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DOD News Briefing with Lt. Gen. Rodriguez from Afghanistan

Presenters: Commander, International Security Assistance Force Joint Command Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez
July 07, 2010

                 COL. DAVE LAPAN (director of the Department of Defense Press Office):  Good evening, General Rodriguez.  It's Colonel Dave Lapan here at the Pentagon.  How do you hear me, sir? 

                 GEN. RODRIGUEZ (via teleconference from Afghanistan):  I can hear you loud and clear.  Thank you.   

                 COL. LAPAN:  Sir, you're loud and clear here.   

                 Good morning, everyone here, and good evening there in Afghanistan.  I'd like to welcome back to the Pentagon briefing room someone who is no stranger here:  Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, who is the commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command and the deputy commander, United States Forces- Afghanistan.    

                General Rodriguez assumed his duties in Afghanistan in June 2009 and subsequently became the first commander of the IJC in October of 2009.  While he has joined us in this format many times during his previous life's -- his previous tours, this is his first time as IJC commander, and he joins us today from his headquarters in Kabul.  

                General Rodriguez will make some opening comments, and then he'll take your questions.  With that, sir, I'll turn things over to you.  

                GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  Well, thank you, and good morning from Afghanistan.  I'll begin by bringing you up to date on some of what's been happening here.  Then I'll take your questions.    

                First, we are steadily making deliberate progress across Afghanistan, and we are on an upward trajectory.  The situation remains serious, and we still face a tough and resourceful insurgency, but the momentum is beginning to shift to the Afghan forces' advantage.    

                Progress, however, will take some time.  Indications of progress will take more time, in some cases, but positive effects are emerging over the course of months as Afghans gain confidence in their future. And the Afghan people are starting to feel that the country is heading in the right direction.    

                We just concluded our fifth commanders' conference here at the headquarters in Kabul.  These conferences bring together Afghan leadership in the army and the police with our partner regional commanders.  

                We work on improving plans and communicating and coordinating better. It makes us all more effective at accomplishing the mission.  

                This past week, the Afghan National Army chief of general staff, Bishmullah Habadi, was confirmed as the new minister of Interior. So he remains a steadfast, dependable and great leader of the Afghan security forces that he's fought with for so long.  And General Sher Mohammad Karimi, another longtime partner and great leader, was selected as the new army chief of the general staff.  Both of these appointments are important examples of merit-based selections that will make the Afghan police and army stronger.    

                The Afghan government has also begun to use a transparent, merit- based process to hire new deputy provisional governors and district governors.  This year, about 180 district governors and 14 deputy provincial governors will be filled using this process.  So those are all opportunities for the Afghan government to get the most capable leaders to the districts and provinces to best serve the Afghan people.   

                In both the Helmand and Kandahar provinces, Director Papal and his staff from the independent director of local governance are working closely with local leaders.  They're instituting and expanding responsive governing processes and civil capacity where there was none six months ago.  The independent director of local governance is bringing together Kandahar's senior leadership with the provincial council members, district elders, local ministry representatives and representatives from the central government in Kabul.  They're building consensus on the way forward to keep improving governance and service delivery.   

                They're working hand in hand with the Ministries of Interior and Defense to synchronize these measures with the security efforts.    

                Beyond the south, we continue to work closely with the Afghan government to improve capacity in the key terrain districts, which are those districts with high population densities and potential for economic development.  And the Afghan ministries are demonstrating increased commitment as they help develop capacities at the local level.    

                One example:  The Ministry of Education tested over 45,000 teachers last year to determine whether or not they met the new standards to receive higher pay.  Over 90 percent passed.  

                With respect to reintegration, President Karzai signed that decree at the end of June, and we are supporting the provincial and district governors' work to establish the structure and processes to carry out that decree.  That decree will be one of the subjects of the Kabul conference here on the 20th of July.    

                The Afghan security forces are increasingly leading the security planning, and they're planning for that event as we are supporting them.    

                They have already started planning and conducting inspections of the polling stations for the elections in September.  We are way ahead of where we were last year in that endeavor.  In fact, the Afghan security forces have led the security efforts for last year's election, the Consultative Peace Jirga and will lead the Kabul conference and the elections coming in September.  

