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

Presenter: Commanding General, NATO's International Security Assistance Force Gen. Dan McNeill June 05, 2007

DoD News Briefing with Gen. Dan McNeill via Videoconference from Afghanistan at the Pentagon

BRYAN WHITMAN (Pentagon spokesman): Well, good morning to the press corps.

And, General, thank you for taking some time to spend it with us today.

This is General Dan McNeill, commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force. He has commanded NATO operations in Afghanistan since February of this year. And General McNeill previously served in Afghanistan as commander of Operation Enduring Freedom's Combined Joint Task Force 180. Currently he commands approximately 40,000 men and women from more than 35 nations.

And again, we appreciate you taking some time today to spend it with us and give us the commander's perspective of how things are going. So let me turn it over to you for kind of an operational update a little bit, and then we'll get into some questions.

GEN. MCNEILL: Thank you, Mr. Whitman. If I could offer one correction to your introduction -- and I appreciate that kind introduction -- I think the force I command is closer to 36,000 than 40,000 at present.

And just a little quick operational update. Most of our focus presently is in the Southern Regional Command. As I suspect all present are aware, we have five regional commands in Afghanistan: Regional Command North, German-led, about 3,000 strong; Regional Command West, Italian-led, about 2,000 strong; Regional Command East, U.S.-led, about 15,000-16,000 strong; and then Regional Command Capital, a rotating command presently commanded by a Turkish officer, rotated amongst the Turks, the Italians and the French; and then Regional Command South, about 9,000 strong, presently commanded by a British officer, and rotated among the Brits, the Canadians and the Dutch.

As I said, we're focused quite a bit in the south right now. We have been extensively operating in Helmand province, as well as the other provinces in the south, since about the 1st of March.

I would judge that we presently have the upper hand in what we're doing.

There's been a lot of talk about a Taliban spring offensive. Perhaps we are seeing that now. I'm not certain it's what I would judge an offensive. What I judge to be an offensive is what NATO is doing and has been doing since about the 1st of March.

Certainly we've seen an increase in asymmetric types of attacks. We predicted, in the second half of February, we were likely to see an increase in insurgent activity along the lines of IEDs and suicide bombers. And indeed we have seen something of an increase. I'd also point out that the ISAF charter has us operating along three lines of effort -- security first, secondly a reconstruction and thirdly enabling governance where we're able to do so.

If I could go back to operating in Helmand province such as we're presently doing, have been doing since the 1st of March, I'll tell you how that all works. We actually began Operation Achilles in Helmand province to set the conditions for what is -- I believe to be the largest reconstruction project outside of the Ring Road in Afghanistan. And that would be the Kajakai Project, refurbishment of a hydroelectric dam presently producing about 10 to 12 megawatts of electricity, as I understand it. Most of it flows back into Kandahar province.

When this project is done, and I think the project manager says, it will take two years to get all this in place, it will be producing at a steady state of about 51 megawatts of electricity, most of that flowing into Helmand province. It will produce also over several years about 2,500 jobs. In the process of setting the conditions to get that project underway, we've also engaged and destroyed quite a few insurgents, as well as killed or captured quite a bit of their leadership.

One piece that we hadn't figured prominently into this operation -- enabling governance -- has clearly come to the front. And that would be, it's made life a whole lot better for the governor of Helmand province. So that's what we're all about here in a nutshell, and I'll stop there and take any questions that you might have from your end.

MR. WHITMAN: Well, thank you, General. We'll get right into it and start with Pam.

Q General, this is Pam Hess with United Press International.

Would you update us on what was going on a little bit north of Helmand, where there was an area that the tribes said that they would secure themselves? What's the status of that? Have the Taliban come back in? Have you all been engaged there? And what do you think the future of that sort of arrangement is in Afghanistan?

GEN. MCNEILL: Thank you, Pam.

We had several reports, one given to me directly by President Karzai, about a group in a tribe -- actually, in a village is probably a better expression -- who had killed one or two Taliban leaders and had captured several more and had pointed out that they were tired of living the way they were living, and they wanted to get them out of their village.

We helped Afghan national security forces try to make some contact with them and take this down in its next new few logical steps. Today I am not updated on where we are on that, and I will have to get back to you on it. But President Karzai, I think, has dialogue often with these elders and of course has said to me that this is the way it should be. So we look forward to trying to work along those lines, Afghans taking more responsibility for their own security.

MR. WHITMAN: Jennifer, go ahead.

Q Yes. Hi. Jennifer Griffin from Fox News. We heard you say this morning that you didn't see any evidence of weapons from Iran emanating from Tehran. But yet General Pace and others have said that Iranian weapons have shown up in recent months in the hands of the Taliban. They even captured them coming across the border from Iran. Can you explain the latest situation in terms of weapons coming from Iran?

