Dept. of Defense Press Briefing by Gen. Dunford on Operations in Afghanistan, March 13, 2014

Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—March 13, 2014.

Presenters: Presenter: General Joseph F. Dunford Jr. (USMC), commander, International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan

GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD: First of all, thanks for coming. In fact, I’m almost surprised to see as many of you here as are here. I’ve been looking at the schedule here the last couple of days, and there’s been no shortage of — first of all, no shortage of hearings, and so I’m usually walking into a congressman or a senator’s office and somebody else is walking out, you know, from an immediate meeting or right after I’m coming in — coming out, somebody else is coming in.

But I did — that’s why I’m back. You know, I think one or two of you were there yesterday, did the SASC [Senate Armed Services Committee] yesterday and the HASC [House Armed Services Committee] today. And to be honest with you, I — because of the timing, I would have preferred to do this at a different time, with the elections on the 5th of April. But now that I’ve come back, I’m actually — I’m actually glad I did come back right now. It’s been a good opportunity.

I don’t need to tell you that we’re — there’s a lot of other things going on in the world besides Afghanistan. But this is a critical year, and a lot of decisions have to be made, and so, you know, the opportunity to have an informed dialogue on the Hill in particular is — is something that now I appreciate in retrospect, particularly after the last couple of days. And frankly, I was encouraged by the dialogue yesterday at the Senate Armed Services Committee and, again, today at the House Armed Services Committee. I mean, I think one of the things that I — I want to do is just make sure that, one, folks have an appreciation for where we are in the campaign in 2014. Many people have visited, but maybe if they visited in 2010, 2011, 2012, it was a — it was a different time, so to kind of bring them up to speed on 2014 was important to me.

And then, also, you know, one of the messages that I’ve had is to try to distinguish between withdrawal and a transition. You know, we’ve been in a process of transition now for a few years. And my assessment is that that transition won’t be complete at the end of 2014, so to have an opportunity to articulate what remains to be done in terms of transition and what the consequences are and the difference between a transition and withdrawal was good.

Obviously, for those that have followed Afghanistan, the elections are — are the main event right now, and we’re just weeks away on the 5th of April. And so I’ve talked about the elections from, really, three perspectives, the technical aspects of organizing the elections, which includes getting ballots out and those kinds of things, and then the security aspect of the elections, what are the Afghan forces doing? And then what a lot of people are interested in is the political piece, which is a little less — it’s very easy for me to talk with specificity about the first two aspects of the elections, a little more difficult to talk about the political aspects of the elections right now, particularly with, I think, more questions than answers, as you would expect in an election with, you know, three or four weeks ago.

But, anyway, I realize that we’ve got probably 45 minutes or so. And my assumption is that — that most of you — and I’ve seen many of you recently in Brussels, including just about a couple weeks ago, so I can go right into — into your questions, and that way we’ll get as many of you to have an opportunity to ask questions or not, and I — again, I would — I would just tell you upfront, I appreciate you coming.

The reason I wanted to do it in this format is, you know, I figured, in terms of the SASC and the HASC, many of the quick statements are already out there. What I appreciate — and what I’ve tried to do with most of you over the last year — is spend more time and put some of the issues in more context than sometimes you have an opportunity to do in a different — in different settings, so that was really the thought process.

Yes, sir?

Q: Thank you, sir. General, my name is Raghubir Goyal from India Globe and Asia Today. My question is that — of course, you have been doing a great job as far as Afghanistan general is concerned. Yesterday, when you testified in the committee that this transition or the Afghan problem cannot be solved without the cooperation from the Pakistanis, Pakistan government. But my question is, so far, how much Pakistan is cooperating with the U.S. as far as Afghanistan problem is concerned? Because Taliban and terrorists are still there, and bombings are still going on inside Pakistan. How can they (off mic) when they cannot solve the problems at home?

And, finally, sir, what would be the role of the Indian — India in the new transition? Thank you, sir.

GEN. DUNFORD: Well, I think you highlight the reason why Pakistan is so important, is I think it’s fair to say that Pakistan can’t solve the problem on their own, and clearly we can’t be successful in Afghanistan without Pakistan’s cooperation. And so what I really have seen over the past six or eight months in particular, if you look back the — start at the political level, Prime Minister Sharif and President Karzai have met four times since August. That’s kind of an unprecedented level of engagement between the two countries at that level.

We have a new chief of the army staff, Gen. Raheel Sharif. I’ve only met with him once now. I’ll meet with him again later this month. But he has come in and is focused on the issue of Afghanistan, as well.

And what I would say — you know, what’s different about today than maybe 18 or 24 months — 24 months ago, whatever people thought Pakistan was willing to do, able to do a couple years ago, I’m convinced that Pakistan sees extremism as an existential threat to Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan.

I’m convinced that Pakistan leadership now, the prime minister, the chief of the army staff, believe that it’s in Pakistan’s interests to have a stable, secure Afghanistan. And I think they no more want safe haven, sanctuary in Afghanistan with the TTP [Tehrik-e-Taliban] threatening Pakistan from Afghanistan than the Afghans want to threaten — have the Taliban, you know, have freedom of movement from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

Two areas of focus. One is the definition of extremism and the willingness to cooperate. And they’ve had meetings on that specifically. The two MOIs [Ministers of Interior] have now met. And then the broader border issue, which really addresses the political issue, the economic issue, and the security issue. And so I think using those two issues as kind of a framework for discussion in the next several months, you know, there is at least — I’m enthusiastic about the level of activity that’s taking place right now in the broader discussion.

And your other question about India, India clearly is one of Afghanistan’s closest partners. India’s support to Afghanistan is important, their economic support, their diplomatic support for Afghanistan, and I think they have played a positive role over the last couple months. They have not provided lethal aid to the Afghan national security forces, so as not to exacerbate tension between Pakistan, but they have provided some funding, they have allowed Afghans to come and participate in training in India, and provided some other economic assistance. So I think they’re an important part of the equation, as well.

Q: General, you talked a bit today about this sort of critical 102 days that you think you need through the end of the year in order to retrograde. And Gen. Dempsey has talked about his concerns that the longer this decision-making process goes on, the more you would be in the position of having to just do retrograde towards the end of — be — and be unable to do any other missions. Can you talk a little bit about, how would you mitigate that risk if, indeed, the decision is pushed further along toward the fall? How do you mitigate that? Do you need to preserve more troops there in order to make sure that you’ll have enough to do other missions? And how does that — what options can you look at for that?

