DOD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Allyn via Teleconference from Afghanistan
CAPTAIN JANE CAMPBELL (Pentagon spokesperson): Good morning here in the Pentagon Briefing Room and good evening in Afghanistan. I'd like to welcome Army Major General Daniel Allyn back to the Pentagon Briefing Room. As most of you are aware, General Allyn is the commanding general for Regional Command East.
General Allyn and the men and women of the 1st Cavalry Division assumed authority for 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. RC-East's area of responsibility includes 14 provinces with a combined population of more than 7.5 million Afghan citizens. This is the general's second briefing with us. He joined us in August of this year and will be briefing us today from his headquarters in Bagram Airfield. Following his opening remarks, we'll take your questions.
And with that, General, I'll turn it over to you, sir.
MAJOR GENERAL DANIEL ALLYN: Thanks, Jane.
And I appreciate the opportunity to talk with all of you. On behalf of all the teammates of Combined Joint Task Force 1, it's an honor to represent the troopers of Regional Command East today.
Combined Joint Task Force 1 just completed our six-month assessment on our campaign plan progress. And with the 68,000 Afghan security forces with whom we partner, we are currently on glide path to accomplish our assigned missions.
Our main effort continues to be partnership with and development of the Afghan security forces to achieve security primacy for the approximately 7 1/2 million Afghans in the 14 provinces and 160 districts that comprise Regional Command East. Due to the successes of our predecessors in CJTF 101, we are able to focus more and more on the Afghan security force partnership and capacity of the Afghan army, police and border police.
The campaign continuity with our predecessors has allowed us to sustain the momentum and maintain the initiative against the various insurgent groups such as the Haqqani Network. We continue to see indicators that Afghan security forces and coalition forces have disrupted security threats. During last month's Operation Shamsheer, Afghan security forces and coalition forces captured or killed a dozen Haqqani leaders and captured dozens of fighters. This operation involved almost 2,000 soldiers, 60 percent of which were Afghan. It postured us to keep the pressure on the enemies of the people of Afghanistan this winter.
Conversely, insurgent attacks this fall have failed miserably across the board. Examples of failed insurgent attacks in the last two months include suicide bombers who failed in their attempt to attack the Paktia governance center in the Gardez district on 16 October. One attacker detonated his device and killed himself, while Afghan police stopped the remaining three attackers.
In a separate incident, insurgents tried an ineffective attack on the Chamkani district center in Paktia on the 10th of November, where Afghan police and security forces killed eight insurgents. Additionally, coalition forces killed multiple insurgents during two separate failed complex attacks on Combat Outpost Marga in Paktika province on 7 October and 8 November.
It's increasingly evident that we are facing and defeating inexperienced and poorly-trained and led insurgent fighters. Most recently, despite public sentiments of their intent to use any and all available insurgents to attack the traditional Loya Jirga, the Afghan national security forces provided a secure environment for this historic gathering this past week.
Over the past 90 days insurgent violence continues to cause 85 to 90 percent of Afghan civilian casualties despite insurgent leaders such as Mullah Omar's recent directives to stop targeting civilians. We can deduce that the insurgents that continue to target Afghan civilians are either undisciplined, or their leaders lack the ability to enforce their own directives. Because of the enemy's continued violence against the Afghan people, we see increased cooperation between the Afghan people, the local governments and the security forces who serve them.
I believe we are now seeing in eastern Afghanistan the result of having the right inputs for the past year now. Senior leaders professed this last year, and recent successes demonstrate how vital those inputs are. Much more work remains to be done, but we are seeing tangible progress in the Afghan security forces and provincial government capacity. 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 your questions.
CAPT. CAMPBELL: Thank you, sir.
And we'll start here.
Q: Thank you. Thank you, General. This is Raghubir Goyal from India Globe and Asia Today. My question is now some elements in Pakistan are now trying to reconcile, or they have announced that they will not attack anymore in Pakistan. What I'm asking you is, is this going to help you that the Haqqani network -- you will be controlling if they are having peace inside Pakistan, so this will affect your mission? And also, as we approach Thanksgiving, what is the mood of the -- during this Thanksgiving as far as the U.S. -- your mission is concerned? Thank you.
