2:00 P.M. EDT
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Hello, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today, we have General Richard Mills, who is just completing a tour as the commander of Regional Command Southwest in Afghanistan, and also his co-briefer, Dereck Hogan, Senior Advisor to the Special Representative for Afghan and Pakistan. They are going to deliver an Afghanistan civil-military update briefing. Without further ado, here is the general and the special advisor.
GEN MILLS: Thank you very much. It’s an honor and a pleasure to be here this afternoon to talk about Afghanistan. And let me just qualify my remarks before I start with saying that I talk about Helmand and Nimruz provinces. Those are the provinces in the southwest corner of Afghanistan, dominated by the Helmand River and by the irrigation system that the United States AID [Agency for International Development] placed there in the ’50s and ’60s, which turned Helmand province from a desert into a fairly lush agricultural region which produces significant amounts of food, and unfortunately, also significant amounts of poppy, which is used by the insurgency to fund their operations.
I returned about two weeks ago. I turned over command a little less than – a little more than three weeks ago. And I can tell you that as I left Afghanistan, I was beginning to see the fruits of a long year of labor, a long year of cooperation between the Department of State-led platform that was on the – that is on the ground there and the coalition forces that I commanded. We’re starting to see that in areas like education, where we’re beginning to see a real flowering of the education system within Helmand province, with 125,000 students attending school, to include some 20,000 female students, which is a first for that part of the country.
We’re also seeing an opening of numerous roads that will tie parts of the province together to allow for freedom of movement of the people and commerce throughout the area and a freedom of movement of ideas, sparked by telephone coverage that’s been restored by the Department of State efforts, and again, as I said, the schools that have opened up for the students, to include students of all ages and both sexes.
All this has been, I think, allowed and been able to be accomplished through the improvement of security within the province, spearheaded by the improvement within the Afghan security forces themselves. The coalition force that I commanded, as you know, included both the United States forces, but perhaps more importantly, coalition forces across the board to include a battalion of Georgian troops that worked in our area. Also the UK, the United Kingdom, had a significant troop contribution within the area, almost 10,000 strong, both ground and air forces. And also, we had Danish forces, Estonian forces, and some Italians that came in from time to time working special forces operations.
The Afghan security forces, again, as I said, have improved significantly in the past year. We have a core of Afghan army forces about 10,000-strong on the ground, organized in three brigades, capable of semi-independent operations, and brigades that have taken themselves to the field, engaged the enemy on their own, and done very, very well. The Afghan army likes to fight, it’s good at it, and it is not reluctant to take the enemy on when they find him and when they go looking for him.
Secondly, the Afghan police programs are also beginning to flourish. This is a program supported both by the coalition forces and by our civilian counterparts, both at the Department of State platform that’s in existence there and also by the UK-led provincial reconstruction team which exists down in Helmand province as well. We’ve got about 7,500 uniformed police on the ground right now doing what police do, which is to protect and serve the communities from which they come. And we’ve seen, again, a growing confidence by them in their abilities to conduct the operations you expect of a police force.
We also have several other programs within the realm of police work that have shown good success and have produced basically a police auxiliary at the very neighborhood level, designed to provide a first alert, if you will, of activities within the neighborhoods that are running counter to what we want. And those programs have had good success, good support. President Karzai is in full 100 percent support of those programs. And they have, again, as I say, shown success, especially at countering the murder and intimidation campaign that is really one of the few tactics left to the enemy to try to regain his momentum on the battlefield.
With that said, I will close my remarks simply by, again, reinforcing the close cooperation there’s been between the civilian and the military side within the province. As security has improved, the development pace has picked up rapidly. And those results, again, are being seen at the street level in things like education, improved commerce, and better governance, both at the district and at the provincial level.
I appreciate your attention today and I look forward to answering any of your questions. With that, I will turn the microphone over here to my battle buddy and good friend, Mr. Dereck Hogan, who was on the ground with me in Afghanistan for a lengthy period during the year. And we became both partners and friends in taking on, I think, a very interesting assignment. And to be honest, it’s good to see Dereck again.