GEN. DUNFORD: Sure. This is one of those questions that I’m glad to answer in a forum like this, because I can give you the — I can walk you through in great detail. First of all, though, I would tell you, with the BSA [Bilateral Security Agreement] delay, there’s five things that I typically think about and worry about with the BSA, and that’s number five. And I’ll answer that, because that’s your question, but, you know, number one is confidence inside of Afghanistan with the Afghan people, confidence of the Afghan security forces, mitigating the hedging behavior in the region, because regional actors don’t know where we’re going to be in 2015, and then coalition cohesion, which was — for those that were in Brussels, it was an encouraging defense ministerial, but I don’t take that for granted, and we have, you know, months to go in trying to maintain that cohesion.

It’s not just the willingness to provide troops, but it’s also the nations that made commitments in Chicago and Tokyo. I’m obviously mostly focused in Chicago. That’s the money that will pay for the Afghan security forces in 2015 and beyond and making sure that — that those commitments hold throughout 2014, because they’re going to need to be in place for us to be successful in 2015.

With regard to retrograde and redeployment, if — if I knew that we were going to withdraw in December of 2014, I wouldn’t be doing much different today than I am. And the reason is, we’ve kind of stabilized the force. We’re still doing some — we call it thinning the lines. We’re doing some activity, but the bulk of our redeployment of people and equipment has taken place over the last few months. Our focus now is on making sure that we’re set for the elections, so I would want to do that and set for the elections not just the day of the elections, but also the political transition following the elections.

When you start to get to — sorry, I thought someone was — (inaudible) — when you start to get to July, I feel — feel we can still manage providing decision space for both options. In other words, if we were going to withdraw, if we were going to have the NATO regional approach that we’ve all talked about a few times, or if we’re going to have anything in between, in July and August, most of the activity that I would do in those two months I can actually set ourselves up for success, no matter what decision is made. So we’re preserving decision space until September.

Here’s where September comes in and why we describe it as high risk in September. We went back and we did the math, and we said, all right, how much equipment do we have? How many airplanes can you land every day? How many airplanes do you need to lift this equipment out? How many people do we have? And so on and so forth. And we have about 102 days worth of work to do. So it takes about 102 days, and that’s — that’s taking home all the equipment, taking home the people, eliminating hazardous materials, taking care of all the unexploded ordnance, making sure that we’ve transferred the bases that we have properly over to the Afghans. That’s all about 102 days.

So when I talk about high risk in September, you know, I kind of take the physics part of the equation, and I say that’s 102 days. And then I say, well, there’s probably some friction that goes into this, too, friction being bad weather, aircraft maintenance, enemy issues, so what I’d want to have is some kind of a buffer.

And so what I’ve said to the leadership is, look, I’m pretty comfortable that up until September I can manage multiple options. It doesn’t mean I can’t manage multiple options after September. What it means is that my risk of conducting an orderly withdrawal — and I gave you kind of the components of an orderly withdrawal a minute ago — start to go up.

That doesn’t mean any of those things can’t be reversed. And, frankly, if a decision is made later than the 1st of September, we’ll clearly adjust. But we will have done some things that will either have to be reversed or will be – we’ll work much harder and probably less efficient, in terms of, you know, disposition of equipment and those kinds of things. We’ll make some — we’ll go back and redo some things that maybe we were planning on going one option and we’re going to a different option.

So that’s — that’s kind of where I come out with the high risk starting in September. Again, there isn’t a day when you say, if you don’t have a decision by this day, we can’t — we can’t accomplish the mission. No. There is a period of risk that starts in September that is benchmarked against, again, how many days do you need to actually close the theater down?

Does that get at your — that’s an important question, because —

Q: (off mic) certain point — I think General Dempsey suggested at a certain point you would be able to concentrate largely only on the retrograde mission as you got closer —

GEN. DUNFORD: The closer you get to 31 December, if — and if — if you don’t have a decision, the closer you get to — but you know you have to empty the theater if you’re directed to — so the closer you get to December, the more you have to do things that would allow you to make sure you meet that 31 December deadline. So I think that’s what Gen. Dempsey is talking about, is clearly you would then have to focus on retrograde and redeployment.


Q: I wonder if you can get into the Haqqani network. There’s been reports of a more concerted, coordinated effort to go after the network, you know, better intel [intelligence], coordination with the Afghans, and so forth. First of all, is that true? And then how important is it to move that forward between now and the end of December? And then getting beyond that, if you do have a counterterror mission in ’15, do you consider them part of that counterterror mix? Or is it just al-Qaeda?

GEN. DUNFORD: Okay. First, Tom, you know, without — without talking any operational details, I don’t think I’m the first individual who will probably tell you that Haqqani is the most virulent strain of the insurgency. It’s the greatest risk of the force and, frankly, from a high-profile attack perspective, perhaps the greatest risk to the campaign.

And so do we have a concerted effort to go after Haqqani? Yes. Are we always looking at ways to —

Q: … new and improved from what you had maybe six months ago —

GEN. DUNFORD: Well — well, I think that the — the Haqqani network has been more active in some ways over the last few months. And so, you know, we have energized our efforts accordingly. I don’t think there’s anything that we’re doing today that’s different than what we were doing before, but it may be more focused.

And also, I think it’s fair to say with our Afghan counterparts, as we look at the last several — several months, we had to protect the loya jirga, we had to protect the Islamic festival in Ghazni, we had to protect the political process. Haqqani, obviously, has come out publicly and said that they’re going to disrupt the political process and create high-profile attacks to create the perception of insecurity and adversely affect the elections.

And so as we’ve worked with our Afghan counterparts, we certainly have tried to make sure that we have a shared appreciation for the threat of Haqqani, in that not only are our operations focused on Haqqani, but our operations with the Afghans are focused on Haqqani. So that’s — that’s really what that has been about.

I mean, I — you know, that is guidance I gave after — you know, when — when you look at Haqqani’s high-profile attack threat streams, and you look at the consequences of those threat streams against what we’re trying to accomplish right now, clearly mitigating the risk of the Haqqani network is one of my priorities as a commander. And, in fact, it is one of my top three priorities as a commander. And that’s what you’ve seen over the last few months is really a matter of command emphasis as opposed to something different.

