COMMANDER BILL SPEAKS: Welcome the ISAF deputy commander, Lieutenant General Adrian Bradshaw, British army, back to the Pentagon Briefing Room.
Lieutenant General Bradshaw assumed his duties as ISAF deputy commander in November of last year.
Serving since 1980, he commanded the King's Royal Hussars in the mid-1990s, a tour that included operations in Bosnia. Lieutenant General Bradshaw was deputy commander of Task Force West during operations in Iraq in March 2003, and then took charge of 7th Armored Brigade during initial stability operations in April of that year.
By 2006 he was director of special forces, and in March 2009 he was appointed commanding general of the 1st Armored Division of the British Army.
This is Lieutenant General Bradshaw's second time with us here in the Pentagon Briefing Room. He last joined us in February of this year.
He will provide briefing opening remarks on progress toward transition in Afghanistan and take your questions.
With that, General, I'll turn it over to you, sir.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL ADRIAN BRADSHAW: Well, good morning.
And I'm delighted to be able to join you again today from Afghanistan to update you on ISAF's campaign progress.
Today, the vast majority of Afghan people are represented by their own government and are to a greater and greater extent protected by their own security forces. Whilst coalition forces continue to play a key role, it's increasingly a supporting one.
Progress has been significant. The ANSF are now leading well over three-quarters of all security operations. Afghans now also constitute over three-quarters of all those in uniform defending this country.
Transition is on track, with three-quarters of the population living under Afghan security lead. This includes every provincial capital. And increasingly, the insurgency is faced by the ANS -- the ANSF rather than ISAF.
In other words, the face of local security is more and more an Afghan face. By mid-2013, next year, all parts of Afghanistan will have begun transition, and Afghan forces will be in the lead for security nationwide.
Insurgent attacks reduced by nearly 10 percent last year and continue this year on a steady downward path. This year also we've seen their ability to strike into population centers significantly reduced. They're more and more being relegated to the less populated margins.
Meanwhile, over 5,000 fighters have turned their back on the insurgency and reintegrated into society. Reintegration is not yet a game-changer, but it has the potential to become so as conditions for the insurgents get more difficult, and as their motivation to get rid of foreigners from their country becomes less and less relevant.
The Afghan security forces are now over a third of a million strong. Their confidence and competence is increasing noticeably all the time, in large part thanks to our advisory teams.
They're now planning and leading their own well-coordinated brigade-level operations, with ISAF in a support role only. In some areas, they're routinely maneuvering at corps level and employing their own artillery fire support; a very significant step forward.
Through the security forces assistance model, we're moving from leading combined combat operations to a supporting and advising role through purpose-built advisory teams. These teams will step back as ANSF capability and confidence improves from the bottom up.
The transition process is on track, but of course there's much to do before the end of 2014.
We need to continue to build capability and, most importantly, confidence in the ANSF. We must continue to develop ANSF enabling capabilities so that they -- they can sustain their own needs. We need to get the -- the balance right between making them implement their own improvements under pressure and stepping in to help.
At the end of 2014, the NATO-lead combat mission will end. The international community will, however, continue to provide financial and practical support to the ANSF and to the government of Afghanistan as promised at Chicago and Tokyo.
The insurgent leadership are realizing they cannot achieve their political aims by military means alone. After a decade of exile, the message is clear: Cash in your chips and join the political process or face another decade or more away from your homes.
Challenges still remain as Afghanistan emerges from three decades of conflict, but as districts and provinces move through transition, we're seeing the government of Afghanistan assume more responsibility.
It's been said, just a few weeks ago, "This is a war with a purpose. And for ISAF combat forces, this is a war with an end." We all understand the purpose: to prevent Afghanistan once again from harboring A.Q. and other international terrorists who threaten all of our nations.
We look forward to finishing ISAF combat operations at the end of 2014, confident in the ability of the ANSF to stand on their own feet with our continued strong backing through financial and training support.