GEN. ALLYN: Well, I think I understood the second half of your question very clearly. Our morale is high. Our soldiers are very confident, and they're very excited about the capacity that's developing in their Afghan security force partners as we look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving here in the -- in midweek. And we definitely feel the support of our families back home and also of our leadership. We have many visiting us during the holiday period.
And in terms of whether or not the Haqqanis' dialogue with Pakistan affects our efforts here -- remains to be seen. And we will obviously be -- we are ready to continue to maintain relentless pressure on any and all insurgents who attack the Afghan people and the efforts of the security forces of Afghanistan.
Q: Hi, General.
It's Courtney Kube from NBC News. You mentioned in your opening statement that you believe that the inputs are right in your area over the last year of the increase in U.S. troops there and Afghan troops, but we've been hearing more and more that there will be a third or another increase of U.S. troops into RC East next year and maybe into the middle of the year before the surge starts drawing down.
Do you still anticipate that? Do you anticipate that you'll have an increase in troops and perhaps an increase in operations in your area coming early 2012?
GEN. ALLYN: Well, thanks, Courtney. And I know you're well aware that this was really the first full fighting season with all the surge forces on the ground. And I think we can clearly see the impact that it had on denying the insurgents any opportunity to regain lost ground both in the south, the southwest, and also in the areas that we wrested from their control during the summer campaign.
We are obviously still in the process of the early phase of the 2011 reductions, and we are on track to meet that by the middle of next month. And the resources that we have now are -- have us in good shape for both the winter fighting season and heading into the spring campaign. And I'd say any future decision that General Allen or General Scaparrotti make on resources is something that is probably best addressed to them.
Q: General, hi. It's David Cloud with the L.A. Times. Wanted to ask about the partnering effort that you mentioned. There are some here in Washington who think there ought to be a shift in that effort away from partnering U.S. units with Afghan National Army units and toward an embedded adviser kind of approach as -- in order to speed up the ability of Afghan units to take over battle space.
Do you -- my questions are -- two questions: One, do you have any embedded advisers with ANA units? And two, are you -- are you thinking about moving to that kind of model, and do you think it would be beneficial?
GEN. ALLYN: Well, thanks, David. And frankly, the quickest way that you accelerate the development of Afghan security forces is by putting the world's best army at that mission, and that's what we've been doing with our embedded partnership with the tolais and kandaks -- that's the companies and battalions of the Afghan security forces. And we have seen a marked improvement through that embedded partnership. And that has also built the confidence of their leaders, as well as their competence, as we do that.
Now, we also have security force assistance teams as a part of our effort, and we align them with the units that are -- have made the most progress, so that we can partner with those units that most need the development work. And frankly, it's a very careful assessment that our commanders at every level make, to ensure that we have our embedded partners with the right units and the right leaders, as well as our advisers working with those units that have developed to the point where advisory assistance is sufficient to sustain them toward the final readiness.
Q: So you have -- it sounds like a mix of embedded advisers and partnered units. Can you just help me understand what the -- what the breakdown is there? I mean, of the ANSF in your -- in your area, what's the -- and the units in your area, how many have embedded advisers, and how many are partnered units?
GEN. ALLYN: Yeah, that's a -- it's a very complex question to answer. Obviously, we have 68,000 Afghan security forces, and we have today just over 29,000 coalition forces. So if you did raw math, you can tell that about half of the security forces enjoy a(n) embedded partnership arrangement, but it's really based on where our -- the main focus of our operations are, where the enemy threat requires it. And those units that have advanced their readiness to the point where adviser teams are adequate to sustain them, that's where we align them. So within just about every brigade combat team's area of operation, you have a mix of adviser team and embedded partnerships. So I wouldn't want to try to give you a raw number, but suffice to say that all our adviser teams and all our units are fully invested in partnering with our Afghan security forces to accelerate their development.
Q: Dan De Luce at AFP. Could you tell us what's the state of rocket fire coming from the Haqqani network over the border?
We've heard that there was a dramatic increase since May, with the Pakistani Frontier Corps either turning a blind eye or worse. Is that still the situation? Has there been any improvement?
And then the other question, related to that, is, how do you see the Afghan forces' ability and capability to defend that border without coalition forces? Are they close to that, and are there any Afghan units that are able to operate there independently? And do they have helicopters, for example, to support that?
