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Department of Defense Press Briefing by General Bunch via teleconference from Kabul, Afghanistan

STAFF:  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  Hope everybody's having a good day.

Today we continue our series of Resolute Support press briefings from Afghanistan to provide a better understanding of what's taken place since the implementation of the South Asia strategy.

Today we are joined by U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Lance Bunch.  General Bunch is director, future operations, CJ35, Resolute Support headquarters, and joins us from Kabul, Afghanistan.

In that role, he is responsible for leading the campaign synchronization, contingency planning and air campaign integration for Resolute Support mission and Operation Freedom Sentinel.

We'll start with a quick communications check.

Sir, how do you hear us?

BRIGADIER GENERAL LANCE BUNCH:  Hey, Mike, I've got you loud and clear.  Can you hear me?

STAFF:  Sir, we hear you great.  Please take it away.

GEN. BUNCH:  Well, thanks, Mike.

And thanks, everyone, for joining us here today.

As Mike said, I'm Brigadier General Lance Bunch and I currently serve as the chief of future operations at Resolute Support headquarters.

But before I begin, just yesterday, we were reminded of the constant danger our United States, coalition and Afghan partners are in every day here in Afghanistan. A U.S. Army soldier died of injuries he sustained during a vehicle incident in Nangarhar Province.

On behalf of General John Nicholson, commander here, we send our most heartfelt condolences to his family.

Just an update on those injured.

In the hours that followed the incident, the additional U.S. Army soldiers who were in the vehicle were being provided medical evaluation for possible traumatic brain injury.

So, a total of nine soldiers were in the vehicle.  One died of his injuries, two were taken to a medical treatment facility for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries, and six are being evaluated for possible TBI.

And so, just three months ago, we stood up a Future Operations Division in Resolute Support, and that fact alone is noteworthy and at the core of what I want to talk to you about today.

See, previously, the mission here in Afghanistan was on a shrinking path to around a thousand personnel with decreasing responsibilities.

However, in August, when the president introduced the new South Asia policy and its new accompanying authorities, we transitioned from a time-based mission to one that is now conditions-based.  As General Nicholson has stated, we will be here until the job is done.

To get that job done, our new future operations, or FUOPS, shop, developed a sustained air interdiction campaign, and, for the first time in this war, a counter-threat revenue campaign.  Using air power, we have been able to target the Taliban in their so-called safe zones, command and control nodes, illicit revenue-generating ventures, and their logistical networks.

This new air interdiction campaign directly strengthens the Afghan defense forces, and their continued battlefield successes.

On November 20th, General Nicholson discussed the opening salvo of airstrikes against the Taliban's opium and heroin enterprise in northern Helmand.  Today, I'd like to update you on what the Afghans and we have been able to accomplish in only three short weeks.

Since the beginning of this campaign, we have eliminated 25 narcotics processing labs from the Taliban inventory.  This equates to almost $80 million of drug money eliminated from the kingpins' pockets, while denying over $16 million of direct revenue to their Taliban partners.

Keep in mind that this is the first time we have persistently used our airpower in this interdiction role.

While U.S. air interdiction has been very successful, it's not just the U.S. doing this work, and it's not just airstrikes that are having an impact at cutting off Taliban lifelines so effectively.

Just last week, we released video footage from Helmand province of our U.S. Marines high-mobility artillery rocket systems that took aim at more Taliban narcotics processing facilities while still enabling the Afghan 215th Corps’ continued offensive in Helmand.

Additionally, the Afghan National Interdiction Unit conducted two simultaneous raids of Taliban narcotics bazaars, as part of this integrated campaign.  This resulted in over 2,000 kilograms of heroin and 5,000 kilograms of opium getting confiscated.

The Taliban narcotics leadership was absolutely caught off-guard.  So we were then able to target Mullah Shah Wali, the Special Forces branch, or Red Unit, commander of this Taliban squad in Helmand, delivering yet another blow to this criminal network.

