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Department of Defense Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Thomas from the Pentagon

Presenter: Commanding General of the Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan/NATO Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan Army Maj. Gen. Tony Thomas
May 15, 2013

            CMDR Bill Speaks: Good morning here in the briefing room and good evening in Kabul, Afghanistan. I'd like to welcome Major General Tony Thomas to the Pentagon Briefing Room. Major General Thomas is the commanding general of the Special Operations Joint Task Force Afghanistan, NATO Special Operations Component Command Afghanistan, the first division- level special operations command since combat operations began in 2001. 

            Major General Thomas has spent 22 of his 33 years of service in special operations units, including nine years in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Major General Thomas has spent a portion of every year since 2001 in Afghanistan, except for the year he served as the assistant division commander for 1st Armored Division in Iraq. Additionally, he served on the Joint Staff as deputy director for special operations. 

            Major General Thomas was recently nominated for promotion to Lieutenant General and assignment as the associate director of the Central Intelligence Agency for military affairs in Washington, D.C. This is Major General Thomas' 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 TONY THOMAS: Good morning. Thanks for the introduction and the opportunity to speak with you today. I look forward to answering your questions. 

            First, I'd like to provide a brief summary of our special operations organization, our recent accomplishments, and our way ahead. A year-and-a-half ago, the SOCOM commander, Admiral McRaven, was asked to build an overarching headquarters to provide unity of command to the eclectic formations of special operations forces operating here in Afghanistan. That request resulted in the creation of the Special Operations Joint Task Force Afghanistan, or SOJTF-A. Some of you know us by our alternate and later forming title of the NATO Special Operations Component Command. 

            The reality was, we began as a unilateral U.S. initiative with the hope of gaining NATO approval to become a sanctioned NATO command element. That occurred much faster than we expected, approximately three months after our formation. 

            What the command entails is roughly 13,000 special operators and support personnel from every special operations organization in the United States inventory, special forces, Rangers, SEALs, and Marine special operations. Our Army and Air Force special operations elements are formed in a unified command, as well, consisting of roughly 200 aircraft, ranging from fixed-wing lift assets to rotary-wing lift and attack platforms, as well as organic unmanned ISR [intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance] such as Predators and Reapers. 

            A significant portion of our force is comprised of 25 NATO and partner nations. It's worth noting that two of our component members, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, have been stalwart partners in this effort for many years. Our mission set spans the entire spectrum of special operations, from direct -- in a counterterrorist and a counterinsurgency environment, ranging from direct action to capacity- building. The latter entails not only operations with our Afghan SOF partners, who are 14,000 strong, but also the creation and transition of Afghan local police, currently numbering over 22,000 and authorized to grow to 30,000. 

            We have roughly 61 teams conducting village stability operations, alternately known as Afghan local police, as well as 50 similar teams partnered with corresponding Afghan security elements. 

            Our Afghan special operations partners are an impressive array of 14,000 army, special police, and National Directorate of Security partners who conduct dozens of operations every day across the length and breadth of Afghanistan. They include nine commando kandaks, or battalions, akin to our U.S. Army Ranger battalions, who conduct high-end combat operations, 11 specialized night raid elements, who are partnered with our strike elements, 19 provincial response companies -- you should think of them as SWAT-like elements who work directly for their local provincial leadership -- several exceptionally well-trained national special police units who have been mentored by the United Kingdom, Norwegians, and others for many years, as well as specially trained urban combat or counterterrorist elements. 

            These organizations have been exceedingly busy over this past year, playing an integral role in the security of Afghanistan, especially the major population centers of Kabul and Kandahar. Afghan NDS units, with allied partners, have conducted over 60 high-profile arrest operations over the past six months in Kabul alone, including the spectacular interdiction of a 12,000-kilogram truck bomb on the outskirts of the city, which resulted in five enemy killed in action and two captured. 

            It is even more noteworthy to acknowledge that almost all of the intelligence tips for these operations originated from Afghan-developed information. With this past month, we were able to interdict a 3,000-kilogram truck bomb in the far-off province of Farah, based on exceptional intelligence provided by the Afghan intelligence organization. 

            Our commandos have been prominent in various high-profile successful operations throughout the country over the recent past, in Badakhshan, Faryab, Farah, Logar, Kunar, and Nangarhar. All in all, these are very competent tactical formations. Our focus over this next year-and-a-half is to enhance their higher operational level capability, specifically intelligence-gathering and target development, as well as command-and-control and, very importantly, logistics. 

