DOD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Terry via Teleconference from Afghanistan
COLONEL DAVID LAPAN (Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Media Operations): Good morning here at the Pentagon, and good evening in Afghanistan. I'd like to welcome back to the Pentagon Briefing Room U.S. Army Major General James Terry, commander of Regional Command South.
General Terry assumed his duties in Afghanistan in November of last year. In full partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces, he commands a combined team from the U.S., U.K., Canada, France, Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. As you know, Regional Command South's area of responsibility includes the provinces of Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul and Daykundi
. This is the general's second briefing with us in this format, and he joins us today from his headquarters at Kandahar airfield. He'll make some opening remarks and then take your questions.
Before we start, I'll briefly note that yesterday the secretary of defense nominated the general for appointment to the rank of lieutenant general and assignment to command V Corps, U.S. Army Europe and Seventh Army.
So with that, sir, I'll turn things over to you.
GENERAL JAMES TERRY: Well, thanks, Dave. And thanks to all for having me back. Salaam aleikum, and I wish a peaceful and joyful Ramazan to everybody out there.
I guess I got to -- I guess I got to get through this press conference and a couple more months here in Afghanistan before confirmation. But again, thanks for having me back.
I don't think it's lost on anybody that the 10th Mountain assumed authority here in Regional Command South the 3rd of November of last year. And as a part of that, we were one of the last units of the surge to actually deploy to Afghanistan. It's my assessment that a lot has changed during our 10 months out there on the ground and that we have made -- we have made progress.
I think most notable is that insurgent momentum has been put in check and we are increasing the security in the key districts, and as we increase that security expanding outward, at the same time reducing insurgent capability, reducing those support zones, and in building Afghan National Security Forces toward leading security efforts in Regional Command South. That's our mission and that's our goal.
With our civilian counterparts both in the Afghan government and in the international community, they work with us in extending the governance and development as that security that I just described expands out there. What I'm seeing now are Afghan leaders are starting to step up and lead throughout Regional Command South, and I'd like to give you a couple of examples out there.
In Kandahar, the provincial governor has established a practice of traveling out from Kandahar City to the far-reaching districts throughout Kandahar. What he does, he takes governance, reconstruction and development out to the people and he meets them in his shuras, and he alternates his governance and reconstruction shuras from district to district. And this includes Zhari, Panjwai and Maiwand districts, which you're probably familiar with were once sympathetic to insurgency and actually denied access to government officials there.
Similarly in the provinces of Zabul and Uruzgan, the governors are generating positive effects from the shuras during which they and their staffs visit districts and villages away from those provincial seats. And those governors are demonstrating to the people their responsibility back to them.
This improved security has come through many different means out there. Among the threats that the insurgency would attempt to increase violent acts this year, the effects of operations conducted by security forces has so far resulted in something a little bit different. In fact, the amount of violence has decreased slightly in Regional Command South area of operations, as we compare it to last year's fighting season.
Our framework: Counterinsurgency operations partnered with our Afghan National Security Forces have worked to establish increasing security. Expanding our presence into contested areas that I've described and removing insurgents from the facilitation areas in fact has been hard work, but it has been essential work.
Police are now leading security efforts more every day, especially in the municipalities of Kandahar, Tarin Kowt and Kelat. Building stability operations in Afghan Local Police programs have been established in selected areas, and that's upon the request of the local government authorities. And they are validated by the Afghan government. These programs provide for community based self defense units under the Ministry of Interior, that are accountable to the district chief of police and, in return, back to the communities.
There are currently 30 village stability operations, Afghan Local Police sites, in Regional Command South, within 17 validated districts. That's about 2,200 Afghan local policemen supporting communities and denying Taliban access back into their villages.
The very active partnered special operations missions throughout the region have seriously degraded and disorganized the insurgent leadership. Continual targeting of insurgent support zones has not only led to the killing or capturing of hundreds of insurgent leaders, fighters and facilitators, it has also led to dramatic levels of exploitable intelligence.
