CAPT JOHN KIRBY (Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Media Operations): This is the next iteration of our background briefings on the 1230 report, which, as you know, went to the Hill last night.
Our two briefers are (briefer name deleted), who you all know well, (briefer name deleted) from the State Department. (Briefer name deleted) will be a "senior Defense official." (Briefer name deleted) will be a "senior State Department official" for purposes of this. It is on background.
We got 30 minutes. The two presenters have just a few comments to kick off with, and then we'll get to your questions. I will call on you. Please identify yourself and who you're with before you ask your question. And then because we have 30 minutes, I'd ask that you try to limit your follow-ups. I know I say this every time, and every time you blow me off, but please try to limit the follow-ups if you can so we can get everybody a shot.
With that, (briefer name deleted).
SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Great. Thanks very much, John.
And welcome to all of you. Lots of familiar faces here, some new ones also.
As John said, we've done this before for several years now. And what I will do is in a sense repeat some of what I said six months ago.
I have here the stack of all the reports since 2008. I won't go into, as I did last time, what they show in detail, except they go from us essentially losing the war and -- to us making important progress in last year's report that we did six months ago. And this one says that we continue to build on that progress.
I think it's very important -- some of you were with us on the -- on the secretary's plane, and we talked about the -- I talked about the dangers of instant analysis based just on a snapshot in time. These reports, I would offer you, give you the opportunity to see what's been happening in Afghanistan over the last five years, over the last six months, whatever period you want to read them in. And it gives you the context.
The focus in this -- in this report is shown by the cover.
You'll see we had a U.S. soldier on the cover six months ago; here we have an Afghan soldier on the cover. Obviously, the point is we are transitioning to Afghanistan security lead.
The Afghan security forces continue to improve, not just in numbers but also in quality. The report lays out a number of areas where that's the case. That's a process that continues. It's not finished. So obviously, there are still areas of concern, areas that we're focusing on. But the overall trend is -- the overall trend is very positive. Afghan security forces are more and more able to take the lead, and we're putting them in the lead in areas that have been transitioned and areas that are being transitioned and areas that will be transitioned based on their capacity at the time, the partnering that the ISAF forces are doing, the -- and which is moving, of course, to a security assistance model, a security force assistance model, as all of you heard General Allen say in his testimony that he gave last month -- or the month before last, I guess, now -- in the -- at the Senate and the House.
So we are making serious, important progress. Challenges remain. The most important of those challenges, of course, remains the sanctuaries in Pakistan and the ability of the Taliban to refit, regroup and rearm there, and the continuing slowness of the development of civil governance, where there's of course many challenges and a lot of work being done, a lot of progress being made, but still is assessed as a risk.
The purpose of the 1230 report is to give a report, a factual report of what's happening. It's not a policy advocacy document. It's not a policy -- it's not an analysis document. It's a report of what we have seen happening on the ground over the last six months, and we worked very hard to make it accurate.
I look forward to your questions. If you have specific comments, if you think the report does not achieve objectives, we're very interested in feedback.
We're interested in continuing to improve this product so it meets the very highest standards that the Congress and the American people expect of us.
With that, I'll turn it over to (briefer name deleted) for her comments.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks very much. I wanted to be here in particular to demonstrate how much we use a whole-of- government approach with Afghanistan. In addition to all of the security work that (briefer name deleted) has talked about, I wanted to mention two other aspects of our work in Afghanistan.
One is the strategic partnership agreement that was initialed two -- a week ago, I guess it was, now in Afghanistan by Ambassador Crocker and Dr. Spanta of the National Security Council in Afghanistan. That document goes with the security -- all the security work we're doing to provide long-term political support for Afghanistan so that it demonstrates to the Afghans, to the neighbors, to the bad guys that Afghanistan will not be left in the lurch again as it was in the '90s.
And the second aspect of our whole-of-government work in Afghanistan that I wanted to mention is the Tokyo ministerial conference coming up in which the economic support, economic assistance will be -- will be featured by all of the partners, allies, donor community that are -- who are working in Afghanistan now, who intend to continue to work in Afghanistan and who will pledge their support for -- economic support to economic growth for the 10 years of the transformation decade that we defined in Bonn.
Thank you very much.
CAPT. KIRBY: OK. Time for questions. Who's first?