And I’ve also reached out to the interagency, because it’s a broader problem than just me dealing with Haqqani inside of Afghanistan. We obviously want to look at their freedom of movement. We want to look at their financing and so forth. And so there are others in the U.S. government that could help us in that regard, and that’s what we’ve tried to do.

With regard to your final point is, do we view them as, you know, part of — part of the counterterrorism effort in 2015? Our focus, our nation’s focus, the president’s guidance is al-Qaeda. To the extent that we would deal with Haqqani, we would deal with Haqqani as a threat to the force. In other words, the viability of our mission in 2015 to go after al-Qaeda is, obviously, inextricably linked to our ability to protect the force. Haqqani will be, in my mind, remain one of the biggest threats to the force, but largely we will try to deal with Haqqani by, with and through our Afghan counterparts. That’s the whole mission, is to grow the CT [counterterrorism] capacity of the Afghans, but where there is a gap — make no mistake about it — anything we have to do to protect the force we’re going to do that.

But two key points. One, no, we’re going to focus on al-Qaeda. Two, we’re going to do what we have to do to protect the force, and my assessment is part of protecting the force will be to address Haqqani.

Q: One last point. Are other government agencies helping out in (off mic)


Q: (off mic) Treasury beefing up its efforts to go after money, bank accounts (off mic)

GEN. DUNFORD: Yeah, as — there [are] a number of authorities and a number of efforts that have been going on for years. And so what we’ve done is, you know, we’ve done some internal analysis, we said, okay, how effective do we see our efforts in the following four or five areas? And we’ve identified areas where maybe — maybe we can crank up the heat a little bit, and so that’s actually been — that’s actually been what we’re trying to do.

So State, Treasury, all those folks have been working this for some time. The SRAP [Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan] has been particularly helpful, Ambassador Jim Dobbins has been particularly helpful in helping us coordinate — coordinate all this. But, look, to me, I’m a guy that measures effects, not effort. And so am I satisfied, am I complacent about the Haqqani threat today? No. So am I satisfied with what we’re doing as a force? No. Am I satisfied with what State and Treasury are doing? No.

So we’re going to — you know, again, I think, when the threat is mitigated and I’m comfortable, then I’ll stop trying to energize the process, and that’s kind of where we are.


Q: Joe Tabet with MBN Alhurra channel. In regards to the post-2014, if you look at now the 2015 period, do you have any concerns — let’s put it this way — how confident you are that the Afghan government will not collapse? How confident you are that a civil war will not erupt after 2014? And also, I would like to ask you, as you mentioned that you will — you will stay committed in countering terrorism after 2014, how much do you think the drones, military tactics would be effective to counter Haqqani or Taliban or al-Qaeda in the near future?

GEN. DUNFORD: Okay. Let me go to the government won’t collapse and civil war. Since the day I started preparing for this assignment, people have talked to me about a civil war, and so I’ve looked for indications of a civil war. I’ve looked for indications of ethnic divisions that would lead to a civil war.

I would just — I would just tell you, after now — just about 14 months — I haven’t seen that. And I’m confident that, if we have political transition in 2014, so we have elections, those elections will bring Afghanistan into 2015. I’m also confident the Afghan security forces are going to be capable of providing security in 2015 with the limited support that we anticipate providing.

So do I see the government collapsing in 2015? I don’t any indication of the government collapsing in 2015, and I don’t see any indication right now of ethnic divisions, such that it would lead to civil war. Again, my assumption is that we will have elections in 2014 and the Afghan security forces will continue to develop in the way that they have.

And just as a point, when people try to project, where will the Afghan forces be in 2015? When I took this job, we had over 100,000 forces coalition on the ground in Afghanistan. We’ve got about 45,000 today. Security hasn’t changed. You know, on the one hand, you might say, well, security hasn’t changed. I’d say, yeah, that’s exactly right, and it’s pretty extraordinary that it hasn’t changed, because the Afghans have provided security in 2013, we provided it in 2012, and it hasn’t changed.

And so when I project to what we’re going to see in 2015, I look at their performance at the loya jirga security, I look at what they’ve done during the registration process, I look at what they’re doing to secure the elections, and I feel pretty confident that they’ll be able to provide the degree of security necessary in 2015.

With regard to counterterrorism post-2014 and remotely piloted vehicles, drones, your word, I look at that as one tool of many that are available to us to accomplish a wide range of missions. That’s not a solution to the problem of terrorism. Remotely piloted vehicles are one of the tools that’s available to us to conduct kinetic operations, to conduct strikes, but that’s clearly not the solution to terrorism. If it was, we wouldn’t have the challenge today.

Yes, sir, Phil?

Q: Two questions. One, first on yesterday at the hearing, Sen. Graham had made a comment about how the room — the hearing room was kind of empty, that there weren’t a lot of people there.


Q: And you’ve also fielded some pretty tough questions from — at least one very strong question from a critic of the war.


Q: You know, could you just step back for a second and — and how does it feel to be — how is it for you as a commander of the war effort to — to deal with that kind of question and be in a hearing room where, you know, perhaps your predecessors had a lot more attention on the war effort, and you’re in a very critical moment of this war? Just walk us through that is — how it is for you.

And then also, separately on — getting back to the issue of the — of the loss of confidence that might be seen among Afghan forces, I mean, has that registered? Has there been any increase in desertions? I asked you about this before once, but at that point there hadn’t been. Has there been any tangible impact from this period of uncertainty on the Afghan forces?

GEN. DUNFORD: Let me come to the first — the last part of your question first and just talk about confidence. Interesting. One of — one of the second-order effects of the recent conversation between President Obama and President Karzai, and then the subsequent defense ministerial, was the message that the Afghan people heard, which was, hey, the BSA can be signed by the next president.

So in actuality, when I went back to Afghanistan, I was actually taken aback by how enthusiastic people were about what happened in Brussels and by the conversation between the two presidents. So the message that they heard in Afghanistan was, hey, there is not a specific deadline, it doesn’t have to be signed by President Karzai, so there’s actually hope and, you know — Afghans, after 30 years at war, are pretty resilient people. And so, you know, from their perspective, this was — this was actually good news.

