MR. WHITMAN: It is my pleasure to welcome back into the briefing room, so to speak, Army Major General Curtis Scaparrotti, who is the commanding general of Combined Task Force-82 and NATO's Regional Command East.
General Scaparrotti has -- assumed his duties back in June of last year. And this, I guess, is his second time, because he was previously with us in August in this format.
He is at Bagram Airfield at his headquarters today, where he's speaking to us.
And unfortunately for us, this is going to be his last opportunity in this position, because on June 14th he's going to transfer authority of RC East over to Major General John Campbell of the 101st.
You'll notice that General Scaparrotti is also joined today by Ms. Dawn Liberi -- hopefully, I said that correctly -- who is the senior civilian representative for CJTF-82. They're going to make some opening remarks and then take your questions.
Again, welcome, and thank you for taking the time to do this.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Thank you, Bryan. It's our pleasure.
Hello, everyone. Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you today. Today I, along with Ms. Dawn Liberi, who, as Bryan said, is the senior civilian representative for Combined Task Force 82, would like to provide an overview of where we were -- or where we have been in the past year, the past 12 months.
Ms. Liberi and her team of civilian experts have brought a tremendous amount of governance and development expertise to our task forces. And as we are an integrated command team, we've -- I've asked her to join me here today. Basically, we co-lead Regional Command East.
Twelve months ago, the 82nd Airborne Division assumed the mission of Regional Command East. Since then, Combined Joint Task Force 82 has worked to preserve and advance essential partnerships with the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan officials and the Afghan National Security Forces within the 14 provinces of Regional Command East.
Our main priorities and intent remain unchanged since our arrival: build and reinforce the Afghan government's competence, capacity and credibility in a unified effort to protect the population, connect the people to their government and enable sustainable development to improve the lives of the Afghan people.
The defense and security of the Afghan people are the center of our efforts, and we will achieve these priorities through partnering with Afghan government officials and the Afghan National Security Forces.
Through our combined action initiative, we have embedded our forces with the Afghan army, the police and the border police to build their competence and capacity. This begins with the CJTF-82 deputy commanders and their staff working and living side by side with the 201st and the 203rd Corps headquarters of the Afghan National Army.
This partnership is reflected all the way down to the lowest levels in the east. This nesting ensures that we are truly working together in a synchronized manner to achieve a common goal.
In RC East we've brought our unified action initiative to the next level as well. We all recognize that the solution to Afghanistan's challenges is not only a military solution but a combination of security, governance and development, which requires both military and civilian professionals to have effect.
We have that civilian expertise with Ms. Liberi and her team. Our civilians are true patriots answering the call to serve our nation and the Afghan people.
Although we are transitioning with the 101st Airborne Division, the mission and the pace of operations continue. Insurgents continue to intentionally wage a war of fear and propaganda against the Afghan people. And in contrast, the Afghan national security forces continue to demonstrate increasing capability to protect the Afghan people.
We realize that Afghanistan and Regional Command East are at a critical moment, and we're honored to do our part for the Afghan people. And it's been a privilege to serve here this year.
I'll turn it over now to Ms. Dawn Liberi for her remarks on “Unified Action,” one of our key initiatives, before we take your questions.
MS. LIBERI: Thank you very much, and hello from eastern Afghanistan. Let me just say, it's a privilege to be here with you today. And as President Obama framed it when he was here on March 28th visiting us in Bagram, our purpose here is to help Afghans forge a hard-won peace while realizing extraordinary potential of the Afghan people, Afghan sons and daughters, from the soldiers to the police, to the farmers and the young students.
So I'd like to begin my remarks by highlighting just how far we've come since I arrived here about a year ago. In a very short time, we've increased the civilian presence here from about 20 or 25 throughout RC East to now we have about 170 civilians, and these are from the U.S. Agency for International Development, from the State Department and from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. By the end of the year, we're projected to have about 285 civilian experts.
