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Media Availability with Secretary Carter and Gen. Nicholson in Kabul, Afghanistan

July 12, 2016
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter; General John Nicholson, Jr., commander, Resolute Support mission and U.S. Forces - Afghanistan

      SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: 

Well, I won't say anything at the top, because I made a statement, over with President Ghani and so we'll take a few questions.

 

      Before we do, I just thought since I have General Nicholson right here, why don't we get back to Dan's question today on authorities and let General Nicholson give you some examples of how this works in practice, OK?

 

      Go ahead.

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:  Great. Thank you, sir.

 

      And, Dan, if I understood question your right, you were looking for some examples on the use of authorities.  Right.  So  let me give you a couple. 

 

First let -- you're all familiar with the city of Kunduz.  You know, this year, when the Taliban announced their offensive, the Omari Offensive on the 12th of April, their first target was the city of Kunduz.  We know what happened last year.

 

      As you focus -- as we focused on it this year, we used our in-extremis authorities that we had at the time to help prevent a strategic defeat, i.e., the fall of Kunduz.

 

      And we used those effectively.  But -- but as the secretary said, it was in a defensive, reactive kind of manner.

 

      Now, with the new authorities that we have now, as of June, we're able to then provide combat enablers to assist the Afghans, who are now expanding, you know, the -- the zone of a -- that they control around Kunduz, taking the initiative against the enemy and their staging areas outside -- well outside of Kunduz and the surrounding districts.

 

      So it's more of an offensive nature to that operation that we're assisting.

 

      Another example down south might be the city of Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan was threatened earlier this year when the -- when the Taliban cut off the roads.

 

      We used in extremis authorities to prevent the fall of Tarin Kowt by, in -- in this case, F-16s striking Taliban positions in the mountains, away from civilians, to enable the Afghan Army to clear the road.

 

      Since that operation, the successful defense of Tarin Kowt, we're using our new authorities so that the Afghan Army can assume the offensive against the enemy in Maiwand District, Band-e-Timor area, which is a well known staging area.  So it's offensive.

 

      A final example I would -- I would tell you is the Afghans have an -- have a campaign plan.  It's called Operation Shafuq.  It has different phases.

 

      Phase one was up in the north in Kunduz to defend it.  That went well.

 

      Phase two was -- was southern Afghanistan.  I just gave an example from there.

 

      Phase three will shift back to the east, to Nangarhar, where again, we'll use our authorities to assist the Afghans in an offensive proactive manner against the enemy in Nangarhar.

 

      Does that answer your question?

 

      Right.  Thanks.

 

      Q:  (INAUDIBLE)?

 

      Q:  (INAUDIBLE) thank you.

 

      Can I just follow-up on that?

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:  Sure.  Sure.

 

      Q: In addition to that, how would your (INAUDIBLE) I mean give us an example of how, (INAUDIBLE) people (INAUDIBLE)?

 

      So I'm wondering, are you going to also need to use maybe expanded (INAUDIBLE) contractors or troops that are based outside the country (INAUDIBLE) in order to meet the needs of such incidences as we've just seen laid out?

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:   Sure.

 

      Thanks for the question.

 

      So, as the president said in his statement, I put a fresh set of eyes on -- on the issue and the and the three bins, if you will, of troops as you've heard.  We have our counter-terrorism forces, which are here focused on our counterterrorism mission against the nine terrorist groups that are in the area.  Those number roughly 2,150.

 

      We have our troops doing advising, so they number around 3,000.

 

      And then we have our troops that enable both of the other missions, they enable both advising and counterterrorism.  And they number about 3,300.

 

      So some capabilities, we put over the horizon.  And that's some hundreds of service members in a variety of enabling capacities.  But I'm very comfortable with them being where they are and we can call them forward if necessary, or we can reach back for support.

 

      And so this enables us then to be able to perform the mission at the FML that we have.

 

      So, again, our two missions, counterterrorism; and train, advise, assist; enabled by our pool of enablers and I'm very comfortable with this, that -- that we're going to be able to accomplish both of those missions with this -- with this level of manning. And it provides me all the capabilities I need to get the job done.

 

      Q:   Can I ask a math question then?

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:   Sure.

 

      Q:  I mean where go you get the 6,700 (INAUDIBLE)?

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:   Yes.  Sure.

 

      SEC. CARTER:  (INAUDIBLE).

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:   You want me to do it?

 

      OK.

 

      SEC. CARTER:   No, go.  Go ahead.

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:   Yes, sir.

 

      SEC. CARTER:   Go ahead.

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON: So if you take the 3,000 advisers, the 3,300 enablers, that gives you 6,300.  And then there's 400 of those troops that are over the horizon that count against our NATO contribution because of the nature of what they do.

 

      SEC. CARTER: Different math.

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:   And so it adds up.  She had the 6,300 in country, the 400 over the horizon, you get your total of 6,700.

 

      (CROSSTALK)

 

      Q:  (INAUDIBLE) for the Afghans (INAUDIBLE) or (INAUDIBLE)?

 

      SEC. CARTER:   Do you want me to take that sir?

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:   Yes, go ahead.

 

      SEC. CARTER:  I'm happy to (INAUDIBLE).

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:   No, no, no, go ahead.

 

      The -- the national, the Afghans have a national campaign plan.  So this -- this year's campaign is called Operation Shafuq.  It identifies key areas around the country.  Some are designated hold.  Some are designated fight areas.  And some are designated disrupt areas.

 

      So in the disrupt areas, that's all they seek to achieve.  They're not going to fight for those areas to hold onto them.

 

      But the hold and fight areas, they -- they will definitely fight for.

