(One Defense Department “senior Defense official” and one State Department “senior State official” provided a backgrounder on the subject report, which is posted at http://www.defense.gov/pubs/November_1230_Report_FINAL.pdf )
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I promise you I only have a few prepared remarks. I'll go through them quickly, and I see several people who were here six months ago when we released the last 1230 [“Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan,” a report to Congress in accordance with section 1230 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (Public Law 110-181) as amended]. So thanks for being here again today. I think, as you know, this is a report required by Congress. This is sixth one; Congress requires them to be reported semi-annually. It is -- we're supposed to provide a description of the comprehensive strategy of the United States for security and stability in Afghanistan.
I want to highlight that this -- the time frame for the report is April to -- through September. So that's -- the data in the report, the conclusions in the report, the comments in the report are all of as of September 30th. And so then it takes -- I guess we spend about six weeks, as we write it, clear it, coordinate it with our colleagues in the State Department, out in the field, everywhere else as part of the bureaucratic process.
It does not reflect developments over November and December, and I'd note that particularly in the area of Kandahar, there have been, as I think all of you know, some pretty significant developments in Kandahar after that. Those are not included in this report. And when you make your evaluations of the situation today, it's really important that you factor that in.
I'm very pleased to have with me [name deleted], who just introduced himself. And as I mentioned -- and this came up in the last briefing -- this is a Department of Defense report. It's cleared completely through the United States government, and this is a unified U.S. government view on the issues that are involved.
The 1230 report concludes that the deliberate application of this strategy is beginning to have cumulative effects, and security is slowly beginning to expand, although significant challenges remain or exist. Progress, which is slow and uneven, continues with modest -- with gains -- modest gains in security, governance and development, particularly in our operational priority areas.
There's -- even as of -- or not -- as of September 30th, there was visible progress in Southern Afghanistan. Comprehensive civil-military efforts were the key to that progress, bolstered by operational successes, and particularly focused on the heart of the Taliban insurgency in Helmand and Kandahar.
Marjah, a year ago, was an insurgent command and control center, a base for IED assembly, and a nexus for illegal narcotics activities. Marjah is now controlled by the Afghan government. It is continuing to show signs of progress, such as increased voter registration in the presidential elections a year ago. I believe 22 Afghans voted in Marjah. This year, I think it was in the neighborhood of 600. That's a huge increase, even though it's nowhere near where you want to be.
And I think that's somewhat of a paradigm for the kind of progress. A lot of progress, but still a long way to go.
In -- the report also highlights the key factor of the increase in the size and capability of the Afghan National Security Forces. This is perhaps the most promising area of forces, and is key to the transition that we are working forward that will begin in July of 2011. And, as you've all heard, the objective is to have Afghanistan be in a security lead by 2014.
The Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police since July have been ahead of their recruiting goals. They're growing faster than anyone anticipated a year ago, and that growth continues. Improvements in quality also continue. However, challenges remain.
In the report, we talk about challenges with trainers. In the NATO meeting that was just concluded, in many ways those challenges were met, our NATO allies stepped forward with trainers. So that's an area where there's a difference in what the report says and the reality today.
Another area that I'd highlight is the emergence of the Afghan local police program that was approved by President Karzai this summer, and which are we are beginning to work with the Afghans. It's an Afghan-lead effort, and it has the potential for enabling progress in areas where the -- beyond the reach of the Afghan security forces.
Another thing that we -- I would highlight from the report is reduced civilian casualties, that an emphasis on best-practice counterinsurgency fundamentals has resulted in that decrease. And this has occurred despite the increase in total violence and much wider operations, kinetic operations by ISAF [International Security Assistance Forces] and Afghan forces.
Corruption continues to be a problem. We mentioned -- we talk about corruption in the report. This is an area where progress depends upon cooperation between the international community and the Afghan government and people. The Afghan government is -- and ISAF and the international community are working effectively in this area, and our focus is particularly on efforts to address the most predatory forms of corruption that fuel the insurgency.
In contracting, we are moving forward with -- on multiple efforts to ensure that our contracting efforts do not contribute to -- and they have in the past sometimes -- contribute to the insurgency by the way that they're carried out. General Petraeus' recent counterinsurgency contracting guidance and our task force's Shafafiyat [Combined Joint Interagency Task Force-Shafafiyat (“Transparency”)] 2010 spotlight, all of which I think you've had the opportunity to be briefed on.
Pakistan is critical to success in Afghanistan. Although Pakistani leaders and the Pakistani military have made significant efforts to address security problems across the border, further progress is necessary to dismantle the extremist networks and deny terrorists safe haven. One initiative towards this end is increasing the cooperation among Afghanistan military -- the ISAF coalition forces in Pakistan.
In counternarcotics, we continue to, in partnership with our interagency colleagues, to prioritize efforts to combat the nexus of narcotics and insurgency in order to achieve objectives in support of our civil-military campaign. Just as RC South and Southwest are the -- have been the focus of efforts on the military side, they've also been the focus of efforts on the counternarcotics side, particularly Combined Joint Interagency Task Force-Nexus, which is -- operates out of Kandahar, which has conducted important law enforcement operations resulting in the seizures of large amounts of opium, morphine, heroin, hashish, precursor -- and precursor chemicals.
And it's an area where we continue to see increasing cooperation among all the actors involved both on the military side, the international civilian side and the Afghan side.
So with that, I'll finish my prepared remarks, and we're going to take questions along with my colleague [name deleted].
Q Sir, you seem a little more positive than what I read in this report. I mean, I particularly turn our attention to page 41 to 44, which is the --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay. I'll do that.
Q -- security section. On page 43, the second paragraph there, it says organizationally the insurgency's capabilities and operational reach have been qualitatively and geographically expanding, as evidenced by a greater frequency and wider dispersion of insurgent-initiated attacks.