Again, the Taliban have never had to face a sustained targeting campaign focused on disrupting their illicit revenue activities.  But let me be very clear about this campaign:  this offensive was a joint effort between the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, all collectively exercising authorities granted under the South Asia policy.

And it's not over.  In fact, it's only just begun.  And this will be a very long winter for the Taliban, as we will continue to disrupt their revenue sources again and again and again.

But a key part to these operations, and our successful future operations, are strong Afghan defense forces.  Where before our Resolute Support forces could only train, advise and assist the Afghans at the corps level, the new South Asia policy will allow our forces to embed with Afghans all the way down to their kandaks.

This change allows our forces to train, advise and assist Afghan units and leaders directly controlling the fight and accelerate the transition to increased capability and capacity.

Additionally, the U.S. force uplift that was announced in the new South Asia policy has already happened.  We had a portion of those new boots on the ground by September.

Coupled with our air interdiction campaign, this strategy will allow Afghan defense forces to keep pressure on the Taliban through the winter.  In early 2018, the new Security Force Assistance Brigade will deploy into theater and further enhance our advising of the Afghan defense forces going into the next fighting season.

This effort will be a topic for a future briefing we have scheduled.

We literally are taking the training, advise and assist mission to a new level, the kandak level, which we believe will mark yet another turning point in ultimately demonstrating to the Taliban that they cannot win.

As we look back at 2017, we've seen many events unfold that reinforce our new, stronger commitment to the people and government of Afghanistan.

Further, and more importantly, the Afghans are leading this fight.  They want to own it and they do.  They demonstrate their sense of ownership every day on the battlefield.

And for the Taliban, they have been completely unable to achieve any objectives from their declared Operation Mansouri during this fighting season.  In addition to their unrealistic goals, they have been unable to take a provincial capital or even a single city.  This year the Taliban and have fared poorly.

In September, we saw how their extensive casualties forced their corrupt leadership to direct a stop of combat operations and a return to high-profile attacks, kidnappings for ransom, and assassinations.  These are heinous acts of violence that bring attention to their group and indiscriminately target the Afghan people, resulting in unimaginable suffering.

But the momentum is clearly with the Afghan defense forces.  Our coalition is proving the enemy's theory of victory is wrong.  They believed they would win because we lacked political will.  They underestimated us, and they underestimated the will of the overwhelming majority of the Afghan people.  Eighty-seven percent of the Afghans believe the Taliban is bad for Afghanistan.

So, if Resolute Support's new FUOPS shop is successful, the future of Afghanistan is one free of terror, corruption and narcotic production.  The government of Afghanistan is committed to a stable, secure nation for its people.  The hard work, sacrifice and investment of our 39-member coalition is helping build the Afghan National Defense Security Forces and delivering on a coherent vision.  And we, together with our Afghan partners, are on the path to victory.  We are working to achieve a negotiated settlement, to reduce violence to manageable levels and facilitate a safe, secure and prosperous Afghanistan.

And with that I look forward to your questions.

STAFF:  All right, ladies and gentlemen, as a reminder please limit your questions to one and one follow-up.

Idrees, we'll start with you -- Reuters.

Q:  I actually have two questions.

Q:  The first one -- you provided a fairly optimistic view of the situation in Afghanistan, but it won't be worth much unless you can disrupt the flow of fighters into Pakistan -- sort of the cross-border flow which has been an issue for the past decade and a half.

What specifically are you doing to disrupt that flow of fighters into Pakistan?  And do you believe you have the authority to disrupt that?

GEN. BUNCH:  The issue of Pakistan is obviously a very important one that the State Department has taken for action.  And, of course, we just saw Secretary Mattis engage in Pakistan.  And for follow-up to that visit, you could talk to Mike and the defense team there.

What we do inside Afghanistan, is we look for any opportunity to target the enemies of Afghanistan wherever we find them in the theater.  And we have the authorities we need now to be able to target them.  Whereas before we could only target essentially in defense or in close proximity to Afghan forces that were in contact, now with our new authorities we're able to target networks, not just individual fighters.

