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

Presenter: Director of the International Security Assistance Force’s Force Reintegration Cell Maj. Gen. David Hook (Royal Marines)
December 08, 2011

            CAPT Jane Campbell (Pentagon spokesperson):  Good morning here in the briefing room and good evening in Afghanistan.  I'd like to welcome Major General David Hook, Royal Marines, to the Pentagon Briefing Room.  

            Major General Hook is the director of ISAF's Force Reintegration Cell.  Prior to assuming those duties in October of this year, he previously served in Afghanistan as the deputy commander of Regional Command South from October 2008 to October 2009.    

            This is Major General Hook's first time briefing us.  He's joining us here today from the ISAF headquarters in Kabul.  Following his opening remarks, we'll take your questions.    

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

            MAJOR GENERAL DAVID HOOK:  Thank you very much.  Ladies and gentlemen, good morning, and thank you for attending today.  

            You may be familiar with the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program, the APRP, but in order to provide a common baseline, I'll provide you with a brief overview of the program and a short update on where the program is before taking your questions.  

            The APRP is a nationwide Afghan program that provides insurgents with an opportunity to peacefully and permanently leave the battlefield and rejoin their communities with their dignity and honor intact.  

            Very importantly, this is a peace program that has been designed, implemented, led and executed by Afghans for Afghans.  This is one of the key strengths of the program.  

            This is reinforced by the fact that the program is implemented at a local community level.  It is directed and coordinated at a national level, but the very important work of negotiating and reaching out to insurgents, then taking them through the demobilization process and reintegrating them into their communities is carried out at a district and village level.   

            A cornerstone of this local approach is the resolution of grievances that led people to fight in the first place.  If you accept the premise that 80 percent of the men fighting in the south are fighting for nonideological reasons -- and our analysis of why they have stopped fighting supports this -- it becomes clear that if you can address their grievances, you can draw them back into society. You then make the other 20 percent less relevant.  The whole aim of the program is to build trust and confidence amongst people who have been fighting the government and each other for many years.  This process engages political, social and religious leaders at every level so that Afghans can build peace, if necessary, village by village.  

            We should, however, remember that the program is relatively new and has, in effect, only been running since October 2010.  To date 2,970 former fighters have officially enrolled into the program. While a large number of these have been in the north and west, the number of reintegrees joining the program in the south and east has begun to increase, albeit slowly, and more importantly, we see many more negotiations going on at the local level in these areas.  

            We refer to these as reintegration opportunities.  Reintegration is a gradual process that will take time, but we're seeing encouraging results as this approach continues to build momentum.  

            This program is not without controversy.  The very act of talking with insurgent fighters in order to remove them from the battlefield has attracted criticism.  As a result of this, I believe a number of myths have grown around the program.  I believe some of these are damaging the perception of the program, and I want to take them head- on.  

            For example, under the APRP, insurgents are not paid to stop fighting.  Reintegrees are provided with a transitional allowance of $120 per month for three months, enough to feed a fighter and his family, as they undertake disengagement training.  Previous peace programs sought to pay insurgents to stop fighting, and these programs have failed.  A good example of such a failure was Najibullah's DDR process, which paid fighters to stop fighting.  Once  the money stopped arriving and the pay stopped, many, if not all those fighters, went back to fighting.    

            Additionally, within APRP, reintegrees are not immune from prosecution.  The decision to prosecute is made on a case-by-case basis by the Afghan government.  Furthermore, one of the key tenets of the program is that it does not allow for any compromise on human rights, particularly women's rights.   

            Looking more broadly, it is also important to understand that reintegration is an essential component in the comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign being implemented by the commander of ISAF, General Allen.  In his letter to the force in July, when he took command, General Allen talked about the importance of reintegration and talked about maintaining unrelenting pressure on the insurgency. Ultimately, this pressure gives the insurgent a choice:  to be killed, to be captured or to reintegrate.   

            By taking this approach, reintegration can make a significant contribution to campaign success.  

            The question could then be asked:  Can you reintegrate your way to success?  As it stands right now in Afghanistan, the APRP is very well positioned to gain momentum, due to four converging factors. Firstly, the surge over the past year has had a deleterious effect on the capability of the insurgency.  Where the surge has been operating the longest, in RC Southwest, we've had the best trend in reducing levels of violence.  

            Secondly, in political terms, we have recently had a number of important events.  Internationally, conferences such as Istanbul, Astana, Bonn, and Chicago next year, are clearly demonstrating international support for APRP.  Within Afghanistan, we've recently seen a successful traditional Loya Jirga.  This meeting brought together 2,300 Afghans from across the nation, and on conclusion they clearly expressed the nation's support for peace and reintegration. Of the 76 articles of the Jirga final resolution, 22 of them talked directly to the peace process.  

            The third element is the increased capacity of the program itself.  If we'd been talking six months ago, I would have been defending the teething problems within the APRP.  As I said earlier, the program has only been operating for 13 months, and it's worth reminding ourselves that the original Afghan goal was to have the program framework established and operational with eight -- within eight provinces, and 1,000 reintegrees in the program by October 2011. They have surpassed this, with the APRP now present in every province, and nearly 3,000 reintegrees in the program -- a remarkable achievement.  I'm not saying the process is perfect; there are still issues to be addressed.  But the Afghans are delivering and fixing issues as they arise.  

            The final component is that we now have the winter effect on fighting in Afghanistan.    

            Many fighters are dislocated from their leaders who have left for the winter.  You have fighters who have tired following the surge, and you have a gathering national momentum towards peace.  

