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DOD News Briefing with Gen. Allen from the Pentagon

Presenters: General John Allen, Commander, International Security Assistance Force
March 26, 2012

             Assistant Secretary Doug Wilson:  Good morning.  I'd like to welcome to the Pentagon Press Room and to the podium General John Allen, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.  General Allen will have a short statement, and then we'll take your questions.  Captain John Kirby, Pentagon spokesman, will moderate and answer -- direct your questions to him, and he'll call on you.  

            General Allen.  

            GENERAL JOHN ALLEN:  Ladies and gentlemen, good morning, and thanks for your coming and for giving me this opportunity to join you today.  

            Now, some of you may have seen my congressional testimony last week.  And in fact, I have seen a good bit of the coverage from those hearings, so I suspect you're familiar with the basic points that I tried to make about the progress that we're making in Afghanistan.  I won't repeat it all for your here this morning, but I'd like to make a few points before we take your questions.  

            First, in the case of Staff Sergeant Bales, I extend once again my sincere condolences to the loved ones, family members and friends of those who were killed and injured in that senseless act of violence.  I also extend my deepest sympathies to the Bales family, who are going through a great deal right now.  They too deserve our support as they come to grips with the inevitable and drastic changes that will cause change in their lives.  

            Charges, as you know, have been preferred against Staff Sergeant Bales.  Compensation payments to the family -- the families of the victims, in keeping with cultural norms, have been paid.  And both the criminal investigation as well as an administrative investigation continues.  

            I'm sure you can understand that because these investigations are ongoing and jurisdiction has been passed to officials at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, I will not be able to go into more detail about this case today.  But I can assure you that the investigators have and will retain my full support to let the facts take them where they may.  We must let the investigative and judicial processes play out in their own time in accordance with our own regulations.  Speculation in the media and through anonymous commentary serves no one's purpose in our interest and in our earnest desire to see justice done here.    

            Second, on the issue of future troop levels, I was very clear in my testimony that after we recover the surge this September, I'll conduct an analysis of the kinds of combat power we will need in 2013. I said I believe the power -- that power to be significant, but I do not say that it will need to rest at any certain level throughout this year or 2013.  The truth is there is no way I can know that right now, certainly not until after we've emerged from the fighting season and not until after I've had the chance to assess the state of the insurgency in the aftermath of the fighting season, the operational environment that we anticipate in 2013.  

            And the capabilities of the Afghan national security forces going forward is not just a matter of what to do with the remaining 68,000 U.S. troops.  I must also carefully consider the combination of forces in theater.  There will still be some 40,000 ISAF forces in the field and an increasingly capable and increasingly numerous Afghan security forces.  Force levels then will represent a composite number.  That's a key point.  It's American forces as a component of the international and indigenous force, not a separate and distinct entity.    

            And as I said, it is not just about the numbers either.  It's about the operational environment in which we will find ourselves in 2013.  

            We've done much to degrade the Taliban's capabilities this winter, to deny them resources and sanctuary.  I believe we've made it harder for them to succeed in a spring offensive of their own, but we need to get through this fighting season for me to fully understand that amount of combat power that we'll need in 2013.  

            I owe the president and my chain of command a comprehensive recommendation about all of this.  I owe them options to consider and to think through.  And I know I have their support to take the time I need in the fall to develop those options further. 

            Finally, a word about transition:  I meant what I said about translation being the linchpin of our success.  Of the four priorities I laid out to our command when I took command on the 18th of July, the first of these was to keep up the pressure on the enemy, and we've certainly done that.  But a very close second was to focus even more sharply on our efforts to grow and to develop ANSF capabilities.  They really are better than we thought that they would be at this point. More critically, they are better than they thought that they would be at this point.  