We can take great pride in all that our great coalition of 50 nations is achieving in Afghanistan. Much more needs to be done, but we and our Afghan partners sense the gaining confidence, competence and appetite for Afghan forces to take on the job that for so long it has been our responsibility to lead.
I'd now be delighted to take your questions.
Q: Hi, General Bradshaw. This is Kristina Wong from the Washington Times.
During the recent week-long suspension of joint ISAF and Afghan operations below the battalion level, what changes were made during that time if any?
And, as a result, are NATO trainers better prepared to confront the threat of insider attacks?
LT. GEN. BRADSHAW: Yeah, thanks for that question, because it gives me an opportunity to clarify some misperceptions.
We've faced a period of particular threat with respect to insider attack in the aftermath of the very insulting and damaging film that was circulating over the Internet. And as you know, it caused widespread disturbance across the Middle East, which was starting to emerge in -- in Afghanistan. As a result, commanders were directed to carry out full risk assessments and to run the assessments past the two-star regional commanders so that they could assess the risk levels involved at all the levels at which we were mentoring.
That happened. There was a brief pause in some areas while those risk assessments were being completed, but we very rapidly got back to a more normal profile. And I would say now that our profile is largely back to normal, but we continue to keep a very close eye on the risk.
In the meantime, with reference to your question about whether we are more prepared, the answer is yes. And even over the last couple of weeks, the systems that we have evolved and are evolving with our Afghan partners to identify threats, very rapidly to close up to the units involved, if necessary to question the people involved, that system has become very much more efficient.
And we believe that we are making the environment noticeably safer for our people as a result.
Q: Just a follow up question: You say that those operations are largely -- largely back to normal? Which operations are not back to normal? And could you talk a little bit about the improved system in the last few weeks?
LT. GEN. BRADSHAW: Yeah, well, when I say largely back to normal, I mean that the majority of people are carrying on operations as they were before these checks and these risk assessments took place. There may have been some minor adjustments. But largely, as I say, we are totally back to normal. And indeed in many areas, mentoring really did not cease. The risk assessments were carried out simultaneously with operations continuing, and there was really no interruption in operational activity.
In terms of how we're addressing the threat, we are introducing some changes into the counterintelligence operations of the Afghan national security forces. We're assisting them with some of this. They have adjusted the numbers of people who are involved in counterintelligence.
And as I think we've said before, the national director of security seconded between two and three [hundred – SIC] officers to the Afghan National Army to assist with this effort. What we're doing at the moment is rolling out an operation whereby the NDS work in very much closer cooperation, not only with their Afghan partners, but also with ISAF partners on the counterintelligence side. So the whole process is a lot more joined up.
In the meantime, the Afghans have run a ruler over their vetting procedures for recruiting, and they've improved them greatly. They've also looked back at all of the people who have been vetted in the past and carried out extensive re-checking to make sure that procedures have been properly carried out.
And we're also improving various aspects of our own training with regard to working up close alongside our Afghan partners. And I think you'll be aware that the president of Afghanistan himself is very much engaged in this effort and has directly himself decided that officers from the Religious and Cultural Affairs Department of the Afghan National Army will be made available to help us with our pre-training.
As you know, we already do a great deal of cultural and language training for our troops before they come into theater.
So in a number of areas we are improving procedures, and in this way we are driving the risks down for our troops.
Q: Good day, General. Rosalind Jordan with Al Jazeera English.
Two questions: One, does ISAF have a much better idea of what happened on Saturday when two U.S. troops apparently were ambushed and killed by Afghan security forces?
And, two, how would you characterize the state of morale among ISAF forces in light of the ongoing so-called green-on-blue attacks, this year?
LT. GEN. BRADSHAW: Yeah, well, regarding the attacks that you refer to, we did make a brief statement to the -- to the media a couple of days ago. And I have to say that the investigation is still ongoing, so I have nothing to add to that. I can't prejudice the investigation.
