AFGHANISTAN—(ENWESPF)—March 10, 2013.
GENERAL JOSEPH F. DUNFORD: I — I spoke to at least half the crowd in Brussels and kind of gave background and — and I realize it’s a relatively slow news day here in Kabul and is — is not actually much you want to talk about, so I could probably fill the time, if you want me to or I could actually take your questions, I’ll leave — I’ll leave that up to you. If you — if you want, I’d be happy to — to make a few comments and if you want to, we can dive right into questions. The team here said that it would be up to you.
GEN. DUNFORD: OK, all right. I’ll — I’ll — I’ll make a couple of — I’ll make a couple of comments and for those who were in Brussels, you’ll have to bear with me, my, you know, I guess the good news is, my assessment won’t have changed in — in a little over a week since I — since I saw you last.
As — as I have spent the last few months preparing to come over here and then now on the ground about five weeks, as I look at it, I’ll just go through the Taliban, I’ll go through the Afghan Security Forces, what I think are the most significant challenges to the campaign and then — and then open it up for questions.
I’ll start, I suppose, with the Afghan National Security Forces and — and my perspective having — having watch their development since 2008 fairly regularly in a — in a series of billets you know, particularly and visits to Marines and my previous assignments done R.C. Southwest over the years.
As I come here right now, I’m confident about the Afghan National Security Forces capability to assume the lead in the summer of 2013, associated with milestone — associated with milestone 2013.
And, you know, there’s a lot of issues that people bring up with the Afghan Security Forces and my basic framework is this, while we have challenges, literacy is a challenge, logistics are challenges, there are systems, institutions and processes that after all will be developed.
We have focused, I think fair to say over the last few years on growing the quantity of the Afghan forces. We now have the structure in place and what the next several years are all bout is improving the quality of the force.
And when I look out at the security environment right now and the relative strength of the Taliban and I look at the relative strength of the Afghan Security Forces, here is my basic yes/no questions.
Can the Afghan’s provide security in the summer of 2013 given the support that we’re going to provide them? The answer is yes.
Can they provide security for the elections in 2014 given that — that the support that we’ll provide them? The answer is yes.
And the final question is, do I believe that given the — the trajectory of — of capability and capacity development that they’re on, can we make the transition at the end of 2014? The answer is yes.
And — and we’ll focus on those challenge areas and I’d be happy to talk about those in more detail.
To me, as I come in, the more significant challenges in the campaign are actually psychological and — and although the Taliban has pushed away — been pushed away from the populated areas and I know you’ve been briefed many times on that. And we — we use a statistic that 80 percent of the violence happens where 20 percent of the population is.
The statistics aren’t so important as I — I believe that we have seen indications of Taliban leadership fracturing. We’ve seen issues of friction between the leadership in the Taliban and the fighters. And we’ve seen issues of resource problems.
But there is one place where the Taliban still are successful and that is in the messaging. And they’re — and from my perspective, there’s two messages that are resonating inside of Afghanistan right now.
One is of the coalition as occupiers, and the other is that the coalition will abandon Afghanistan at the end of 2014.
And both of those messages, while seemingly inconsistent live in the same space here inside of Afghanistan right now, and they create uncertainty and — and as I’ve gone around and talked to my counterparts in the Afghan Security Forces, but as importantly members of civil society and — and Afghan leadership.
The fear of — the fear of uncertainty actually from my perspective right now is greater than any fear I’ve sensed about the Taliban. The people really are concerned about post-2014.
And — and — and so as — as the Commander of ISAF as I come in, one of the most important things that I need to do is convey to the Afghans that commitment. We need to work to develop the final bilateral security agreement that the United States will sign with Afghanistan.
The two presidents met in January and their goal was to get this thing done within a few months and — and they’re working pretty hard to do that. That’ll be followed by the NATO Status of Forces Agreement and then we’ll milestone 2013 occur in June.
So here’s where I am in terms of opportunity. I mentioned the challenges, the opportunity I think is with these agreements in place, and clarity about the international community’s commitment to Afghanistan post-2014, combined with the Afghans in the lead this summer in fighting, I think we address both that message of abandonment and that’s with the bilateral security agreement and the commitments post 2014.
And then I think with Afghans in the lead this summer, and the Afghans providing security across the country, I think we then address that challenge of — of us as an occupying force.
So I — I’m very much focused right now on — on intangible factors. Again, I don’t underestimate for a minute the challenges that we have in continuing development of Afghan Security Forces, you all received a brief this morning about retrograde and redeployment. I don’t understand those challenges as well.
But the number one thing that I’m focused on right now is — is — is ensuring that the Afghan National Security Forces are successful in the summer of 2013 and that we set the conditions in the operational environment to these international agreements to be signed and that we develop that relationship of — of trust that we need to have with the Afghans in an enduring partnership and that we enhance the confidence of the people of Afghanistan.
And by the way, the regional actors as well because uncertainty affects not only the people in Afghanistan, it affects those in the region and I also think it affects those potential members of the coalition who would make a contribution and now waiting to see with some — with some clarity what will happen in the future.