MR. HOGAN: Thank you, General, and good afternoon to you all. Before I start, I just want to take this opportunity – it’s been the first time that the general and I have had an opportunity to see each other since I left Afghanistan in September of this past – of last year. I just want to say how much a privilege it was to stand by your side and work with you as a partner. I was – my team and I were responsible for standing up the regional platform in southwest, which is a civilian interagency group that is designed to stand alongside the military and try to work with the – in this particular case, the British-led PRT in Helmand, but also sort of have a regional perspective, both covering Helmand and Nimruz, in the development of governance and development in Afghanistan, in southwest Afghanistan. So it’s really good to see him again.
I want to also say that I am, being part of the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan – really excited about the announcement made by President Karzai in March of this year, where he announced the beginning of transition in Afghanistan. Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, where the general worked and where I worked for some time, was part of that initial tranche, seven provinces and districts – three provinces, four districts, and Lashkar Gah was one of them. And as the President laid out as early back as December of 2009 when he committed the additional 30,000 troops, he made it clear that there would be a civilian as well as a military surge to help the Afghan Government assume more responsibility for all of the core government functions, and not just security but as well as the provision of critical services, including justice and other sorts of services.
And the president – President Karzai now I’m speaking of – made it clear in March of this year that that process formally would begin in July. And so now we have seven provinces [and districts], and they’re just the first tranche. We expect to have another tranche of provinces begin the transition process later this year, and that process will be completed by the end of 2014. And so by that time, throughout Afghanistan, Afghan national security forces and the Afghan Government should be in the lead when it comes to the provision of security as well as essential services, both in Kabul and outside of Kabul.
I just want to make two quick points when it comes to transition, because what I’d like to do is just sort of – is put the great efforts made by RC Southwest, especially at the helm of General Mills, and the UK-led PRT and the U.S. Regional Platform, put that in a slightly larger context by saying that transition is part of this surge that Secretary Clinton had mentioned and discussed quite in depth in her February 18th Asia Society speech, where she said that there were three surges basically taking place in Afghanistan. There was the military surge that I just mentioned to you earlier, the civilian surge, which I had also mentioned – and again, that is the civilian power of the U.S. as well as other countries, partners, governments, helping the Afghan Government strengthen its governance and economic capacity – but then there is the diplomatic surge. And she made clear that up until now, the diplomatic and the civilian surge had been in support of the military surge. But because of the great gains made by the military and also by the civilians, we’re able to shift our focus somewhat, particularly on the civilian side, to focus on that diplomatic surge.
And what we mean by that is that the conflict in Afghanistan will be – will come to an end by a political solution, both an internal settlement where the Afghans reconcile with Afghans, but that will be buttressed by a regional diplomacy effort where you have core countries involved in Afghanistan’s neighborhood supporting this internal political settlement. And transition fits nicely within that third surge because we’re talking about, quite frankly, the transfer of capabilities as well as resources to the Afghans so that they can take more responsibility for their own sovereignty.
And so what we’re seeing now is that if you have that security-led transfer, which the general articulated, that is backed by the civilian effort, we are going to see a process where, over the next three to four years, the 2011 to 2014 transition period, we’re going to see a shift where you had, up until now, the international community providing the bulk of services to the Afghans. As they build themselves up and their capacity up, we’re going to be fading more into the background so that the Afghans can do more of that. And during the question-and-answer period, we can talk about some of the programs, both on the civilian – I’m going to focus on the civilian side – that have allowed us to do that, particularly in the first tranche of provinces.
So with that, I’ll stop, and together we’ll take your questions.
MODERATOR: As we move to the Q&A portion, please state your name and publication for the record and wait for the microphone, which could be coming from either side.
Right down there.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Zubair Ahmed and I am from the BBC World Service. I’ve got two questions. One is: Now that the drawdown going – is going to start in July, does it feel like a defeat? Because a lot of al-Qaida and Taliban bigwigs are still at large and they have not been either arrested or killed. They’re still there. Once the U.S. withdraws its army and the allied forces are out, they might resurface. So does it feel like a defeat?
The second question is: One of the U.S. papers today I read that when the Pakistani prime minister was going to Afghanistan last week, he tried, apparently, to persuade President Karzai to abandon the U.S. and partner with Pakistan and China to work for peace and development in Afghanistan.