We said that when we had a full picture of exactly what had happened, we would let people know. But as of yet the investigation is ongoing.
Regarding the morale of ISAF troops who are working up alongside the Afghan troops, I can tell you that morale is high. I visited a unit, an Afghan unit out in Logar only a couple of weeks ago with the ISAF partners and witnessed firsthand the very close working relationship that they all enjoy.
These people have worked together for a long time. They know each other well. They have strong friendships with their Afghan partners, and morale is high. And across the force people are focused on the job in hand, which is training and mentoring and bringing on the capability of our Afghan partners so that they can take on the job.
I think it's important to remember that although the insider attacks are a very painful thing, although the losses of people to these sorts of attacks, as any sorts of attacks, cause great upset and grief and for the families concerned are the most enormous tragedies -- and we sympathize with them deeply -- it's important to remember that insider attacks account for just over 4 percent of our casualties.
And it's also worth remembering that in the last year, year to date compared with last year, our casualty rate is down by nearly 40 percent. And this reflects the fact that across the force as a whole the risk to our people is reducing as we hand over responsibility for the combat operations to our Afghan partners.
Q: General, it's Anna Mulrine with the Christian Science Monitor.
The NATO secretary general indicated earlier this week that -- that the NATO may consider accelerating the drawdown of forces within Afghanistan. And I just wanted to see what sort of steps you're taking to prepare for that.
LT. GEN. BRADSHAW: Well, let me just clarify something here. I think the reporting of those comments was perhaps, at best, misleading and perhaps, at worst, somewhat mischievous.
There is no change to the timetable, and, frankly, the commitment that our troops are giving to this operation all across the country and the success that they are delivering deserves better.
The timetable set at Lisbon is in place, and there is no change to that. The security forces assistance model relies on a graduated, modulated step back from our Afghan partners level by level from the bottom up as they grow in confidence and capability.
Clearly, there is scope to make judgments, and we make judgments the whole time relating to their capability, and we have a set of metrics that we apply to measure how well they're doing. And at the appropriate time we can step back.
In some areas we've done these assessments and we've assessed that we can actually pull back a little quicker in some places. In other areas it'll take more time.
For example, with their logistics elements we know it's gonna take a little more time to build their full capability. But the plan is in place and it relies, as I say, on building capability and confidence and not pulling back too soon and undermining that confidence. If we do that, we could have serious consequences.
And of course in terms of building capabilities for the Afghan national security forces, we've got a plan which rolls out over the next -- over the next couple of years.
So the Lisbon timeline is in place. There will be minor adjustments across the battle space, but there is no change to the plan or the strategy.
Q: Hi, General. Jon Harper with the Asahi Shimbun.
You mentioned that 5,000 former insurgents had been reintegrated, but you said that that isn't a game-changer yet.
So I was wondering, what is your estimate of the overall size of the insurgency?
And over the past year, have you seen an increase in the rate of insurgents coming forward and trying to reintegrate?
LT. GEN. BRADSHAW: Yeah, the overall size of the insurgency is a pretty difficult thing to estimate, because, of course, an insurgent one day can become a farmer the next; and of course vice versa. Rough estimates from the intelligence community vary around [20,000 to 30,000], but I would say that those are not necessarily completely reliable. [See Editor's Note Below]
In terms of those numbers, of course, over 5,000 people in the reintegration program is quite a significant number. It has the capacity, I think this program, to be a game-changer if and when the political process takes off.
And I've said to you that the insurgency is under pressure. They are, we think, at the point of realizing that they simply cannot achieve their political aims by military means alone. In fact, we see some real signs of that in our intelligence reporting.
This is a very important point in any insurgency, because this is the signal to the insurgents that they must join the political process. When they do that, of course, the reintegration program provides their fighters a mechanism by which to reintegrate into society. So in that respect it could become a game-changer.
Q: General, it's Luis Martinez of ABC News.
