DOD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Rossmanith via Teleconference from Afghanistan
[Please note that audio breaks occur several times due to a sandstorm at the source that impacted transmission.]
CAPT. DARRYN JAMES (Director, DoD Press Office): Good morning here, and good evening in Afghanistan. I'd like to welcome to the Pentagon briefing room for the first time German Army Major General Richard Rossmanith, International Security Assistance Force deputy chief of staff for stability.
General Rossmanith assumed his current duties in October of last year. The general serves within ISAF headquarters as the director and senior adviser on governance and stability efforts in Afghanistan. The general regularly meets with Afghan government officials and travels throughout Afghanistan in order to gather a full picture of ISAF's coalition and partnered efforts.
The general joins us today from ISAF headquarters in Kabul. He'll make some opening comments and then take your questions. And with that, sir, I'll turn it over to you.
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Well, thanks. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen in Washington. Thanks for the introduction. It's a pleasure for me to be with you today, this morning. First, I would like to spend a few minutes to provide you with a short overview of my responsibilities and introduce the main topics we are addressing as ISAF's stability division.
As you know, ISAF is pursuing a comprehensive civil and military COIN [counterinsurgency] strategy in Afghanistan. The central element of this strategy is to protect the population. Further elements are to build up Afghan security forces and to neutralize the insurgency.
My division is responsible for major supporting efforts within this strategy: first, the development of legitimate Afghan governance, and second, the support of sustainable socioeconomic development in Afghanistan.
My division maintains close relationships with many actors at the political and strategic level. More than a hundred civilian and military personnel in my division monitor countless activities in these fields and strive to align their actions, projects and programs as closely as possible with our own campaign objectives in order to achieve cohesion of our efforts. The actors we are cooperating with are the nonsecurity-related ministries and agencies of the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan; also, international, governmental and nongovernmental organizations; national and international aid organizations; and last but not least, more than 50 nations which contribute to ISAF and to Afghanistan.
In our comprehensive COIN campaign, we have a vested interest in nearly all questions related to governance and development in Afghanistan. I would like to mention some of the topics my division is dealing with: sub-national governance as a major link in between the national Afghan government and the country's population; rule of law as the very basic underlying condition for every society and state; land management and land reform as a source of dispute and conflict, but also as a condition for stability and development; border management, a subject of security, sovereignty and revenue generation; civil aviation to link a landlocked country to international markets; strategic infrastructure like roads, airports, railways, electricity, water resources or telecommunications as a prerequisite for development; improvement of social infrastructure like education and health services; and economic growth as a basis for sustainability and poverty reduction.
Since all of this sounds quite generic, I'd like to mention just a few example projects.
We are currently assisting in training Afghan civil air traffic controllers. We are assisting the Afghan government in setting up a railway and a fiberglass network to greatly enhance available means of communications. And we support the Afghan government in recruiting and training civil servants for provincial and district administration.
ISAF has achieved undisputable progress over the last 12 to 18 months. Stability efforts have contributed to these achievements. We have to continue our efforts rigorously, keep momentum, and work closely together with our Afghan partners and the international community to maintain and further expand our achievements.
No doubt there is still a huge amount of challenges out there in Afghanistan in the field of security, as well as in governance and development, but we are on a good way towards irreversible achievements for Afghanistan.
Ladies, gentlemen, this should conclude my introductory statement. Thanks for your attention, and now I am looking forward to entertaining your questions.
CAPT. JAMES: Thank you, General.
We'll go ahead and start with Viola.
Q: General, this is Viola Gienger from Bloomberg News. Can you tell us what you feel might be the effect of the assassination of Ahmed Wali Karzai, first of all on governance and stability in Kandahar specifically, and in any other way broadly?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Well, the death of the president's brother is of course an important event yesterday. General Petraeus has extended his deepest personal condolences to President Karzai on the death of his brother, who was killed in Kandahar yesterday. And please allow at this moment, at the day when Ahmed Wali Karzai is laid to rest, not to comment on further consequences at this very moment.
Q: Hi, General. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. If I can just follow up on that, is ISAF involved in any kind of investigation into the death of Ahmed Wali Karzai? Will you be -- will ISAF have any kind of role in that at all?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Well, ISAF will support the Afghan government in every possible way to bring to justice those involved in the murder of Ahmed Wali Karzai.
Q: And at this point, can you say whether you believe that there really is any credence to the Taliban claim that they are behind the assassination?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Please, can you repeat the question? I was not able to fully understand it.
Q: At this point, do you lend any credence to the claim, the Taliban claim, that they're behind the assassination?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Well, I would not add to speculations at that -- this very moment.