So as we — as we go into the next couple of months, I think this is a pretty critical period, the summer of 2013 and from my perspective, all those things I just talked about set the conditions for the political process that will begin in earnest in the fall when candidates are announced and then the election process which will take place in the spring of 2014. And I think a successful campaign with the Afghans in the lead this summer combined; we’ll set the conditions for that — for that election.
And just so you know, I — I characterize this as certainly the Afghans first season in lead — first season of high operational tempo in the lead. I do not characterize it as the coalition’s last fighting season. This is our first fighting season of supporting, enabling and building the Afghan Security Forces as they take the lead in the fight in the summer of 2013.
So in general terms, and I hope I’ve shared enough with you to prompt questions. I believe that as I come in, the campaign is — is on track and — and particularly from a security perspective, when I look at the growth and development of the Afghan Security Forces over the last few years, my projection of the future is simply to look at the trajectory that the forces have been on since 2009. And if we’re able to maintain anything close to that trajectory as we continue to enhance the quality of Afghan Security Forces, then again, that — that’s the foundation, that’s the assumption I make in terms of my optimism about their ability to provide security in the future.
So with that, that’s the basic framework. I’d be — how do you want — you said you were the designated leader.
THOM SHANKER, NY TIMES: No, I said I wasn’t that.
GEN. DUNFORD: He was not — you are not the designated leader, Tom. OK the you are the first one to have your hand raised here.
LOLITA BALDOR, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, General, probably just the first most obvious question is, President Karzai’s comments today…
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure.
Q: … that seem to suggest that there is some benefit to the United States in (inaudible) working with the Taliban attacks.
Can you address first what your thoughts are on those specific comments that he made? And then can you just talk about how you think the relationship is going with the Afghans now considering a lot of these…
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure.
Q: … hiccups…
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure, yes, yes.
Q: … over the last several days?
GEN. DUNFORD: No, I will.
First of all, transitions are tough. Transitions in any walk of life are difficult and we’re in the midst of a transition and our relationship is changing. And as I told the collective leadership of the Afghan Security Forces last week, our relationship so changing, it’s maturing, we are moving to a support as they move into the lead and we’re going to have to grind through issues as that — as that occurs.
But the — on the backside of this will be a mature relationship and an enduring partnership. And I — and I believe that.
And so all these issues that are — that are going on right now, when I talk to my Afghan counterparts about is that these are — this is part of transition and — and we’re going to deal with the issues that have come up this weekend and I know some of you will ask about and there’s going to be more issues in the coming months as our — as our relationship matures.
What I have emphasized to President Karzai, it is that I think these issues should be understood as important but not fundamental to our relationship. The broader issue is what will be our strategic partnership with Afghanistan in the future and what will be framework within which that partnership is established. That’s what’s most important.
And so these issues have to be addressed. I can tell you — I will just say this, though, we have — we have fought too hard over the past 12 years. We have shed too much blood over the past 12 years. We have done too much to help the Afghan Security Forces grow over the last 12 years to ever think that violence or instability would be to our advantage. That’s clearly not where we are right now. And I would say that emphatically.
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure.
DAVID CLOUD, LOS ANGELES TIMES: You alluded to, in — in your comments that the sort of difficulty of — of transition and of the — and of the lack of uncertainty on the Afghan part…
GEN. DUNFORD: Right.
Q: … with regard to President Karzai in particular, as — as Lita said, there have a series of steps, I mean it’s always a little volatile but recently it seems to have gotten worse. And I wonder, you know, with him in particular whether that, you know, this period of transition is just sort of beginning to make him a little — a little more volatile than usual. How do you see that?
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure, well, I don’t — you know, I’ve — I’ve spent a lot of time with him here over the last five weeks and — and I wouldn’t speak for him in terms of — of how he feels right now.
I will tell you this, though, all of our meetings have been productive. He’s taken the time to share with me his perspective — that perspective has been helpful. It’s important that we understand his perspective as we work through this transition and — and so we’ve done that.
But I I think it’s fair to say if you look at some of the issues that have to be addressed, you can understand why there might be some tension as we work through those issues. They are tough issues.
You know on the one hand — here’s — here’s I think at the end of the day what we’re balancing, we’re balancing increased Afghan sovereignty with a continued presence of coalition forces here who exercise a piece of that sovereignty by definition because we’re in the middle of a conflict.
And so this is really what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to balance the needs of the campaign with Afghan sovereignty. And increasingly we are moving towards Afghan sovereignty and that’s what President Karzai is focused on. That’s what he believes the Afghan people, , need, deserve.
But at the same time, we need the latitude to finish the mission here over the next 22 months. And so I think it’s important at the strategic level to understand that really is the framework for all these smaller issues to be addressed is it’s in the framework of transition and the framework of attention between sovereignty and the things that we are doing today that you wouldn’t typically do in a country that was at peace with full sovereignty.
But the fact of the matter is, and this weekend is evidence of it, we’re not at peace. We are still at war here, there is still violence in Afghanistan and because of that, conditions are going to have to be set for us to meet our campaign objectives.
Does that get at your question?
Q: You said you — you were meeting a lotwith President Karzaiand I guess you must have conveyed your concerns about the uncertainty of the future and the — the need to roll back the feeling that the coalition might be an occupying force…
GEN. DUNFORD: Right.