                We keep expanding partnership with the Afghan National Police. They are our focus of effort in building security force capacity, as they are the government interface and best connection with the Afghan people.  

                And about 85 percent of the Afghan National Army are now partnered with coalition forces.  Those partnerships will keep building capacity of the Afghan national security forces and increasingly allow the police and army to take the lead.  And that is exactly what they want to do.  There's no shortage of courage and commitment across the ranks of the good leaders in the Afghan national security forces.    

                Major General Rich Mills is leading our newest regional command, Regional Command Southwest, which we stood up on the 15th of June, down in the Helmand province.  Rich's Marines are moving forward with Operation Moshtarak in the central Helmand River Valley and continuing to make deliberate progress.  

                We are seeing an increase of the separation between the people and the insurgents.  Violence is decreasingly slightly.  Taliban intimidation is becoming less effective.  Bazaars are open in Marja, and more are opening.  

                Recently, Rich said Marja will be a very prosperous agricultural town, with good, honest police force; a place where people can go to school, have businesses, raise families and lead successful lives. That's well said.  And that's what we're all working hard for -- for the people of Marja, for the people of the central Helmand River Valley, for the people of Kandahar and across the nation.  Our mission is to help give them the opportunity to reject the insurgents and chart their own future.  And they will.  

                The insurgents, on the other hand, leave no question about their vision for Afghanistan's future.  

                They offer destruction and hopelessness.  Far from providing a better future, they promise brutality, inhumanity, fear and uncertainty.    

                Those who think the Afghan people will let the nation slip back to the control of the insurgents don't know the Afghan people.  Those who doubt fail to consider those people's courage and resilience. They fail to consider the growing opportunities for fathers and sons to put down their weapons and be welcomed home to families and communities.  They fail to consider 40,000 coalition troops arriving this year.    

                Thank you.  I'll take your questions now.  

                COL. LAPAN:  Thank you, General.  

                Anne.  

                Q     Hi, General.  Anne Gearan with the Associated Press.  I wanted to ask you about the announcement today that British troops will withdrawal -- withdraw from the Sangin valley.  Is this emblematic of an increasing Americanization of the war, or at least the parts of it where a lot of the fighting is heaviest?  Are you concerned that this sends the wrong message?  

                GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  Well, first of all, the situation in the Helmand River valley is what you're talking about.  And what is happening right now is the British are committing their theater reserve for the next several months into the central Helmand River valley to increase the security zones in the central Helmand River valley.  As the Marines will be coming out of Delaram, which is over on the western part of Helmand, they're getting replaced right now with a Georgian battalion.  When that theater reserve goes back after the elections and after the peak of the fighting season, they will be replaced by a British unit who was originally scheduled to go into Sangin.    

                And the battalion that's being replaced by the Georgians, which are a new contribution from another troop-contributing nation here, will backfill them in Sangin after the peak of the fighting season.    

                This is done to clean up the command and control, so that having Marines in the north -- northern Helmand River valley and then in the central Helmand River valley -- the Marines will be in the south, and the British will be concentrated in the north.   

                 This is about force densities and aligning the command and control so it's most efficient so you don't have Marines, British, Marines, British down the line.  But we have Marines in the north, Marines in the south and Brits in the central.    

                So that's why that's being done.  And we were afforded that opportunity because of the commitment of the British theater reserve, as well as the commitment of the Georgian nation that has freed up another Marine infantry battalion.    

                Q     Hi, General.  Jeff with Stars and Stripes.    

                Along that theme, I kind of got lost when you started saying who was replacing whom.  So I understand the British are moving.  They are being replaced by Marines.  Did you say those Marines in Sangin will be replaced by British?    

                GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  No, I did not.  I'm sorry I wasn't clear.   

                 The British are committing their theater reserve right now to consolidate their gains in the central Helmand River valley.  They will stay through the elections and the peak of the violent fighting period that ends in early fall -- (audio break) -- Sangin.    

                The other part of the British forces in Task Force Helmand includes the people in the Central Helmand River Valley and up in Sangin.  When the force that was planned to replace the people in Sangin come in from the Brits, they will replace that theater reserve in the Central Helmand River Valley, to continue to build on the gains and increase stability in the Central Helmand River Valley, which is our main effort down in the central -- in Helmand.  

