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DOD News Briefing with Lindy Cameron via Teleconference from Afghanistan

Presenters: United Kingdom Senior Representative in Southern Afghanistan and Head of the Civil-Military Mission and Provincial Reconstruction Team, Helmand, Lindy Cameron
October 05, 2010

                COL. DAVID LAPAN (deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations):  Good morning to those here in the Pentagon briefing room, and good evening in Afghanistan.  I’d like to welcome to the Pentagon briefing room Ms. Lindy Cameron, Britain’s senior representative in Southern Afghanistan. 

                She is also head of the Civil-Military Mission and Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand province.  The U.K.-led multinational PRT assists the local Afghan government in delivering governance and security across the province. 

                Ms. Cameron assumed her position in October of last year.  This is the first time she has joined us in this format.  And she joins us today from her offices in Lashkar Gah to provide an update on their current operations.  She’ll make some brief opening comments, and then be -- will take your questions. 

                And with that, Lindy, I’ll turn it over to you. 

                MS. CAMERON:  Great.  Thanks very much, indeed. 

                And you’ve heard who I am.  I thought I might just start by saying what a privilege it is to be with you and to be able to update you on the progress we’ve seen here in Helmand, but also what a privilege it is to serve here with the U.S. Marine Corps, and indeed with the broader coalition forces, and indeed Afghan forces here in Helmand.  I think the sacrifices that they make set the context for the challenge that we have here in Helmand and the progress we need to make. 

                So let me start just by describing a little to you about what the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team looks like and what we do here in support of the government of Afghanistan.  I have a team of about a hundred military and civilian staff here based in Lashkar Gah, part of a broader team of about 300 in total actually, if you include the U.K. military stabilization support teams and the U.S. civil affairs teams, who work and have joined up civil-military operations both here in the provincial center and in all of the districts we work in across Helmand to deliver very much in support of Governor Mangal, the governor of Helmand, and his provincial and district government. 

                I thought I’d set the context for you a little bit by describing what Lashkar Gah first looked like whenever I visited here for the first time in June 2006.  And it was a very sleepy, quite rural, provincial capital town, broken by years of both fighting through the Soviet occupation period, but also, most recently, by Taliban occupation; and indeed, then, from 2001 to 2006, by a fairly difficult period of provincial government where the provincial government had been fairly closely associated with the drugs trade and where people were losing faith and confidence in that government; which led to a  rise in the support for the insurgency and for the Taliban in the area. 

                It was quite a challenge.   

                When I came back again for the next time, in July last year, 2009, I saw significant progress.  It was a much less isolated area. We’ve seen the opening of the first civilian airport in southern Afghanistan built by USAID and DFID [U.K. Department for Internal Development], linking the province to the capital.  It only costs $60 to fly on premier airways from Kabul to Lashkar Gah.  And a significantly increased number of district governors like the province -- the provincial governor are able to get out. 

                But still, when I arrived last July, that was before we had successfully cleared both Now Zad and Marja, for example, early this year.  And it was very much just after we had increased security in places like Nawa.  And I’ve had a shura in the center of Nad Ali where most of the battle group had to spend their time holding the perimeter so we could have a secure -- a security shura and a governance shura in what was still the fairly contested center of Nad Ali district. 

                So as I leave now in October 2010, I look back on significant progress in that time since I came back last July, and a government which is much more in control of the province, a governor who’s now been in charge for 2-1/2 years here and who I think -- in whose tenure we’ve seen a significant improvement.  That still means it’s a pretty challenging area to work in, both for the government as well as the security forces, but I think it is one where we’ve seen a lot of improvement and, very importantly, where the people of Helmand feel as if they live in an area which is much more under the control of the government and its security forces and where life is beginning to look rather better for them. 

                And Lashkar Gah, I think, is a great example of that.  I live now in a town which is still a provincial town, a bit less sleepy than it was.  Ashraf Ghani, the former minister of finance, came down not long ago and was really surprised by how bustling the bazaar was. 

                And of course what that means in terms of the level of economic activity is, people are able to improve their incomes year after year. They’re able to be less dependent on poppy farming and have a larger number of alternative livelihoods.   

                For example, we’re also opening an agri-park -- sort of industrial park, as it were, but we’re next to Bost Airfield -- to help to allow farmers to not just sell their produce at the local market but be able to go up the value chain and actually make more money by opening bigger businesses. 

