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Department of Defense News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Robert B. Abrams from the Pentagon

Presenters: Major General Robert B. Abrams, International Security Assistance Force Regional Commander South and U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division Commanding General
March 13, 2013

            COMMANDER BILL SPEAKS: Good morning here in Pentagon briefing room, and good evening in Kandahar, Afghanistan. I'd like to welcome Major General Robert "Abe" Abrams, the commanding general Regional Command South and commanding general U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division to the Pentagon briefing room. 

            Major General Abrams has commanded at every level, from company through two-star command, including command of D Company and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, where he deployed the company in support of Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, later as the commander of the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, where he deployed to East Baghdad, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, too. And prior to his current assignment, he served as the commanding general of the National Training Center in -- at Fort Irwin. 

            He has extensive operational experience, having served as an operations officer at squadron, regimental, and division level, as well as a tour as a strategic planner on the Joint Staff. His general officer assignments includes service as a deputy commanding general, Combined Arms Center Training, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and as a director of the Joint Center of Excellence, Joint IED Defeat Organization, Fort Irwin, California. 

            This is Major General Abrams' first time here with us in the Pentagon briefing room. He will provide brief opening remarks and take your questions. 

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

            MAJOR GENERAL ROBERT B. ABRAMS: Well, good morning to all of you, and thank you, Commander Speaks, for the introduction. 

            I want to open up my remarks this morning by first offering my deepest condolences to the families of the five soldiers from our 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade who died here Monday in a tragic helicopter crash, as well as to the family of our fallen hero from 3-69 Armor, and the special forces operator who was killed in the insider attack in Wardak Province on the same day. We mourn their loss and will forever treasure our opportunity to have served with each and every one of them. They will not be forgotten. 

            Regional Command South is conducting security force assistance to train, advise and assist Afghan national security forces to independence, while posturing our forces and infrastructure as part of our drawdown. R.C. South will continue to train, advise and assist Afghan independent operations, absent of coalition technology and sustainment, focused on operations that sustain hard-fought security gains that allow the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to expand governance and development and further connect with their people. 

            This is a clear shift from the past that I want to use as context for these opening comments. As all of you are well aware, three years ago, our mantra was Shohna ba shohna, or shoulder to shoulder. We partnered, but we also led the ANSF to enable them to surge in growth. And since March 2010, ANSF pillars here in the south, defined as the 205th Afghan National Army Corps, 2nd Brigade, Afghan National Civil Order Police, the 404th Zone MaiwandAfghan Uniformed Police, and the 3rd Zone Afghan Border Police, all of them grew just about 50 percent over the last two-and-a-half years, with the ANCOP quadrupling in size, for a total of almost 52,000 Afghan national security forces now operating in Regional Command South. 

            Since July of 2012 last year, the ANSF have had lead for security in the south, conducting almost 400 daily unilateral patrols, accounting for over 3,000 independent operations every week. These numbers represent 82 percent of all of their patrols, the remainder, obviously, being partnered with ISAF forces. 

            Over time, last year, the ANSF grew increasingly confident in their abilities. And the 205th ANA Corps conducted six separate core- level operations last year, which integrated the other ANSF pillars across the area. These operations lasted from 14 to 18 days generally. These were full-spectrum operations, intended to disrupt enemy operations and increase the security bubble over more and more Afghans living in villages, while earning the trust and confidence of the Afghan people that the ANSF could deliver security after many years of insurgent intimidation. 

            Significant in these core-level operations was a focus on our part to improve and expand the Afghans' ability to sustain themselves, which they demonstrated in the last two operations that I personally witnessed, where they pumped over 88,000 liters of fuel to keep their fleet running over 16 days of continuous operations, all without ISAF assistance. 

            In conjunction with our ANSF partners, R.C. South has developed an active layered security framework that focuses on the population centers within Kandahar, Zabul and Uruzganprovinces. This operational construct allows for security of the population, while at the same time developing our ANSF capacity and capability. 

