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COL. DAVID LAPAN (deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations): Good morning, everyone. I'd like to welcome back to the Pentagon Briefing Room someone who's no stranger here: Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, who is commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, also known as IJC. He is also -- serves as deputy commander of United States Forces - Afghanistan.
General Rodriguez assumed his duties in June of 2009, and he subsequently became the first commander of the IJC in October of 2009. Previous to that, General Rodriguez was the commander of Regional Command East for 15 months, and from January 2007 to April 2008. So he has spent 34 of the last 48 months in Afghanistan.
The general most recently spoke with us last summer via satellite from Kabul, and we're grateful that he has made time to update us today here in person on the situation in Afghanistan.
And with that, sir, I'll turn things over to you.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Thank you. Well, it's great to be back here in the Pentagon Briefing Room. And those of you who know me know there's a little tongue in cheek there.
But thank you for your interest in Afghanistan.
This morning I will tell you about where we've come from over the last 18 months and give you a sense of where we're headed.
Eighteen months ago, we wrote the first country-wide operational- level comprehensive campaign plan that included our Afghan partners. That combined team of both ISAF as well as the three security ministries -- the minister of interior, the minister of defense, and the national director of security -- all put that plan together.
Now one of the important concepts was to concentrate and synchronize our efforts, where it most -- where it was most important: population centers, commerce routes and areas of economic potential. That's the shaded area on the map in front of you.
Now the Afghans, they were the ones who told us and guided us to those key areas, based on their knowledge of the human and the physical terrain of Afghanistan.
The process started a yearlong effort to get everybody on the same sheet of music, synchronizing efforts in time and space.
Our first foray using this strategy was down in the central Helmand River Valley, a coordinated civil-military effort on both the international community and the Afghan partners. That's number one on your map.
While there were almost immediate security effects through the partnered operations that we conducted there, the Afghans, supported by the international community, of course, had a tougher time building government capacity in the wake of the security gains.
But the partnered team learned some significant lessons during those operations that they were able to apply in the summer and fall of 2010 in Kandahar City and its environs. And that's number two on your map.
Several of these lessons included the need for prior planning to prepare government activities in advance. We all had to improve the complementary effects of the conventional and special operations forces. The minister of interior learned some lessons on recruiting and training police forces, which were much more effective in the follow-on operations. And we all learned that building local political bodies that represent the people is an iterative process. And if more and more people are mobilized, the representative councils become more representative and more effective.
So now in Arghandab -- a district just outside Kandahar City that you know has been a tough place since the first time we really went in there and stayed, beginning in July 2009, was a Taliban stronghold, and people could not move around without fear. In that 18-month period, the district governor was killed, the district police chief was maimed, and there were no government officials or police present any place with -- but the district center, which some of the Afghans described as a combat outpost.
I was there two weeks ago, and there were 16 government employees working with a new district governor. There's a new police chief who has a police force that's out and about. And the people on a Friday afternoon, Afghan family time, were out picnicking in the Arghandab River Valley -- a significant change from 18 months ago.
Now throughout this time, in other regions of the country, in Kabul City, Kabul province, as well as the east, the north and the west, we made smaller but steady gains.
In Kabul City, number three on your map, there were very few spectacular attacks in 2010. In fact we went almost seven months without one, which is the longest on record in the last several years.
There were also several important high-visibility events, like the Kabul conference and the peace jirga, that were conducted without incident, with the Afghan national security forces in the lead.
We started to expand the Kabul security zone both east and south; in the east, saw gains in discrete areas, in Jalalabad, out in Nangarhar, which is at number four on your map, as well as pockets in Logar and Wardak, just south of Kabul City.
The east, of course, as you know, has difficult, complex and physical terrain, and there's much work to be done there.
Up in the north, we focused on Baghlan.
And what's important in that area is the intersection of two of the main commerce routes. So we expanded the security around that intersection and increased the freedom of movement in that area in the north. And if you look at number six, going around counter-clockwise on your map, that's very important, because that's the last place that the Ring Road has to be completed -- of course, an important commerce route to connect the west and the north. And we made security gains in both Baghdis and Faryab.
Herat, number seven on your map, is a bustling city, largely free from violent incidents and ready to transition to Afghan lead very soon. In general, last year, saw the implementation of a plan that demanded focus and synchronization. And we all saw that where we do that, we make steady progress.