If I could go back to a couple of things you said earlier, you said that insider attacks account for 4 percent of casualties. Is that total casualties since '01? Because I thought ISAF figures show that it's 20 percent of the casualties this year?
And also, when you say that you don't want to prejudice the investigation into the incident on Saturday in Wardak, what exactly are you talking about?
There have been reports that this may have been a unit-to-unit incident as opposed to individual; that it may have been blue-on-green-initiated as opposed to green -- blue-on-green-initiated as opposed to green-on-blue. What exactly are you talking about?
And when this comes out -- when this investigation concludes will the results be made public?
LT. GEN. BRADSHAW: Well, for the first part of your question, the proportion of total casualties both killed and wounded is 4.4 percent to insider attacks. And as I pointed out, the total casualty rate has decreased by 38 percent over the -- over this year, to this date compared with the same period last year.
I said that I couldn't tell you anything more about the incident in Wardak because it is the subject of an investigation. We made a brief statement a couple of days ago, and really we cannot add to that until the investigation is complete. And I'm afraid you will have to give it time to be completed.
CMDR. SPEAKS: Okay, General, that -- Richard.
Q: General, Richard Sisk, military.com.
You stressed over and over again the importance of building confidence in ANSF. How can that be done, sir, given the increase in insider attacks, more than 50 killed this year alone?
And with operations now, you seem to be stressing separation between the ISAF forces and the ANSF. How do you build that confidence in them when the allied troops are concentrating on guardian angels and separating from the ANSF?
LT. GEN. BRADSHAW: Well, I think your question characterizes the situation on the ground completely inaccurately. The concept of operations for the security forces assistance model has our advisory teams close up alongside, working with our Afghan partners. And indeed, our experience is, the closer we work with them, the better the relationships and the safer we feel.
Clearly, sensible precautions are being taken. The guardian angel concept is in being, but it -- it's -- it is done in a tactful and sensible manner. And indeed it doesn't look out of place, because there are people with magazines attached to their weapons in -- in most locations a lot of the time. So it's not an unusual sight.
And as I say, I think your question really does not characterize what you see when you visit our troops on the ground. I've been close alongside our troops in a number of areas. Up in Kunar the other day, I was with U.S. troops working close alongside Afghans -- actually in an ALP unit -- and the relationships were really excellent. They were working close alongside their partners in the ALP. They had a very good relationship. There was clearly a high degree of trust between the commanders. The troops were getting on extremely well.
I've see the same in the west of the country out in the Italian area -- again visiting an ALP site there.
I visited troops down in Helmand and seen them working alongside Afghans -- partners there.
All over the country, the vast majority of interactions, thousands of interactions a day are trusting, and really they are characteristic of people getting on together jointly with a demanding job. And in that respect, there is far more that brings us together than divides us.
Q: Joan Soley with BBC News. Can I just follow up to Luis' question?
I'm a bit confused, because as of September 21st, the figure was 20 to 21 percent of all coalition killed in action were from insider attacks. So I'm just trying to understand where 4.4 percent comes from when you state that as an insider attack percentage?
LT. GEN. BRADSHAW: Yes, the question I was asked was total casualties. And the total casualty number is 4.4 percent. Of that, killed in action is around 20 percent.
Q: General, it's Luis Martinez again.
You spoke about security force assistance teams. Can you talk about the specific training that they get before they go to Afghanistan? And what makes -- what distinguishes the training that they get from what a regular force -- combat force would before they go to Afghanistan?
LT. GEN. BRADSHAW: Well, the most obvious difference between the security forces assistance teams and the normal combat troops who've been partnering their Afghan partners is the construct of the team. You have communicators, medical specialists, firesspecialists. You have people who are specializing in the command and control. You have counterintelligence representatives. The construct is very different from a normal combat unit. It tends to be rather more command and non-commissioned officer heavy, and by and large, therefore, the experience levels within the teams are somewhat higher.