And while this is a great development -- and I'd really like to thank publicly our senior leadership for working very hard to get these much-needed, very highly qualified civilians out to us and out here quickly -- I think the more impressive accomplishment, in my view, has actually been the integration that we've achieved with our military partners. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this has really been historic in terms of the level of integration we have.
By the same way that “Combined Action,” which is the joint U.S. and Afghan military actions, has transformed the way we do business in Afghanistan on the military side, I'd have to say that “Unified Action” has transformed the way that the whole-of-government model is implemented in Afghanistan.
As General Scaparrotti said earlier, he and I are equals. We've jointly signed the orders and the plans for all the activities that are here in Regional Command East.
At every organizational level, at the provinces and the districts in Afghanistan, we've partnered our U.S. civilians and our military experts and leaders from across the spectrum of the U.S. government agencies as well as our NATO allies and, most importantly, the Afghan government representatives.
Of course, the focus of all these experts is to help strengthen and empower the Afghan government, particularly at the provincial and local levels. So whether it's working to improve the functioning of the judicial system or really striving to help make the district governments more efficient, particularly in providing services, all of our efforts -- civilian and military -- are designed to assist the Afghan government.
The district delivery program is a great example of how USAID and other agencies are working to support the Afghan-led and Afghan-developed program which is in the field, and this is something that's providing Afghans with the essential services that they need.
As part of the district development program, targeted districts which have been selected by the Afghans, will be receiving a comprehensive package which is focused on service delivery and development, in particular in areas related to governance.
So in this next critical year, our success will be predicated on our ability to partner our civilian expertise with Afghan leadership. So I welcome your questions now about our civilian increase and any other governance or development programs, particularly related to stabilization in RC East.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, thank you for that overview. And I'm sure we've got a few questions. Let's go ahead and start with Anne.
Q Sir, in recent weeks we've seen some pretty brazen attacks by the Taliban, particularly in your area at Bagram. What is your latest assessment of the Taliban strength? And do you have any predictions for the months to come?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Right. I think that in terms of strength within RC East, I don't believe that they're any stronger now than they were a year ago. And in fact, I think that we have greater initiative than RC East with respect to the enemy than we did a year ago. That doesn't mean there isn't areas that we're still -- need to clear or we're working to clear, but we have more areas where we’re in a hold phase and we're now working developing governance hard.
I think the enemy itself -- as you saw the attack here in Bagram, there's another one in Orgun-e that was very similar. It was an attempt by the enemy really to gain the information operation that they get from that. While it was an attack that was three groups, it included a vehicle bomb as well as suicide -- five personnel with suicide vests, it was really not one that I think could have achieved success in terms of penetrating the base itself, but it did gain them that message and carry in the news. And I think it was the same thing in Orgun-e.
What we're seeing is, is that they have conducted less direct fire attacks from the winter into this spring.
And they're using more IEDs, suicide vests and potentially a car bomb which -- we've had one that went off in Orgun-e and a couple that we've found here in RC East recently.
Q General, it's Tom Bowman with NPR.
You said you're at a critical moment now. Could you explain what you meant by that? And also as you know, there's interest in the administration about turning over territory to the Afghan government, Afghan government control, by year's end.
Do you see any portion of RC East that you could turn over to Afghan control? I know you're leaving. But by year's end, do you foresee any place being turned over?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, first of all, I see it as a critical moment, because we are a year into this. And we're at the point where the new forces that were added are coming into areas in Afghanistan, predominantly in the south and the east.
As Dawn mentioned, we've gained a considerable number of civilian expertise. And I've begun to get some of the forces that I had requested as a part of this surge. And we'll get the remainder as we go into this summer.
So I think those forces give us -- give us the force structure that we needed to have the success in security, governance and development that we need to have, to begin to turn it over to the Afghans.
There's areas in RC East for instance across the north -- in Bamiyan, Parwan and Panjshir -- which are very secure today and secured in Panjshir and Bamiyan by their own forces.
We use an MP platoon for instance to continue to develop their police skills and the reconstruction team and the groups of civilians to help develop their governance and their infrastructure.
But by and large, their governors are in charge there. And I think as that develops, those have potential for turnover.