                And I think one of the most important recent examples of progress was actually during the elections, which were actually pretty a good day in Helmand.  There were quite a large number of small-scale security incidents but actually no significant ones.  And there wasn’t a shot fired within six kilometers of the district center here in Lashkar Gah.   

                Governor Mangal and his security colleagues -- the provincial chief of police, Angar; the corps commander, General Malook; and Wahidi, the head of the NDS [National Directorate of Security] -- all felt as if they’d done a pretty good job and as an Afghan team, with ISAF in support of creating the security conditions for the election to be able to take place.  And what that meant was that on the day, as I sat with them in the provincial coordination center in Lashkar Gah, first of all, they were very much in charge and very much, I think, you know, feeling as if that was the case.  Secondly, they were able to focus a lot more of their efforts on countering fraud and corruption, rather than simply holding the perimeter in security terms.  And that meant the police were able to get out there and be pretty tough where they found examples of fraud and corruption, and that meant they were able to crack down much more effectively than, I think, the previous year, in terms of making sure that Helmandis thought they could safely get to the polls and express their opinion if they want to. 

                And in broader governance terms, I think one of the benefits of having a really large and capable Provincial Reconstruction Team here -- and I have -- of those hundred staff here in Lashkar Gah, I have Brits, Americans, Danes and Estonians; I have civil and military capacity; I have specialist engineers; I have a whole range of specialist skills in education, health, reconstruction and the rule of law, policing -- that give me the ability to support the government across the full range of what it does but also then allow me to help push out supports to build their capacity in the district as well. 

                And what that lets us do is not just actually help them deliver services, but also help to test some ways of working here in Helmand which can then be replicated and rolled out in other parts of the country.   

                Two examples I’d give you would be the Afghan social outreach program, which is a really -- an innovative way of creating district community councils, so a district-level local democratic body, as it were, that helps to allow people a voice at district level, works with the district governor, and basically is a very Afghan institution.  It builds on the traditional processes of elders getting together and taking pre-democratic decisions, actually, but also has a final stage of an open ballot -- sorry, a secret ballot, to make sure that people can still vote for who they want to and don’t have to be too influenced by their peers and their elders. 

                That’s proved really effective.  And it’s proved really effective in resolving local disputes and also in giving people a sense of accountability for the funding that spends at local level. 

                The other program that’s been quite innovative is the district delivery program, which we rolled out for the first time this year in Nad Ali.  And that’s one where we’re trying to get funding down to provincial and district level, because previously an awful lot of funding has just gone in through the line ministries, in a way that means that the local government doesn’t have as much say in how it’s spent or even much accountability for making sure it’s delivered effectively. 

                The district delivery program has allowed us to help them recruit staff and pay them effectively to get them out to the district level, but has also allowed them to take more responsibility for working out what services people want in those areas and figuring out how to deliver them. 

                On the economic front, we saw real success recently with a second year in a row of falling poppy production in Helmand.  Last year, poppy production fell by 33 percent in terms of the area that they grew poppy in.  This year it fell again, by 7 percent, a smaller fall but one which is really significant, because it’s quite unusual to get two years of falling poppy production in a row.  And also, the second year was done in the context of less favorable wheat prices.  So in a sense, the alternatives to poppy were, relatively speaking, less attractive, but people still decided to shift. 

                What we’re doing this year is to support Governor Mangal’s third year of his "food zone" program, which is a program by which he basically tells people that it’s illegal to grow poppy in Afghanistan but that the government will help them to provide inputs which give them a choice about what they do.  And 40,000 farmers should see themselves getting wheat seed or vegetable seeds and some fertilizer this year to help them do something apart from growing poppy. 

                And that’s a real choice for them, because, as I said, with the airport open, with a broader range of economic alternatives and with access to the bazaar -- so with people able to drive to and from, for example, all the central districts of Helmand now on a regular basis -- that means people can choose to do something which isn’t their only choice in terms of growing poppy. 

                I mentioned the sort of economic boom that Helmand’s going through.  That’s supported, of course, by some of the work we’re doing, very much in support of Governor Mangal and his government, to build roads.  Of course, USAID also refurbished the second Kajaki Dam turbine, which increased the number of hours of power we get in Helmand from four to about 12 a day, on average; huge benefit. 

