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DOD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Jones via Teleconference from Afghanistan

Presenters: Director, Force Reintegration Cell, International Security Assistance Force Headquarters
May 19, 2011

                 CAPT. DARRYN JAMES (Director, Defense Press Operations): Good morning here, and good evening in Afghanistan. I'd like to welcome to the Pentagon Briefing Room for the first time British Army Major General Phil Jones, director of the Force Reintegration Cell at International Security Assistance Force headquarters.  

                General Jones assumed his current assignment in May of last year, and he's on an 18-month tour.  This is his fourth tour in Afghanistan. Past tours include service as an infantry battalion commander in Kabul in 2002, as a director of plans for Combined Joint Task Force 180 in 2003, and as the military adviser to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan in 2006-2007.  

                The general joins us today from ISAF headquarters in Kabul to provide us an update on the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program.  He'll be making some opening comments, and then we'll turn it over for your questions.  

                And with that, General, I'll turn it over to you. 

                GEN. JONES:  Well, thank you very much, indeed.  

                Ladies and gentlemen, I'm delighted to be able to speak to you and take your questions this evening -- or this morning, Washington time. 

                As Darryn said, I plan to make remarks for literally about three or four minutes and then back to you for questions.  

                So reintegration.  About a week ago, I was up in Baghdis province up in the northwest of Afghanistan.  Baghdis is a poor and pretty distant province with plenty of huge problems such as real challenges with water, health, education and so on.  It's also had a growing insurgency problem over the past three or four years.  Six months ago, for example, the span of government control and influence was probably just a few square kilometers around the capital.  

                Then through a combination of great low-level security work, including the whole range of counterinsurgency -- including, of course, the removal of some key insurgent leaders through incredibly precise kill-capture raids -- the security bubble began to expand quite rapidly.  This gave the highly experienced and very able governor, who I know quite well, the platform that he needed to reach out to alienated communities.  

                On the back of those security gains and on the back of some really excellent political outreach by the governor, we now have something like 400 armed men who have reintegrated over the past four months or so.  And frankly, the security situation in Baghdis has changed out of all recognition.  

                Problems still remain -- absolutely no doubt.  But there've been some really big steps forward. 

                So we sat there in Baghdis last week with about 40 of these ex- insurgent commanders to discuss the mutual challenges of peace.  Four months ago, we'd have been fighting.  Frankly, those are powerful moments out here.  

                A couple of days ago, about 83 former members of the Taliban reintegrated in Laghman province in the east.  And over the past two days, we've had groups from Helmand in the south, Takhar in the north, and some other small groups from Baghdis in the west join the program.  

                And those sort of events are beginning to happen all over Afghanistan.  So far, we've got about 1,740 former fighters who have formally joined the reintegration process.  On top of this, the High Peace Council has at least another 40 to 45 groups in negotiation across the country and maybe as much as another 2,000 fighters.  And much of this activity has emerged literally in the past three months or so. 

                So the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program, or APRP, is an Afghan civil peace process that's been in action for only about 10 months.  The strategy document, about 30 pages, was signed off last July by presidential decree following the convening of a National Consultative Peace Jirga in Kabul last June.  

                APRP was created with one goal in mind, of course.  And that is to bring peace to Afghanistan by bringing insurgents and their communities down the route out of the fight, getting fighters to return to their communities with their honor and dignity intact and to work together to try and help rebuild Afghanistan.  

                APRP itself in the programmatic sense provides support to armed groups and their communities who wish to reintegrate, which is the area in which we in ISAF focus most.  It begins with outreach, confidence building; progresses through demobilization of armed groups, most of whom simply return their -- to their communities; and then moves into a period of consolidation of peace and community recovery.  Its prime focus is on the communities and grievance resolution, and not just the armed groups themselves. 

                At its highest level, the High Peace Council works national and international politics and guides the strategy for peace.  At its lowest level, the peace process supports fighters and their communities to rejoin Afghanistan with honor and with dignity, providing that they renounce violence, sever ties with terrorist groups and live under the constitution. 

                As I said, this process is only 10 months old.  It is nascent. It does face, of course, many challenges of resource and program mobilization here in Afghanistan.  It is very firmly an Afghan process, which we in ISAF have committed to support.  It is beginning to gain traction across the country with small reintegration events now happening in 15 provinces today and emerging in about another five or six provinces across the country.  