            Ultimately, I believe when you line all of these things up, you have a favorable set of circumstances that will enable this program to progress.  The challenge is taking all of those pieces and using them to leverage the program, and this is where Afghan leadership is essential.  With strong leadership over the winter, this program will gain greater momentum.  

            Thank you very much, and I'll take any questions.  

            Q:  General, hi.  It's Mike Evans from The Times, London Times. Can you -- are you confident that even though you had more than 2,000 who've come in to join the program, that they're not just being, as it were, backfilled by other 2,000 who've been recruited by the Taliban to take over their jobs?  Or can you safely say that you think that there are now definitely more than 2,000 fewer fighters against ISAF at the moment?  

            GEN. HOOK:  Yeah, that's a very good question, and it's one of the things that we're trying to grapple with, which is understanding the effect in terms of eroding the will and capacity of the insurgency.    

            I was speaking recently to the governor of Badghis province who was -- this is anecdotal evidence; would suggest that it isn't happening in some places, although I can't rule it out -- and that is, in his province, 12 months ago, when the program started, he felt he couldn't leave the provincial capital.  I was talking to him only a couple of weeks ago, and he said he now feels confident that he can travel just about anywhere in the province he likes because the security situation has improved.  And he puts that down primarily to the number of insurgents that have come in.  

            One of the things that's very difficult to measure, as you've rightly identified, is the fact that there may be people coming in behind, but we just cannot measure that, based on our understanding, at the moment.  

            Q:  (Off mic) -- Charley Keyes, CNN.  Can you put that 2,800 figure in some kind of perspective?  What is the potential pool that you use to plot your future course, and what is the recidivism of the people who've already come into the program?  

            GEN. HOOK:  Taking the figure, it's 2,970 are in the program at the moment, and we are tracking about 1,200 reintegration opportunities where we've conducted outreach -- I say we; the Afghans -- and we've helped them in some places -- have conducted outreach and are in discussion with individuals or groups to come back into the process.  

            In terms of recidivism, at the moment we're only assessing five, but we are in discussion with the NDS about trying to measure that more accurately.  Nevertheless, the recidivism rate in this program is extremely low, and that's because of the way the program works when an individual comes in.  The individual makes a commitment when he comes in to rejoin Afghan society, and his community are invited to take him back.  That delivers a sort of moral contract based on Pashtunwali -- the Pashtunwali code of afwa that he has asked for forgiveness from his community, and his community has forgiven him, and it locks them together in this contract.  

            That contract, we believe, reduces recidivism remarkably.  And five out of nearly 3,000 is a remarkably low figure.  

            Q:  Thank you, General.  This is Raghubir Goyal from India Global and Asia Today.  My question is that in order to -- this program to be fully implemented and also a success, you need support and help from the -- across the border, Talibans in Pakistan.    

            And second, how much trust do you think Afghans -- Afghanis have now in their government as far as President Karzai and his leadership is concerned in Afghanistan?  Because of -- the violence is still continuing in Afghanistan.  Thank you.     

           GEN. HOOK:  It's important to differentiate between what you're asking and what I actually do.  It's my job to assist Minister Stanikzai and the Joint Secretariat to do reintegration and the ISAF mandate is limited to within in the national boundaries of Afghanistan itself.  So we focus on assisting the Afghans in improving their program and enabling them, when they require it, to do outreach.   

            As I said in my opening remarks, 80 percent in the south and southwest of people that are rolled up within the campaign are operating within 20 kilometers of their village.  If you accept that that 80 percent figure is universally applied around Afghanistan, if we focus internally on reintegrating that 80 percent, then in many respects, what's going on outside of the borders of Afghanistan becomes much less relevant.    

            So I focus in supporting Minister Stanikzai and the Joint -- (technical difficulties) --   

            CAPT Jane Campbell:  Sir, we dropped out on the satellite for a -- for a slight moment there, but just wanted to confirm that we've got you back and that you've got good audio from us.    

            GEN. HOOK:  Yes, I can hear you clearly.  

            (Technical difficulties)  

            CAPT Jane Campbell:  Dropped off -- OK, sir, we'll -- when he comes back -- get him back up, we hope.  Keep our fingers crossed.  Sunspots. (Off mic conversation.)    

            CAPT Jane Campbell:  All right.  We might not be able to bring him back up, because all I'm seeing is flickering on the screen there in the -- in the studio.  OK.  I would say at this point we'll hold for one minute and then make a decision here in one minute.  I'll watch -- I'll watch the clock in the back.  And I'll refrain from soft shoe or anything.  

            MR.     :  (Off mic.)    

            CAPT Jane Campbell:  No.  (Laughter.)  No, we're good.  So let's see.  

            MR.     :  (Off mic.)  

            (Pause.)  

            CAPT Jane Campbell:  Ok.  All right.   I saw the pixilation.   Well I’m sure that the folks on the Pentagon Channel have already done that but I think we’ll wrap it up from their end if they haven’t already cut away and ask them to go ahead and cut away and we’ll remain here in the briefing room for about another three minutes but would not want to hold any viewers that are riveted right now as we look at a dark screen so we’ll let anybody break away there and we’ll wait here in the briefing room.   

            (cross talk) 

            CAPT Jane Campbell:   Ok. I think we'll go ahead and call it -- and call it quits, ladies and gentlemen, here in the briefing room.  Thank you for joining us.  And we'll get back to General Hook and thank him for joining us.  

            And from here, I think what we'll do is probably either try to have him join us at a future date, but for those of you here in the briefing room, realize that we do have a briefing here this afternoon at 2:00 p.m., 1400, so we'll see you back here this afternoon.  Thank you.  

            Q:  Thank you.

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