Military

U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Transcript

Presenter: Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, International Security Assistance Force and Deputy Commander for Operations, U.S. Forces Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Michael S. Tucker April 22, 2009

DoD Briefing with Maj. Gen. Tucker From Afghanistan


BRYAN WHITMAN (deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs): General Tucker, this is Bryan Whitman at the Pentagon. Can you hear me okay?

GEN. TUCKER: I hear you fine, Bryan.

MR. WHITMAN: General Tucker, thank you, again, for joining us. This is, I think, the second time that you've joined us in this particular format.

This is General Michael Tucker, the deputy chief of staff for operations for NATO's International Security Force -- Security Assistance Force, as well as the deputy commander for operations for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He's been in Afghanistan in this position since June of last year. And he will, again, be giving us a brief update on the stability and security operations in Afghanistan, and then take some of your questions.

So, again, General Tucker, thank you for taking some time this evening and for bearing with us while we got through some of the technical issues. And let me turn it over to you.

GEN. TUCKER: All right.

Well, thank you for the opportunity to address you today. We're -- we're certainly busy here in Afghanistan supporting the government and -- along the security line of operation, and -- and also supporting governance and reconstruction and development.

It's a busy time, obviously, as we're preparing to receive the uplift of U.S. forces into Regional Command-South. And it's a busy time of year, as we continue to press towards the warmer months, as the insurgency becomes more active. But we have -- we're very proud of our activities over the winter months at keeping the pressure on, as well as increasing capacity within the Afghan government.

And I won't spend too much time with opening comments. I'll go ahead and begin to take your questions, if that's okay.

MR. WHITMAN: No, that's fine, General. We'll get right into it here.

Daphne, you got the first one.

Q Good morning, General. This is Daphne Benoit with Agence France Press.

You were mentioning a raise of activity by the insurgents. Are you seeing any kind of spring offensive materialize right now? Has it started? And where exactly do you see the most activity in Afghanistan -- is it south or east?

GEN. TUCKER: Well, the activity -- the insurgent activities are obviously in the south. Probably about 80 percent of them -- of the activity's in the south right now. We do see some in the east, probably centered along the areas in the vicinity of the Pakistan border.

We haven't necessarily seen an increase recently at all. We do anticipate it to become -- we do anticipate the enemy becoming more increasingly active as the poppy harvest season begins to wane down around the first few weeks of May.

MR. WHITMAN: Go ahead, Lara.

Q Hi, General. This is Lara Jakes with the Associated Press.

There are reports out of the Swat Valley today that militants there have started expanding beyond the valley. I'm just wondering if you see that the peace agreement has been -- uh counterproductive, and if this is something that's on your radar. It seems to have emboldened -- the peace agreement seems to have emboldened the extremists.

GEN. TUCKER: Well, that's a good point. It is on our radar. We're concerned about that.

Obviously, that's a decision that the freely elected Pakistan government made. We are in close coordination with the Pakistan army, have regular meetings with them, and our attention primarily with the Pakistan army obviously is focused in the federally administered tribal areas -- the FATA -- and along the border regions up in the Mohmand, Bajaur and Khyber agencies, where we are having a great deal of joint operations -- sharing intelligence with the Pakistanis, conducting joint operations with them, along with the Afghan border police and Afghan army.

The activities in the Swat do concern us. We're keeping an eye on it, and are working daily with the Pakistan military, with bilateral communications, and continue to, in fact, work our operations even further into the south, into Baluchistan.

Q Just to follow up, if you're working your operations further into the south, how many troops are we talking about? Exactly what are you doing, besides just sharing communications and keeping an eye on it?

GEN. TUCKER: We're -- we are helping with signals intelligence, imagery intelligence. We -- we shared radios with them so we can communicate with each other.

The end result is we're able to take advantage of the border regions that the insurgents used to be able to take advantage of with impunity. Now that area of the border is visible both to the Afghan border police and to the Pakistani counterparts. And so the enemy can't take advantage of that area and move indiscriminately in that area, but be held accountable for it.

