

 

                In terms of Mike Flynn's report, of course, I underwrite what Mike wrote completely.  I think he was absolutely on target.  And it's not a case of us not getting enough intelligence.  The intel community has come together in the last few years, and we get an extraordinary amount of intelligence.  In my view, what Mike put his finger on, very correctly, is, in many cases, commanders haven't been asking for the right intelligence.   

 

                We have been conditioned in our careers, in many cases, to focus on the enemy, to ask how many insurgents there are, what kind of weapons they carry, who are their leaders.  And while that's all important, in this war, in fact, we need to recalibrate and refocus our effort so that we really understand the environment in which the insurgents operate.  If we look at Kandahar -- and we did a big -- what we call a "deep dive," I think about 24 hours ago, that Mike had set up -- we looked at the traditional power structures -- struggle -- structures -- I'm sorry -- the tribal lay-down, the history there.   

 

                And that's just one of the first steps at this level, as we build up an understanding of all the other things that really define this situation. 

 

                And that's -- in this kind of war, that's much of what you've got to deal with.  It's much wider than just the enemy.   

 

                Over.   

 

                MR. WHITMAN:  Let's go here to Dan.   

 

                Q     Back to Kandahar, when you referred to shaping, what is the progress so far of the effort to secure the roads in and around Kandahar and linking with Helmand?   

 

                There's been -- this has been an assignment for the Stryker brigade as well.  Could you give us an idea of how that is progressing?   

 

                GEN. MCCHRYSTAL:  I sure can.  And first, I'd tell you how important it is.   

 

                We need to have freedom of movement, but not just for coalition forces.  It's for Afghans for commerce, for their own sense of security and for all the things that make life normal.  If we can't get that, then they will have a difficult time believing their government can secure them overall.   

 

                We have made progress in this, as you know, that the 5/2 Stryker Brigade was re-missioned to look specifically at this.  Secretary Gates recently, significantly increased the effort on ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] that we are being provided.   

 

                There are counter-IED efforts that have been significantly increased recently.  And so I think that we have already made progress.  With that said, I think that the insurgency will make an extraordinary effort this spring and into the summer, as long as they can, to contest that.   

 

                I think they'll primarily use IEDs.  But they'll use everything they can to try to make that as difficult as possible; one, to put  coalition casualties out in front of all the nations -- to try to weaken resolve -- but also to try to give a sense that Kandahar and the area cannot be secured.  And so we'll be focusing heavily on those lines of communication.   

 

                Over.   

 

                MR. WHITMAN:  Quick follow-up.     

 

                Q     Just as a follow-up, as part of the shaping, you talked about political efforts and political activities.  And in contrast to Helmand, it seems you don't necessarily have the kind of confidence you might have had -- in the local leadership, in the governor of Helmand -- that you would have in Kandahar; that there's this reputation for corruption.   

 

                How do you address that?  And does it mean trying to encourage a change in some of the leadership in the Kandahar region?   

 

                GEN. MCCHRYSTAL:  I think the most important thing is to understand that before we do a military operation in Afghanistan, we really have got to get the consent of the people who are going to be [sic] affected by that operation.   

 

                And what I mean by that is, one, we've got to operate in a way that they find acceptable.  But also the outcome -- in many cases, what we're told is, we would rather not be subjected to military operations if the outcome is going to be corrupt governance.   

 

                In the case of Marja, we've got that very clearly, from working with the shuras and the people before the operation.  And their demand was that the corrupt governance, highlighted by the police, not be put back in place.   

 

                Kandahar is more complex.  The relationship between the governor there and some of the power brokers in the area is something that defies a very simplistic answer.  And so what we think we need to do is, under the lead of the government of Afghanistan, we need to engage the leaders.   

 

                We need to find out what they think the right answer is and help shape that, because they will do the shaping.  This won't be -- the political part won't physically be shaped by the coalition.   

 

                What it will be done is, we will help support the government, as they shape a future power structure there that is acceptable to the people.  And that takes away one of the major reasons why people would support the insurgency.   

 

                Over.   

 

                Q     General, it's Yochi Dreazen from The Wall Street Journal.   

 

                The Afghan press has been reporting that Mullah Baradar had been in active contact with Hamid Karzai's government before his arrest. Can you talk a bit about the accuracy of those reports?   

 

                But more broadly now that things in Helmand potentially have improved somewhat since Marja, are you seeing any high-level Taliban leadership either approach the coalition or be responsive to coalition outreach efforts?   

 

                I understand those are led by the Afghans.  But are you seeing more Taliban willingness to take part than you had before?   

 

                GEN. MCCHRYSTAL:  That's an important question.  We are seeing indicators.  We are hearing talk, but in many cases, it's tough to separate what is real and what is, in some cases, supposition by someone.   

