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DOD Background Briefing with Senior Defense Officials from the Pentagon

Presenter: Senior Defense Officials
April 28, 2010

Follow link to view report:  http://www.defense.gov/pubs/pdfs/Report_Final_SecDef_04_26_10.pdf

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Great.  Thanks very much.  I had no clue that I would get more than like one person.  So -- (chuckles) -- I'm actually overwhelmed.

                This is the release of a congressionally mandated report which we do on a regular basis.  This one is, I think, the first one in some time that's been delivered on time.  It was delivered today, I believe.  Am I right, Jim?  It was due today?

                STAFF:  Yes, sir.  Due today.

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Okay.  So it was delivered on time. 

                The 1230 report, which is the Report on Progress Toward Stability and Security in Afghanistan.  And also the 1231 report, which we've delivered, is one -- I think you all have copies of it -- which is the Plan for Sustaining Afghan National Security Forces.  And the term for the 1230 report is six months, the six months ending March 31st, and the 1231 report covers the previous 11 months.  So there's a little bit of difference in the time, but not too much.

                I was of two minds about how to start this off, whether to start off with the progress or to start off with the challenges, because I understand that where you're supposed to start off with the press is you're supposed to start off with the good stuff, because that snows you and then you forget about the bad stuff which I do at the end.  But I'm not going to do that.  I'm actually going to start off with the challenges and the concerns and then move to the good stuff. 

                But I would say at the beginning, I think that if you read through the report, you'll see overall significant positive trends moderated by significant challenges and serious risk factors that -- or serious factors which we identify as risks that could cause us more problems in the future.  But the emphasis, I would say, would be very much that after a number of years of things moving in the wrong direction, that has changed.  We are no longer moving in the wrong direction, and there are signs that we're moving in the right direction. 

                So if you look and go back, those of you who might have read General McChrystal's assessment that ended up being in the press last year, we have a situation where the momentum that the Taliban had -- the Taliban had the initiative, if you recall that General McChrystal said, that initiative -- that initiative has been stemmed and we're seeing signs that -- of a reversal of that. 
               
                But I'm being very careful to say, and please do not report that I'm saying, that we now have the initiative and that things are always moving forward.  We're on that cusp where the trendline for the Taliban was like this.  Things were getting better and better. 

                And what our report is saying is, they sort of hit this point right there.  We see indications we may start there.  But we don't -- but we're not saying that we're actually heading in that direction.  But of course, we do another report in six months. 

                I mentioned I was going to lead off with challenges.  The most significant challenge that's identified in both reports and is of course focused on in the 1231 report is the building of the Afghan national security forces, of sufficient quality and size the assume the responsibility as the provider -- primary provider of security for the Afghan population. 

                It remains a challenge.  And there's significant risk to achieving our goals.  There have been a number of new initiatives that have helped reshape this, with a goal to both grow the size and improve the quality.  However ministerial capacity, within the ministry of interior and throughout the police force, that continues to lag. 

                Corruption remains an issue.  There's certainly a strong overall concern, in the U.S. and among our partners, regarding the ability of the Afghan national police to grow and also to improve the quality both of the training and of the fielded force.  Because of course, the majority of course has already been fielded.  And we need to continue that. 

                There are two factors on the -- being able to -- the risk factor for trainers.  Is -- there are a number.  I'd say the most serious one is the shortage of trainers, the challenges to execute the plan for the -- both the growth in size and the increase in quality.  There's a need for more trainers.  It's -- that -- there's -- we use the term institutional trainers; in other words, people who train the police in institutions as opposed to people who train them out in the field on the job.  That's a shortage.  While we've made strides towards addressing it, still remains a serious risk factor.

                And the second major risk factor for the police is the need for improvements in governance and development.  Without the supporting rule-of-law structures, in the end it doesn't make any difference how well we train the police or how well we partner and mentor them -- mentor them:  They will become ineffective over time, and perhaps very quickly. 

                Unlike armies, police are part of society.  Armies are part of society, but their institution can maintain a distance from society.  Police are part of society.  They depend upon the judges.  They depend upon the actual court system.  They depend upon the prosecutors.  They depend upon the correction system.  They depend upon the governor, whether it's the district or provincial governor.  All those institutions or parts of those institutions are ineffective, or corrupt, or both, to a major degree.  And the police, over time -- and we've seen this repeatedly in countries around the world -- the police will become ineffective.  And that continues to be, as I said, a major risk or -- factor.