So what we're able to do is actually hand off the enemy from one country to the next and then actually confirm positive handoff -- "Yes, I see them." "Yes, we're going to be able to interdict." And so that type of sharing information and cooperation along the border regions is actually unprecedented, and it's -- and it's increasing each day, and it certainly is valuable to us at -- at trying to not necessarily seal the border -- which is almost impossible -- but at least to keep activities moving back and forth across the border in check.

Q Thank you.

MR. WHITMAN: Go ahead, Mike.

Q General, it's Mike Mount with CNN.

Along those lines, but more into -- into Pakistan, can you maybe talk a bit about how the growth and the influence of the Taliban in Pakistan is a concern to you and the U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan?

GEN. TUCKER: Well, I would obviously align with the president's new strategy of regional -- regional focus. Pakistan is -- is as important to us as -- as Afghanistan is. And -- and we do monitor operations in Pakistan, enemy operations in Pakistan, and cooperate closely with the Pakistan military. We feel that they are -- they are having an effect against the insurgency in the -- in the FATA, in the northwest provinces, as I mentioned earlier.

We think they could do better. We think that they could probably do less focus on the Indian border and more focus on the border with Afghanistan to help stem the sanctuary that the insurgency enjoys there. But the information that we analyze and perceive about the enemy in those regions we certainly share with the Pakistan military to better enable them to strike and effect that.

Q Sir, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra.

Given what we know about the insurgent activities and what you are expecting in the -- in the near future, do you think you will need additional forces in the upcoming months?

GEN. TUCKER: Well, we do have additional forces coming in the -- in the upcoming months. And obviously the purpose of these forces is to allow us to do -- to do several things. One, of course, is to reach out into more villages and reach out to more of the population here in Afghanistan in order to set the conditions for socioeconomic growth; and to enhance governance, specifically at the local level.

The other part, obviously, is to create what we call a hold effect. As I've said earlier, we can -- we have the ability here to clear the enemy from just about anywhere we need to. What we've had an inability to do here is to hold what we've cleared. This additional troops allow us to hold.

And then, coupled with that, obviously, in the -- in light of counterinsurgency operations, we will spend a lot of time with these additional forces in mentoring and coaching and teaching the Afghan police and the Afghan National Army -- those two combined, obviously, are the Afghan national security forces -- in order to raise their capability quicker and more comprehensively because, obviously, to increase their capacity to bring security to their own country is in line with our long-term objectives here in Afghanistan.

Q A quick follow-up, sir. Do you think what you are getting -- I mean, the 17,000 -- is enough for you?

GEN. TUCKER: General McKiernan thinks that 17,000 troops -- actually, with all the neighbors, it probably gets up closer to around 20,000. We think that, based on our analysis and based on our appreciation for enemy activity and what it is that we need to do, that's -- that will suffice.

You can only put so many foreign troops in Afghanistan. This -- this country does not -- they're somewhat xenophobic in that regard. They don't necessarily like to have a lot of foreign troops. And so we think what we have is enough to get the job done as efficiently and as quickly as possible without -- without breaking through some of those thresholds that they have.

MR. WHITMAN: Go ahead, Bill.

Q Morning, General. Bill McMichael, Military Times.

You're also receiving, I believe, 4,000 trainers this year. And if I have that number correct, how many forces will you have dedicated to the training mission by the end of this calendar year?

GEN. TUCKER: Well, these -- these 4,000 troops will work with the other 4,000 troops we already have, and so that we can create embedded training teams and police mentoring teams around the entire country of Afghanistan in areas where we've been unable to create that type of mentoring and training capability.

These 4,000 additional troops will move into the areas of R.C. West, as you well know, which are -- primarily lead nations are Italians and Spanish, and will cover down in R.C. South, as well, in a -- in a -- in a committed fashion, in order to enhance the training and the mentoring of the police, obviously in numbers now sufficient enough so that we're able to cover all those police districts that we were unable to cover before.