                This is, at its heart, all about fighters leaving the fight and beginning to rebuild community cohesion and stability from the grass roots upwards.  

                That's probably enough from me to get us started, so back to you, Darryn.  

                CAPT. JAMES:  Thank you, General.  We'll go ahead and start with Bob.  

                Q:  Good morning, General.  Bob Burns from Associated Press.  

                If I heard you correctly, you said there are 1,740 insurgents in the reintegration process at the moment.  That seems on its face like a fairly small number.  Can you say what's keeping you from speeding it up, keeping the Afghans from speeding it up?  

                GEN. JONES:  Well, as the wonderful Afghan elders that you meet every day out here will tell you, after 20 years of war and 10 years of insurgency, Afghans will be cautious about committing with their futures.  These are life-changing decisions that people are making. And it is all built on trust and confidence and will only move at the speed of trust and confidence.  

                So I think as we start to see that security gains are being made over the autumn period, solidifying, people get a sense that they are becoming irreversible, we'll start to see more and more of these groups come.    

                I mean, the security gains have two effects; firstly, to the give the communities the confidence to support a process like this.  It also creates the environment for groups to come back into reintegrate.  

                Q:  General, Tom Bowman with NPR.  It seems that there are few -- fewer fighters reintegrating in the south.  Could you talk a little bit about that?  Why does the south seem to be lagging behind?  

                GEN. JONES:  Well, we always understood, when we started this initiative, that the chances were that it was going to start first in the north and the west where the infrastructure, if you like, of the Taliban insurgency and the depth to which it's embedded in the communities, was much less than in the south.  In the south, you have a much greater density of the insurgency and the conditions are more extreme in terms of, you know, security and the ability to reach out to Taliban groups.  

                So we saw a reintegration sweep across the north and the west over the sort of winter period, and we're starting just now to start to see it emerging -- Kandahar, Uruzgan.  Governor Mangal in Helmand is doing some great work out there, reaching out to alienated communities; starting to see it emerge in the east.  So it is, you know, coming later than it did in the north.  It is is nascent in the south, but we are starting to see it emerge in places. 

                Q:  Can I -- can I just do a quick --   

                CAPT. JAMES:  Go ahead, Tom.  

                Q:  Also, can you give us a sense, how many Taliban fighters do you guys estimate country-wide, ball park?  

                GEN. JONES:  Well, the ISAF estimate I think for the past 18 months or so has been 20(,000) to 25,000 fighters active in the insurgency country-wide.  Of course, those break down into multiple different sorts of categorizations, depending on how you wish to categorize them. 

                Q:  General, Sean Maroney, Voice of America.  You say that this reintegration has really emerged in the last three months.  What,  if any, mechanisms have been put into place to make sure that these fighters who are reintegrating aren't part of some plot for this spring -- this spring offensive that the Taliban has announced?  

                And also, another question.  Have you seen more fighters coming to reintegrate since the death of Osama bin Laden?  

                GEN. JONES:  Well, to take on the first question first, of course, you have to take people at face value as they step into this program.  The Afghans are acutely aware that you have to be cautious moving forward.  So you have to make bold steps here.  And, you know, the sense that came out of the Consultative Peace Jirga last June was that the people of Afghanistan wanted to take bold steps and open their arms to peace and welcome people back with honor and dignity and with great sincerity.  You have to judge people on face value and, you know, measure this as it progresses.  

                Thus far, the people who've come, the 1,700-odd who have come over recent months, have shown no signs of recidivism yet.  There's no sense that they're coming in to wait out the start of the fighting season and go back.  As I said earlier, the -- you sense that many of these people are making really life-changing decisions here and are committing their future to Afghanistan.  

                Could you just repeat the second question?  

                Q:  Sure.  Since the death of Osama bin Laden, have you seen an increase in fighters wanting to reintegrate into the Afghan government?  

                GEN. JONES:  Yeah, well, I think -- well, I mean, for a start, we found very quickly the reflections that people across both sides of the insurgency were celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden.  And there was no loss -- love lost on both sides of the insurgency.    

                And I think the Afghans -- we were talking to some officers from the National Director of Security this morning, and they were quite clear that the expressions of interest of low-level groups and mid- level groups to join the program has picked up considerably over the last couple of weeks.  And they would say that that really is the result of that event. 

                CAPT. JAMES:  David.  

