DOD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Allyn via Teleconference from Afghanistan
JAMES TURNER (deputy director, Pentagon Press Office): Good morning here and good evening in Afghanistan.
I'd like to welcome to the Pentagon Briefing Room Army Major General Daniel Allyn. He's the commanding general for Regional Command East. General Allyn and the 1st Cavalry Division assumed authority of RC East in May of this year. In full partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces, he commands a combined team of eight U.S., French and Polish task forces. As you know, RC East's area of responsibility includes 14 provinces with a combined population of 7.5 million Afghans.
This is General Allyn's first briefing with us in this format, and today he joins us from his headquarters in Bagram airfield. He'll take some opening comments and then take your questions.
And with that, General, I'll turn it over to you.
MAJOR GENERAL DANIEL ALLYN: Thanks for that introduction, Jim. And I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you today.
Combined Joint Task Force-1 assumed duties here in Regional Command East on the 19th of May, so just over three months ago, from Combined Joint Task Force -101 and my good friend [Major General] John Campbell. On behalf of all the courageous teammates of Combined Joint Task Force -1, it's an honor to represent the troopers of Regional Command East today.
Our main effort is to partner with and develop the Afghan security forces to achieve security primacy and to set the conditions for security, governance and economic development for the benefit of approximately 7 1/2 million Afghans in the 14 provinces and 160 districts that comprise Regional Command East. We have built upon the successes of Combined Joint Task Force 101 and sustained the momentum and continuity of this campaign.
Our current focus, shoulder to shoulder with our Afghan security force partners, is to expand the Kabul security zone and interdict insurgent infiltration along the 450-kilometer Afghanistan-Pakistan border. It's been a dynamic three months amidst a very tough fight and courageous actions by our troopers and task forces. We are making substantive progress in building Afghan security force capability and expanding the Kabul security zone.
The Afghan government and security forces in our area continue to grow in capability and confidence, allowing us to build upon security conditions and deliver essential services to the people of Afghanistan. Tactically, along with our security force partners, we have kept the pressure on insurgent networks, cleared several support zones and, in the process, strengthened the leadership and capability of our Afghan partners.
A side effect of this pressure on the insurgent networks is the ruthless, desperate and inexplicable actions of insurgents against the people of Afghanistan. Their blatant disregard for the Afghan people manifests itself in suicide attacks that predominantly target innocent civilians, and ill-disciplined direct and indirect fire attacks that brutalize population centers.
Over the past 90 days, 85 to 90 percent of Afghan civilian casualties are caused by insurgent violence. As a result, more and more communities are becoming inhospitable to insurgent influence and cohabitation. And we see increased cooperation between the Afghan people, the local government and the security forces who serve them.
As an example, the Afghan National Police led a combined effort during early August and delivered 160 tons of humanitarian assistance to the citizens of Nuristan. And unlike months before in previous missions, this operation was conducted with limited coalition force assistance. It was an extremely complex operation led throughout by capable Afghan security forces with complete freedom of movement in Kunar and Nuristan provinces, and with minimal insurgent capacity to deter mission success.
During the first round of transition to Afghan security force and governance control, we had two provinces and one capital district begin the transition process, and in each area, progress and development continue. Transitioned areas continue the process towards full Afghan primacy in security, governance and development. We will continue to support our partners and ensure they reach irreversible stability.
While much work remains to be done, we are witnesses to the Afghan security force and government institutions strengthening their capacity and effectiveness. We will continue to press forward with our Afghan partners to achieve a stable and secure future for the people of Afghanistan.
And with that, I'm happy to take any of your questions.
MR. TURNER: OK, Bob.
Q: General, this is Bob Burns with AP. With the progress that's been made in the south over the past year or so, and with the beginning of the withdrawal of the surge forces this year, has there been or will there be a transfer of either troops or transport or other military resources to your region in the coming weeks or months?
GEN. ALLYN: Well, Bob, thanks for that question. And obviously that's an area being reviewed right now by General Scaparotti and General Allen. And while our campaign plan right now calls for us to accomplish our missions with the resources that we have, we are clearly identifying both opportunities and risk with future decisions that they will make.
Q: Just a quick follow-up, General. In your estimation, do you need additional forces or other resources in order to carry out a full-blown counterinsurgency campaign in your region?