The — to the whole idea of the empty room yesterday and so forth, here’s my perspective as a commander, is that, you know, we’ve still got 30,000 — 33,000 young men and women in harm’s way in Afghanistan doing what I think is some amazing work. And I think the results speak for themselves.

So would I want their story to be told? Yes. Would I want there to be more interest in what they are doing? Yes. Would I want some of them to be household names as a result of what they’re doing? There’s no question about it.

Being a glass half-full guy, when I talked about, you know, kind of not wanting to come back this week, the empty room yesterday, you know, there wasn’t a lot of people watching, but there were 11 members of the media there. And there was a fair amount of coverage, more probably than I’ve seen in the last several months in the past 48 hours about Afghanistan, and much of it, you know, I thought pretty accurately captured the dialogue that took place, and so the message was out.

So would I want more people to have been in the room yesterday? Only insofar as would I want there to be reflected more interest in the mission. There’s little doubt about that.

You mentioned the one senator who — you know, his constituents aren’t supportive of the mission. But I would tell you, that was one senator, and overwhelmingly the rest of the senators all — even those — look, no one wants to be in Afghanistan forever. But all the senators yesterday, I thought, in a very thoughtful way, understood that we need to transition properly, you know? So we can argue about how to transition, but I didn’t hear any argument — and this is important — I didn’t hear anybody argue yesterday that what we should do is transition and not withdraw. Huge difference.

Withdraw, you cut your losses, you leave, and you just leave Afghanistan to their own devices, and I suppose you use then hope as a method for the threat of al-Qaeda. Or you transition and you complete the work that we’re doing, you continue to develop the Afghan national security forces, and you maintain an effective counterterrorism posture in the region to mitigate the very real threat. I felt like yesterday’s Senate Armed Services Committee discussion led to the latter, as opposed to the former conclusion, and the same exact reception today in the House Armed Services Committee.

So, you know, again, I was — I actually am going back to Afghanistan, and when I talk to the troops, when I go back, I’m going to say, look, I know you’ve heard a lot about the war is not popular back home, you’ve seen the Gallup polls, you’ve seen the media, but I just spent the last two weeks on the Hill in individual office calls and now tomorrow will be the third of three hearings, and, frankly, I’m going back encouraged because I recognize that people look at the mission as difficult. They know some hard choices have to be made. They know it’s going to be costly in 2015. They know there’s competing demands. But they also recognize the consequences of not getting it right.

And I felt like, whether people agree or disagree with the methodology, I feel like there’s a very strong, very strong support for actually getting it right in Afghanistan, and that actually is what I’ve tried to — really, what I’ve tried to discuss when I get back.


Q: Could you sort of walk us through the process by which this deterioration would occur if there were no U.S. troops, no NATO troops, in Afghanistan

GEN. DUNFORD: Oh, absolutely.

Q: Does pay go first and then everybody goes home? Does fuel go first? What — how (off mic)

GEN. DUNFORD: No, that’s — that’s another one of those questions that I’m actually glad to have the opportunity — look, I feel pretty good about — we’ve doubled the size of the Afghan forces since 2009, and as I’ve said before, the only unilateral operations we’re conducting are for our own security, sustainment, and redeployment. And the Afghans are doing everything else.

But here’s — the truth of the matter is that this year in particular, you know, we have a significant — we call a class nine, spare parts. And we are doing today what I would describe as capability substitution. In other words, when the Afghan system isn’t delivering sufficient spare parts, we’re stepping in, and we’re helping to make sure that those spare parts are delivered. And I don’t mean the actual delivery to spare parts. I mean the acquisition process to get them into Afghanistan. They’re certainly capable of distributing from that level.

So, David, in 2015, my assessment is that, if you start with — and you all cover the building — but you think about a part has to be delivered to a young mechanic down in the motor pool someplace. Up here, somebody has to anticipate how many parts have to be ordered 18 to 24 months from now. Somebody else has to know how to write a contract, do the acquisition, and then somebody else has to do planning, program and budgeting.

So you think about all those functions that have to happen before the part is delivered. Those processes are not in place, and my assessment is that they will not be mature by the end of 2014. So one of the first things that starts to happen is, spare parts aren’t delivered and equipment readiness starts to go down. Ammunition is another area that we’re still involved in. Pay systems, we’re making progress, but there’s still a lot of work to do still to clean up the pay system. And the personnel management, personnel management is something as simple as if you have 300 people trained to be explosive ordnance disposal people, those 300 people need to be in the right place doing explosive ordnance disposal, and so you have to have some process that manages that, and there’s several other occupational fields that are obviously equally critical.

So the short answer is, I think you’ll see a deterioration of Afghan capability as a result of fuel shortages, as a result of spare parts, as a result of pay challenges. And then when you look at what the Afghans are doing in terms of sustainment, they — we are managing — and we’re in a process this year of transitioning those contracts — we manage countless contracts that do everything from feeding the troops at a forward operating base to taking care of their services at a forward operating base, and transitioning in those contracts so someone can maintain it so the food truck actually shows up at the right time and they actually have the water truck show up and all — or the sewage truck and all those things, those are all the things that the Afghans need to be able to manage.

And as an example, just this month, we’re in the process of transferring over the fuel contracts, so there will be a — there will be a transition period. And I think that transition period will extend into 2015. Does that get at the point you were trying to get at?

Q: Well, you said on the — on the Hill that the only debate is the —

GEN. DUNFORD: The pace.

Q: — the pace.

GEN. DUNFORD: The pace of deterioration.

Q: What’s your own opinion?

GEN. DUNFORD: My own assessment is that the Afghans would have a very difficult time in the summer of 2015, because some of these — some of these shortfalls would manifest themselves in the summer of 2015 during what is the traditional period of high operational tempo.

Yes, ma’am?

Q: Can you try to shed some light on President Karzai? I know you can’t speak for him, but he’s agreed to sign the BSA.


Q: The loya jirga has agreed to it. All of the candidates have agreed to it. You guys are all saying we need it, we need it, you know, as soon as possible so that we can help your army and help ours. What are — what are we missing here?