                And of course, a lot of the water infrastructure as well:  As you know, Helmand is the area where a huge amount of work was done by the U.S. in the ‘60s to build an irrigation system.  We’re now doing a master plan for the refurbishment of that and to make sure that all the small-scale work that’s being done to dredge canals, et cetera, and change the -- refurbish the infrastructure actually has the right overall strategic effect in terms of improving the ability to grow stuff in what is actually Helmand’s only province which is not -- sorry, Afghanistan’s only province which is not food-insecure. 

                Also, here in the PRT we support a broader range of activities on the security and the rule-of-law side as well.  We were involved in building in interim Helmand police training center, which has resulted in a really significant shift, I think, in the last year, in the quality of policemen that we have here in Helmand.  And in old times, people were quite afraid of policemen here in Helmand, and I think saw them as a good reason not to support the government.  With a much better trained police force, what we have now is a situation where people are actually asking for more better-trained police from their local area.  So in Marja, for example, people really want to see local policemen, local boys from their area go off, do the eight-week training course and come back able to police their local area, knowing who the bad guys are, and help them. 

                And that’s been a real turning point as well. 

                We also support a broader range in [sic – of] justice institutions. We’ve helped build a prison.  And we support both the prosecutors out in the district and also the huqooq [rights] representatives who deal with civil disputes, and that way we can try and get people to feel as if the government is providing a better alternative than the Taliban, who for some years have provided the best justice system in the province. 

                That all leads to a shift in perception.  And I would say that -- I don’t want to be too over-optimistic, and I’m not naive, but I am cautiously optimistic right now that what we’re seeing is a shift in perception of Helmandese about both security and the capability of their government here in central Helmand.   

                Two and a half years of Governor Mangal driving continuously to improve government services and security has meant that people are beginning to have confidence -- little indicators like the fact that it’s no longer such a challenge to recruit for civil service here in Helmand, because people think it’s worth the risk of taking a government job; little indicators like the tax receipt I saw the other day where up in Musa Qal’eh, quite far from Lashkar Gah, they have started remitting taxes back to Lashkar Gah again as part of the process of paying your taxes and getting services in return.   

                It’s a really basic step, but actually it begins to make -- makes people -- it begins to make people feel more connected to government, and it begins to make people feel as if they’re actually getting something for these taxes.  So I’m quietly optimistic that what we’re seeing is a shift in perception both about the security situation but also about the capability of the government and fundamentally also their ability to take over in the long run.   

                I sat in the back of a provincial coordination center during election day and realized that if I walked out the door, frankly nothing much would have changed.  That gives me real confidence that in five years’ time, during the next parliamentary elections, those guys sitting there, the governor, the provincial chief of police, the corps commander and the head of the NDS will be able to run their own election by themselves without our support, as opposed to running it with our support as they did this time. 

                Let me close there and take your questions. 

                COL. LAPAN:  Anne. 

                Q     Ms. Cameron, this is Anne Flaherty with Associated Press. A major concern, back in the States, in the Helmand province has been that NATO led a big security push but without the civilian capacity to back it up.   

                And that’s why things are taking longer.  You seem to describe something that’s very much a work in progress.  How soon before you think the local Afghan government will have firm control, providing services to the local population, and NATO forces can begin to sort of step back? 

                MS. CAMERON:  Sorry, I didn’t catch all of that.  Could I ask the moderator to just repeat that question, please? 

                COL. LAPAN:  Okay.  The first part of the question, perception back here that in the Helmand province they’ve had to rely a lot on NATO support.  And she asked for your assessment of when the local Afghan government would be able to take on those responsibilities more fully itself and allow the NATO forces to pull back. 

                MS. CAMERON:  I think that the security judgment for that one is very much for my colleague General Mills to make rather than for me. On the governance and development side, to be honest, they’re already in the lead with our support.  So you already have a government that’s sovereign, that is very much in charge, but with pretty heavy support from us. 

                So what we’re doing now with a focus on how we transition in the longer run is shifting more and more of our funding through the Afghan government, shifting more of our development support through the Afghan government and more development mechanisms, in a sense.  So we’re doing fewer sort of ad hoc projects and fewer sort of mechanisms to allow them time to get their own mechanisms in place.  And actually, we’re seeing more of them being able to do it themselves. 

                So in many ways, actually, in many areas, I think the Afghan government and the governance and development line is actually already in charge.  And I think it’ll -- you know, I said to you I thought that in five years’ time you’ll be able to see them running their own election.  And I think that’s a realistic prospect. 

                Q     What do you expect to see by the end of the year? 