Q: So when President Karzai sees a character of (inaudible) of the U.S. Does it not undermine this message that you’re…
GEN. DUNFORD: Yes, you know what? Needless to say I’ve been — I’ve been busy today, so I read those comment in the vehicle on the way over when people breathlessly brought the comments over so I could see them before I talk to you.
And so I, you know, I’ve read them. I don’t know the context that they were made in.
President Karzai has never said to me that the United States was colluding with the Taliban. So I don’t know what caused him to say that today. All I can do is speak for the coalition to tell you that it’s categorically false that we have no reason to be colluding with the Taliban. We have no reason to be supporting instability in Afghanistan. And all that we have been about over the past 12 years is to bring peace and stability to the Afghan people so that they can take advantage of the decade of opportunity that will follow 2014. That’s what we’re all about.
Q: Sir, can you give us an update on two of these problematic
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure.
Q: … or on the order to remove SOF from Wardak
GEN. DUNFORD: Right.
Q: … into the Parwan handover which was delay cancelled?
GEN. DUNFORD: No, sure I can.
Let me take the first one, Wardak. You all know that following a National Security Council meeting I guess two Sundays ago, it might have been three, the president directed that Special Operations Forces be moved from Wardak. Subsequent to that meeting, I went to see the president and I told him that, Mr. President, I will work very closely with your Security Forces to develop a transition plan for the Wardak province.
So we share the same end-statein Wardak. Eventually, Wardak. Eventually, Wardak will be transitioned to Afghan National Security Forces and Afghan National Security Forces will provide security and Wardak problems.
And so what we’ve been working on very closely with the Afghan Security Forces is a plan to do that. And as recently as last night, I saw President Karzai and I told him that we’re still working with his leadership to address the situation in Wardak and we would come back to him with a plan.
But once again, I would emphasize — and — and this is my theme today because it’s what I’m living, it’s true. Wardak has to be understood in the broader context of transition as well. There are transitions happening all over Afghanistan. Some areas are more ready for transition than others. We have seen, you know, those five tranches, you’re all familiar with those tranches. We have — we have turned over three of them completely. We just went into tranche four at the end of — at the end of February and I — I expect sometime this spring tranche five will be announced.
And what we’ll be doing over the next 22 months, even though the Afghans will have the lead across the country starting at milestone 2013, and that was an agreement between President Obama and President Karzai and that’ll all be worked here in Afghanistan and then up to NATO probably sometime in June, they’ll have a conversation about that. Then I expect milestone 2013 to be announced sometime in late spring, early summer. And at that point, Afghans will be in control across the country but the coalition will still be providing that enabling support I addressed, we’ll still be advising, we’ll still be assisting, we’ll still be training and doing those kinds of things.
So — so really, Tom, the — the real answer to your question is that Wardak is going to transition to Afghan National Security Forces. The only issue is the timeline and the methodology and we’re still working on that.
Q: And the Parwan piece?
GEN. DUNFORD: Parwan…. WhatI need to be satisfied with as a commander is that there’s a plan in place to ensure that those people who need to be off the battlefield for us to accomplish the mission and protect the force are in fact detained.
And so what I’m working on very closely right now with President Karzai and his leadership is to ensure that we have a plan and addresses President Karzai’s desire and agreement with President Obama to turn over the detention facility with the need for us to ensure that those who need to be detained in order to protect the mission and the force remain detained.
And last last week, a couple of issues came up that is probably a slight difference in perspective between us and the Afghans and we’re working that right now. And I told the president that I would work that as expeditiously as possible to ensure that we came up with a framework that met both his desire — and again, this is the issue of sovereignty that met his desire to assert sovereignty over the detention facility with our requirement to ensure that the mission and the force was protected.
Q: And what those differences are?
GEN. DUNFORD: No, I won’t address the differences right now. We’re in the middle of a negotiation, it’s very sensitive and what I don’t want to do is negotiate in public. That’s never a wise thing to do.
And I will tell you this, I’ll be as honest with you today as I can. I’ll answer every question that you want me to answer but I’m not going to do anything to jeopardize the relationship I have with my Afghan counterparts which is actually the most important thing to me over the next 22 or 23 months.
So when it comes to negotiations and those kind of things, I can’t share the details with you. I will when we resolve it and tell you what we worked through.
Q: And — and this (inaudible) occur…
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure.
Q: (inaudible). You know, we heard in the run-up to the full pullout in Iraq that there was going to be this enduring presence, enduring partnership. And then at the end of the day, that didn’t happen.
GEN. DUNFORD: Right.
Q: And a lot of these kind of comments and issues that almost sound like — like a warning sign that maybe this thing won’t come together after all.
GEN. DUNFORD: No, I think this is different for a couple of reasons.
One is that I really do believe that both Afghanistan and the United States and the members of the coalition have a mutual interest in ensuring that there’s enduring presence for two years. The first is to ensure that that success that we’ve had over the past 12 years and the progress that has been made continues past 2014, and because of the importance of Afghanistan in this part of the world, in this region and that’s why we came here in the first place.
