DOD News Briefing with Gen. John Allen from the Pentagon
GENERAL JOHN R. ALLEN: Well, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It is good to be here with you today and to see many of you. I saw many of you recently. And it's good to see you again in Washington after the NATO Chicago summit.
I'd like to have a brief statement beforehand. And I'll tell you that I left the summit heartened by the overwhelming international commitment to Afghanistan through 2014 and beyond, and in particular the Afghan national security forces. I believe that the NATO summit in Chicago sent three unmistakable messages to the world: to the Afghan people, that we're committed to your future; to the region, the international community will not abandon Afghanistan; and to the Taliban, you cannot wait us out.
Among the important outcomes of this event was the resounding commitment by the ISAF partner nations for the long-term support of the Afghan national security forces, that is sufficient, a force that is capable and sustainable in the post-2014 period.
Further it was noted at the summit that the ISAF commander would assess the operational conditions, the capability of the Afghan national security forces periodically, and right now we're planning every six months, so that we can adapt our plan ultimately for the final size and structure of the ANSF in the post-2014 period as conditions require.
During the last 12 months, the Afghan security forces have expanded from 276,000 to 340,000, and they'll reach their full surge strength ahead of the scheduled deadline in October. Additionally, Afghan forces are increasingly in the lead throughout the battlespace, and the Afghans were in the lead for the planning of this year's campaign plan, Operation Nawid.
President Karzai's recent announcement of tranche three of transition is a significant milestone. The coming transition of every provincial capital and the Afghan national security forces providing security lead for three-quarters of the population of the -- of the population marks an ever-increasing authority, of the capability of the Afghan government and the ANSF. And as a result of this success, we are able to increasingly reposture our own forces from the conventional formations to advisory teams, which is the logical next step in the counterinsurgency.
As you know, insurgencies have seldom been defeated by foreign forces. Instead they have been ultimately beaten by indigenous or national forces. Transition, then, is the linchpin of our strategy, not just the way out, and ISAF advisers will be alongside our Afghan partners, still combat ready, but increasingly there to enable Afghan lead.
Importantly this summit was unambiguous in the commitment for long-term support for the security of Afghanistan, and it is the clearest message yet that the Taliban and the enemies of the Afghan people will not win this war. The Afghan national security forces, with the unwavering support and the tangible commitments of the 50-nation coalition, grows stronger every day. Additionally the summit was a powerful signal of international support for the Afghan-led process of reconciliation, and in this process resides the greatest hope for the Taliban in the future. In the wake of this historic NATO summit, as the Taliban see that their time grows short, they can choose to be part of the prosperous future of Afghanistan, but they can never prevail through the use of violence and intimidation.
This campaign has been long, it has been difficult, and it has been costly. But I believe that ISAF's campaign is on track. I see it every day -- tangible evidence of progress. And we're making a difference. We're fulfilling the Lisbon road map of transition, and the international community is standing with the noble people of Afghanistan and Afghanistan now and into the decade of transformation.
Lastly, I'd like to take just a brief moment to comment on the announcement yesterday by the State Department that Ambassador Ryan Crocker is retiring, again. Ryan has been like a brother to me. We first served together in the -- in -- when I was in al-Anbar in Iraq in 2007 and '8. He has been a mentor to me in many ways, and I am confident that the course of the history of Afghanistan and in all the countries in which Ryan has served so ably as a diplomat have been inextricably altered for the better because of his selflessness and his skills as a diplomat and as a great American patriot.
We will always remember his sacrifice and his service, and I'm a better man and a better officer for having served with him both in Iraq and now, again, in Afghanistan. And he will be missed in Kabul.
And with that, I'd be pleased to take your questions. Yes, ma'am.
Q: General, Lolita Baldor with AP. You talked a little bit about being heartened over the last weekend, but over the last couple of weeks some of the news about Pakistan seems to have been sort of less heartening, including the sentencing today of the doctor that helped the CIA in the Osama bin Laden raid, the continued stalemate over the opening of the GLOCs, and the Senate's action yesterday to cut U.S. federal funding for Pakistan.