GEN MILLS: I’ll take the question. I will – I’ll take the first question. And thanks for that question. I’ll tell you what, I’d like to ask my opponent over there how he feels, whether he feels it was a defeat. No, I don’t feel any – it was a defeat at all – far from it. I think the coalition forces and the coalition effort over there has been remarkably successful. Again, I talk about Helmand and Nimruz province. If you take a look at Helmand province, which was our focus of effort for the past year, about 1.4 of the 1.5 million people live along a narrow strip along the river in a series of villages and towns that are there to service the agricultural communities along the river. I can tell you that we control all of those areas. The insurgents have lost their ability to move freely throughout the province. They have lost their support of the Afghan people who live there and they have lost a significant part of their ability to resource the remaining insurgency as it begins to – as it significantly declines.
Let me give you a couple of examples. There are three major events that took place within Helmand province in the past six months that the Taliban said could not take place, they would not allow it. The first was the election in September of this year of the congressional level – congressional level elections that took place at the provincial level. They said they – that election would not take place. I can tell you that at 7:30 in the morning, we opened up every polling station in Helmand province and those polling stations stayed open throughout the day. We had a good turnout of voters despite the threat, and that election was carried off with – outside observers said was done very, very well. All of security for that election was provided by Afghan security forces themselves, both police and the army.
We had two concerts within the Helmand province, one by a large male star and one by a female star. Both of them took place in Lashkar Gah in an – in the stadium that used to be used for the Taliban's public punishments. Both of those concerts were attended by 10,000-plus people who enjoyed themselves, both male and female. All of the security for those concerts were provided by local Afghan security forces, both police and army.
Governor Mangal has recently decreed that his ministers and his government workers, as they move around the province, will no longer be flown by coalition helicopters. No need to do that; the roads are safe. They will drive from place to place.
In March of this year, we held district community council elections in the town of Marja. You may have all heard of Marja. Marja was a significant battle we fought all last summer – extraordinarily contested, the very heart of the insurgency within Helmand province. We held elections for the district community council. There were 1,500 registered voters in Marja. Eleven hundred of them showed up to vote – extraordinary. We opened – again, we opened those polling stations early in the morning, kept them open all day, despite Taliban threats that never materialized. We closed them on time in the evening. As a matter of fact, the governor called up and asked if he could extend it one more hour because he wanted to make sure everybody had a chance to cast their ballot.
I think that when you look at the situation in that part of Afghanistan, and I only speak about that part of Afghanistan, I have never – I have seen no success by the opponent. I’ve seen no success by the insurgency. He has changed his bottom line platform to say that perhaps education is not a bad thing for the Afghan people, based on the success we’re having both from the civilian and military side at providing a desperately needed service to the Afghan people. As I said earlier, 125,000 students in school, many of them young females – a tremendous success throughout the province. The Taliban burned schools; we built them. Again, I would question if you can find me one success he’s had over the past year and a half within that part of the country. I would not use the word defeat; I think far from it.
MR. HOGAN: I’ll answer your first – I’m sorry, your second question rather quickly and then move into the first question, just to complement what the general said. On the second question, I think our answer is quite simple, that the U.S. would refer you to the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan for their internal discussions.
On the first question, the point that you made about the al-Qaida – the terrorists feeling in a – sort of feeling a sense of victory because of the quote/unquote “withdrawal” of U.S. forces, I just want to sort of put a little – put a full stop right there and say that the withdrawal that you’re speaking of, we don’t know what that withdrawal is going to be. But as Secretary Gates has made clear in the past, the enemy will be quite surprised with the duration and the commitment, the enduring commitment, of the U.S. Government, including the military, post-July 2011.
So in terms of withdrawal, I just want to take issue with that particular term. What we’re speaking about is a conditions-based reduction of forces, but the term there is conditions-based. And based on the assessments made by General Petraeus, we have – with the surge of U.S. troops, and not just U.S. troops but the men and women in uniform of other countries as well, we have put ourselves in a position where the conditions are allowing for some sort of phased reduction in forces. And the President will articulate that more clearly as that date approaches.
Going back to that question again, the first question, I also want to point out that when you talk about defeat, one of the issues, aside from security, the Afghans feeling a sense of insecurity, that being, if you will, a rallying cry for the Taliban and a talking point, even, if you will, for the Taliban, another talking point has been for them injustice, the sense of injustice, that the Afghan Government hasn’t been able to provide meaningful justice to the Afghans. And even in that particular area – I’m thinking about my particular experience in RC Southwest – the Afghan Government decided to create these – both what the general mentioned, district community councils, but also the Afghan Social Outreach Program. And these – and this program, along with – it basically creates these district community councils, and each district community council is made up of influential community elders in that particular area.