 

      So far, they've been very successful in all of those areas, in holding the areas they identified for a hold and fighting, in those areas that they identified as a fight.

 

      And that's where we used our enablers and supported the Afghanistan attainment of their plan for sustainable security.

 

      Does that answer?

 

      Q:   Well, why would they think they'd be more successful this year than (INAUDIBLE)?

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:   Well...

 

      Q:  (INAUDIBLE)?

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:  Well, there's a number of reasons.

 

      Number one, they’re learning.  So we learned a lot last year from the operations.  Secretary Carter mentioned the re--- the force regeneration that we went through.  So let’s take the example of the 215th Corps.

 

      So the 215th Corps suffered heavily last year.  So at the end of the fighting last year, they replaced all the leadership.  They put in a new governor.  They put in a new police chief.  They consolidated their forces.  And then we introduced a force regeneration capability who then pulled battalions off of the battlefield one at a time, re-manned, re-trained, re-equipped back into the fight.

 

      And then under the new leadership, we then -- we sent a -- a small advisory element down there, led by Brigadier General Andy Rowling, and so with their advisers, with these regenerated forces, they've been successful this year in holding that area between Sangin District center down to the southern end of Marjah.

 

      (CROSSTALK)

 

      SEC. CARTER:  I'll inject a couple of -- I'd just add a couple of things.  It would make correctly noted we could add A-29s and other foreign or close air support.  So there are a number of capabilities that they hadn't had yet last year.

 

      And those are now delivering the A-29s, which are close air support platform as an example of that.

 

      And in a general sense, Michael, the Afghan security forces had, if you remember during the period of the government transition, there were a number of months of their natural development that were lost in the course of that process and they've caught up on that.  So there are some other differences.

 

They have more capability this year than they did last year, simply by -- because of the passage of a year and the fact that the program to arm and train and equip them had a schedule that was -- that it gets more every year, but in particular, was a little bit arrested during the period of governmental transition. So those are contributing factors.

 

      Q:  (INAUDIBLE).

 

      Q:  (INAUDIBLE)?

 

      Are you concerned at all that -- that -- that the nature of the way that the -- that the -- the rules were written, that they came -- they (INAUDIBLE) as more of a (INAUDIBLE) one that doesn't necessarily have a (INAUDIBLE) in terms of (INAUDIBLE)?

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:  Yes, so, the first I'd say the authorities, come to my level for use.  So I'm personally reviewing and applying these authorities.  So they are getting a good degree of scrutiny.  And they -- and before they get to me, they're going through, you know, a rigorous process where we look closely at the use of it.

 

      So I think -- I think all the uses have been right in line with the intended purpose that the president gave us.

 

      On the, as far -- as far as the application of the authorities, no, I'm -- I'm very, very comfortable we've been able to apply them well.  It -- it is, as the Secretary said, it's been able -- it's enabled them to take the offensive.

 

      SEC. CARTER:  They may not have understood you've already given two examples.

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:  Right.

 

 

      (CROSSTALK)

 

      SEC. CARTER:  -- that's the part she...

 

      (CROSSTALK)

 

      SEC. CARTER:  -- that's the part she's not ac...

 

      (CROSSTALK)

 

      SEC. CARTER:  -- she's not understanding...

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:  OK.

 

      SEC. CARTER:  You gave two examples, but she may have missed it.

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:  Yes.

 

      Q:  I thought those were in extremis, though (INAUDIBLE)?

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:  No, no, no.  Those were the in-extremis part -- each of those examples involved one use -- and a use of in extremis and a use of the strategic effect.  The in-extremis was the defensive part and the strategic effect was the offensive part.

 

 

      So in each of these cases, we've used both.

 

      Q:   Oh, I see.

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:  So in Kunduz we defended, then -- then -- we're -- now we're taking the offensive against the elements that -- that are still out there.  And the same thing in the south.

 

      Q:  (INAUDIBLE) do you have a rough idea of how many times you (INAUDIBLE)?

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:  I'd have to get back to you.  I mean, we're reviewing situations nightly for the use of authorities.  But, we can get back to you with something more specific.

 

      STAFF:  (INAUDIBLE) last question (INAUDIBLE).

 

      Q:  (INAUDIBLE)

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:  OK, the -- yes, so the Afghans are executing their campaign plan continuously.  And so as we look at, for example, right now, we're in the midst of shifting our we've shifted from Kunduz as a main effort to the south and now we're shifting to the east.

 

      So as we do those shifts, yes, we're applying those authorities almost daily in support of the Afghans, to enable them to take the offensive.

 

      Q:  (INAUDIBLE)?

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:  Yes.

 

      Q:  (INAUDIBLE)?

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:  Well, it can mean combat enablers.  There can be...

 

      Q:  (INAUDIBLE).

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:  -- a variety of things.  It -- air power is an important part of it, but it could be rotary wing, the -- the advisers are there.  I mean so there's a number of, uh, capabilities.

 

      SEC. CARTER:  The whole suite.

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:  Right.

 

      SEC. CARTER:  -- just...

 

      GENERAL NICHOLSON:  Yes.

 

      SEC. CARTER:  -- just to be clear, it's the whole suite of what he's got he can use in this additional way.

 

      Q:  (INAUDIBLE)?

 

      SEC. CARTER:  Well, I -- the ruling just came out, so we don't have that.  Uh, the U.S. government hadn’t made an analysis of it.  But I will say, this is an opportunity for all -- everybody in the region to act in a principled way, the principles being in accordance with the rule of law and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

 

      So that's the principle that the United States stands for in this and in other respects in this part of the world and other parts of the world.  And that's the principal that will apply.

 

      But I haven't had a chance to review the decision and the government as a whole hasn’t it just dropped.

 

 

--END--