Q (Off mike) -- training for both police and for Afghan National Army?

GEN. TUCKER: I'm sorry, I didn't understand the question.

Q Your -- your -- these embedded training teams are going to be training both Afghan National Army and Afghan police?

GEN. TUCKER: Absolutely, absolutely. They'll train them and they will work with the battlespace owner. In this case, in R.C. West, the battlespace owners are mostly Italian forces and Spanish forces. But they'll work with the battlespace owner in enhancing the partnership with these units, as well as mentoring both ANA and ANP in that particular area.

Q Just a quick follow-up, Bryan.

MR. WHITMAN: (Off mike.)

Q Thank you.

So, can you tell me, is there any training capacity expected of the other troops -- other U.S. troops -- that are going to be in Afghanistan now and through the end of the year, or is the training mission strictly dedicated to these 8,000 troops you just mentioned?

GEN. TUCKER: No, in fact, that's -- that's a very good question.

These -- these forces that are coming in here in the next few months are dual-trained, both in counterinsurgency operations, and they've been trained in police mentoring and in Army-embedded training team skills, so that we're able to not only mentor ANA and ANP forces in our battlespace but we're able to conduct current operations as well. So it gives us -- it gives General McKiernan an enormous amount of flexibility in the use of these forces.

Again, I can't emphasize enough the importance of building indigenous capacity in the Afghan national security forces so that they can eventually secure the country themselves. They gain a lot from partnering with us, shouldering the burden, and it builds an enormous amount of confidence in them and their leaders.

MR. WHITMAN: (Off mike.)

Q General, Kevin Baron from Stars and Stripes.

You mentioned how there have been -- troops are going to be going more and more into villages and into the communities. At the NATO conference earlier this year, several international humanitarian groups called for a shift, a phasing out of what they called the militarization of aid and doing more humanitarian aid. Have you worked with humanitarian groups or sensed that? Or is there any types of new rules or guidelines to help distinguish between the military mission and the humanitarian aid mission of those organizations?

GEN. TUCKER: Well, I think that -- I think that both of those missions are -- work hand in hand with each other. Obviously, it goes back to enemy-centric versus population-centric operations. And in a mature insurgency, the pendulum swings to more population-centric operations. Obviously, humanitarian aid is a key factor in any population-centric operation.

When we go into villages, we will -- we'll initially engage with key leaders -- tribal community leaders and elders, along with local governance -- and begin to do some form of a mapping of that particular village or district to find out what their specific needs are, and so we can better align humanitarian aid with what their specific needs are that would follow after we've been able to create a secure environment for this particular type of activity to take place.

So they both work hand in hand. One sets the condition for the other. But every single operation we do involves the use of humanitarian aid projects, both simple things like providing cooking oil, stoves, heaters, blankets, radios, soccer balls, et cetera, all the way to paving roads, working with UNAMA and USAID and other international agencies to build bazaars, wells, enhanced irrigation, look at alternative livelihood programs in terms of agriculture, diversifying crops, helping to build public, administrative-type capacity as well. So all of that kind of ties together, and it's absolutely essential to progress in counterinsurgency operations.

MR. WHITMAN: Andrew -- (off mike).

Q General, it's Andrew Gray from Reuters.

You mentioned at the start that about 80 percent of the insurgent activity is now in the south. Does that represent a change? We certainly heard more about the east before. Is there more of a shift to insurgent activity in the south? And does that mean things have got better in the east, or the insurgents have concentrated their attacks in the south? Why such a concentration in that region?

GEN. TUCKER: Well, I -- that's a good question.

I think that one of the primary reasons is that we're approaching what you could actually cautiously term irreversible momentum in the east. We now have, obviously, the addition of the 3rd Brigade of the 10th Mountain out of Fort Drum, New York that has joined the force in R.C. East. And so, we have a combination of the right amount of forces in R.C. East now to cover the area.