            The ANSF are better equipped, better trained, and better led than ever before. The contrast of then and now is constantly brought to my attention by my Afghan partners who have witnessed the last three decades of conflict and transition in this country. 

            As the commander of ISAF Joint Command, General Terry, briefed to you in January, it is hard to break apart the hardcore insurgents from criminal syndicate activity. That statement holds true here in Regional Command South, sometimes referred to as the heartland of the Taliban. We also have tribal and ethnic tensions that date back thousands of years in some cases. 

            The fundamental Taliban fighters here often share a marriage of convenience with criminal organizations in an effort to maintain relevancy and their financial support. 

            The enemy is desperately grasping for relevancy in small pockets of southern Afghanistan this year. His 2012 campaign, Al-Farooq, was a complete failure here in the south in every stated area of their plan that included the retaking of terrain that was lost in previous years fighting. He struggles to maintain a steady drumbeat of violence that could intimidate a populace, a populace that has embraced a life of stability and security provided by their Afghan security forces. 

            This enemy is challenged with numerous senior leaders fractures, poor financial support, and now faces not only a very capable ANSF, but we have a growing number of Afghan local police, trained, armed and equipped to defend their own villages. In addition, the ANSF are on a glide path to lead and secure approximately 97 percent of the population in R.C. South this summer, through Milestone 2013, their year to be leading security during the traditional fighting season. 

            In the contentious districts of R.C. South, Zhari, Panjwayi and Maiwand, today you see a blanket of Afghan flags flying over the compounds of a people that are confident in the capacity and capability of their security forces. The ANSF are becoming increasingly independent. As I mentioned earlier, we've seen significant increase in planning capacity with the conduct of those six core-level operations last year. They continue to develop an air mobile capacity through the Afghan Kandahar Air Wing that is capable of conducting limited offensive and sustainment operations, and with an intelligence fusion capability, enabled by an extremely broad and deep human intel-gathering network. All of these capabilities provide an Afghan sustainable solution to Afghan requirements that are delivered by Afghan hands. For example, there are over 300 counter-IED awareness instructors spread across the Afghan national security forces here, training front-line soldiers and police officers basic action upon observation and location of IEDs. The Afghan forces found and cleared rate has dramatically improved as a result over the last two years to almost 70 percent consistently. 

            In June of 2012, there were eight ANSF EOD teams validated for independent operations. Today, there are 38 total validated across their force. Fire support and artillery integration is an important part of ANSF development. They have 21 of 32 of their D-30 howitzer sections manned and certified; 11 of those 21 were certified in the last three months. Recently, one of those sections had their first successful fire mission in support of Afghan troops in contact, an incredible confidence-builder for the ANA and an equal demoralizer for the enemy. 

            The ANSF are adequately manned, and we have three U.S. security force assistance brigades here that provide 83 advisory teams across all the pillars, man-to-man coverage, as I call it, at every kandak (army unit) or battalion level and all the brigade headquarters to continue the development of their capabilities with emphasis on sustainment, medical support, use of fires, and counter-IED. 

            Of the four infantry brigades in 205 Corps, we have one that is independent with advisers. The other three are effective with advisers, one step below being independent, and are on glide path for the independent with adviser rating. 

            The Afghans do not stand alone, and there does remain a lot of work to be done. Afghan security forces are not afraid to fight. And they have proven that over the years that they are more than capable at conducting operations. 

            However, we continue to develop and train them in cross-pillar coordination, indirect fire support, logistical sustainment, EOD, and counter-IED.  One impediment to this further development is their literacy rate that's well documented.  Literacy programs across our Afghan security forces, however, are proving successful, graduating new students every week.  I personally observed several recent graduates pass an impromptu written exam administered by my partner, the commander of the 205th ANA Corps, Major General Abdul Hamid. 