                Some of the positive things I'll highlight, and then I'll go directly -- I'll go to your question.  I'm not planning to speak for more than about three -- two or three more minutes. 

                The biggest positive we see, both on the police side and the military side, is the move to embedded partnering that has been a core part of General McChrystal's strategy -- of our strategy in Afghanistan, and the biggest single change over this period of time.  This embedded partnering and the use of international forces to embed with the Afghan national security forces at all level is already beginning to show results in some area.  And it also leads to large challenges, and is something that we're still learning how to do.  And we're learning how to do it both corporately, but also in individual cases.

                Every area of Afghanistan is different.  Every set of -- every unit's set of needs are different.  And the skills that the partnering forces bring are different.  And so we have to work through a whole range of issues.  But as we are doing that, we're already finding -- we're already finding some very positive results.

                As I said before, the decline in stability has leveled off.  As you'll notice in the reports, we refer a number of times to polls.  These are polls that are taken from a range of polls, both ones that we sponsor and that other people have.  The ones we -- there are citations, I think, for almost all the polls in there.  But broadly and consistently, the polls show that over the last six months -- particularly over the last three months -- the people of Afghanistan -- the people of Afghanistan see security as improved from a year ago.  And we asked them specifically about the security in their area, their personal security, and they see it as improved.

                Now, you might see this as contradictory, because there's been an increase in violence at the same time.  So there's more fighting.

                That's, first of all, of course, an -- an expected consequence of the United States' and the coalition forces' increasing in number and also shifting the focus of their operations to the most difficult terrain, to the most difficult areas, the areas where we would expect to have the most resistance.

                But the fact that the population of the country as a whole, including in those contested areas, see their personal securities improving means that that violence and its impact on society is changing in its character.  And I'm not going to extrapolate that much further than just that, because I think that's something that we'll need to look at in our -- in our next report.

                The increase in forces has played a major role in this improvement -- in this improvement and this leveling off of -- the decline in instability.  The president -- the president has announced and we've deployed an additional 68,000 forces over the last year, and in this reporting period, six months, he announced 30,000 troops and -- which we're -- we -- which we're continuing, which we began deploying in December and, as I think you all know, continue to deploy, as well as additional contributions -- international community.

                Additionally, there's a lot more -- there are -- there's a very large increase in civilian capacity, both on the United States side and in many of our coalition partners.  The number of U.S. civilians in Afghanistan has tripled, and that is weighted heavily outside of Kabul, where it's quadrupled:  the -- of course, the numbers of U.S. civilians outside of Kabul area increasing much faster than the numbers that are in Kabul.

                The increased international commitment, from the appointment of a new senior civilian representative, a broadening of that person's mandate -- and a number of you were -- at least a couple of you, anyway, not a number -- a couple of you were part of the outreach we did following the president's West Point speech, where you may recall one of the topics was asked, how much -- how many troops will other people contribute?  And at that point I was saying we expect the numbers will be in the 5(,000), 6(,000), 7,000 range.

                Well, now we have 9,000 additional troops that have been committed, so an increase of 25 percent beyond the most optimistic projections we had in December -- what's happening. 

                So the response from the international community for additional troops has surpassed our expectations and continues to increase.  And that's something that we welcome very much and we very much -- we very, very much appreciate that commitment to our shared goal of defeating, disrupting and dismantling al Qaeda and ensuring that Afghanistan doesn't become a safe haven again.

                The other main change has been the transition to the -- what I would call the full COIN efforts, the population-centric -- the population-centric philosophy of warfare that is -- was exemplified -- we mentioned in our last report General McChrystal's tactical directive.  He issued additional directives, including on driving, that we describe in this report, but the continuing emphasis on protecting the population in all forms, including protecting the population from the consequences of inadvertent violence by our forces, by coalition forces. 