So is -- I mean, is that true? Is the insurgency expanding its territorial control? Or have things changed since this report was --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The insurgency has expanded in areas in the north and the west. And that's been, I think, extensively reported. The focus of our efforts has been and remains on the Taliban heartland, the real nexus of the insurgency in Kandahar and Helmand. That was -- and I know we've discussed this a number of times in the past. It was a deliberate strategic effort to go after the heartland.
The Taliban have clearly reacted to that by going to more peripheral areas. So while they've expanded in those areas, the importance of those areas is not key -- is not central to their success, or to our ability to defeat them. The areas that are key are the heartland areas that they have controlled since the rise -- the original rise of the Taliban. And I mentioned Kandahar, the Zhari and Panjway areas have essentially been under Taliban control since about 1996 in an -- almost in an uninterrupted fashion.
So going after their heartland is important. Of course, they're going to react. They're reacting in areas that, as you know, we have defined as economy of force efforts in RC North. That means that we continue to put effort into those areas, but the focus is elsewhere. There will be of course further steps in the campaign that will address some of these other more peripheral areas.
Q Could I follow up on that?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The second question was right here, and then we'll go here, there and there. Everybody -- I'll answer all the – [name deleted] and I will answer all the questions. But I just want to do it in the order I saw them.
Q (Inaudible) -- you were mentioning about the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Earlier, Lashkar-e-Taiba was more focused on India, mostly Kashmir.
Do you see inside of Lashkar-e-Taiba focusing -- moving towards Afghanistan, your operations there?
And there's one more question that -- on --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay, let me answer that one and I'll move to somebody else, and then come back for your second question. On Lashkar-e-Taiba, what this talks about is the groups in Pakistan's FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where there's a broad syndicate of extremist groups, which you've all heard Secretary Gates speak about that includes the groups including Lashkar-e-Taiba. I don't believe that this report gets into the issue of Lashkar-e-Taiba operations, our presence in Afghanistan. This is talking about a syndicate in Pakistan, that sentence there.
And I want to go here next, and then we'll come back for a second question. Once we have, do a second round -- everybody gets a first question in.
Oh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Back here. Then there. Then there. Yes.
Q Oh, okay.
Q If, as the report suggests, there hasn't been progress against the sanctuaries in Pakistan, why should we be -- have any confidence that the insurgency won't -- to any extent that it's been -- it's been -- it's been defeated or degraded, won't regenerate next spring and continue to do so year after year?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: You've raised a very important question, and the issue of the ability of the insurgents to go back across the border to rest, refit, plan, rearm, all those things is a very -- is a vital one. As we say in the report, Pakistan -- and as you've heard elsewhere -- Pakistan has done a very impressive job about -- of going after insurgent networks in Pakistan, Taliban and other extremist groups that threaten Pakistan. Some of those operations have had a beneficial effect on reducing violence and reducing the ability of those that operate in Afghanistan, but it's still area where we are working together with the Pakistanis to see more progress.
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: We have called on the governor of Pakistan to take specific actions in regards to the Afghan sanctuaries.
Q What are the specific actions?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think we'll leave the -- those specifics to our discussions with the Pakistani government.
Right here, please.
Q I want to ask [name deleted] to talk a little bit more about the effort to build up the civilian capacity that seems to be the key component in the U.S. exit strategy. And in the summer, it seemed like there was a little bit of the U.S. was just kind of running in place. While the military could do its job, the effort to build up the civilian capacity was really stalled. How did it -- how has it progressed throughout this period and then since then?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Let me just push back against one word you used -- no, two words you used -- was "exit strategy." We don't have an exit strategy. We have a transition strategy. The U.S. commitment to Afghanistan is continuing, enduring and long-lasting. There is no exit strategy.
Q How about the exit of combat troops?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: How about the --
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: How about the transition to Afghan control?
Q Right. Okay.
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: There are two key points, actually. First you have to transition the security situation, so you have to build up enough Afghan national security forces to transition the security situation. And then concurrently -- actually, not concurrently, probably a little bit later -- you have to have enough Afghan governance capacity that allows them to work with the ANSF to transition the overall district or provincial level control.
On the civilian side, the State Department and USAID, the Department of Agriculture in a very good, cooperative civ-mil campaign plan, put a number of U.S. civilians into the field in Southern Afghanistan and Eastern Afghanistan. I think we went from 300 U.S. civilians in Afghanistan to about 1,200 now. There's been a significant increase.
We have worked with the government of Afghanistan to try to enhance the capacity of Afghan local governance. It has been -- in areas where there's an increased sense of security, I think we've had good progress. So if you looked at some districts in Helmand, for example, if you go to Marjah or to Nawa, you'll see, you know, the beginnings of local Afghan governance. So specifically in Marjah, if you went now, you'd see about 10, 15 Afghan government officials that work in the district center. Some of them are from Kabul. Some of them are from Lashkar Gah. But it's a real challenge.
I mean, doing Afghan governance capacity after 30 years of war is very difficult. In Kandahar, the military has made progress in terms of clearing out Taliban strongholds in both the city and in the surrounding districts. The Taliban is -- you know, they are an organization that is adaptive. So they've seen that a -- one part of the strategy they can go after are government officials. So there is an active assassination campaign of government officials in the Kandahar region. So that has certainly impacted the ability or the capacity of the Afghan government to create local governance.
Q I have just one. I was just looking at the sort of the detail on regional -- RC South and Southwest that there's no overall description of security in Kandahar and Helmand.
Are you going to do better? The same? I mean, could you assess that? You said it's getting worse in the north, northern parts of Afghanistan, but how is security overall right now in Helmand and Kandahar where all the efforts are?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, fortunately, we were discussing that question with our colleagues in the -- in Afghanistan, and they actually wanted me to make sure that I did comment on that. They even sent me some background material this morning --
Q I just want to know how you're putting it.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oh, I'll put it that -- over the past two months, not only have we seen a slow and steady progress in many of the district centers in central Helmand, we have also seen important progress in reversing the Taliban control of areas in the Kandahar area of Afghanistan, and that this offers the prospect for the transition to the enduring governance efforts that will show that this is an enduring long-term change.