            The other major effort is to reinforce the Afghan security process regarding cross-ministerial coordination and information-sharing. It is worth noting that all of our special operations, to include the successful hostage rescue of our American citizen, Dr. Joseph, this past year, which was resulted in the tragic death of one of our SEAL operators, Chief Petty Officer Nick Checque, are accompanied by Afghan partner forces and in accordance with Afghan law. There are no unilateral coalition-SOF maneuver operations on the ground. 

            One of the more extraordinary phenomenon over the last year has been the evolution of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) program. It is essential to emphasize that this program was designed to be temporary, with the purpose of providing time and space to constitute the uniformed Afghan army and police formations. The program has since gone viral, in a good way, based upon two key developments, the first being that Afghan political and security officials have embraced it as the best form of local security for many of the more troubled districts. ALP are performing as good or better than the army or police in contact with the enemy on almost every occasion, which stands to reason. They have been specially selected and trained locally to defend their turf. 

            The second measure of the success of this program comes from an unlikely source of endorsement, the enemy. The Taliban have openly targeted the ALP as their most dire threat, and their Ulema council recently identified it as the formation which must be eliminated if the Taliban is to return to control in Afghanistan. 

            The growing success of this program in some of the most highly contested districts in Afghanistan is one of the strongest indications, in conjunction with some of the spontaneous anti-Taliban uprisings, of the shift of the people against the insurgents and towards their government. Over this past year, we have been asked to develop a program of record for the ALP, and they have become an integral part of the Ministry of Interior, who literally owns and operates almost 60 percent of the program to date and will have responsibility for the entire program by this time next year. 

            In summary, Afghan special operations forces and the Afghan local police play distinctly different, but critical roles in the security of Afghanistan. Especially as we enter into this -- into this historic year of Afghan lead in security operations, they are demonstrating every day their desire and capability to defeat the insurgency. 

            This has not come without significant sacrifice on the part of both our Afghan partners and us. We have lost 53 of our cherished teammates over the past 11 months. However, their sacrifice has steeled our resolve to win, and we win through our Afghan security partners, in the successful transition of security, in the successful political transition through their sovereign political process, and in the neutralization of the terrorist threat that brought us here in the beginning. 

            I'll now be glad to answer or take any of your questions. 

            Q: Hi, general. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. Two questions. First, how many of the commando kandaks and night-time strike teams, Afghan strike teams, how many of those are operating completely independently of any NATO support? 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS: Courtney, the majority of the operations at both the commandos and the night-strike elements conduct are partnered. However, and especially recently, and specific formations like the Fifth Commando Kandak up in the north, where we've have some unrest in Badakhshan and Faryab, are operating on their own. 

            In Farah, the Fourth Commando Kandak operated unilaterally -- in fact, they lost three of their commandos against that horrific attack against the Farah courthouse in early April. So I would -- I would estimate right now, those high-end units, the commandos and the night-raid elements, which -- which really have embraced a harder task, are operating probably about the 15 percent to 20 percent independent, as in without us, rate, but growing over time. They're growing greater independence every day. 

            Q: And if I could also ask you, general, just to look forward a little bit to where you see the role of the special operations task force going forward from now until the end of combat operations, the end of 2014, and then potentially beyond -- I know it's difficult to ask you to look into a crystal ball -- and nobody likes to do that, especially in a briefing room, but if you could give us sort of a rough idea of where you see the special ops going forward in Afghanistan? 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS: Sure, I'd be glad to. Really, in phase, over the next two years and then beyond, in this critical fighting year of 2013, we are endeavoring to be as partnered as closely as possible with our Afghan special operations partners as possible, so that's, on any given basis, 19 provincial response companies that have a special forces team, either NATO and/or us, in some cases. In many cases, we're -- for instance, our U.S. teams are paired with Romanians. We're paired with others in our NATO formation. 

            In some cases, NATO units are by themselves, Lithuanians, Poles, et cetera, but we're paired at all those provincial response companies. We're prepared with the commandos. And we're compared with some of the night elements, as well as the special police elements. We'll stay tactically partnered with them through this year.

            In '14, what we're looking to do is try to bring up a level to the operational level of command-and-control, where they will go out independently on the ground, and we'll endeavor to conduct mission preparation for them, intelligence preparation, target preparation, et cetera, as well as providing enablers, things that they don't have in their inventory yet, such as fires, fire support, and ISR. 