            The excitement of these newfound skills and the future potential of their use exuded from both my partner and these young soldiers.  As we look ahead to 2014, I am confident that the security provided by the Afghan security forces here will provide the space for the political process to mature and further connect to the Afghan people. 

            The ANSF have proven themselves, and this is their time for leading security throughout Afghanistan.  The road ahead still has challenges that will require Afghan solutions.  They will still need a partner, and they will need our help along the way.  There's a Pashtun proverb that states, "The mountain may be high, but there is still a path to the top." And together, we will get the ANSF to the top. 

            So I'll stop there, and I'm ready to take your questions. 

            Q: General, Bob Burns, AP. A couple questions for you. You mentioned the helo crash on Monday. Can you share any details about the circumstances of that? And second question has to do with, how many troops are you commanding -- how many U.S. troops do you have now? And given the very positive description you've given of progress by the Afghan forces, how many of those U.S. forces do you believe you can send home this year? 

            MAJ. GEN. ABRAMS:  Hey, thanks very much for asking both of them. The -- the investigation's ongoing with regards to the helicopter crash. I can tell you that they were out conducting routine night-vision goggle training in a local training area.  And -- and other than that, it's under investigation. The team here did a magnificent job recovering the aircraft and recovering those fallen heroes.  And we had the ramp ceremony last night, and we'll await the team from the CRC to come in from Fort Rucker to conduct the investigation here in a couple of days. 

            To your second question, today, our force manning level here in Regional Command South is 14,056.  We probably have 300 of those that are on leave at any given time.  And we are on glide path to meet our force manning levels in accordance with the president's directive that he issued a couple of weeks ago that goes into next February. 

            I won't go into specifics as to how we're going to get there, but there is a glide path in accordance with our implementation plan from IJC that gets us there by February of next year, and it gives us all the soldiers and the equipment that we need to be able to accomplish our mission. 

            Q: Hi, General. Courtney Kube, NBC.  Just following on Bob's question, can you give us any kind of an idea on how many troops you may draw down and what specific MOSs you might be able to take out of R.C. South? You mentioned specifically that you were hoping primarily -- largely with sustainment, medical support, and counter-IED. So can you talk about some of the MOSs that may actually be eliminated by February of 2014? 

            MAJ. GEN. ABRAMS:  I don't -- I don't -- thanks very much. There won't be any specialties or type units that are going to be eliminated as we execute our responsible retrograde and draw down of our force structure.  It'll be evenly balanced. Again, our focus is on providing security force assistance that centers around these really multi-functional security force assistance teams. 

            So take, for instance, at a brigade advisory team that may run between 18 to 24 strong, you'll have representatives that come across all of our military occupational specialties to have the right expertise. That's sort of my mantra, the right leader with the right expertise to coach, train, and advise their Afghan counterparts to get them to the next level, to get them to independence. And then they're all supported by, of course, local security capability that enables them to accompany their partner on operations. So we're not going to cut out any one capability that we have. It'll be a reduction over time. 

            Q: Talk about perhaps any areas that might experience more of a thinning of U.S. personnel over the next 11 or so months as part of the drawdown? 

            MAJ. GEN. ABRAMS: Well, I can -- let me -- it's probably easier to tell you what areas are not probably going to thin out.  We're not going to thin out our ability to conduct transportation operations.  So many of our sustainment units that are here today, that are helping us with our retrograde, they're going to be absolutely essential as we close or transfer our bases and retrograde our equipment back here to Kandahar Airfield. 

            By the way, this is a progress -- I'd just like to highlight -- this is a process that has been in progress for some time now. At least since I've been here last August, we have been conducting responsible retrograde. The first thing we had to do was to retrograde the surge forces.  And now following the surge forces, we have had a reduction in our force manning level to get us to the number I quoted earlier, 14,056. 

            So we know well and good that we've got to maintain that logistics capability, sustainment capability to be able to close or transfer bases and to bring our equipment back, so that'd be one area that we will not see a general reduction in. 