And so they have been sort of a bridge between formal and informal, between the formal government at the provincial and district level and the informal network of power holders in that particular area. And so what they’ve been able to do is tackle issues such as a reintegration of insurgents. They’ve been able to tackle issues such as corruption within the political – the civilian political system at that particular level, as well as in the Afghan National Security Forces.
One of the things that I remember quite clearly, when President Karzai went to Marja, oh, just I think a month or so after the operation was launched in February of 2010, the first thing that the – that this large group of community elders told him was saying, “We will work with your government. We will work with the – with the GIROA, with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, but we will not accept any more bad police. We don’t want old government.” And he started to point to particular people in the crowd. And that was a clear sign to the president, as well as to the international community, that they’re willing to work with formal government, but under legitimate and justifiable conditions.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) to the second question, please?
MR. HOGAN: No. I would like to leave it just right there. I mean, The Wall Street Journal was reporting on conversations between the Afghan Government and the Pakistani Government. And quite frankly, those are conversations that, if you want to have more information on, we would refer you to either or both of those governments. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Down here.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is David Nikuradze. I represent Georgian television station Rustavi 2 in Washington, DC. I have two questions. First is about Georgian soldiers. How would you comment the contribution of Georgian troops in Helmand province?
And my second question is more political. President Obama is expected to announce that he’s nominating General Petraeus as CIA chief and Leon Panetta as Defense Secretary. I understand it is very early to comment, but still, do you have any commentary on that, please? Thank you, General.
GEN MILLS: Let me start off by complimenting the Georgian forces. I had two battalions that worked under my command, the 31st and the 32nd. Each of them was – were magnificent units. They were characterized by extraordinary professional performance, by tactical prowess on the battlefield, by an ability to focus on the mission at hand, and unfortunately, but proudly capable of absorbing some casualties and continuing on with a – with the very important duties that they had. They were so impressive, in fact, that I assigned them battle space of their own, a large area to the west of Helmand province, where they operated with – in partnership with the Afghan forces to do the full spectrum COIN operations there within – near the city of Delaram and lapping over into Nimruz province. Absolutely superb work by everyone concerned.
I found the Georgians like to fight. They are professional soldiers who understand what their tasks are and they are willing – more than willing to carry them out. As a matter of fact, they asked if they could be given even more duties. And so I detached – one of their companies was sent to help out in a place called Sangin, which you may be familiar with, where another rather significant battle was being fought. And again, they did a magnificent job up there. We gave them a very tough piece of real estate against a very determined enemy, and they came out successful in every encounter. So I was extraordinarily impressed. I’ve been to Tbilisi several times, seen the training center there, and I’ve been impressed by everything I’ve ever had to do with the Georgian forces, top to bottom.
They do require some – we gave them some help with vehicles to ensure that they had the correct vehicles to resist the mines, and we also had some of our forces working alongside them, again to ensure that there was close coordination between all the forces on the battlefield. But all in all, a very, very strong performance, a very professional performance, and I owe them a great deal of credit for their time there within the battle space.
Regarding any changes within the Administration, I read the papers the same way you do, I guess. Of course, General Petraeus, I’ve had the opportunity to work for him twice now, once in Iraq and once in Afghanistan. I have the highest admiration for him. He is a magnificent soldier. I think he’s a distinguished statesman as well and is a sublime diplomat. And I think at any assignment he would be tremendously successful. Mr. Panetta, I’m sure, will find it challenging over at the Department of Defense, and I would just say that he has a tremendous reputation and I think that he will do – again, be very successful at anything that the President decides to use him for.
MR. HOGAN: I just want to note, just for those who may not be aware, I think I saw this afternoon that the White House issued a release saying that at 3:30 today, 3:30 this afternoon, a senior Administration official is going to give an update on the personnel changes on the national security side. So there will be, I think, a telephone conference, and so I would refer you to the White House for that.
MODERATOR: Okay. Come down here.
QUESTION: General and Mr. Hogan, my name is Fengfeng Wang from China’s Xinhua News Agency. Just to follow up on my Georgian colleague’s question, this – General, how would you describe Mr. Leon Panetta’s tenure in CIA? How is his working relationship with the military in Afghanistan?