GEN. DUNFORD: Right. What — all I can tell you is what he says, not what he thinks, so I’ll answer the question by talking about what he says, and what he says is that he wants to be sure that there’s a viable peace process in place before he signs the bilateral security agreement. In his mind, there’s a possibility that once we sign the bilateral security agreement that our incentive for making sure there’s a stable, secure, unified Afghanistan would be reduced as a result of signing the BSA, because we would have what we want, but we wouldn’t have helped deliver what he wants, which is peace.

And so President Karzai has said to the United States, look, I’ll sign the BSA when there’s a viable peace process and we believe that you can, the United States, work with Pakistan and Pakistan and the United States can exert enough pressure on the Taliban to actually bring them to the peace process.

Now, I would tell you that if our nation could bring the Taliban to the peace process, we would do that. My own assessment is that the conditions aren’t necessarily set right now for the Taliban to come to the peace process, because they believe we’re leaving at the end of 2014, and so their incentive — that’s right. We basically have — almost the Taliban have a veto over the BSA, if you follow the logic, and so that’s — but I do think that President Karzai sincerely wants to initiate the peace process while he’s the president. I think that is his main focus, is to bring the Taliban into a viable peace process, and he believes by not signing the BSA, he’ll incentivize the United States and Pakistan to try to do that. Again, I believe we would have done that if we could. It’s not that we’ve stopped trying.

Yes, sir?

Q: General, you mentioned the 102-day timeframe for an orderly retrograde. If the northern distribution network is shut down because of the Ukraine crisis, does that extend that timeline at all?

GEN. DUNFORD: It does not. It does not. You know, we have a lot of ways to meet that 102 days. I mean, the one thing — the United States Transportation Command and the United States Central Command have really done for us a phenomenal job of building resiliency into the lines of communication. And so that 102 days — and I’m not going to go into great detail operationally here, but I would just tell you that that’s — that’s under any circumstances. In other words, we can — there’s a number of ways we can get that 102-day requirement met, and I’m pretty comfortable. And it does not require cooperation from Russia, certainly.

Q: But it would be more costly without that cooperation?

GEN. DUNFORD: There is a cost. I’ll just — just to give you kind of a figure, if — this is based on the equipment that would — that would exist in late 2014, the difference between multi-modal, and that’s flying the equipment from Afghanistan to the Gulf States and then putting it on a ship, we call that multi-modal, and, you know, maximizing the use of the ground lines of communication, through Karachi, as an example, is, and I’ll get the exact figure — so about $300 million to $400 million. Not insignificant. I’m not dismissing $300 million to $400 million, but the total cost is somewhere about $3 billion to $3.1 billion to retrograde the force using Pakistan, and it’s about $3.4 billion, maybe $3.5 billion if we were — if were to have to rely on multi-modal. So, I don’t think that’s significant enough to cause us difficulty if a decision were to be made, whatever decision is going to be made.

Q: But right now, you don’t have the Pakistan route either, fully right now, do you?

GEN. DUNFORD: The northern line of communication, which had been closed at the Torkham gate due to some political protests by the PTI [Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf] party in Pakistan is over, and so the Torkham gate is now open, as is the southern. We were actually able to, without taking too much time, someone else had a question, but we had typically a movement of about 15 pieces — 15 trucks a day through the south before the Torkham gate was closed, and we doubled our output through — through the Chaman gate, and we were able to compensate for that.

In fact, we are now caught up as we — we had the northern gate was closed for about six or eight weeks, and as a result of some other, alternative means of moving equipment out, we’re actually caught up to where we wanted to be by — by this month.

In the back row, there.

Q: General, going back to your exchange with Sen. Graham, there was a back and forth, and you had made the point…

GEN. DUNFORD: Well, he’s a prosecutor, he goes pretty fast. So I’m not sure I — I’m not sure I got it all, but…

Q: Right, well, that’s kinda what I wanted to ask. At the end of that exchange, there was sort of a statement where you would agree that the cost to maintain a post-war force, whatever that force size may be, would be less than committing to, going through a complete U.S. withdrawal, you know, zero option, that sort of thing. Can you walk me through as far as how that’s…

GEN. DUNFORD: We’re talking about the cost of not mitigating the risk of al-Qaeda and having a second 9/11 versus the cost of remaining in Afghanistan and properly transitioning to mitigate that risk, and I based that on, and you all have written the articles that I’ve read, I’ve read somewhere and again, I don’t — these are not my figures, so I’m just giving you as a figure of speech, but in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, it was $400 billion – $500 billion was the cost to our economy, and so forth. And so, whatever it was, whether it was $100 billion or $500 billion, it was a significant cost in the wake of 9/11, not to mention the human cost.

And so, when I was talking to Sen. Graham, it was absolutely in the context of not mitigating the threat of al-Qaeda in — in assuming the risk of a subsequent attack.

Q: There was also mention of some of the numbers agreed to in Chicago as far as, you know, what the — what the financing would be from the U.S. side…

GEN. DUNFORD: Yeah sure, I can — I can talk to that. Just real quickly. In Chicago, the — the donors committed to $4.1 billion in Chicago. That $2.7 billion of that is U.S. [funding]. My assessment is that because of the size of the force today, and the size of the force in 2015, the cost of the force would be $5 billion. So, when he said, “How much does it cost in 2015?” I said, “Senator, it’s $5 billion for the Afghan national security forces program, and then I can’t talk to the cost of the mission overall: State Department, other government agencies, and then whatever size mission we have, because I don’t have that — I don’t have the mission yet, so we haven’t — we don’t have the cost data.” So, I would — the only thing I was able to talk to with — with certainty was the cost of the Afghan security forces.

I didn’t ask you yet.

Q: (inaudible) yesterday and today, you’ve emphasized the danger of not having a counter-terrorism force and that could potentially lead to a resurgence of al-Qaeda, and you even tied it back to a possible threat to the United States. I’m wondering what kind of planning are you doing in — in the event that there is no BSA, there is no troops on the ground in Afghanistan. What kind of contingency planning are you doing to try and keep some sort of a counter-terrorism force in that region?