                MS. CAMERON:  I’m sorry.  I didn’t catch that. 

                COL. LAPAN:  In terms of your expectation of what you might see accomplished by the end of this year. 

                MS. CAMERON:  By the end of this year?  I think -- I guess -- what? -- that’s three months time.  I think what you’ll see is a pretty strong provincial government which is pretty capable across the board.  I think you’ll see increasing depth of government services provided, particularly in the areas most recently cleared.  So I think I’d expect to see the most improvement, in a sense, in some of the areas like not only in Marja, where we saw an awful lot of resource pushed in earlier this year during operations -- so, for example, most recently I was in Marja, walking up the street, and bumped into a small kid who I’d met for the first time in February, just after the operation, who’s now in second grade in school. 

                So I think that we’ll see services like education being delivered.  We’ll see an increasing sense of government control in those central Helmand districts.  And I think that we’ll see a government which is looking to the long term, in terms of how it can take more control. 

                COL. LAPAN:  David. 

                Q     Ms. Cameron, this is David Wood, from Politics Daily. 

                I wanted to ask you about whether there are any local reconciliation programs under way.  And what is your sense of what it would take to bring local Taliban sort of into the fold? 

                MS. CAMERON:  Thanks.  I think the thing that we see at this level is that the biggest incentive for the Taliban to come back into the fold at the local level is, frankly, the threat to their security from the increased ISAF presence and more capable ANSF presence here in Helmand. 

                So the most important factor that people talk to us and our district teams about is actually, frankly, the fear of what might happen to them that makes them decide that it’s, frankly, time to put down their weapons and go back to being farmers, or to melt back into the community. 

                And the focus we have at district level at the moment is very much about helping district governors to work out what they do when that happens.  They’re thinking through how they work with their colleagues, for example, from the security forces and the NDS, to make sure that people are perhaps disarmed, that they have access to jobs, and that politically the government, frankly, knows who they’re talking to.  So we’re working on the very basic mechanisms at local level, to help the government figure out what to do about that if people do walk in the door. 

                At provincial level, I think the governor is very much waiting to understand the consequences of the higher peace council being set up. You’ll know that just a couple of days ago the names of the members of the higher peace council were announced.  I think we’re hoping that Minister Stanekzai will come to visit Helmand some time soon in order to help Governor Mangal figure out how to run a more effective provincial-level program to reach out to some of those people.  But I think you’ll also see a sense of sort of change in momentum at national level as a result of that higher peace council being set up. 

                COL. LAPAN:  Mike. 

                Q     Mike Evans, from the Times, London Times. 

                There has been a perception for some time that Marja hasn’t really worked.  I know you were saying just now that Marja seemed to be making some progress, but there’s been a lot of security problems in Marja.  Has this meant that you’ve had great difficulty in bringing in the civilian backup behind that, because of the continuing security problems? 

                MS. CAMERON:  Actually, we’ve got one of the largest district stabilization teams we have anywhere in Helmand in the province -- sorry, in Marja district.  We’ve got staff there from the U.K. stabilization units, from USAID, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and from U.S. State Department, as well as local Afghan staff.  And indeed, they’re partnered with a very capable military team from the regimental combat team, led by a lieutenant colonel, who works very closely together. 

                So actually it’s probably one of the most capable district stabilization teams we have.  And it has the same balance of civil and military support that we have in every team.   

                And what that gives us is the capability to work with civilian leadership where we can, and where areas are more contested, to push on it -- with patrols, for example, to be able to go and assess infrastructure or work on what services are there.  So we have the right kind of balance of capability to be able to address a range of security situations. 

                But I have to say when I was there this week I was -- I was really impressed.  You walk down the main street, and there are solar lights that give lighting all evening, which makes it, of course, it a lot more difficult both for the insurgents in the evening but a lot better for the bazaar as well.   

                I went into the school, where there are 200 very boisterous small boys giving their head teacher and other teachers a very hard time -- you know, back in school for the first time.  And I think that there was a real sense that the government has seen a change in attitudes of the population towards the government since the end of Eid, since Ramadan and since the elections, which certainly is meaning that what they’re saying to us is that they want to push more resources in now in support of making as much progress as they can in the next few months.   

                So for example, we’re reassessing whether the conditions are right to run an election for the district community council.  At the moment they have a 26-man local elder shura, which provides support for the district governor.  And I think that what we’ve seen in other districts is, it’s that kind of thing that provides the turning point for a real sense of popular engagement with the government. 