                On the western -- and then they will be replaced by Marines who were freed up to move because of the contribution of the Georgians in western Helmand.  That will better align the command and control.  So in the Northern Helmand River Valley, it will be Marines; in the northern part of the Central Helmand River Valley, it will be all British; and then in the southern part of the Central Helmand River Valley, it will be all Marines.  So rather than have a situation where you have Marines, British, Marines, British, then Marines, we're going to have Marines in the north, British in the center part, and Marines in the south.  So it'll clean up the command and control.  And we'll continue to build on the gains in the Sangin area that the Brits have done over the last several years.  

                Q     And could I follow up on that?  Thank you.  General, Jim Miklaszewski, with NBC.  

                Could we consider this a consolidation of British forces in anticipation of their eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan?  And looking forward, what effect is the withdrawal of the Brits, possibly the Canadians and other NATO forces, going to have on the U.S. efforts there?  And to follow up on Ann's question, is this going to further Americanize the war in Afghanistan?  

                GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  Well, first of all, the Brits are stay -- Brits, as they consolidate -- again, in the Central Helmand River Valley -- that's the main effort, and that's where we need them most.  

                And again, they're just -- we're just reorganizing the battlespace based on command and control and force densities, which are important in a counterinsurgency.  And again, the British have made a significant commitment to the -- to the contribution of the forces in Task Force Helmand, and they're going to -- they're going to continue to do that for several years.  

                Your other question about the Canadians who are coming out, and of course the Dutch, out of Oruzgan, we have made adjustments in our battlespace laydown to be able to handle the Dutch right now.  And as we look forward in the next year, we'll determine what the best way is to handle the withdrawal of the Canadian forces next year.  

                Q     General, David Wood from Politics Daily.  You mentioned that the Taliban in Marja and the surrounding area, that their intimidation is having -- is being less effective, I think is the way you put it.  How do you know that?  How do you measure that?  

                GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  We measure that by the -- by the sense of the people's participation in their government.  The critical things down in the districts are the delivery of services from the government and the security provided by the police, supported by the army.  As you know, in Marja six months ago, that was a significant support base for the Taliban, where they had free rein and the flag flew over Marja and the people were completely oppressed.  Now the people are looking forward to a better future.   

                And so what we monitor and measure there is the -- first, the district governance and their ability to reach out to the people.  The second thing that's important is representative councils, which are basically community leaders who provide the connection between the people and the government.  

                Now, the councils in Marja have just started to operate, but they're not fully representative of all the people yet.  So what they have established down there in Marja is an interim council that as security grows and as the confidence of the people grows, it will become more representative of the whole district of Marja, which is when you know that you're really making some progress.    

                So they are on a -- an upward trajectory to move to that now, but they do not have a fully representative council yet.  But they are participating in the council meetings and the shura meetings, the people are.  And we look forward to that continual growing confidence as they improve the security.  

                The enemy, as you know, because they lost that support base, they're fighting back awful hard to prevent that loss.  And right now they're focused in a murder and intimidation campaign on these community leaders who are participating in their government.  But right now, the people are moving forward, despite those efforts.  And again, we look forward to continued development of those councils and of popular participation in their government.  

                Q     Sir, do you have any hard evidence, any numbers, any -- number of incidents that would -- that would buttress your contention that their intimidation is less effective?  

                GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  Well, the -- this past week was the first time that the violence level in Marja started to decrease slightly.    

                So it's not a trend yet, but we'll continue to monitor it.    

                But again, the important part is, the people continue to participate with their government, the bazaars continue to be open, and there are more and more schools open all the time.  So again, this is a contest of will and a contest of threat and intimidation versus people who are going to stand up for themselves and their government, and then the security forces who are charged with protecting the Afghan people.    

                So the -- again, the peak violence occurred here in the past couple weeks, and it's starting to go down now.  But again, it's too early to assess a trend yet.  But we're hopeful, because of the people -- participation, that they're moving in the right direction. 

                 There are a couple rough areas in the central Helmand River Valley.  There's a couple of them in Marja.  And there -- those pockets of resistance are decreasing as we continue to consolidate the gains and expand security throughout the area.  But we still got some pockets of resistance that we're going to have to take care of, and that's the place that the people can't participate in their government, which is why they don't have representative councils yet. But we're moving in that direction, and we're confident that that will occur here over the next several months.   