Q: Hi. This is Dan Sagalyn from PBS Newshour. I have a two- part question. Have you met Ahmed Wali Karzai?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Well, I've seen him at various occasions in Kandahar, at different meetings and conferences.
Q: Was he a force for stability and the things you're working for, or was he a force for corruption and instability and things you're working against, in the past?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Sorry, I could not understand your question acoustically.
Q: I'll ask again. Was Ahmed Wali Karzai a force for stability and good governance and the things you're working for, or was he a force for corruption, land disputes and all the things you're trying to fix? (Audio break.)
GEN. ROSSMANITH: (Following audio break) -- Wali Karzai elected chairman of the provincial council, and this role is the one which is important for us. And whenever an Afghan official is being killed or intimidated, this has negative effects, and that is what is our concern in the moment mainly, from a governance perspective.
Q: General, this is Andrew Tilghman with Military Times. I wanted to ask you -- there's been a lot of talk over the past year or so about fertilizer coming in from Pakistan, specifically the calcium ammonium nitrate that's used in the IEDs. And I know the U.S. government for the past year or so has been talking to the Pakistanis a lot about trying to block the flow of that, but I'm wondering if -- from your position, have you seen any tangible effects from that? Have you seen any potential reduction in that flow that might be contributing to stability, or is that still a work in progress?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Of course the import of ammonium nitrate, which then is a precursor for homemade explosives and finally to make IEDs, is of deep concern to us. And therefore we support all efforts, particularly in the control of the borders and in pursuing these activities which minimize these -- this threat and this risk to our forces.
Q: General, thank you very much. This is Raghubir Goyal, India Globe and Asia Today. My question is that -- as far as his -- Mr. Karzai's death is concerned, what is the mood of your mission there now as far as security is concerned in Afghanistan? And do you still believe that Taliban are still there to disrupt the security and freedom in Afghanistan?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Well, sorry again. I was not able to understand the question acoustically. Can you repeat it?
Q: As far as Mr. Karzai's death is concerned -- president's brother -- how you think the mood as far as your security concern is there? And also, do you still believe that Taliban are still there to disrupt the security and democracy?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Sorry, I didn't catch your question.
CAPT. JAMES: Well, sir, let me go ahead and try this from the podium. The basic question was, as far as Mr. Karzai's death, is there an impact on security and stability, in your opinion? And the second part of the question was, do you believe that the Taliban is still disrupting security and stability?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Let me comment on the second question first. Of course the insurgency is a risk and a threat to the further development of Afghanistan, and therefore our endeavors to neutralize the insurgency are -- (audio break) -- component of our campaign to protect the population and to support governance and development in Afghanistan.
As I said earlier, we have achieved quite something over the last year, and indeed, also in the area of Kandahar, in the southwest, in Helmand, we nowadays, together with our Afghan partners, control areas where we hadn't access for quite a while and which were under strict insurgent and Taliban control.
This has -- (audio break) -- substantially. Nevertheless, there are still areas we have to go into, we have to clear. These gains we made over the last months are still fragile. They are -- the situation is not yet irreversible. And therefore, yes -- (audio break) -- and we have to do everything to maintain our momentum, to keep the initiative and to press forward with all means available in our comprehensive civil-military COIN strategy to actually overcome this situation.
Q: And then, sir, the first part of the question, on the -- on the president's brother's death?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Well, as I said earlier, a day after the killing of Ahmed Wali Karzai, I think it's too early to make a comprehensive assessment. And we should avoid now to jump on too early conclusions. This needs to be analyzed in detail from all aspects. And with that, I suggest to leave that topic for the moment.
Q: General, J.J. Green, WTOP Radio, Washington. What are the biggest challenges that lay ahead for your mission and your team?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: As I said, there are still a lot of challenges out -- and for sure there are a couple of risks, strategic risks, to our mission. And one of these kind of risks is the security of the borders; that is, in particular, the question of the situation in Pakistan.
The insurgents' safe havens and sanctuaries in Pakistan play a crucial role.
Within Afghanistan, of course, it's the insurgency and it's the further development -- (audio break) -- we should not be unrealistic. The governmental system in Afghanistan is still weak, and this requires a lot of effort to improve that situation substantially to make it actually self-sustainable.
At the end of the day, as the situation in Afghanistan is solved when the Afghan government -- when the Afghans themselves are able to secure their country and to govern their country. And these are the challenges which we are facing, and that is what we are dealing with in our campaign.