We came here as a result of 9/11. We came here to ensure that the Taliban did not harbor Al Qaida and Al Qaida didn’t’ have the space within which they could plan and conduct operations against Western interests and we also didn’t want the Taliban to return to power inside of Afghanistan.
Those objectives are still there and there is great international support for those objectives. While I was at the ministerial as many of you know last week. We share those objectives with the 50 donor nations that are a part of the International Security Assistant Force and I know from speaking to Afghan leadership that they recognize that despite the progress that we’ve made, some presence will be required after 2014 to ensure again, that Afghanistan remains stable and continues to the political process and the security processes continue to mature.
So I don’t think it’s fair to compare this to Iraq because the fundamental issues on the ground are different.
And I would also argue that we’re starting much earlier than we did in Iraq to establish the Bilateral Security Agreement and the enduring presence. So we have time. But any issues like this — back to the thing about transition — when you’re trying to establish a relationship that balances Afghan sovereignty with the need for us to have the freedom of movement in order to accomplish the mission post 2014.
In other words, we have to address both the needs that we would have to accomplish the mission and then the concerns that the Afghans would have associated with sovereignty, I think there’s going to be tensions and it would be normal for difficult issues to arise that have to be worked in some cases at the highest level.
I know tonight, we’ll meet with President Karzai and Secretary Hagel and Secretary Hagel and — and I’m sure at some point, the Secretary of State will talk through these issues. Many of them are at the strategic level.
I’m making every effort to keep the issues like Wardak and the detention facility and some of these others at the tactical level. These are issues that, you know, there are differences in perspectives but we can work through these.
The really fundamental issues that really inform our presence post 2014, is really that strategic framework within which the relationship of Afghanistan and the coalition and the United States specifically will be established.
And I think right now what President Karzai is doing that’s helpful is he’s sharing with us, and I think any of you who saw his comments to the National Assembly last week, he’s sharing with us what his concerns are in the region. He has security concerns that, you know, broad security concerns and I think what he wants to ensure is that when we sign a Bilateral Security Agreement and NATO established a force agreement that there is some tangible benefit to Afghanistan’s security.
And so that’s really what we’re — what we’re kind of sorting through right now.
Q: I want to get some clarity on the issue of Wardak and the suspension.
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure.
Q: At this point, there are no plans to review special operations forces from Wardak in the — in the next couple of days?
GEN. DUNFORD: There are plans to develop a long term security plan in conjunction with Afghan security forces to transition Wardak, in a responsible deliberate way.
Q: Nothing’s going to happen in the next few days?
GEN. DUNFORD: There are plans to transition Wardak in a responsible deliberate way. I’m not going to put a timeline on that.
Q: It could happen in the next few days?
GEN. DUNFORD: It will happen when we and our Afghan counterparts have a plan that meets President Karzai’s concerns as well as supports that campaign objectives and the protection of the force.
Q: So they’re no longer insisting on the deadline?
GEN. DUNFORD: I spoke to President Karzai last night. His Minister of Defense was there and I said we were still working on it.
President Karzai made a press release, he has not issued a directive to the force and he realizes that we’re working this as quickly as we can. We’re working it deliberately but most importantly, the lead for developing the plan in Wardak — this is an important point — the lead for developing the plan in Wardak right now it the leadership of the Afghan National Security Forces. Once that happens, I will meet with the Minister of Defense, the Minister of the Interior, make sure that, again, the president’s concerns and our requirements are met, and then we will go to the president for him to make a decision.
Q: On Parwan
GEN. DUNFORD: Yes?
Q: The president did put out a press release last night saying that that was going to be completed by the end of this week. That sounds like that’s not going to happen.
GEN. DUNFORD: I don’t know if it will or it won’t because I don’t know where we’ll end up. We’re, again, we’re working through some tough issues. WhWhen we’re able to finish working through those issues, we’re prepared to provide — you know, we’re prepared to — to conduct the transfer ceremony. We prepared to do that last week, it wouldn’t take much time to put an actual ceremony together. That’s not the fundamental issue. The issue is to come up with an agreement that addresses the concerns I alluded to earlier.
Q: General, from the outside looking in, the trust appears to be pretty badly broken. You know, to taxpayers and to military families deploying…
GEN. DUNFORD: Yes.
Q: … there’s, you know, military personnel and their families who are deploying. It must be very hard for you — for you to explain how the mission can be successful when this relationship has…
GEN. DUNFORD: Yes.
Q: … Deteriorated so much. How do you explain how you can be successful in carrying a mission when that this relationship that is so crucial to your success seems doomed?
GEN. DUNFORD: First of all, I categorically reject that assessment and — and I’ll explain why.
These issues that have been brought into the public are not a reflection of the relationship that I have right now with my Afghan counterparts. I mean I have spent hours and hours and hours a week with Afghan leadership. This Tuesday, we spent nine hours together with the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Defense, the National Security Advisor, all Afghan leadership to the corps level, all the general officers in the National Security Force Assistance to work together with the Afghans in the lead, by the way, for the first time at that level to synchronize our activities in the coming months to ensure we’re successful in the campaign.