            I use as an example the bravery and the skill which they demonstrated when they attempted to quell the violence that resulted from the protests last month, bravery that cost them two lives and more than 60 wounded.  But I could just as easily point to the literally thousands of operations, some large, some small, that they conduct alongside ISAF troops and often in the lead every month as we go forward.  In just the last two weeks alone Afghan security forces across the country on their own arrested more than 50 and killed nearly half a dozen insurgents, including several who were planning to assassinate the governor of Balkh province.  And over the course of what turned out to be more than 20 operations nationwide, they've also captured several caches of explosives, weapons and bomb-making materials.  

            And it isn't just about their Army doing good work.  The police too have been contributing to the security in the cities and the towns, most recently protecting the Nowruz celebrations.  

            I know people will look at these and other examples and say they're anecdotal, that we still face real challenges in attrition and ethnic composition, even corruption in some of the ranks.  I'm not saying things are perfect, and much work remains to be done.  But for every bribe accepted and for every insider threat, or what is known as a green-on-blue incident -- and I think you're aware that tragically we had one overnight, as two young British soldiers were killed in Helmand province -- for every one Afghan soldier that doesn't return from leave, I can cite hundreds of other examples where they do perform their duties, where the partnership is strong, where the competence of the Afghan forces is building, and where the trust and confidence we have in them and that they have in themselves grows steadily.  

            Those who would make the argument otherwise will never convince me that these brave men don't have the will to fight for their government and for their country and for their fellow citizens, and that willingness, I believe, is the thing most hopeful about the entire effort of transition.  They want this responsibility, they want to lead, and we're going to help them to do that.  

            With that, I'll happily take your questions.    

            Q:  General, one quick housekeeping thing and then a question. There's been some ongoing confusion over the jump in the number of casualties from 16 to 17.  I was wondering if you might be able to discuss that briefly.  

            And then secondly, considering the corruption and the green-on-blue incidents, can you talk a little bit about how you think the United States can give the Afghans some advance notice or use some sort of warrant-like procedure for the night raids?  And how do you think that can be done without damaging or hurting operations?  

            GEN. ALLEN:  I'm getting your one question in three parts here, so give me just a second.  And if I miss one, let me -- just tell me.  

            There is a -- there was an increase in the number of what we believe to have been those who were killed tragically in this event. But this is -- the number increased was based upon the initial reporting by the Afghans.  And so we should not be surprised that in fact, as the investigation went forward, that an -- that an additional number was added to that.  So that is something that we understand and we accept, and as the investigation goes forward, we'll get greater clarity in that.  

            On green on blue, what we also call the insider threat, we're going to continue very closely to partner with the Afghans.  As I think you're aware, we've done that significantly in the last several months.  The Afghans themselves, who also suffer from what is euphemistically called green on green, they have taken a lot of steps themselves with an eight-step vetting process.  They've worked very closely within the National Directorate of Security to place counterintelligence operatives inside their schools, inside their recruiting centers and inside their ranks, the idea being to spot and assess the potential emergence of an individual who could be an extremist or in fact a Taliban infiltrator.  

            They've done that themselves.  We've taken action within ISAF with respect to a tactical directive, orders that I have issued, pre- deployment -- that we have asked the services to undertake both within the U.S. context, but the NATO context as well, to better prepare our forces across the board. 

            So I think between what the Afghans have done for themselves, what we're doing for ourselves and how we're partnering together, we seek to reduce this tragedy to the maximum extent possible.  

            And with respect to the night operations MOU, we are actually at a -- at a pretty delicate moment in the negotiations.  I am confident that we will end up where we want to be on both sides, and I'll just leave it there.   

            So thank you for the questions.  

            STAFF:  Yeah, Craig.   

            Q:  General, Craig Whitlock with The Washington Post.    

            GEN. ALLEN:  Hi, Craig.  

            Q:  Speaking of green on blue, about a month ago, at the Afghan Interior Ministry, there were two American military officers who were killed, murdered, as people here at the Pentagon put it.  Initially Afghan officials said they had a suspect in that case, a driver for an Afghan official.  I think recently you told CNN that there are no suspects in the case at this point.  Could you elaborate on where that investigation stands?  And how can there be no suspect or arrest made in a case where a building's highly secured, where there're cameras, where people would know who was going in and out of that building?    