                 COL. LAPAN:  Barbara. 

                 Q     General Rodriguez, Barbara Starr from CNN.  If I could follow up on Dave Wood's question, you said in your opening statement that there's -- you talked about steadily making progress and a trajectory that is upwards.  But nonetheless, coalition fatalities are at an all-time high.  Number of U.S. troops wounded was 400 each of the last two months.  Marja remains problematic after six months for U.S. troops.  So for U.S. troops, where is the upward trajectory when all of the statistics about fatalities and wounded are going in the other direction, if I may? 

                 GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  Yeah, well, the casualties -- again, we have explained what we expect to see with the casualties over time, because as the forces roll in, the strategy is to go into the places where the Taliban has maintained support bases.  And they're going to fight for those.  And the trajectory that I'm talking about is the trajectory of the Afghan people's participation in their government and their increasing trust and confidence in places like the central Helmand River valley and places that we expect to see that kind of progress in Kandahar and its environs over the next several months. 

                 But again, we are going into places that have been significant support bases for the Taliban for the past several years, and they're going to fight hard for those.  And that's why we expect the casualties to go up.  But that is not a direct effect or measurement of the increasing confidence that the Afghan people have in their government and their security forces in the selected places that we're concentrating on. 

                 Q     A brief follow-up on a different subject, General.  I -- we're all fairly certain you're aware of Secretary Gates's memo to top commanders in the U.S. military about engaging with the media.  And just for the record, could we get your position on this, as one of the most senior commanders in Afghanistan, about your view about the -- if you will, the rights, the abilities of your troops in the field, when they choose to, when they wish to -- what are the constraints on them in terms of troops being able to speak to the news media and talk about what they are doing in Afghanistan?  

                 Do you see any constraints on the speech rights of troops to speak to the media? 

                 GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  I -- could you please repeat that question?  I couldn't catch it completely. 

                 Q     I'm sure that -- and I'll try and repeat it as precisely as I can.  I'm sure you're aware of Secretary Gates' memo to top commanders about engaging with the news media.  He has put out an extensive memo on this subject.  What is your view, as a senior commander in the war zone, about -- to be blunt, sir -- the speech rights of your troops to speak to the news media, when they choose to -- we don't force them; when they choose to -- about the war, about what they're doing?  Do you now see any constraints on the rights of troops to speak to the news media? 

                 GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  Okay.  No, I do not.  This is Secretary Gates' letter that we have -- we've seen that, and we've briefed all our leaders on that.  And it's really a reaffirmation of the principles of what we've done with the press for many, many years.  So that -- it just reinforces the policies and makes very clear what they are. 

                 I do not think that that will constrain what we've been doing here.  And it's very, very simple to notify people when events like this are going on.  And we feel free to talk to the press, as well as all the soldiers, sailor(s), airmen and Marines out here, to talk about what they know in their context and in their area of expertise. 

                 So I don't see a big change in how we're communicating with the press at all.   

                 Q     Mike Evans from the London Times.   

                 Can I just go back to Sangin just for a moment?  Do you expect there will be any change in tactics or strategy when the U.S. Marines take over Sangin?  And do you anticipate putting in a lot more troops than the British have there, which I believe is around 800?   

                 GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  The -- it will be pretty close to the same numbers that go into Sangin for Marines.  Again as the campaign moves forward, we're going to have to consolidate the gains in the central Helmand River valley south of Sangin, to make progress over time.   

                 And then we have a plan as we move forward and get that consolidated, that we will then move to other areas which include the upper Helmand River valley, where we have to continue to expand the security outside of the zone that is now and going to be increasingly secure in the central Helmand River valley.   

                 So again I don't see a big change in what the Marines will be doing versus what the Brits are doing.  It's just again a focus and a prioritization into the central Helmand River valley now, which will then be expanded later into the northern Helmand River valley in the future.   

                 Q     General Rodriguez, Peter Spiegel at The Wall Street Journal.   

                 You are the first senior leader -- senior ISAF leader we've been able to engage with since General McChrystal was relieved of duty.   

                 I'm curious if you can address the morale there in ISAF headquarters. There are several general flag officers who had very close personal relationships with General McChrystal, yourself included.  Has that affected morale there?    