I actually feel I have a deep relationship of trust with the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Defense, the Chief of the General Staff, we work collaboratively, we work transparently and in fact, I just came directly from 60 minutes with Minister Mohammadi before I came over to this conference and I can assure you that if he were sitting here, in terms of our perspective about what has to happen this summer and where we’re going between now and 2014, in the residual tasks that may need to be done post 2014, there is not a glimmer of daylight in our perspective.
Again, these issues that have to be addressed are a natural tension as Afghanistan increasingly asserts its sovereignty. These should be expected. But they do not at all characterize the relationship that we have with the Afghan Security Forces that you can go out and visit any day and watch from the company level to the battalion level to the corps level to me at the minister level, with the Chief of the General Staff, the relationships that we have developed over the last several years are actually the shock absorber that we will have as we deal with these difficult issues.
We do not have a broken relationship. We do not have a lack of trust, we have a relationship that actually can absorb this tension as we work through difficult issues and that’s an important point.
I don’t know that there’s any evidence that we have a broken relationship or a lack of trust. I haven’t talked to one interlocutor in the months before I came here or in the five weeks I’ve been on the ground, I haven’t talked to one interlocutor that doesn’t start and that starts with the Foreign Minister, the National Security Advisor, both Security Ministers as well as a bevy of other senior leaders, the first thing they do is thank the coalition for the contribution, recognize the contribution we’re continuing to make and recognize that we have a shared perspective about what has to be done over the next 22 months to be successful in the campaign.
That’s the framework I’m living with and I would offer to you that you should go independently and talk to my Afghan counterparts without prompting and ask them the same question and if you get a different answer, you can come back and see me, but you won’t.
Q: Do you have any thoughts on what might be motivating President Karzai to make some of these statements that have become irritants in the relationship?
GEN. DUNFORD: I won’t for a minute speak for President Karzai, but it would be natural as you go through difficult negotiations to have different perspectives offered.
Q: Sir, just picking up on that same theme, you mentioned that this is now — the relationship is beginning to a mature phase…
GEN. DUNFORD: Maturing.
Q: Maturing phase — but you would expect that given that kind of a situation for two parties to kind of not air publicly like President Karzai is doing. And just like you were saying, you won’t…
GEN. DUNFORD: Right.
Q: … talk about the details of negotiations in a public forum. Well why — why do you think that the other side is not honoring the same…
GEN. DUNFORD: You know what? I don’t know the answer to your question. You know, you’re familiar with my culture and you know how, you know, we do business and typically, you know, I don’t provide my recommendations for best military advice in public and I don’t share the details and negotiations in public. That’s just how I do business.
I don’t know why President Karzai might be doing this. But I understand difficult negotiations, I understand the issues have been raised.
His perspective is that maybe it’s productive to air these differences in public and he certainly as the president of Afghanistan has the right to do that. That’s what he’s done.
I let others judge whether that’s being particularly helpful or not at the political level. I can tell you that working these security issues, these issues have not bled over — and this is an important point — the issues that are being aired in public right now, have not bled over into the relationship that we have with security forces.
And that’s really for me, that’s the foundation of the work that I’m doing here right now is those relationships of trust and confidence with my counterparts and I still feel very much like I have those. In fact, I’m 100 percent confident that I have those.
Q: So even though the president’s comments seem to sort of undermine that trust, you’re not seeing that being transferred into the relations you have with..
GEN. DUNFORD: I am not. I am not.
And again, this week alone, if I added it up, I’ve probably spent 25 hours with Afghan counterparts this week alone. And not once has that come up.
I mean they know — we’re focused on the details of the issues. In other words, when I sit down with — and we have a primary interlocutor on the detention issue for example, and what I’ve talked to my team about is, look we’re taking a very clinical approach to these issues.
You know, this is not emotion, this is business. So what are the facts coming around? What are our requirements? What are the issues that have been raised with the Afghans? And where are their places that we can bring those two positions together to come up with a solution that’s workable.?
I mean that’s how we’re approaching every single issue that we’re dealing with in the context of detentions, Wardak and a bevy of other issues that aren’t even in the media.
I mean again, when you look at the issues associated with increased Afghan sovereignty and the issues associated with transitioning, you know, political and military transition for a nation, there’s an infinite list of issues that we’re working through every day.
Some are contentious, some are not. Some strike at the heart of sovereignty. Some really, I mean when you look at President Karzai, I mean what I appreciate in President Karzai’s position is that he’s the head of state that has both an internal and an external audience. And he knows far better than I do how to message the internal and the external audience as the head of state. That’s not my responsibility.
And so what I assume is that he is doing what he thinks ne needs to do to effectively communicate to the internal and external audiences that he’s dealing with.
In my case, I have it much easier because I’m dealing directly with my Afghan counterparts and we’re actually working the issues in detail as opposed to the framework within which those issues are being worked.
That’s actually the president’s Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense level, we’ll work that framework as I work the details and the issues.
Q: In light of the transition, how important is it that the Afghan government resume negotiations with the Afghan Taliban that (inaudible) off?
GEN. DUNFORD: Look, I think everybody recognizes that first of all, we’ve been at war a long time and the solution to the war is political reconciliation. And President Obama has certainly identified that as a priority.