Q:  Second question then is, you do have new authorities.  Do you believe you have enough JTACs to carry out these, you know, larger number of strikes?  Or do you believe that troops will have to take more of a risk with these new authorities and the lack of JTACs?

GEN. BUNCH:  So, currently our planning enables us to leverage the forces that we have on hand to use them to the maximum ability that we can, while minimizing the risk to our own forces.  So, any time we have forces out on the ground, of course we provide them with all the support they need to minimize the risk to them.

Realizing that the majority of the air interdiction campaign is minimizing the risk to force by using just aerial assets, in most cases, against Taliban criminal illicit-revenue ventures.

STAFF:  Goyal Ragabor, Asia Times?

Q:  Thanks very much.

My two-part question:  One, in the past a higher level of Afghan leadership has been blaming Pakistan.  Now this new policy, can I ask you, sir, that can you have the peace and stability of Afghanistan without the full cooperation from Pakistan?

And second, what role do you think now in the new policy India should play?

GEN. BUNCH:  Well, you're breaking up a little there, Mike.  Can you relay that question for me?

STAFF:  Hold on, we're going to get a microphone. Over.

Q:  Yes, sorry.

My question, again -- in the past at the higher level, Afghanistan leadership has been blaming Pakistan, not cooperating at all, and terrorizing the people in Afghanistan.  Now, under the new policy, can you have peace and stability in Afghanistan without the full cooperation of Pakistan?

And second, what role you think India should play in this new policy?

Thank you, sir.

GEN. BUNCH:  Okay, thank you.

The current government, President Ghani, CEO Abdullah, are completely reliable partners as we look to enable the government of Afghanistan and the ANDSF forces across the theater to increase their capability and capacity and continue to have success on the battlefield.

The role of Pakistan or India in the future with Afghanistan will be determined by the government of Afghanistan.  And, of course, our State Department is heavily engaged with both of those nations as we look to find common ground in the future.

STAFF:  Wes Morgan, Politico?

Q:  Hi, sir.  Thanks for doing this.

You mentioned that the big part -- big part of this uplift is you're putting adviser teams at kandak level.  We know that's already happened in the past with special operation advisers, but can you just clarify or confirm that there are now already conventional force adviser teams down at the kandak level?

And if so, is there any way you can tell us how many kandaks have these adviser teams?

GEN. BUNCH:  So, the uplift that was announced with the new South Asia strategy is already flowing into theater, and we do already have the authorities to start to advise at the kandak level.

You mentioned special operations forces.  As you know, the Afghan Special Operations Forces are the most lethal in the country, making up only 6 percent of the overall ANDSF, yet conducting over 70 percent of the offensive operations.  And most noteworthy, have never been defeated on the field of battle.

Our intent, as we roll in the new Security Forces Assistance Brigade in 2018, is we will embed those advisers across the theater down to the kandak level, across the theater to look to maximize our effect in key population centers, so that we can have the maximum impact on the combined joint operations area and the ANDSF.

Q:  Okay, so you have the -- you have the authorities now to start to advise at the kandak level, but are you doing it?  Are there adviser teams now today at the kandak level, other than the special operations guys?

GEN. BUNCH:  So, the Security Force Assistance Brigade will be on the ground, specifically trained to conduct those adviser teams.  We're looking to field those in the early part of next year, March 2018 time-frame.

Q:  Is that a no? I mean, the forces already in the theater don't have conventional adviser teams at the kandak level?

GEN. BUNCH:  Our current forces are uplifted and we can advise at the kandak level and we do advise at the kandak level.  But the specific -- I think what you're asking, the specifically trained adviser teams, the Security Force Assistance Brigade, will not be in theater until the March time frame.

Q:  Right, perfect.

I'm not really asking about the SFAB, I'm just asking about the forces already in theater.  So there are now teams, whether the forces already in theater, there are teams at the kandak level?

GEN. BUNCH:  So, I'm afraid we're talking past each other.

So, currently we do have the authorities, we do have the uplift, and in areas where it would be beneficial, we could go forward and start to advise at the kandak level.