                What I’d also say is that, you know, this is, what, eight months after the clearance operation in Marja, clearing a district that was not only totally under Taliban control but actually wasn’t even a district at that stage, so a really difficult starting point.   

                And compare that with when I visited Nad Ali last July, also eight months after the clearance Operation Sond Chara, which cleared that district, and I’d say that actually an increased level of resources both from the security side and the civilian side mean that in fact they’re further ahead than Nad Ali was at the same stage last year, which is what I expected.   

                And so I am reasonably confident that we’ll continue to make progress both in the security line of operation, but really, that’s for General Mills to talk about, and, indeed, on the governance and development lines of operation in Marja. 

                There’s been a huge amount of canal-clearing and very -- a lot of cash for work as well that’s generated a lot more local economic employment as well, which I think has really helped. 

                COL. LAPAN:  Yochi. 

                Q     Hi, Ms. Cameron.  This is Yochi Dreazen from National Journal magazine.  As of a few months ago, USAID was saying that job creation in Marja was very slow, that they couldn’t find people to take these cash-for-work jobs because of security risks and that the amount of money spent was much lower than budgeted.  Do you have any statistics or numbers to quantify what you are saying is now a change?  Can you tell us how many people are employed in cash-for-work or how much money has been spent? 

                And relatedly, you mentioned earlier the clearing operations in Nad Ali and elsewhere.  Have any of those districts been transferred back to Afghan security control? 

                MS. CAMERON:  I don’t actually have the numbers for cash-for-work in Marja with me, but I am conscious that, actually, an extremely large amount of CERP funding has spent in Marja already, so I don’t -- I mean, I think we’ve both been able to be very effective with CERP funding, but also AVIPA [Afghanistan Vouchers for Increased Production in Agriculture], one of the large USAID programs, I think has had a significant impact in terms of cash for work. 

                So we’re not seeing the same kind of reluctance I think that we had seen.  But that’s entirely typical.  I mean, you know, immediately after a change of government effectively in a district like that, people are naturally very reluctant to instantly change sides, because what they do is they hedge their bets.  And I think what you see now, months after the operation, is that actually people’s confidence level is building as they see that the government is there to stay and that the government is there to help them -- for example, you know, looking at running the "food zone" program there this year in a way that gives people a real choice about whether to grow poppy or whether to grow wheat. 

                And I think talking to the district governor -- and District Governor [Abdul] Mutalab there -- he’s very confident that, actually, people will shift their decisions this year about whether to grow poppy or wheat.   

                And that’s partly because they don’t fear the knock on the door from the Taliban to pick up the poppy in the same way that they used to. And it will still be a shift, it won’t be a dramatic change, I think, but that the indicators are good. 

                In terms of in the sense of transition, I think the best example we have at the moment is Lashkar Gah, where really, you know, when you go around the streets of Lashkar Gah, what you see are very few ISAF troops and very much an Afghan-led security operation.  It’s the Afghan National Police out in the streets, with some support from their Afghan National Army colleagues.  And I think that’s what the future of Helmand will look like, is an Afghan-led security operation. You see that slowly shifting in some districts as well, but really it’s for my military colleagues to comment on sort of when that transition will happen in the security line of operations. 

                COL. LAPAN:  Luis? 

                Q     Ms. Cameron, Luis Martinez with ABC News.  Can I specifically ask you about the numbers of advisers that are in Marja? You said earlier that it’s your largest team.  Can you quantify for us exactly how large that team is?  And what was the original size of the civilian team that you wanted to go into Marja?  Do you need more advisers? 

                And you also said that the team in Lashkar Gah is also large.  Do those advisers actually -- how often do they go out into the field beyond Lashkar Gah? 

                Q     I’m sorry.  Could I have ask the moderator to repeat that, please?  I couldn’t quite catch that question. 

                COL. LAPAN:  You’re going to challenge my abilities here.  It was about a five-part question. 

                First, you talked about the size of the civilian component out in Marja; if you could quantify that, you know, in terms of numbers. Part of the question was about Lashkar Gah and the size of your component there, and whether they get out to the field or basically just conduct their operations in Lashkar Gah.   

                Q     (Off mike) -- in Marja, and what was the original size. 

                COL. LAPAN:  Oh, yeah.  And also, what was sort of the original size of the civil-military component in Marja, and do you need more? 