                Q:  General, David Wood from the Huffington Post.  Speaking of the recidivism problem, wasn't it the case that in Mazar-e Sharif a couple of months ago, when the U.N. compound was stormed, that some of the people storming the compound were former Taliban soldiers who were in the reintegration program?  

                GEN. JONES:  Yeah, that's absolutely right.  There were three people who had been biometrically registered into the program who took part in that absolutely awful event.  They were arrested immediately by the NDS and treated as common criminals.  You know, it just demonstrates the sort of complexity of the issue we're dealing with here and the need to take this extremely seriously.  

                Q:  I just -- that was a minor question.    

                My big question is:  Are you satisfied with what -- with the resources that the Afghan government is able to put into supporting soldiers once they do change sides and come in and agree to the reintegration program?  Because there's been a lot of criticism that they're not getting paid, that they don't have the jobs and that the community recovery program you spoke of really is faltering pretty badly.  

                GEN. JONES:  Yeah, I mean, there are huge challenges in mobilizing this, no doubt.  And one has to set this in context, of course, that 10 months ago this was a strategy document, and the government never had the luxury of saying, OK, let's wait a year while we build this and then let's start.  But even before the strategy document was signed off, there were groups wanting to come, just on the -- on the hearsay of this program being rolled out.  

                So inevitably, if you start from, you know, a paper document and you have to build this airplane as you fly it, so to speak, then you're going to have challenges meeting the demands.  And, you know, as I was saying to someone this morning, that the expectation was, was that over the first year of this you'd build the processes within about eight of the priority provinces.  Well, frankly, the demand has completely outmatched that, and so the government's been challenged with building this nationwide.  And of course, in a country that's challenged with resources and capacity at all levels, you know, an awful lot of what you need to deliver is building the capacity and building the process from ground up.  

                So, frankly, the resources and the structures across the country are outmatched and challenged by the demand that's coming in.  I mean, it's a good problem to have, in many respects.  

                CAPT. JAMES:  Mike.  

                Q:  General, it's Mike Evans from The Times, London Times.  

                Can you say whether there's any sort of matching up between the reintegration program that you're involved in and the higher-level program that is trying to attract the attention of the top Taliban leaders in Pakistan and elsewhere?  Is there any sort of merging of those two that gives you some hope that the whole program, top and bottom and middle and whatever, is actually going to produce something really worthwhile in the next, say, 12 months?  

                GEN. JONES:  Yeah, well, that's -- that is absolutely the Afghan vision.  And, you know, we tend to categorize this by sort of “reconciliation” being the higher-level political process and “reintegration” being the tactical functions of reintegrating fighters back into their communities.  But the Afghan vision is it this from top to bottom, from side to side, is a peace process.  In fact, reintegration and reconciliation doesn't even translate well into Dari and Pashtu.  

                So, yes, they do match up, and they see this as a -- the reintegration level as a bottom-up, grassroots process that builds social cohesion; that mobilizes communities into a sort of village- level reconciliation process; that really is a sort of confidence- building, nationwide increasing social settlement that supports the processes that need to play out at the political level, those sort of reconciliation processes.  And they really do see this sort of matching up.  And, you know, you can see that if a peace process breaks out then it's going to have a profound effect on the number of fighters who are going to come into the reintegration process.  Of course they need to match up eventually.  

                Q:  General, Raghubir Goyal, India Globe and Asia Today.  Let me ask you an earlier question my colleague asked here.  As far as the death of Osama bin Laden is concerned, what do you see the future of Afghanistan?  And do you see any decrease or increase again cross the border as far as Talibans are concerned from Pakistan?  And now this is -- July is coming, so what do we see, the future beyond July?  

                GEN. JONES:  I'm afraid I missed the last part of your question, but I think I got the sense of it.  You know, the dust is still settling on the death of Osama bin Laden.  As I said earlier, I don't think there are many across both sides of the conflict in Afghanistan that are mourning his passing.  And, you know, at the moment, the -- sort of the sense that, you know, he's no longer part of the equation is seen by an opportunity for all, but quite how that's going to manifest itself out here is yet to become clear.  It is still early days and the dust is still settling.  

                As I said earlier, at the reintegration level, we have a sense that the expressions of interest to join the program has picked up -- but that it was picking up anyway.  At the reconciliation level, at the political level, one has a sense that, you know, it's removed another potential blockage out of the dialogue somewhere, and that those sort of historical emotional ties between Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden are no longer there. 

                But, you know, that's the sense.  There's a sense of opportunities that are arising.  But, you know, whether people are going to be able to capitalize on those opportunities is yet to be seen. 