We're still postured to advise at the corps level, and will continue to develop that capability as we transition to be fully operational when the Security Forces Assistance Brigade shows up in March.

I think that better answers your question.

STAFF:  Great, and we can follow up later on that.

Courtney Kube, NBC?

Q:  Hi, General.  One quick follow on to Idrees' question.

When you said that U.S. has the authority to target the enemies of Afghanistan wherever you find them, his question was specifically about Pakistan.  So are you saying the U.S. has the authority to conduct strikes in Pakistan?  And if so, have you done so under these new authorities?

GEN. BUNCH:  No.  I clearly meant that we are only doing targeting inside of Afghanistan, inside of the combined joint operations area in Afghanistan.  And we are not, we don't have the authorities nor are we conducting operations in Pakistan.

No, that's not what I said nor what I intended.

Q:  Okay and if I can ask one other question, can you just give us a very basic look at the threats in Afghanistan right now?  Sort of like an enemy layout in the country?  Where is the biggest threat by ISIS? How many ISIS fighters are there?  Where is the biggest Taliban threat right now?  And roughly how many fighters there are.

Can you just give us, sort of, like a basic battle update?

GEN. BUNCH:  There are, you know, Afghanistan is the single largest collection of violent extremist organizations in the world for us.  And we look to target them where they are.

It's been previously reported ISIS-K in Nangarhar, Kunar, and we assess that they've got up to maybe a thousand fighters.  And Taliban, there are, you know, pockets of Taliban around the country.

And we could give a more specific detailed answer to that response later.  I don't have that graphic with me, nor those exact numbers, I'm sorry.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF:  We'll take that.

Ryan Browne, CNN?

Q:  Hello, General.  Thank you for doing this.

Just a couple quick, kind of, asset questions.

Do you currently have the ISR assets you need to conduct the air campaign, or are you, kind of, waiting on additional assets to flow over from the ISIS fight in Iraq and Syria?  There's been talk about that going well, needing to free up some additional assets.

And you said that we weren't postured at the kandak level yet in terms of advisers.  We were, kind of, told that having advisers at the kandak level would allow for airstrikes to be called in in direct support of Afghan forces.  So, do you not have that ability to do that because the advisers are not yet postured at that level?

Thank you.

GEN. BUNCH:  Okay, so I'll take the first part of that question. Let me take a quick note so I can answer both of yours.

Okay, so ISR and our ability to conduct our air interdiction campaign.  So, we're currently already unfolding the air interdiction campaign, and we've been able to be extremely successful:  like I said, 25 narcotics labs, $16 million from the Taliban, and over $80 million denied to drug traffic organizations.

We continue to leverage our ISR across the theater to find the enemy wherever they may be, so that we can develop targets.

There's been much said that as the war in Iraq and Syria starts to wind down, that the main effort will shift, if you will, to Afghanistan.  And as those assets become available and come to us, we'll, of course, be able to leverage them and use them to full effect.

And then, secondly, the ability to advise at the kandak level and enable airstrikes.  We've been highly successful across the battlefield this year.  As you'll see, the ANDSF has conducted their combat operations through 2017 with the lowest level of support from the coalition forces in the 16-year war here, and yet has had some of the most success they've ever had, showing they are, in fact, leading the fight and we are there to advise and enable them.

Key pieces that you're seeing is that the Afghan Air Force itself, one of the more lethal organizations they have, and one that we're looking to triple in size by 2023, is conducting significantly more air operations in direct support of the ANDSF on the battlefield, to the tune of 500 more sorties this year than they did the year before.

And so we are currently able to work with and enable the Afghan National Defense Forces as they conduct successful combat operations on the battlefield.  We're working with the Afghan Air Force to continue to build their capacity.

And we think that as we get that Security Force Assistance Brigade on the ground in March and are able to embed all the way down to the kandak level in a more robust manner that we'll continue to bring those enablers from the U.S. to enable the ANDSF to have even greater success in 2018.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF:  Lucas Tomlinson, Fox?