                 And also. one of the fallouts from the Rolling Stone article is this question of command climate that was created there in Kabul. Have you had any discussions with General Petraeus about the command climate there and what needs to be done to change that? 

                 GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  The -- I'm, again, over at the ISAF Joint Command, which is a separate headquarters from the ISAF headquarters. But I have not noticed any kind of negative morale.  The people here are focused on the mission.  That's what they're doing.  As was clearly characterized, it was a change of personnel, not a change in strategy.  And all the soldiers, from the last soldier down at the end of the line to the highest-ranking soldier in Afghanistan, are focusing on accomplishing the mission.  And they're continuing to move forward in that vein, as best as they possibly can.   

                 Q     (Off mike) -- as far as command climate?  Because obviously there were other aides in the headquarters that were quoted anonymously in this Rolling Stone piece.  Any thoughts about change of personnel in either your command or in General McChrystal's old command because of this? 

                 GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  There are no changes in this command here, and you'd have to ask General Petraeus about how he sees that in the ISAF headquarters.  But I don't believe there are going to be any major changes in the headquarters, just, again, adjustments that, you know, normal commanders make as they move through, you know, different commands.  Again, these are just, you know, small adjustments.  There are no -- that's not a -- not going to be a significant issue, in my mind.  But you'd have to ask General Petraeus personally about the ISAF headquarters. 

                 COL. LAPAN:  (Off mike.) 

                 Q     Thank you, sir.   

                 Adi Raval from the BBC.   

                 There is a sense in the British media that the Americans are bailing out the Brits in the Sangin River Valley.  I wanted to get your reaction to that. 

                 The second question is, how dangerous is the Sangin River Valley right now given the fact that 11 or so British Royal Marines have been killed there in the last few months?  And how will the American force structure in that area differ from the -- than what the Brits had there?  And how much progress do you think the Brits have made there, as well? 

                 GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  Well, again, they -- up in the Sangin River Valley, the Brits have continued to make progress.  It is hard-earned, because it's a tough place.  And again, they'll be here through the high, violent times of the late summer before we make the troops movements, because, again, you do those things when the violence is a little bit down after the peak season here in August and September. 

                 The -- the Marine forces that go in there will be very similar to the British forces that are there now, maybe a little bit more.  But again, it's basically a -- you know, a reallocation of the battle space and the focus -- (audio break) -- river valley that we're doing this for. 

                 Q     General, it's Rachel Martin with National Public Radio. Last month, General McChrystal had talked about lessons learned in Marja.  I would like to hear from you as to what you believe those lessons were.  And how are you doing anything different in Kandahar? What -- how are those lessons unfolding right now there? 

                 GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  Yeah, the -- in -- the lessons learned in the Central Helmand River Valley, I'll explain it. 

                 First of all, that -- the lessons learned were learned by the Afghan government, by both the central government up here and the provincial government down there, as well as the lessons learned from the security forces and the Provincial Reconstruction Team down there in Helmand.  So we put all those together.  We've shared all those lessons with the Afghan leadership, as well as the Afghan leadership have shared those with us. 

                 Most of them had to do with prior planning, preparation, setting the political context and communicating early with the people.  When we went into Marja -- which, again, was the first effort at coordinating governance, security and development all at once -- we had not planned long enough in advance.  We had not -- we had done it kind of in a sequence, versus a parallel effort, so it was a little bit slower to get the government services and the development in there that we wanted. 

                 And the political engagement and the consultations with the people began much earlier in Kandahar.  And again, the president of Afghanistan has already been down there twice, and is going here again shortly.  And the involvement of the people and the preparations of the Afghan government to best support the people of Kandahar are way ahead of what they were in Central Helmand River Valley, because of the lessons learned from all during those operations. 

                 Q     General, Mike Emanuel, from Fox News. 

                 I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about the initial days of General Petraeus being there in command, and whether he's made any particular points of emphasis right off the bat to people like you, as he tries to hit the ground running. 

                 GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  Yes.  Well, as soon as, you know, he was confirmed, you know, we began communicating. 

                 And he focused on the same things he talked about in his testimony there, with the tactical directives, to ensure that the servicemen and women have everything at their disposal to protect them, when they get -- to defend themselves when they get in a problem area.   