                MS. CAMERON:  Okay, in terms of the size of the civilian component, I think we have five permanent civilian staff there in the district stabilization team, but they’re also backed up by a number of civilian contractors who implement some of the USAID programs -- at least, two I can think of, and I think more.  And we also have, as I said to you, a military team.  I can’t quote the size of it just now, but I can get you numbers on that, back to the press office. 

                In terms of the -- getting out and about, I mean, absolutely, my team get out and about.  They are out and about both working with the provincial government here in Lashkar Gah -- because remember that part of what we do here in Lashkar Gah -- the majority of what we do here in Lashkar Gah is supporting the provincial government, who are there to support the district government.  So district government is a pretty small level of government in the Afghan system, and actually a lot of their capability is supplied by the line ministries who have more presence at provincial level. 

                So part of the way we make district government more effective is by building the capacity of the ministry of, say, education, or health, or agriculture and irrigation, here in Lashkar Gah, to be able to support their district representatives.  So a lot of our work is with the provincial ministries here in Lashkar Gah.  But also, my team travel quite extensively out to the districts in support of our own district stabilization teams and in support of the district governors and Governor Mangal’s representatives.  They get out on a routine basis to all of the areas we have district stabilization teams in. And increasingly, it is possible for someone to drive to areas like Nad Ali and Marja.  One of my staff drove to Marja yesterday, for example, for the counternarcotics shura there.  So, absolutely, we get out and about. 

                I’m sorry, I -- the third part of your question I didn’t quite understand.  You referred to the size of the original military component in Lashkar Gah -- sorry, in Marja?  I wasn’t quite sure what you meant, what you were referring to. 

                COL. LAPAN:  The question was about the -- sort of the size of the civil-military component in Marja originally, and how it’s grown. 

                MS. CAMERON:  It’s grown to some extent.  But actually, it was originally quite close to those numbers. 

                In fact, actually, we had them forward-mounted with the regimental combat team and at its headquarters ready to go into Marja immediately after clearance operations.  So again, we probably got that district stabilization team in about as fast behind the military clearance operation as we have done in almost any clearance operation that we’ve supported here in Helmand province. 

                Q     And last question was, do you need more? 

                MS. CAMERON:  Do we need "more?"  Sorry, more support, more civilian support? 

                Q     More civilian support.  Exactly. 

                MS. CAMERON:  (Audio break) -- right now I’ve got a pretty decently sized provincial reconstruction team and district support team, and -- because, to be honest, the thing I really -- the thing that we really are trying to support the building of is actually the capacity of the Afghan government.  So in fact -- and what, you know, we would like to see more of is actually that we’re able to get that stream of more capable officials down to districts in a way that means that we’re very much supporting them, rather than substituting for them, because that’s what will convince people that actually Afghan government is effective and is here to stay rather than simply seeing international staff doing it.   

                And I think we’ve really seen a step change in that in the last six months in terms of the government’s ability to staff up positions.  Nad Ali, for example, now has a pretty effective staff both for its core line ministry -- for its core and district government staff, but also representation of the line ministries.   

                So when I first went to Nad Ali last July, really it was the district governor with very minimal support, and now what you see is a corridor of offices with different names of ministries on them.  Where the representatives of those ministries are not just on the payroll but are actually physically there in Nad Ali most of the time.   

                And that’s part of the challenge, is, as security improves in the district, line ministry representatives are not only able to be there more often, they’re also able to be more effective when they are there.  And that’s something we see iterating.  As security improves, governance improves; as governance improves, security improves, too, which I think is what we’d expect and what we’ve seen consistently across the board and within our experience as we’ve tested this. 

                COL. LAPAN:  Al. 

                Q     This is Al Pessin from VOA.  Based on your experience and what you said about, you know, it’s eight months since the Marja operation and you’re just beginning to see a shift, but not a dramatic change in these perceptions and in the government’s capability, what is that -- what should that tell us about how long it’s going to take to spread this sort of security and stability and development around the country in sufficient quantity to be able to begin to think about reducing the international presence? 

                MS. CAMERON:  Well, I think from my perspective what that tells us is that Afghanistan is one of the poorest developing countries in the world, with the kind of government where basically we -- you know, we have to be realistic about our expectations in terms of what district government looks like and what capability it has.  You know, we’re trying to build the kind of sustainable district government capacity here which is resilient enough that, actually, when we move on, both in security terms and in terms of the support we’re giving in this intensive fashion, they are able to sustain a level of service delivery and development in those districts and at a provincial level.  