                It's something that has had a big impact, not just, of course, in lives saved but in the perception of what the international forces are there for.  One of the key propaganda myths that the Taliban uses to exploit is that the coalition forces are an occupying army, that they're there to exploit, that they don't care about the Afghan people.  And what we have been proving is that's not only not the case but we are taking more and more care of the Afghan people, through the way we carry out -- through the way we carry out our campaign, because, as General McChrystal has said -- and I'm sure you've all heard him say this -- our first priority is protecting the population.

                The organizational changes we highlight in there, and you've all heard the plannings and the projections.  But what we've been able to see in this reporting period is improved operational effectiveness, particularly as a result of the standup of the -- of the NATO intermediate joint command, and the broadening of what was a U.S.-led training command to a -- to the new NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, which has -- both of which have played a role in more effectively utilizing the tools that we have; and also, I would say, by the inclusive nature of them, has played a role in the -- in the willingness of our partners to commit even more of their forces.

                So with that, I'll draw my prepared set of comments to a close, and go to questions.

                Q     There's a report that --

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Okay, excuse me.  I'm so sorry.  I apologize.  I know a couple of people here, but I don't know everybody.  If you wouldn't mind just telling me who you are, it just helps me, at least.  Thank you.

                Q     I'm Anne Flaherty, with Associated Press.

                The report found that only 24 percent of these key areas, key terrain areas, city centers and so forth, actually support the Kabul-based government or are sympathetic toward them.  So are we to take from that that the majority of people in Afghanistan do not support the Afghan government?

                And likewise, a similar statistic was that 29 -- only 29 percent of locals have a high opinion of coalition forces.  So again, I mean, it's -- the majority of people do not support coalition forces?

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I wouldn't draw the same conclusion from use -- from that.  Going back to the 24 percent of the population, it's 24 percent of those are districts where the government is in control or are sympathetic to the government.  So you can --

                Q     In a district where the government is in control?  So, for example, Kandahar is not.

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, there's -- there are -- let me -- let me -- let me pull you -- let's go to the -- to the map here.  We have a nice map.  I believe that we have -- pardon?

                Q     We don't have any.

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  You don't have the maps?

                Q     We don't -- well, we --

                (Cross talk.)

                Q/SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  (Off mike) -- the overall -- indicates the population that sympathizes with or supports the Afghan government in 24 percent of all terrain -- key terrain areas and areas-of-interest districts.

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  The key terrain districts were not picked because they were the areas where there's the greatest support for the government.  They were picked for the fact that they weren't where people live and where it's important for us to change the momentum.  So yes, there's a number of them where the -- I would say -- that many of -- the majority of the people are on the fence, not that they oppose the government, but where they're on the fence. 

                And the objective is to move those people who are on the fence in the direction of the government and to -- and to -- in areas where people are opposed to the government, move them at least to on the fence and ideally to the government.  And so it's -- for those who -- where we're giving you the baseline -- and then what we will be asking ourselves, as we go through the period, is how that changes over time. 

                But again, I would go back to your -- does the -- do the majority of the people oppose the government?  No.  I think the majority of the people were on the fence.  And what we found is the people who support the government is generally twice -- even the most difficult areas is twice the number that oppose the government.  The actual support for the Taliban and other insurgent groups continues, even in areas where they have their strongest support, to be in the area of 10, 12, 14 percent. 

                But where they -- they're able to maintain control because of their -- a combination of their effective use of the instruments they have, which are both primarily the execution -- the use of violence and intimidation, but also because in too many areas, the Afghan government either doesn't have an effective presence or has had a presence that has been counterproductive. 

                And I'll throw you back to the example of Marja, where when President Karzai went and met with the local shura -- or the local people, they said many of the people that you -- you in the central government have sent here have been corrupt and abusive, and that's why we would rather have the Taliban than those people. 

                But what they would like most of all, when people ask people what they would like to have as opposed to what they have, what they will accept, is they want to have a government that is a central government, a provincial government, a district government that is not the Taliban, that is one that is representative of the people.  And of course that's where, working with the government of Afghanistan, our objective is to move over the coming months.

                You were second, and then we'll sort of go across.  We'll get everybody.  Don't worry, I'm not going to leave before I finish.

                Q     My question is on this concept of stabilization of instability.  How can you say that, insofar as violence is still double compared to the previous -- the next -- the last -- the same period last year? 

                And also, this report gives some figures about civilians killed, notably by the ISAF, but there's no comparison figure, so I would like to know if you've got anything for us on that regard. 