At this point, do you see the relationship deteriorating? Do you think Pakistan is indicating that it isn't willing to be the partner that the U.S. needs in that region? And how critical at this point is that, considering that a lot of the progress from the war may well depend on Pakistan's efforts, particularly along the border?
GEN. ALLEN: I don't see, necessarily, that it is a deterioration. I think the fact that we're talking about reopening the ground line of communications is a very positive step in that regard.
Now it's -- it is a negotiation, and negotiations take time, so I can't predict what the outcome will be and how soon that will be. But I have recently led a team to Islamabad to renew our conversation with the Pakistani military in the context of the Tripartite Commission, first time in a year. It was a very positive conversation about taking steps and measures necessary to prevent a recurrence of the events of 25 and 26 November.
And I think it's important to understand that Pakistan has many of its own challenges on the eastern side of that international frontier. It is engaged in a significant insurgency, in a counterinsurgency campaign. And it's been engaged in that for some period of time. And the effects of many of their operations have been helpful to us on the other side of the border.
But we hadn't had a conversation with them in almost a year on that level. And so with the reopening of the conversation about the ground line of communications, with the, I think, positive outcomes of the conversations that we had over two days in Islamabad, I don't see that there is a decrease in the relationship or a decline necessarily in the relationship. I think we're actually poised to improve where we were, frankly, and I look forward to continuing a constructive series of engagements with General Kayani and the Pakistani military over time.
Q: Just as a follow-up, do you have other meetings scheduled with them? And do you think they've gone as far as they can go?
GEN. ALLEN: Well, again, I'm not engaged either in the negotiations for the opening of the ground line of communication, nor am I engaged in the policy-level conversation between our governments. But we committed ourselves as the military. As the military commander of ISAF, I was also accompanied by General Karimi, the chief of defense of Afghanistan.
We committed ourselves to recurring meetings to ensure that we're properly organized to take maximum advantage of both the time on the ground, the passage of time from the year ago when we last met, with the idea of creating a constructive long-term relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan in that regard. So I was -- I was encouraged in that regard.
Q: General, from our perspective -- and we don't sit down -- and when you sit down with Kayani, the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan now appears to be as bad as it’s been since the start of the war in Afghanistan, yet you say you see a chance here to improve it. How? Where do you see a chance for improvement, since there appears to be a stalemate?
You know, the Pakistanis demand to stop drone attacks over the FATA, no agreement on the ground lines of communication, and if I could also ask, the -- is there a danger here? Because we heard -- we heard for years that Pakistan was of a much larger strategic -- of strategic importance than Afghanistan could ever be. Is there a real danger here that that could deteriorate to the point where that region -- the entire region could be in trouble?
GEN. ALLEN: Well, let me hit your last point first. I think that Pakistan and the region are extraordinarily important to our policy outcomes in the region. And we cannot -- I think we need to be careful about overstating the progress that we're making, but I think that we've made real progress in the last several weeks with respect to having conversations with Pakistan we were not even having before.
And we should build on those. We should seek opportunities for common ground.
Now, again, I am not in the policy world. But we had a very important conversation with the Pakistanis about seeking both strategic congruence in what our long-term outcomes would be for both Afghanistan and Pakistan in terms of the insurgency and the destabilizing influences in the region. We talked about an operational relationship that could leverage our respective militaries on each side of the border. And we talked about the sorts of tactical measures that we could take to prevent a recurrence of what happened in Salalah on the 25th and 26th of November last year.
All of that is positive, from my perspective. Anytime that you can talk, anytime that you can create opportunities for discussion, anytime where the objectives of all of the parties is ultimately some form of a strategic outcome that can benefit the region and benefit the component elements there, the countries, I think that's a positive thing.
Now, we're not there yet. We've got more conversation that needs to be had. But I think that there's a real opportunity here, and we should be seizing that if we can.
With regard to the FATA, the Pakistanis are engaged in a significant insurgency themselves in the federally administered tribal areas. Now, they've suffered more casualties in the last two years killed in the FATA than we have in the 10-year war that we have been engaged in. So we shouldn't dismiss the fact that they're paying a price for the insurgency on their side of the border, just as we're seeking to modulate and deal with the insurgency on our side of the border. And where we can find intersection of our interests, we should leverage those. And I think we're to the point where that conversation can occur.