 

                What I will tell you is that the arrest of Mullah Baradar seems to have shaken the confidence of some of the Afghan Taliban leadership.   

 

                We see indications that they are trying to figure out what way ahead that they should plot.  I'm not comfortable that they have stated their position either as a group or individually clearly yet, but we certainly see more than I have ever seen before.   

 

                And I'd like to pass it to Ambassador Sedwill for his thoughts. 

 

                AMB. SEDWILL:  I think that's -- I think that's absolutely right. It's -- in a sense, I think they are recalibrating, but they don't yet know where they stand.  And that's a good thing.  We want them to be uncertain about their future.  They know they're facing much more pressure from the front, if you like, from us here in Afghanistan through both conventional operations and other operations.  And they're now facing more pressure than they've ever faced before from the Pakistani side, and that is changing the -- changing the calculus.  

 

                And we're getting some indications that some of them are beginning to understand that, but so far nothing concrete, and you wouldn't expect that at this stage.  And if it happens, it will happen in a -- in an uncoordinated way, and you'll see different individuals and different elements reaching out not least because they'll be hoping to do so in terms of a -- to their advantage.  And that's the kind of thing you're also going to need to watch very carefully.  This is a -- this is a -- this is going to be a real poker game with these guys over the next few months.   

 

                MR. WHITMAN:  Elisabeth, and then we'll see from there.   

 

                Q     General, Jim Miklaszewski with NBC.  You said that it would take a significantly long period of time to hold and build.  Just how long will it take, and how many ISAF forces do you think it will take to achieve that?   

 

                And both you and the ambassador said that the Afghans are frustrated, skeptical and somewhat suspicious that U.S. and international forces will stick this out for the long run.  And I guess my question is, how just -- oh, and one of the things, General, that you hear from many of the Afghan people is their concern about President Obama's timetable to begin withdrawal of U.S. forces by next July.  Just how problematic is that for you? 

 

                GEN. MCCHRYSTAL:  Thanks, Jim.  Thanks for your question.  On the hold and build, what we really are dealing with is, after you clear, hold and build is until the Afghan people believe.  That varies by area.   

 

                In an area like Marja which has seen up and down activity there in terms of coalition of Afghan national security forces, their skepticism runs pretty deep, and so what we've got to do is provide them security that is convincing and provide that long enough for them to believe that it is permanent and that they'll -- they know that the coalition won’t be permanent.  So we've got to provide it in the near term, to convince them, and then we've got to make it clear that the Afghan national security forces have the ability and the resolve to do that as well.   

 

                So it's a perception issue.  In some areas, it's much easier and much faster.  In an area like Marja, I would say that when we talk about months, it's many months.  It might be years.  But it may not be huge numbers of security forces.  Obviously, I think that as security increases and their resolving -- or their confidence increases, that can go down as well. 

 

                In terms of the July 2011 timeline, President Obama made it clear to me that that is going to be a point in time in which he expects to direct us to reduce forces.  I anticipate that will be the decision, but the scope will and the rate will be based upon conditions.  I believe that at that point we will have grown Afghan national security forces enough so that we can, instead of showing decreasing security for Afghans, they will still see increasing security where they are and progress around the country. 

 

                Now, there is a perception challenge with that, because everybody wants to define that announcement differently, but that's how I view it, and that's how we are communicating that to our Afghan partners.   

 

                Over. 

 

                Q     More important, General – [inaudible] -- the Afghan people perceive that timetable? 

 

                GEN. MCCHRYSTAL:  Yeah, Jim, you know, I would never try to generalize about the Afghan people.  I talk to so many of them, and the answers they give are as different as Americans would -- or anywhere else.    

 

                So I do think that it is important, though, that we continue to communicate with them, both with our words and our actions on the ground, that we are long-term, strategic partners with them. 

 

                Q     General McChrystal, Elisabeth Bumiller from The New York Times. 

 

                General Petraeus said yesterday on the Hill that there was a serious shortage of trainers for the Afghan forces.  And so I'd like you to talk more about that.  And how much of a problem is that?  And how can you meet your goals in the next 12 to 18 months if there is such a shortage of trainers? 

 

                GEN. MCCHRYSTAL:  Elisabeth, he's absolutely right.  There's a shortage of trainers.  And we have been very unequivocal in our statement of that, both to Washington, D.C., and of course, more appropriately, to NATO.  And they have gone out to the coalition, seeking additional trainers. 

 

                Now, we have already increased the number of trainers from what we had significantly, and we have increased the partnering of our forces, which we've talked about before.  And we think that's a critical component of the development of the force.  But the bottom line is, for us to grow quality trainees - produce quality trainees at the rate we want - we need additional trainers.  And we've identified that. 

 

                Q     General, it's Justin Fishel, from Fox News. 