GEN. ALLYN: Well, Dan, first of all, to your question about the cross-border fires, that has actually tapered somewhat in the past several weeks. And in fact we've had some very good cases in the last three weeks of the PAKMIL coordinating with us to respond against those cross-border fires. And that coordination occurs with every event that happens. I'd say in the last three weeks we're probably averaging three to four cross-border firing incidents a week. Not all of those are confirmed to come from Haqqani Network operators, but the majority do come from the area from which they normally operate.
Now, we do have Afghan border police that are operating independently in several areas in Regional Command East. In fact, in recent -- on the 3rd of November we transitioned an area in southwest Paktika to independent control by the 7th Kandak of 2nd Zone ABP.
So that's a case where they advanced to that level and we were able to focus our partnership on other elements.
We are -- part of our strategy is to ensure that the Afghan Border Police are ready to defend their border, as we continue their development. And obviously, our enabler capability -- like helicopters, that you mentioned -- is a key capability that they will need for some time while we continue to train and develop their own Afghan Air Force assets. They're not ready today to do that, but they are clearly on a training path to attain that security primacy over time.
Q: Tom Bowman with NPR. I wanted you to talk a little bit more about troop reductions next month to meet the White House call for reductions in troops. A ballpark on how many you expect to pull out of the east? Will they be combat or support units?
And also, a broader question into next year: As you know, General Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, wants to shift more American troops to the east. Do you see a need for more American troops in the east, or can that hole be filled by Afghan forces?
GEN. ALLYN: Well, thanks, Tom, for that question. First of all, we've got about 200 troops to withdraw from the east, to meet our target in our portion of the surge recovery. And none of those are front-line combat troops, so we will sustain our focus on partnership and pressure on the insurgent networks.
And looking forward to the east, clearly, the question of how many more resources you need depends upon how quickly you want to finish defeating the insurgent force here in the east.
And that timeline drives what resources are needed. We still have insurgent safe havens to deal with in the east. We're focused on those each and every day, and we're going to maintain the pressure against them with every resource we have at our disposal as we develop the Afghan security forces to hold and secure their nation over time.
Q: General, it's Mike Evans from The Times of London. Can you tell me, as you're planning various operations, how important is the element of night raids in both attacking the Haqqani network and in gathering intelligence for your other operations? And the second question, after 2014 -- can you see at this stage that it will be possible for all American forces to be out of the east in 2014, or do you think that it will be necessary to keep some elements of the coalition, particularly American forces, post-2014?
GEN. ALLYN: Well, first of all, to your question of night raids, clearly, operations going after the insurgent network leaders are a key component of the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism effort. Those enemies of Afghanistan clearly are successfully targeted at minimal risk to civilians through night raids, and those will continue to be important. And clearly, we are focused on continuing to expand the Afghan security force role in those operations.
They're increasing every day, and ultimately, as we are with all operations, the goal is for them to take the lead in those operations as we continue to expand their development.
And in terms of our commitment to Afghanistan after 2014, I know that General Allen has made it clear that there will be a continued need for security force development after 2014. And that is a part of the strategic partnership dialogue that is still ongoing. And so I would say that we will have an enduring commitment to the development of the Afghan security forces and their capability.
Q: General, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News. Can I go back to Tom's -- your answer to Tom's question about the 200 forces from RC East? Are you saying from the 14 provinces in that RC East controls, that 200 total will be sent home as part of the first tranche or of any tranches as part of this repositioning?
GEN. ALLYN: The question that I thought he asked was how much did you have remaining to meet your surge recovery, and that's about 200. So -- and yes, that is from across the 14 provinces of Regional Command East. That's our surge recovery effort.
Q: Does that mean -- did you have any other forces that left before these 200, or is this going to be the total, 200, for the year?
GEN. ALLYN: No, we had about 1,500 total that we contributed. And the largest portion of that was a unit that did not deploy in as part of one of the brigade formations.
So they were off-ramped on arrival, as opposed to being withdrawn from the force. So that was the bulk of our reduction, and the rest we were able to shave from non-infantry and maneuver force formations.
Q: Hi, General, it's Courtney Kube from NBC News again. If we could just quickly go back to the cross-border -- just one follow-up on Dan De Luce's question on the cross-border fire. It -- what -- the fact that the number of cross-border has gone down in recent weeks, does that have something -- anything to do with the weather or do you think that that actually has some kind of operational reason behind that? Or is it just that it's getting colder and it's more challenging for --?