And also to Mr. Hogan and – we all know that Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton have been close friends and close allies inside the Administration. And we also know that Leon Panetta has always worked – has also worked in the Clinton Administration as a OMB director. And would you say that with this personnel change, that the Pentagon and the State Department won’t have any disruption with how they cooperate in – on the issue of Afghanistan transition, or would you expect any disruptions or changes? Thank you.
MR. HOGAN: I’ll quickly answer the question directed to me. Quite – really, we would save comments in terms of, first of all, who is going to be nominated and save that for the official comments provided by the State Department spokesman. Generally speaking, though, clearly, the President has in mind to keep the transition as smooth as possible, whatever transition would occur. So I – and being sort of one of the pawns on the chessboard, if you will, I do not look forward to seeing any significant changes in the way we will be doing business. Thank you.
MODERATOR: In back.
QUESTION: Thanks. Omar Karmi of The National Newspaper. You mentioned political solutions. On the internal level, could that include the Taliban, and would that be acceptable to the U.S.? And regionally, could that include – does that include Iran, and would that be acceptable? Thanks.
MR. HOGAN: Sure. The Secretary, in both her Asia Society speech and also her remarks made at the NATO foreign ministerial in Berlin, made it clear that the U.S. has always been an advocate of a political settlement to the conflict. And so really what that means for us, first and foremost, is that this must be a process led by the Afghan Government. So what we wanted to do is really step behind and get behind President Karzai’s vision. And President Karzai has been very active on this particular issue, working both, of course, within Afghanistan, addressing some of the challenges involved in this process but, of course, also working with his neighbors, including Iran, Pakistan – trips, of course, to other important players in the neighborhood.
So what we have always told the Afghans is that we stand by you, we’re willing to do whatever we can to support you in this process. Of course, we’ve also said that it’s up to the Taliban, the insurgents, to make a choice, really, which side are they going to be on. And we’ve always been clear in terms of sort of what we are looking for as an outcome of any political process, and those conditions include the – all Afghans supporting the Afghan constitution, breaking ties with al-Qaida, as well as renouncing violence as a means to expression. So with those conditions kept, I – we would be very much in favor of an Afghan-led political settlement. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Come down here.
QUESTION: Alex Ogle with AFP News Agency. I’m just wondering what you thought were the main risks for a premature pullout from – of U.S. and foreign troops from Helmand, and when – what kind of timeline, timeframe, do you think that Afghan army and police will be able to take care of security in that region.
GEN MILLS: The Afghan army and police have taken over some significant responsibilities within that region for their own security. I gave you a couple of examples before on some events where they did it. They’ve also taken over the area around Lashkar Gah, which is the provincial capital. You seldom see a coalition uniform. And there are other areas which we’ve been able to thin out our forces significantly and turn over local responsibilities, both to the Afghan police and to the Afghan army.
The Afghan security forces are growing more confident every day and are quite willing to take on that additional responsibility, understand it’s their ultimate responsibility. And they understand the end state of the coalition effort is to have an Afghan security structure in place that, in fact, can provide security both against external and internal threats. And they are – they’re anxious to arrive at that capability. And so they’re, every day, pressing the envelope more and more and becoming, I think, better and better able to take on those ultimate challenges.
Again, I think that in the second tranche or transition, you’ll see several more districts within that area turn over their responsibilities. It’s a transition process; it’s not that one morning you’re going to wake up and all the coalition forces will be gone. It will rather be a slowly thinning out process to, hopefully, one day people will wake up and look around and say, “Gee, didn’t there used to be U.S. Marines around here?” That’s the kind of process that we see, a slow transition, not a lot of bells and whistles, not a lot of parades and drumbeating, because we don’t want to attract attention to it as much as just let that process take place.
Obviously, there’s risk in any military operation. The – one of the duties of a commander is to assess that risk and make decisions based upon that risk. If it’s acceptable risk, he takes action. If it’s unacceptable, he mitigates it. I think that my job, while I was there, was to set the conditions for transition to Afghan security, and I think that we did that in many areas. I think that General Petraeus, and I’m sure in close consultation with President Karzai and others, will make the ultimate decision as to when transition actually takes place within any geographic location. Obviously, if you pull out to early there is – there, again, the risk of the insurgent returning. However, I think that with the – again, with the capabilities we’re leaving in place, with the over-watch that will probably take place for some period of time, and with a fairly lengthy timeline still in front of us, I think that risk has been significantly mitigated.