GEN. ALLYN: Yeah, I have the forces that I need to accomplish the mission that I've been given. Obviously if there's a desire to accelerate progress, then that creates conditions which might cause me to adjust that estimate. But as it stands right now, with the mission that I've been given, I have the resources I need to accomplish our campaign plan.
Q: General, it's Spencer Ackerman with Wired. Your predecessor, General Campbell, described his main mission as closing down the infiltration rat holes from Pakistan into Afghanistan and securing the main roads. You described yours as partnering with the ANSF and expanding the Kabul security zone along the Af-Pak border. Can you talk about the degrees to which this is a change from the security conditions in the plan that your predecessor passed on?
GEN. ALLYN: It's really not a change. In fact, we had a very clean handoff, and we have great continuity between our two plans. And frankly, he was partnered with the Afghan security forces while he worked to interdict the border with Pakistan, and we remain committed to that mission. And concurrent with that, and really as an integral component of that, we are expanding the Kabul security zone. So I hope that answers your question.
MR. TURNER: (Inaudible.)
Q: General, Craig Whitlock with the Washington Post. I wanted to ask you about the Tangi Valley. As you know, it's been in the news here recently due to that terrible crash of the Chinook with the special operators and others onboard. I was hoping you could elaborate a little bit on the decision to withdraw U.S. forces from there earlier this year and why the Afghan forces weren't able to secure that area or at least take control, and whether you're reconsidering going back in or not.
GEN. ALLYN: Well, obviously we conducted a very extensive operation in there immediately following the crash of the aircraft and recovered all of our personnel and equipment and operated for the better part of a week in addition to targeting several networks that I know that General Allen has talked about. So we had freedom of movement in that area and -- as we do across all of Regional Command East -- we work with our Afghan security force partners and determine where our forces need to be arrayed to attack any enemy safe havens that exist.
Q: If I could follow up my first couple questions on that -- maybe I didn't catch the answer. Could you elaborate on why U.S. forces withdrew their constant presence from there to begin with? And why were the Afghans not able to move in?
GEN. ALLYN: The decision to reposition from the center of the Tangi Valley really amounted to where you could best achieve the effect that needed to be achieved. And so the decision was made several months prior to deny enemy access from that valley to population centers. And the Afghan security forces are arrayed where they need to be to protect the citizens in the population centers in Logar and Wardak.
Q: Hey, General Allyn. It's Courtney Kube from NBC News. Still on that same subject, has there been any -- has there been any luck in catching and/or killing the original insurgent that was -- that was the -- part of the operation that the Chinook was headed towards when it was shot down? I don't know the guy's name, but has there been any luck in finding him?
GEN. ALLYN: Well, I believe that that effort is continuing as we continue to pursue all the enemies of Afghanistan and we work, as you know, Courtney, with all of our partners here in special operations forces and our Afghan security force partners to pursue relentlessly all the enemies of stability here in Afghanistan.
MR. TURNER: OK. In the back.
Q: Thank you, General. This is Lalit Jha from Pahjwok Afghan News. Can you give us a sense of the -- how strong the safe havens are across the border? Has it changed? Has it been diluted?
GEN. ALLYN: Well, obviously my mission is on this side of the Pakistan border, and I'm very focused on eliminating the residual safe havens that exist here within Afghanistan. And that takes the full effort of my leaders and units that are partnered with the Afghan security forces in accomplishing that mission. So that's really the focus of my effort.
MR. TURNER: In the back.
Q: General, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News. Back in July there was an initial drawdown of several thousand troops, I believe, from your AOR [area of responsibility]. Can you describe how that's impacted your operations and has led to some repositioning, or was this already taken care of before that withdrawal occurred?
GEN. ALLYN: No, obviously we adjust as the situation on the ground enables us to, and that adjustment was -- took into account the areas that we had achieved good stability and were able to accomplish the mission with a smaller footprint. And a similar process will go into any future decisions.
Q: Spencer Ackerman again, sir. What's the state of your cooperation with the Pakistan military when you're pursuing insurgents crossing the Pakistan border? There was an incident, I recall, shortly after the killing of Osama bin Laden, that General Campbell described, where there was briefly a lack of communication with the Pakistani military. What are the procedures in place? How would you categorize your cooperation?
GEN. ALLYN: Well, first of all, it's a work in progress, and we work to improve both the communication and coordination every day. The good news is, we have liaison officers with each other's headquarters, we have liaison officers from the Pakistan military in our border coordination centers, and we have communication links between our units along the border with their units along the border.