Our immediate focus right now is to accelerate certain effects throughout the wintertime, the time that traditionally sees less violence, when the enemy refits, rearms, re-trains and prepares for the upcoming spring and summer operations. And while this is going on, we're conducting shaping operations to make the environment of the enemy much more inhospitable than it was last year. And I can tell you more about that later if you'd like.
Now, we just finished a review and update of that plan that we began last year. And there is now expanded participation in those planning efforts. So the U.S. and U.K. embassies, other civilian players; as well as, very, very, importantly, the Afghan ministries -- civilian ministries of the independent director of local governance and the minister of rural rehabilitation and development also participated in that plan -- altogether helping to bring better coordinated effects to a common plan.
So we're going to stick with the current approach. We're going to continue to expand the security areas outward from the central Helmand River Valley and Kandahar City and its environs, connect these two secure areas and also connect them out to Weesh-Chaman, which is just southeast of Kandahar City, an important commerce route from the central Helmand River Valley out to Pakistan. We'll also continue to expand the Kabul security zone and continue the slow but steady progress in the north and west; important this year, of course, to build the durability and the sustainability of the Afghan National Security Forces.
And as you know, we put a tremendous effort last year to get the infantry forces fielded to increase the number of boots on the ground for the Afghan security forces. And this year NTM-A [NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan] will focus on logistics, the other enablers, the engineers, to support the long-term sustainability of the Afghan army.
There are tremendous efforts being made in both literacy as well as leadership training; again all important things to sustain the Afghan army in the future and add to -- add quality to the quantity that we produced last year, which was 70,000 new Afghan National Security Forces.
And as you know, we focused most of our attention on the army, and we'll continue the army moving forward, but of course, the police needs more emphasis and we're adjusting our emphasis to support those efforts now.
We'll continue to support the building of the local governance that serves the people. And again, I'm confident that we have the right approach; that where we focus our efforts together, we see progress; and that we're helping to set the conditions for the people to participate more fully in building a better future for themselves.
Our challenge is to help the Afghans, as they increasingly take the lead, make this progress durable.
Now there's still a lot of work to be done, but I'm confident, as are my Afghan partners and the troops in the field, that it's worth doing. And together we can continue to build on the progress we've made this year. Now I'll take your questions.
Q: General, there are sort of two key areas where you'll need success, one obviously being along the Pakistan border from the Pakistanis, and two, and as you mentioned, the training up of the Afghan security forces. Can you talk a little bit about what progress you're making in working with the Pakistanis to get this to move a little more aggressively there? And have you decided how many more Afghan security forces you're going to need as you move toward this transition? And have you convinced other countries to help contribute trainers?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Okay, thank you. First, on the Pak military coordination, we continue to grow our relationships with the Pak military. We conduct combined planning with both the Pakistan military, the Afghan National Security Forces and ourselves. We have increased that planning effort over the year. And right now we're conducting planning conferences between the three partners on the complementary operations that will occur over the next six months. So we continue to be optimistic that that will move in the right direction. And the coordination between both the Afghans and the Pak military has continued to increase over the last year.
On the Afghan National Security Forces, there's a -- that's going through the decision process right now. And General Petraeus and the ISAF leadership is working hard to get that decision made. And we'll see how it turns out.
Q: You mean -- when you talked about the Pakistani effort, do you -- are you talking about joint operations between the U.S., Afghans -- or the Pakistanis, both on the Afghan side of the border and on the Pakistani side of the border?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes. What I meant to say, complementary operations. Right now, for example, there's significant operations going on in Pakistan in the Mohmand and Bajaur areas up in the north. And right now, we have complementary operations going on our side of the border so that, again, what we're able to do is squeeze them and take advantage of those operations. And we're planning them all the way up and down the whole border of Afghanistan for the next year.
Q: I have a follow-up on that, General.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes.
Q: If the Pakistanis do not move decisively into North Waziristan, taking on Haqqani and other militants in that area, can the -- will you be able to deliver -- how much of a setback to your efforts on the Afghan side of the border will that be in the springtime? How important is it for Pakistanis, not just to continue in Bajaur where they are, but move into North Waziristan?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, again, all that has a positive impact on what we're trying to do. And it also leads to the durability of what we have to build on the Afghan side of the border. So we're working together for them to continue the operations, especially against those that threaten the Pakistani state. And together, we think that will move in the right direction.