            Other than that, like I said, it'll be sort of applied equally.  So, for instance, commensurate with our troop strength, there will be a gentle reduction across those enables like our own EOD teams, route clearance teams, aviation, just to name a few, and our own indirect fire capability.  So we'll maintain capability, preserve options for commanders, but it'll be an overall reduction of our force over time. 

            Q: Thanks, General. Chris Carroll, Stars & Stripes. To continue with this line, do you expect to reduce the number of the security force assistance teams by February 2014? And approximately how much? And, secondly, based on the trajectory of the ANSF gaining capability that you talked about, what is going to be needed post-2014, in your assessment? 

            MAJ. GEN. ABRAMS: Thanks for that question. To your first question, this is a process that we call thinning up, and it's based on our Commander's Update and Assessments Tool, the CUAT, that we use to evaluate the Afghan units' readiness. So as units progress into an independent with advisory status, then that presents the option for us to consider thinning up, if you will, off of those respective units. 

            In the south here today, with those 83 teams, we have a security force assistance team, advisers, with every single battalion and with many of our district chiefs of police. So some of those, we do have, you know, a fair amount of those that are independent with advisers. We have others that are effective with advisers. And we'll be able to graduate them up. So we anticipate that by this fall that many of the battalions, we will be able to thin up, if you will, and come off of what we call level one contact, which is day-to-day, man-to-man coverage, and thin up to perhaps having one team that provides periodic coaching, training, and advising over time that could cover down on, say, the four infantry kandaks (army units) inside an infantry brigade. And that's called for us in our vernacular a level two contact. 

            So we absolutely anticipate that this fall, as we progress through the fighting season, that these units will be holistically across the brigade independent with advisers, and we will be able to thin up, and that will have obviously an impact on reducing our overall number of forces here. 

            It is a little premature here, you know, on or about the 15th of March to predict exactly where we're going to be by a month. We have a goal, and -- but that is based on the performance of the unit. In some cases, it's based on manning and equipping of those units that will -- that drives our rating. 

            The ratings are not solely based on their ability to conduct operations, but it's also got to do with their manning, their training level, and their equipment level, especially as we continue to field new equipment. 

            Now, with regards to your second question, all of you are well aware that the president has not made an announcement as to whether we will have an enduring boots on the ground commitment here and after 2014, so it'd be inappropriate for me to comment on what we may or may not have and what may or may not be appropriate. 

            I know that I've provided my advice to the commander of IJC and to COMISAF, and they have provided their advice to the president. 

            Q: Yeah, Dan Deluce, AFP. Could you address two things? One, how will the ANSF then operate in the future without the kind of transport, aviation resources that ISAF has? Can you give us an idea of how they adapt tactics in their operations, given the state of their air force? 

            And then the second question was on the Pakistan border. And could you just describe to us briefly what the situation is with the insurgency and the role of sanctuaries on the Pakistan side of the border? 

            MAJ. GEN. ABRAMS: Okay, sure. Well, as I stated, first off, the Afghan air force does have a small, but capable and growing rotary-wing and fixed-wing capability. So, for instance, down here in Regional Command South, the Kandahar Air Wing today provides five Mi-17 or Mi-8 helicopters in support of both the 205th Corps and the 215th Corps out in R.C. Southwest. 

            Now, that does not seem like a lot of rotary-wing capability, and it's not. But it does provide a capability. And so for named operations, deliberate operations, planned and executed by our Afghan partners, they are able to extend their tactical reach by use of these assets. Last October, General Hamid and I got to observe the very first Afghan independent air assault operation up into Shah Wali Kot District just north of Kandahar City. And so now that's been repeated probably almost a dozen times in different operations over the last couple of months that builds confidence and competence in not only the air crews, but in the infantry soldiers that they provide support to. 