Afghan security forces and ISAF have worked together to remove nearly 1,400 caches of weapons, 110 tons of homemade explosives, and removed over 300 high-value individuals since the beginning of November. The net result is not only removing lethal materiel and leadership from the battlefield, but also greatly impacting the insurgents' ability to acquire replacement materiel.
The results of these security efforts can best be demonstrated, I think, through the behavior of the population affected by the security situation. In Kandahar, local leaders are becoming more involved in activities that contribute to traditional shura-based governance. Schools previously closed due to intimidation in areas like Panjwai are now reopening. Strong district governors across Regional Command South are leading their districts. These particular leaders are able to effectively govern their districts by bringing Afghans of all tribes together in cooperation for the greater good.
At the neighborhood level, subdistrict managers in Kandahar City are becoming increasingly effective and active at representing and caring for the constituents of their districts. And freedom of movement has improved across Regional Command South. Many residents of Kandahar City have returned to taking day trips up to the Arghandab River Valley and the Dahla Dam reservoir. In fact, when you fly around on Friday nights, you can see bumper-to-bumper traffic moving to and from the city.
Progress has extended much beyond central Kandahar heartland. Panjwai, Zhari and Maiwand were traditionally insurgents' greatest refuge and a base for its operations to influence central Kandahar and Kandahar City. And reports that we're receiving now indicate that the insurgent fighters no longer feel safe in those areas.
There has been an increase in the number of former insurgents coming forward to reintegrate in 2010 and 2011. Those coming forward to reintegrate often cite the reasons as being tired of the fighting and they're tired of Taliban senior leadership's harsh tactics against Afghans. And we're rapidly approaching 200. In fact, it looks like we have another 10 insurgents willing to reintegrate as of today. Insurgent momentum has been put in check, and we are taking advantage of that increased security now to follow it up and establish governance that solidifies those gains and starts to connect back to the population.
Now, I've said many times insurgents will not give up easily. And as we predicted, they are shifting tactics towards intimidation of the population and government officials. They're doing this through physical harm, murder in some cases, and complex attacks. In fact, there have been a couple of high-profile events lately, including complex attacks. These complex attacks are being countered by our Afghan National Security Force partners. And in fact, the result has been tactical and moral defeat for the insurgents.
These attacks, along with active targeting of Afghan leaders, are designed to impact on the perception of security in the minds of the population. The fact is that these types of attacks are working counter to their intent, as insurgents are harming innocent civilians.
The ability of Afghan security and government institutions to maintain progress toward the goal of transition amid these attacks I think is a testament to Afghan resiliency in the face of the adversity. Local government continues; things continue to function; deputies are stepping up and GIRoA [Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan ] is moving on.
Let me quickly address where we're headed. Undoubtedly, the look and feel of the international community presence in Regional Command South will change as Afghans move into the lead; it has to. It's no secret that the uplift in forces from the surge will be recovered. As we go forward, we will continue to apply the same approach in allocating those resources that we have based on priorities. We will maintain the momentum of the campaign. We will continue to press the insurgency with our tempo of operations. We will continue the progress we have made in restoring local, inclusive governments. We will maintain our partnership across the span of military and civilian leadership. We will maintain our focus at the district and province level, and work to increase capacity. We will maintain our efforts with training, partnering and mentoring the Afghan security forces, including the Afghan Local Police, and move them increasingly toward leading and directing roles, and securing their people, and relentlessly pursuing criminals and armed opposition. We will support the Afghan-led reintegration process which, in consultation with my security partners, is one of my primary focuses in my remaining months that are here.
And in closing, I'd like to personally thank all the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and civilians who have served and sacrificed in Regional Command South over the last year. Regardless of the nationality, their efforts have been truly tremendous.
And so with that, I'll pause and open up for questions. Thank you.
COL. LAPAN: All right, sir.
We'll start with the 10th Mountain Division's hometown paper. Marc?
Q: Hi. It's Marc Heller, with the Watertown Daily Times. How are you, sir?
GEN. TERRY: Hey, Marc. Good to -- good to hear your voice.