                Q:  (Inaudible) -- that now we are facing.  July is coming, which people are thinking that you are going to leave Afghanistan.  Do you see some kind of confidence and trust as far as the Afghani people are concerned and as far as your presence is concerned for the -- beyond July?  

                GEN. JONES:  OK, yes, I did miss that second half of your question.  I’ve got the jist now. 

                You know, one of the strategic things that has changed -- and there are a couple of them that have changed since -- when I got back to Afghanistan just over a year ago -- is this process of transition.  Of course a year ago when I was here, there was quite a lot of gloom and despondency across the country, and there was this sense that strategically we were in a bad place and the Taliban, you know, had the momentum and had the initiative.  And of course the surge has completely reversed the balance of confidence there.  

                But the other thing that's grown is this process of transition. This time last year the Afghans were really concerned about July this year, and there was this growing sense of anxiety about abandonment. But of course the idea and the concept of transition grew into the strategic dialogue from the autumn onwards, which has given people an orderly process over three years looking hence, with a strategic partnership process, yet to be finalized, going off beyond that.    

                So that sense of anxiety about troop withdrawals and all that sort of stuff has very much gone away.  I mean, it's not to say that it's gone completely.  Of course the Afghans are nervous.  They're right to be so in terms of how this is going to pan out.  But there is also behind that anxiety a growing sense of thirst for sovereignty. You know, they feel it is about time that they took responsibility for many of these processes.  

                You know, as everything, these are not black-and-white binary things. They have complications within this.  But the transition, set aside huge security gains, plus an emerging peace process, has allowed people to have far more confidence in the future than they did a year ago.  

                Q:  General, hi.  This is David Cloud with the Los Angeles Times. I want to understand a little bit more about the motivations of those who are joining the process.  Could you sort of address whether this is unfolding in a kind of classic Afghan sense, where elders bring in large groups or modest groups of fighters and say:  Here are my fighters; we want to reintegrate?  Or is it at the individual level where fighters say:  I'm tired of fighting or have various other motivations for joining the program?    

                Is it -- in other words, is it -- is it a mass -- is it a -- from your perspective, do you go to elders and say:  How many fighters can you bring in?  Or is it an individual level or both? 

                GEN. JONES:  Well, it is both, but actually individuals coming in are few and far between.  It's almost entirely small groups of fighters, sometimes connected with other fighters, so you get, you know, typically, I would say, you know, a commander plus 15 or 20 men, sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller.  Sometimes those groups cohese together and you end up with sort of a -- you know, one commander with subcommanders coming in, you know, across the board.  But it's very much a communal process.    

                And the fascinating thing about this is that as the governors, whose responsibility it is to lead this sort of political and social process in the provinces, really get their fingers into it, more and more of them are saying to me, as I travel the country:  And General Jones, be patient with us.  The armed groups and their weapons will come, but we've got some real peace building to get on with, to underpin this.  And this peace building has to be through the elders, through the spiritual leaders, through the communities, such that you're creating a much more stable and secure environment, into which you reintegrate the fighters.  

                The sense of this is the fighting groups, the vast majority of whom are local people of their communities, reintegrate back to their communities and join together for a much more productive future.  

                And so that is very much the pattern right across the country. Part of the genius of the program, I think, was to recognize that each province, each district and to a degree each village will be different, so it has a great deal of flexibility within it.  

                The other part of your question was about motivations.  Frankly there are a couple of trends that are emerging here.  A couple of narratives are emerging.  Of course the effect of military pressure, the surge, which of course is shorthand for a whole spectrum of activities -- and you know, one part of the surge that's often missed is the huge growth of Afghan capability, police and military, across the country -- has had a huge impact on many of these groups, and they feel pressured.  They have no longer any freedom of movement in many areas, and their communities have confidence to step forward and get into this program.  

                There's also a growing narrative, particularly in the south, of, you know, people accepting the fact that they've been active in a false jihad, they've been fighting against an Islamic nation and, you now, time is right to step out of that and rejoin the nation.  

                Q:  Hi.  Cheryl Pellerin, American Forces Press Service.  I have two questions.  Can you give an example or two of the reintegration of the insurgents with their communities?  And can you say what's involved in biometric registration? 

                GEN. JONES:  Yeah, I can give you lots of examples of fighters going back to their community.  