GEN. MCNEILL: Thank you. We have intercepted at least two convoys that have contained munitions or weapons. Some of those munitions and weapons clearly of -- are Iranian origin. We don't have conclusive evidence to say that this was something officially sanctioned by the government of Iran. But I might point out that in the experience I've had in Afghanistan, which is going on for almost a year and a half, over two tours now, it's not uncommon to find weapons or munitions from lots of countries. This is a country that's known 25 years of war and now about five years of an insurgency. Weapons have come into this country at various times from various other countries.

I just stand by what I said. I haven't seen conclusive evidence there's anything in the way of formal sanctioning by the Iranian government for what we have found in the way of weapons and munitions that have come into this country.

Q If I could just follow up, have you seen any of the EFPs that have appeared in Iraq, any of those explosively formed projectiles?

GEN. MCNEILL: Thank you. We do have two events in which we have recovered explosively formed penetrators. In both cases, the weapon was pointed out to us by Afghan National Security Forces, and we were led to them. We took charge of them.

In one case, it was not highly sophisticated in terms of giving it a technology-type measurement; in the other case, it was fairly sophisticated. In both cases, they had characteristics of EFPs that I had read about that have been found and indeed used in Iraq and are said to have originated from Iran.

MR. WHITMAN: Andrew.

Q General, this is Andrew Gray from Reuters. Could you tell us a little bit more about the increase in asymmetric attacks which you mentioned? When did the increase begin? Can you give us some numbers? And how did that compare to last year, when we definitely saw an increase in Taliban activity? Are they back at that level again this year?

GEN. MCNEILL: I don't have specific numbers at hand in terms of the numbers of IEDs and suicide bombers that have occurred thus far this year, but indeed I know -- because I look at them every week, I review the numbers -- that they are up slightly.

We made some predictions, as I said, in the latter half of February, that that's what we expected. We have a bigger force under the command of ISAF in Afghanistan today. We made a decision early on that we would be out prosecuting our strategy, not waiting for the insurgent to prosecute his, and we felt fairly certain that because of the capability of our force that we would have the upper hand, at least as it comes to maneuvering and shooting on the battlefield. We know the insurgent is nonetheless intent on prosecuting his own strategy, so we concluded that likely we would see increases in IEDs and suicide bombers, and we have.

I'd also point out that when we predicted we'd see this, we'd set about working with more intensity to make sure we could protect ourselves against such attacks, and we have done a fairly good job of it. I recall President Karzai telling me my first time here, sometime in the fall of 2002 when we experienced our first suicide bomber, that the insurgents who prosecuted such a technique were doing things that were counterintuitive to the Afghan culture, that likely they would do little harm to members of the allies and they would do more harm to innocent Afghanis.

And I believe there have been some numbers released by the U.N., which proves this to be the case.

Q Follow up there briefly, General. As I say, last year it was widely reported, widely accepted that there was a resurgence in the Taliban. Have you been able to tap that back down or are they still operating at roughly the level they were able to operate at last year?

GEN. MCNEILL: I apologize. I'm having a little trouble understanding you, but I think your question had to do with the resurgence of the Taliban and about tapping it down.

We likely show far greater numbers this year in terms of contact, and I'm talking about direct fire, indirect fire, those sort of things, the more conventional-type things. And I wouldn't debate that, I wouldn't argue that. I believe the reason for that is, once again, we have a bigger force in ISAF this year than we had this time last year, and we are moving continuously and effectively against the insurgent. I think that's going to lead to higher numbers in terms of more conventional contact.

MR. WHITMAN: Barbara.

Q General McNeill, Barbara Starr from CNN. I wanted to go back to the issue of Iran and follow up with you on several points. First, the two convoys that you spoke about, when was this and where was it? Did you intercept them coming across a border or was it already within the country? And can you tell us a little more about the types of weapons you captured in those convoys, because there are some reports that those weapons might have had fake U.S. military markings on them?

GEN. MCNEILL: We intercepted those convoys, Barbara, inside of Afghanistan. We intercepted them out west. In the case of one of them, there were mortar rounds that were clearly of Iranian origin. There were also explosives, plastic explosives, packaged to make it look like U.S.-made C-4, which is an up-scale version of plastic explosives. It's my understanding that similar types of explosives have been found in Iraq, and once again, the information says they originate from Iran.

Beyond that, there's not much significant to report on those two convoys, Barbara.

Q Can I just follow up and ask you, when you say "out west," sir, how close to the Iranian border was that? And has the coalition captured any Iranian nationals?

GEN. MCNEILL: The convoys were intercepted inside of the Afghan border with Iran -- in one case, well inside; in the other case, inside. And to my knowledge, we haven't captured any Iranian nationals.

MR. WHITMAN: Let's go to the back.

Q Hello, General. Kris Osborn, Defense News. I spoke yesterday with Major General van Loon, a Dutch commander for southern Afghanistan, who talked about how the Taliban can no longer hold ground in the south. I wanted to get your thoughts on that.