GEN. ALLYN: No, Courtney, we don't see any connection to the weather at all. It's obviously a number of factors. We've continued to get about the same number of attacks against our border positions, but the majority of that firing over the last several weeks has been on the Afghan side of the border.
Now, whether or not there's more to the explanation than that's where the enemy is choosing to shoot from, I can't answer that. I do know the positive sign from our perspective is the responsiveness with which the PAKMIL border force have coordinated actions against the firing.
And we've also had some complementary efforts as we have maneuvered forces to deny insurgent infiltration. Our counterparts on the other side of the border have also adjusted positions, at our request. And this is a very positive step forward, and really was a direct result of the regional border coordination meeting that the Afghans held with the 11th Corps of the Pakistan military in Kabul a little over a month ago.
And another positive sign is the communications exercises. We've done one about three weeks ago; we've got another one scheduled to go here in November, and it involves the Pakistan border force, the Afghan border force and also our combat outpost. And again, the goal here is that Pakistan military and Afghan military secure that border as -- in a bilateral way. And we are increasingly allowing them to do the majority of that coordination.
Q: General, Tom Bowman again, with NPR. As you know, the strategy here in Washington is to both attack the Haqqani network and also try to get the leadership to the table to talk. At this point, have you seen or heard any indication that the Haqqani leadership is willing to come to the table for negotiations?
GEN. ALLYN: Well, Tom, I can only speak for who's talking with the Afghan leaders in our -- in our provinces here in Regional Command East, and so far, that has not been Haqqani leaders coming to the table.
Now, we have had a very sizable increase in insurgent leaders coming forward across about six of our provinces based on the pressure that's been applied against them over the summer, but that has not included, to date, any major Haqqani leadership.
CAPT. CAMPBELL: Otto.
Q: Good morning, General. Otto Kreisher, AOL Defense. You've talked -- said that you've reduced mostly non-combat units in your drawdown. We've been -- we've heard that one of the biggest needs of the Afghan security forces are the -- are the logistics and those kind of things. What are you doing to bolster the Afghans' combat support and logistics?
GEN. ALLYN: Well, thanks. It's -- I appreciate you bringing up our efforts in building their sustainment capacity. It is one of the primary objectives we have in the ongoing effort, particularly our focus for this winter as we prepare them for the spring campaign. And our brigade support battalions that support every one of our brigade combat teams are the primary trainers and partners in that effort. And they have not been touched at all by the surge recovery, and they are fully invested and partnered with the combat service support Kandaks that are the core element of each Afghan National Army brigade. And they will remain very, very focused.
And at the same time, really at the national level, the National Training Mission-Afghanistan under Lieutenant General Bolger has an expeditionary sustainment command arriving soon to focus on the national to operational-level logistics development for the Afghan security forces.
And those two efforts combined are focused on closing the gap on tactical through national-level sustainment needs of the Afghan security forces.
Q: General, it's Luis Martinez again, with ABC. I think you touched earlier on the peace talks with the -- with Pakistan, between the Pakistani government and some of the -- I guess, the Pakistani Taliban that's been in the news today. Would you support those efforts, given that in the past when there have been cease-fires, the safe havens have been -- the safe havens have been maintained and those cross-border attacks into RC East have continued?
GEN. ALLYN: Well, I think you're really asking a strategic-level question of a tactical commander. Obviously, the dialogue that's going on here within Regional Command East is occurring between insurgent leaders and government of Afghan -- Afghanistan leaders. As an example, Governor Fadai in Wardak was very engaged with several groups of leaders in Nirkh who expressed a desire to rejoin the government. And those conversations and that dialogue is still ongoing. And obviously, this is an Afghanistan-led -- an Afghanistan program, and our effort is to try to ensure that the resources that they need to facilitate the dialogue, if and when it occurs, is made available.
Q: Thank you. Raghubir Goyal again, Asia Today.
Let me just follow with one, General. One, do you agree that as far as peace and stability in Afghanistan, it will all depend on how Pakistan behaves across the border? And how do you see, sir, today relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan as far as the stability of Afghanistan is concerned? Thank you.