                And I think that’s not the kind of thing that’s built overnight. It’s the kind of thing that requires the kind of consistent support we’ve seen across the board -- we’ve been able to give.  And -- but I think -- you know, I think that it’s a pretty impressive achievement in many ways. 

                When I look back to, again, what government in Helmand looked like only 15 months ago, when I came back here last July, there is a significant quantitative difference in the kind of district government that you have and the kind of security you have in many districts.  So I think that’s a pretty impressive change over time, and, you know, very much led by a very effective provincial governor and pretty effective district support, as well. 

                I mean, for example, to give you one example, since I arrived here the ministry in charge of local government has shifted from appointments at the district governor level being made in a very personal basis to a system of open and fair competition, such that the new district governor for Marja basically put -- you know, saw the job ad for the job, put in his application and was assessed as the most effective person to do that job.   

                And that’s the kind of institutionalization that means that we can be sure that actually he won’t necessarily shift on if there’s a change of provincial governor or if the regime in Kabul changes.  It means an actual resilience in the system, which allows us to deliver more effectively -- allows them to deliver more effectively and at provincial and district level.   

                So I have to say, compared with other developing countries I have worked in, and I have worked in places like Nigeria and Vietnam, the rate of change here just on the development and on governance perspective is actually pretty impressive, particularly given the context that they’re working in and some of the security challenges. 

                Q     When people in the States, and perhaps in Britain, read that, they’ll say, right, great, let’s move on.  What’s your response to that? 

                MS. CAMERON:  Well, I think that there’s no doubt that the outcome of successful capacity-building on all the lines of operation will be the ability to transition to an Afghan lead.  And leaving an Afghan government which is capable of tackling the security challenges that it faces and is capable of delivering basic services and representing people is what we want to do. 

                COL. LAPAN:  Anna? 

                Q     Good morning.  This is Anna Mulrine from the Christian Science Monitor.  And I wanted to ask you a question about CERP funds.  

                You mentioned the large influx of the CERP funds into Marja.  And within our U.S. military, they call CERP funds one of their most helpful tools on the ground.  In our Congress right now, there are some of our congressmen who question the effectiveness and the oversight of CERP funds.  So I would like to get your input on how you see CERP funds being spent on the ground; how effective is it. 

                MS. CAMERON:  I think the thing that makes us really lucky in Helmand is that we have access to significant funding in total -- I think almost $500 million worth of funding in total is available to us for Helmand -- but also to a really wide range of tools.  So what we’re able to do is use long-term funding from DFID or from USAID where it’s most appropriate, or indeed from DANIDA [Danish Internal Development Assistance], the Danish development organization, and to use the kind of short-term funding that CERP provides us and indeed that the U.K.’s conflict fund provides us with, where that’s most appropriate. 

                We’ve also built up, I think, the capacity at district government level to support the district government to have a kind of say in how these funds are spent, and then the oversight of them.  That means that we’ve really improved the chances of these funds being spent in a way that the district government thinks is delivering what they want to achieve.  And I think it’s less about the scale of resources and more about making sure that actually what people see is that it’s their government delivering, with us in support, and that they see that it’s responding to the needs that they have. 

                Often what they’re actually for are not actually very large-scale items.  And it’s often much more about something that’s very targeted. I mean, for example, when I was in Nad Ali the other day, I saw the school, which is being refurbished with U.K. funds, but in a very similar way the CERP funds are able to be used, and in a way that means that what was a forward operating base last July when I visited is now a fully functioning school with hundreds of kids attending it.   

                And that is the kind of thing that that kind of short-term funding allows us to do quite quickly to put in place the infrastructure which then allows the Afghan government to worry about the problems of how to try and get teachers who are literate and who are trained and who are able to deliver the kind of education that people in that district want.  And it’s that combination of resources that I think makes the Helmand PRT and the civil-military partnership we have here really powerful. 

                Q     Quick follow-up. 

                Do you have an estimate on the amount of CERP funds you’ve seen flow into Marja? 

                MS. CAMERON:  I’m afraid I don’t have that number to hand, but we can get that to you.  I don’t have the absolute numbers at the moment, but I’m sure my colleague Colonel [Paul] Lebidine in RC Southwest can get you that. 

                COL. LAPAN:  Okay.  One more.  Michael. 