            If, in the '14 and beyond timeframe -- and obviously dependent on a bilateral security agreement and other negotiations ongoing -- we look to continue to enhance their capabilities for their own organic capabilities. For instance, this year, we will provide them with ISR platforms, fixed-wing ISR platforms, so that they'll be able to replace us in kind over time, but that'll take some training that will probably extend past the '14 timeframe, just in the interest of integrating those new tools into their formation. Over. 

            Q: Will those ISR platforms be armed? 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS: No, the ISR platforms are not supposed to be armed. They are just going to be fixed-wing platforms with a full-motion video capability. We are looking to arm some of the special mission wing helicopters that the Afghans will have in their inventory. They're intended to have 30 Mi-17s, both an armed and a lift variety, and they'll be getting them in over the next couple of years, as well. 

            CMDR SPEAKS: Gopal? 

            Q: Hi, Gopal Ratnam, reporter with Bloomberg News here in Washington. Just picking up on the previous question, you said there are a couple of kandaks that are operating independently right now. Could you talk about what the goal is for your team by the end of next year? How many of these battalions do you see operating independently? And I have a follow-up. 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS: Very good. Actually, my hope is that they're all operating independently by this time next year. If we're good, if we're really good at what we do, and they demonstrate the necessary proficiency, we'll be able to step away over time and concentrate at their higher headquarters level, which has been built after the tactical units. We've had commando kandaks and company-level formations for quite a while. Right now, we're building the brigade in the division headquarters, so that'll be our necessary focus over time, and I hope that their demonstrated proficiency will allow us to move up -- up to that level. 

            Q: And if I may follow up, so the ISR platforms, is that something that you will continue to provide them, even after they are considered independent? Or is that something that you consider as part of their independence, they take over that role, as well? 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS: Again, they're intended -- they will receive a very capable platform by the end of this year. They'll start receiving the initial platforms, their PC-12 platform, which, in fact, we fly in some of our formations. 

            The challenge will be to grow their pilots over time to integrate that ISR capability. But over -- by the end of '14, they should have a substantial capability on their own, and at that point, it'll depend on the nature of the fight, and their demonstrated proficiency on whether or not they'll still need our ISR support directly to their formation. 

            Q: Hi, General. Jon Harper with the Asahi Shimbun. How many American special operators do you think will be needed in Afghanistan post-2014? 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS: That, again, is pretty hard to answer right now in terms of -- because it's contingent on a couple factors. Really, it depends on what they need. I think you know that most of the discussions now are absolutely cognizant of the requirements of the sovereign country of Afghanistan, so with an eye towards what they need as a sovereign nation, what they desire to have here, we're prepared to provide as much as special operations force training and equipping as they need, but the numbers are varied right now, depending on, you know, the state of security at the time and truly their stated requirements. 

            Q: From your perspective, where do you see intelligence gathering of the Afghans, as you referred in your opening remarks, which is very important for any operations there, do they meet your standards? 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS: I'm sorry. Can you get closer to the mike and repeat that question one more time? 

            Q: As of -- referred to in your opening remarks, where do you see from your perspective intelligence gathering of the Afghans for these -- any kind of these military operations they have been successful with? 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS: That's a great question. Obviously, we are a very technically inclined intelligence formation, in terms of the intelligence preparation for our operations. We are providing a capacity, a technical capability to the Afghans over the next couple years in terms of airborne ISR. But it'll be adequate to the task. It won't be as extensive as what we have, but nor do I think they'll need that. 

            Where they have a form of intelligence that we can never hope to replicate and which is playing a huge role right now is in their human intelligence. And that stands to reason. They live here. They know the locals. They know the locals throughout the country. And they're able to provide us a form of intelligence and a quality of intelligence that, while overtime we've tried to conduct human operations or human intelligence operations, we pale in terms of what they've -- what they're able to do just innately. 

            So I think once they are able to marry both the technical tools that we'll give them overtime with their innate human capability, I think they'll be more than capable to understand the threat in their country and then address it accordingly. 