So we think there's been important progress made since the end of this report, particularly in the area surrounding Kandahar, but -- and steady progress continues to be made in Helmand and other areas in Kandahar that are covered by this report.
One reason why we don't make sort of startling, you know, broad judgments in our report is because this is a dynamic theater. Things change. We know that as soon as we close our data, the story change -- changes. And by the time we publish this it's going to be different. So we don't want to have today's headlines or the stories that you all write reflect the past.
But at the same time, this is -- this is the nature of writing a report on a government that can never be up to date -- as up to date as we'd like it.
But, yes, in response to your question, important progress has been made in Kandahar, and it's occurring on a day-to-day basis over the last two months.
Q You mean -- (off mike) -- you don't mean the entire province, you mean parts of Kandahar and parts of Helmand right?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: In -- well, important provinces in Kandahar, yes, and I wouldn't -- I wouldn't be limiting, saying just parts; in key important parts. And the Zhari and Panjway areas are so important that I'm saying --
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: Yeah, the campaign was -- the campaign was aimed at -- the way we designed the campaign, it was aimed at Kandahar City and then the immediate districts around it; so Arghandab, Zhari, Panjway and Dand. So those are the key areas that you've seen U.S. military forces go in in great numbers this past summer and the fall. Spin Boldak is doing relatively well, as well.
Q Can I just ask you about the Taliban imposter?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Now I'm going to have to ask -- give everybody a second question, and I already -- actually, you're really forcing me -- you're forcing me to be inconsistent across reporters. Why don't I come back to you for the second question.
Okay, right there is next, and then next to you.
Q Thank you. There is a figure cited in the report that about 80 percent of Afghans feel like their lives are personally touched by corruption. You also mentioned the role that contracting plays in all of this, and that's been kind of a common theme and that considerable role it plays. So how do you -- how do you begin to kind of get at addressing that? And obviously, it's been a point of contention with Karzai, as well. And what are you doing now to try to tamp that down?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, as you've heard Secretary Gates say -- and a lot of what we're doing is, when we talk about the issue of corruption and enabling people, we need to look in the mirror first and look at what we're doing. But you raise a great question. It's how do you do that?
A lot of our contracting practices and regulations are based on simply price and performance: I need 10 pencils, you provide 10 pencils at the lowest cost and the quickest response, and I give you the contract. What I don't look at right now is, if I buy the -- if I buy those pencils from you, whether you will then use the profits you make from that to fund your own private army, who then attacks some of your colleagues over here, that then causes me problems.
And so what we're doing is, we're looking at -- we're expanding the look at the totality of not just the contracting process but the impacts of the contracting process in local areas. That's really hard to do. It requires, first of all, the collection of a lot of information. We have to increase our knowledge about who we're contracting with, what the impacts of those contracts are. And that's what we're doing now, and actually taking the steps, because we don't want to take steps that will make things worse. So this has been a very large and careful effort. It's ongoing. And I'm not the person to brief you on the content of what's going on or what they're doing, but I have been briefed recently on that, and I think they have some really good ideas about how to move forward, and those -- I expect to see those being put into place in the coming months.
Q Sir, if I could ask you about reconciliation, the report on page 66, 67 talks very briefly about that. It mentions the peace jirga and the High Peace Council this summer but really doesn't give any assessment on whether reconciliation efforts have borne any fruit. And as you know, there have been headlines today on that subject. But even over the period of this report, would you say that there has been any progress at all in terms of reconciliation?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: In terms of reconciliation and reintegration, the report actually lays out progress in developing the reintegration program.
In terms of reconciliation, you mentioned a story in the press today. Obviously, that story is based upon anonymous leaks that are put into various newspapers. Those of you who've talked me before know that I'm -- that I have strong views about that. There's -- I'm --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: You can find out. Actually, I'm not anonymous.
I'm a senior -- I'm a senior Defense official, and this is an officially organized thing that's different than people who say things who are speaking without the sanction of our press people and the U.S. government. And so, yeah, I'll draw a real strong distinction between stuff that people tell you in individual conversations, and -- that go beyond what they're supposed to say.
Yes, we have discipline, or we're supposed to have discipline in the U.S. government, and too often we don't.
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: I think that --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sorry.
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: -- the quotes in the story cited, though, are Afghan officials.
Q Well, beyond all the -- (off mike) --
Q Yeah, I'm actually on the -- on the record today. Second of all, my original question, if you could please answer was, what's your assessment of reconciliation efforts? Have the -- you know, there's nothing in the report that says they've borne any fruit.
Have you seen any signs that there's been progress along these lines?
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: I can give you -- I mean, I can repeat to you our position on reconciliation, that we support an Afghan-led process which you've all -- that you've heard before. But I'm not going to talk about anything beyond that in this forum.
Q (Off mike.)
Actually, beyond you first, because he was up first. And then you. Sorry. I apologize.
Q You have been mentioning that -- first, I will say that President Obama has promised transparency. And you said that you're not going to talk about the steps taken or to be taken, and they will be dealt -- with the dealings with Pakistan, and on page 88, 89.
And also for Iran, you have given four paragraphs. Is the State Department -- (inaudible)
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: But we have commented publicly before on what we've asked Pakistan to do. We've asked the Pakistani government to take steps in North Waziristan, and we think that those are places where they should take greater actions against the sanctuaries for the Afghan insurgency.
Q Yet you say that there's a lot that has happened. Can you give us some concrete results that has -- have happened?
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: Sure, I think what [name deleted] was referring to was the Pakistani military since 2008 has taken significant actions against insurgent groups in Northwest Frontier Provinces and in the -- and in the Federally -- the FATA.