We have -- we have begun, as you well know, the Afghan Public Protection Force in R.C. East. Our PRTs are very robust in R.C. East. And, also, the National Guard, with the agriculture development teams in R.C. East, have taken hold with diversifying agriculture and enhancing agricultural activity, which -- it's much -- mostly an agricultural-based economy there. So that's probably what's been involved with stemming a lot of the insurgency in R.C. East, with -- coupled with good governance, obviously, and humanitarian aid and assistance and development.

In R.C. South, we're at -- we're at a stalemate. We just simply do not have enough forces to address the needs of the people down there to set the conditions for governance to take hold. And so the enemy, obviously, is taking advantage of that posture that we're certainly going to addressing here very shortly.

Q To follow up, General, does that mean that compared to this time last year, insurgent activity in the -- in the east is down? And can you give us an idea of by how much, if that's the case?

GEN. TUCKER: Well, I'm not sure about the percent of the reduction of violence in R.C. East this year compared to last year. I do know that it -- that it is less in R.C. East than it was last year. Some of this could possibly be contributed to the activities that the Pakistan army has had up in the Bajaur agency and the Mohmand agency, which obviously corresponds with the province of Kunar up in -- up in R.C. East.

Q Thank you.

MR. WHITMAN: (Off mike.)

Q General, I wonder if you could talk to me a little bit about what -- if work has begun on a new joint campaign plan after -- that takes into account the new Obama administration strategy? And I wonder if you could also talk about whether the strategy this summer in the south is going to look a lot like what you did in the east, or is it going to be completely different?

GEN. TUCKER: I think we've learned a lot in the east, but it will be somewhat different. It's a different enemy in the south than it is in the east. Obviously, the south is the center of gravity for the Taliban themselves in Kandahar. The strategy in the south will be to reach out to villages and to local governance and obviously, as I mentioned earlier, to connect with the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army in those regions.

Additionally, the Afghan Border Police are standing up to the tune of around 51 companies that will be complete sometime this summer. And we have a -- these Afghan Border Police are obviously an attempt to stem the tide and flow of activities in the border regions, and we will be partnering with them both in RC East and as we begin to migrate that down to RC South.

We'll also be able to conduct better interdiction operations in some of the expanses of RC South into southern Kandahar and southern Helmand, where, as you well know, we haven't really had a lot of presence in the past, where we'll be able to operate much more effectively as well.

And so, we're going to take a lot of the things we learned in RC East and apply that in RC South, but of course with a lot more forces able to reach out to more of the villages and to get out to more of the population.

Q And if I could just follow up with the first part of my question on the joint campaign plan, are you a part of that work? Has that begun yet in terms of taking a -- doing a new draft of that?

GEN. TUCKER: We are in receipt of the new regional focus plan. The -- a lot of it obviously allows us to look at a regional approach. In effect, it's caused us to place a lot more attention on the border regions in order to stem the flow there as well.

We are working with the Afghan -- the ministry of customs. We're working with the border police and obviously we're working with the Pakistanis on the other side in order to address this regional approach and to engage in more bilateral meetings with the Pakistani military, as well as staying connected with the ministries throughout Afghanistan. Part of the new regional approach and the new campaign is to increase the civilian capacity in Afghanistan as well.

You've often heard that we're not going to win this by military means alone, and so we understand the State Department is going to uplift its civilian Foreign Service officers over here by large numbers this summer so that we can embed them into the ministries and out into the PRTs to increase the capacity of local governance -- public administrators, people who know how to run a health care plan, Ministry of Justice people to help us with rule of law and due process. And so that's part of the campaign plan as well.

Q Sir, I'm Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg News. I had a counternarcotics question. How important is the -- are the finances gleaned from the drug industry to the Taliban, supporting their cross-border attacks and garnering support in local areas? And then I have a follow-up.