GEN. DUNFORD: Sure. The best I can tell you is that if we didn’t have a counter-terrorism platform in Afghanistan, we would obviously do all we can to continue to mitigate the threat. So, we’re talking in details about operationally, how we might do that — I’m not gonna — I’m not gonna do that. But we certainly — we certainly would not — if we fail to have a effective counter-terrorism partner and platform, platform meaning our ability to operate from Afghanistan in 2015, we would not concede the threat of Al Qaida to the United States, even if we start reconstituting in the region, we would take other measures to mitigate that threat, and it wouldn’t just be U.S. forces in Afghanistan. It would clearly be in Gen. Austin’s lane, as the commander of U.S. Central Command and also Special Operations Command.

So, all I can tell you is we do, and we will continue to plan for other eventualities. I mean, it’d be — it’d be unprofessional not to do that, but I certainly wouldn’t share the details with you.

Q: But you said several thousand forces, additional…

GEN. DUNFORD: No, no, no. That was — no, that was — that was if we do have a post-’14 mission. The only numbers I’ve talked about, and what I really was trying to do, was put in context that, you know, the only — the only guidance that we have on record right now is the consistent guidance I’ve received from NATO over the last 13 months. And of course, the United States, our secretary of defense, both Secretary Panetta and Hagel were there and endorsed that on behalf of our government. So, we’re planning the 8,000 to 12,000 NATO-train, advise, assist mission in the — in the four corners of the country.

As a separate mission, would be a counter-terrorism mission, and I actually — it was an unfortunate phrase I used to say a few thousand. That — that, a few means three, and no, that’s not what I — that’s not what I was referring to. But there would be some thousands of troops over and above the TAA [train, advise, assist] mission, specifically for counter-terrorism. And I’m not prepared to tell you the exact number of those forces, but it would be over and above whatever the U.S. contribution would be to the 8,000 to 12,000.

So, that’s really what I was trying to do yesterday was distinguish between two missions. One, we would resource for NATO, specifically for the growth of the Afghan forces, and then there would be another mission that we resource largely United States. Could be a coalition of willing. There are other nations with high-end special operations capability that might be willing in 2015 and beyond to participate, but that would be a separate mission with — with more forces than the 8,000 to 12,000.

Q: One quick follow-up on that, so this counter-terrorism force, would that be constrained by the same rules that apply to the BSA? Because one of the elements of the BSA is that the Afghan troops have to be in the lead in times of carrying out missions and strikes. Would that be the same rules that apply for that…

GEN. DUNFORD: There is, there is, in the BSA, our ability to conduct operations, counter-terrorism operations, there’s a recognition that that’s what the United States needs to do. Even today, none of the operations that we’re doing, to include the high-end special operations I would describe as unilateral. I mean, we’re in Afghanistan. So there’s at least, at the minimum, there’s a degree of cooperation. And in most cases, and in all cases when there’s actually forces on the ground, it’s Afghan forces that are there. The preponderance of forces on any mission on the ground today is Afghan, and I would expect that would continue to be the case after 2015. That doesn’t — that doesn’t preclude us from doing things that we are uniquely capable of doing, but my assumption is that the framework within which we will conduct counter-terrorism operations in 2015 will be very much in partnership with Afghanistan, and that’s the point of 2015, is, we need a couple of things.

In addition to our support, continued support to grow Afghan security forces, we need an effective, a viable counter-terrorism partner, and we need the ability to operate from Afghanistan to do the things that we’re uniquely capable of doing in the fight against terrorism.


Q: There’s been a lot of talk about Afghanistan’s neighbor to the east in the role of Pakistan. Could you cast your eye westward?


Q: Do you see Iranian economic and political influence in Herat and the other western regions as a stabilizing influence overall, and what do you see as Iran’s long-term goal regarding undermining the BSA or supporting it, and why?

GEN. DUNFORD: Thom, I’m going to — I would veer into a lot of speculation if I answered that question completely, and I’m, you know, kind of hesitant to do that. If you want to talk about economic interest in the country, I find it hard to be concerned about anybody who’s interested in making an investment in Afghanistan right now. So, any economic activity I would view on balance as positive, you know, to help grow the Afghan economy.

My assessment is, and this, now, I’ll give you a second-hand version of what the Afghans who visit Iran and talk to Iran think is clearly that Iran is not interested in the U.S. having a long-term presence in Afghanistan. That’s not news. But, I also believe that in the near-term, Iran is not interested in anarchy and chaos in — in Afghanistan, and so the answer that the Iranians — and this is probably the best way for me to answer your question — . the answer the Iranians gave to the Afghans is, “we recognize your sovereign right to do what you think you must do in order to provide security for your country.” That was far from a veto. And it was more, I think, a reluctant recognition that Afghanistan could not provide security for themselves, that there was still work that remains to be done, and I haven’t seen any indication that Iran is willing to step up and fill the void were we to leave at the end of 2014.

Yes sir?

Q: General, I want to please ask you to go back to your Afghan soldier in the motor pool who needs a part, and your discussion about the…

GEN. DUNFORD: It’s one of my favorite conversations; will probably the bore the other 39 people here, but go ahead.


Q: A supporting network is one of the things you and Gen. Austin, when he was in town, have both said needs the most work for the ANSF [Afghan National Security Force]. And I want to ask you to flip that situation on its head from your discussion before. If American forces can’t stay there, if our support doesn’t continue, how long will it take for the ANSF, in your judgment to get to the point where G.I. Joe Afghan in the motor pool can get the part and they’ll have the ability to do the back-end support to the degree they need to to sustain themselves?

GEN. DUNFORD: That’s — that’s a fair question. And I’m not sure I can give you a specific answer, but I can give you the framework that I’m using to kind of assess that. At the end of the day, just to be clear, when we talk about regional platforms, and if you don’t mind, I’m going to explain this a little bit, because it might put in context your question, and frankly, a lot of other questions I get. What are we trying to do at that regional platform? We’re not — we’re not — and those are the Afghan corps, so there are six Afghan corps around the country and one division, so we’d be providing at the corps level, that’s the senior field organization in the Afghan army, we’d have some advisers there. What’s the real purpose of those advisers to be there?

Because, we’ve looked at — I described that part, right, so let’s call that one process. And for that — that part to be delivered, there’s a critical path, and then there’s critical nodes along that critical path, and so we’re trying to develop maturity in those critical nodes. One node is, you know, to acquire the part. One node is to pay for the part. One node is to warehouse the part and to have visibility. Another node is to distribute that part. Well, the corps is kind of a critical connection, so that we’re actually making sure that the work that has to be done at the ministerial level, that I described to you earlier, planned program budget acquisition, actually results in a warehouse full of parts. So the critical node there is this corps level.