I think that's beyond dispute. They've taken action that -- you know, they've taken over vast majorities of that territory that was controlled by various Taliban entities.
What they have not done to as a -- as great a degree is to go after more directly the areas that are sanctuaries for the Afghan Taliban. And that's where we have asked them to take more significant action.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'll follow up with another specific -- the area of Swat in -- over the last several years, there have been people who are supporters of not only the Pakistan Taliban but who also want to participate in violent activities in Afghanistan. And that was happening to a much greater degree before the Pakistani military went in in the summer of 2009 to Swat. Now that the Pakistani government has control of Swat, that kind of export of fighters into Afghanistan from that area is sharply down.
So I'd say there's positive impacts in Afghanistan from the actions of the Pakistani government and military. That's a concrete example, and there are many others of that. So that's why we -- even though they haven't gone into every area, they've gone into a number of areas. And we have -- and similarly, Pakistan has suffered from -- both its military and civilian populations, with over 30,000 casualties in the last two years, I believe, if I have that right in terms of time. I think it's since 2008, the last two years.
That is -- and so the activities of the Pakistani military and security forces going after those who are targeting them is something that's been very successful, is something that we understand.
At the same time, as [name deleted] said, we believe it's important for Pakistan to go after insurgents and extremists and those who threaten their neighbors as well, and we're working with them to that end.
Okay, I think here, sir, in the blue shirt.
Q I'd like to go back to the reconciliation issue, hope you put a little more meat on the bare bones. The number of insurgents who have so far reintegrated is limited, but many groups have come forward to begin discussing. Any more specific details you can give?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Not right now, and that's because this whole area is dynamic. It's just happening this week. It will be happening next week. And one of the reasons we don't highlight the individual efforts is because when people come forward for reintegration, they're putting their lives and those of their families at risk. So you're not going to get a whole lot of detail that these people in this town in this village at this time have come across. You might get that later in the process, but right now we're going to be very sparse in what details that we give you.
Q Just some rough numbers?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The numbers continue to increase, but what I'll do is I'll take that question and see if we can get numbers that we're comfortable that both they're accurate and it's appropriate to use them with you. But we'll take that question.
Sorry, over here. You were next, sir, and then you're next.
Q Is there a danger that the administration and the Pentagon speak with two voices; that you make public declarations that are quite positive and quite optimistic about the course of the war and progress in the war, and then when you have the written document that's sort of legally bound to be delivered to congress, it's a much more cautious kind of time.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I apologize if I've come across as --
Q (Off mike) -- today, I'm talking generally what we are hearing here at the podium. We hear a lot about encouraging signs, very positive signs.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: And that's one of the reasons why I stressed in the beginning the difference between September 30th and what's happened.
We've seen a lot of encouraging signs over the last -- over the last six, seven weeks in terms of the actual progress on the ground in the -- in the Kandahar area, the operations, which reinforces the earlier operations.
I’ll -- since you're concerned about the administration taking with two voices, my colleague from the State Department -- I’ll ask him for his comments as well.
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: Yeah. I would just say that -- I just got back from Lisbon, and I think the way we've been characterizing it is that there is progress; we've made progress over the summer. So there's been military progress. There's been some government progress on the governance side.
But this is very fragile; this is a very tough fight. This is -- there's just a range of challenges that are in front of us in order to get to the goals that NATO set out to transition an Afghan security lead by 2014.
So I think what the administration is saying is that there has been progress. We've put in significantly more resources over the past year. So the military surge just came to a conclusion four or five weeks ago with the last brigade combat team going in. The civilian effort has increased dramatically. I think we're seeing an impact from the addition of those resources -- clear military progress on the ground -- but that that progress is fragile and that there are hurdles to get to our core objectives, one of which is to transition to Afghan security lead.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think if you look at the reports of when -- the last three reports, you'll see beginnings of progress in the one that was due a year ago, a lot of efforts moving towards it, some signs of progress in the last one. And now we're seeing -- we're sort of moving up on the continuing -- some signs of continued progress and serious continued progress in this one, but still a lot of caution. Yes, there's a lot of caution on this, and there should be, because we're very far from declaring victory or anything like that.
So you next, and then --
Q The report says that 20.7 percent of Afghans -- rate their perceptions of their own security is bad, and that's the highest number that's ever been reported. Are there any specifics as to the factors in their decision?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: One of the things is that there are expanded operations. Because of the growth of Afghan security forces and the increased number that we have -- people are able to -- we have been able to go into areas we've never been in before. So if you asked people in Marja a year ago about their security, they weren't happy about being ruled by the Taliban, but they didn't have security problems. In the last year, they've had a number of security problems. There's been a lot of fighting there. The same in Zhari and Panjway -- we just weren't there in a lot of these areas.
So yes, expanding operations does lead to more violence, that's clear. The question, and I know that some of you have written on this, the question of whether that expansion of effort is going to at some point result in a decrease in violence as we start making more progress, and that is, of course, something that's our objective. Our objective is to bring about decreases, sharp decreases in violence, but first you have to go into the areas where the enemy is.
Q You mentioned that the number of trainers has been improved significantly --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Some important commitments were made before and during Lisbon.
Q You said in many ways -- so are you -- do you have all the commitments you need at this point for trainers at the level that you need them?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We certainly have the numbers. The trainers that we're looking for are, however, not just numbers. Some of them have very specific capabilities: people who can teach repair and maintenance of certain types of machinery. There's going to be a force generation conference at NATO, I think it's the 27th and 28th [sic; November 29th and 30th], where they're going to be matching up -- the requests were made for these specific capabilities.
And matching that all up is going to take place, and so we'll know just how we get on the specifics. But we're certainly very encouraged by the overall numbers. And the countries that are making these pledges are aware of the technical specialties that we're looking for.
So you, and then you.