Q: I guess one of the consequences of progress is that you tend to fall off of the front pages a little bit. And people -- at least maybe here in the nation's capital -- are obsessed with other things. Does that concern you at all? Is there any evidence on the part of your soldiers that this -- that this is a problem or affects morale in any way?
GEN. TERRY: No, I've been out over the last couple of days. In fact, I was out today. I don't think it impacts on them. I -- soldiers are focused on their mission. They're resilient. In fact, I'm always continually amazed at how they adapt to changing conditions out there. We've got -- we've got some tremendous soldiers -- again, regardless of nationality -- here in Regional Command South.
But direct answer to your question: I don't see any impact on morale.
Q: Does the fact that this kind of falls out of the public consciousness a little bit concern you at all?
GEN. TERRY: Well, I -- you know, I'm probably partially to blame. Maybe I should get up in front of these press conferences a little more. But you know, frankly, it's not a huge concern right now.
COL. LAPAN: Mathieu.
Q: Hi, General. This is Mathieu Rabechault, from AFP. You said the amount of violence has decreased slightly in RC South. Could you elaborate on that? And then, I've got a second question related to the death of Ahmed Wali Karzai. Did you notice any change on the ground since his death?
GEN. TERRY: Hey, Dave, can you repeat that question for me, please?
COL. LAPAN: Yes, sir. A two-part question: the first, if you could provide some more detail about the decreased level of violence and attacks; and the second, about the impact you've seen since the death of Mr. Karzai.
GEN. TERRY: Yeah. And again, the level of violence in the fighting season, which we traditionally talk about as from May up till about November, what we're seeing so far is a -- is a slight decrease. We're seeing an increased use in IEDs; however, it comes -- improvised explosive devices. However, it goes up and down. We believe that's based off of, probably, a supply cycle that we are having reasonable effects on disrupting. As it goes down, we see more direct fire out there. That's kind of the general characterization.
Fortunately, we're getting pretty good at finding caches, and we're getting pretty good at finding improvised explosive devices as they -- as they go into the ground. We're currently at a -- about a -- 60 percent, a little bit higher, finding IEDs, as opposed to striking those IEDs.
I know what's on everybody's mind is the violence and intimidation. It's pretty consistent or a little bit below what it was last year. I think the actual targeting of key GIRoA officials is a concern of everyone and effectiveness that that's at.
In relationship to the provincial council chairman's death, Ahmed Wali Karzai, as I said, folks are stepping up and filling the gap that's created there in his departure. And I really see no difference in Afghans in terms of governance moving forward, especially in the role of provincial council chairmen there. I think there was some initial shock and perhaps a little bit of momentum lost, but I see that momentum frankly being regained.
COL. LAPAN: Lita.
Q: General, good morning. It's Lolita Baldor with the Associated Press. When we were just there with the chairman, there was some discussion about whether or not some of the insurgents might be moving away -- and, in fact, across the border -- because of Ramadan. Can you tell us a little bit about what you're seeing? Are they indeed leaving or are they staying to fight, as they've been urged by their leaders?
GEN. TERRY: I think it's a little early to tell. As you know, we're about three days into Ramazan. I think that's a little early to track any trends. We have indications of some perhaps moving back, but I think it's still a little too early to tell.
COL. LAPAN: Viola.
Q: General, this is Viola Gienger from Bloomberg News. You mentioned the targeting of GIRoA officials is a concern to everyone. Can you elaborate on that a little bit? Do you see the -- a new pattern, that the Taliban is using new tactics and -- or shifting to this idea of decapitation, taking lessons from the U.S. or -- and what are you doing, if anything, to increase protection of some of the key officials? Is there any kind of personal security training being provided? Is there -- is the security being increased or screened better? What are you doing about that?
GEN. TERRY: Yeah, let me -- I think you got about three questions here, at least two.
The first one is the shift in TTP [tactics, techniques, and procedures] and then I think the second one then probably deals with two aspects. One is the physical force protection, close-in protection, and the other one is then how do you get ahead of these things.