Q:  General, you said that this is the first time the U.S. military has bombed Taliban revenue sources in the drug trade.  Why did it take more than 16 years for the U.S. military to adopt this strategy?

GEN. BUNCH:  I can't speak to why it's taken us so long.

What I can tell you is that the new strategy highlights that this is a new war.  And that the gloves are off, if you will, and that we've got now these authorities we need to be able to go and target the Taliban network.

With the air interdiction campaign, we are able to go after the Taliban's support structure, whereas before we could only strike essentially in defense of the ANDSF forces that were in contact with the enemy. And so now we're able to go after their weapons cache sites, their revenue generation, their C2 nodes.  All the areas where they thought they were safe and they are no longer so.

And so that is our new strategy going forward and it's definitely been a game-changer and the Taliban is definitely feeling it.

Q:  And so because of this, you say that the war is now at a turning point.  Yet over Thanksgiving, the top general in Afghanistan, General Nicholson, said the war is still in a stalemate.

Who's right?

GEN. BUNCH:  So, I think what General Nicholson said is that we're in a stalemate, but the momentum is definitely shifting to the ANDSF forces.

As you see that momentum shift and you see the capability gap between the ANDSF, which has been extremely successful on the battlefield in 2017, where the Taliban were unable to accomplish any of their objectives and have now done the cowardly transition away from combat ops to high-profile attacks, kidnapping for ransom, and assassinations, all of which indiscriminately target the Afghan people, I think you can see that the momentum is shifting in the favor of the ANDSF.

Q:  One small follow-up.  With this vehicle accident that killed the soldier and injured others, what caused this accident?  Could you just tell us?

GEN. BUNCH:  It was a non-combat accident.  It's currently under investigation.  And when we know more, we'll share it with you through Mike and the team there in Washington.

Q:  Lara Selig, Aviation Week?

Q:  Hi, sir.  Thanks for being here.

I wondering if you could detail what assets were used in the most recent strike.  And specifically I'm wondering if you used the Raptors, the stealth fighters in the most recent strikes.

And if so, and I know they've been used before, can you just tell the rationale for using these very expensive fighters to strike drug labs, instead of using, like, the A-29s, the Afghan A-29s, for example?

GEN. BUNCH:  Yes, ma'am.

So, we've used so far, we've used B-52s with their new conventional rotary launcher.  Of note, it was the single most, largest number of precision munitions ever dropped from a B-52.

We've used the F-22, and I'll come back to that to fully answer your question.  We've used F-16s, we've used A-29s, we've used the HIMARS from the Marine Corps, and we've used F/A-18s off the carrier, all to support this.  Coupled with an entire over-the-horizon support of air refueling assets, JSTARs and ISR assets, both over-the-horizon and those we have based in the theater.

And so you asked why did we use the F-22.

We used the F-22 because we were going to strike targets that required very low collateral damage.  And we needed the most precise weapon that we had at our disposal.  And so, that was the Small-Diameter Bomb carried by the F-22, which again, allowed us to be extremely precise, minimize collateral damage, yet still target the Taliban narcotics labs and not cause any undue collateral damage.

Q:  Just a follow-up:  There are other platforms that carry that munition; the F-15, for example, I believe.  So how come they weren't used?

GEN. BUNCH:  I'm really sorry.  I couldn't hear what you said.  Could you repeat that?

Q:  Yeah, there are other platforms that can carry that weapon as well.  So I'm just wondering why those were not used.

GEN. BUNCH:  It has to do with where we have the weapons and munitions in the theater, what assets have them available, and what we can call on in the timeframe that we need it.  At the time, the F-22 had the SDB, which is the most precise weapon.  That's the one we chose to match to the target.

Q:  Is there any talk of moving the F-22s to Afghanistan so they'd be closer for these kinds of strikes?

GEN. BUNCH:  Ma'am, I haven't heard any discussions of that.

STAFF:  Voice of America

Q:  Thank you, General.

First a quick follow-up on the accident the non-combat accident and the vehicle.  What type of vehicle were these troops in?