And just this past week we completed a communications exercise that was scenario-driven with the 11th Corps of the Pak[istan] mil[itary] forces that has control of all border forces along the Pakistan border. It was a very effective exercise in ensuring that should we need a responsive communications links, that we confirmed that all of those were in place.
And I think as we continue to work forward, we hope to regain some of the momentum that General Campbell was able to build up during the time frame prior to the Osama bin Laden raid.
MR. TURNER: Goyal.
Q: General, this is --
Q: Oh, sorry.
Q: This is Raghubir Goyal , India Globe and Asia Today. I have two questions. One, where the Talibans are getting sophisticated weapons from? And second, what confidence really you can give to the people of Afghanistan to the ongoing violence and also to the international community, the workers working in Afghanistan? Because many feel today that they have no safety if they go to work in Afghanistan.
GEN. ALLYN: Hey, Jim, if I could -- if I could get you to clarify the second half of that question, I think he was talking about security for international workers. But can you clarify?
MR. TURNER: Correct, I think the gist of his question is, he's looking for your opinion of the level of confidence that those people have when they're coming into the region.
GEN. ALLYN: Well, first of all, in terms of the Taliban's employment of sophisticated weapons, we have not seen that to any great extent. And obviously we watch that very carefully.
We obviously recognize that there is ammonium nitrate being smuggled across the border from Pakistan. And in fact, the Afghan Uniformed Police this past week conducted two independent operations responding to intelligence from their own sources, and captured two different shipments totaling over 5,750 kilograms of ammonium nitrate. So those types of operations are focused on interdicting the flow of manpower, weapons and equipment across the border from whatever their originating source might be.
In terms of the stability environment for the international workers, obviously, just as we are focused on providing security for the Afghan people, we are focused on expanding the stable environment for the international workers, as well as the Afghan people, to go about their business and achieve a state of normalcy. And that is improving, albeit not as fast as any of us would prefer. But we are pressing forward every day to increase stability across Regional Command East.
MR. TURNER: Tony.
Q: Hi, sir. This is Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg News. The Chinook downing put a face on U.S. special operations in your region. Can you give a sense of the pace and tempo right now of those operations since the crash, and over -- project over the next five or six months whether special operations raids against Taliban leaders will increase or stay about the same that they are now?
GEN. ALLYN: Well, obviously, our counterterrorism and special operations are an integral component of comprehensive counterinsurgency. And the pace and tempo that our special operations forces execute on a nightly basis has stayed very steady throughout the time that I've been here, the past 100 days or so. And I fully expect that that tempo and pace will continue.
Q: Well, quick follow-up. There has been lots of speculation about the role of the CH-47 after the crash, after it was downed. Can you give a sense of whether CH-47 operations have diminished since the crash or whether they are still an integral part of special operations missions?
GEN. ALLYN: We conduct CH-47 operations every day and every night here in Afghanistan. They've been an integral component of our arsenal, and they will remain so.
Q: General, Craig Whitlock with The Post again. I wanted to ask you for your assessment of Afghans' mood in the east, the public mood in the week of the president's announcement about the drawdown. Are they confident that the Afghan security forces will be able to gradually fill the void as the U.S. troops gradually pull out? And how do they feel about Afghan government institutions. I know I'm asking you to speak broadly here, but just want to get your sense of the mood among the people.
GEN. ALLYN: Yeah, I would say, in general, they have great expectations, and there is some anxiety about the departure of coalition forces, because they have obviously enhanced security in many of the neighborhoods across Regional Command East. But I'll use the example of the recent operations in Kunar and Nuristan. There have been many reports about the insurgent intimidation in those areas due to the light coalition force presence.
And I can tell you in the response to the delivery of the humanitarian aid that was delivered exclusively by Afghan security forces, the people truly gained confidence and trust not only in those security forces, but in the fact that the government reached out and delivered that aid to them in advance of Ramazan.
And in the midst of conducting that exercise, there was also a natural disaster that occurred where a flash flood took out a bridge on the only route that connected the Wata Pur Valley communities and the Pech River Valley communities with the provincial capital of Asadabad. And the provincial government under Governor Wahidi responded within hours to coordinate an emergency response that not only delivered emergency aid to the people in the valley but also enabled a international response and also a coalition force response with bridging assets to restore the capability in a matter of days. And so that was a clear sign to the people of the Pech River Valley and Wata Pur Valley of the capability of their government to respond to their needs. So it is a work in progress, and obviously we have much work still to be done to bring stability and capacity to what it needs to be. But the leadership of the Afghan security forces and their government is working very hard to achieve that level of support.