            I'll give you another example. About 10, 15 days ago now, there was an attack into Daykundi Province. Daykundi is on the northern half of Regional Command South. It was tranchedtwo years ago. They are completely independent and autonomous. They have a full-time police force and a very hefty Afghan local police capability. They do not have any full-time army forces stationed in Daykundi. 

            The Taliban by estimates somewhere between 200 to 300 Taliban or insurgents attacked some Afghan local police checkpoints in one of the western districts in Daykundi, and fairly significant series of firefights ensued, and they immediately -- within six hours -- called for reinforcements. They called for reinforcements from the 205th Corps. And within about 30 hours, which doesn't seem like it's very prompt, but it was good enough, the Afghans were able to generate two sorties of Mi-17s, travel from Kandahar to Uruzgan, which is, you know, some 60 kilometers away. 

            They already had the force package ready with about 70 soldiers, multi-functional capability, then conducted an air assault into Daykundi, which was another 100 kilometers to get to, extended their reach, provided emergency re-supply of ammunition, water and food, provided 70 fighters on the ground, and then back-hauled their most serious casualties, all 100 percent planned and executed by our Afghans. 

            So they do have a capability. And what they've learned is, is they've got to sort of hold on to their capability, like preserve their capability and options, and use them in extremis or during planned operations. 

            The other thing they've learned how to do is is they've learned how to provide resupply to themselves over extended distances. Today, for instance, the 3rd Brigade 205 Corps, which is headquartered in Zhari District, just west of Kandahar City, they've been conducting now an operation for over three weeks with a battalion-sized, a kandak-sized unit in northwestern Ghorak districtwhich is about 100 kilometers on the route that they have to take for resupply. 

            And they have not had one resupply issue. They're capable of doing it. Their communications is absolutely capable of maintaining communications back to his brigade headquarters. He's got long-range communications capability. So, again, this is about their competence and their confidence in their own abilities. And they have been able to do it. 

            Now, to your second question, along the Pakistani border here in Regional Command South, for us it's 572 kilometers long. Primacy for security along the border belongs to the third zone, Afghan border police, that's got six battalion-sized elements spread across that 572 kilometers. If you lined every one of them up -- in fact, if you lined all 52,000 ANSF at double arm interval, you're not going to cover 572 kilometers. 

            So the security along the border revolves primarily along positioning of these Afghan border police in key checkpoints that -- on key or decisive terrain that provides good observation and fields of fire to secure the historic transition routes to and from Pakistan. 

            The other key point of our security along the border that helps maintain situational awareness and keeps thing -- open communication lines between the Paks and the Afghans, is a very effective joint border coordination center that we have at Spin Boldak,which is south of Kandahar by about 70 kilometers. It sits right adjacent to the Af-Pak border. And it's manned by -- full-time by Afghans and Pakistani officers, as well as a U.S. advisory team, that facilitates the sharing of information, sharing of intelligence, sharing of both sides, disposition of forces, both the Pakistan (inaudible) that -- that's the Afghan border police counterpart along their checkpoints. 

            And that's the primary method for security along the Pak border. I'm not sure if that answers your question, but I'm ready to take a follow-on. 

            Q: (OFF-MIKE) 

            CDR SPEAKS: Sure. 

            Q: Okay. Hi, Stephanie Gaskell, Politico.  Secretary Hagel, during his visit to Afghanistan, he met with U.S. troops, and he said that one of the main concerns, if not the main concern that a lot of the troops had wasn't about the war, it wasn't about the drawdown, or even the comments that President Karzai made. They were most worried about budget cuts back here at home, budget uncertainty -- bless you -- and, you know, just the effects of sequestration and all of that. Are you hearing that from your troops? Are you hearing concerns about not only them, but their families back home? 

            MAJ. GEN. ABRAMS: Well, the short answer is yes. And I -- I read the same article and read that. And that topic is on soldiers' minds, although I will tell you, it depends on where you are. And so in many of our remote locations, our soldiers, you know, at these small advisory teams that are forward-located with their Afghan counterparts, to be honest, their focus is principally on their mission. And when I go and visit them and our sergeant major goes and visits them, that's -- they want to talk about their mission. They want to talk about the way ahead for their mission and what can they do better in support of their Afghan national security forces. 