And so everything that we’re doing right now in the campaign is designed to set the conditions, establish the foundation upon which political reconciliation can take place. So it’s very, very important.
And we talked a few minutes ago about trust and so I think the talks that President Obama and President Karzai agreed to establish when they met back in Washington, even the initial talks are critical to build relationships of trust over the next several months. So eventually that will lead to some reconciliation, some political reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Q: Has the U.S. made any efforts to restart those talks?
GEN. DUNFORD: I’m out of my lane with reconciliation. We’re not working that from inside of Afghanistan. That really is a question that would be more appropriate for the Department of State who has the lead on reconciliation.
Q: Is that — excuse me — you talked about the NATO Status Forces Agreement…
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure.
Q: What, you know, what’s needed there and what are the issues right now?
GEN. DUNFORD: Yes, I think what is first needed is the U.S. Bilateral Security Agreement to be signed by both Afghanistan and the United States and then once that happens, that’ll inform then the NATO Status of Forces Agreement. So it’s kind of a sequential process.
What we’re hoping to do is work most of it as parallel as we can so that the time between the Bilateral Security Agreement being signed and the the Status of Force Agreement being signed is as short as possible.
And again, I believe that those agreements are kind of fundamental to get at that commitment issue. I think those agreements are manifest of true commitment post 2014. So if you took those commitments and you identify the enduring support that the international community will provide which was actually established in Chicago and Tokyo, but the details of our military contribution in particular will be established here in the next couple months. That’s all the foundation for — that’s the real, manifestation of commitment post 2014 that I believe will address some of the ideas of — of abandonment and also the hedging behaviors that are going on again both inside of Afghanistan and in the region.
Q: Can you comment on the — what is needed in terms of troops and scope of operations post 2014?
GEN. DUNFORD: No, what I can tell you is the variables that we’re considering.
A couple of things you look at, one is the level at which we believe we need to be advising and assisting Afghan forces. You know, do we have to be at the institutional level? Do we have to be at the corps level? Do we have to be at the brigade level? And that’ll be informed by our assumptions about the future security environment as well as the continued capability and capacity growth of the Afghan Security Forces.
It’ll also be driven by geography. If we advise and assist for example, at the core level, the Afghan corps are in the four corners of the country and so, you know, I would expect that if the decision is made that we would advise and assist at the corps or brigade level, then we will be in the four corners of Afghanistan as well as in the center in Kabul.
And I think you know, coming out of Brussels, that general framework is one that we’re taking a look at. So the Status of Forces Agreement would support then a lay down of forces in the four corners of the country advising and assisting at whatever level we agree upon in the summer of 2013.
Q: As a — as a — in Brussels, thanks to the German minister of defense as an (inaudible) might…
GEN. DUNFORD: Right.
Q: … NATO will (inaudible).
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure.
Q: So are you comfortable with this possible figures for counterterrorism missions and training…
GEN. DUNFORD: You were with me in Brussels — you were with me in Brussels, weren’t you? OK, so my answer hasn’t actually changed.
And I actually didn’t forget my answers. My focus, honestly is on the mission. –I actually came back from Brussels and I told the staff, do not pay attention to what you’ve read in the media. What I want you to do is I want you take these two missions, train, advise and assist Afghan Security Forces and provide whatever counterterrorism support we believe — what counterterrorism capability we believe is necessary post 2014.
And there’s a couple of things that have to be done, we’re in the process of doing that right now.
First, you’ve got to look at the environment within which you’re operating and identify the capabilities. And then once you do that geographical dispersion that I spoke about, I don’t want to get too technical, but we talk about operational reach and in simple terms that’s what do you need for CASEVAC – causality evacuation? What do you need for medical support? What do you need for command and control, communications, life support, force protection, all those issues?
So we are now going through a very detailed process to say at various levels in advise and assist, what would you need for a force level to support that level of advise and assist?
So the issue really — that’s why I think Secretary Panetta probably shared windows of numbers with our coalition partners is. The issue is not a specific number, the issue is what is the missions that we’re trying to perform and I outlined those broad objectives that are enduring that we were given when we came here, and now we have to do is do the troop to task, that’s what we call it, troop to task analysis, associated with ensuring that you have the resources necessary to meet those ends.
But the thing that you probably might have heard, some of you have been around General Dempsey say it’s certainly informing us.
At the end of the day, we’re not going to ask ten soldiers to do more than ten soldiers worth of work. So we will make sure that the resources that are underground match the mission.
GEN. DUNFORD: Yes sir?
Q: … to receive word that President Karzai’s apparently issued a new decree barring international forces from arresting university students. He’s apparently saying that international forces are — are harassing some Afghan Students and that they’re being barred from the campus…
GEN. DUNFORD: OK…
GEN. DUNFORD: Well I’ll just answer this really quickly. I can tell you right now that there are no members of the coalition that are harassing university students.
Q: Were you aware that this…
GEN. DUNFORD: I was not. You have a Mac in front of you and I don’t so you actually have better information than I do. I hadn’t heard that.