                 He has focused heavily on a unified effort with the Afghans, with the civil military efforts here, with the whole international community so that we are, you know, all one team moving forward together with a unifying effort that will have the best effects.   

                 Q     Can I follow up on that?   

                 You mentioned the tactical directive.  And one of the things General Petraeus said in his testimony last week was that he thought it was possible the implementation of the directive had been too restrictive, particularly as it related to close air support.   

                 My question is, have you seen evidence of that in your time there?  And does it need to be eased off a little bit?   

                 GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  We're reviewing that now.  And as General Petraeus explained to everybody and again as -- at our commanders conference today, he talked specifically about that to all the Afghan leaders and to the coalition leaders.   

                 And we're all reviewing that now, to ensure that there's absolutely no room for misinterpretation from anybody; that we will have, you know, all the assets available to protect ourselves and our servicemembers when they get in a tough situation.   

                 The other thing he's focusing on of course is the civilian casualties, because he understands the importance of them.  And he wants to make sure that as we move forward with any adjustments, if there are any, that we continue to protect the Afghan civilians as much and as effective as we possibly can.   

                 He has reinforced that message to all the maneuver commanders out there and will continue to do that, as he continues to assess the situation here, and also again assuring the Afghan people that we are going to continue to focus on protecting the Afghan people and preventing civilian casualties, as best as we possibly can.   

                 Q     I mean, have you, from where you sit, felt like in certain circumstances close air support has not been given to troops in need, you know, in particular areas?  And does that need to be changed -- speaking for yourself? 

                 GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  I -- there were -- I do not think that there will be significant changes.  I think the majority of that will be about clearly communicating all the way up and down in every situation.  But I do not know of a situation where close air support was denied when anybody needed it to protect themselves. 

                 Q     General, Jim Michaels, USA Today.  Just quick follow on Kandahar.  We were told that some of the delays there involved more time to better shape political conditions.  Is there a local government there now capable of supporting that operation and, more importantly, holding those gains once they are made? 

                 GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  The political consultation and the consultation with the people has continued for the -- for several months.  Again, the operations in Kandahar and its environs began, you know, several months ago with many precision raids that continue.  The security forces -- the security zones and the security stations around Kandahar are about two-thirds of the way in, and they continue to be built with partnered Afghan National Civil Order Police, as well as coalition forces. 

                 The Afghan national security forces are continuing to grow down there, and the Afghan brigade as well as the coalition brigade that's going in the environs of Kandahar City are arriving and going out there right now and deploying out there now.  And then, the police are being built and improved, so that they can increase their numbers significantly over the old manning document that they had down there that was too small. 

                 As far as the government down there, there is a government down there.  It has, you know, many strengths and many weaknesses, and the Afghan government will have to do some significant work to improve that government.  On the police force, what the Afghan security forces have done -- have sent six Afghan National Civil Order Police battalions that are spread both around Kandahar City, in Kandahar City and in its environs -- as, again, the national police, who are a little bit higher quality and higher effectiveness than the average Afghan uniformed police.  And then there is a recruiting drive going on right now to build the capacity of the Afghan national security forces. 

                 At the same time, the Civil Service Institute, who trains the civil service down there, has begun training civil servants.  And the line ministries and the ministries up here in Kabul have started to hire people to go down to Kandahar.  But there is a government there; it just needs a lot of work, just like the police force.  And all that effort is in progress now. 

                 Q     Hi, General.  It's Al Pessin from VOA.  A couple things. First, on close air support, can you comment on today's friendly fire incident and give us any indication of why that kind of thing happens? 

                 And secondly, with regard to Marja and Kandahar, are you confident or, if you are, why are you confident that you'll be able to demonstrate that the concept works by the December strategy review, and particularly that the concept works within the force levels that you've been allowed?  Thank you. 

                 GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  Okay.  First, on the accident in Ghazni, where a coalition helicopter fired at some Afghan national security forces, right now there's an investigation going on.  It's a combined investigation, which we've been doing for about eight months here.  So we have people from the coalition, people from the minister of Interior and people from the minister of Defense out there right now, trying to get to the bottom of it. 

                 We're -- I'm not sure what that investigation will show, but we do have a challenge coordinating the efforts of the Afghan police, the Afghan army and the coalition forces at night sometimes, and we'll wait to see what comes out of that investigation. 