            There are -- but I also do run into soldiers periodically -- usually at larger bases -- that perhaps might have more time to think about what's going on in the world and what impact them. And it is certainly on their mind. 

            As you know from the introduction, I'm also the commanding general of 3rd Infantry Division in Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield down in coastal Georgia. And so we've got about half of the division that is back there, and we have a brigade at Fort Benning, Georgia. 

            And I assure you that this topic is on the minds of those soldiers and family members, because they will, as you -- it's well documented; they will feel the effects of sequestration. 

            Q: Hi, General Abrams. Gopal Ratnam with Bloomberg News. Back in December, when we were there in the R.C. South and you spoke with us for a few minutes, you had expressed some concern that withdrawing ISAF forces too soon from some of the areas where the Taliban were cleared could lead to the enemy coming back to those areas. So I was wondering, now that there is a timeline for withdrawing forces, how are you addressing the concern? 

            And, second, I wanted to ask you, you mentioned by fall that you will have a certain number of units operating independently with advisers. Do you have a goal for how many units those would be? Thank you. 

            MAJ. GEN. ABRAMS: If you're wondering what I'm doing, I'm jotting down the notes to make sure that I address your question. To your first question, with regards to, you know, my comment back in December, the best way I can describe -- I still do share some concern about potentially our having to come out of terrain before the Afghan national security forces were quite ready and perhaps present an opening, if you will, a vulnerability to -- to our enemy. 

            Now, what's transpired since the last time I saw you has been pretty significant. And that's one of the great things about being in Afghanistan. You know, if you haven't been here in a couple weeks, things have changed, sometimes for the good and sometimes not for the good. But I will tell you -- and back then, I probably didn't tell you what area I was concerned about. I was probably most concerned about Panjwai district, which sits southwest of Kandahar City that for -- many of you know is historic area of southern Afghanistan that is special to the Taliban for many reasons, for familial ties. It is -- Mullah Omar is from Zhari District, which is on the northern side of the Arghandab River. That's where the movement started. So -- and provides tactical advantage to the attacker trying to get into Kandahar City and many other regions. 

            And it's been quite a slugfest in Panjwai district since 2006, went into with the Canadians and others, special forces, and then it's certainly been the focus of our attention for the last couple of years. 

            The key that was holding us back, frankly, was the support of the populace in Panjwai district And what's not -- it's not been very well reported in the media, but I'm -- I'll be happy to tell you today, is there has been an uprising that has occurred that started in Panjwai district about three-and-a-half weeks ago. And it's been a long time coming. But in short, the people have said enough is enough, and they become fed up with the Taliban. They have asked for the support of their government. They are in full support of their Afghan security forces. They've offered up their sons for Afghan local police. And the Taliban, frankly, have been kicked out of all but about four villages left in southwestern and western Panjwai district. And I suspect the rest of those villages will fall here in short order. 

            So I still have some sort of instincts that we may have some challenges, depending upon some of the areas. And, frankly, we'll have to just see what the enemy does this summer. We have a good idea what we think he's going to do, but, of course, there's nothing a sure thing in combat or in war, and we'll have to let that play out. 

            But I can tell you that a concern I shared with you in the election, that particular one that I was probably referencing is much, much less now. Add that to the fact that we have a new district chief of police Panjwai district, and we've been able to regenerate the Afghan brigade that operates there, I am very, very optimistic about the future of security there and our ability to conduct retrograde out of there in a responsible manner. 

            And, in fact, without going into the details, for classification purposes, we are on track to reduce our infrastructure and our footprint in Panjwai district in accordance with our plan. 

            Q: Hi, General. 

            (CROSSTALK) 

            Q: ... second question. 