(UNKNOWN): (inaudible) in about five minutes, I just want to make sure everybody gets a question, so Karen and Joan, you know, if you have any…
Q: Thank you, this is — this is kind of stepping back. You talked — you talked about the (inaudible) transformation, you talked about the importance of a close communication coordination between you and the Afghan leadership, but in the beginning of that, (inaudible) transformation that leadership is going to change.
So how does that affect your planning for that (inaudible) transformation?
GEN. DUNFORD: You’re talking the political issue.
GEN. DUNFORD: OK, as you know, my focus is on the security leadership and much of that is enduring, we’re growing a new generation of leaders in the security ministries. The relationship at the strategic level will likely change when there’s a new president, I mean it always does. But I wouldn’t expect that the basic principles that form our relationship post 2014 are going to change. The facts on the ground are not going to change. Afghanistan’s interests are not going to change. Our interests are not going to change and I would argue that the methodology to meet those interests is not going to change.
So, a new president, just like in the — in the United States, if we have an effective political transition in the spring of 2014, I would not think that would change the fundamentals that we’re establishing, Lisbon, Chicago, Tokyo, and a number of other international sessions over the past several years.
Q: Is it fair to say that’s a — part of the coalition is leading up to the election is — is to — is to ensure that that political transition goes as smoothly as possible?
GEN. DUNFORD: There is no question, you know there is no question that we are going to do whatever we need to do to support the Afghan security forces in establishing an operational environment within which those elections can take place. That’s our goal.
You know, we believe that in order to have participatory elections, effective elections, elections that are accepted as legitimate, we’re going to have the right security environment to do that. And that’s our focus as a coalition is to provide that environment within which the elections take place.
Q: May I ask what your thoughts are on the role of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Afghanistan security in the sense that this is quite a low point with AFPAK relationships. The Ulema Council was supposed to meet.
GEN. DUNFORD: Right.
Q: That’s kind of falling apart. It, surely the strengthening relationship between the two is beneficial for all involved. And has a role to play.
GEN. DUNFORD: Right.
Q: In the safe transition for foreign troops out of Afghanistan. We, what are your thoughts on where we are now and how can this improve?
GEN. DUNFORD: No it’s a critical question. And here’s how I’d answer it to you. It’s interesting. Because it’s not unlike one of the other issues we’ve talked about. The relationship that we see between Pakistan and Afghanistan right now at the political level, I would agree with you, certainly appears to be filled with friction.
At the military-to-military level, we’ve made great progress over the last couple months. I mean real, tangible progress. As an example, in November we signed a tripartite border standard operating procedure to adjudicate issues along the border. So we actually, if you went out to the Torkham Gate today, you would see a table like this. And over here are two Pakistani senior leaders, two Afghan senior leaders, and a member of the coalition. And we’re working through border issues in a way that we didn’t do in the past.
About three weeks ago, my deputy, Lieutenant General Nick Carter from the United Kingdom, led a delegation to go over and meet with senior military officials in Pakistan. And we routinely now exchange visits with the 11th Corps which is the Pakistani unit that’s in the east, right outside the Afghan border.
I’ve also met with General Kayani when I first came in to the assignment, and we’ll meet monthly to continue to develop these military-to-military relationships. As importantly, Minister Bismillah Khan Muhammadi went to Pakistan for four days, unprecedented. The Minister of Defense in Afghanistan, less than a month ago was in Pakistan for four days of meetings with General Kayani, other leaders, where the Pakistanis offered to have exchange programs and train Afghan personnel in Pakistan.
So from my perspective what we’re, one of the goals that I’m working on, and one of the things that I will define as an element of success is, we would like to take this fundamental relationship that we’re building at the military-to-military level, and make sure that that’s transferred over to be bilateral between the Afghans and the Pakistanis by the end of 2014.
I think we’ve seen many other places in the world where military-to-military relationships and the foundation of trust that can be established with military-to-military relationships then create the conditions where political accommodations can be made and political relationships can be developed.
I wouldn’t, in the near term, guess that there will be a deep, strategic partnership between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but I am encouraged by the degree of coordination and cooperation that’s taken place at the military-to-military level.
So I think, and that’s our job. We’ll continue to do that. We’ll continue to work those relationships. We’ll continue to mature those over the next 22 months again, with the hope that we can transfer that relationship in a bilateral way to Afghanistan and Pakistan in a way that will be enduring. Because clearly they have mutual interest in providing security in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Q: So sir, everyone here has had a question in. Do you have anything else to add? We’re just about out of time.
GEN. DUNFORD: What time is it?
Q: It’s 35 after.
GEN. DUNFORD: Okay I’d be happy to take two more questions if you have them. And if not, I’d be happy to let you go. Okay you’re all happy?
Q: You caught us by surprise.
GEN. DUNFORD: I mean I jerked you around. I’m not trying to make up for it, but I am trying to be fair.
Q: Right we had a very interesting session earlier with two of your logistics guys …
GEN. DUNFORD: Right.
Q: About retrograde and some (easing ?)..
GEN. DUNFORD: That’s why I don’t worry about retrograde. Now you know why I told you last week I don’t worry about it.
Q: Right, but in all seriousness, how do you fight a really tenacious insurgency while you’re pulling stuff out and sending troops home?