                And also, if I may, the number of IEDs, the report says, has increased 263 percent, but it's not clear what the time frame, what the comparison is.

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Okay.  I believe that in the -- on your last question, the 263 percent is over last year, over one year ago.  Our comparison is a year by year comparison.  And my experts over there will check to make sure.

                Secondly, on the issue of comparison of civilians, if we have -- and I apologize if you don't have the full thing with the charts and everything, but we have charts on pages 43 and 44 about civilians killed and wounded, and it -- and it -- and it compares those by the insurgents, those by ISAF, by the Afghan national security forces.  So it does have a comparison of where the --

                Q     But it doesn't -- yeah --

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  -- of where the --

                Q     It doesn't have the conversion -- the figures -- we could compare in '08,'09.  You know what I mean?

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Still we -- we have the figures from October '9 to February '10, and you're looking for more than the two years we gave you?

                Q     She wants the --

                Q     I want the '08, '09 period, to know exactly if on six-month period, it has declined compared to the six-period of last year, you know.

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Okay, we do have -- we actually -- we do have the six-month comparable figures for the last six months from -- last six months would be from November to February of '10, and we have November to February of '09.  So we do have those -- we do have those figures here.

                Q     Sorry about that.  I didn't know. 

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I mean, it's not calculated in that way, but the actual figures are there.

                Q     Right.

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  And to go back to your first question -- which I addressed a little bit in my opening remarks, but let me go back, because I clearly didn't do a very good enough job of explaining it -- the reason we say security has improved and we talk about stabilization is for two reasons.  The first I mentioned -- the polls.  And these are a very broad-ranging set of polls.  We even have people up  -- people up to -- in some up to 50 percent of the people saying that security has improved over the last year.  So this is for individual Afghans.

                At the same time, the level of violence has gone up.  And as I said, that level of violence has gone up, in our judgment -- and everyone should draw their own -- look at the evidence and draw their own conclusions -- for two reasons.

                One is that we have more forces there confronting the Taliban in more areas.  And, as General McChrystal made clear his -- in his assessment, we have not had enough forces there.  In fact, the history of our engagement in Afghanistan is, we've -- in the past has been, we had brought in more forces at -- essentially, just fast enough to not keep up with the Taliban in the past.  And now the objective is to, with the increase in forces, the 68,000 additional forces of the United States and the 9,000 additional from our international partners over the last year, is to leap ahead, to get ahead of the increases in the Taliban that the Taliban has had, and its ability to inflict violence.

                So we're putting more forces.  They're -- they are, on purpose, encountering resistance from the Taliban.  And we're also doing it in the areas where it's most dangerous.  We're going into areas we never went before.  And again, Marja is an example.  And we're going into them in ways we didn't go into -- we didn't go into them before. 

                MODERATOR:  Okay.

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Okay, I'm going to ask -- since I'm not always sure I can read other people's handwriting, and nobody can ever read my handwriting -- (staff name and position deleted) -- can you go ahead and --

                STAFF:  Sure.

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  You're the source of this answer; why don't you go ahead and give it.

                STAFF:  One of the questions that we need to recognize is that there's been 121 districts that have been identified as key districts.  There's over 340 districts within Afghanistan.  So the -- that 24 percent number refers to 24 percent of the hundred and -- or of the 121 key districts that either support or sympathize.  If you take the neutral ones of the key districts, that takes us up to 73 of 121 key districts. 

                That leaves you with over 220 additional districts that are not considered key terrain for success of the operation.  So we -- the -- this is where we're concentrating our effort.  And we just want to be clear that we're looking at the targeted districts, not just the entire country, when you look at that 24 percent number.

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Great, thanks. 

                I would just go back to the other part.  I said it's the number of people, and it's also where we're putting them.  We're putting them in the areas we haven't gone before.  So we're getting much more -- we're getting more conflict, because the places we're going are the more -- are the most difficult, most dangerous. 

                So that's -- I would offer, that's why.  Those are the reasons.  Another reason is, the Taliban is clearly adjusting its tactics.  The use of IEDs, the large increase in the use of IEDs, that the statistics show -- they're adopting those tactics, because they believe they're successful. 