GEN. TUCKER: The counternarcotics -- some of the United Nations numbers reach up to $400 million a year from the narcotics trade that supports the insurgency. That's obviously a concern of ours. The narcotics feed corruption, obviously.

And we have -- we have stepped up our activities in counternarcotics, specifically probably since the fall of 2008. We've really opened the aperture, so to speak. It's spreading some of our intelligence capability -- intelligence gathering capability over this line of operation, if you will.

In 2009 alone, we've already exceeded the entire year of interdiction of opium, for example, than they did in the whole 12 months of last year. So we're looking for a very good year in terms of counternarcotic operations and the attacking of the nexus where narcotics and drug trade benefits the insurgency.

Q Attacking this nexus, are these direct kinetic military raids and attacks on facilities and stockpiles to destroy them militarily or to gather evidence for law enforcement prosecution?

GEN. TUCKER: It's a combination of both. Every strike that we make on a narcotics lab or a storage facility is done in conjunction with the Afghan Counternarcotics Police, and it's also done with a -- actually with a search warrant signed by an Afghan judge.

And what we do is we simply enable this force to get in on target. They clear the target. They conduct the law enforcement procedures of arresting people, doing site exploitation. They clear the target. And then, based on their request, we will usually destroy the target.

So it's a teamwork action, and we're getting -- we're getting very good at it.

Q Here, will you be attacking the financial network more with using the DEA and international counternarcotics nonmilitary agencies, going after their finances as opposed to kinetic raids?

GEN. TUCKER: Absolutely. There's a -- there's a huge presence of both of those agencies here. We work with them every single day. They're a part of every operation we do. And we tie in all of that capability on every target so that we can take advantage of any financial links as well. Absolutely.

MR. WHITMAN: Courtney, you haven't one. And then Al. And I think we'll have to close it up, probably.

Q Mine's quick.

MR. WHITMAN: Yours is quick?

Q Yes.

MR. WHITMAN: It's not a three-parter or --

Q No, it's a one-parter.

MR. WHITMAN: Okay.

Q Hi, General. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. I'm just curious what your assessment is on the notion of reconciliation, some reconcilables in Afghanistan. Is there any kind of -- have you seen any sort of an operational assessment for how many potential reconcilables there are; whether you believe the program would actually work? You know, what's your overall assessment of it?

GEN. TUCKER: The study of -- the study of counterinsurgency operations will tell you that every successful counterinsurgency is -- end with a successful reconciliation. Counterinsurgencies that have gone bad, usually it's been as a result of reconciliation that's gone bad. So, obviously, reconciliation is somewhere on the glide path here, at a point and a time to be determined, obviously, by the Afghan government.

We -- the International Security Assistance Forces -- support the Afghan government in this regard. We think it's something that's going to have to be done eventually. And it's obviously something that they're going to have to do on their own.

There are a lot of people here that probably are reconcilable. There are probably others who by -- for ideological reasons will be tough to reconcile. But those are obviously decisions that the Afghan government will have to take.

We would just like to -- we'd just like to see it done under the right conditions, so that it's successful. And we will -- we will support the reconciliation efforts of the Afghan government, as long as those efforts are in the best interests of the people and the security of the country.

Q But have you seen any kind of assessment of how many people could be brought over and potentially brought into, I don't know, the Afghan security forces or into some kind of a government training program? Have you seen any hard numbers or a timeline on when this may actually begin? This year? Next year?

GEN. TUCKER: I haven't -- I haven't seen any hard numbers. I have not seen a timeline.

I can tell you that reconciliation happens here routinely at low levels. Probably at the district level, even, perhaps, at the provincial level, you'll hear and read of cases where a certain Taliban shadow governor or a Taliban leader has decided to reconcile. And so, we see those efforts -- or those as indicators of positive trends, and certainly support it.