First, I think there is a shift. I think that it's somewhat predictable, given the fact that what was -- what's a safe haven in places like Zhari, Panjwai and Arghandab is now not quite as safe as it used to be, and in fact, you know, we've got indications, as I said, that insurgents no longer feel safe there, specifically because of an increasing tempo of operations. And they have a hard time obviously standing toe to toe.
So I think that's caused them to shift as we -- over the winter put a concerted effort in connecting the population at the local level, governance wise, back through the shura process, to effective district governors, and then eventually back up to the province.
I think what the insurgents fear the most is that they are losing the very population that they seek to control and among which they find safe haven.
And you know, frankly, we are working with the partial security of all the key leader officials. Back in March we created what we call our active layered security plan for Kandahar province and Regional Command South. That actually starts at the border to interdict and disrupt those supply chains that we talked about, physically go in and take out the safe havens, and then actively targeting, through our special operating forces, a lot of the leadership that -- and the cell leaders that conduct these attacks.
At the same time, we looked at, you know, the physical force protection pieces for key leaders and implemented measures. And also we have trained some of the personal security detachments, and we will continue to train personal security detachments that are out there.
The reality is, we have to work on intelligence, specifically within the Afghan National Security Forces, and develop, frankly, the networks out there among the communities that provide the tip-offs to our Afghan National Security Forces so they can go in and get ahead of this.
We are seeing the increase in tip lines call-ins, and in fact that was one of the measures that we implemented. And again, we action those as they come about.
COL. LAPAN: Larry.
Q: General, Larry Shaughnessy from CNN. Can you tell us what if any changes you've seen for your area of responsibility since the SEALs got Osama bin Laden and the tensions grew between Pakistan and the U.S. as far as what we're able to do over there?
GEN. TERRY: Well, the first thing was a resounding congratulations from all my Afghan national security partners. They were very joyful at Osama bin Laden's demise there.
To be honest with you, operations continue. I've seen no real discernible difference out there among the insurgent population or the Afghan National Security Forces.
COL. LAPAN: Cami.
Q: General, Cami McCormick from CBS. First of all, you mentioned an increase in IEDs. Do you have a percentage how much that's increased and also what's being done to stop the flow and not just necessarily finding them on the ground, but especially in the border regions, what's being done to stop the flow of ammonium nitrate from Pakistan? And also, if you could, elaborate on the complex attacks you mentioned earlier.
GEN. TERRY: Yeah, OK. So -- make sure I got this right. I didn't hear the first question. Dave, can you repeat it?
Q: The percentage of IEDs, the increase.
COL. LAPAN: Yes. Sir, the increase in IEDs, percentage increase or numerical?
Q: And what's being done to stop them.
GEN. TERRY: OK. The increase in IEDs is -- and I don't have the facts and figures in front of me -- I can get them back to you later -- but it's probably a slight increase of about 5 percent.
In relationship to not just finding them, but again, we actively target cell leaders inside of Afghanistan. And then we do quite a bit of interdiction missions along the border. Frankly, we've used a lot of our technical capability to figure out where the homemade explosives are coming across, and a large portion of that 110 tons that I described to you, taken off the battlefield, comes from that.
And I think there was one other question you had wrapped into that.
Q: What's being done on the Pakistan -- by the U.S. military to convince the Pakistanis to stop the flow of ammonium nitrate? And then I wanted to know more about the complex attacks.
GEN. TERRY: Yeah. Yes, ma'am. Yeah, we -- what we do is, forensically we go back in and examine the content of the caches and the homemade explosive material. We then feed that up to ISAF, who then works back across with Pakistan in what we call tripartite process. We also, through our border flag meetings, talk to the -- to Pakistan military about that.
So we are working it. And again, it's a process that we work directly with the Paks and we also work back up with ISAF.
And forgive me; I -- the final question was?
Q: Complex attacks. If you could elaborate on what those are.
STAFF: Complex attacks.
GEN. TERRY: Oh, complex attacks. Got it.