And then secondly, I wondered about the procurement situation with the Afghan army. Are they up to 50,000? What are the retention rates like? And are they acquiring Leopard 1 tanks from Germany and Russian-made cargo helicopters?

GEN. MCNEILL: Thank you. First, Tom van Loon did a good job for us as the commander of RC South, but he's now almost 40, 45 days outside of command. This is a constantly changing situation. I don't know that I necessarily agree with him about the Taliban's inability to take and hold ground. I think only time will tell that.

Secondly, the Afghans are desirous of having as modern and effective force as they possibly can. And it's my understanding Defense Minister Wardak is in quite a bit of dialogue with various donor nations seeking equipment and other types of weapons to modernize his force. I have heard him speak with some of the German officers on my staff about the possibility of Leopard 1 tanks. I don't believe that's been a very serious discussion. I think you might have a tough time getting that through the Bundestag. But I will leave that to him.

NATO certainly has said that they are willing to help in every way that they can to equip the force. And I believe it's probably part of my job purview that I serve as a sort of clearinghouse, and any requests that Minister Wardack might have, that I serve to funnel them up to Brussels to NATO and see if there are NATO nations that can help with those sorts of things.

As to Russian cargo helicopters, it's an indigenous piece of equipment in this country right now. They're being flown by the U.N. There are some that are owned by local Afghan firms that are being flown in support of RC East, and there are some that I think are being used in commercial ventures inside of Afghanistan. So the fact that a Russian cargo helicopter is being flown here I don't think is unique.

I will give you one interesting twist, that some of those cargo helicopters, I'm told, are being flown by Russian pilots who flew here 20-some years ago.

MR. WHITMAN: Let's go over to Carl.

Q General, I'm Carl Osgood from Executive Intelligence Review. Yesterday a senior adviser to President Karzai was quoted saying that if NATO and the U.S. forces left, the Karzai government would fall just within a few days. I'm wondering what's your assessment of the actual political strength of the Karzai government.

GEN. MCNEILL: I'm sorry, you were a little bit broken on that one. Could you give me that question again, please?

Q Yeah, sure. A senior adviser to President Karzai was quoted yesterday as saying if U.S. and NATO forces left, the Karzai government would fall in a few days. So I'm wondering what your assessment of the actual strength of the Karzai government is.

GEN. MCNEILL: Thank you. I read the same report, and I believe that was uttered by Marshal Fahim, formerly the first vice president, minister of defense, Field Marshal Fahim. My take was that he uttered it in a fit of pique.

I think the Karzai government certainly has its challenges, but I believe as each day goes by and it continues to move forward that it's likely to be successful. There's no question about when I say that President Karzai has his challenges, and he does. If I could use a sports metaphor and you would consider President Karzai manager of a baseball team, he's got to have a starting pitcher and that pitcher has to go nine innings, because when he looks out on the bull pen, he doesn't have a lot of relievers or closers out there.

But I'm encouraged by what I have seen this time, relative to my first time when they had an interim government here, and I think there is progress.

And on the basis of one thing you said to me, I realize I failed to answer a question of the questioner just before you, and I'll apologize and now try to make up for it. The question had to do with the absentee rate within the Afghan National Army. It has been an issue of concern to the alliance, as well as it has been to the Afghans. I'd also want you to know that the alliance, working with the Ministry of Defense, has helped shape some solutions to that problem, and I think today you see that the absentee rates amongst the Afghan units are down. I'd also point out that they're not one of the world's most highly paid forces. But still, they field a fairly capable force, especially when that force is supported by Western embeds, wither an American embedded training team or a NATO-only.

Q General, Bill McMichael with the Military Times newspapers. Could you just give sort of an overall assessment of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan with regard to the relevant strength of the Taliban, the percentage of the countryside that you estimate that they control, and the percentage of the country that is under the control, in your estimation, of the Afghan government or of U.S. NATO forces.

GEN. MCNEILL: I think I got most of that, and I believe the first part of the question was can I offer a view on the strength of the Taliban. And I'm asked that often, and it's difficult for me to do.

I've heard numbers as low as 5,000, as high as 20,000. I'm not sure that I agree with either the low side or the high side. I think there are insurgents here, for sure. I think that there's ample evidence that they continue to grow, maybe in sanctuaries outside of Afghanistan.

I believe you also asked about the Afghan National Army's ability to take this on. It's a growing institution. It's doing quite well. There were comments yesterday about the chief of the defense staff here, General Bismullah Khan, during Dr. Gates' visit, about where he thought the force would be next year. His comment was, we would make the 70,000. And indeed they have increased their recruiting effort significantly. I think last year we were putting about 600 recruits through training every month. This year, each month, I think they put more than 2,000 through. So I think we will reach the goal of 70,000 trained by next year.

