COLONEL DAVID LAPAN (deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations): Good morning here at the Pentagon. I’m welcoming to the Pentagon Briefing Room for the first time Colonel Jeffrey Martindale, who is the commander of Task Force Raider and the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division.
As part of Regional Command South, Colonel Martindale’s 3,500- soldier brigade deployed to Afghanistan in July of this year. In August, the brigade assumed operational responsibility of Kandahar and Arghandab districts. Colonel Martindale also has two battalion task forces serving in Regional Command West, in Herat and Farah provinces.
Colonel Martindale joins us today from his headquarters at Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar City. He’ll provide you a brief update on their operations there, and then take your questions.
And so, Jeff, back to you.
COL. MARTINDALE: Okay, Dave. Thank you very much.
And good morning to all of you. As already stated, I’m Colonel Jeff Martindale. I’m the commander of 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, otherwise known as the Raider Brigade. My brigade’s area of responsibility includes Kandahar City and the Arghandab district of Kandahar province.
The core part of the brigade began its deployment in August of 2010, from Fort Carson, Colorado. And we are now augmented with two additional battalions: a military police battalion from Fort Lewis Washington, and an artillery battalion from Fort Campbell Kentucky. So I have seven U.S. battalions under my control as we partner with the Kandahar city and Arghandab district police, two battalions of Afghan National Army soldiers and a brigade of Afghan National Civil Order Police.
As many of you already know, Kandahar is a historic part of Afghanistan, and it’s the ancestral home of President Karzai and many previous leaders of Afghanistan. It is also the birthplace of the Taliban, and for this reason, the gains that we have made here are important to the overall situation in the country.
Kandahar city in particular serves as a focal point for the entire southern part of the country, culturally and economically, and is also very densely populated, with an estimated 800,000 people. The city therefore serves as our primary focus. And working in full partnership with our Afghan national security forces and interagency partners, we’re conducting counterinsurgency operations to defeat the insurgents and support GIRoA’s [Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan] efforts to connect to the people through provision of services and access to government.
Earlier this year, we knew the insurgents had nearly complete freedom of movement in this area and used that freedom to extend their influence throughout the city. Their psychological hold on the population was apparent, and many people and government officials were afraid to leave their homes and offices. But over the last four months we were able to force the insurgents out of many of the areas which they traditionally held as sanctuaries, and this has resulted in some pretty dramatic changes here.
Our clearing efforts began in an area called Malajat, an agricultural area within the southern boundaries of the city and only a couple of miles from the city center. People there were terrorized, and the area was known throughout the city as being where the Taliban held court, conducted torture and executions, and projected spectacular IED-based [improvised explosive device] attacks into the city.
When we first got here, the threat to most of the population within the city from the Taliban was to ‘do what we say or we will take you out into the Malajat.’
Circumstances were such that shortly after I assumed the area of responsibility, Provincial Governor [Tooryalai] Wesa was granted authority as commander in chief for all Afghan security forces in the province by President Karzai. Wesa promptly directed an operation into Malajat, so we quickly partnered our forces, allowed the ANSF [Afghan National Security Force] to take a lead in clearance operations while we provided enabling support through additional combat troops, close air support, mine clearance and medical capabilities. That particular operation led to the capture and killing of several dozen Taliban insurgents, and Malajat is now denied as a sanctuary by our combined permanent presence in the area.
Since then, our partnership with the ANSF has only deepened. All around the city, our military police forces have joined themselves to the Afghan National Police and are now living with them at the police substations and at the police headquarters. Our mentor teams live and work daily with the ANP leadership to improve their capacity to function as a headquarters and support their forces on the ground. Currently, there are over 1,600 ANP in the city, and we intend to grow that force to over 2,100 by the end of next summer.
Admittedly, we still face challenges, though we have definitely seen an improvement to the security situation in the city. For example, we know that it has become much harder for the insurgents to launch spectacular attacks in the city as demonstrated by their inability to affect the recent regional reconciliation conference attended by former President Rabbani, chairman of the High Peace Council, Minister Stanekzai and director of the High Peace Council’s joint secretariat, and all the provincial governors from around the southern region.