We hadn't even talked for a year. The fact that we're talking now and we walked out of those conversations committed to having frequent and regular conversations about all three of those levels, strategic, operational and tactical opportunity, I think, is positive. It doesn't mean that the whole relationship is back on track. But if some aspect of the relationship is tracking positively, I think it can have a knock-off effect or a knock-on effect in other areas as well.
MR. GEORGE LITTLE, DEFENSE PRESS SECRETARY: Dave.
Q: What has been the impact of the closure of the supply lines? And now that you're in the spring fighting season, is that closure going to have a greater impact?
GEN. ALLEN: The ground -- closure of the ground line of communication has had no impact on my campaign. In fact, there -- in the many different measures of stockage levels, if you will, of some of the key supplies that we measure -- fuels and food and ammunition, et cetera -- my stockage levels are higher today than they were on the 25th of November. It's an example, I think, of the great strategic logistics capabilities of the United States and our allies that we were able to both sustain the campaign without the ground line of communication and to sustain the future with respect to our military operations.
Q: So even -- it will have no impact on your spring campaign?
GEN. ALLEN: No, it will not. It will not.
Q: Officials from this department testified at the beginning of this shutdown that there were six to eight weeks of supplies on hand in Afghanistan.
GEN. ALLEN: Mmm hmm. In Afghanistan, sure.
Q: Was that accurate? And --
GEN. ALLEN: Yes, it was.
Q: So how low -- how close did you get before the northern supply lines kicked in?
GEN. ALLEN: One of the great resources of the United States is the United States Air Force. And the air line of communications and the Northern Distribution Network provided tremendous compensation for what was lost over the ground line of communication. And so the closest we came, and I won't get really specific, was in simple gasoline. And we never came closer than busting the 30-day supply.
But all of them are higher today than they were -- I think gasoline might still be a bit lower. But we are in no strategic need right now, and it's because of the ground line of communication out of the Northern Distribution Network and the terrific work by the air bridge that was sustained by the U.S. Air Force and the transportation command. And that has given me tremendous operational flexibility.
Q: General, what cause is that --
Q: (Inaudible) --
GEN. ALLEN: It is more expensive.
Q: Can you tell us how much more expensive?
GEN. ALLEN: We can get you those figures. Coming out of the Northern Distribution Network, it's about twice as expensive.
Q: Thank you, General. Are you talking with India as far as -- in which way India can be helpful or you can maybe -- because you have trusted, for the last 10 years, Pakistan; you have put financially and critically our most trusted ally; but, at the same time, they kept saying that they don't have Osama bin Laden for 10 years. And now, one, can you trust them in the future? Two, you've been waiting so long because of their parliament, their decisions and their -- they have certain demands that U.S. must meet before they can open the doors, which I follow with my colleague, that, one, apology, of course and, second, as far as the drone attacks and a number of other things.
My question is here, that if we have not trusted for 10 years -- and they still have Haqqani network and other terrorists inside Pakistan and still they're saying they do not have them, with U.S. is still demanding -- so where do we go from here?
GEN. ALLEN: Which question would you like me to answer?
Q: (Off mic) -- can you trust -- can you trust the Pakistan in the future? And also, don't you think you have to have some other alternatives now after 10 years? You cannot rely on the same country or people or person that you -- they have deceived.
GEN. ALLEN: Well, Pakistan isn't going anywhere. Pakistan is always going to be a 1,500-mile border along the Afghan -- along Afghanistan. And trust has been a problem. And so in order to overcome many of these issues, we're going to have to build trust again.
In the investigation that was done in the aftermath of the 25-26 November cross-border incident, one of the findings was that -- was an absence of trust created a sequence of events that ultimately resulted in the death of 24 Pakistani troops. Sooner or later there is a certain amount of risk that needs to be taken in a relationship in order to build trust, and we're going to have to do that.
Pakistan is not going anywhere. Afghanistan is not going anywhere. And the region will best be served in terms of long-term stability and security if we can build the kind of trust necessary between all the parties in that region.