Q: I'm Pauline Jelinek with the Associated Press. I thought I heard you just say in your opening comments that the civil government is making a lot of progress, whereas the report sort of portrays it more as limited. Could you expand on that a little bit more?
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: I would say it's made a lot of progress from where it's been, but the progress -- and I'm looking at it from the period of five years that I was commenting on -- the report talks about the progress over the six months. And over that six months there was progress, but we would say it's limited.
But again, I was urging everybody to look at this not just from the six months, not just from the year, from the five-year perspective that we cover in the reports, and especially in the last three years I would say there's a lot of progress.
But this is an area maybe I'll ask (briefer name deleted) in terms of progress on the civil government to say a few words on. But yes, I would put the accent on the word "progress."
SR. STATE DEPT. OFFICIAL: There are a couple things to mention, I think. One is that we look very carefully at the capacity of the government to operate. There are several ministries that are doing well in that regard; there are several ministries that are not doing well. And we -- the donor community focuses on being sure that the money that goes into Afghanistan is used in programs with the ministries that do work well and we specifically take it away from those that don't.
In connection with both the Chicago summit that's coming up and all the work that we've been doing in order to work with the Afghan government on how should the Afghan national security forces be -- how should they be supported after 2014, what kinds of -- what kind of progress the donor community is looking for in order to be able to demonstrate to their parliaments that it's appropriate to put so much money into Afghanistan after 2014, both for the Afghan national security forces and going into Tokyo, in both of those sets of conversations we have a tremendous amount of discussion of the criteria that we are holding the Afghans to to assure progress.
One of the things that's particularly important, I think, about the Strategic Partnership Agreement is that the commitments from the Afghans are specifically mentioned repeatedly in quite a bit of detail in the Strategic Partnership Agreement. Most of those commitments are commitments that have been taken out of the commitments made in the Istanbul document and the Bonn document. But what's important is that we now, with the Strategic Partnership Agreement when it's signed -- that authorizes a commission, a bilateral commission with a set of working groups that will further assure the donor community, including the United States, that the Afghans are making the kind of progress that they need to make in order to demonstrate to donors that it's worthwhile to continue providing the kind of assistance that we provide.
CAPT. KIRBY: Missy.
Q: This question's for (briefer name deleted). Missy Ryan from Reuters. Can you -- it looks like the share of violence seems to have increased in RC East. Can you just, first of all, clarify if that's correct and sort of talk about how you see the nature of the violence and the identity of the insurgents as different from the rest of that and how ISAF and -- together with the ANSF at this point -- is planning on tackling that given, as I understand it, the decision not to send significant, you know, new military resources to that region?
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: OK, what I'll do is, first of all, talk about what's in the report and then, of course, your question also talked about current and future plans, and I'll make a couple comments on those, but they'll be limited.
In terms of what's -- the period of time covered by the report, yes, the share of violent incidents that are in the east is greater. That's because -- that's for two reasons: first of all, because of the significant progress we've made in the areas where we focused our surge forces in the southwest and south and the strong -- and the great reductions that -- the reductions were very heavily in those areas -- so the proportion shifted -- but also, the absolute numbers increased in RC East and that is reflective of course of the geography there. It's right on the border with Pakistan. It's right on the infiltration routes from Pakistan. It's the object of the greatest intensity of efforts by the Haqqani network, and it does represent a problem for -- that we were certainly aware of.
Again, to go back to the strategic design of the campaign, it was to go after the Taliban heartland in Helmand and Kandahar, the area where the Taliban sprang from. We always recognized that going after our -- the areas of -- in the east -- the Paktika, Paktia, Khost area, Lowgar, Wardak, Ghazni -- those areas were important to do, but we needed to go after the Taliban at their -- at their home first.
Now we're -- now we are shifting the emphasis to the east.
In terms of actual issues such, as numbers of troops -- and you made a couple comments in your question that I would say I would leave to our commander in ISAF, who has -- is in charge of the campaign. But I would say broadly I don't think your comments are accurate, but I'll leave, again, any details of the campaign up to the commander in the field.
Q: Just to clarify --
Q: Well, what's not accurate?
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: Pardon? Well, about decisions having already been made about force dispositions. So you -- so that's what -- you made a comment about that. I don't think that's accurate, but you should go to ISAF for details about the implementation of the campaign.