            Q: General, Carlo Muñoz with the Hill. I just wanted to follow up on that point. There's been some criticism coming from President Karzai and others about some of the joint U.S.-NDS teams that are working in country, as far as those teams, what they're doing, and Kabul sort of being left out of the loop. What I wanted to ask you is, what has been the coordination been like between NDS U.S. counterparts and Kabul? And do you see any -- any challenges in that? 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS: It's combat, so there's always challenges, but I would tell you that all the operations that my formation conducts are actually pre-briefed to a confederation of NDS, ANA, and MOI officials. They literally have the up-down vote on whether we go out the door. And, in fact, now they have a sarenwal, or an Afghan prosecutor, who provides us with the necessary warrants before we launch in an operation. 

            So all our -- of our operations are coordinated ahead of time with the government of Afghanistan, and we've not suffered in that regard lately, but, as you know, the coordination is a constant challenge, and we look to, you know, continue to enhance our performance every day. 

            Q: Hi, sir. Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg News. Back in 2009 and 2010, when the surge -- our surge happened in Afghanistan, General McChrystal and General Petraeus talked about the huge level of U.S. commando raids, basically, in the surge. It was like a 10-year high. At the time, they talked about U.S. special mission units conducting almost -- almost nightly raids to go after Taliban and Al Qaida. 

            Fast forward to this year. To what extent do U.S. special mission units now still conduct unilateral actions? Or are pretty much all the actions in partnership with Afghan equivalent units? 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS: To be direct -- and that's why I handled it in my preamble -- there are no unilateral operations. When we conducted a hostage rescue, the highest-end operation that we do, for Dr. Joseph, when we successfully rescued him several months ago, we had Afghan special operations forces on the ground with us. We don't do any unilateral ground operations in special operations anymore. 

            Q: General McChrystal, as you know, set up that unique fusion center or fusion cell construct to bring together intelligence, anti-drug operations, FBI, Justice Department people to work with your special operations people in a fusion cell, to move quickly. To what extent is that construct still in place today? And to what extent will the Afghans inherit that construct after -- after 2014? 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS: Yeah, that -- that was a tremendous organization, a tremendous process that he set up. I should know; I was his operations officer and his chief of staff for four years. I don't claim any of the credit for it, but I was certainly part of the experiment. 

            And, of course, imitation being the finest form of flattery, we've tried to replicate that, not only in our formation, but I dare say you see it in our general purpose forces, as well. We are all a lot better at fusing intelligence and operations at the speed of war, at the speed of necessity, so I think you see it across the board. It's really almost indoctrinated, although I don't think doctrine has kept up with what's developed, but I assume it will in time. 

            Q: Can Afghan commando forces, though, inherit that construct, that structure, and set up their own fusion cells, if they haven't already? 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS:  They're working on it. Arguably, while we've made them very good tactically, we have not -- and truthfully, we haven't had the opportunity to focus on their higher level, because above battalion level, they didn't exist. So right now, we're focused, right this minute, at the battalion level. And we are -- we have created two brigades on top of four battalion -- commando battalions each. We're literally just forming them right now, so that'll be our next focus level. 

            And at the same time, we're developing this Afghan division, this Afghan army special operations division, which will own all their ISR, it'll own all their helicopters, it'll own all their armored ground -- armored mobility vehicles, so it'll be quite a capable organization, but it's just in its formative stages right now, and that's what we're focused on. 

            Q: Can you talk a little bit about -- paint a picture of what it will look like for the Afghan special forces in the future without coalition firepower and without coalition enablers and resupply and airpower? How are they going to be able to operate? There are going to be obviously pretty serious constraints compared to what they can do now with all the support you can give them. Could you give us an idea of how effective they'll be without that? 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS: Yeah, they're actually already starting to explore that territory now. And I think, as you know, because of a particular event, there was some concern about coalition providing close air support to Afghan ground forces. We went through a period where the definition of where and how we could apply it was not clear. That's since been clarified by some of the episodes, some of the events up in Badakhshan in the far northeast of this country and other places, where our air-to-ground coordination procedures, with less and less coalition presence in their formation -- and therefore, you know, kind of harder to -- to discern where their -- where their friendly front line is, has been challenged, but we've refined those processes. 

            And they're really coming to grips with the fact that, over time -- and it's hopefully not any time in the very near future, but over time, they will have to use their own organic Howitzers, their own organic attack helicopters as a replacement for what we currently provide to them. But they're coming to grip with that, and I think eventually they'll transition to that new development. 

            Q: Can I follow up? Can you -- is there an example where they've used their own helicopters in a night or a day raid, where the helicopters were used to provide fire power -- fire support? 