Q: Can you win without them? If they don't do any more than they're doing now, can you be successful in Afghanistan?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: I think we can, but again, that gets back to the durability that you have to build in the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government. But I think that's doable if it doesn't continue, you know, if it doesn't get significantly worse.
Q: General, there was a report in the British press this week about how Taliban guys in Sangin specifically were going after their own kind of rank and file, as well as village leaders there, because they were -- keep edging toward negotiating or dealing with ISAF, with the NATO forces.
Is that something you've seen elsewhere? And does it complicate the efforts to kind of wind up the American presence if the Taliban will neutralize its own elements that are willing to deal with United States and ISAF?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, that's been their response in just about every case. Again, the things that threaten them are good security forces and good government. And where that's happened, their response is to go after those leaders to prevent that from happening. That has been the tendency every place that we've gone, and it will continue to be, because, again, that's the biggest threat to their control of the people.
Q: They're killing their own?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: They're killing their own. Again, now, "their own," you've got to understand that in that insurgency, there's a hierarchy of the most committed to the least committed. And they have been going after the people who were part of their efforts before but were on a lower scale who were trying to turn over and support their government.
Q: Do you have any evidence -- any more information at this early point of whether the Taliban will be able to reconstitute themselves for this spring? That's always been the big question. That's my first question.
Second one is, I'm sorry to ask this, what exactly is Operation Hope again or Omid?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: That's the whole name of the plan that the Afghans put together.
Q: For -- which is what we see in front of us? This is --
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Those are the key areas that the Afghan leadership believes they need to control to build stability in their country.
Q: This is not US -- ISAF?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: It's combined, both Afghans and ISAF.
Q: Just like the entire war, right?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes. (Pause.) It's an entire effort here.
Q: It’s the whole war, the Afghan war is Operation Omid.
Q: OK, got it. So my first question about the reconstituting of the Taliban?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: That's one of the things that we continue to work with the Pakistani military to decrease the regenerative capability that's over there.
Now, there are several things that are in that equation. And what operationally we're trying to do is make the environment less hospitable than it was last year. So right now, again, we're focusing on continuing the pressure on the leaders inside Afghanistan. We are going after the support bases that have been there, you know, for many years. And just an example of how effective that's been, in the last 12 weeks we have discovered, cleared 1,250 cache sites, okay?
Now, last year in that same time period, the number was 163. Now, those are the things that we're trying to set the conditions in Afghanistan to make it much less hospitable than it was last year. We're also, of course, working on the Afghan National Security Forces leadership and supporting the Afghan government and their police outreach to the public to strengthen the public's stand against the enemy.
Q: So, do you know any more now than you knew in November?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: About the -- the regenerative capability? No, we don't. No.
Q: It’s still an unknown.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes. And I think this year also because of the different conditions that they're going to come back with a different type of strategy, the enemy is, which I believe is going to be focused on the leadership much more than it ever has, the political leadership, the people who are supporting the government and the government leaders.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes.
Q: I'm sorry. Could you expand on that a little bit? When you say go after the -- are you talking about assassination hit teams?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes. Assassination hit teams, IEDs, indirect things. They will not be as direct in their confrontations as they were last year, I believe.
Q: And the 1,500 Marines that were put in there just recently --
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes.
Q: -- as I understand, the time frame for them to be there is about 90 days; is that correct?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes.
Q: Does that even extend into the springtime offense? Are they going to be brought out before -- and why were they put in there in the first place?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: They were put in there in the first place to, again, seize on an opportunity to quickly expand the security areas into the upper Geresk River Valley. And again, that is right on the edge of the central Helmand River Valley. And as the Afghan security forces continue to get built -- and remember, when we went into the central Helmand River Valley last year, there were five of us to every one Afghan National Security Force; now there's one to one in that area. So what we're trying to do is get that expanded out as quickly as we can, build the durability there to withstand the challenges that will come in the summer and then, you know, expand the security areas for the people.
Q: So those 1,500 Marines aren't intended to stay there --
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: No.
Q: -- through the spring offensive?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: No, they're not.
Q: Oh, okay.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: No.
Q: Where is the upper Geresk River Valley?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: The upper Geresk River Valley is right north of the central Helmand River Valley, ma'am.