Q I want to go back to the civ-mil. I've heard all year that the civilian presence has tripled. But as a matter of saying that, they got to the tripling almost a year ago now. They got to about, say, the thousand level back in January; and that as of now, it's only gotten to 1,100 or 1,200. And, you know, reading this latest inspector general report on Afghanistan, it seems to suggest that the civilian surge has stalled. So I want to know do you -- do you agree with that kind of assessment -- (laughter) -- and based on your (inaudible) --
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: (Laughter).
Q Fine. I'll write "laughter" then on my transcript, by "anonymous." (Laughter.)
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, by a “senior official,” which is different than “anonymous.”
Q Is the civilian surge keeping pace with the military promise of security? Is the military then supposed to hand off a lot of those functions to civilians behind them?
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: The civilian surge has not stalled. I don't think we look at it in terms of overall numbers. We look at it in terms of what are the key districts, what are the key military objectives, what are the key civ-mil objectives we're trying to achieve.
Underneath the campaign plan for '10, the areas we wanted to focus on were in Kandahar and in Helmand, in specific districts. You've seen a tremendous surge of U.S. civilian capacity into those areas. I oversaw it, so I know for a fact. I think you're seeing effects of that surge on the ground. When you go to a place like Nawa or Garmsir or Marjah, you see, you know -- you see U.S. civilians out there in very dangerous situations, continuing dangerous situations, working with their military counterparts to deliver development, stability and governance at a very localized level.
So as the campaign unfolds, you have -- the civilians will continue to go into the areas that are the combined civ-mil priority areas. So I don't think we're lacking in that regard.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay. Back here, next.
Q It's more of a process question, but to what extent is it accurate to say that any of this informs the assessment that the NSC [National Security Council] is running next month?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Both [name deleted] and I are very involved in the assessment process here, and I can tell you that -- and it's an assessment of the same area, so a lot of the material that went into here is going directly into the assessment process as well. And we --
Q It'll be more updated, right?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It'll be more updated, but there's a lot that goes into it. So the efforts are ongoing, but a lot of what's in here that does -- there are a lot of things don't need updating. Some of the things are -- some of the things in the 1230 report were verbatim what we sent over to the NSC in their -- some of their requests for information.
Q Is it fair to say that the kind of tone and the tenor of this is largely what will inform the --
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: I wouldn't prejudge it. I wouldn't --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, you can say -- no, we're -- that's prejudging the outcome. This is -- this gives parts of it, but there are other parts, including what's happened more recently. So I would not draw any -- I mean, both [name deleted] and I were on a recent trip that a -- that someone who gave an interview as a senior White House official gave a few weeks ago, and we made a trip along with other colleagues in the interagency to Afghanistan and Pakistan to help collect information. So a lot of that was our own personal interactions as well, and we're compiling reports and documents, all the things you do in a report-writing process.
But no, you couldn't say that this prejudges any particular -- anything could change. Again, it's dynamic. It's changing every day.
Q This is -- why does -- (off mike)? I guess I can't -- (off mike) --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, as I said, some of the same -- some of the same work that produced these -- papers that were written for this -- a lot of them we'll update and then -- a lot have already been sent over to the NSC as part of the information gathering, collection. The 1230 report itself is part of the information gathering. But you do the information gathering, and then you do the analysis, and that's the process we're in right now.
So -- wait, we're getting to seconds, and I don't think you had asked a question before.
Q I have a question on the overall assessment. It says that security is slowly starting to expand, but at the same time, kinetic activity is at an all-time high. How -- can you address -- I mean, that seems like it would be a contradiction.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, actually – not only is it not a contradiction in terms. It's exactly what we expected; it's what we predicted. We put more forces in. We're building Afghan security forces. There are a lot more forces. We can go a lot more places. So as we expand and go into areas where the Taliban has been in control for a long period of time, there's a lot more kinetic activity, there's a lot more fighting. And that was exactly what we expected, and that's what you all should expect too and should have expected a year ago, when the president sent more forces in. General McChrystal, General Petraeus, Secretary Gates have all said that we're going to be seeing more fighting as we do that.
Now all those new forces are in, but we're continuing to build the size of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. So their forces are increasing, so the number of forces and areas we can go continue to expand.
When the -- so the issue in many ways is not so much the overall number of violent incidents or conflicts. The -- it's a question of where they're occurring. And one of the things that we're seeing -- and I believe it's mentioned here, and it's certainly something that we're seeing more and more -- is they're occurring in areas further away from the population centers. So we are pushing the Taliban out of the key population areas, so a lot of the security incidents are happening outside of the population areas.
One area that we're concerned about, however -- even in areas that we do clear, the Taliban often retain some capacity to threaten or intimidate, and that's an issue that is of concern on the civilian side. But I hope I've addressed your question.
Q Does that mean -- I mean, when you say it's beginning to expand, does that mean that we could say the cities and towns are becoming more secure? Is that really what you mean?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Areas where the population centers are becoming more secure, yes.
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: Well, you've dislodged the Taliban, but sometimes what you have happen is they can retain influence into the cities, and that's when you end up seeing, like, for example, the assassination campaign in Kandahar. You know, they are -- have been driven out, the large -- well, the large groupings of Taliban are dislodged, but they can still retain the ability to influence, and they do that through the various forms of intimidation, including assassination. You know, they often go after our implementing partners, the USAID implementing partners. I think this year has been, you know, a pretty significant year for attacks on them.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: But this process, and it's a process that takes time, so where we've been for a year or more, then we see changes in that as well. And so Nawa in Helmand is an example of an area that's -- first we dislodged, then we pushed -- then we disrupted and reduced to a very small level the ability to intimidate, and then the governance and development efforts are able to follow afterwards. But none of this happens in weeks, it happens in months, and it happens at different pace in different areas depending on how important it is to the enemy, which gets a vote here as well.