            GEN. ALLEN:  We'll need -- we'll need to let this develop a bit more.  At this juncture, I think there is still significant investigation that remains not just on who they believe might have conducted the shooting, but also where ties may be elsewhere outside the building into the Taliban.  So more investigation needs to be conducted at this point.  

            Q:  Is there a suspect in that case?  

            GEN. ALLEN:  Not that we have been -- not that we have been presented at this point.   

            Q:  And have you allowed all the advisers to go back into the ministries?    

            GEN. ALLEN:  I have permitted my commanders to do assessments on all those areas where our advisers are involved, and they will come back to me with their assessment that the situation is now sufficiently secure for our advisers to go back.  Most of them are back at this point.  But we'll continue to evaluate the security situation as it develops.  

            Q:  Thank you. 

            GEN. ALLEN:  You're welcome.  

            Q:  If I could follow up, General, there were 15 -- with the two deaths today, 15 ISAF service members have been killed in these green- on-blue incidents.    

            That's about 25 percent -- almost 25 percent of all the ISAF casualties so far this year.  Is this -- what accounts for the increase in these kinds of attacks on ISAF forces?  Is it a -- do you consider it a significant threat?  And is there evidence that the Taliban is actually purposely planting, infiltrating the Afghan forces, or are these just random acts? 

             GEN. ALLEN:  That's an important question.  The Taliban of course takes credit for all of them when in fact the majority are not in fact a direct result of Taliban infiltration.   

            It's also no secret that the Taliban has had as an objective for some period of time infiltrating the ranks of both the ANSF and those elements that support us directly on board our camps.  

            It's difficult to tell right now whether this is an increase in the operational tempo, but I think that we can all probably assume that with the some of the incidents that have occurred in the last several months, that that has been a potential causal factor in some of the extremism that resulted in a green-on-blue event.  

            Q:  And if I could follow, how does a -- how does a U.S. -- how does a British -- a French -- how can they work side by side, and in many cases sleeping in the same encampment, with this kind of threat looming over them?  

            GEN. ALLEN:  In many cases the relationship is very strong.  In fact in most cases the relationship is very strong.  They know each other well.   

            We have taken steps necessary on our side to protect ourselves with respect to, in fact, sleeping arrangements, internal defenses associated with those small bases in which we operate, the posture of our forces, to have someone always overwatching our forces.  

            On the Afghan side, they're doing the same thing.  I mean they're -- they are helping the troops to understand how to recognize radicalization or the emergence of extremism in some of those -- in individuals who may in fact be suspect.  But they're also being trained, and through the use of the NDS, they're also very quick to be able to report this as well. 

             There have been some breakthroughs, in fact, in Afghan investigations, in arrests that have been made of elements that have been found in ranks that potentially could have been a perpetrator for a green-on-blue.  So the process is actually working.  But your question is a very important one, and we will watch that very closely to see if this is a trend over which we have to take even more measures.  Thank you. 

             CAPTAIN JOHN KIRBY:  Tony.  

            Q:  Could I follow up on that?  To what extent are you concerned about revenge killings based upon the Bales case and perceptions in Afghanistan that he may be getting a free ride or justice isn't being done?  And then I have a second -- a second question. 

             GEN. ALLEN:  Yeah, I don't connect the two of those.  But in any case, there -- it is prudent for us to recognize that, as you know, revenge is an important dimension in this culture.  So we would be prudent ourselves in looking for the potential for that to emerge.  So it is something that we will keep an eye on.  I have seen no indications yet that it has emerged as a potential factor, but we will certainly keep an eye on that. 

             Q:  A quick -- on a second question, on Pakistan and the FATA, the safe havens, the two major challenges you pointed out last week to Congress was corruption and the safe havens.  What level of degradation to the safe havens do you need to see over the next year to give the president some comfort level that as you transition, the safe havens still won't remain a vibrant sanction for the Taliban and Haqqani network? 