                The IEDs are aimed not just at inflicting casualties.  They're primarily aimed at separating our forces from the population.  Because the more protective measures we have to make, to protect ourselves from IEDs, the less able we're -- less we're able to work with the population. 

                This is at least the Taliban theory.  So they use the IEDs to separate us from the population, while our objective is to protect the population and to work more closely with the population.  And I believe that we are doing so through the COIN process that I mentioned before. 

                Second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh.  (Laughter.) 

                Q     One of the big problems that the report flags, and this is not totally new, is the issue of corruption.  So what I found interesting was, there were some questions about the political will, I think, to counter corruption was called doubtful.  And real change was called elusive. 

                Those are strong words.  What kind of message do you think they'll send, before President Karzai himself comes here? 

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  As you said, this is not a new message, I think, those terms, that description of corruption.  We're not describing it as having worsened.  We're describing it as a continuing problem, so it continues elusive.  It was elusive last year.  It was elusive two years ago.  It was elusive five years ago. 

                That said, President Karzai in his inauguration speech and again at the London conference made a number of very strong pledges to address a range of issues, including corruption, the establishment of a high office of oversight and the aggressive use of a number of mechanisms, including a -- the major-crimes task force.

                There have been in the last -- this is outside the reporting period, but in the last several weeks there have been some important movements in the law-enforcement area, including the conviction of a -- of a -- of a police general who was convicted of, as I understand it, literally stealing from a widows and orphans fund.  So these are things where we see some trends -- I would say trends is maybe too much of a -- maybe too strong -- where we see some evidence that there could be change moving forward.

                But this is a very realistic report.  We don't duck from the tough issues.  And this is a -- this issue of corruption has been a tough one.  And when we talk to the Afghan people, both in the polls and anecdotally, they continually point to corruption as -- in the areas where people have -- are accepting of the Taliban rule, corruption of the existing rule is an area they point to as one of the leading motivating factors.

                Q     And the report also says that ISAF has the forces to focus on -- or conduct operations in 48 of the 121 districts deemed key.  Does that mean ISAF doesn't have enough troops?

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  As of this period of time, we don't have the troops deployed.  But the presence -- the president's additional forces, the additional forces from other countries, are pulling in -- are moving in.  So our objective is to -- over the coming months, to be able to operate effectively in all those.  But we're not yet there, no.  But we're getting there.

                Q    If I understand right, there are 86,000 U.S. troops there now.  That means a balance of 12,000 by August.  With those extra 12,000, you can hit 60-some extra districts?

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  It's not all about additional U.S. troops.  I mentioned foreign troops.  And the other part is the increase in the numbers and increase in effectiveness of the Afghan national security forces.  So with the combination of the Afghan security forces, who are more and more going to be taking the lead, as they did in the Marja operation, and the increase in U.S. forces, yes, we will be able to, over coming months, be able to deploy. 

                It won't all happen by August, no.  And I'll leave the actual details of the campaign plan, and again, we're looking backwards, but looking here in my -- but I would say looking forward, yes, we're going to be able to deploy effectively to all of those provinces over the coming months.

                Q     (Off mike.)

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  No.  Can't -- that would be -- that would be beyond what I could or should do.  But yes, we will be able to.  That's why they've been picked as key terrain districts.  And our objective is to move forward in all of them.

                Q    I'm Al Pessin from VOA.   Jeff asked my question, but --

                Q    Sorry.

                (Cross talk.)

                Q    (Inaudible) -- the goal is to get to all 340 districts over time.  So, I mean, can't you give us some idea when you expect to at least be able to address seriously the districts that you yourselves have identified as being the key?  Is it six months?  Is it a year?  Is it two years?

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I did.  I said months.  And --

                Q     (Off mike) -- years.

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Six months, definitely in months, and well before two years.  Okay.  I'm not going to give you -- I'm not going to say six months, eight months, 10 months, 12 months, but I'll say it's well before two years.

                And to go back to the earlier part of your question, yes, the goal is for the Afghan government and Afghan security forces, assisted by international forces where necessary, to be able to exercise effective sovereignty and provide security in every one of those districts. 
               
                There are actually a number of districts in Afghanistan where the -- where effective -- where effective sovereignty and effective security are already provided, where there's no need for additional.  You can -- there are places in Afghanistan where foreigners can travel without additional protection, anything like that.  And our objective, of course, is to expand that. 