Q: OK, but you said attacks increased in RC East? Because -- maybe I'm looking at the wrong number, but it says EIA decreased -- decreased -- by 8 percent.
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: Pardon?
Q: The section on RC East that says the EIA decreased by 8 percent in the reporting period in RC East, but you said it increased.
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: Yeah, I misspoke, because I was thinking about the time period. They actually increased in the early part of the reporting period but decreased later on. And you're right; there's an overall decrease in there. But the share increased.
Yeah. That -- so I apologize for my misspeaking. You're correct on that.
CAPT. KIRBY: Elisabeth.
Q: Two questions. How are you doing on -- you -- the last I'd talked to you guys, you said you were making, quote, "good progress" on contributions from other -- from allies and other countries to the Afghan security forces. Do you have the one billion-plus that you need post-2013?
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: That's what -- we said when we were the -- we weren't going to give specific numbers and pledges and all that kind of stuff right now, and just as I said, on the plan, I think we're making good progress towards that. Without giving any figures right now -- is where -- there's a lot of diplomatic stuff going on.
But we're fortunate today to have somebody from the State Department who is a diplomat working on this. (To colleague.) I don't know if you want to make any comments.
SR. STATE DEPT. OFFICIAL: That's accurate. There -- we're slowly but surely making it to our 1 billion euro challenge. So we hope to make it.
We don't -- I can't tell you that we know that we'll make it, but we're getting there.
Q: And just overall, I mean, this is a big question, but you know, we've seen these reports for years. There's -- you know, things are bad; things are better. But can you give an honest assessment of what you expect post-2014 when most U.S. forces are out? I mean, that's been -- always been the big question, you know, that we -- 20,000 Marines in Helmand can bring down violence, but what is your expectation when there's no Marines in Helmand, very few Army -- and Kandahar?
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: Again, obviously, you're going well beyond the scope -- (chuckles) -- of the 1230 report. So you're getting -- and you're really getting into almost a personal opinion here.
But based on what I've seen over the 10-plus years I've been working on Afghanistan, I am optimistic that we are going to achieve our campaign goals and be able to turn the security over to the Afghan security forces by the end of 2014 and that they will succeed. I will say that -- and some of you have heard me say this before, but over the last year as we put the Afghan security forces more and more in the lead, we have seen them at times do better than we expect, sometimes seen them do better than they expect. They also encounter problems sometimes. But we have the resources in places through the partnering effort to, when they encounter problems, to pull back, regroup and move forward.
I think it'll be a -- certainly be a big test this summer as we have the Afghans more in the lead than we ever have before. And so I think the best time to answer your question will be in the fall after this fighting season is over, after we've had a chance to see how the Afghan security forces perform. And we certainly will, as we always do at the end of fighting season, go back, look at the that performance and evaluate it. But right now I can only give you a personal impression, I would say.
CAPT. KIRBY: Please remember, everybody, that our presenters are here to talk about the 1230 report.
Q: Thanks, John. The reference to the sort of Taliban safe havens is a sort of constant in these reports.
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: Mmm hmm. (Affirmative.)
Q: I guess I'm wondering whether at this late stage in the game the U.S. government has decided it will never fully eradicate those or even diminish them significantly, and that going forward, the challenge for the Afghan security forces will be to handle that problem on their own.
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: We are certainly not in a position where we're going to say that we're excepting anything. We have continued to make it a very high priority, as you know, in our dealings, both military and elsewhere, with the Pakistani military, Pakistani government, that it's Pakistan's duty as a responsible international country to control all violence that emanates from its borders into other areas. And we continue to urge them to do so.
At the same time --
Q: Is there any realistic prospect of that?
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: We're going to continue to push it. I'm not going to evaluate -- I don't know if you want to talk about this (briefer name deleted) at all. On the military side, however, recognizing that this continues to be a continuing problem, the campaign plan is designed to work at reducing the ability of the Taliban, and including Haqqani network, to infiltrate over the border, to go after the networks.
And if we look at the success that we've had over the recent months, particularly in Kabul, you look at the attack last month that got a lot of attention in Kabul, but if you look at the -- and again, urging people to took at holistically the security situation in Kabul, there were fewer complex attacks in Kabul this year than there were last year.