Similarly, despite the best efforts by the insurgents to disrupt the national parliamentary elections in September, our partner forces prevented any major disruption from occurring.
These improvements leave me feeling very hopeful, as the increased trust in the Afghan security forces has led to an increased number of called-in tips, with 90 percent of the found cache locations and explosive devices due to local, national -- local nationals providing information to us.
Both within the city and the outlying -- and in the outlying areas to include Arghandab, the Taliban have been reduced from significant guerrilla operations to a latent, low-level phase of insurgency characterized by assassination and intimidation campaigns. We are combating this by using our constantly improving network of informants and increased local-national interaction to conduct precisely targeted operations with, again, the Afghan security forces in the lead.
We know that a critical component to safeguarding the city is to safeguard the key avenues into it, and this is where our efforts in the Arghandab Valley come into play. For several years now, the Taliban were using the agricultural and densely wooded areas of this valley to house homemade-explosive production facilities and as a sanctuary for their operations. While villages were forcibly taken over by the insurgents, the people forced to evacuate and leave their homes, the insurgents rigged these homes and surrounding fields with explosives that they controlled, affording themselves protection while they transported weapons and explosives for their operations.
Now in coordination with the 205th Afghan National Army Corps, our forces have cleared this Taliban strong point and are in the process of building roads and infrastructure into the area in order to prevent it from becoming sanctuary ever again.
Simultaneously, our Afghan and coalition force partners in RC South are conducting operations to our south and west, and are also forcing the enemy from historic staging areas leading into the city.
Now our efforts are increasingly shifting to reconstruction, development and improving governance. We are working closely with our interagency partners and Afghan governmental leaders to bring basic services to their citizens and connect them with the people of these communities.
Working through the Afghan government, we have initiated seven major road improvement projects and are providing security for two brand-new 10-megawatt power generation plants, which will triple the amount of electricity or electrical power into the city and enable economic growth. The first of these power plants, on the eastern side of the city, is nearly fully operational and will supply 8 megawatts of continuous power for at least 16 hours a day. In addition, we now have a total of 92 development projects within the city.
Kandahar City is thriving economically. The roads are full of commercial trucks. Shopkeepers are open into the night. And by all local accounts, the pomegranate harvest this year was the best most people can remember.
So I am very optimistic. Our challenge this winter is to continue to build on the momentum we’ve gained, continue to improve the capacity of our ANSF partners and by next spring set the conditions to prevent any attempt at renewed Taliban effort that significantly threatens local governance and security.
I’m exceptionally proud of our efforts to date, I feel like we are clearly winning here, and I look forward to your questions.
COL. LAPAN: Okay. Julian.
Q: Colonel, do you think that when you rotate out next July, when -- your unit, that the unit that comes to replace you will be smaller than yours? Is this an area that can be thinned out, as General Petraeus says, by next July?
COL. MARTINDALE: I just had the brigade commander from 2nd Brigade of our infantry division back at Fort Carson out here with his entire staff and his commanders for their site survey. And the current plan is that they will replace us in kind. And what that means is, in whichever way our forces there are arrayed by next summer, they’ll replace us. So if we are able to thin out based on some of the advancements with the ANP in particular within the city, in Arghandab, and we opt to push forces into Taliban sanctuaries that we may identify here in the spring, then they will replace in kind. But there is no plan for any thinning, at least of my replacement brigade.
Q: And if I could follow up on that, in terms of the next sanctuaries to push into, you know, the strategy has been described as connecting security bubbles. You know, without getting into future operations, in general where are you -- in what direction are you trying to expand your security bubble? What are you trying to connect to from your area of operations?
COL. MARTINDALE: Well, that’s a good question. That’s something that we’re looking at all the time.
And really, I believe that right now the Taliban has a strategic decision to make. We have pushed them out of Arghandab district. That was a significant stronghold for them. They owned that for years. 2nd Brigade of the 101st, Task Force Strike, has pushed the Taliban out of the Zhari and Panjwai area to our south and west, another huge stronghold of the Taliban.