MR. HOGAN: I just wanted to say – add one point to what the general said, because I think he made an excellent point. It’s also important to remember that the transition process, as the general said, is a gradual process. So specifically speaking, we’re talking anywhere from 12 to 18 months in terms of a province or a district beginning the transition period until, hopefully, based on conditions on the ground, of course, that process being completed. So there’s been a lot of work done, particularly by the Afghans, but also by ISAF, also by the civilian leadership in Kabul, as well as on the ground as to making sure that each phase of the transition process is met before you go on to the next phase. And so you’re looking for particular conditions.
And what we’ve always believed in – and the “we” I’m speaking here really is the international “we,” because this is something that was agreed to at the NATO summit in Lisbon in November of last year – was that this is a security-led transition, but in order for it to be irreversible, it must be underpinned by sufficient governance and development in each transitioning area. So the civilians working in partnership with the Afghans and with the military have a pretty onerous role here as well, as to making sure that those conditions are met on the ground as well.
MODERATOR: Okay. We’re going to break away and take a question from New York. Go ahead, New York. We will come back here.
QUESTION: Yes. Hi. I’m Janet Ekstract from The Turkish Journal. What I wanted to ask is – I have covered a lot of stories on women, for Afghan women who are doing a lot of work with the women in Afghanistan, building schools, things like that. I’d like you to address the issue, continuing issue as far as I understand it, with the Taliban and women wearing burqas and coverings. And what do you ultimately think will happen? And how can women be transitioned into a full place in Afghan society without having to have the risk of rape and domestic violence and military violence and Taliban violence? And how far back have you actually pushed the Taliban? And even in two to three years, when the Afghani security forces completely take over, can you absolutely ensure that this situation is going to be a democratic one, or are they – people still going to face this threat from the Taliban?
MR. HOGAN: I’ll start with a general point, and then maybe the general will want to follow on. I think that’s a great question, and it is something that we, the U.S. Government, is very much looking at and thinking about. And it’s part and parcel of our conversations with the Afghan Government when it comes to sort of what the end state is going to be. When I mentioned earlier in terms of sort of one of the conditions that we would envisage as being a relatively enduring political settlement, that being the respect for the constitution, included in that is that there’s not a move backwards in terms of the progress achieved thus far, including on the – on this very important issue of the advancement of women’s rights in Afghanistan. There’s been a lot of progress made there in terms of the number of schools, where girls’ participation, girls’ attendance is up, including in the RC Southwest area, and just women involvement in political life, in the election, of parliamentary elections, et cetera. We see that as being very important.
But that needs to be – all that needs to be put in context of the political settlement--must be an Afghan solution. There must be an Afghan solution to this political settlement. And so what that means for us is making sure that the Afghans understand what our particular concerns are, and not just our concerns, but the concerns of Afghans and the international community. But whatever is going to come out of that process, that it must be a process that sticks, that actually has traction in the Afghan political context. And so I can’t go into more specifics on that because this is, obviously, an evolving process. But please rest assured that is something that is on our minds.
GEN MILLS: I would just add at the local level the role of women is of considerable concern, and a lot of effort is placed into working with the local Afghan women. Let me give you some examples. First of all, there are Afghan women in Helmand province involved in the political process. Several of them sit on the provincial council as full voting members, and they travel around the province and visit their constituents. Afghan female participation in schools has risen significantly within the province over the past year, and a significant number of young ladies and young girls attend class on a daily basis. Some other programs have been instituted that, again, based on what it is the women of the province need, such as health clinics, midwifery classes, that kind of thing, which, again, will raise the very large concerns they have about female health issues.
All of this has been spearheaded by a program that we put in place – that was put in place before I got there, but we continue to expand – of Female Engagement Teams. Those are female United States Marines and Navy personnel, Navy Corpsmen personnel, who will get out and visit the women inside the compounds, will visit the women in their place of shopping and that type of thing, and engage with the women on what their concerns are, what their needs are, and how we can go about helping them to better fulfill their lives.