                I mean, the one I cited at the start, in Baghdis, is a great one, where, you know -- Baghdis is a classic province, where, you know, 90 percent of the insurgency is all about community fighters, who live in amongst their communities.  You know, they are armed men who go about their business, low-level survival farming, in a very poor province, who pick up arms when they feel the need to do so.  So they're already of their communities, and the reintegration element really is rebuilding the narrative between their communities and the local government and sustaining that narrative and de- alienating themselves, really.  

                In other areas it's more complex.  For example, in Baghlan, one of the very early groups came in and they couldn't return to their communities so they sat in a safe house for some months, frankly, for about five months.  And in order to get them back into their communities, the regional commander in the north conducted a joint ISAF-Afghan operation to clear Talibs out of the communities, to make the communities more secure.  A U.S. Special Forces group went in there to start building the village stability platform, as a consequence of which we were eventually able to reintegrate these fighters back into their communities.  And as a consequence of all that process, the communities became, you know, much more secure. People came back into their villages, farming picked up, the harvest was gathered and that sort of thing.  

                I mean, we still face huge challenges, no doubt, but, you know, that's the essence of it.  

                Q:  And the biometric registration?  

                GEN. JONES:  Oh, sorry.  Yeah, sorry, the biometric registration, yeah.  One of the important differences with this program from previous programs was to make sure that this was absolutely transparent, it was trackable, you could monitor it and evaluate it, and you were dealing with this program on the basis of facts.  And the Afghans were very clear that as people came back in to join the program formally, if they wanted to enjoy the, sort of, political amnesty that flowed out of the consultative peace jirga, they need to be fully registered.    

                So as part of the demobilization phase, they're biometrically registered.  That's an iris scan, fingerprints, photographs and that sort of thing.  They're also interviewed in quite some detail, and those interviews come back here to the Afghan Joint Secretariat, where they're registered in our database.  And, you know, they're invited to spell out why they were fighting, what are their motivations, what are their motivations for not fighting and that sort of thing.  It gives you a very interesting window into the local insurgency.  

                CAPT. JAMES:  Let's go to Charley, since he hasn't had one.  Go ahead, Charley. 

                Q:  General, Charley Keyes, CNN.  Thanks for talking to us. Can I just make another stab at the additional resources that would move this process forward?  Would extra money, more personnel, more high-level participation by the Afghan leadership make a difference? And also, is there a mirror group, in addition to these formal 1,700, who just go back individually, do not register, lay down their arms and return to their communities?  

                GEN. JONES:  Yeah, absolutely.  In the first point, I think the resources that fund this are the donations by the international community, from a large number of nations.  And indeed the United States has been the most generous so far, putting a total of about $100 million into two different parts of this.  [Note: In fiscal 2010, Congress authorized $100 million in funding to be used for reintegration, and approximately $359,000 was used. For fiscal 2011, Congress reauthorized $50 million.] 

                The rest of the international community has donated about $100 million so far into this. So the Afghan government has got about $141 million sitting in a trust fund to fund this.  

                Now, I mean, that's not an inconsiderable amount of money.  It's not enough, and the government is keen to have more people donate. But certainly to start, it's more than enough.  

                So the issue in terms of structures and things is really to build the capacity and the understanding to run this program at provincial level and district level and down to the communities, which is not an inconsiderable challenge here in Afghanistan, as you can imagine, with an insurgency sort of live around you.  And that means recruiting staff at provincial level.  It means the provinces creating their own provincial peace councils which are a small mirror of the high peace council here in Kabul.  And actually, every single province, bar one or two now, have their provincial peace councils in place; that, sort of, 20 or 30 elders of the communities if you like, from all sectors of the community, alienated and pro-government, to come together and lead the peace process in the government.  Each of the provincial governors are getting a small staff of about five or six to do the technical things, managing accounts and that sort of thing.  

                But there's also, of course, the question of being able to mobilize development using civil actors and implementing partners quickly into places that were recently violent.  The notion here is that, you know, the community recovery should take place around the communities, and there's always going to be a skip distance between, you know, the active reintegration and people feeling safe and secure enough to reach into that.  

                What I would say is that the Ministry for Rural Reconstruction and Development, using the U.S. donation of $50 million to activate the National Solidarity Program, has already activated that nationwide in response to reintegration.  

                So, yes, 10-month point, you know, the resources that's going to really bring this to life such that it's a sophisticated, systematic approach to this, you know, are still very firmly in the build stage. But we really hope that over the coming months that we're going to see this really pick up and give a sort of solid background to it.  