And then within RC East itself, I think that we're working with a main effort in the Nangarhar area and the Kunar valley. Those are still difficult areas, but I think there's potential, with the development that Dawn just discussed and the focus there, to make some good progress in the next year.
And, Dawn, if you'd like to --
MS. LIBERI: I -- just the -- a couple of points that I would add to what General Scaparrotti said is that, for example, in Bamyan and Panjshir, we have now civilian experts who are literally working with the governors. They go every day to the governors' office. In fact, they have space in the governors' offices. They work with the line directors there in health, education, agriculture. And they're also working to help expand some of the infrastructure that's there.
So it's in this way that I think we can help assist the Afghan government to really take over the essential service provision that obviously the population would expect their government to do. So this aligned with the security that General Scaparrotti spoke about is, I think, the main way that the Afghans can and will begin to really take over full management and governance of their structure.
MR. WHITMAN: Albert.
Q Hi. It's Al Pessin from Voice of America. How comfortable are the two of you with the level of security for the American and international civilians that you're sending out into these areas?
And, Dawn, can you point to specific examples or any sort of metric that you use to measure the sort of progress you were just talking about, and particularly to measure whether you're actually breaking the cycle of some of the problems that have plagued Afghanistan for generations, including corruption, including the level of competence of the -- and integrity of the officials, and so on.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Yeah, I'll start and then go to Dawn.
I'm pretty comfortable with the ability of our civilians to go get out into the districts in a secure means. Now we provide -- the military provides them that security, and obviously there's areas that are more dangerous than others. We have probably both extremes. We have areas in Panjshir and Bamyan, as I mentioned, where it's quite safe for them to travel, and then other areas where obviously they go in MRAPs with our troops to secure them and take them to the district center and other places that they need to go, in order to advance governance and development. So you know, at -- I think you have a mix there.
MS. LIBERI: Right. What I would add to that is, every week we actually survey all of our civilians and ask them how often they've gotten out that week. And I'd have to say it's on an average of four to five times a week that each civilian is getting out, which to me indicates that they are getting out, on the ground; they're having the kind of impact that we would like to see them have.
And if I could point to a specific example, I would say Sayed Abad and Baraki Barak, in the Lowgar and Wardak areas. Tangi Valley was extremely kinetic a year ago. The security gains came in. The task force brigade that was there fought hard for a year and essentially established a security corridor.
On the civilian side, we put in two district support teams, one in Baraki Barak and one in Sayed Abad. As a result of that, SIGACTS have -- significant acts -- have decreased by about 80 percent.
The population has actually turned in a number of IEDs. They've actually identified where these IEDs are. And as a result of that, the security has remained.
We've also put in, in the last six months, about $2 million worth of governance and development, agriculture activities. And so this area, which had been one of the most kinetic in all of eastern Afghanistan, is now one of the secure areas where we are actually doing governance and development and making daily gains.
We had started out with an agriculture expert that was doing some extension work. Fifty farmers showed up the first week that the ag extension person was there. Now there are about 800 farmers a week that show up for these kind of services.
So that's the kind of difference that we're making there.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: If I could, there was a second part to your question about some of the issues that have plagued Afghanistan over the years here. The one that I would mention to you is that -- is that we still have a significant issue with corruption in their own government and some of the security forces.
As CJTF, we started on our first day working very hard. We have a program actually that we worked, on identifying those who were corrupt and then developing the evidence, in order to help their own government remove them from office and prosecute them if that's what was necessary, if it was criminal.
I'll be frank. I was somewhat frustrated, at the nine-and-a- half /10-month mark with this, because we'd put a lot of work into it. And the people that helped us the most were our civilian expertise, our law enforcement professionals, the FBI professionals I have on my staff.
In fact, we had a couple that were experts in looking at organized -- and working to bring down organized-crime networks and were very helpful to us.