MR. TURNER: In the back.
Q: Thanks, General. This is Lalit Jha here again. (Inaudible) -- Afghan-led reconciliation process can keep going on, and talks with the Taliban. Do you see any willingness on the part of the top Taliban leaders for peace talks with the government of Afghanistan? And at the operational level, do you see any change in the -- (inaudible) -- planning by the Talibans?
GEN. ALLYN: I think you asked about the ongoing reconciliation efforts between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban. To be honest, I don't have very much -- I have no interaction with that process, so I can't speak to that. What I can speak to is the reintegration efforts that the provincial governments work with the committees that have been set up in support of the government's reintegration program. And we see significant progress being made in several areas in Regional Command East where, frankly, the insurgents, both Taliban and Haqqani, are growing weary of the violence. And certainly the people of Afghanistan are demonstrating their weariness for it.
And I think you understand that there's both a formal and an informal process. And what we hear from the governors in the province is that there are a significant number of informal offers being made by Taliban leaders across Regional Command East that they are in dialogue with. And obviously they ask us to keep the pressure on the insurgent groups so that they can continue to make progress in that dialogue. And I hope that answers your question.
Q: Hi, General. It's Courtney Kube from NBC News again. I want to go back to the Chinook crash from a few weeks ago. So the target of the original operation is still on the loose. Is it fair to say that there is still an active search for him and/or the other members of the group that slipped away?
And I know that everything is under investigation with the crash, but what's your understanding of how he slipped away? General Allen announced a couple weeks ago that they found the guys and killed the guys who shot down the helicopter, but how did the original target himself slip away from the scene?
GEN. ALLYN: Well, obviously there's a number of neighborhoods in the area that was originally the subject of the target. And frankly, when the aircraft crash occurred, the assault force responded to the crash scene, and so the initial isolation that had been done may have given an opportunity there. And quite frankly, I'm not intimately involved in that process now, and I think there's other folks you'd probably be better served to ask any specific questions about that, Courtney.
Q: And is it fair to say that it is -- there's still an active search to find that target? Is that a fair characterization of what's going on now?
GEN. ALLYN: I mean, I would not want to speculate about what my teammates are working right now. But I suspect he was a significant interest, and that would remain.
MR. TURNER: OK. Luis?
Q: General Luis Martinez again, for ABC. Can you describe the tactics that the insurgents are using along the border region? And are they working in larger groups? There have been reports on the Pakistani side of several hundred insurgents crossing into their area from Afghanistan. Is that something that you're seeing, that they're operating in larger groups along the border area?
GEN. ALLYN: No, Luis, we're not -- we're not seeing larger groups. In fact, we're seeing them being forced to infiltrate in much smaller groups, because of the efforts of Afghan security forces and coalition forces to deny infiltration. And in terms of other tactics being employed, the most significant is indirect fire attacks in -- normally, in conjunction with their infiltration efforts.
MR. TURNER: OK, we have time for one more question. Goyal.
Q: Yeah. Thank you, General; Raghubir Goyal again. My -- I have a simple question here. That's how much confidence you think the people of Afghanistan today have in their government, because of violence and corruption in the country.
GEN. ALLYN: Obviously, we're focused on building the capacity at the provincial and subnational governance level, and ensuring that they can be confident of that government to be able to deliver capability to them. And frankly, nine of our 14 governors are assessed as either strong or very strong, and so that's, you know, a very good progress report.
And as we identify evidence of corruption, we ensure that we shine a spotlight on that for the leadership of Afghanistan to deal with. And we have seen them to be very responsive to countering that corruption.
MR. TURNER: All right. General, with that, we're going to turn it over to you for any closing remarks you would like to make.
GEN. ALLYN: Well, thanks, Jim. And thanks to everybody for enabling us to connect with you here today from Bagram Airfield in Regional Command East.
We, obviously, are awfully proud of the courageous efforts of our troopers here on the ground, the units that are here serving their nations on behalf of the people of Afghanistan. And we send our special blessings and prayers out to the families of the fallen, as well as our families at home that are supporting us and enabling us to do this work for the nation. And wish all of you a great day, and God bless everyone back home.
MR. TURNER: Thank you, General.