We are not talking -- I am not talking to India, so I'll just be very clear there. I have no involvement with India at all.
Q: Just a quick one.
MR. LITTLE: Well, let's move on.
Q: People-to-people trust, how can you build people-to-people trust – because the problem is the people of Pakistan because they are not getting what they're supposed to get and there are so many demonstrations going on because of high rise of oil and prices around the country? That's the biggest problem there, how can you win the trust of the people inside Pakistan.
GEN. ALLEN: Well, that would seem to be a question that should be asked of Islamabad, not of the commander of ISAF.
MR. LITTLE: Elisabeth.
Q: Thank you, sir.
GEN. ALLEN: Yes, thank you. Yes, ma'am.
Q: Actually this is a little more a philosophical question. There's been a debate the last number of months or years about whether or not counterinsurgency is dead; you know, just to simplify -- I'd just like to hear what you have to say about that. I imagine I know what you're going to say, but I'd like to hear your thoughts.
GEN. ALLEN: Well, counterinsurgency is not, you know, a single approach to all things. And your question's an important question. It is -- it is important for commanders to be able to adapt their strategy ultimately to fit the conditions on the ground.
And as you've heard me say before, perhaps, in any counterinsurgency, the foreign forces really need to do a variety of things, but the two really big things that it will typically do is to shape the insurgency itself, because you're involved primarily, because you're involved primarily, because the country that asked you to come is in trouble. I mean, their military may -- depending on where you are, what country you're in, the military may well be either flat on its back or nonexistent.
So the foreign forces typically do two things. One is to shape the insurgency, and the other is to build the national forces, which theoretically ought to move to the lead. And so where we are now in this counterinsurgency campaign is to move the national forces, the ANSF, into the lead as quickly as we can. We've got about 30 months left on the campaign, 31 months or so. The ANSF has yet to be fully recruited. It'll be done soon, but the deadline on it was 1 October.
We will train and equip and field that force over the next year so that it's fully combat-ready and in the field by the end of '13. But there are lots of formations already fighting. I mean, there is -- there is significant ANSF involvement in the day-to-day operations as we go along. And so we're putting greater emphasis on that now, and we'll put even greater emphasis in the future on moving the ANSF into the lead and ISAF forces moving into support over this period of the next year or so.
And you've heard the term "milestone 2013." Milestone 2013 means that with the announcement of the fifth tranche of Lisbon road map transition, the ANSF will move into the lead for the counterinsurgency, and the ISAF forces will move into support.
Very -- I have to be very clear that this doesn't mean a cessation of combat operations. We will still be in combat right to the end of the mission. But the counterinsurgency campaign -- counterinsurgency doctrine remains operative because some of the key aspects of what brings about success in counterinsurgency are immutable principles that apply wherever you go.
A successful counterinsurgency will be one that is waged by forces that understand the culture in which you're operating, understands the faith that drive the principles of the people that you're seeking to help, understands the language and the history and can operate in the unique terrain. The terrain for us in Afghanistan is substantially different than the terrain I operated in the al-Anbar province in Iraq. But many of the principles associated with the counterinsurgency we waged in Iraq were in other places transferred.
You just need to, as the commander, recognize that the operational environment will cause you to have to adapt that strategy. And for me, early along in the period that I have been in command -- and I'm in my 11th month now -- it was clear that we needed to do all we can to move the ANSF into the lead and to get them comfortable with leading operations, get them comfortable in close combat with the Taliban, get them comfortable with a population-centric, population-based counterinsurgency. And that's really where you've seen the adaptation.
You -- let me come back to a question you asked a moment ago. The Northern Distribution Network takes both longer and it's more expensive than the ground line of communication. And as I said, we can provide you the details associated with that. But we've had -- we maintain stockage for some period of time -- our goal was about 60 days -- in Afghanistan as a matter of course against the possibility that we may have to someday live off of what we had inside the country.
Once the ground line of communications was closed to us in the immediate period after the 26 November cross-border incident, we began to immediately ramp up our capacity to move critical supplies by air and to take advantage of the Northern Distribution Network. And it did in fact compensate for that which was either stuck on the ground line of communications, about a thousand vehicles stuck on the ground line, and that was on the pier in Karachi. And I hope that gets a little bit closer to your point.