So yes, there was one, we're all familiar with it and people focus on that, but to me the most important thing is that there are fewer than there were last year. That means that the interdiction effort that we're putting in place, very much with the -- with the partnership of our Afghan -- with our Afghan army, police and intelligence, is showing increasing success.
It's not perfect, so we're going to have to continue to work to shield Afghanistan and work to build the capacity of the Afghans to shield them from these things, from these attacks, but I think we will continue the efforts as well with Pakistan.
SR. STATE DEPT. OFFICIAL: I'd point to two things. One, Ambassador Marc Grossman was in Pakistan last week working on exactly this issue in a very -- a very directed way -- direct way. Second, the -- you will have seen the reports of the core group, the meeting between -- meetings that we have; we try to have regular -- Afghan- U.S.-Pakistan. That -- the core group addresses some of these questions as well. There also have -- is a -- is a better relationship between President Karzai and his Pakistani counterparts, and they talk about this issue as well. So that's a difference this year from last year, where there's a lot more discussion and a lot more -- a lot more agreed foundation from which to speak about the importance of closing down the insurgency out of Pakistan.
Q: What's your assessment right now of the Haqqani network?
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: The Haqqani network continues to be operative, continues to be -- to operate networks in Afghanistan and continues to carry out attacks in Afghanistan. When we're talking about the attacks on RC-East, the Haqqani network is the major actor in the major problem area.
But as I said before, we will continue to work to interdict their ability to act in Afghanistan and continue to make clear to Pakistan that we expect them to take action to prevent violence emanating from its borders, impacting other countries, including its neighbor Afghanistan.
CAPT. KIRBY: Courtney.
Q: On Pakistan, you know, we've been hearing that, despite all the tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan, the Pakistani military continues to fight valiantly and they're dying and -- but then this report says Pakistan selected --
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: Can you -- I'm sorry; I haven't memorized it. If you could -- if you're citing it, could you mention the page?
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: Thank you.
Q: The section on Pakistan. It says “Pakistan’s selective counterinsurgency operations,” and it says that there's still a lot of pervasive mistrust and divergent strategic interests. What is -- can you explain what it means by "selective counterinsurgency operations" and --
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: Sure. The Pakistani military targets those militants which they believe pose a direct threat to the Pakistani government as opposed to those who they believe are focused primarily on Afghanistan. So that's where the selection comes in.
However, what -- the first part of your question's exactly true, and I would not be in any way dismissive: Pakistani military are fighting and dying every day. They are conducting some very difficult military operations, and our estimation is that wherever they take action -- because this is really a syndicate of extremists, even though one group may be more focused on Pakistan than Afghanistan -- given the links on them, pressure anywhere on the syndicate is positive -- is positive for all the effects of the syndicate. So therefore when they -- when they go after the area -- the groups that are focused on Pakistan, that degrades the overall ability of the syndicate. And so it does contribute to a more secure Afghanistan, even if they only go after those groups.
That's what we mean by "selective." But in no way is that selective part meant to diminish the -- really the bravery and the heroism and the sacrifices of the Pakistani troops that are fighting and dying in -- every day.
Q: And the divergent strategic interests -- that means that they're going after the -- they're only going after internal --
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: Their primary focus is on insurgent groups that threaten -- that they feel threaten the Pakistani government. So that's exactly -- you've -- I think you've got the analysis down.
CAPT. KIRBY: Viola.
Q: You said that there are gains that -- I think you were referring to 2008 -- that the trajectory has shifted from losing the war at that time to making progress at this point. Considering in the interim there was the surge of 33,000 U.S. forces plus with 7 or something thousand other coalition forces --
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: Over 10,000.
Q: -- over 10,000 coalition forces -- do you feel that you can say at this point, as the coalition prepares to exit over the next couple of years, that the momentum has shifted enough to say you're at least winning, in the process of winning at this point, compared to losing? Or is it still too difficult to say that?
And (briefer name deleted), I wanted to ask you about civilian Afghan capacity. Is there any thought being made to changing the approach on Task Force Shafafiyat or any other approaches that you're using to try to make that element more effective?