                And could you just repeat the second part of your question?  

                Q:  Second part is, you say 1,700 in this formal program.  Is there another pool of people who you suspect or you have data on who return informally, quietly, individually?  

                GEN. JONES:  Yeah, absolutely.  And, you know, this -- I mean, this is a historical phenomenon in Afghanistan anyway; sort of over the years, people come and go into the insurgency.  The trick here is to really try and make sure that they stay out of the fight for good and make it an enduring solution.  We're starting to see that emerge in many provinces, particularly in the south.  

                And it's very interesting.  I was in Helmand two or three days ago, where actually there's been very little formal reintegration. There was a group that stepped forward literally about three or four days ago of about 16 I think it was.  But actually, you get a strong sense that there's been a lot of what we would call informal reintegration going on there.  But actually the Afghans would say, well, there's actually great formality to it.  You know, there's a lot of negotiations between local government, led very ably by Governor Mangal, I should say, down there.  There's a lot of community building and everything else.    

                But those fighters, of which there are several hundred now in the Central Helmand Valley, have not stepped formally into the program. And the question is, of course, why?    

                Well, in Helmand, as Governor Mangal was saying, two prime reasons; firstly because in Helmand, there's still a sense amongst a lot of the fighters that this smacks too much of surrender.  And, you know, their honor and dignity as fighting men of the communities can't quite take it as yet.  You know, there's still that sort of psychology that's playing out there.  

                The second point, of course, is that, you know, the predatory reach of those Talibs based in Pakistan is still, you know, something that concerns people in Central Helmand.  And, you know, the security conditions are such that they're saying, actually, I'm not sure I want to go public.  I want to stop fighting.  I want to ally myself with the government.  But we'd rather do it what we could call silently, rather than informally.    

                And that actually is -- you know, we're seeing that in many places across the south and the east right now.  And some of that silent reintegration then percolates upwards in due course, because, of course, by stepping formally into the program, the communities then access, you know, some of the benefits that are beginning to emerge. 

                CAPT. JAMES:  Let's go to Luis.  

                Q:  General, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News.  Last week, General Campbell in RC East spoke specifically about what you just spoke about, this informal process that's taking place.  But he kind of indicated that actually it's resulting in more people coming in than a formal process.    

                How do you link the two or is there -- will there be an effort to link the two in the future so that you can make more stable gains like you just indicated?  

                GEN. JONES:  Yeah.  And, you know, the sense I get is that you're getting a lot of this silent reintegration.  And you can say, why? Why?  Because the program exists, because there's been a Consultative Peace Jirga.  It's gaining increasing authenticity.  People know that they can now step out of the fight.  So it is part of a process.  

                And, you know, as I described earlier, with governors like Governor Azizi in Laghman -- who's a superb governor, in my view; who I've seen a fair bit of sitting in the middle of Regional Command East AOR [area of responsibility] -- he was one of the ones that said to me very early that: General, we've got an awful lot of peacebuildings going on dealing with tribal conflicts here that go back 80 years.  I've got to start solving some of these problems in my own way.  I have a very strong vision.  We're going to move forward and we're going to do this.  But, you know, there's going to be all sorts of shades of reintegration going on.  In due course, I'll get you your fighters and your weapons and everything else.  And for sure, he has.  And we've just had, as I mentioned in my opening preamble, 83 demobilized there. 

                 But outside of those 83, Governor Azizi has dealt with communities in the way that communities need to be dealt with.  And there -- we're absolutely certain there are, you know, quite a few groups in Laghman who have silently reintegrated over the recent weeks.  

                CAPT. JAMES:  Why don't we go ahead and wrap things up here with Mike and then we'll turn it on back to you, General.   

                Q:  Mike Evans again, General.  Can I just ask two things?  

                Following on what you just said about the Taliban in the south in particular, what evidence do you have that the Taliban are deliberately targeting people, particularly in the south and elsewhere, to try, one, to prevent them from reintegrating; and two, to stop them from reintegrating, not coming forward to talk .  

                And just lastly, your -- you've been doing the job for about a year now -- 1,700-odd, compared with 25,000 -- up to 25,000 Taliban.  

                What makes you really confident that you're going to get an appreciable percentage of that 25,000, so much so that it will have a huge impact on the conflict itself?  