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: Yeah [name deleted] is correct; this is a process that unfolds over time as security increases. So in a place like Nawa and Garmsir, forces have been there longer, there's more security, so you see the last of the intimidation, the residual intimidation.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: In the back.
Q On page 42, you make an interesting observation, that the Taliban strength lies in the Afghan population's perception that coalition forces will soon leave, giving credence to the belief that a Taliban victory is inevitable.
My question is this: To what extent does the July 2011 date feed that perception, and has that been a factor in the administration's seemingly pushing back from that date?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think they -- as you -- as I think everybody here knows, there's been a lot of misperception about the July 2011 date and that it was some kind of a deadline for withdrawal or a signal that we had an exit strategy rather than a transition strategy. And people a lot more senior than I have worked very hard to correct these misperceptions that exist not just in the United States but elsewhere.
But July 2011 is an inflection point where we're going to begin the transition that's going to include the withdrawal of some American forces. But the -- and we expect the transition on the security side to Afghan lead -- not to Afghans doing everything themselves -- we're going to -- we need -- we're going to continue to need some help for a long time to come in training, advising and assisting, as Secretary Gates has said, and so why there's going to be a continuing need for a long time for us to be there.
The importance of that long-term commitment -- long-term enduring commitment that President Obama has been very clear of in his meetings with President Karzai, including the most recent one -- we think it's very important, the NATO-Afghanistan strategic partnership that was agreed to and signed at the NATO meeting in Lisbon. That's a sign that not just the United States but that our NATO allies are committed to a long-term enduring partnership that goes beyond just what we're doing today.
So it's -- you're right, it's difficult to address. In my conversations with people in Afghanistan, in Pakistan and elsewhere, they're actually much less focused on July 2011 and they're focused on 1989. That's the area where people are focused more, because that's where they have seen us leave. So they have -- they see a history of that, and they -- their concerns are rooted in facts.
And a number of you have traveled with Secretary Gates and heard him say that that is a major strategic mistake that we made, that he was personally involved in those decisions and he believes that this is something the -- a mistake the United States will not make again. But when you have that history, to me that's much more important than the date that you're mentioning.
Okay. I'm sorry, over here for the next first question. We're still going to first questions, then we'll get to the second ones. Everybody gets a first question.
Q If your transition plan depends on creating enough competent Afghan officials to solidify the security gains, isn't that nation-building, and can you do that in Afghanistan in four years?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Our objective is to transition Afghanistan's security lead -- lead for security. That's what President Karzai has said at the Kabul conference was his goal, and which the United States, NATO, ISAF and our partners have all endorsed, to Afghan security lead.
The whole issues of security, governance, development, much longer term issues are certainly there to -- are there to be addressed. But in order to have that security lead, in order to build up the Afghan security forces the way we're doing, and to fight and to carry out the fight that we're doing, you don't need to have all the success at once, immediately.
Q Well, what does that mean in terms of -- and I know you can't say specific numbers -- but generally, numbers of U.S. troops four years from now, compared to 98,000 today? Are you talking about 50 percent of those would be enough?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I absolutely could not hazard even the wildest guess on that, and I think that's --
Q So it could be the same number as we have today?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, it's clearly going to be less. We're going to begin a process of withdrawal and transition, and the Afghans are going to become more and more competent, and it's going to be conditions-based. But I'm not going to hazard any guess on the number or the scale, because I think that would be irresponsible of me to do so on that.
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: On the governance question, though, it's -- there seems to be a desire to quantify this in numbers, just like we do with troops. And I know that people have pointed to: Well, how many government officials exist at this province or in that district?
You know, in the end, the Afghans will have to decide what is the right type of local governance that they want. And as long as the local governance can work with the Afghan local security forces to solve a security challenge and provide some basic services, I don't think we need to get caught up in a numbers game in terms of how many civilian, you know, ministry of agriculture people are in X, Y, or Z district.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think we have one more first question, and then we can go to seconds.
Q I haven't heard any question of the economics of all of this. A government usually has to have a tax-revenue base in order to support -- pay for the functions that it takes out. So how -- what is the -- what is the situation and the plan for actually providing an economic base of support for the Afghan security forces?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: In terms of the Afghan security forces, clearly the requirements for the Afghan security forces now and for a number of years -- and I'm using a number -- to not come up with a specific number because we don't have that -- is going to be more than the Afghan economy can support. The growth of the Afghan economy and the potential for it all depend upon security. And that is what we're focused on.
However, clearly I would offer that Afghan forces are much more cost-effective. They're what the Afghans want, they're what we want, and building the Afghan forces are an incredibly good investment. They're an investment for Afghanistan, for the security of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region, as an investment for us.
And so as we transition from coalition forces, U.S. forces, to Afghan forces, the overall cost will go down and go down pretty fast. But yes, there's a longer-term challenge in terms of bringing together those curves. But that's -- and that's something that we're very aware of, but -- and we're very -- obviously very appreciative of the continuing support of our Congress and the American people for the cost of the Afghan security forces. But I would say that the cost of U.S. forces, British forces, other forces, are much, much greater than those.
Okay. And I think that's all the firsts. So for seconds, I'm just going to start on this side of the room and move over, because I can't remember who raised their hands first. So we'll go to you -- (inaudible).
Q Related to that, are you satisfied with the attrition rate? You've emphasized the growth in the Afghan security forces.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The attrition rate has gone down, but it's not where we wanted it, so no, we're not satisfied with it. We think we've made some progress, but there's still a long -- but there's still a ways to go. What we found is that one of the key areas that influences attrition is leadership, and leadership is another area where the Afghan security forces need to improve. But building leaders takes time. You don't get senior noncommissioned officers, captains, majors, lieutenant colonels overnight. With partnership, we're shrinking the demand for that. But we need to reduce attrition and build leaders, and the two of them go hand in hand.