Q: Oh, so it's up near Sangin?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: It's between Sangin and Route 1 and the northern part of the central Helmand River Valley, ma'am.
Q: The new tactics which you are expecting the Taliban to adopt next year, are you -- are you basing that on firm evidence, or an assumption that that's the way they'll go? And how will you be able to protect the leadership that are the ones that you think they will try and target?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, again, that has been their response in the local areas each time we've seen it over the past year, so that's what we think they're going to do this year. Now, again, how we protect against that is the combination of things that we're doing.
We're going to continue to pressure on the leadership. We're going to continue to build the capability of the Afghan National Security Forces, and again, work to mobilize the people as fast and effectively as the Afghans can to make all that part of the solution to protect the leaders.
Q: Last week, General, Arnold Fields testified before the Commission on Wartime Contracting and he laid out very stern warnings, very stark warning that the United States' effort to build infrastructure for the growing Afghan security forces is lagging. It's lagging at a pace that you could have many soldiers out there with no places to stay, basically.
What's your perception there? Is there a real problem in terms of a long-range construction program?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: I have not seen that out in the field yet, but that question would really be for General Caldwell who would know the precise information on that. I do not, but I'm just telling you from my perspective, I have not seen that be a problem in the field yet.
Q: North Waziristan, could you be -- sharpen your question -- your answer? My impression from hearing you is that Pakistan does not need to go into North Waziristan to ensure U.S. success in RC East if, in fact, you grow Afghan security forces at the pace you're going and if things don't get significantly worse.
Is that inaccurate?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah. And again, we need them to do more. We're going to encourage them to do more because that makes it easier on what we're doing. But I think it's still doable without them, you know, decreasing what they've been doing the past year, which is significant, again. Excuse me?
Q: (off mic).
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah. We need them to continue to do what they've been doing, and they've been doing counterinsurgency operations in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] for the last year, and it's been very, very effective, whether they be in Swat or whether they be in Mohmand, Bajaur or Kurram agencies. And we need them to continue to do that and we're working with them so that they work that piece.
Q: But it's not militarily significant if they don't go into Waziristan, it's not going to --
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, again, it's about the whole thing. If they go into every place but North Waziristan, that would be significant and would be really helpful to us, even if they didn't go into North Waziristan.
Q: I hear you, but --
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Okay.
Q: -- but you know, the thrust of the debate in Washington is that Pakistan needs to go to North Waziristan. If I hear you accurately, that's not -- it's not necessary militarily for the United States to win in --
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: That's not a mission stopper in my mind. And again, everybody, whether it be the Pakistani leadership, the U.S. leadership or the international leadership, is all focused on that issue now about Pakistan and encouraging them to do more and we are, too.
Q: General, two things. One, do you have a sense of what the -- what the size of the withdrawal that you could approve for July will be? Or is that all tied up in what happens in the spring?
And secondly, in past years, pre-surge, pre-new strategy, progress in Afghanistan was very temporary, like walking on sand.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes.
Q: Is there anything that gives you any level of confidence that the progress you're describing will be more lasting?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: First of all, we think it's still too early to tell about what will happen in July 2011 about the size and the pace of the withdrawal. And again, we'll have to see how the enemy comes at the Afghans this year. And we'll again make those decisions as we get closer.
On the -- on the second part, as you know, in many places before we would clear places and then we would leave. So that's part of the difference and why this has an opportunity to have a more lasting effect. The other important part is that, again, the Afghan National Security Forces are increasing significantly in the important places. So rather than, you know, again the one to five that we were in the Central Helmand River Valley, we are now one to one there, and we're actually one to 1.2 in Kandahar City, in its environs.
So there's more Afghan security forces out there to help with the hold.
The other important part is, in the last 18 months there's been a significant effort to train civil servants by USAID and the U.S. embassy. So rather than have just one or two people in the district government trying to do something, they now have, you know, 10, 15, in some cases more, to try to build that stability. And that's part of the situation that I talked about being an iterative process. Because as the security improves, as their confidence grows, then more of them will come out to serve. And that's what has to occur, over time, to build the momentum so that they can maintain the hold to properly build this long-term stability that they desire.