Q: Otto Kreisher with Seapower magazine. General, a lot of concern about the withdrawal of -- both of U.S. forces and other international forces in the next year. How -- do you think that the Afghan security forces and the government is going to be able to take up the burden as international troops pull out?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Well, the drawdown of surge forces, as decided by President Obama and as indicated and announced by a couple of other nations, is not to be commented as a political decision by me.
What is to be done now is to implement these decisions, and to adjust our campaign in such a way that we will cope with that situation. However, it's not only about a drawdown of surge forces; it's about, in the next couple of months and the next year, about the further growth of the Afghan National Security Forces -- (audio break) -- the next 12 to 15 months -- (audio break) -- substantive growth of the Afghan security forces, which will compensate these drawdowns. And that is not only a growth in numbers, but it's also a growth in capabilities, in quality. And this is the way ahead.
Q: Rosalind Jordan, with Al-Jazeera English. General, do you expect, especially with the change in command from General Petraeus to General Allen, that there might be more of an emphasis on working on border security issues with the Pakistanis, especially since they're now suggesting that they may be pulling their forces from their western front?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Well, change of commands (sic) are normally in operations and in military life -- (audio break) -- command will bring in new persons. On the other side, I'm pretty sure that our well-thought -- (audio break) -- the new leadership. Over the time, with changing conditions, there may be the necessity to adapt and, for sure, a campaign will evolve over the time.
This then will allow General Allen to set new objectives and adjust, but for the time being, as always after a change of command, I don't expect a change in direction.
Q: Can I follow up?
CAPT. JAMES: Go ahead.
Q: General, are you satisfied with the Pakistani military's efforts to secure the border from their side, given that you've had some concerns about the transport of materiel and personnel into Afghanistan?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Well, as you know, borders are of particular importance in any COIN operation and in any COIN strategy, and to secure the border is therefore of high importance.
We are doing a lot in this campaign to actually do that, mainly together with our Afghan partners. And indeed, we have seen an increase of the Afghan National Border Police in numbers and quality. In the moment, we are just about to introduce a new border management model, which will help to improve the situation at the border crossing points, whether it's directly at the borders or also at the international airports. And -- (audio break) -- expect from all these activities an increase in security.
On the other side, we also should be realistic. Afghanistan has 5,000 kilometers of international borders, 2,500 of them with Pakistan. These borders, with respect to the terrain, may never be fully controllable, and therefore this always will be a challenge, and we need to do a lot also within the country to actually mitigate the challenges we face at the borders.
Q: Awais Saleem from Dunya News. General, you have mentioned the security of Waziristan's border with Pakistan. So have you had any meetings with the Pakistani military officials in the -- (audio break) -- and if yes, what demands have been proposed from your side for them to take any steps to secure this border?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Sorry, I couldn't catch your question. May someone repeat the question or the gist of the question?
Q: General, my question was that you have mentioned the security of Waziristan's border with Pakistan as a concern, so have you had any meetings with Pakistani military officials for this purpose, and if yes, what demands have been put forward from your side to them so that they could also take some steps to secure this border?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Can someone from the podium repeat the question?
CAPT. JAMES: I can, and the gist of the question was -- it was, have you met with any Pakistani military officials on the border security issue, and if so, have you made any recommendations on things that you'd like to see them do?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Well, thank you for that. No, to meet with Pakistani military officials does not belong to my area of responsibility as DCOS [deputy chief of staff] stability. This is being dealt with by the operators and others. I'm dealing as a stability director with the border crossing points and with the border management model.
Q: General, my name is Carl Osgood. I'm with Executive Intelligence Review. You mentioned in your opening statement -- you discussed a little bit about the development of infrastructure, transportation in particular. I think you mentioned airports and roads. What is the capacity of the Afghan government and the economy to absorb this infrastructure and operate it and maintain it, without international help?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Well, it was difficult to hear this question, but my understanding is that you were asking about roads and the capacity of the Afghan government to actually sustain the roads. Is that correct?
Q: That's correct, sir.
GEN. ROSSMANITH: OK. Well, and indeed, I think we have seen quite some progress in road construction over the last years. The ring road is nearly complete. We have seen hundreds and thousands of rural roads being completed. And indeed, there is a question of how to sustain that. In the moment, the Afghan government is considering the establishment of a road authority. That means the regulatory framework and the overall structure for road sustainability. Furthermore, capacities and capabilities need to be established. And of course, it's a question of resources.
Indeed, some questions are open. However, intensive work is being done at this very moment. And as there is a need to sustain not only the roads but also other infrastructure, I think this will be a challenge for the next years.