GEN. ALLYN: I think stability in Afghanistan has a -- has a number of factors. Obviously, the safe haven that some of the insurgents enjoy in Pakistan is a contributing factor, but there are several other variables that have to also be addressed by the government of Afghanistan and the Afghan security forces with our support.
And I'd say that the Pakistan and Afghanistan leadership are involved at all levels in healthy dialogue. I certainly see it with the military leaders that I work with and, as I mentioned, the regional border coordination meeting that the Afghan border police led with the 11th Corps of the Pakistan military. And so I think the two countries are in dialogue, and they have a lot of respect for each other.
I know you understand fully that during the Soviet era, there were a lot of the leaders here in Afghanistan that were protected in Pakistan, and they have never forgotten that. So those -- the two countries clearly have a lot of common ground that they -- that they lean on.
Q: General, this is a sort of general, broad question. By 2014, American troops, one way or another, will have been fighting in Afghanistan for 13 years.
You mentioned the Russians just now. Russians, the British, French -- as far as I know, no one has spent so much time fighting in one particular country than in Afghanistan. Now that you're contemplating that even after 2014 there will be thousands, maybe, of American troops still in Afghanistan, what's your feeling about that, and maybe your own guys? What do they feel about the fact that America is still going to be fighting, if that's the right word, in Afghanistan post- 2014?
GEN. ALLYN: Our soldiers are very committed to this mission. They see the progress that the Afghan security forces are making. They also see the amount of work that is still left to be done for them to be capable of securing their nation, and they are committed to seeing that through. They recognize that this is an enduring partnership. It's one that has gotten stronger each and every day, and they are -- they gain confidence seeing the confidence of their security forces partners in the army, the police and the border police as they succeed in missions across the spectrum from squad-level operations to brigade-level operations here in Regional Command East.
Q: Sir, Richard Sisk, War Report Online. You mentioned that some of the insurgent groups have been making contacts with the Afghan government, but not the Haqqanis. Have you been detecting friction between the Haqqanis and some of the other insurgent groups? Any clashes you can report?
GEN. ALLYN: Well, we have seen rifts and friction between multiple insurgent groups across Combined Team East.
And that has increased really as the summer campaign has continued into the fall. And we can see increasingly desperate actions as they attack civilians, murder tribal elders and resort to increased intimidation to try to get the support for their continued operations here in Afghanistan.
So we expect those frictions will continue. And clearly, we know that they have an opportunity, they have an option to rejoin the government and choose peace, and that's something that increasingly the local leaders are encouraging them to do.
Q: General, if I could follow. But have you seen any friction between the Haqqanis and the other insurgent groups? Have you been seeing any clashes there?
GEN. ALLYN: Well, the primary dialogue with Haqqani is with the larger Taliban Quetta Shura network, and that collaboration seems to continue, albeit it didn't achieve any results here with their attempted attacks against the Loya Jirga. And I'm sure there's a lot of pointing of fingers going on as to why they didn't succeed, but frankly, it was the Afghan security forces that denied them the opportunity.
CAPT. CAMPBELL: All right, General. Well, I'm looking out at a room with no hands raised. So with that, I will actually turn it over to you and any closing remarks that you'd like to make, sir.
GEN. ALLYN: Well, thank you, Jane.
And thanks to all the team there. We appreciate you tuning in and hearing about how our troopers are doing here in Afghanistan with this important mission that we're undertaking.
And as I mentioned, we still have a lot of work to do. We've made great progress with our Afghan security force partners over the last several months in some very, very hard fighting, and we have hard fighting yet ahead. But increasingly, Afghan security forces are leading that effort.
And I know that you'll keep us in your prayers over this Thanksgiving holiday period, and particularly our families as they continue to serve selflessly at home and support us while we serve here.
And on behalf of all the courageous troopers of Combined Joint Task Force 1, it's an honor to -- on behalf of you to represent our nation here.
CAPT. CAMPBELL: General, thank you.
And I can say on behalf of the men and women of my team of Defense Press Operations -- and I think I can do that -- on behalf of the members of the Pentagon press corps, we thank you. We know how hard it is to be away from family, friends and loved ones over the holidays. So we wish all of you a very happy Thanksgiving. And we'll probably see you again sometime here in the briefing room, but have a very happy holiday, sir.
GEN. ALLYN: Thanks, Jane. God bless all of you, and thanks for being here.