Q: If I could just follow up on the first part about the withdrawal, I mean, broadly speaking, are you expecting a relatively small sort of symbolic withdrawal of a few hundred or a couple thousand, or something really more significant in the ten [thousand], 15[,000], 20,000 range?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: We'll -- again, we'll see how that comes out. We are not at that point in making those decisions or recommendations yet. We will in the next two to three months.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes.
Q: On the regenerative issue about the Taliban, one of the key aspects of the U.S. strategy has been reintegration of Taliban and tribes.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes. Yes.
Q: And yet, last time I checked, that has been going extremely slowly. The Afghans have gotten their procedures in place, but really haven't moved beyond reintegrating more than a thousand or so Afghan -- sorry, insurgents.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes.
Q: Can you achieve what you want to achieve next year without a significant expansion of reintegration -- in other words, thousands of enemy fighters taken off the battlefield?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, and the a thousand that we're at right now is about -- is about right. Now, you've got to understand that that program has really just started kicking off. And it has got to earn the trust and confidence of the people. So those thousand have to be treated well, and the program has to be run effectively. But as that grows, we hope that that will accelerate.
Now, the other thing that's happening out there that we don't have a great feel for because it's hard to measure is what we call "silent reintegration." And some of that is happening alongside the reintegration program, the formal program that has about a thousand in it right now.
So we need to have reintegration. And again, that is part of what we're doing with the encouragement to the Afghans to outreach to the local communities to, again, provide them the opportunity. And as those representative councils get built and as the government gets built and the security forces, more and more of them, again, are increasing that confidence in a better future for themselves.
Q: Well, but honestly, I mean, you say it's just kicking off, but, I mean, hasn't it been around now and under discussion now for -- I mean, certainly more than a year? And it seems the Afghan government, you know, can never really get their act together and move forward with actually offering incentives to insurgents to come over to their side.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes.
Q: Why is it taking so long? And again, if they don't get it moving at a more robust way, can you achieve your goals for next year -- for this year? Sorry.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes. It has taken about a year -- and again, they've had a program for several years that nobody had any confidence in. So now you have to overcome that lack of confidence in the past. And now there are reintegration councils built throughout the country. The High Peace Council has started traveling out to the country to do that, all to inspire more confidence in the people. And the resources, both the international and the U.S. funds, are starting to flow through that process.
But I don't think it's unreasonable that it's taken a year to actually do that for the Afghans as all the other things combined are happening. And, again, we do need that. We want that. The Afghans want it. And I think it's moving forward, but we have to obviously keep the momentum and pick up the momentum over time to more effectively do what we want to do.
Q: On the East, you talked about more work to be done in a difficult situation. Can you give us an idea of how you see that evolving in the coming months and the security situation and what challenges you face?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes, in the -- as you look in Regional Command East, you have the major density population that heads right out of Kabul over to Jalalabad and out to Torkham Gate, a very, very important commerce route. And that has continued to make progress in discrete areas like I mentioned earlier.
Also important, from Kabul city out and down the south, which is Route 1, which you know is important down through Wardak, Logar and Ghazni. And then the other piece that's important is out into the Khost Bowl, which is another population density area. They're also working hard up in the Kunar River Valley, okay, that comes right down into Jalalabad. That's an important place.
Q: A couple of questions about the Afghan security forces. Recently, Secretary -- excuse me -- Senator Carl Levin said he would like to see an even larger Afghan National Army than what's planned for in hopes that that would speed up the return of U.S. troops. At roughly the same time, a GAO study came out and said that the current number of trainers that are in Afghanistan to train Afghan security forces is not enough. And that's creating questions as to whether or not once we leave, they will still be able to continue the mission of protecting that country.
What are your reactions to those two? First, Senator Levin's idea of a larger army, and second, the GAO's criticism of the current training for the current goals?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, I think that on the second part, the training has increased in effectiveness and it's very clear. So when we get the units out of the training base, they're much better prepared than they ever have been in the past.
We will also, of course, continue to, you know, press to get more trainers to do that more effectively. But the other phenomenon that's occurring at the same time is there are now more Afghan trainers, and they're going through in NTM-A and CSTC-A [Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan] the same transition process.
So we're also pressing the Afghans to get more trainers, and the combined effort is, again, the effects you can see on the ground because I'm the one who received, you know, the product of that training base. And that has continued to improve.