So, we’re maturing those processes. And there’s about — I talked that the part is one. We’ve — we’ve got about 70 processes, and that’s the function of our train, advise, assist effort in 2015 is to take advisers no longer to be doing combat advising on Afghan units, but to actually own these processes end to end so that we have kind of a network of advisers that can help their Afghan counterparts mature these processes. My assessment is that many of those processes, probably by the end of 2014, will start to have momentum where it’s Afghan sustainable, and others, you know, will take longer than that, take into 2015 and potentially beyond.

If I were to look at the one that will probably take the longest, and that’s probably the best I can do in fixing a timeline — if I look at the Afghan aviation enterprise, so there’s many processes associated with that, we assess that 2017 is when our work with the Afghan air force will be complete. Now, before you start saying it’s 2017 before that — you know, some of the things we’ll be doing with the Afghan air force [for example] will be conducting pilot training in the United States, training mechanics, helping with the information technology system so they can anticipate requirements and order parts in a timely manner, and those kinds of things.

So, at that point, we’re not talking about a large presence. In fact, some of the tasks that I’m talking about can be done with a security cooperation office of hundreds of people [and] with exercises and rotations of forces. My assumption is that we have vital national interests in the region, and we’re not talking ever about leaving the region. We’re talking about our presence in our engagements transitioning over time to look different. So, as these 70 processes mature, again, I think most of them are, in my mind, are probably 12 – 24 months. If you look at the period of quantity, we’re out of the period of quantity. We’re into the period of quality, and many of the things that we’re working on will be done at the end of this year. The four that I identify that are of most concern in 2015 and beyond is the intelligence enterprise, so that’s one of the — you know, that’s one of those 70 processes. There’s actually several processes associated just with intelligence: special operations, the aviation piece, and then, again, making that connection between the ministerial level and the tactical level, and I think in that regard, I feel pretty good that we’ll be able to do that in 2015 because most of the focus today is actually Afghan leaders.

If there’s a problem in the Afghan army today, if there’s a pay problem, if there’s a supply problem and so forth, it’s actually not my problem. It’s first and foremost, it’s an Afghan leader’s problem. Now, they may come to me, as they frequently do, and say, “Look, we tried to work through this one. We need a little bit of help,” and so we’ll do that. But in terms of owning this whole enterprise, and the whole problem, I gotta tell ya, and — all of you are invited, some of you have been over there recently — the change in the last 12 months in terms of who owns the problem has been profound.

And I always tell people that I could talk physical things all day, but the most impressive thing to me in the time I’ve been in Afghanistan is the sense of responsibility and accountability of Afghan leaders. That’s actually — because they know if the security fails for the elections, it’s the minister of interior who’s responsible for that. If fuel doesn’t get distributed, the first guy that’s worried about it, and typically getting in an aircraft and going down and finding out what happened is not me. It’s Minister Mohammadi and Gen. Karimi, the minister of defense and chief of the army staff, respectively.

So, again, aviation’s probably the outlier in 2017, and everything else, by the way, doesn’t start in 2015, we’ve already started. So, in my mind, I’ve still got 9 months of 2014 with a pretty credible, capable force to help mature some of these processes, but as I look at time and space, I just think some of them are going to naturally spill over into 2015.

Yes ma’am, in the back.

Q: Thanks. What security threats could derail the upcoming election, and what are you doing to mitigate that now, and then what is there a chance that the incoming president would not sign the BSA? Would the Taliban have a veto over that person?

GEN. DUNFORD: Sure, that’s a great question. Let me — let me answer the second part of it first and that’s you know, any chance the new president wouldn’t sign it. You know, the one thing I think we’ve seen in Afghanistan is kind of a burgeoning democracy, and they’ve actually done much of the campaigning publicly to include on television, and all of the leading candidates have now publicly said to the Afghan people, “I support the BSA, and if I become the president, I would sign it.” Now, you’d ask yourself, why would they do that? Well, they wouldn’t do that if it didn’t have an appeal to the electorate, so that tells me that the chances of getting a signed BSA by a new administration are very good.

And I — and that’s based on a couple things. One is the unanimous decision by the loya jirga, the unanimous position by the credible Afghan presidential candidates, and the polling, much of which is done by Tolo News, you’re probably all familiar with that, you know, I think probably one of the top three, anyway, media organizations in Afghanistan. And their polling runs somewhere between 67 percent and 80 percent of the Afghan people think the BSA ought to be signed. So, my sense is the BSA will be signed.

With regard to threats, you said, what are we doing? Well, the first point I want to make is I’m not responsible for security of the elections. I’m supporting the minister of interior who’s responsible, and the minister of defense is supporting him, and so the primary security organization is the NDS [National Directorate of Securtity], the Afghan intelligence organization, the MOI, and the MOD [Ministry of Defense]. We’re actually providing — we’ve provided very limited logistical support in the distribution of materials. The vast majority of that was done by Afghans, and we’ll provide you know, some ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] capability, some quick reaction force capability, perhaps some close air support capability if the Afghans need that during the elections, but they will support the elections.

We know that both the Taliban and Haqqani as a subset, if you will, of the Taliban, are absolutely determined to disrupt the elections. They said it publicly. You saw the statements that came out on the 10th of March. We’ve seen — we’ve seen indications of that for some months now. They fear the elections. They don’t want them to be conducted. They fear inclusive elections. They don’t want that to happen.

And so what the Afghan security forces have been doing is an extraordinary job of going into the traditional enemy support zones and conducting operations to dislocate the enemy. I’ll give you an example. They conduct about 20 to 25 operations a week, the Afghan security forces. The historical norm during the winter months is about 10. So they’re, you know, when you say what are they doing? Their degree of operation tempo is more than twice what it typically is during the winter months, because they realize this is not the non-fighting season. It’s the winter fighting season. The nature of the fight is different, but it’s still a fighting season, so they’re setting the conditions in that regard to make sure the enemy are not in a position to disrupt the elections.