Q Hi General, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. You outlined the success you've had in the east. You want to move that to the south. You're getting the extra troops to do it. And those troops are trained for both kinetic and training operations.

So what's the outcome of all this? How long -- and I know folks on the other end of these VTCs never like questions that start with how long -- but how long does it take to move this success to other parts of the country, get enough Afghan police and soldiers trained up to do their jobs so that the U.S. and coalition and ISAF mission can begin to wind down, and keeping in mind that part of the problem in Iraq was an effort to do this too quickly?

GEN. TUCKER: Well, we've -- that's a good question. And I -- as you can appreciate, I can't give you a timeline. I can tell you that the sooner we get these forces here and begin to -- begin to fall in on these Afghan units and these Afghan National Police, that's going to obviously accelerate their capacity. Obviously, that's a good thing.

The ability for us to get out here and reach into these villages to connect with the population as quickly as we can and begin to give these people a voice and to -- and to bring governance into these villages and set the conditions for that to occur with social and economic programs is going to accelerate it.

We've seen, actually, cases where a district will turn -- the people, obviously -- which, by the way, are the only thing that will marginalize the enemy are the people -- where the people finally stand up and say enough's enough.

It's no secret that the people of Afghanistan are not hypnotized by the Taliban. And in areas where they are following the Taliban, they're doing so because they don't have a choice. The whole purpose, obviously, of getting these -- more forces in the south is to give these people a choice and let them stand up and be responsible for their village, and therefore bring in the humanitarian aid and the development projects and the jobs that they need.

So success breeds success. And where we've had isolated cases of success the next district over will quickly say -- the district government will quickly say, "I want some of that too. I want some of that security. My people are ready to stand up, as well."

And as long as the government's there to stand with them against the Taliban, they're more than -- they have the ability to stand up and defend themselves. And so it's about giving them the choice. And, obviously, as we're able to spread that influence across areas where it -- people are perhaps on the fence, it'll go much quicker.

And so, you know, we anticipate -- General McKiernen has some objectives, some three- to five-year objectives here that are not -- that not necessarily are out of reach in terms of, you know, removing the safe havens for the insurgents, for attaining a viable government that is responsible for securing and serving the population and to establish socioeconomic programs so that the country can be self-sustaining.

And so those are -- those are objectives that we think are attainable. We can attain them. We can win this. And we can do so with the forces that the good government, the United States has provided us and the international community.

Q (Off mike) -- three- to five-year objectives, does -- do the number of foreign forces start to ramp down?

GEN. TUCKER: Well, we're not -- we're not sure. We know that -- we know that there are some countries that said they've set some deadlines to pull out. But as we continue to increase the capacity of the Afghan national security forces, obviously, with our own forces, we're optimistic we will be able to fill those voids that are -- that are created.

But in the same respect, a lot of these same international communities that are talking about pulling out and some of them who said we can't give any more forces are coming forth even today with providing more police mentoring teams, more military mentoring teams, and are also offering up more aid and financial support to help us. And so we're optimistic in that regard.

MR. WHITMAN: Well, General, we have gone well past our allotted time, particularly with our technical challenges at the beginning. So we want to thank you, and we want to be respectful of your time.

But before we bring it to a close, let me just throw it back to you, in case you have any final thoughts or comments you'd like to make.

GEN. TUCKER: Well, I appreciate the opportunity, Bryan.

Just, to all of you, on behalf of all the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and the international forces over here in Afghanistan, we just want to thank you for the support that you provide us. I appreciate you showing interest in what it is that -- the activities that we have going on over here. You're part of our ability to reach out to the people, specifically, of your audiences in the United States. And we certainly cannot do this without your support. And every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine over here absolutely depends on that every day.

So thank you all very much, and thank you for your interest.

MR. WHITMAN: Well, thank you, General, and we hope that we'll have an opportunity to meet with you like this again in the near future.

GEN. TUCKER: All right. Thank you very much.

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