Q: Thank you.
Q: General Matthieu Rabechault from the AFP.
GEN. ALLEN: Yes, sir.
Q: (Off mic) -- commitment to support the Afghan forces, there's a continuing shortfall of trainers -- of nearly 400 trainers. Did you get new pledges at Chicago or/and if this shortfall's gone, does it pose a risk to the transition process?
GEN. ALLEN: It's trainers in two contexts: It's trainers in our schools, in the Afghan schools. But it's also -- and this goes again to your point about the change of the counterinsurgency to fit the operational conditions -- we are moving to what we're calling a security force assistance platform where, as our forces, our numbers begin to draw down, we will rely more heavily on advisory teams as opposed to individual instructors or as opposed to partners -- partnerships with units.
And so what you'll see is we'll have a continuing need for instructors, but we're also going -- we're going to have a need for advisory teams. We've expressed that requirement through a process of force generation through NATO called the Combined Joint Statement of Requirements.
You'll hear it sometimes called the CJSOR process. And we have asked countries to provide us both military advisory teams, MATs, and police advisory teams, PATs. And we currently experience a shortage in those.
Now, because we're only implementing that process now, we have some time, and it's going to be my intention to continue to emphasize the need for those kinds of advisory teams in the future because those formations, those advisory teams inside the Afghan formations are what continue the upward spiral of their capabilities, but also sustain them, help them and advise them in combat. And so I'm going to continue to make that a major point of emphasis.
Q: So you didn't get new pledges in Chicago?
GEN. ALLEN: We -- well, we didn't ask for that there. This is a -- this is a conversation that I typically have with chiefs of defense and with ministers of defense. But the actual expression of the requirement comes up the NATO chain through Joint Forces Command Brunssum and specifically through SHAPE headquarters. And they'll be convening another force generation conference very shortly where we will once again emphasize the need for both the MATs and the PATs.
MR. LITTLE: Time for a couple more.
Q: General Allen, Gopal with Bloomberg News.
GEN. ALLEN: How are you?
Q: Thanks for taking my question.
GEN. ALLEN: My pleasure.
Q: You've said combat operations are likely to continue right up until the time that forces leave in 2014. And it's probably safe to assume that safe havens for groups in Pakistan will continue to operate beyond 2014 as well.
GEN. ALLEN: Sure.
Q: Are you concerned at all about the safe withdrawal of forces, orderly withdrawal of forces? And could you talk a little bit about this idea of a layered defense that some officials have talked about and how that would work in terms of getting troops out of Afghanistan?
GEN. ALLEN: Well, force protection is always a very important dimension of any of our planning. And I won't -- I'll give you a general explanation. I won't go into the specifics because we're moving into execution now on the drawdown of the 23,000 U.S. troops. But we'll be posturing forces to ensure that we're protecting the force as it is moving out of the theater. We'll also be reposturing forces against the next phase of the campaign, to ensure that we're properly sited to continue the process of pressuring the enemy.
The layered defense is a variety of layers, and it will vary, as you might imagine, based on the location on the ground. I think what's important to understand is it's not just about American forces. Very importantly, it's about the non-U.S. ISAF forces. There's about 42,000 of them in the theater now. When we are done recovering the 23,000 U.S., or the phase two drawdown recovery, we call it, there will still be about 40,000. So we will find ourselves in 30 September of so with about 68,000 U.S. and about 40,000 non-U.S. ISAF forces.
But there's another critical component of this, and that's the Afghans themselves. And they will be reposturing their formations also in a coherent campaign. And you heard me use the term Operation Nawid. And it is a campaign in which they had the lead in the planning. We worked very closely with them, but they had the lead in the planning. And ultimately, the movement of forces in the theater, beyond the U.S. forces moving out, will be the reposturing of U.S. forces, non-U.S. ISAF forces, or the reposturing of the entire ISAF formation, and the reposturing of the ANSF specifically to provide support to the campaign.