Q Attrition is down? Because I thought it actually in some recent months had gone up.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It's been -- over the last nine -- almost nine years I've been following it, it's up and down month by month, but the trend over the last two years is down. It's not down as much as we would want, and yes, there have been a couple recent months where it's gone up, but it's one of those statistics where, in many ways the more closely you follow it, the less of a picture you have; you really have to look at it over a longer period of time.
Q I wanted to ask you about the reference to $20 million -- I guess it's $20 million counternarcotics advisory teams program has been cancelled. I wanted to ask you --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: If you tell me the page, then I can --
Q Eight-five. And I think those are teams that were advising at the local and provincial level, so if I'm reading it right, the U.S. doesn't have direct advisors on the ground at the local and regional level anymore, but is working more with the ministry. Is that what that means?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. And I'm -- I'll -- my colleague [name deleted] who's in charge of this area, I'll refer your question to him, and maybe he can get you more specifics on that.
Q Sir, you said the anti-corruption efforts will focus, to quote you, "on the most predatory forms of corruption that fuel the insurgency." Can you be a little more specific?
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: I think the basic response to that would be that the forms of corruption that cause someone to join the Taliban, that's what we mean by -- local police is generally what we think of -- in terms of predatory behavior by local police officials.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Land.
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: That seems to be the historic reason why people join the Taliban.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Land disputes are also a contributory thing.
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: Yeah. Yeah.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Dispute resolution, where the dispute-resolution processes are corrupt and you've got the decision you pay for rather than a fair decision. Those are all areas that we're looking at.
I'm just going across, as I said, one by one.
Q In your March report, there was a lot of really interesting data on these key terrains and area-of-interest districts that indicated which way these crucial districts are -- if they lean toward the Taliban or they supported the government. I don't see much of that in this report, unless I missed it. There is on page 52, on these districts, these security ratings which indicate that only one or two have seen any improvement in the security ratings since March. One -- why isn't that other information in this report; and two, are you satisfied with the rate of progress in the security assessments over the last six months?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: First of all, we're never satisfied with the rate of progress. We want progress faster. We want faster and more. So it's always easy to answer the question "are we satisfied." And there's -- but there clearly has been some progress.
Your point about the level of detail and the questions about the district assessments is a good one.
We had some discussion on that. And there's always that balance between length and what you put in. I think you raise a good point, and we'll look at including more of those in the next -- in the next round.
Q Is it attainable if you want to make a request?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: You can make a request, and to what degree it's attainable -- I think some of it is attainable. But -- so please go ahead and do that. Okay.
Q So to follow up on that point, though, what are you seeing anecdotally in the past few months about -- in this last report it said that most Afghans were unwilling to back the U.S. forces or they had actively supported the Taliban. Are you seeing that more Afghans are willing to support the local Afghan government or U.S.-coalition forces?
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: I think the surveys that I've seen on a local level and being at -- and really being able to boil it down to discrete local levels are not good enough for us to use right now. The broader national provincial level ones that we use in here -- but on the -- in terms of specific districts and stuff --
Q But you sent in the last report. I'm just wondering. You haven't seen --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: But we didn't -- I'm sorry. I thought you were asking about what -- about specific surveys in districts. We asked people how is -- asking people around the country, around a province how's security in your district is asking -- is different than saying that security in this district, all the people -- because you don't have a big enough --
Q No --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: -- you don't have a big enough sample for a -- data on a district, even though you can get data about how people feel about their districts in general.
Q I'm sorry. I'm asking for an update to the last report that had information in it that -- pertaining to people's opinions toward the U.S.-coalition forces. And the last report said they weren't necessarily on board. A lot of people were on the fence or actively opposed. Where does that stand now?
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: I mean, anecdotally, you can point to several districts where the local population clearly is in greater support of both the Afghan government, certainly the coalition forces.
So there were, you know, a lot of places that -- Uruzgan, and there was a district in northern Uruzgan or southern Daykundi called Gizab, which, you know, through various works that the Special Forces did, basically kicked out the Taliban, called for the Afghan government to come in. So that's more of a remote district.
As you go through central Helmand now and Garmsir, the security situation has improved. You're seeing greater support for the government, more willingness to come out and take part in economic activity that's provided by the coalition or through the Afghan government -- and that's actually always provided through the Afghan government.
So, yes, anecdotally, you do see that Afghans -- when the security situation improves, we do see them tend to gravitate towards the government.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think I apologize for being a little slow here. Some of the data that we had in the March -- in the March report was -- were surveys that were not done every six months. And so we had some data available to us that we don't in this one, that we expect to have in our next one. And so I think this -- implicitly, we should be more -- a little more careful in saying, you know, when you -- some surveys are only done on an annual basis. And so that's one of the reasons for that. But we'll look at making sure in the March report that we answer that question.
Q Well, page 88, the second-from-the-bottom paragraph references the Pakistan Army General Headquarters approved an ODRP [Office of the Defense Representative-Pakistan] and coalition presence at the PAKMIL [Pakistan military] 12 Corps HQ [headquarters] in Quetta, Baluchistan. What is that presence, including specifically the coalition presence? And does -- has the -- have there been requests of the Pakistani government to take more actions against sanctuaries, specifically in Quetta and in Baluchistan?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: On the last question, as [name deleted] said, we have had requests about more actions against sanctuaries. So, yes, we have asked for that, and we continue to ask for that. That particular sentence is all we can say on that. We produced both a classified and unclassified report, and I have to say that's all -- what we say there is all we can say on that particular sentence.
Q (Off mike) -- you stepped away from talking about the exit of U.S. combat troops in 2014 --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, I said -- I said we don't have exit strategy, is what I’ve said.
Q And -- yeah, and well, you were saying, well, the exit of combat troops, and then you said no, how about the transition to Afghan security forces, internal --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: On the question of combat troops, I said I wasn't going to hazard a guess. It's going to be a conditions-based thing, so I didn't -- that's what I said.