                GEN. JONES:  Yeah, I think in Mullah Omar's statement that launched their spring offensive, you know he made it quite clear that the High Peace Council and people entering the reintegration process are targets for the Talibs, and indeed, very sadly, we have lost some people who have joined the program.  Just recently a commander and four -- no, a commander and three people were killed up in Kunduz by the Talibs -- someone who'd reintegrated.  We've lost a couple in Baghdis to Talib groups.  And the leader of the provincial joint secretariat that deals with peace in Helmand was assassinated recently.  

                So you know, it is, you know, a very challenging process for many of these people.  It's one of those things, actually, that just reinforces the point that these are life-changing decisions for people coming to this program.  These are not decisions taken in a glib way.  

                And there is a -- you know, a threat to all the reintegrees, and the security conditions around them are -- can be hugely challenging. And one has great respect for people stepping into this program.  

                And I -- now I apologize.  Can you just repeat the second part?  

                Q:  It was just a sort of general question: that after you've been doing this job for a year, how confident are you that you really are going to make a difference and that maybe the comparatively small percentage of the total Taliban target will now accelerate quite substantially?  

                GEN. JONES:  Yeah, got it.  Yeah.  No, I'm sorry.  I've got it. Yeah.  

                You know, if you're going to work in this process and support the great Afghan leaders who are rolling this out across the country, you've got to deal -- do it with a huge amount of positivity.  And as I mentioned earlier, when I got back to Afghanistan last April, that -- the sense of gloom amongst many of the Afghans, the sense of sort of depression was really quite profound in comparison to some of the earlier years that I've been here.  So you have to go at this, developing a -- you know, a great deal of faith in a program like this, because it requires an awful lot of emotional energy to work in this domain.  And you know, frankly it's working with some of the inspirational Afghan leaders across the country who are really rolling up their sleeves and doing some really courageous and bold things to make this go that gives me inspiration day by day.  

                There are no certainties in Afghanistan.  That's one of the things we've learned over the past 10 years.  And you know, as we in ISAF, led by General Petraeus, have predicted, this is going to be a tough fighting season.  The Talibs are not going to take these security gains lying down, and we've already seen them trying to come back.  There are no certainties here.  And in something like reintegration, the strategic process -- progress is built on a sense of growing confidence all around here.  

                You know, but one does get a sense -- you know, again, having been in and out of this campaign for the past 10 years and others across the world, one gets the sense that there's a time and place for everything. 

                There have been attempts like this in the past that haven't delivered what people wanted.  There is a sense, and across Afghanistan, that the time is right, that Afghans feel the time is right to make compromises, to step forward, to start building peace, particularly as they step into the process of transition.  

                And so confidence and optimism are not necessarily emotions that we allow ourselves, but what I would say is, there are huge opportunities out there that are there to be seized, and my goodness, there are some terrific Afghans leading this who are going out of their way to seize them.  And you're starting to see this emerge in some really quite challenging conditions, and that gives you hope.  

                CAPT. JAMES:  That wraps up our question period, and so we'll turn it over to you for closing comments.  

                GEN. JONES:  Great.  Well, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much indeed for the dialogue this evening.  I hope that was useful for you.  

                And if I could just close with the thought that, you know, people often focus on the programmatics and the resources, of course, and that's hugely important.  But at its heart, this is a very human process that requires people on both sides of the divide to make really courageous and life-changing decisions.  And the deficit of trust and the lack of confidence after 30 years of fighting here in Afghanistan is quite profound in some areas.  And the decisions that people are making are not taken lightly, nor are they necessarily taken quickly, and we have to have patience for this.  Their lives depend upon the decisions they make, and this is all about trust and confidence and the growing sense, I think, across the country that the Afghans are beginning to see this as an authentic process with opportunities emerging for a far more peaceful future.  

                It does remain relatively early days.  We've got to be careful not to be unrealistically optimistic.  But we in ISAF are seeing a lot of potential for this process to expand and accelerate as it begins to have impact on many communities right across Afghanistan.  

                And I think -- as you heard in my introduction, this is my fourth tour in Afghanistan since 2002.  And frankly, despite the huge challenges of mobilizing structures and resources, it is one of the most exciting Afghan initiatives I've seen here in recent years.  

                And on that note, I'll close.  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much indeed.  

                CAPT. JAMES:  General, thank you for a very useful and informative brief.  And thank you for all the work that you've done in Afghanistan for the last 10 years.  

                GEN. JONES:  Thank you very much.