            Yeah, they have not used them in a fire support capacity yet, although they do have a capability that's in training right now. They have absolutely used their special mission wing, the one that works with me, night-vision capable Mi-17 crews, to include Afghan crews, on a number of occasions and done so quite successfully, supporting both the police and the army, so it has really been a remarkable development. 

            In fact, their aviation capability eclipses many of the other organizations, many other nations we work with around the world. It's a capability that's developed in quite a hurry, but they're demonstrating greater capacity every day. 

            Q: Hi, good morning, general. I'm Paul Shinkman with U.S. News and World Report. Thank you for doing this. Just a follow-up to the question about tempo. Are special operations troops still conducting nightly raids? And what kind of toll is the tempo taking on your special operations troops? 

            And, secondly, I'd be interested to get an update on security in Wardak province. That was heralded as an example of what it's going to look like for coalition troops to withdraw and turn over security to the Afghans. How is that going so far? And do you agree that that's going to be an example of how it's going to look like in the next couple of years? 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS: Right. To the first part of your question, the tempo is still relentless. The difference is, it's less us and more our Afghan partners who've picked up the brunt and the tempo, which is a good thing, as we've -- as we work ourselves out of a job, as we work them into a very capable role. The tempo -- the overall tempo against the enemy is still pretty extraordinary. 

            Over the last year, our statistics indicate that we're -- we, with our Afghan partners -- were able to remove about 10,000 insurgents from -- you know, from the -- from the security situation. It makes about over 3,000 killed and about 6,000 detained. And those were all with Afghan partner forces, so a pretty relentless tempo and certainly one that doesn't give the enemy any respite. 

            For the situation in Wardak, as you know, we were the subject of several allegations about special operations -- lack of professionalism. In fact, some pretty egregious claims were made about us. All of them were investigated pretty extensively. None were found to be substantiated. 

            However, what we did suffer from is that we were in Wardak almost by ourselves. We had several special operations teams with Afghan component, with Afghan partners, in the form of Afghan local police and on occasion Afghan commandos, but we were not integrated into any sort of Afghan security construct. There was no overarching Afghan security official in charge, and we suffered from that. And, in fact, you have to give the enemy credit for their -- their capability, in terms of information operations. We had done very, very well kinetically, decisively against them, but they were able to generate the rumors and the allegations against us. 

            The adjustment that General Dunford made was to offer to President Karzai the early opportunity to substitute Afghans special operations forces for us. It was before we had intended to do it, but we did that two months ago, and it's holding just fine, in a very contentious area, if you're familiar with Wardak. So arguably a little bit before -- before the intended time, but a good demonstration of what the Afghans will be able to do over time and -- and, really, afford General Dunford the opportunity to discuss with President Karzai our intent, the plan to transition all of our security lead to the Afghans over this next year. 

            CMDR SPEAKS: Chris? 

            Q: Thanks, general. This is Chris Carroll from Stars and Stripes. I have a two-parter. First one is following up on Dan's question. Did I understand you correctly that you said in certain instances, in Badakhshan, the possibility of coalition air support is now coming back on the table, you're doing more of this? 

            And the second part, switching over to Wardak, in the Nerkh district, can you kind of give me the sort of situation with the ALP there, what their status is now? Has -- yeah. Thanks. 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS: I can, yeah. Okay. In the first situation, in Badakhshan, we literally had a situation -- and those of you who are familiar with the terrain and the geography of Afghanistan, you can't find a more remote place in northeastern Afghanistan. And so the Afghan army, the Afghan police, and eventually our Afghan commandos, our partners, were thrown into the breach to deal with that situation. 

            The employment of the commandos actually gave us the opportunity, our partner coalition, our special operations, to go out and accompany and actually integrate themselves into that formation. And at the point where we were able to do that, we then were able to bring in our close air support in support of Afghans. 

            The real focus -- and this is a focus -- it's the ethos of everything we're about -- is to avoid civilian casualties. We train to that exacting standard, so it's a standard in training and it's our absolute exacting standard in combat, and so the real definition for the application of close air support for the Afghans now and in the future is with an eye to avoiding civilian casualties. And I think with that very distinct line, that we'll be able to successfully support them in almost every endeavor. So, again, we're refining those procedures all the time. 