                Q     Yeah, one more.  Actually, two more.  Sorry.  The, again, perception, right or wrong, is that DFID has not had enough resources to make a major contribution in Helmand province.  Could you confirm that or deny it or whatever?  

                And also, do you have evidence that on the reconciliation -- not reintegration -- side there is now new efforts, maybe from the Saudis? Do you have any evidence of that that leads you to think that there might be something, some progress in the next few months? 

                MS. CAMERON:  First of all, on the DFID point, I mean, I think DFID makes a fantastic contribution to the PRT here.  And the great thing is that DFID funds -- whether, for example, it’s actually for some of the shorter-term police infrastructure, which they’ve just given us an extra 10 million pounds for this financial year, which is great news, because that allows us to build the kind of police infrastructure which allows transition to a police lead in districts to happen faster; whether it’s for the longer term -- road infrastructure or some of the irrigation infrastructure; they also contributed to building Bost Airfield, as I said, which was a collaborative USAID-DFID project; and also, importantly, what they’re doing now is looking at the kind of economic development that needs to happen to give Helmand a longer-term sustainable economic future.  So they’re looking at the kind of things you need to do to generate longer-term growth.  So they’re very much an important part of the portfolio of tools that I have here in the Helmand PRT and make an incredibly important contribution with their expertise on things like infrastructure and economic growth, and indeed also in governance, which is a collaborative project between the stabilization unit team and the DFID team -- again, linking up the expertise at national level to the expertise we have here, which means that we can nest the kind of innovative programs that we’re running here in Helmand -- and for example, we’re creating district community councils -- in the context of DFID’s work on the subnational governance policy at national level,  which means that the things we’re testing here are things that actually can be rolled out more effectively elsewhere.  So I have to say I think they’ve made a fantastic contribution to the PRT.   

                I also think that the way that the U.K. has set up the stabilization unit, which gives us that range of skills at short notice and that range of funding through the conflict fund, which again is targeted as a slightly different, more counterinsurgency-focused set of challenges than DFID’s long-term funding, gives me a great toolbox to use.  So I’m a big fan of the range of options that I have and the range of tools and expertise I can rely on here. 

                I think, on reconciliation, really that’s more for, I think, probably the British ambassador or the American ambassador to comment on a national level.  Really, what we get involved in here at tactical level in Helmand is much more the prospects for reintegration.  And I think there’s no doubt that Governor Mangal is quite focused on understanding how the national-level context helps him to encourage people to reintegrate at provincial level and district level.   

                COL. LAPAN:  All right.  Ms. Cameron, thank you very much for giving us your time.  I will send it back to you for any closing remarks you’d like to make. 

                MS. CAMERON:  Great.  I mean, I just wanted to round off by saying thank you very much indeed for giving me this opportunity to talk to you.  I think that the PRT here in Helmand and the ISAF mission in Helmand in general, as General Petraeus would say, has got the inputs right now.  We’ve got the right resources and indeed the right strategy, with the joint strategy we have, to achieve our collective goals.  We’re very much in support of the government of Afghanistan here, with Governor Mangal, who’s been here two-and-a-half years, I think having made a real step change -- twice as many schools open as there were when he started, for example.  And I think that’s just one indicator of the kind of progress.  Twice as many district governors as well, working out in districts.  And actually, on election day, all the materials were able to be delivered to the central six Helmand districts by road and not by air, because security has improved to a point that that’s  a perfectly feasible option for the Afghan National Police to support.   

                It’s been a real privilege to lead the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team here in the last year, and particularly a real privilege to lead such an effective coalition effort.  I look to my U.K., U.S., Danish and Estonian colleagues, and very much to my civil and military colleagues, and see a team where we’ve not only got the inputs right but actually we’ve managed to coordinate them in a way that gives us an incredible range of tools and options to deliver in support of the government.   

                And it gives me real hope that, as I said to you, if I came back for the parliamentary elections in five years’ time, I wouldn’t be looking at a situation where ISAF is there in support of the  government but in a situation where the government was doing it by itself.  And that’s very much the focus we now have going forward, is focusing on supporting the government and indeed the security forces to work towards a situation where they’ve succeeded in pushing the insurgency back and then becoming a more effective government themselves in a way that means that will become true. 

                Thank you. 

                COL. LAPAN:  All right.  Thank you once again. 

                MS. CAMERON:  Thank you very much indeed.





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