That has been remarkably successful, and in an indirect manner presents to the Afghan men a very solid image of what women contribute to Western society. They go into a village, they’re fully clothed in protective garb, carrying weapons. But when – during the meetings, when they take off their protective garb, it’s clear who they are, and it’s very fascinating, I think, to the Afghan men when they see coalition females in their combat mission, if you will. Second of all, I think it shows the – it presents a great example to them of what females can contribute to society across the board, and again, gives us great access into that kind of hidden half of the Afghan population that we as males can’t get to.
I think all that said, you have to be carefully conscious of the culture of the Afghan people and the culture of Islam, and you certainly have to be respectful of it. I think, ultimately, it becomes an education process, it becomes an Afghan process to change. And the best that we can do, again, is set the example, provide education, provide services, and establish a security situation on the ground which will be protective of all Afghan people, should there be any rebirth of the insurgency in years to come.
MODERATOR: We have time for just a few more questions. I’ll go to the gentleman in green.
QUESTION: My name’s Tim Fitzsimons from The Sunday Times, and I have two questions. Out of – regarding the recent prison breaks – I guess this is mostly for General Mills – Taliban claim that top commanders were released. And bearing in mind the usual uptick in violence each spring and the fact that the last time this happened there was also a corresponding uptick in violence, does this in any way complicate the June 2011 plans? And also are there names – have there been names released for who was broken out of the prison?
GEN MILLS: Having been out of the country for the last three weeks, I have not been privy to any of that information. I certainly not have been privy in the open press as far as anybody who might have – might possibly have been released. Any time you have a jailbreak of that nature, I mean, you have those people who are going to rejoin the insurgency, probably most of them, and again, that would provide – certainly not something a military commander likes to see. But it can be dealt with.
Regarding the upsurge and tick or in violence that traditionally comes with the springtime, we expect it. We expect a counterattack. The enemy has to counterattack. He’s been defeated every place – he fought a defensive battle last year and he lost it. He lost it every place he fought it. He’s got to come back in some way, shape, or form, or he’s in some serious trouble. Within Helmand province, the areas around Marja and Sangin are important to him for two reasons: one, psychologically; they are the center of the Pashtun community. They’re critical to the tribe. They have great psychological value to the enemy. He no longer controls those areas. Second of all, those were the areas in which he drew his resources from. He funds himself through the sale of drugs. He grows poppy, he process it into heroin, he moves it out of the country and sells it on the streets of New York, Paris, London, Hong Kong. He pollutes the world with that stuff, but that’s how he funds himself. So he has to come back and get it or he’s in serious resource problems.
So do I – do we expect to see an uptick in violence? Yes. What have we done to mitigate that uptick? Well, we waged a very effective winter campaign that was designed to keep the pressure on the enemy throughout the winter, a time when he traditionally goes to ground to recoup and rest. We didn’t give him that capability. Even his leadership, which generally goes out of the country to rest themselves and kind of take two weeks in Florida, if you will, they were called back early. Now, having been in the military for 36 years, I know that you don’t call your leadership back early off leave because things are going well.
Now, this is – these are signs that he is in some trouble. And so I would tell you that that pressure will, I believe, show itself in the springtime with a reduced enemy offensive. Again, our key is designed to how do we blunt what he’s going to try to do. And we don’t expect to have him have the same tactics that he’s had in the past. And we have done certain things – I won’t go into detail – to be ready for him when he – if he dares show his face on the battlefield.
When he shows his face again, he’s going to find a very different battlefield. He’s going to find a battlefield in which the Afghan army and the Afghan police force have risen in capability. They’ve been active this winter in raising their capabilities, raising their confidence, and getting out on the battlefield and getting fully confident in their abilities to face the enemy down. So when he arrives back this spring, he’s not going to find the same old Helmand province. He’s going to find a very, very different area and a very cold reception, I believe, by the people who live there.
MODERATOR: Okay. Let’s come down here.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Haykaram Nahapetyan with the Armenian TV. I would like to ask question about the countries that are going to increase the number of their soldiers and send more peacekeepers to Afghanistan because we know that several countries are withdrawing their troops or increasing the numbers – decreasing the numbers of their soldiers in Afghanistan, but there are some countries that are doing the opposite. And as far as I know, our government, the Armenian Government, is sending more troops. They’re going to be with a German formation, I think, in one of the combat zones. So if you can comment on the particular Armenian situation, and also about the main question: What other countries are going to send more peacekeepers to Afghanistan? Thank you.