             GEN. ALLEN:  Sure, an important question.  We'll need to see the cross-border movement of insurgents, have the safe havens reduced. We believe that, as a result, if you've been following -- and I'm sure you have -- the reduction in enemy-initiated attacks over the year, if we see that a second year, we think that there will be important indicators about whether the safe havens have in fact or are operationally relevant to the insurgency, but we'll also continue to push for as much velocity as we can achieve in reintegration.  That has also helped us, recalling that many of the folks who live in the safe havens actually live in Afghanistan; they're there for a short period of time.  If we can accelerate the value of reintegration in their minds, that's another means of neutralizing the safe havens.   

             And then, of course, the process of reconciliation -- I'm not personally involved in reconciliation, but it is a peacemaking process which could, in fact, should a political outcome ultimately emerge from reconciliation, in conjunction with the reintegration process, it could in fact deflate in fact the value of the safe havens ultimately to the insurgency because many insurgents will simply go home, to become part of the future rather than to become continued insurgents. 

             Q:  (Off mic) -- you see more Pakistan military involvement and a greater offensive thrust there? 

             GEN. ALLEN:  Well, we would always enjoy Pakistani military assistance across the border, but I will tell you that they're deeply engaged across the border.  In the last couple of years, they've suffered 3,000 dead and a couple of thousand wounded, and they have an IED problem from the Taliban on their side of the border that is substantial as well.   

             So while I would not purport to dictate to General Kayani how he should conduct his operations, there are vigorous operations across the border.  And my hope is that as his relationship and mine continues to unfold, we could perhaps cooperate with complementary operations across the border. 

             CAPT. KIRBY:  (Off mic.) 

             Q:  Can I just follow up? 

             CAPT. KIRBY:  (Off mic) -- one question, please. 

             Q:  General, given the string of incidents that you've talked about, do you think that there is a problem with leadership by your senior NCOs?  Have they been worn out by repeated deployments and so therefore are missing things or not enforcing things?  Is leadership breakdown a common thing, between the urination incident, the Quran burning, the killing of the Afghan civilians?  And what might you be doing about that, if so?   

             GEN. ALLEN:  Well, each one of those was a result of a leadership failure in some form or another.  But I think as I understand your question, as I think back across how many tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of our forces have served in Afghanistan and these incidents have been so infrequent; as I know the force myself -- and I have to speak more as a Marine, necessarily, than as a soldier, although I believe that there's virtually no difference in the institution of the Army and the Marine Corps in this regard -- after this period of time of war, we find that our staff NCOs and our noncommissioned officers -- and our young officers are extraordinarily well-trained; and so repeated tours in Afghanistan and, prior to that, in Iraq, don't inherently reduce the effectiveness of the force or reduce the effectiveness of small-unit leadership.   

             Indeed, over the years in our school systems -- and I recently spoke at one of the schools down at Quantico, for example -- the kinds of institutional emphasis by our great Army and Marine Corps on ensuring that high standards of leadership and supervision are not just sustained, but enhanced, still remains at the core of those two institutions. 

             And so those were failures. 

             But when I think back across so many of our service members that have served successfully in Afghanistan, I'm encouraged, frankly, by the NCO leadership, by the staff NCO leadership and that of our junior officers.  And so I think we can always work to look at the individual incidents in an after-action review to ensure we understand how those incidents occurred and then learn from them and then roll those lessons learned back into our training institutions and our leadership academies.  And so I'm confident that the institution is solid and that we will continue to work to develop those small-unit leaders, which, as you well know, Julian (sp), at the -- at the -- in a counterinsurgency is where the most important leadership occurs on any given day. 

             CAPT. KIRBY:  Luis. 

             Q:  Sir, can you please explain why there was a decision to pay out compensation to victims' relatives before we even have a verdict? 

             GEN. ALLEN:  It is a natural and a cultural norm that we would pursue.  We've done that in the past.  And in this case, it was appropriate, we believed, given the circumstances of this particular tragedy. 

             CAPT. KIRBY:  (Off mic.)  