Both of these areas were used to be able to affect Kandahar City, and that was their strategic main effort, was really to influence Kandahar City and to be able to influence the inability of the Afghan government to set and really influence the population through fear to prevent them from coming over fully to the side of the government of Afghanistan.
So as I’m looking to next spring, I want to find out what the Taliban’s plan is, and I want to be waiting for them as they opt to come back from their sanctuary, potentially, in Pakistan, if they opt to come back next spring. And I want to be waiting for them in whichever areas may influence, now, Kandahar City and Arghandab, the areas that I’m responsible for.
Q: Colonel Martindale, you mentioned several times about Afghan forces being in the lead in specific operations. Can you tell us a bit about what that means from a planning and operations -- as far as their capability in planning and operations? Where do you see the thrust of development taking hold? And where do you still see some training development that needs to be done?
COL. MARTINDALE: On the development part of that question, are you talking about the Afghan security forces, or development in general?
Q: On the -- within the forces, sir.
COL. MARTINDALE: Okay. I think the best way to describe to you how these operations have taken place would be to use our most recent clearance in Arghandab.
As I mentioned before, we did an operation in Malajat, where the governor used his newfound powers to employ all of the Afghan security forces within the province and ran with it. That became a very successful operation, and Governor Wesa benefited politically for the security that it brought to the city.
That has resulted in Malajat becoming a model for future operations that we’ve conducted in northern Arghandab and in the -- most recently, in central Arghandab within my area, and then even more recently in Colonel Kandarian’s area to the south in Zhari Panjwai.
What this looks like is the governor brings in all the ANSF leadership with some of the brigade commanders from the coalition, and he directs them to conduct an operation, and he gives them a certain amount of time to plan. The director of security from the area is responsible for briefing intelligence to the governor a few days later. And then we go into a significant planning portion before the operation in which all of our planners come together, and the Afghans select a leader from either the ANP, the ANA or the ANCOP to run the operation.
And based on which element is in the lead, his planner leads the planning effort. We then go brief the governor on the operation. And then soon thereafter, we execute. And it truly is, you know, us really in a supporting role trying to tie everything together.
Because what we really bring to the fight is that I have someone from my brigade with every one of those different entities, whether that’s the ANP, the ANCOP [Afghan National Civil Order Police], the ANA or even the Afghan Border Police, which we have had execute operations with us recently, under Colonel Raziq.
So I can tie all of this together and synchronize it through the network that I have embedded with all of these forces. And I can use that to bring in fires and air support and reconnaissance assets and other things that support them on the ground. So this has resulted in a lot of confidence in which the governor knows he can direct his forces to execute an operation, he knows they can come through. The Afghans see that it’s mainly an Afghan-led operation, in particular on the ground. And the locals see this, and I think it gives them hope that when we do depart the country, there’s a force that’s here that can execute without our help.
COL. LAPAN: Al.
Q: Hi, Colonel. It’s Al Pessin from Voice of America. You describe a structure in your AOR [area of responsibility] that sounds pretty ideal. As a brigade commander, you have seven battalions, which seems like a lot. You seem to have quite a strong governor, who’s empowered. You have confident ANSF. How difficult is it -- well, first of all, how necessary is it to have all those elements? And how difficult is it to replicate that AOR by AOR across the country?
COL. MARTINDALE: You know, I think you’re right. I think for Kandahar City and for the -- for Arghandab district right now we do have the ideal mix. Now we do.
When I first arrived here, my rallying cry was that I needed more forces. And I think with the relationships that we’ve now developed, and through the operations that we’ve all done together, and really through the fact that within the Afghan security forces, leadership is everything -- they don’t necessarily have the NCO [non-commissioned officer] corps that we have -- so that leaders, if they’re onboard and they’re ready to go, so is the unit. And the relationships that we build with those leaders mean everything. And it took some time and it took some fighting together for us to now build a team within the city and out in Arghandab that I think is unbeatable by the Taliban. And I would not have said that even a few months ago.