                So the purpose of focusing on the key districts -- of key terrain districts is to use them as the fulcrum which changes the whole dynamic of the conflict.  And that is -- going back to my -- what I said was originally happening.  We -- up -- for the last several years we've seen this very steep increase in areas that the Taliban control, areas that feel threatened.  People's perception of security was getting worse.  That's leveling it off. 

                The objective of course now is to start driving it down.  Will we be -- drive it down at a slow but steady pace?  Will we -- will it be much quicker?  Where will it be?  We're not going to get to -- I'm not going to be -- the crystal ball is saying when.  But when you get security to all those districts will depend upon a whole -- a whole range of factors.  Obviously our objective is to do it soon as possible.  But there will be a lot of adaption on the ground to what this -- to what the circumstances are.

                Q     Can you just clarify?  When you said the most serious problem is the shortage of trainers, were you referring only to the police or to all the security?

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  If I said most serious, I made a mistake.  I should have said a serious problem.

                Q     And is that for both, or just for police you're referring to?

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  It's for both.  But the shortage of trainers in police is relatively -- is -- I would say -- I would say is relatively more serious, because the need -- the needs in the police are greater, because we're starting -- we've made a lot more progress with the army because we started earlier.

                Q     Julian Barnes, LA Times.  The section of the report dealing with the insurgency talked about the organizational capabilities and operational reach expanding.  I wonder, A, what leads you to say that.  Is it the level of violence?  And, B, that seems like a grimmer assessment than I've heard from the Pentagon, from the military command.  Is that -- is that true?  Is that a grimmer assessment?

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, it's true and it's -- and you may have noticed in my introduction I said there have been some particular changes in the last three months.  But if you're looking at the whole period of the report, there were areas, especially at the beginning of the period in September -- I'm sorry, in October, November, in that period -- where the Taliban was acting effectively in areas where it hadn't, or acting in larger numbers than it had.  And that's especially some areas in the north of Afghanistan where two, three, four years ago, there was little to no evidence of Taliban activity.

                What's happened, again, over the last three months, is we've seen them in some cases trying to go back to those areas, but being pushed -- also being pushed back.  So, for example, in the north, both from activities by Afghan security forces and in some cases by indigenous -- by indigenous actions -- in other words, by local forces -- the Taliban have received some pushback.  The next six months will test that.

                So whether we really have hit a -- either a sustained plateau or started moving down, that's what we'll see in the next six months.  Obviously, our objective is to see it moving down, but I'm going to let the facts speak for themselves in the coming months.

                Q     Craig Whitlock, with The Washington Post.

                I'd like to follow up again on the key districts.  You said that the whole point was to use them as the fulcrum to change the whole dynamic of the conflict.  Yet looking at your assessment of where these people stand, yes, a lot of them are on the fence.  But actually more of them are either on the fence or favoring the other side. 

                There's only about a third of them, as Anne pointed out, favor the government -- that are sympathetic -- and that the numbers are higher of the ones who support or are sympathetic to the insurgents. 

                You know, given ISAF's low standing according to the opinion polls you've taken and the relatively low standing of the government, what makes you think that you can persuade these people to see things your way and to support the government? 

                I mean, it seems like it's a pretty uphill battle. 

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Actually I'll go back to the figures I used on security.  Because the perception of security and the perception of security forces -- first of all, I'd say the most important issue is not the standing of ISAF.  The most important issue is the standing of Afghan forces, the Afghan national army and the Afghan national police. 

                And the poll numbers for both the Afghan national army, which have been high and continue to be high and continue to improve, but more importantly I would say the perceptions of the Afghan national police have begun to increase in recent months.  And so I would lay a fairly strong weight on that. 

                And secondly I would not agree that we have a low standing.  The opinion polls about the perception of international forces again, over the last six months, shows improving trendline.  But our objective is to keep the focus on Afghans and Afghan security forces. 

                And I think putting that all together we have -- we have the beginnings -- we have the beginnings of the potential for real change.  And I'm trying to be very cautious in what I say, because I know I'll be quoted. 

                But the trendline that I'm talking about, and our statement that it has flattened out, while our objective is to drive it down, it's possible that it could go the wrong direction. 