             Q:  Sorry, follow-up?  (Inaudible.) 

             CAPT. KIRBY:  (Off mic.) 

             Q:  Can we get a total of the compensation paid out for this incident and for the war on whole?  And can you explain a little bit of how it's done?  Are these, you know, suitcases of cash given to poor families and their -- what's -- 

             GEN. ALLEN:  We can provide all that to you.  We'll get you that information. 

             CAPT. KIRBY:  Cami. 

            Q:  General, could you elaborate at all about this Defense Department-ordered review of the anti-malaria drug, when you were made aware of that, including for deployed troops, and what explanation you were given for it? 

             GEN. ALLEN:  I was actually made aware of this morning.  The review was a natural course of periodic reviews, as I understand it, within the department.  So that -- I think that's the best I can do for you on this. 

             Q:  You were not told that there was a specific concern regarding troops that were deployed being given this drug? 

             GEN. ALLEN:  No. 

             There are reviews constantly of our medical processes and procedures.  That's not uncommon at all.  And so when I hear that one of the anti-malarial prophylaxis drugs is under a periodic review, I think that's a very natural and important process that is pursued regularly in the Office of Secretary of Defense.  So I would suggest that you ask them that question. 

             CAPT. KIRBY:  We'll come back to the front here again. 

             Q:  Sir, when do you expect the border with Pakistan to be opened?  And have you asked that the Haqqani group be listed as a terrorist group? 

             GEN. ALLEN:  I think the border -- I don't know specifically on when the border might be opened.  But as you know, there's a review of the relationship under way in the Pakistani parliament, and I believe that probably, as a result of that review of the policy relationship by the Parliamentary Committee of National Security, I believe it's called, we might find a recommendation in that -- in that review. Otherwise, I have no particular indicators at this point. 

             Q:  Have you asked for the Haqqani group to be listed? 

             GEN. ALLEN:  I did, yes. 

             Q:  And why not charge anyone in the killing of the 24 Pakistani troops? 

             GEN. ALLEN:  Well, the investigation was clear that there was no criminal dereliction of duty that was found in the investigation.  But I did take administrative measures. 

             CAPT. KIRBY (?):  (Please watch ?) the follow-ups -- (inaudible). 

             Q:  Sir, do you share the analysis of some in NATO that most of the heavy lifting for transition is on track to be completed by mid- 2013? 

             If so, how does that affect your analysis of what continued troop components you'll need?  And when you talk about analyzing the combat power that you'll need, after this fighting season, where are you looking for that distribution, to consolidate gains in the south, to perhaps launch a greater offensive in the east? 

             GEN. ALLEN:  Those are two very different questions, but I'll try to bring them together. 

             I'm -- and I'm not sure that there has been analysis that says specifically, the heavy lifting on transition is done by the latter part of 2013.  What will happen -- if you know about the Lisbon summit transition, there are five tranches of Afghan geography which ultimately move into a process of transition.  The fifth and final of those tranches will occur -- President Karzai will announce it probably in the latter part of the summer of 2013.  We'll begin to implement that tranche in the -- probably the early fall.  And with that, technically, the ANSF moves into security lead, with that fifth tranche, across the entire country. 

            But that process will continue until we reach the end of 2014, where technically, the ANSF is fully in the lead across the country. So from that point where the fifth tranche enters implementation, enters into the transition process, we will then be in support of the ANSF as they move into the lead for security across the country. 

             Did I get to your question then? 

             Q:  Well, do you think that we are on -- that you are on track to actually do that?  And if so, how does that impact your thinking -- (inaudible)? 

             GEN. ALLEN:  Great, thank you.  Thanks for the follow-up on that. 

             As you might imagine, some of those tranches or some of the components, the elements of the tranche four and five, are in the east.  And so we would both anticipate that in the -- in the natural course of the campaign, which we'll emphasize this coming year consolidating our holds in the south while still operating -- conducting counterinsurgency operations in the east, we will see eventually a confluence of the movement of geography into the transition process and the campaign seeking ultimately to facilitate and accelerate Afghan security operations in the south and ultimately in the east. 