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: I'll just -- and I apologize for doing this -- we're not exiting Afghanistan. We are transitioning Afghanistan, and we expect there to be a continuing presence in Afghanistan, including of NATO, as promised -- as pledged by the NATO heads of state in Lisbon a couple years ago. I'm -- all of you know when you use the word "exit," I'll push back because that's not an accurate description of what's going on. It's a transition, and it's always been a transition. An exit implies that we're leaving and there's nothing left behind. And there's a whole lot left behind, most importantly the Afghan security forces, who are doing what's showed in this picture.
Secondly, in terms of the success of our campaign plan, the success of the surge, as the president announced in June of last year, the effects of the surge are such that we were able to begin withdrawing the surge force last year, and we withdrew 10,000 troops last year.
As the president said, we expect to withdraw 23,000 -- the additional -- the remainder of the surge troops by the end of September of this year. We're on track to do that because of the success of the campaign strategy.
So yes, I believe the campaign strategy -- the campaign is working, and we are able to achieve our goals. That's what gives me the optimism to believe that in 2014 we're going to be able to transition to an Afghan security force that is taking care of its own security, with continuing advice, assistance and, importantly, funding from the rest of the world.
CAPT. KIRBY: Please remember to identify yourselves.
SR. STATE DEPT. OFFICIAL: On the anti-corruption -- on the anti- corruption government capacity work, USAID does a -- does a program review every six months. They've just finished one. But in addition that, there is an -- one of the senior officials at the U.S. embassy is in charge of all law enforcement and rule of law work to make sure that USAID programs, military programs, the State Department's INL, International Narcotics and Law Enforcement programs -- that they are -- that they mesh and that they are in their own lanes, that they're well-coordinated and that they're not stepping on each other.
In the course of all of that, there's a tremendous amount of effort to make sure that every single program is meeting its goals, that they're -- that -- meeting its benchmarks and meeting its goals. And as they find that any programs do not meet their goals, they change -- they change them, and they close their program, they move the money out of this ministry to another program, that kind of thing, to be absolutely certain that the funding is being used in the right way. And this is not just in Kabul, across the country as well.
Q: (Off mic.)
SR. STATE DEPT. OFFICIAL: For example, there was an anti- corruption working group of -- I can't remember the exact name -- that it was clear was actually teaching some officials how to be corrupt.
And that was shut down very quickly, and then -- and the effort was moved to -- the money was moved to a different program that was working. The Shafafiyat program works well, for instance.
In another instance -- you all know the Kabul Bank story -- the donor community is especially eager to make sure that asset recovery is -- there is some progress on asset recovery to demonstrate that the Afghans are serious about going -- fighting corruption. President Karzai set up a special prosecutor, a special prosecutors arrangement, about a month ago to put extra focus on both asset recovery and prosecutions for -- of the -- of the top people who were involved in the Kabul Bank thefts. And that's -- there is a deadline on that, there's a two-month deadline. That means that there has to be action before the Tokyo conference, and so there's a tremendous amount of pressure.
The other -- the other angle from which pressure comes is from the IMF. There is an IMF review under way. The IMF report is due in June, late June, so again, before the Tokyo conference. And that report will be critical to whether Afghanistan gets the kind of report that it needs to get in order to build donor confidence.
CAPT. KIRBY: We have time for just a couple more. Mike.
Q: Mike Evans, from the Times. You've mentioned, (briefer title deleted), that there was an anti-corruption course training people on how to be corrupt. How do you explain that?
SR. STATE DEPT. OFFICIAL: It wasn't meant -- it wasn't meant -- it was a -- it was a program to review corruption cases, and we found that the Afghan -- some of the Afghans who were involved in reviewing the corruption cases were actually learning how to be corrupt. I'm being very frank here. They were teaching them new ways. And so we closed that down as an avenue of pursuit. So it wasn't a course in anti-corruption.
It was a -- it was a program to investigate that had the opposite effect, we found.
Q: When was it --
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: This was --
SR. STATE DEPT. OFFICIAL: When did we close it? In the last year, possibly six months. I'm -- I can't remember the date.
Q: Just a clarification. The report mentions -- Page 55 -- that the most significant progress was made in RC South, while the enemy-initiated attacks are up by 13 percent. Could you clarify on this?
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: You're talking about -- where it says the most significant progress was made in RC South and Southwest?
Q: Why -- yes, when the number of attacks in RC South increased by 13 percent.