                I don't think that's likely, but that's what we're going to measure.  I mean, again, this is a -- I think, a very serious and sober report, and I think the fact that you're able to find all these -- all these issues and concerns, I believe, should lend credibility both to the report overall in itself, but also to the -- to the positive judgments we make, as well as our recognition of the negative factors, negative trends and the challenges and risks that we -- that we intend.

                Q     If I could ask you about one assumption you made, though -- and maybe you're right, but I just want to ask -- press you on it -- the assumption you're saying is that if security improves, the population will then favor the government and ISAF and what it's trying to do.  But is that necessarily the case?  I mean, in many of these districts, these are people who maybe are more ideologically sympathetic to the insurgents.  How do you know that just by improving security that they'll come over to your side?

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, first of all, they're not "coming over to our side."  We're not -- this is not an issue of "our side."  Poll after poll -- the experience of people such as myself, who have served significant time in Afghanistan, is that the Afghan people writ large, over and over again, they want a secure, democratic -- a secure, democratic country where they are able to be -- where they're able to prosper and educate their children.  There is absolutely no evidence that I've seen of -- of a -- of an -- of anywhere in Afghanistan where the ideological commitment to the Taliban is a major factor.  Ideological commitment to the Taliban is a minor factor.

                The Taliban is able to gain support because they have a small corps of very intensely committed people who are very committed to their ideology, that they are able, by use of violence and by the failures of the government, to exercise influence and gain control of people.

                The -- on page 45 of the report, I think we, again, have -- we have some statistics that talk about -- that go in correlation -- I was -- I'm from the Department of Defense, and this is the Department of Defense report, so I was focusing on people's perceptions of security.  But I would agree with you very much, it's not all about security.  It's about what security enables.  And we have Afghan confidence in the national administration increasing by 6 percentage points, confidence in provincial governments increasing, confidence in district governors increasing, and a strong majority -- 59 percent of the Afghan people -- saying they believe that their country's headed in the right direction.

                So I think those are evidence that -- of that -- of that -- of the -- of the positive effects that security brings in the other -- in other areas.  But I'd agree with you 100 percent:  It is not all about security, and bringing about security doesn't guarantee a positive outcome.  It has to be a whole-of-government approach.  And that's exactly what the COIN approach did.  And going back to my point about the increase in civilians, particularly the civilians outside of Kabul, the -- in the integration, even more importantly, with the Afghan government, with the Afghan civilian government, I would again go back to the case of Marja as an example, the bringing in of the Afghan civilian government at the same time security is increasing and is enabling that transition.

                When people ask me when we'll know whether Marja's a successful operation, I say in somewhere -- in -- we'll get some idea of that in the next six to 12 months.  The kinetic part, the part that, to be frank, sometimes overcaptures the imagination of the media because there's bullets flying and it's easily capturable, that's not what the struggle in Marja's about.

                What the struggle in Marja is about is whether we can deliver a whole-of-government approach that sustains the support for the government of Afghanistan writ large, especially the government -- at the subnational level, the government that affects people's lives on a day-to-day.  So the people themselves, when they choose, they choose to throw their lot in -- despite the threats and violence, they choose to throw their lot in with that government than to knuckle under to the threats and intimidation of the Taliban.
               
                STAFF:  We have time for two more questions.

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Really?  I'd love just to take more.

                Q     Yes.  I'm curious, when you emphasize how important it is to do the training mission and how important it is to get the security forces stepped up and in the lead, and we have still the shortcomings, even with all the extra NATO commitments, we're still short the trainers that are required that make that happen, so how is that going to move this off this cusp position, where we are, into the direction we want?  And how long can we stay at that cusp?

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, fortunately, I know more than is in the report, because I know what's happened after March 31st, which is the closing of the report.  And in the period of time since the report closed, we have gotten more commitments of trainers.  We have made some substantial inroads -- although it's still a serious issue, we've made substantial inroads in that shortage.  And we continue to find countries that are not just willing, but eager to join in the effort, and not just NATO and other -- and traditional countries that have contributed in Afghanistan, but countries who have not played a major role in the training mission.

                So I'd say there's actually a -- there is a better story on the trainers than we portray in the report, but we portray it as it was during that six months.