So we’re the main effort for RC South, and I think we have been and RC South is the main effort in theater. And I think we have been resourced for success, and I think we’re defeating the Taliban here now. I think once we can set conditions here to thin out coalition forces, we can do the same thing in other portions of the country.
But I think, you know, in any war, in any fight, you’re going to have to decide where you want to assume risk and where you want to wait your main effort. And right now, we have benefited significantly from being the main effort and getting the resources that we need.
Q: Follow-up, Colonel. How confident are you that when you have your unit change over and when the U.S. and NATO decide to thin out that district, that the Afghan forces you leave behind, or indeed their replacement forces, and the governor you leave behind, or indeed his replacement governor, will be able to hold the lid on for the long term?
COL. MARTINDALE: Well, I’m very comfortable with the unit that’s taking over for me. We’re all from Fort Carson; know John Kolasheski very well. I know how they’ve trained, and we’re in contact with them every day. So I know they’ll attack this problem the same way that we have, and in many ways they’ve probably trained even more effectively than we were able to. We had a very short turnaround before we came here.
When it comes to the governor changing out and things like that, I can’t even really comment on it, because it’s an unknown. If the current governor stays in position, which I expect, and I think if the current ANSF leadership stays in position, which I have no reason to believe they won’t, then I think things will continue to progress upward. And under John’s watch, I think things will get significantly easier.
I also think that, again, the enemy’s reaction to all of this is -- will be significant. And I would prefer that they’d try to come back here in the spring and try to establish the stronghold they used to have here so that we can use the team that I have built now to really defeat them, and I think that would really set conditions for the next year in which I think the Taliban would have pretty much lost this area.
COL. LAPAN: Otto.
Q: Colonel, Otto Kreisher with National Journal Daily. We’ve heard briefings in the past that there was problems with retention and the overall quality of the Afghan security forces, particularly the police. You’ve talked about the increases in forces you’ve had and what you plan. How are they doing as far as keeping people once you’ve trained them and equipped them?
And what is their quality down into the ranks?
COL. MARTINDALE: I think I understood that you’re asking about retention within the ANP and what their quality is, or how it’s changed.
Retention has been a problem. I think it’s gotten much better. And I think a lot of that -- particularly I’m talking about in my set here within the city, and again within Arghandab district. We’re trying to recruit locally. We are partnered and embedded with them now in a way that has never been done before.
What I mean by that is, over the last several years, the force that was actually operating within the city consisted of about 200 MPs [military police]. And we’re talking about a city of 800,000 people, with 17 different police substations and over a thousand police, in the middle of fighting a very difficult insurgency. And now I have an entire MP battalion and an entire infantry battalion as well that I’m falling in on the MPs with. And they are actually living in the police substation and in the police headquarters and operating with these police every day. So they’re getting partnered all the way down to the individual soldier level with a new Afghan national policeman, for example.
And it’s that kind of partnership and care and training that I think has resulted in a hell of a lot more ANPs staying in the force than was happening over the last several years, in particular.
We are seeing an increase in the quality.
Much of that has to do with the fact that people are coming off of the fence. They see that we’re winning, and they see that the Taliban are losing here. And now they’re voting. And I had one of the power brokers recently in the city remark to me that, you know, a year ago I couldn’t get anybody to be the chief of police in the city, and now I’ve got guys coming and begging me to be a checkpoint commander. So that’s an indicator of kind of the way things are going. People are starting to really vote through joining up, and it’s obviously something that we want to continue to see.
COL. LAPAN: Kevin.
Q: Hi. This is Kevin Baron from Stars and Stripes. I wonder if you could talk about -- and forgive me; I came in late -- but if you could talk about the efforts to train the local Afghan village police in your region. Is that -- how’s that going? At what level? We seem to not hear anything about that back here.
COL. MARTINDALE: Okay. That’s pretty significant for us.
As you know, Arghandab -- the Arghandab River Valley is a very rural place. It over time has been dominated by one specific tribe, the Alikozai tribe, and several years ago that tribe fractured, and it’s now being brought back together really at a number of different levels, starting with the president, so that they can regain control of security within that valley. That’s been a Taliban stronghold, and they were relying on the fractured nature of that tribe to be able to control the valley over the last several years.