Q Do you think there won't be an exit of U.S. combat troops in 2014? And how would you characterize the U.S. role -- or the Afghan role? As being in the lead or -- you know, or being --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: First of all, I've already said that I'm not going to predict what's going to happen in 2014. What I set -- what we set it is a goal. President Karzai set a goal; we're going to work towards that. And how we get there is -- and the pace and the scope of how we get there is going to be based on conditions. But I think it would be hugely irresponsible for me or anybody else to say we know what that pace and scope of operations is going to be and to hazard a guess on what the situation will actually -- will be, in sort of precise numbers, for 2014. Anybody who said they could do that would be wrong. Anybody who relied on that would be wrong, too.
I apologize, but when you're asking for precision about numbers in 2014, what I can say is we've set a goal. We set a goal because we believe it's achievable and President Karzai believes is achievable. And we are putting a huge amount of effort -- we're putting American and Afghan lives on the line every day to achieve that. We're putting a huge amount of resources into doing that. So the fact that we have -- that we are doing that shows that we have confidence we can believe we can achieve that goal.
But in terms of absolute numbers of forces and the composition of forces, again, I -- as I said, it would be irresponsible of me to try and focus on that, especially four years out. Sorry.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: You had the first second question, so I do want to make sure we get to yours.
Q On page 89 about India, you say India's presence in Afghanistan cannot be understood without considering the tense, fragile relationship between Pakistan and India. You don't explain it further. Does it mean that you buy the premise that India is carrying out developmental work in Afghanistan because it has to do something with Pakistan to counteract Pakistan's influence?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, we mean that you have to look at it all in context. Certainly the perceptions of Pakistan are important as well as the perceptions of India. And so that's what we're saying, that it has to be looked at in context, without trying to be judgmental that one side or the other's perceptions are wrong, but it's important to be aware of those perceptions.
We value very highly the developmental work that India's doing in Afghanistan. It's been a key one of the major contributors, and the kind of developmental work that India has done in Afghanistan is really vital to the success of the effort there. At the same time, Pakistani perceptions of that -- and they're regularly voiced, both in formal and informal conversations by a wide range of people in Pakistan -- is an area that is a continuing concern.
Q There's a mention in the report about a decrease in opium cultivation. And I'm wondering, from either of you, how significant is the decrease? There's a mention of government -- Afghan government-led eradication areas, but I don't know if there's other sorts of areas that might factor into that decrease. And has that decrease brought about any sort of measurable impact on the security situation or the insurgency?
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I think in Helmand in '09, there was a reduction of 30 percent in the amount of acreage under cultivation for opium production. I think that number also fell in '10, but I don't have the U.N. -- the U.N. puts these numbers out. I think it did fall in '10 in Helmand as well, but not to as great a degree as 30 percent. In Kandahar it actually went up.
And to get to the last part of your question, I do think that when you see the changes in the ability to put, you know, an opium crop in the ground leads to or has an impact or is part of the explanation to the -- why you see the Taliban having a hard time with finances. It sort of impacts their financial -- their ability to raise money.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I would -- I've made the same comment before, over the years, on this. I would be very cautious about making too much of a generalization out of any one year, because farmers' decisions on planting writ large --
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: Right.
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: -- are a response to what we -- a number of a factors, most -- primarily the market, the ability of -- to get support. The narcotics networks have had actually a very good record of getting support in terms of fertilizers, seeds and loans to farmers, and so they have often, in the past, chosen those because they make economic sense, over the last several years. And -- [name deleted] -- played a role in this. We, working with the Afghan's international partners, have put in place a number of mechanisms that we think are going to be addressing that. So when you're looking at -- the absolute numbers is one thing, but also the reasons why people stop cultivating poppy -- and are they doing it in response -- is it a permanent change of behavior or is it just a response to market conditions.
Q (Off mike.)
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay. Yeah, I guess you're next.
SR. STATE OFFICIAL: I need to go, actually.
Q Yeah, I was just going to ask about the White House officials who say that they're skeptical about these signs of progress and saying -- yeah, how many more Marjahs do we need to do and in what time frame? I mean, do you --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Did you -- which White House official would that be?
Q It was one -- an anonymous White House official.
Q Okay, no, but there are -- okay, I'll leave it aside. There's a lot of skepticism in Washington from people who are informed on this issue, across the board, in various agencies and in think tanks and in people who -- in the military who know this issue. So my question to you is, these are, you know, some positive signs here, but to you what do they mean overall, the long term?
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think these are serious, important signs. And as [name deleted] said, the progress is still fragile. Of course there are skeptics. There are always skeptics, and -- without saying where they might be.
But this is, as I said, an extraordinarily dynamic situation. Even the progress that we've seen in the last seven weeks since this report came out is something that is changing the reality on the ground.
But in no way, shape or form is anybody guaranteeing success, saying it's a hundred percent certain. There are a lot of factors that are still involved here, and we're not -- we're certainly very far from declaring victory.
But for those who are skeptics, what I would say is we have -- and you've all heard this before, but I'll say it again -- we have not, in all the time we've been in Afghanistan, had anywhere near the level of military effort, the level of combined civil-military effort, the level of international support that we have today. Those factors are in place now.
And so to say -- to express skepticism today, when we are in a completely different situation than we were two years ago, four years ago, six years ago, and say that the past is just going to be repeated into the future, as I was saying, was irresponsible to -- it was irresponsible to predict what's going to happen in the future, out into 2014. To be frank, I would say people who have that level of skepticism are irresponsible and that they haven't looked at the full picture in Afghanistan.
And looking at this report, looking at this report over the last three reports and seeing the detail that we go into on this does give you a foundation for, I think, understanding the situation.
Q On page 44 --
SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay, now I think we have to bring this thing to a close. If anybody wants to come up to the table and talk to me, please do, but I want to essentially release everybody.