They also will probably about a week or 10 days, two weeks before the elections, have their kind of security posture set, and they’re in a process now of doing final rehearsals and coordination and so forth. And again, we’re playing a very, very minor role in the security of elections. And the last point to that is that in 2009, we had 250,000 forces securing the elections. That’s a combination of coalition and Afghan alike. There’ll be 425,000 troops supporting security for the elections this year, and that’s just Afghan army, Afghan police, and Afghan local police, and out of those 425,000, 375,000 are in those three categories, with the balance being the 45,000 NATO forces. So, this is — this is in reality an Afghan issue, to secure the elections.

COL. LAPAN: Sir, we have time for one or two more.

GEN. DUNFORD: Yes sir?

Q: For another exchange you had yesterday up at SASC was about the MRAPs [Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected],


Q: I wasn’t quite talking about something that $10,000 to destroy them on the ground, $50,000 to bring them home. What’s the situation? How many you got left? How many you bringing home?

GEN. DUNFORD: Sure. Tom, isn’t it? (off mic) Richard. There’s 4,000 vehicles in Afghanistan today that the services have identified as excess defense articles, at least initial assessment. What that means is — is the service has looked to the future and they looked at the requirements, and they look at resetting the force. They have identified to me what do they need to get home. And there’s 4,000 vehicles that they’ve said, “those aren’t part of our long-term plan.” Of those 4,000 vehicles, and I’ll get you the exact number, but I think it’s 1,239 MRAPs are part of those 4,000 vehicles. We are not — we are not destroying any of those vehicles right now. Some months ago, I said, just make sure that we don’t destroy any good vehicles. The vehicles that we’re destroying in Afghanistan today are those vehicles that are battle-damaged to the point where they cannot be replaced or — or restored as more properly.

So, what are we doing today? And this is what I tried to explain to Congress. One, we’re going back to the services to make sure that the requirements are clear and that we’ve actually met the requirements, and then number two, we’re working with our partners to include those in the region and potentially those that have participated in operations with us over the last 10 years to see if they can use some of these vehicles, and that we can provide them to them.

One of the challenges with that is a rule that we have to live by, which is, any equipment that we provide to our partners is on an as-is, where-is basis. In other words, I can’t pay to move it, and I can’t pay to fix it. So, if a country wants one of those 4,000 vehicles, they have to come and get it in the current condition that it’s in. That’s — that’s the rules. It’s — it’s because the United States is not going to invest more money in a vehicle that we’re not going to use.

So that’s — you know, I think there was some perception yesterday that we were today destroying perfectly good vehicles and not bringing them home. The cost figures, and I’ll go back and make — to be honest with you, there’s a — you know, I’m just going to be up front with you, I have a range of cost estimates right now that run somewhere as low as a couple thousand up to $10,000, so I’ve said it’s somewhere up to $10,000 to destroy one of these vehicles, and I’m going to get better refinement of those numbers over time.

And I also have a range of numbers of what it costs to actually move the vehicle some place in all, all of the estimates are $50,000 or more. So, my initial framing of the problem is, that if I bring a vehicle home that I don’t need, I pay $50,000 for it, and then I have to maintain it when it comes home, or I could destroy it in Afghanistan for a fraction of that cost. So, what will I do if I can’t give it to another country?

So, this is an issue that is not — is not closed. I’m still working through it, and another one of those, I’m glad to have a chance to talk, probably a little more at length than I might have yesterday. Does that get at your question, Richard?

Q: Yes sir.

GEN. DUNFORD: Yeah. Yes sir?

Q: Thank you. Can you give us anymore granularity on the kinds of vehicles and the countries that potentially would receive some of these?

GEN. DUNFORD: All right. Well, 1,239 of them are MRAPs. A number of them are humvees. Those are, you know, probably some medium trucks. But, it’s a — it’s kind of a high — and I said vehicles. That’s actually — some equipment is in that 4,000 as well. But the biggest number, and the thing that’s probably the — the most cost is the — is the MRAPs themselves. And in terms of countries, you know, certainly Pakistan is interested in MRAPs, Afghanistan is interested in MRAPs. And other countries, all the other COCOMs [combatant commanders] are working with the other countries. So, I don’t — this is not something that I — I will personally manage from U.S. forces, Afghanistan. In other words, once we’re done making sure the services get back home — that is my job. My job is to get home the equipment that the services want. And then, I’ll properly dispose of the remaining equipment based on the instructions I get. Either it’s going to go to some other country or it’s going to be destroyed in Afghanistan. So, I don’t — I don’t have visibility today on which countries might be — might be negotiating for some of these vehicles.

Q: Is it likely that some of the, I don’t want to say weaker allies, but some of the smaller militaries that have been working with us, Georgia comes to mind, would be, you know, kinda first in line for that sort of thing.

GEN. DUNFORD: Well, you know, I won’t make the decision on who’s first in line, but I — I assume that they would be interested. Yeah, for sure. In fact, I’ve talked to — to be honest with you, I’ve talked to their defense minister personally, and he absolutely is interested in some of the equipment coming out of Afghanistan.

I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll take one more question. Yes sir, in the back.

Q: A follow-up on India. You said India has denied providing lethal aid to Afghanistan. There’s a long list Afghanistan has asked from India. But India is also providing helicopters to Afghanistan.


Q: Do you have, and how do you see (inaudible) sticking together? And secondly, do you see any chance of Karzai still signing the BSA before the elections?

GEN. DUNFORD: OK. Let me, first of all, I didn’t say that the Indians have denied. I don’t think — I don’t think I used that word, they denied. I said, they have not to date provided lethal aid, and their ambassador has come out publicly and said why. And India has provided helicopters and other support to the Afghan security forces, as well as — as well as training. I’m an eternal optimist, so, you know, I don’t know that President Karzai will sign it, but I’ll certainly be happy if he does.

I stopped — I stopped prognosticating about what might happen and what might not happen on the BSA about six or eight months ago, so I don’t know. I feel optimistic that it’s going to be signed at some point, and I — again, the overwhelming majority of the Afghan people want it to be signed. But whether President Karzai would sign it sometime between now and the time he was — that he was no longer in office, I have no idea. Because, if the condition of establishing the peace process remains, I don’t personally see a path towards a viable peace process in the near term. I think President Karzai would not be the president before that. Okay.

Hey, thanks a lot. We’ll see y’all later. You all have an open invitation to come and see us.