The district policeman -- now the chief of district police with the Arghandab is an Alikozai tribesman, and he’s very well respected.
Now, within the province, the new provincial chief of police -- his name is Khan Mohammad -- is a revered Alikozai tribesman, and is probably the de facto tribal leader for that tribe. So we are working the tribal dynamic now, as well as the ANSF line of operation, to gain control of that valley.
What that means now is that I have someone who can go into the local villages who’s from the area, and who can recruit not only ANP, but he can recruit local police. And Niaz Mohammad, the district chief of police, is doing that right in the center of Arghandab Valley, in probably the most important set of villages that we have. The Taliban were able to deny us those villages up until about three months ago. So they own the interior of Arghandab and they pushed us out on the exterior line. And that area is like jungle in the summertime, and they prevented us from controlling it through multiple belts of IEDs and mine fields.
That’s all cleared now. And now we’re going to rely on Afghan Local Police, supported by Afghan National Police -- really, in support of Afghan National Police and the district chief of police, to bring a local solution to the village level, because that is where the Taliban will try to come back in in the spring. And they’ll try to influence through terror in some of the smaller villages, so that they can then bring in foreign forces or local Taliban forces to again try to dominate from that valley and influence the city.
So for us, the ANP is our main effort, but the Afghan local police effort is very significant. And I’ve got Special Forces teams working in my AO [area of operations] in support of me, to assist us with that effort.
Q: Thank you. For you understanding, why are Special Forces teams doing that training with what seems like, I guess, you know, rudimentary-level, you know, policing as local village units? It seems -- and again -- to me it seems like a mismatch, but I’m an outsider. What’s your explanation?
COL. MARTINDALE: The only part of that question I really got was why are Special Forces teams doing that training. I’ll answer that, and then you can follow up if you want. But why -- number one, that’s part of -- that is their mission over here. And that is to establish village-stability operations. They establish a village-stability platform, and that’s based on the Special Forces ODAs [Operational Detachments Alpha], or the A-teams if you want to call it that. And they are uniquely situated to be able to go into a village, establish rapport through the local village leadership, and then they also have some money streams that they can take advantage of to assist in the payment. They can assist with the training, and then they assist with transitioning the ALP over to ANP for us.
So it really is -- it’s not as if that’s -- they’re the only ones doing this. They are assisting us in doing it. And I do have some conventional platoons that are out doing the same thing within Arghandab Valley. But we’re using the SF as the subject-matter experts for foreign internal defense to be able to, you know, get our NCOs the knowledge and our junior officers the knowledge to widen this out throughout the valley.
So we’re seeding our force with their knowledge, I guess would be a good way of putting it.
COL. LAPAN: Viola.
Q: Colonel, Viola Gienger from Bloomberg News. I don’t know if you touched on this earlier, but what do you see as the role of Pakistan safe havens in your particular area? What kind of connection are you seeing? How much of a problem does that pose for you?
COL. MARTINDALE: It is clearly a problem for us. We do know that the leadership for the Taliban that are operating within my area are directed from leadership that are in Pakistan. We know that some of the leaders now have gone back and they have sanctuary there. And we do track them through time, and have since we’ve been here, going back and forth. And of course we target them as they come into our areas.
So it’s a problem. The solution to that problem really is not for me to answer. I would like a solution. It would certainly help with the efforts here. But, you know, it’s -- it is what it is. There are -- sanctuary there, and we have international-level dynamics that probably prevent us from going in and eliminating that sanctuary at this time.
Q: Thank you.
COL. LAPAN: All right, Jeff, well, you’ve exhausted them. We’re finished with questions on this end. So I’ll send it back to you for any closing remarks you’d like to make.
COL. MARTINDALE: Okay. I’d just like to thank you for taking the time this morning to meet with me and address the Raider Brigade’s commitment to the mission here in Afghanistan.
I’d like to wish you Happy Holidays and best wishes for the New Year from Kandahar City. And thank you.