            MAJ. GEN. ABRAMS: ... regards to our goal for this fall -- yeah, I'm sorry. The -- the second question, in terms of what's my goal for independence, I'd like to see at least two of the remaining three brigades achieve independence by this fall. And I'd like to see us reach about 75 percent to 80 percent of the kandaks across the core reaching independent with advisory rating. That's our goal right now. 

            Q: Hi, General. Jon Harper, Asahi Shimbun. What is your assessment of governance in R.C. South? Is the Afghan government effectively delivering services? And do they have the confidence of the Afghan people? Or is corruption and other problems undermining that? 

            MAJ. GEN. ABRAMS: Well, thank you for that question. Governance has improved here in the south over time, sometimes slowly, sometimes, you know, as fast as we would like. And, in fact, it's very timely. I just walked out of our monthly governance decision board; where I get an update from the Department of State platform, and it specifically covers one of the parts that we talk about is our regional stability assessment. 

            And so today, I'm happy to report that, you know, in the last three months, we've had an increase in RSSA sufficiency, so that 11 of our 13 key terrain districts now meet the minimum levels to be declared sufficient. 

            And that's largely a reflection of an increase in fills on the district level staffs. One of their challenges, just like in our hometowns, that if a mayor or a district governor in our case, you know, does not have the staff that he's authorized, can work those issues and projects and development, and the rule of law for him, then obviously they're not going to deliver the services that the people deserve or they require. So we've had a pretty steady increase in our authorizations and our fill of those authorizations. And we continue to see that improvement. 

            We've also had, frankly, the change-out of a couple of district governors across the regional command, and, you know, leaders make a difference. And when you have -- when you have a good district governor, and you have a good district chief of police and an appropriate Afghan national army operating in there, then the people's confidence in the governance dramatically increases. And so we see that going on in places here in Regional Command South -- excuse me -- which, you know, includes Zabul Province and up into Uruzgan. 

            Are there still challenge areas? Yes, there are. And we continue to address those with our governmental official counterparts through, you know, leadership meeting face-to-face and continuing to coach them. Hope that answers your question. 

            Q: Thanks. 

            Q: General, this is Bob Burns again from AP. I was wondering if you might elaborate a little bit more on your comments about the uprising in Panjwai district. Is this the first one on that scale that you've seen in Kandahar Province? We've heard about a number of them in up north in Ghazni Province, Andar Districts and other districts. And is this the sort of thing that you think is going to spread beyond that one district? 

            MAJ. GEN. ABRAMS: Hey, thanks. Yes. Absolutely, this is the first time we have ever heard of this. And by the way -- and I don't get that from our side. I get that from our Afghan partners. 

            For instance, the brigade commander, the Afghan brigade commander, the first brigade commander from 205 Corps has been operating in Panjwayi for the last six years. So he knows the ground, he knows the people; he knows the history better than anyone. And this is absolutely the first time that we have seen this sort of an uprising, where the people have said, "Enough is enough." 

            And we're hopeful that this will spread to other districts. And there is clearly potential for it. You know, just to the north of Panjwayi, in Zhari District, just on the north side of the Arghandab River, last year was a watershed, because that was the area that the Taliban had said they wanted to retake terrain. And in fact, as I mentioned in my opening statement, they actually lost terrain. 

            And that was due to two things. One, it was the surge of ISAF forces that went into Zhari over the previous 18 months, and then last summer, we were able to create Afghan local police in sufficient numbers that we're able to hold the security gains. And the people there are absolutely enthusiastic. 

            It was more over time, so it's difficult for us to call it a, quote, "uprising," but the people of Zhari have certainly spoken. The way we gauge how they speak is, if they're willing to offer up their sons to protect their villages, that's a pretty clear sign. And the people of Zhari have done the same, but not in such a dramatic fashion as the people in Panjwayi. 