             So the two come together. 

             Q:  And they will come together, you believe, in 2013? 

             GEN. ALLEN:  Probably 2013, but it will continue in '14. 

             CAPT. KIRBY:  We have time for just -- two more.   


             Q:  General, going back to green -- to the green-on-blue incidents, Secretary Panetta has suggested in his comments recently that this -- we're not seeing  -- we're not going to see the end of these and that this is part of the price of war.  Would you agree with that?   

             GEN. ALLEN:  I think it is a characteristic of counterinsurgencies that we've experienced before.  We experienced these in Iraq.  We experienced them in Vietnam.  And on any occasion where you're dealing with an insurgency and where you're also growing an indigenous force which ultimately will be the principal opposition to that insurgency, the enemy's going to do all that they can to disrupt both the counterinsurgency operations, but also disrupt the integrity of the indigenous forces that developed.  So we should be -- we should expect that this will occur in counterinsurgency operations and as we saw it in Iraq and we've seen it in -- historically in counterinsurgencies, but also in Vietnam.  It is a characteristic of this kind of warfare. 

            Q:  (Off mic) -- 16 versus 17, did the -- just to be clear -- did the Afghans miscount?  Did someone die after the initial assessment? 

             GEN. ALLEN:  We'll have to let that come out in the investigation. 

             CAPT. KIRBY:  This'll be the last question. 

             (Off mic.) 

             Q:  General Allen, I want to go back to Julian's question if I might. 

             On the question of command climate, if you will, how do you know -- how do you know yourself that the troops aren't exhausted to a breaking point, commanders, NCOs aren't exhausted?  The notion that there is alcohol on a base, that people go off and on a base is not what anyone would think of as typical in your area of command.   

             So how do you know?  How do you know that you don't have troops at the breaking point, some troops, from PTSD or traumatic brain injury?   

             GEN. ALLEN:  Well -- 

             Q:  What are you doing -- what are YOU doing you look at these questions yourself? 

             GEN. ALLEN:  Well, I -- on a regular basis I talk with our command chaplain, I talk to our command surgeon, I talk to my command sergeant major, all of whom are traveling, all of whom are taking the temperature, if you will, within their areas of responsibility, and all of those have a very important interconnection.   

             I'm traveling myself on a regular basis.  Just before I came back here, I met with the commanders of every one of the regional commands, and they gave me an assessment on the state of their command and the state of their campaign as they see it unfolding right -- not just today, but how they see it unfolding in 2012.  And I'm very interested in small-unit leadership because small-unit leadership, in the end, is what generates success at the point of impact in a counterinsurgency.   

             So there could be, Barbara --- as your question implies -- there could be troops that at an individual level do in fact demonstrate or evidence the traits of PTSD.  But I have to compliment the services on this regard.  The Army and the Marine Corps have gone a very long way to try to help both in pre-deployment preparation for the deployments to Afghanistan but also while we're in theater, with our behavioral health and operational stress teams, the religious support teams, the constant review by leaders of how the troops are doing in the context of an after-action review, and then when they go home what the services do for the troops on the return from their deployment. 

             Q:  But sir, to be blunt, something went terribly wrong. Investigation pending.  Something went terribly wrong.  How are you making sure something like that doesn't happen again?   

             GEN. ALLEN:  Yeah, very important question.  We're investigating this one very thoroughly, and I'm looking at command climate, in fact, as --  

             Q:  Of the unit? 

             GEN. ALLEN:  -- of that unit, in fact, as a direct result of these actions.  And while I'm not going to get into the details about describing the unit or the -- this particular event, I will be satisfied when I get the report that we have looked closely at the potential contributing factors that might have permitted this event to have unfolded tragically. 

             CAPT. KIRBY:  Thanks, everybody.  Appreciate it.  That's all the time we have . 

             GEN. ALLEN:  Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.  Have a good morning.

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