And to be quite -- (audio break) -- I think that the revenue generation of the Afghan state may not be enough for the foreseeable future to actually deal with that, and therefore a long-term commitment of the international community will be required to help and support the Afghans all during this effort.
Q: General, Richard Sisk, from TheWarReportOnline. What is the status of the German forces in ISAF, and what are the plans for their withdrawal?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Well, I think your question was the German forces in ISAF? OK. Germany is the lead nation for one regional command; it's RC North, in Mazar-e Sharif. The north consists of nine provinces of Afghanistan. Germany employs in the moment roughly 5,000 forces in Afghanistan, together with a couple of other nations in the north. And since last year, the U.S. is also a main contributor to the north.
We have permanently adjusted our forces, our force posture in the north in order to cope with the challenges, and we are about to continue that as planned.
Q: Any plans for withdrawal?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: (Pause.) Have we lost connection?
CAPT. JAMES: General, this is the Pentagon. Can you hear us, sir?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: I can hear you.
CAPT. JAMES: Sir, the second part of the question was: Do you have any information on the status of the withdrawal of German forces?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Well, Germany has not announced any withdrawal of forces at this moment.
CAPT. JAMES: Go ahead, Chris.
Q: General, Chris Carroll from Stars and Stripes. I wanted to ask you about reconciliation efforts. What is the Afghan government specifically doing to ensure that the fighters who leave the Taliban don't return? And how successful are they in that?
CAPT. JAMES: General, I'll repeat the question. Hopefully you can hear me. The question was on reconciliation efforts and what the Afghan government has been doing to ensure the Taliban do not return. And how successful have they been in those efforts?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: OK, I hadn't heard the question. But the topic is reintegration and reconciliation; is that -- is that right?
CAPT. JAMES: Yes sir.
GEN. ROSSMANITH: OK, well, reconciliation and reintegration are topics which are being addressed in Afghanistan by the Afghan government since last year. It's a result from the Kabul Conference on 20 July, last year.
I won't comment on reconciliation, as this is a purely political process, and the main effort in our support of the Afghan government is on reintegration.
And indeed it was a slow start, because the Afghans needed to establish their processes and also their structures. But since then we have seen quite some progress in reintegration. And up to today, nearly 2,000 former insurgents have chosen to change sides and -- (audio break) -- of progress, at least 2,000 opportunities are out there. And besides that, there is what we call informal reintegration. That means not following exactly the process which has been agreed upon. And this is another roughly 2,000.
That means, yes, quite a number of former insurgents have chosen to lay down their weapons and to change sides.
Nevertheless, this is only a small figure so far, and we expect more to come, in particular when we all succeed with our efforts during this fighting season.
CAPT. JAMES: Go ahead.
Q: Have you tracked, General, how many of these Taliban who have left the fighting force have returned or have stayed out of the fight? Or is that 2,000 number just the number that left initially?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Well, to the best of my knowledge, all of these have stood out of the fight. At least I'm not aware now of those or of someone returning to the Taliban.
Well, there's never -- (audio break) -- a hundred percent excluded, but so far I think we have real success in what we have achieved.
CAPT. JAMES: General, we have time for one more question, so I'll turn it over to Charley for the last one.
Q: Charley Keyes from CNN. Can we just return to infrastructure? Can you reassure United States senators who claim that hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars have been wasted in Afghanistan on major projects? And now many of those projects -- power plants, water plants, training academies -- are falling into disrepair because of improper expertise in maintenance. What do you -- what do you say to senators and U.S. taxpayers who feel money is being misused on these big projects for Afghanistan?
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Well, I'm humble enough not to give advice to American senators or to the American taxpayer.
Indeed a huge amount of money has been spent in Afghanistan, and we see the positive effects of that, particularly over the last one to two years. And I think that the money spent -- (audio break) -- forces or for the development and support of governance and the socioeconomic development of this country is well-spent money. This supports our comprehensive COIN effort, and I think, yes, we see positive effects from all that which was spent by the United States of America but also all the other allies and contributors.
CAPT. JAMES: Well, thanks to you and the press corps for dealing with our communications challenges, but I'll turn it over to you now for final thoughts and comments.
GEN. ROSSMANITH: Well, first of all, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to be with you this morning and to provide you some insights into what we, particularly from a stability perspective -- (audio break) – stability shop of this headquarters are doing.
As I said earlier, we have achieved quite something. However, challenges are still out there. And we need to continue our common effort. We need to stay together. We need to maintain the momentum. There's a realistic chance to get the job done in the right way, and we have a chance to actually achieve our objectives in this mission.
Thank you very much to Washington.
CAPT. JAMES: General, we really appreciate your time.