GEN. DUNFORD: Yeah, we’re going to do that in a very balanced way. One of the way we’re going to do that is to deconflict the major movement of material and equipment from the period of high operational tempo. And I’m sure the team talked to you about that today. We have a very deliberate plan. President Obama has directed us to drawdown 34,000 U.S. troops in the next year.
There are also coalition forces coming out at the same time. So one of the things we’ll do is we’ll make sure that we do this in a way, the guidance that the team that you spoke to this morning has is, do this in a way that doesn’t detract from the basic mission of the campaign, which is to train, advise and assist the Afghans.
And as you saw this morning, just a little bit of hint of, we have professionals that know how to do that. So is it easy? No. Is closing bases in the middle of a fight easy? No. Is moving all this equipment from Afghanistan to Pakistan easy? I don’t think so.
But I am confident that we have a pretty good plan in place and I’ve got the right people to do it. As I said to the team that was in Brussels last week, that’s the science of war. We actually have people that are very, very competent at doing that. And while I stay abreast of it, and routinely get updated on it, not once yet, and to include the months before I came over here, have I had occasion to lose sleep over that. I’ve lost sleep over several issues here in my first five weeks. One of them is not that. I feel pretty good about that. That’s not even in the top five.
Q: General could I ask a logistical question?
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure.
Q: You met with Karzai yesterday right?
GEN. DUNFORD: I did.
Q: Have you spoken to him today since these latest comments came out?
GEN. DUNFORD: No, we’re going to have a meeting tonight with Secretary Hagel and we’re going to have dinner tonight. And I’m sure we’ll talk about these issues. But I spent time with Minister Mohammadi today, you know, a good productive session. And then General Karimi, the head of the general staff. Those are the two that I’ve spoken to today, but I’ve also been busy with Congressman, Chairman McKeon who’s here today. So I spent time with him this morning. We had a delegation led by former Ambassador Jeffries and former Secretary Fortney this morning. I’ve had Secretary Hagel here today. So no, I haven’t had time to see President Karzai or speak to him. (Laughter.)
And the one hour that I had open, I shared with you. And I’m delighted to do that.
Q: Do you have time to do your job then?
GEN. DUNFORD: Today? Well part of my job is talking to General Karimi and General Mohammadi and working through those issues and going tonight to talk to the President. So that is part of my job. But I have poor time management skills and organizational skills, I’m not going to tell you that I’m doing my job very well right now. I’ll let others judge that.
Q: If I could ask quickly, NATO casualty numbers are way down. Can you give a sense of what extent American forces are still in the fight?
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure, sure.
Q: To what extent they’re still rolling out of their bases, doing patrols?
GEN. DUNFORD: First of all, since I’ve been here, we’ve lost one United States Marine killed in action. We have lost one U.S. civilian contractor who was killed. And we had one non-battle death down in Kandahar.
During that same period of time, we lost, respectively 28 Afghans one week, 33 another week, 47 another week, 73 last week. And I participated in a memorial service this morning for Afghans at 11:45 where they lost 55 this past week. The Afghans are in the lead. The Afghans are bearing the brunt of the fighting in Afghanistan right now. They’re the ones that are dealing with the challenges and we are providing support.
We are not conducting any unilateral operations except those necessary for local security. We have some partnered operations where we work in conjunction with our Afghan partners. But by and large the vast majority of operations we’re conducting right now, we are in a train, advise and assist capacity.
And again, the unfortunate casualty statistics reflect that. And one of the things we’re going to work very closely on with the Afghan Security Forces leadership right now is to mitigate those casualties. As I’ve said to my leadership, were we experiencing those kind of casualties, we would lock ourselves in a room and we wouldn’t come out until we’d figured out how to address the tactics, techniques and procedures, the discipline, the equipment, the training necessary to mitigate those casualties. And we are embracing those Afghan casualties exactly the same way we’re embracing our own. That was the guidance to my commanders. We’ve got to do that. And this is in a period of time when we’re not really in a high operational tempo right now. We’re about to approach that. Certainly the New Year is traditionally the beginning of a period of high operational tempo. And of course, June, July are typically difficult months.
And so right now, as part of our advise and assist mission, one of the critical tasks that I think we have is to mitigate the Afghan casualties. And we’re working very close with our partners to identify the root causes of those casualties and where we can to address those. And we’re doing exactly, for example, in their counter-IED fight, we’re doing exactly what we did for our own forces, two or three years ago when we started to mitigate an unique IED fight here in Afghanistan. As you all know, we had one in Iraq. But the nature of the counter-IED fight here in Afghanistan was different. And so now what we’re trying to do is ensure that the Afghans have the capability and the capacity to deal with that threat as well.
I think that answers your question better than anything else I could say. There’s evidence that the Afghans truly are in the lead and are bearing the brunt of the effort in the fighting. Okay last question.
Q: Do you have any off the record information for us about the security threats that are apparently leading to the cancellation of the press conference.
GEN. DUNFORD: Yeah I think you talked to George Little ad nauseum earlier today so I don’t really have much more than George gave you. Okay thanks. See you all later.