            And I don't know if you've been there, but it is an -- it's an incredible sight to see now. You go into a place, a village where we've had countless firefights, vicious fighting, you know, expended a lot of blood and treasure, and today you go there, and there's 300 Afghan flags from every mud hut and qalat in the village. It's inspirational. 

            Q: Hi, sir. Mike Mount, CNN. If I could just follow up on Bob's question, could you maybe elaborate a bit more about what the trigger was for that uprising and maybe a little bit about what U.S. or ISAF forces are doing to support that? Or is it Afghan forces supporting what's going on there? 

            MAJ. GEN. ABRAMS: Okay, well, I'm going to give you my best guess on what I think triggered this uprising. And it's a -- it's an informed guess, based on what my Afghan partners have told me, what the Afghan villagers have told us. 

            So it wasn't one thing. This has been a -- particularly as I mentioned, a very hard-fought over area -- of all the places here in the south, this district and the one to its north have had the most kinetic activity since about 2006. 

            I can't -- I can't begin to describe the amount of fighting that has occurred in those two districts, all among the people. So it's been pretty violent for them, and, frankly, they've grown tired of it, not just these last six years, but really, you know, for the last 34 years, but -- because it was the scene of vicious fighting when the Soviets were here, too, in the 1980s. So, you know, the people were very, very tired. And they just wanted it to stop. And -- but they -- but they had not chosen a side. 

            You had the change-out of the district chief of police that happened about six weeks ago. And that came about over a variety of reasons, but suffice to say that the new district chief of police came in with a renewed energy, vigor, an offensive mindset, a commitment to the people, a commitment to securing the people, and immediately established himself in credibility with the people. 

            He's from the area, which helps in some cases. So he's got the tribal affiliation and connection. And so -- and I think it -- and what we're told was it was really the confluence of those two things, plus an incident that involved one of the local workers in a village who had been inappropriately beaten by a couple young Talib fighters in a village. The Talib were reprimanded by the village elder, and they -- these young men proceeded to humiliate a village elder, which -- if you're familiar with Pashtunwali -- is absolutely unacceptable. 

            And the village -- that was the straw that broke the camel's back. Within, you know, 15 minutes, they were on the phone to the district chief of police. And that started a series of operations, offensive operations that got us to where we are today. 

            So, you know, it's -- but it's not just one thing. If there was a magic recipe, we would have figured it out years ago and sprinkled it throughout the regional command. So it's really based on the individual nuances and tribal customs and so forth, as well as the security environment inside each of the districts. 

            Does that -- does that answer your question? 

            Q: Sir, just one follow-up. Which village was that in Panjwayi? 

            MAJ. GEN. ABRAMS: It was (inaudible) outside of Zangabad. 

            CDR SPEAKS: With that, we will turn it over to you for any final remarks. 

            MAJ. GEN. ABRAMS: Well, thanks -- thanks very much. And thanks to all of you for the opportunity to spend some time, share some insights on Regional Command South, really talk about the progress of the Afghan national security forces, and our outlook for the future. 

            As I said at the end of my comments, the outlook for 2014 is very optimistic, in my view, in our view. The Afghan national security forces, they're manned at the right levels. They're equipped. They're trained. And they have the right leadership and are absolutely capable of providing security for the people here, and by doing so, you know, give that space for the government to continue to develop, to mature, to be able to provide the services and governance that the people of Afghanistan who have been, you know, under -- in a wartime environment for about 34 years now, and so richly deserve. 

            I guess my last point is, I'll take the opportunity to thank our soldiers and our families, both here in Regional Command South and back home at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, and the 3rd Infantry Division at large, for their continuing unconditional support of those of us who are deployed, because today we have 3rd Infantry Division soldiers in every corner of Afghanistan. And the support we get from our -- from our families back home, as well as our community in coastal Georgia, is without peer. And, frankly, we couldn't do it without it. 

            So thanks again for the opportunity tonight, and you guys have a great day. 

            CDR SPEAKS: Sir, good evening.