And in terms of their preparation, clearly they all go through the normal combat training that any soldiers or any troops would go through before coming onto the ground where they will possibly be in a combat role, even though their primary task is advisory. They will do all the normal cross-training with our aircraft and fires assets. They'll do a full training profile, and they'll also do an extensive cultural element. And this is the piece that the Afghans very helpfully have said they will contribute to most recently.
So it's a broad training profile that covers all the aspects of their mission. And, really, as I say, the primary difference between the advisory teams and the partnering teams is the construct of the teams themselves.
Q: General, to follow up on Richard's question, the NATO secretary general said this week that -- that the insider attacks have absolutely undermined trust and confidence between the forces. But -- but you mentioned, too, just the need to implement these guardian angel programs in -- in a tactful and sensible manner.
I mean, how do you balance the need, obviously, to keep, you know, frayed relations between these security forces intact and also the need to kind of, you know, essentially clamp down and say, you know, "This can't happen anymore?"
I mean, to what extent are you guys going to top leadership within the ANSF and, you know, and looking into -- to their role and leadership? I mean, the idea that maybe these forces don't feel as attached to their higher command.
LT. GEN. BRADSHAW: Well, firstly, the secretary general did make a comment about the undermining of the relationship. But I think it's important not to underplay this, because, as I say, the vast majority of working relationships are very strong. And, you know, we see them the whole time.
But to the other part of your question, which is very important, the question as to how the Afghan leadership is responding to this, I can tell you that a couple of weeks ago I went to a national security council meeting chaired by the president of Afghanistan, at which he majored on the need for his forces to bear down on the threat of insider attack and to get to grips with the things that needed to be done to reduce this risk.
This was real leadership right from the top, and it made an immediate impact on his people. Of course, they've been working with us closely for a long time before that, but we have seen a real energy being put into this. They have a top class officer in the Afghan National Army working to head up the effort, and he has been extremely energetic. We are working this in a totally joint and unified manner.
And, indeed, the very process of bearing down on the risk of insider threat has brought us closer together. So I personally can vouch for the leadership that is being given on the -- on the Afghan side. And you will know very well how seized COMISAF is of the need to bear down on this from the ISAF point of view. And he is taking an extremely close interest in all the measures that we are doing jointly with our Afghan partners.
Q: Just to follow up quickly and ask if you see any link between the -- the complaints of corruption at the highest levels of ANSF and these insider attacks.
And also, I was -- I was wondering too, you'd mentioned the efforts to implement the guardian angel program in a -- in a tactful and sensible manner. And I was just wondering if you could elaborate on that a little bit and what sorts of steps you're taking to do that tactfully and sensibly.
LT. GEN. BRADSHAW: Well, the presence of corruption in any area means that there is an effect on efficiency. And for this reason, both the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior have built their own counter-corruption programs which have examined the way they do business and the money flows, the material flows within their systems very extensively.
And as a result of their very close examination of how they do business internally throughout the chain of command, I can tell you that a number of people have been arrested. And the message is out there within both the Ministry of Interior and the MOD that corruption will not be tolerated. Clearly it's a problem which requires intensive efforts to gets -- get to grips with, but I would say that the security ministers are very definitely in the lead across government in spearheading the counter-corruption effort.
I'm sorry, there was a second part to your question which I missed.
Q: Just to elaborate on the -- on the tactful and sensible manner in which you're implementing the guardian angel program.
Can you give some examples of that?
LT. GEN. BRADSHAW: Well, it's just the way that people go about their business. You know, whoever's got the responsibility to keep an eye on their mates while they're taking exercise or playing sport or relaxing in between operations, whoever has that task just tactfully stays on one side, clearly they have a weapon and they're ready to use it if necessary, but they're not constantly in people's faces.
It's done in a tactful and sensible manner. And it's -- and it's done in a manner to, you know, minimize any sense of discomfort from anybody else.