MR. HOGAN: I’ll start off, and then let the general jump in. Generally speaking, we’ve – NATO has agreed to, I think, a very important principle. NATO ISAF allies and partners agreed to a very important principle, and that is in together, out together. A transition cannot be viewed to the Afghans or to the international community as an exit strategy, as a race for the exit door. And so when we look at our own assistance, both on the security side as well as on the civilian side, provided to the Afghan Government, it’s not about how much – by how much can we decrease over time. It’s about optimization. It’s about making sure that the roles and responsibilities that the Afghans are saying that they’re ready to take on, that we are shifting our resources and capabilities to be able to match that. And so when we hear countries, including your government, actually taking on increased responsibility, that is exactly the right sorts of things that should be taking place during this period.
So what we should see over the next months and years is a more clearly articulated plan that ISAF right now is very hard working on – diligently working on – is developing implementation plans for the provinces that are beginning the transition process and preparing action plans for those provinces and districts that are on the cusp of beginning the transition process. And so it’s the identification of the resource requirements of both for the implementation plans as well as for the action plans for those provinces that are beginning – that will begin to transition in the not too distant future, what are those requirements, both on the security side as well as on the civilian side.
And so as that gets laid out more clearly, the U.S., of course, with NATO and all of the NATO allies and partners, will be knocking on each other’s doors, basically saying, okay, how are we doing with being able to meet these resource requirements? So when governments such as yours say here we are ready to start this process now, that’s exactly what we’re looking for.
GEN MILLS: I would just add very quickly that all the contributing nations – their roles and responsibilities have been significant and they’ve done a tremendous job. I, unfortunately, didn’t have Armenians under my command. I believe they’re up north with the Germans. However, I did have a wide swath of coalition countries in addition to the Georgians I talked about earlier. I had the United Kingdom forces under my command, I had Estonians, I had Danes, I had UAE forces, I had Bahraini and Tongans, all of which played a very, very important role in our operations over the past year.
Some of them had unique qualifications, some of them were very much niche capabilities, but each of them was well received, each of them performed very, very well on the battlefield, and I was impressed by their willingness to participate, their professionalism, their good training, and the solid support they received from their home governments. So I would compliment any of those forces that are in Afghanistan right now, and I would – again, anybody who adds to that force, I think, is truly to be commended.
MODRATOR: We have time for one final question, perhaps from a country that hasn’t asked one.
Well, go ahead. Yes.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Yoshiki Kishida, Jiji Press, Japanese news wire service. First of all, I would like to ask how do you assess Japanese contribution to reconstruction in Afghanistan?
And after that, as you know very well, Japan was hit by a very big earthquake, and there is some anxiety that Japan’s role in playing a critical role in international society will be affected by this earthquake. And do you share same – the anxiety?
MR. HOGAN: Japan is truly a strong partner with the international community and the U.S. in Afghanistan. I mean, just the two things that come to my mind – although you are playing a role on so many different fronts – is the contribution, a very large contribution, to the salaries of the Afghan National Police, but also to the reintegration fund that was set up last year – again, a large contributor to that. So Japan’s role is significant indeed.
And of course, with the terrible tragedy of this – of the national disaster of the tsunami in Japan, of course there was some expectation that that would affect your contribution. And – but what we’ve seen thus far is steady commitment by the Japanese Government, that there is a commitment to continue their support to the Afghan National Police salaries as well as to the reintegration fund. They’re not only contributing, they’re actually leading in these areas, particularly when it comes to the reintegration trust fund. So thus far, I haven’t noticed and changes in the contribution and the leadership of the Japanese Government in Afghanistan and not expecting any. Thank you.
GEN MILLS: I would just add that, having been stationed in Japan for a year back in the 1970s, I have tremendous admiration and respect for the Japanese people, and I’d like to extend my personal condolences and my personal best wishes for recovery operations. I know the Japanese people are industrious, and I’m sure they’re already well at work restoring things. But again, I was very saddened to see that over in Afghanistan, and I know your contributions there have been noteworthy and continuous. And once again, having served in Iraq and now in Afghanistan, I’ve seen the contribution of the Japanese Government to world peace and stability, and I would compliment them strongly on that.
MODERATOR: Thank you all for coming. This event is now concluded.