As I said, I was somewhat frustrated because we didn't seem to be making much progress. But in the last two months, now, of our tour, we have begun to make progress. We have had one police chief -- provincial police chief removed, one that's been arrested and arraigned. We've had several sub-governors that have been removed from office. And while that's only a few, it is a beginning. And it is -- it's demonstrating to me now that the Afghan government is -- has arrested some of their more senior officials. And it appears that they are going to take them to court.
Additionally, we've had, just in the last month and a half, our first public trials. We had two in Kunar, one in Nangarhar and one in Parwan that were public trials. They had defense attorneys and prosecutors, and they -- the people actually packed the courthouse. They were standing in the windowsills to watch the proceedings. One of those was a corruption case. The others were different cases. One was theft. One was a murder case. But I think that's, although very small numbers, and just starting, to me, it’s encouraging.
Q Sir, I'm curious. With President Karzai's peace summit, what tangible results do you see coming out of that that will impact how you operate?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, I think that he stated, you know, as they traditionally have a jirga like this, it is to find a means to bring all of those elders or representatives together in a way to find peace for Afghanistan and hopefully begin a process to reconcile or reintegrate those who are fighters.
And I think if that were to proceed, then, of course, it would have an impact here, you know, in RC East.
Now, this is an Afghan-led solution, and reintegration, reconciliation is Afghan-led. It's a government initiative.
But I would tell you that we have had -- we have seen, within RC East this year, in the last six months or so, an increased interest within the provinces, to virtually all of them, to have fighters that have made contact and want to come back to their community. And we've had examples of where small-unit commanders have brought eight or 10 fighters back in. And they generally do that through the district subgovernor or the governor, and it includes a reception by their tribe, a guarantee that they won't return to the fight and that they are pledging their allegiance to the government. And we've seen some of that already in the past about five months.
MR. WHITMAN: Courtney.
Q Hi. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. You said earlier to Anne's question that the Taliban's strength has not gotten -- they've not gotten stronger in the past year. Would you go so far as to say that they've -- their power, their strength has actually degraded in the past year since you've been operating there?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: In RC East, I would say it is degraded. And I think that we've also had a good -- a good impact on the Haqqani Network, which I see as our greatest threat in RC East, operating primarily in Khost, Paktia, Paktika, but attempting to increase their influence into the areas south of Kabul and even somewhat into Nangarhar.
We along with the special operations forces that work with us have had a great effect against the Haqqani network. And we can see that we've stressed their leadership, their facilitation, the movement of their expertise and resupply.
And within the Taliban, we've seen the same effects. And we saw that more than a few of their senior leaders went to Pakistan as well early in the fall, as a result of the pressure that we had put on their networks. So I think there's -- that we've made good progress in that regard.
Now, I would say that these networks are good enough and they're resilient enough, particularly the Haqqani Network, that we have to maintain that pressure. A network that we don't maintain pressure on, after we take it down, it's generally six or seven weeks and they can begin to rebuild that.
Q Mike Evans from The Times, London Times.
Can you give us an idea of actually how many of the 30,000 surge troops you're going to get, in the east, and what their principal role will be?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, I'll get probably about -- well, I'm going to get a brigade element, some engineers and an aviation task force here. And those are predominantly combat troops. But what their real mission is when they come into RC East, as all of my forces do, is to build the competency and the capacity of the Afghan national security forces.
All of my forces in the RC East coalition, to include the Polish and the French brigades that are in RC East, are embedded with their Afghan national security force partners -- police, border police and army -- with their first priority to build their capacity and competency.
As a result of what we call combined action, we've seen an improvement in the proficiency of the Afghan forces here in RC East. Their operational tempo has increased at the same time their casualties have gone down. So moving our forces to align with them, live, train and fight with them, has made a difference this year.
Q Brigade element meaning 3,000/4,000/5,000 extra troops?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: I'm sorry, I couldn't hear what you said.
Q I was just trying to put a number on your, as you mentioned, brigade and engineers. Are we talking about 3,000 or 4,000, or slightly more?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: No, sir. My part of this increase is a brigade of combat power.
Q So is it about 5,000 -- could you put a number on it?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: It's about 4,000, sir.