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: Right. Because the evaluative sense there is the two together, which is basically Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul provinces -- and the attacks in RC South going up by 13 percent was -- and a number of you have heard this before -- was partly because we were doing operations in wider areas and because we had gone into areas that the Taliban had never been challenged before.
So while I would say overall, the entire country, and over the long period of time, enemy-initiated attacks going down is a -- is a sign of their reduced capacity and increased capacity of the Afghan forces and coalition forces to provide security, there are times, such as the six months here, where the -- where even though we're bringing increased security, the number of enemy insurgent attacks can go up.
In the prior six months in Kandahar, they've gone down. And we will -- we'll be seeing what's -- what happens in the next six months. But when you look at it as an organic whole, RC South and Southwest, which it really is for the -- for the -- for the Taliban -- they really look at it as a unified area -- that's where the greatest progress has and continues to be.
And I'll refer you to ISAF for details, issues on the campaign, but for example, during this period we went for the first time effectively into Maiwand district, which is on the border between Helmand and Kandahar, joining up the security zones between Lashkar Gah and Kandahar, going into this area where the Taliban had never been challenged before resulted in them initiating a lot of attacks to try and push us out. Those attacks were all defeated. Maiwand province is now much more secure than it was six months ago, but at the cost -- the terrible cost of coalition forces' and Afghan forces' lives and, unfortunately and tragically, many civilians during that larger amount of violence as we went into Maiwand district.
CAPT. KIRBY: This will be the last one.
Q: Thank you. Kristina Wong, Washington Times. Can you talk about one of the key metrics, the enemy-initiated attacks, what that means, what it includes, what it doesn't include? And also, on page four it says insurgents have increasingly resorted to asymmetric efforts in an attempt to regain territory, and including assassinations, kidnappings, intimidation tactics, strategic messaging campaigns. Can you talk about -- just from the statistics that you've gathered on that, can you talk about that increase, how large that increase is, and what effect, if any, it will have on progress, those other tactics, may have on progress?
SR. DEFENSE DEPT. OFFICIAL: Well, to start off with the last part of your question first, while they have shifted to there, since we are evaluating that progress -- that important progress continues to be made, our evaluation is that shift to asymmetric means is not preventing progress, that shift from what we saw several years, where the Taliban were not just willing but at times thought it was in their strategic interest to engage in force-on-force activities.
In other words, groups of 20, 50, a hundred Taliban attacking Afghan forces or coalition forces -- that happens very rarely now. I'll leave -- have to leave the campaign details up to the -- up to the people out in -- to the ISAF and in the Afghan -- out in Kabul. So they switched to asymmetric targets, which we believe right now are less and less effective as we provide -- and "we" meaning both the -- primarily Afghan forces and -- as well as U.S. forces -- provide more and more security to the Afghans. But it's still a potent danger.
So that's why it's important to go after the networks that support these assassinations, support the IED networks, support the -- those selective attacks, including for example the attack in Kabul in April, which wasn't covered in this, but that was an effort by the insurgency to try and create a public impression. They didn't expect to take Kabul by that attack; they intended to try and send a message. And that's what we mean by public information.
In terms of enemy-initiated attacks, they -- it just means just what it says. These are -- these are actual attacks that are initiated by the enemy. It goes from everything from laying of an IED to a -- to an attack by a large number of forces. So an assassination attempt -- successful or not, would be an enemy- initiated attack. What it doesn't include are criminal activities. It doesn't include attacks that we initiate. So if we attack the Taliban. Our attack and -- but, of course, our attacks do often, especially when going into other areas, as I mentioned in Maiwand, often lead to them attacking as well.
So, let's say we go into a new district. We may go in and take out what we believe are the key areas and bring in Afghan security forces who establish security. And then, in the following weeks and months, there may be any number of attacks that the Taliban mount to try to take that territory back. And that's really the story, I think, of the last year in Afghanistan -- is we have expanded and the Taliban have been trying to take things back.
And that's really the story, I think, of the last year in Afghanistan, is we have expanded and the Taliban have been trying to take things back through those attacks. And the decrease overall in the country of their -- of the number of attacks means that their ability to take back areas that they used to control is less than it was a year ago and certainly less -- much less than it was two years ago.
CAPT. KIRBY: Thanks, everybody. That's all the time we've got today.