Q: Is it crunch time -- sorry -- on the training in terms of the lack of trainers, the lack of NATO trainers and so on? Are you hitting a period where you're going to have to ask for U.S. trainers if you can't fill these gaps?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, we have done that in the past, and again, that's really a General Caldwell question. I'm just telling you of the effects of what I see out in the field, they've continued to improve. Again, on the size of the army, they're going through that decision process right now on the size of the army and the police and everybody has, you know, made their recommendations and we'll see how it comes out.
Q: General, again, looking forward to July and your decision- making process regarding any kind of drawdown, can you elaborate a little bit on what factors will play into that decision-making process? Levels of violence, security forces?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: You know, the things that are, again, the measures of effectiveness and the metrics that we've been using all along, you've got the effectiveness of the Afghan National Security Forces.
And the real question there is, can they do it with less of us? I mean, in reality, you know, that really gets down to the question. Can they provide that security for the Afghan people so that they can go about their daily business? And is there sufficient governance out there that doesn't negatively impact on security? So those are the things that we'll be looking at.
Now, you've got to understand. This is already occurring in different places, okay? So when you look at Now Zad, which is down in the Helmand province, you know, a year ago there were two Marine battalions there, okay? Now there's a company-plus. And the Afghan National Security Forces have been built sufficiently that the combination of a Marine company, plus a few people and plus a few enablers, the Afghan army and the Afghan police can provide the same level of security that, again, just over a year ago, took two battalions.
In the central Helmand River Valley the same thing is occurring. So there are less of us in areas where we've improved security; there's -- we're less density. And they're spreading out, which is, again, you know, how it's got to happen throughout the country as we move forward here.
Q: So could you tell me, there's a lot of talk about partnership and expanding governance. But in planning with your Afghan counterparts, do they have to date a plan to establish an integrated district to provincial to national strategy and command structure, and how is that progressing?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, again, on the partnership, that goes all the way up and down from the strategic level all the way down to the tactical level. And that has done many things for us. Of course, the Afghan team brings the local understanding to us, and then we bring some capabilities that they don't have yet that they're developing that will take some time to build.
So it's the combination and the strength of the team together that is increasing the effectiveness of our operations.
Now, the partnership pieces that we talked about earlier, we always focused just on the army, a little bit less on the police. But really, what's important over time is that the Afghans build partnerships between their government, their security forces and the people. So we're supporting those efforts every which way we can.
Now, as far as the connection between the district and the province and the national, that has to be there to, again, build the stability that's required. And that is occurring. Again, we'd love it to go faster, but there's linkages between the district and the provinces, and the province and the national in many places.
Q: You said that Herat is as good as ready for transition very soon -- (off mic).
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes.
Q: I think I'm right in saying that there are something like 1,200 American troops, in that sort of area, plus Spanish and others. Would they be at the top of the list, do you think, for the potential withdrawal?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, there are several places that are like that. And again, right now, the Afghan government is building its processes to initiate the transition process. So it's going to be another month or two until they get complete, until all that gets worked out so that we can officially start moving along the transition process.
Also, of course, where those soldiers are, there's a couple of options. One, of course, is reinvestment in different places. That's one of the alternatives to solve part of the training thing; so if we can move people out of the operational force and over to the training force. So there's a lot of options on how that would operate, and we'll just have to see how that comes out in the future.
Q: Well, the American troops there would just be redeployed somewhere else, either training or somewhere else?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah. Again, it's either reinvestment, redeploy and all that. And those decisions will get made based on the conditions on the ground.
Q: Just to follow up on the sort of reinvestment idea, in -- as you look forward, is it possible that when you do your drawdown in July, that you will do the draw -- the troops that come -- that come out could be headquarters or support troops, and that you would maintain your same level of sort of combat and training power? Is that possible?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, as you look, you know, long-range, the things that require a longer time to develop are the command and control that the headquarters provides, the integration of a significant level of intelligence, access to joint effects, air being the most important one, but some artillery, and then logistics and medevac. So those things take longer time to build than an infantry company.
So as we look over time, you know, that's the ones that will be there longer, relative to all the combat troops. Okay?
MODERATOR: So one or two more.