Q Dave Martin with CBS. You say you're making good progress, but the question always is, are you making progress fast enough? Are you making progress fast enough if July 2011 is the date set for the beginning of the withdrawal?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: As I said, I'm making progress. And I would tell you that there will be an assessment done here, as you know, into the fall, and they'll continue that -- continue to look at our progress as John Campbell and the 101st take it into the summer of 2011.
Based on those conditions and then they'll determine what the rate of withdrawal or when they would begin to withdraw. I would tell you personally that we've got a solid year of work here with the 101st to set the conditions in some of these areas like Nangarhar that I mentioned that we might consider withdrawal.
Q General, I'm Carl Osgood with Executive Intelligence Review. You talk about the improvements that you've seen in the Afghan -- in the -- the army and the police, their increasing tempo -- operational tempo and so forth. Where do they stand in terms of their -- two things -- their leadership, their NCO and officer leadership, and logistical capabilities? How close -- how much work do they really require before they'll be able to operate independently of your forces?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, right now, I -- I'll take each one. The army is, in terms of RC East and the army forces here, is developing quite well. The officer leadership is pretty good. The NCO leadership is really gaining strength. In fact, I'm impressed with the NCO leadership and its development. For instance, in the 203rd corps, one of the two corps here, they have now begun running their own NCO academy. They have about 450 personnel there going through that academy. It is completely taught by their NCOs. And so that is a -- that is an initiative beginning that's helping them quite a bit.
The police has improved in strength. They haven't improved in proficiency as much this year. And in the police the leadership is an issue. We have a lot of work to do in police leadership particularly, you know, at the mid-level in order to make them much more effective.
The border police I am pretty impressed with. We've added a battalion or a kandak to the border police in zone one. We'll add another one next year, or the 101st will. And they're two senior leaders, the two zone leaders that are general officers, are both very competent and very good.
And, but of course across the force, we need to focus on improving that leadership through NCO academies and officer courses and working day to day with our force.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, we have reached the end of our time. And I do want to be respectful of your time. I want to thank you again for sharing your perspective with us back here. And, but before I bring it to a final close, let me just turn it back to you for any thoughts that you might have.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Okay, well, thank you very much. I'll turn it to Dawn first.
MS. LIBERI: Well, first of all, let me say, thank you again for the opportunity to join you here.
And once again I'd say, while military options obviously play a very important role here in Afghanistan, I think it's also critical that we continue to discuss the enormous strides that we've made, both in increasing the civilian side and also on our focused support with Afghan partners.
And just in terms of capacity-building, there is a plan to train about 12,000 Afghan civil servants this year. There's a plan to really support the subnational governance structure and also the subnational governance policy, which is going to allocate about 25 percent of the budget to the provinces and to the districts.
So that's the area that the civilians will be focused on.
We have experts and agriculture, rule of law, justice, et cetera. And so these experts bring with them the capacity to train and mentor in governance and development on the civil service side.
So it's working closely with our Afghan partners that I'll think we'll see the kind of gains that we're all looking for, for the future, so that the Afghan people can really be tied to its government and seek a better future for their children.
And I'll turn it over to General Scaparrotti.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Bryan, thank you for this opportunity again. We've got a great team here with our ANSF partners, our coalition partners and the civilian experts, starting with Dawn. And I believe that together we are making progress, as I said.
We fully expect to be busy up until the day of our transition with the 101st Airborne Division. And to that end, we're working with our counterparts at Fort Campbell to ensure that transition's effective.
For our fallen heroes and Gold Star families, you'll not be forgotten. And you've paid the ultimate sacrifice and will be forever remembered and in our hearts.
Our troops continue to get the job done, and I would be remiss if I didn't take this opportunity to thank our families and the friends and the American people out there who have supported us while we're deployed and who took care of each other at home while we were deployed. And we look forward to joining our families here soon.
Thank you again for your time today. I appreciate it.
MR. WHITMAN: General, thank you. And as you get ready to do your transfer and redeploy, we wish you a safe and speedy redeployment. Thank you.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, thank you very much, Bryan.
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