But I have to stress that in the locations where this is going on there are people all over the place with weapons. And, you know, the magazines are on the weapons. So, frankly, it's pretty difficult for anybody to tell who's a guardian angel and who's just somebody else who's getting on with his job.
Q: Hi, Phil Stewart from Reuters.
General Allen said he was mad as hell about these attacks. We've had kind of telling comments from the secretary general. And in your comments, you seem to be minimizing the insider attack risk. You've played down the numbers. You've used a 4 percent figure, which we learned includes casualties. You've spoken about morale being very, very high.
And I'm just curious, do you feel that the insider threat's being overblown by officials, including General Allen?
And, do you believe that -- and what do you use to base your comments that morale is high? Are you looking at command climate reports?
LT. GEN. BRADSHAW: Yeah, well it -- it's a fair question. Clearly, General Allen, as we all are in the chain of command, you know, we are all very seized with the need to grip this problem. It's a tragedy when we lose our people for any reason. But for this reason it is particularly hurtful and must be incredibly difficult for people to accept or understand. We realize that.
And for that reason, for the morale effect on our folks back home, you know, just as we bear down on any threat to our troops, we bear down on this risk, and we are very strongly.
And I don't seek to minimize that aspect of it at all. As I say, General Allen takes it very seriously, as you know very well from what he said, and I've told you right from the top, the Afghans do. And everybody appreciates that the threat that this represents to the mission is more of a morale threat than a physical threat. And that's why we take it very seriously.
But I think it's important also to put it in the context. You know, in the last year, as I say, the total number of casualties of our troops was reduced by 38 percent. As we move forward through the security forces assistance model, we gradually disengage from the Afghan forces and the risk will become less and less.
The key thing is that we must maintain the confidence of our partners and keep them with us. And if we suddenly, precipitously pull back in the face of this risk when the campaign itself is delivering so much success, we would unravel the efforts that we've worked so hard to deliver.
And as I say, across the country the insurgency is under pressure. Their attack rate reduces. We've pushed them out of the settled populated areas into the desert margins, and they're become less and less relevant to the people.
The survey data that we're getting back from extensive surveys that we do suggests that security now is number four concern amongst the people behind things like provision of electricity and employment.
So they are seeing their lives become more secure. They're seeing the people delivering that security more and more have an Afghan face. And confidence is growing. So it's very important that we remain with the mission and pull back in that modulated manner, retaining the confidence of our Afghan partners, and allow this progress to continue so that we can successfully hand over at the end of 2014.
And, you know, that is the reason that we are so earnest about bearing down on this risk.
Q: Is this you're saying that the morale was high, is that based on -- is that command climate reports or is that anecdotal evidence from your -- your talks with troops?
LT. GEN. BRADSHAW: It's not anecdotal evidence, it's what I see. Every week I'm out around the theater visiting troops in all locations. I'm just about to go out now and visit troops in the field. And, you know, I see what they're doing, I see what they're doing with their Afghan partners. I see the relationships. I talk to the Afghan partners and hear what they say.
And, you know, they all feel very bad about the insider threat attacks. They are equally determined to bear down on them. It is a risk that we need to bear down on together, and the measures that we're taking we are taking with very close cooperation with our Afghan partners. And as I say, in working together closely in -- on this, we are actually coming together even closer.
Q: General, Rosalind Jordan with Al Jazeera English.
You said earlier that even though the intelligence estimates of insurgents in Afghanistan is about 30,000, 35,000, a number which you said is rather squishy, is it possible to fully vanquish these insurgents before the end of 2014? And if not, what will the ANSF be dealing with?
LT. GEN. BRADSHAW: Well, we are gonna have to continue to assess progress as we got through the mission over the next couple of years towards the end of combat operations. But we would expect to continue to make progress against the insurgency. We would expect them to continue to attempt to focus on their -- on their key objective areas.