What we're seeing are not pretty well-planned and reconned attacks. I would offer that the one up in Tarin Kowt that we had recently was -- I would consider a complex attack, where you had vehicle-borne IEDs actually attempt to breach the governor's compound and then suicide bombers try to penetrate, coordinated with a parallel attack that was happening downtown on a radio station.
So these are being planned and some form of reconnaissance being done and then capabilities brought together. Insurgents move into an area of operations and actually conduct attacks. That's what I mean by complex attacks.
In all cases with these complex attacks -- we had one back in February at the provincial headquarters. We had one recently in -- I think it was the 7th of May in Kandahar city. Our Afghan National Security Force partners have been very good at countering them as they occur. In fact, pretty proud of how they're command-and-controlling those and getting after it again. We've got to get to -- more toward intelligence and actually finding and discovering how these complex attacks are evolving and then take them out as they're trying to organize themselves.
COL. LAPAN: Jim?
Q: General, Jim Michaels at USA Today. You mentioned the reintegration of about 200 former insurgents, and I'm wondering, is that so far this year? And if so, how does that compare to last year and previous years? And also, are there any reconciliation talks going on in your AO between GIRoA -- whatever form of GIRoA -- and insurgent leaders?
GEN. TERRY: Yeah, I -- reconciliation is a process that's above my level. I tend to leave that to the Afghans in relationship to how they want to conduct those events.
I'm not aware of any. I do work with the Afghans who lead the reintegration process down here. I can tell you that I have nothing statistically to compare it to last year. These are all from about -- you know, about the January time frame forward.
We hear of a lot of opportunities. We hear of a lot of insurgents that want to come back. Our approach has been to welcome them back home into the communities. In other words, it's -- after 30 years of war, it's time to put your weapons down, come back, rejoin your communities and participate in Afghan society. And I think there are a lot of folks down here that are willing to do that.
The 200 figure actually talks to the formal process. As I go around and talk to -- especially to district governors, what I'm hearing is that there are a number of -- for lack of better terms, I would refer to as informal reintegration insurgents that just simply come back home. And I think that's probably indicative of what's going on in places like Arghandab and a couple other of the districts throughout Regional Command South.
So to sum it up, there's nothing statistically to compare it to either on the formal or the informal side. Thanks.
COL. LAPAN: Raghubir.
Q: Thank you, General. Raghubir Goyal, India Globe and Asia Today. My question is that there was a time a few months ago when Talibans were laying down their arms and joining the community. Now I -- we see that they are coming back against or after high-level officials. So, sir, what is the future Afghanistan?
GEN. TERRY: Dave, could you repeat that for me?
COL. LAPAN: Yes, sir. The gist of it is they've seen Taliban turning in their arms and coming back, yet at the same time seeing continued attacks on senior officials. So how do you see that playing out in the future?
GEN. TERRY: Well, I think many people would -- and in fact, our chairman, I think, recently commented that these are the tactics that they have to resort to as they -- as they see themselves losing the people that they wish to control, frankly because government is becoming more effective every day as we make security gains. I think this is the outcome of that. I see opportunity in Regional Command South. I think -- and I don't think -- I believe -- that Afghan National Security Forces by 2014 will be fully in the lead of security in Regional Command South, and I have a lot of confidence that governance will be there to back it. So I see a pretty positive future for Afghanistan down the road.
Q: Hi, General. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. Can you talk a little bit about the VSOs [Village Stability Operations], the 30 VSOs? Are you able to point to any tangible advances or progress that is made specifically by the presence of those VSOs? For instance, do you have any metrics that can say something has increased, whether on the governance side, violence has decreased, something that, that you can specifically point to the presence and the work of these VSOs?
GEN. TERRY: Yeah, I can give you some anecdotal, probably, measures of effectiveness in terms of what they're doing out there. Specific metrics, I'd have to refer you up to Brigadier General Chris Haas up in ISAF.
There are places where -- of course VSO, you know, 70 percent of that process is about getting the community to come back together and re-establish that shura process. As a community does that, starts to come back together and they decide that they want to secure themselves, then we move forward with Afghan Local Police.