            Again, back in -- in Wardak, in Nerkh district specifically, that's where the majority of the allegations were oriented. None were found to be substantiated. And that is where we substituted an Afghan special forces, which we've kind of designed in our own image and likeness, albeit a little bit bigger capability, they've been introduced in place of our special forces team there and are doing very well. 

            They have inherited kind of a mixed composition of Afghan local police. And, truthfully, I don't think we were as wary and as attuned to the political lines in that particularly contentious district. It's very political, some -- politics that almost to this day kind of befuddle me, but we were not as discerning as we probably should have been in terms of the appropriate composition to defend their own people, and that's what the Afghan team is attempting to -- to rectify now as they go forward. 

            Q: Follow on Badakhshan. In Badakhshan, where the close air support took place, was this out in the countryside? Or was it in a populated area? 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS: No, it's in the country, in very mountainous, you know, very picturesque, high mountain country, in around some hamlets, so it still presents the same -- the same challenges that it always has, but I think we are much more conscientious, we and our Afghan partners, about how we maneuver in and around built-up areas and how you avoid becoming decisively engaged, where you -- where you then are required to use close air support to extricate yourself. I think we're all a lot smarter about that. That's really been the proximate cause of most of the mishaps that I've been aware of, where maneuver units get bogged down and decisively engaged in -- in built-up areas. And, again, we've improved in that regard. 

            In this case, the enemy was out around these built-up areas, made themselves available and vulnerable to close air support, and we were able to apply it. 

            Q: It's David Alexander from Reuters. You talked a little bit about the relentless tempo. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about what you're seeing in terms of Taliban activity? And is the tempo -- is it different, changed? And is the tempo from special ops as a result of the activity you're seeing or... 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS: I think they absolutely have adjusted their tactics. As some of you know, as you've monitoring over this last couple weeks, the Taliban are starting to come out. You know, their pronouncements of the beginning of fighting season about two, three weeks ago, really, were not followed up by any extensive operations, but they're slowly starting to manifest themselves. 

            The tactics changes you see -- they are not presenting themselves in large formations. They've conducted a couple spectacular IED -- in the case of one up in Musa Qala recently, where they attacked the Georgian compound, spectacular VBIED breaching a wall followed by suicide operators, they are also absolutely trying to seed IEDs on the main thoroughfares which are indiscriminate. They're targeting our people, but they're also killing innocent Afghan civilians, as -- as has happened here recently. 

            But I see the big change is that we don't find large platoon size or greater formation for the Taliban anymore, because I think they know that they'll lose in large numbers, so they've adjusted that. It's a little more challenging, in terms of our ability to adjust to smaller -- to small organizations, the kind that hide in and around the civilian population, but it's the nature of what the Taliban have had to resort to, and, obviously, we'll have to demonstrate the same flexibility. 

            Q: General, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News. Can I ask you about what your command's role is going to be after 2014? What -- will there be a shift in emphasis? What exactly will your operators be doing? 

            And also, the Afghan national army as a whole seems to suffer from attrition and retention problems. How does that manifest itself in the commando kandaks, if at all? 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS: No. No, good question. As you might imagine, it's kind of our special experience, is the folks we are working with categorize as special operations forces are a pretty proud bunch. They don't want to be coddled. They do think that they are all the right stuff, in terms of the warrior capabilities to be the special operations forces for their country. 

            So while we have developed them over time, you can see a natural inclination to want to do it by themselves. The humorous thing is to watch our folks not want to cut away from this -- from these units that they've grown -- that they've developed from seed corn all the way up to their -- to the great capability now. But it's much like letting your kid go off to college or putting them on training wheels and letting them run. 

            We are not suffering similar attrition or, as we prefer to look at it, retention challenges with the commandos and with other formations. But again, here again, we're lucky. We've been working with them for a while. They are on a cycle which has a built-in break, so it's a great, amber, red cycle, where green, combat is on the schedule, they are going into operation and they know that they'll have, you know, a -- they'll be applied in the hardest possible scenarios. But on the other cycles, they'll have a chance to recoup, take leave. They'll also have a chance to train as they come back into green cycle. 

            And I know that others are attempting to apply that same cycle to the rest of the force. That's been the great challenge for the rest of the Afghan security forces, is they're almost in a relentless combat cycle, and it's breeding some of the retention challenges. But we are -- we are looking to fix that over time, and, again, the special operations example is applicable to the rest of the force. We just need to bring that into line.