As you probably know, their Al Badr campaign last year was designed to regain control of areas of Helmand and Kandahar provinces in particular. That manifestly failed. In fact, they saw the government security zone expand southwards down to Marjah, encompassing an area which was previously described as the bleeding ulcer of Helmand. I went there a couple of months back. I walked in my beret without body armor in the market. I walked into an Internet cafe where members of the Afghan local police were doing literacy training.
You know, the place is dramatically changed. And the insurgents are being pushed out to the margins.
Up in the north of Helmand province, we saw the first engineer convoy drive up to the Kajaki dam -- that huge project which is gonna be so important in delivering electricity and improved irrigation to Helmand province and also to Kandahar.
The first engineer convoy drove up there with just its contractor security staff and without a sort of major military operation going around the outside of it to get it up there. So we've seen an expansion in our security zone at a time when the insurgents were trying to recover ground from us.
Similarly, the Haqqani Network emphasis on trying to get attacks into Kabul city have manifestly failed to deliver the sort of affect that they've been seeking to achieve.
All across the country, the insurgency has been pushed back significantly last year and continuing progress this year. And we continue to see signs of pressure.
Let me give you an example. They're under financial pressure. We hear this the whole time in our reporting. In Sangin at the moment the insurgents are getting hold of families whose family members have accidentally detonated IEDs and recovering the cost of those IEDs from them, and some of them they're flogging, as well, for accidentally detonating IEDs.
It's that sort of be behavior which will set the insurgents and is setting the insurgents against the very population that they seek to win over.
So my prognosis is that at the end of 2014 the insurgency will be further reduced on today; it'll still be a challenging -- it'll still be a challenge for security forces, but it's one that I think they will be more than adequately able to match. They will maintain security in the key population centers, the key routes, and the insurgents will continue to be marginalized to the rural areas.
And as I say, [they] will have comparatively little influence on the main populations. So the Afghan national security forces will be able to protect the populations and allow the government to deliver its writ.
CMDR. SPEAKS: Okay, General, we'll turn it back over to you for any closing remarks.
LT. GEN. BRADSHAW: Well, thank you for that.
In terms of closing remarks, I just want to say that over the year or so that I've been here I've seen sacrifice from our people; I've seen huge commitment. I've visited troops all over the country -- U.S. troops in Kunar, recently down with the RAF regiment patrolling in Helmand province. I've been down in the southern desert on interdiction operations. I've seen the Italians in the west; the Germans in the north. I've been out with U.S. special forces with the Afghan local police sites -- every week out and around and seen the effort, the commitment and the belief that our troops have in their mission and the progress that is being made.
I've also, as I've said to you, seen strong partnerships with our Afghan colleagues which really belie the impression that is created, I think, on the reporting on the insider threat issue. As I've said, it's a serious issue. We're taking it incredibly seriously. We are reducing the risk.
But overall, our relationships with our Afghan colleagues remain strong. And I'd invite you here to see it with your own eyes.
This year we've seen the enemy pushed further into the margins, away from the population centers. And we've seen signs of pressure in our intelligence reporting of shortages of finance and equipment. We've seen their leadership now showing divisions at the middle levels, and at the higher levels concluding that they're not going to achieve their aims by military means alone.
We've seen our casualty rate over this year 40 percent down on last year, which reflects the fact that we are stepping back and the Afghans are stepping up to the plate. And they're doing so in good measure. And we are headed for a successful handover.
Now, the enemy will continue to throw challenges at us; of course he will. But he knows he cannot achieve his political aims now through military means. So this is the time to hold our resolve.
Thank you very much.
CMDR. SPEAKS: Thank You, General. And good evening.
[Editor's note: a corrected figure of 20,000 to 30,000 estimated Taliban insurgents was supplied by Lt. Gen. Bradshaw of ISAF immediately after the press briefing, correcting the figure 30,000 to 35,000 estimated insurgents, which was initially presented to reporters during the briefing.]