Now, the layered defense. The layered defense is a combination of both the ISAF forces and the ANSF. It's a -- it's both a layered defense in terms of a linear defense, but it's a layered defense in the employment of special operations as well.
There is really a significant and really a very important, growing capability in the Afghan forces of their special operators, you know, nine battalion-sized formations, kandaks, of commandos, 72 special forces A teams. Within the general directorate of police special units, which is a MOI unit, we have some very high-end, very high-quality commando, SWAT-type units.
And we use those with increasing capability and increasing interoperability with the Afghan National Army, not just to create a defense in depth in a linear sense across the terrain, but a defense in depth in keeping the enemy on the move by attacking networks, by attacking support zones and safe havens.
And that combination, both of Afghan National Army, ISAF general purpose forces and the special operations forces of all three -- ISAF special operations, U.S.-only special operations and Afghan -- gives us both a layered defense and a laminated defense, which gives us really some pretty significant capabilities.
STAFF: We'll wrap up with Phil.
Q: General, hi.
GEN. ALLEN: Good to see you again.
Q: Good to see you. What will your criteria be for a post-surge drawdown? And can you explain a bit whether or not you're prepared to accept ceding some territory or some of the areas that have been gained over this war during this transition from 2013 to 2014 and beyond?
GEN. ALLEN: When you say criteria, do you mean beginning it, ending it?
Q: How will you -- how will you determine, basically.
GEN. ALLEN: OK. Well, we will see that the drawdown of phase two, the 23,000 U.S. forces -- that's going to begin very shortly.
The intent is not -- as I explained a moment ago, the intent is not to deal solely with U.S. forces. It is very much an ISAF and ANSF complementary effort, so that areas which were covered by, let's say, Marines, for example -- as those forces begin to thin out, what you'll begin to see are Afghan forces begin to fill in behind them. And those Afghan forces would have advisers in them, for example. And they would be tied to the remaining Marine units so that there is still a synergy that can be accomplished.
So while in absolute terms, eventually our numbers come down, it is not our intention to cede the ground ultimately to the Taliban. And in fact, it's not even clear that the Taliban had the capacity to flow in behind in any numbers that make them relevant tactically. So we're going to watch that very closely. Our intent is of course to use the ANSF forces both in the east and in the southwest to fill in behind the forces that we'll be drawing down in the -- in the regular course of recovering the 23,000.
But at the same time, you're seeing now the introduction of our advisory teams into the Afghan formations, which give them the capacity to operate right alongside ours in this continued counterinsurgency.
MR. LITTLE: Thank you all very much.
Q: Just a quick follow-up on Phil's question, General, do you believe that all -- that all 68,000 U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan through the end of 2013?
GEN. ALLEN: As I have explained, I owe the president some real analysis on this. We're going to need combat power there. That's -- I don't think anyone questions that. And again, the combat power is not just U.S.; it is non-U.S. ISAF forces, and it also is the properly disposed ANSF forces as well.
Some significant dynamics will be occurring this summer: withdrawing 23,000 troops, reposturing the battle space, inserting advisers, moving the ANSF increasingly into the lead. Also Ramazan, as they pronounce it -- Ramadan will be occurring in the very middle of the high-op tempo period that's often called the fighting season.
So there's going to be some real dynamics there. And in the aftermath of the recovery of phase two, I intend to take a very hard look at the state of the insurgency. I'm going to take a very hard look at the ANSF and how they did in terms of moving into combat, moving into the lead, planning and executing operations themselves. I'll take a look at the operational environment that I anticipate in 2013. And the combination or the aggregation of those factors will generate ultimately an assessment of what U.S. and non-U.S. ISAF combat power I'll need ultimately to continue the process of moving the ANSF into the lead in '13 and '14 and giving them the kind of support that they need so that they'll be successful.
So there's not a number right now, and there's no number out there right now. And your question's extraordinarily important: I owe that kind of analysis to my command -- chain of command and ultimately to the White House. And we're going to make that analysis in the aftermath of the fighting season and the recovery of the 23,000 troops.
MR. LITTLE: Thank you very much. Appreciate it, General.
GEN. ALLEN: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Good to see you again. My pleasure. Thank you.