GEN. BUNCH:  Ma'am, again, that is an investigation that's ongoing.  I don't have that data. Once we have the full data, we'll share it with you.

Q:  On the narcotics strikes, this time, the winter season, is currently a time of regrouping for the Taliban in the past 16 years.  Can you just explain about how you think, or whether or not you think this will prevent their capability to regroup, in preparation for the fighting season that starts usually in March or April?

GEN. BUNCH:  Yes, ma'am.

So, we're actually targeting counter-revenue targets.  We're looking for opportunities to disrupt the Taliban's ability to fund their operations, to recruit fighters or buy weapons. Through that, in the near term, we're going after narcotics labs in northern Helmand, as we've talked about previously.

Of note, the Taliban has about, gets between $300 million and $500 million a year as their total budget.  Sixty-percent of that, or almost $200 million, comes from the narco-processing trade.  The vast majority of that comes from northern Helmand, which is their economic engine, if you will.  So, we targeted there to disrupt their revenue, to prevent their ability to reset or re-fit over the winter.  We will continue to target them and disrupt them wherever we find them.

Q:  And then my question is, do you have any comments or are you concerned about the ICC investigation of potential war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan?  We hear that they are also investigating U.S. strikes during that process. Thank you.

GEN. BUNCH:  Ma'am, I am not familiar with that whole process.  We can get the appropriate people to answer that question at a later time.

STAFF:  I’ll take that, that's a policy question.  We'll take that, sir.

Shawn Snow?

Q:  General, thank you for doing this.

Have there been any requests or discussions to bring A-10s back to Afghanistan?

GEN. BUNCH: The discussions of what forces may move to Afghanistan or drawdowns from Iraq and Syria are all ongoing.  They'll all be conditions-based on both what happens in Iraq and Syria and what happens here.

We've not made any decisions at this time to move A-10s that I know of.

STAFF:  Elizabeth McLaughlin, ABC?

Q:  General, what capabilities do you not have right now that you wish you had?

GEN. BUNCH:  Currently the forces that we have are enabling us to help the ANDSF go on the offensive.  There are enough that keep the ANDSF on the offensive through the winter months.

Again, in 2017, the Afghan forces conducted successful offensive operations with the lowest level of support from the coalition in the history of this conflict.  And they were extremely successful.  The Afghans were in the lead, and we're just here to support them and enable them.  And we continue to do so and continue to be successful, as you've seen from our recent strikes.

Q:  There's nothing you would want, no further capabilities, no further authorities that you wish you had that you think would help the fighting season going into 2018?

GEN. BUNCH:  Ma'am, we have the authorities that have been provided to us.  We're using them to the maximum extent that we can, and we're having tremendous success on the battlefield.

Q:  Air Force Magazine.

I was hoping you'd talk a little bit more about the capabilities of the Afghan Air Force.  I know the wintertime's big for their TACAIR guys over there to address their line of efforts. Specifically their main focus is looking at day and night CAS, the airlift with Afghan forces on their own.

Are they capable of doing that now?  What's the progress toward that?

And you had said 500 more sorties so far this year.  Do you have strike numbers?  I know it was about 1,700 last year.  Do you know where we are this year on just Afghan Air Force strikes?

GEN. BUNCH:  So, I don't have the Afghan Air Force strike numbers in front of me; we can get that data back to you.

As we continue to build up the Afghan Air Force, we've had some near-term successes and we have some plans going forward.

So, as you know, the first four UH-60 Black Hawks were delivered to the Afghan Air Force, and the first six pilots have already graduated from training.  We expect to have eight full crews at the beginning of the fighting season in 2018.  And those Black Hawk helicopters are just the first of up to 159 that we're going to provide them.

The Afghan Air Force also conducts aerial resupply with their C-130 and C-208 aircraft.  And then they've got their Mi-17s for helicopter lift in the near term, as it's being transitioned to the UH-60.  They've got the A-29, which has been very successful and continues to build into a very viable platform.