 

                General Petraeus also said yesterday -- he announced yesterday an end to the 96-hour detention rule.  Can you tell us what the thinking was behind that decision, and if you agree with it? 

 

                GEN. MCCHRYSTAL:  I do agree with it.  A couple of other nations have already made adjustments to ISAF's 96-hour rule.  As we move more U.S. forces under ISAF control -- another move which I had sought -- I think appropriately, we've made some caveats to that rule, which gives us a bit more flexibility. 

 

                But I'd also like to put it in context.  The most important thing is we're in a major effort here to turn detainee operations over to Afghan control.  Our JTF-435, under Vice Admiral Bob Harward, is working already in partnership.  So through 2010, we will be in the lead, but they will be partnering with us at places like the detainee facility in Parwan, right outside of Bagram.  And then we look to 1 January 2011, for it to be Afghan ownership.  We think it's an important step in their sovereignty and their control of this entire effort.  And we would then partner with them, to assist.  So any decision we make to make sure that our detainee operations are effective now to protect our forces and help the campaign should also be a step towards Afghan control, which we're already executing. 

 

                Q     I'll -- soldiers had dubbed it, the 96-hour rule, the catch-and-release program.  Would you estimate that there were a large number of detainees that they had to let go because of that rule? 

 

                GEN. MCCHRYSTAL:  It's impossible to put a number on it.  And in many cases, I think being careful with how you execute detainee operations is always going to produce concerns both ways:  either you hold detainees too long, or you release too many.  But I think that this move forward will allow us more commander flexibility. 

 

                I'm told we just have a few minutes left.  I'd recommend we do like two more questions. 

 

                Q     Nancy Youssef, from McClatchy Newspapers. 

 

                I'd like to follow up on an answer you gave about trainers. Could you tell us the minimum number of trainers you need?  And I'd like to know, how does that shortage affect the level and number of Afghan forces you can train?  And given the shortage, is there a need to recalibrate the expectations the American public should have of the Afghan forces that will emerge and which, as you've said, is the nexus of the U.S. exit strategy?  Is it -- are the expectations now too high for what we can expect, in terms of the level and number of Afghan forces? 

 

                GEN. MCCHRYSTAL:  I can't give you the exact number, to tell you what it affects in terms of our ability to produce Afghan trained soldiers.  I would tell you that it threatens our ability to do it to the quality we would like to do it.  Right now, we're training at our max capacity physically in facilities, but we do not have as many trainers, a trainer-to-trainee ratio, as we would like to.  And I think that clearly is going to have an impact on our quality. 

 

                I think we're doing pretty well.  But given the fact we've set ourselves a high bar in terms of growing the Afghan national security forces and having them take ownership of this fight rapidly, that I think it's important that I stress we should fully resource the trainer requirement, if we're going to have as good an outcome as possible. 

 

                Q     Also, if it threatens the levels of where you'd like to be, at what point is the expectation of the number and level of Afghan forces that will emerge from all this need to be lowered or altered? 

 

                GEN. MCCHRYSTAL:  Well, I can't give you an exact number on that because I just don't know.  I know that, as I say, we are calibrating this almost every day, Bill Caldwell and his team.  I think we are on track to produce trainings at a pretty fast clip, but I will feel more comfortable, much more comfortable as we set out the training requirements. 

 

                MR. WHITMAN:  [Inaudible] -- from Jeff Schogol, Stars and Stripes. 

 

                Q     Hi, General.  Have the forces under your command given up on trying to capture Osama bin Laden alive? 

 

                GEN. MCCHRYSTAL:  Wow.  No.  If Osama bin Laden comes inside Afghanistan, which is the writ of my mandate, because I'm the ISAF commander here, we certainly would go after trying to capture him alive and bring him to justice.  I think that is something that is [inaudible] is understood by everyone. 

 

                I think that's all we have time for question-wise.  And I really appreciate the time.   

 

                Mark, any closing comment? 

 

                AMB. SEDWILL:  Just one final comment from me.  I just urge you to remember the complexity of this campaign.  We've tended to focus -- I think it's quite natural in this audience -- on the military elements of it, but the military elements of it are not going to deliver success here unless we get the political elements right and indeed the other part of it, the development of governance and so on.   

 

                So I would urge you, as you think about this campaign and think about the specific issues that you've been raising, you set it into context, and that we give as much emphasis -- in explaining this to the American people and to people elsewhere -- we give as much emphasis to those other issues that we need the Afghan government to deliver on, and we need all of the other partners here to deliver on to achieve the success which we believe that we can achieve and why both of us are here. 

 

                MR. WHITMAN:  General, Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for your time this evening.  Thank you for working through the technical challenges.  Hopefully, we'll be able to do this again sometime soon and perhaps use some 21st century technology when we do it this time.   

 

                Okay?  Thank you very much.

 

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