                 On the second question, why am I confident that we'll be able to show progress by the end of the year, again, we believe that we've already started making progress in the central Helmand River Valley, and we believe that the increasing efforts of the Afghan government and the security forces to improve security there, improve the governance capacity and improve the delivery of service is moving in the right direction. 

                 And again, as the people increasingly participate in their government, I think that it will show that by November, December, that the strategy and the efforts that we're making with the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government are working. 

                 In Kandahar, we won't obviously have as much time as what we did from Marja, which, again, began in February in the central Helmand River valley, but we'll be able to show that we're again moving on an upward trajectory, that the people are participating in their government and that the Afghan security forces are improving the security inside the city and outside the city, which are the support bases from which the enemy hurts the people of the region. 

                 COL. LAPAN:  Okay.  We've run over time, but last question to Jim, and then we'll send it back to the general for closing comments. 

                 Q     Hi, sir.  This is Jim Garamone with American Forces Press Service.  The casualty rates are high, or have gotten higher, and I'm -- you do battlefield circulations; I'm just wondering what the PFCs and the lance corporals out there are telling you about the fight. And also, Ramadan is getting ready to start.  Do you expect an uptick in violence for that? 

                 GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  On the casualty rates, the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, they say the same thing out there whenever you see them on battlefield circulation.  They're incredibly committed to what they're doing.  They're incredibly committed to each other, to take care of each other and take care of the mission.  And their morale remains high as they go into some of the toughest places and the toughest fights that we've been in because of going right at the Taliban support bases.  So their morale continues to be high. 

                 Q     General, just a question on Ramadan and your expectation there.   

                 GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  The question of Ramadan is one that is asked every year.  And in many places, the violence does go down.  And in other places, the violence goes up.  It is really in my mind driven by the insurgents and how bad they want to disrupt Ramadan, which again is one of the holy months of the religion over here.   

                 So it's a mixed bag and it always has been.  I believe this year that they will focus where we are focusing our operations.  And they will try to increase the violence in those areas and focus on where we're going and that in other places, it will lessen a little bit because of the support to their religious holiday.   

                This year, it will -- is another reason when the Ramadan comes up, as well as the election right after it, that the independent electoral commission and the Afghan security forces are so far ahead of their planning, because it's right after Ramadan and Eid ul-Fitr that the elections will take place.   

                 So they'll be prepared to execute the holiday and then execute the security for the election right afterwards, because they're proper in preparation and planning.   

                 COL. LAPAN:  General, and any closing remarks you'd like to make, before we wrap it up.   

                 GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  Well, first of all, I'd like to thank you for the questions about the soldiers that you asked out there.  And just want to thank the American people for their strong support of our servicemembers and their families.   

                 These great Americans over here have no doubt that they're doing the right thing for the Afghan people.  It is tough, but they're up to the task.  They embrace every challenge, every one of them.   

                 They're young troopers out there like Private Matt Reginald, a medic in the 187th Infantry Regiment.  Private Reginald's platoon was literally surrounded in a Shar Maidan village in Paktika province.  When the shooting started, someone yelled for a medic.  Matt didn't hesitate a second.  He grabbed his aid bag and ran through the heavy fire to help his buddy.  After that, he kept going, attending to two more seriously injured troopers.  Matt saved two lives that day and didn't think about his own life for a second. That's the kind of selfless service we see out here every day. 

                 In the same engagement, Private First Class Nate McAllen ran through the same heavy fire to get to his -- to get to his buddy, move him to safety and tend to his wounds until a medic arrived.  That's just one engagement, two acts of heroism.  It isn't the exception with these troopers.  It's what they're all about, and they're great at it -- the best I've seen in my career.   

                 They're that good because of the great noncommissioned officers leading them and training them every day -- noncommissioned officers like Sergeant First Class Nathaniel Green, also from the 187th Infantry Regiment.  When his forward operating base was attacked by a suicide bomber, he let his medics attend to the wounded.  And then he got to the 50-cal machine gun and helped take out the enemy platoon firing at them.   

                There's no end to the courage these service men and women demonstrate every day.  They make us all proud.  And they look forward to winning, and they will.   

                 Thank you.

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