            Q: But if I could follow up, sir, post-2014, what actually will your command be doing? Will you be -- not be going out on missions, partnered missions? What exactly will the role of special ops command be? 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS: Our intent -- and, again, I don't think they'll need us out on missions by that point. I hope that they're that good. I hope the security situation is conducive to that, where they don't need the assistance, as well. I do think that they will continue to need assistance at that operational level. You know, look at our -- look at our experience. It took us years to get to the level of proficiency that we've achieved now, and we're just creating these higher headquarters for them time now. 

            So I do think that they'll need some assistance there. I think they'll want some assistance, to be able to do operational-level command and control, to be able to do the logistics to sustain their force, to do special functions, like the special aviation function I talked about, to integrate ISR, that they're -- they haven't even received yet, to do combined arms, with their armored ground mobility vehicles, as well, so I believe our focus will be at both that command-and-control level, the operational command-and-control, and at an institutional training level to -- you know, to keep developing their capability so that it is self-sustaining over time. 

            CMDR SPEAKS: Last question, Carlo? 

            Q: General, it's Carlo Muñoz again with the Hill. I just wanted to follow up on your comment about the night-raid units. When that authority was sort of handed over to Afghan -- to Afghan officials, kind of to put through the various checks and balances to make sure the raids, you know, wouldn't cause any collateral damage or things of that nature, what I wanted to ask you is, under that sort of oversight and guidance, has there been an issue with raids either being held up or delayed or not getting the green light, particularly on like time-sensitive-type targets, or has that not been an issue? 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS: None at all. The Afghans have actually shown a remarkable agility to the speed that we were accustomed to doing missions, even with the integration of a lawyer in the process. Now, what it's caused us to do is be more forthcoming as we do target development, so that they know we are looking at this individual. And when I say "we," it's we, us. As I mentioned earlier, they have -- they have an up-down vote. They've used it very rarely, but they have to give us the Okay before we go out the door. 

            And -- but -- but what it has caused us to do is give them the information more forcefully ahead of time so they can digest where we, the team, with our Afghan partners, may be intending an operation, allow them to do the preparatory efforts. And where they're really, really valuable is the post-operation. They're able to call to the local -- local leaders and be able to really put the operation kind of into, you know, kind of an acceptable after-state in terms of the information -- the story that's out there. 

            We were suffering for a long time with very successful operations, but the enemy beat us to the punch in terms of the information that was provided afterwards, usually wrong, misleading, but we didn't have a counterpunch. We didn't -- we weren't even playing in that arena. 

            Now it's an even more effective effort, because it's Afghans calling out to the particular area, calling provincial governors, calling core commanders and saying who they are, identifying who they are, in terms of the coordination element, and relating to them exactly what's transpired in their -- in their particular area, so that they're most informed after the fact. 

            CMDR SPEAKS: Okay, with that, sir, we'll turn it over to you for any closing remarks. 

            MAJ. GEN. THOMAS: Well, I'm just, again, thankful for the opportunity to speak with you today. There's a, you know, kind of an extraordinary trend or shift in terms of how this environment has played out over the last 11 months that we've been here. When I first got here, the mantra was, we aren't winning, but we're leaving anyway. And that was something we were fighting against, that we didn't seem to be on a positive trend line. The end was -- the time was coming in terms of the end of the ISAF mission. 

            Over this last year, and, really, shored up by the performance of our Afghan security forces, and the very positive reaction from the people and -- you know, as a -- as a -- kind of a counterinsurgency student, you know, we talk often about the people being the center of gravity. The people are voting in large numbers here. They're tired of the Taliban. They've shucked off -- they're shucking off the oppression from that particular formation. You can tell, they do not want it come back in, whether it's -- you know, in the forms of the benefits of standard of living that they're enjoying now, the education that -- as most of you have read, eight million students in school now that didn't exist, you know, as recently as six to seven years ago, they have really stood up in terms of what they are determined to be their future. So it's really -- really putting a positive trend on -- in terms of the security developments. 

            Now, we are still looking for the government of Afghanistan to then deliver the rest of the goods of government that the people expect now. In fact, everywhere I go, they'll tell me, we're now -- security is good, we're now ready for jobs, we're now ready for education, we're now ready to advance. And that's what we're hoping is the next critical phase, as Afghanistan moves forward. 

            But, again, thanks for the opportunity to talk with you here today. Continued success to all of you. 

            CMDR SPEAKS: Thank you, sir.