There are places, like Gizab up in Daikundi, where the Afghan Local Police, in conjunction with the local community, have actually pushed back on insurgents trying to come back in to Gizab. And there are a couple other locations out there also that those things are happening with. But specific metrics, I'll have to refer you back up to General Chris Haas.
COL. LAPAN: Okay. Rich?
Q: Sir, Richard Sisk, The War Report. How many casualties has 10th Mountain sustained since November? Has the rate been increasing of late?
GEN. TERRY: OK. Regional Command South has recently gotten the 3rd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, in April. That's the only 10th Mountain division unit that's down here. I have organizations -- I have Australians up in Uruzgan. I have a battalion up there that's actually from 1st Infantry Division. I've got a brigade here from Fort Carson, Colorado. And I've got a brigade here from Alaska. So we have a number of people out there.
Now, trend line wise, percentage of population statistically, the casualties are at about the same pace over the last year. We've suffered 72 killed in action to date. That's down slightly from this time last year. I'd like to provide all my condolences to their families in the sacrifices out there. I think we're up to around 1,500 total casualties.
I think what's significant here is -- and the majority of those are what we call Category C casualties, that, frankly, take a little bit of a time out. They might go out of theater, but a large part of them return to duty. I think that's a testament in a large way to a lot of the protective gear. And thanks to our Congress for financing that. Things like the MRAPs and the body armor that we wear are really paying dividends here in terms of saving soldiers' lives.
We can get the exact figures for you and forward those.
COL. LAPAN: Larry.
Q: General, Larry Shaughnessy again from CNN. The enemy that you're fighting on the battlefield, after battles, are you seeing an increase of foreign fighters? And if so, do you have any idea where these foreign fighters are coming from?
GEN. TERRY: In foreign fighters, I want to make sure we're not talking past each other. There's what we tend to call out-of-area fighters. Could you describe to me what you consider a foreign fighter, just so I'm straight?
Q: They're not Afghans or Pakistani Taliban supporters or with related groups. I'm thinking people from Arabia, North Africa, Chechnya. Are you seeing any of those? Are you seeing an increase or a decrease of those?
GEN. TERRY: I'm not seeing an increase nor a decrease. We've seen maybe a handful. The majority of the fighters here are Pashtun, southern Pashtun. And, you know, that's kind of where the insurgents come from.
COL. LAPAN: OK. Viola, last one.
Q: General, it seems like a lot of the statistics and some of the things you're saying, comparing this year to last year -- not much has changed, even though there's been a significant increase in force. I mean, you said that, if I understood correctly, civilian casualties are about the same; the ISAF forces who were killed is slightly down, but not much; the attacks are only slightly down. Wouldn't you have expected a more dramatic decrease and an improvement in the situation?
GEN. TERRY: I think that it's -- that we really, seriously, ought to take a look at what you're asking here at the end of the fighting season. You know, as we have -- we have said that we thought the insurgents would really come back and fight hard for this terrain down here in Regional Command South that once, frankly, provided them safe haven, provided them support areas; they ran their command and control out of it. And that's exactly what's happening. So I think it's -- I think it's a little early to draw that conclusion.
I think you can conclude that we've increased security and, as we expand that security out, that that perhaps drives some of the activity that we track. In other words, a part of this is us getting after the insurgents that remain. And so I think really a conclusion should be, you know, looked at a little more in depth here at the end of the fighting season.
COL. LAPAN: OK, sir. I will send it back to you for any closing remarks you'd like to make. And again, thanks for giving us your time this morning -- or this evening, your clock.
GEN. TERRY: No, I just want to thank everybody for the opportunity to speak to you. Again, I think it's important that, you know, we get the facts out there. You know, there is progress down here in Regional Command South.
And I look forward to serving as commander of V Corps, and the great possibility of coming back to Afghanistan, as I'd like to see the mission that we have through -- throughout.
And again, I'd like to recognize all those soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines out there, and civilians, in Regional Command South, that have contributed significantly to everything that's going on down here. So, thanks, and Climb to Glory.
COL. LAPAN: Thank you, General.