Q: Sir, we saw some reports at the beginning of the year that Iran was stopping shipment of fuel across its border into Afghanistan, which doesn't affect -- your soldiers, your vehicles, your aircraft have their own supplies and can operate as they will. But how does that dynamic continue to affect the way Afghan forces can work and the way kind of the population can go about their business in the areas that you're trying to protect?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, the -- we did not see a huge negative impact on security from that, but it did make it harder on the people out there in the west to go about their daily activities. And the Afghan government and the Iranian government are working hard to solve those issues, and there has been a decrease in the limiting of that fuel moving forward here, especially it's tough, of course, in the wintertime.
Q: General, can I just follow up on the -- on your comments about the east?
You said -- you talked about Pakistan not having to go into North Waziristan in order for the military to have success.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: It wasn't going to be mission failure, yes.
Q: But that said, doesn't the U.S. then have to at least either continue or increase its efforts there to avoid North Waziristan from becoming a pretty solid safe haven?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes, absolutely. Again, it's not that we don't want them to do any of those things.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: And the -- all the international community is focused on that because they know that we need, you know, more support from Pakistan to make this easier. And again, it's all linked. So yeah, there has to be some plan, some way and some effect to decrease the impacts of that safe haven.
Q: And, I mean, the U.S. obviously has taken some action in there in various ways. Would the U.S. have to increase that in order to make sure that the militants just don't sort of --
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: It really depends, again, on how -- what they do. If it continues to get worse, that's a different situation.
Q: Can I just ask you -- going back to the spring offensive and what we're going to see in the spring, can you just give us a little bit more of an idea of what it's going to look like? Because every year, it seems around this time we get -- we have a general who stands up and says we're going to have a big offensive and -- what are we going to see this year? There are more U.S. troops there than there have been ever. Do you expect there to be a lot of -- more of an offensive, more of a defensive on the U.S. part?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Well, we'll continue to stay offensive the whole time. And again, there's 110,000 more troops there this year than there was last year, 70,000 of them being Afghans, okay. So again, the -- what we need to do is support the Afghans as they expand that public outreach, as they expand the security areas and as they prepare, you know, for the increase in violence that's going to occur.
So that's what's changed over time with the caches I just talked about, 1,250 in a 12-week period.
And now that occurred for several reasons. One of course is the high operational tempo that we continue to execute throughout the time, the increase in Afghan National Security Forces that are out at places, in tough places, that the Taliban used to own that are pursuing the support bases to limit them. It's also, and one of the most important parts is, the Afghan people are helping to provide significantly more tips because they see Afghan security forces out among them more than they ever had because of the increase in the number.
Q: Could I follow up on your phrase "increase in violence?" Do you anticipate just the normal seasonal increase in violence? Or do you expect an increase in violence over the violence we saw last year, which was the deadliest year for American service members? And given the -- this is a complicated question. And given the change you see in the Taliban tactics, would you expect an even larger or a fewer number of American casualties this coming year?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: I think that's hard to determine at this point, Jim. Again, we'll have to see what they do. But I think they'll come back again with a little bit different plan, which will be focused on the Afghan leadership and the Afghan people who are supporting moving forward in a peace process.
Q: So is the increase in violence the usual seasonal increase?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes, the usual seasonal increase. Yes.
Q: So you don't expect a higher level of violence than you saw -- (off mic) --
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Just the usual seasonal increase.
Q: Despite the fact that there are more troops there, you still don’t expect more -- I mean, there will be presumably more kinetic action.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Okay. That occurs just naturally. Again, with 70,000 more troops -- that's Afghan forces, 110,000 total -- that are out in places that the Afghan -- that the enemy used to own. In Zhari and Panjway they owned that.
It's the same in Marjah. Okay? Now, they're going to continue to fight back, but guessing the violence level is just not possible at this point in time.
Q: And again, you're -- the Taliban change in tactics that you predict --
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes.
Q: -- indicates that they will concentrate more on soft targets. Does that mean that the Taliban is weaker going into this spring offensive than they were a year ago, do you think?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: You know, again, we'll have to see that. That's a hard question. What I'm telling you is that we have reduced the support bases inside Afghanistan, that we'll continue to keep the pressure up on their leadership, all designed to reduce the effectiveness of the insurgency. How that will occur and how well that will be, we'll have to see how effective both us and the Afghans are doing that. But that's what we're trying to do with the environment that they'll see differently in the spring.
Q: Is the Taliban on the ropes yet?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: No, the Taliban's not on the ropes yet.
Q: Thank you.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Okay? Thank you.