Of note, the first strikes as part of this air interdiction campaign were conducted by the Afghan Air Force, where we worked with them to deliver targets that they then went and struck to start that entire campaign.

The MD-530 again continues to be a very effective helicopter in support of the Afghan forces at the front.

And each of those weapons systems I just mentioned continue to grow in both capacity, with additional airframes and with additional crews.

Q:  Are the Black Hawks flying operationally now since those crews have graduated?  Or what's the timeline going ahead for operational flights?

GEN. BUNCH:  I don't have the exact timeline for when the Afghan Black Hawks will be fully operational.  We're on track to have eight full crews with Black Hawks available for the beginning of the 2018 fighting season, in the early spring.

STAFF:  Wes Morgan, Politico?

Q:  To follow up on Courtney's question about different enemy groups, can you tell us how often are you striking al-Qaida targets, relative to, you know Taliban and ISIS, but how often are you striking al-Qaida targets?  And where do counter-al-Qaida efforts fit into your future operations planning?

GEN. BUNCH:  Sir, our number one priority here is to continue to build the capacity of the Afghan defense forces.  We're doubling the size of the Afghan special operations forces, we're tripling the size of the Afghan Air Force, the two most lethal components, and those units continue to conduct operations.

As I mentioned, the Afghan Special Forces are only about 6 percent currently of the overall Afghan defense forces.  Yet they conduct over 70 percent of the operations.  They conduct those operations against all enemies of the government, whether they be ISIS-K, Taliban, Haqqani, or al-Qaida.

We look to target across the theater, where and when the enemy presents themselves.

Q:  So it sounds like you may not have the numbers now, but would you be able to get us numbers on how often there are U.S. airstrikes against al-Qaida targets?

GEN. BUNCH:  We have that data.  We can get it to you later.

STAFF:  Okay, I'm at the end of the queue.  Doesn't look like there's any other questions.  Sir, do you have any closing remarks?

STAFF:  We do have one more.

Q:  Just to follow up on the Small-Diameter Bombs that you talked about, I'm wondering if there's a shortage of the type of weapon at other places in the region that perhaps that the F-15s were at and maybe if that's part of the reason the Raptors had to be used?

GEN. BUNCH:  Ma'am, how many munitions of the Small-Diameter Bomb did not enter into the equation.

We looked to match the best aircraft with the most precise weapon against the target that was required, and in this case, that was the F-22 with the Small-Diameter Bomb.

STAFF:  Lucas, Fox?

Q:  General, can you talk about the coordination with CIA Ground Branch officers on the ground?  Has there been increased reliance on them, or now that there's more U.S. troops on the ground you're less reliant on those forces?

GEN. BUNCH:  I work with the conventional forces in supporting the ANDSF, and that would be outside my lane.

Q:  Thank you, sir.

STAFF:  Any other questions?

Okay, sir, do you have any closing remarks?

GEN. BUNCH:  Yes. Everybody, I thank you for your time and the questions today.  The ability to talk about the good work that we're doing here in Afghanistan.

I'd like to highlight three key points.

That the Taliban strategy is moving backwards.  As they are unable to conduct offensive combat operations, they have transitioned back to high-profile attacks, assassinations, and kidnapping for ransom, all of which indiscriminately target the Afghan people.

The momentum here has clearly changed, and the combat capability gap between the Afghan Defense Forces and the Taliban has never been greater.

And we will continue to reinforce that as we transition to this conditions-based approach, and our ability to embed at the kandak level and get as close to the units and leaders that are directly controlling the fighting in 2018.

And then, lastly, these are new efforts that have never been tried here in Afghanistan.  Whether it be a dedicated air interdiction campaign against networks, not just fighters, or a sustained counter-revenue campaign against the Taliban, these are new, the war has changed and we look forward to talking to you more in the future and highlighting the successes of the ANDSF and the government of Afghanistan. Thank you for your time.

STAFF:  Thank you, General, for your time.  Stay safe, sir. Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes today's briefing. Happy holidays and merry Christmas.