                Q     Can you indicate -- how much above the 9,000 then?

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, I was talking about trainers.  And so the numbers of trainers we're talking about are much -- are much smaller than 9,000.  But I would say we've made somewhere in the -- what we would have seen at the time we were writing the report, we've -- the situation is, say, 20 (percent) to 30 percent better?

                STAFF:  Yes, sir.

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Okay.  Twenty --

                Q     In trainers?

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  In -- 20 to 30 percent better in terms of institutional trainers.  But again, trainers are much -- are a small subsection of that overall numbers (sic).

                STAFF:  Okay.  I've got two more questions.  That's what they just said, right?

                Q     The report says that to get engagement with contiguous border countries, including Central Asian states such as Iran, in addition to the other states in the region, is essential to sustaining the Afghan government in the long run.  What are you doing in that regard?  And how can you possibly move the ball with Iran at this point?

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, in terms of -- obviously Afghanistan is always engaged with Iran, because of the border there.  And the government --

                Q     Well, you mean that Afghanistan government engagement is essential, or ISAF -- (off mike)?

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Engagement.  It didn't say -- it didn't specify who.  So engagement -- so engagement is with whoever can do the engaging.  So, obviously, for the United States, we have a whole range of issues that make it very unlikely that they -- Iran is going to even listen to us on Afghanistan.  Although I would say in Iran and Afghanistan you have a very mixed picture:  You have Iran doing positive things in some areas, and doing some sharply negative things in others.  And we have -- we've been clear on that.

                But the broad point of that section is that Afghanistan, like every country, is affected by its neighbors, but even more so because of its history and its current condition.  So what's happening on the border with Pakistan is by far the most influential right now.  What happens on the border with Iran is of course influential.  What happens in the north is influential. 

                And our objective is to move forward in a regional context.  And that's very much the domain of my colleagues over at the State Department, Ambassador Holbrooke and the Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan and his outreach to other countries. 

                The work that's been done in building that regional support has really made a lot of progress.  But that's not an area that we get into very much.  But as we say, that kind of engagement is essential. 

                Q     Gordon Lubold with The Christian Science Monitor. 

                The report notes the kind of decentralization of the insurgency.  You know, obviously the insurgency operates decentralized for a long time.  I was wondering if you could say, have you seen a further degradation of the insurgency, because of specific issues? 

                And what effect has any rollup of some of these folks, on the other side of the border -- has it had an effect on the Afghan side? 

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  In terms of the ability of the Taliban to operate, I think we've begun to have some impact.  But it will really be in the next six months where we'll be able to make a better judgment on how much impact that is. 

                On the issue of the impact of arrests that were made earlier in the year, in Pakistan, clearly we heard for lack of a better word a lot of concerned chatter from people, from people – Taliban -- Taliban sympathizers in Afghanistan about that, what that meant for them. 

                I can't say that I've seen any change or that I know of any specific changes that I can point to, as a result of that.  But certainly it is on the radar screen, and that's about all I can say.

                Q     The leadership crisis, though, or -- (off mike)?

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I can't -- I've not seen anything to indicate -- and no one has said that there's a leadership crisis in the Taliban.  I haven't seen anything to indicate that.

                Q     You mentioned that there's a lot of polls in the report.  And you're -- it seems like you're placing a lot of stock in these polls as part of the indicators for what you're saying today.  How can you be confident that those polls have actually captured what's happening, given the reality on the ground and that kind --

                SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  There's always the danger that polls are wrong.  And there have been polls in the United States that have been reputable and haven't been wrong.  One is that there's a wide range of polls here; secondly is that the -- I would say the polls are very much backed up by the very large amount -- and when I say anecdotal evidence, I wouldn't -- I don't mean that as dismissive.  It's really important.  We have tens of thousands of troops on the ground who now are out with the population much more than they were before.  So we are getting a lot of direct reports and reflections from our interaction.
               
                But other things, such as the increase in economic activity:  Afghan government revenues are up somewhere between 20 and 30 percent this year -- this year over last year; the increase in the numbers of market stalls and markets in areas is another area -- is another area you can track economic activity.  So there are a lot of other ancillary pieces of evidence that back up what the polls say.  But we always do keep a caution that the polls could -- the polls could be wrong.

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