I think General Bismullah Khan also offered that he thought when it came to other institutions, their ability to be able to sustain and support themselves with intelligence functions, logistics functions, that kind of business, transportation, we're still some years away, maybe as far as 2011. I don't know if I've got enough information to say that's an accurate figure, but I think it is still down the roads a little -- down the road a tad.

I believe that international commitment here will have to continue for some time. It's not only about building the Ministry of Defense, but the Ministry of Interior needs help -- will. By most people's assessment, it's several years behind the Ministry of Defense. I think most of you know that in advanced militaries, those that have counterinsurgency doctrine, the force of choice more often than not is indigenous police force, well-trained, well-led, well- equipped police that are respectful of the people to whom they have a duty and are -- in turn, are respected by the people to whom they have that duty.

There's a lot of work to be done yet on the police. The international community seems to be slowly coming in behind that and galvanizing a bit to get it done. But I wouldn't delude you; we've got a ways to go before we get there.

And those portions of your question that I missed you'll have to ask again.

Q General, I was curious if you could give me an assessment of how much of Afghanistan the Afghani government controls, either by itself or in tandem with NATO forces.

And what other forces besides the Taliban, what other security challenges exist in Afghanistan at the present time? Do you still have warlord activity that you are concerned with?

GEN. MCNEILL: I got the first part of that question, how much of the country, I think, the Afghan government controls. Presently I think they have all the 34 provinces. I think there are some districts, in which there's not effective presence of either ISAF or Afghan national security force, that there may be some doubt as to who's in charge and what's working there. And I'm sorry. You were just a little bit blurred on the last half of that question, so I didn't get that one.

MR. WHITMAN: The question referred to other security challenges, warlords, anything else that you see, security challenges that you're still facing.

GEN. MCNEILL: Well, certainly the question of shadows cast by former power brokers or warlords still exists within the country. It's my view that President Karzai's government, as well as the international community, are taking such a challenge on slowly but surely. And I believe, in time, it will be properly dealt with.

The lack of effective governance in some areas, as I mentioned before, is certainly a challenge. I mean, President Karzai just can't turn around and look back on his bench and say, okay, I want you to go in for so-and-so, get this done. It's very difficult.

I think there may be a lack of unified effort amongst the international community in terms of the reconstruction effort. There's certainly a lot of effort going on, but it's not necessarily unified under one banner. If it were, I believe that that would be most helpful.

I think that if we continue to help the Afghans in ways we are helping them now, if we can indeed increase our support, especially if ISAF is able to increase its support, and I think the record of statements of the secretary-general and SACEUR are pretty clear, that the members of NATO should step up to their obligations, that they should fill the CJSOR, the Combined Joint Statement of Requirements, that that would be helpful.

I believe, as I mentioned, faster progress in enabling the Ministry of the Interior, especially the police institution, would be most helpful, and the lack of effective police in some areas, I would point out, is indeed a challenge. And if we can get momentum -- satisfactory momentum in all of these areas, then I think we'll have a lot less challenges.

MR. WHITMAN: Gordon?

Q Sir, Gordon Lubold from the Christian Science Monitor. I wonder if you could just update us a little bit more on the impact of the poppy trade in the south. What role is being played to tamp it down? And what's the link, that if you could characterize, you know, in terms of what it's -- how much it's funding the current Taliban activities in Afghanistan.

GEN. MCNEILL: Poppy is a defining characteristic for this country at present, and it's a negative definition any way you look at it. Afghanistan, by most meteorologists' assessments, is having its best year of moisture due to snowmelt out of the Hindu Kush and spring rain than it's had in more than 50 some years. As I understand it, the poppy plant requires water only once every five days. As you might imagine, those two things come together to produce quite an agricultural environment for poppy. And I'll admit that what I've seen this year is far greater than what I saw the first time I was here, that the first time I was here, the country was in its fifth year of significant drought.

I don't think there's any doubt that there is some connection between the insurgency and poppy. I am asked often, does the money from poppy fuel the insurgency? I suspect it probably does in some ways, but I couldn't tell you how much and to what significance. Of this I am certain: You cannot take on the problems that this country has without taking on the problem of poppy growth.

Now, I want to point out that the charter that ISAF has from NATO is that we will work counternarcotics only within our capability to do so.

We are not an eradication force. We're not trained, we're not equipped, we don't have the requisite number of helicopters, and we're not manned to do it. But there are, as I understand it, eight pillars in the Afghan national program for counternarcotics, and there are areas in which we can operate. And I expect over the coming years that's what we will do.

Q Just real quick, but you can't quantify any specific links in terms of funding the insurgency between poppies and the insurgency. We hear about this all the time, but there's nothing to yield out that can say 8 percent, 20 percent, whatever, is actually funded that way. Is that correct?

GEN. MCNEILL: I have nothing numerical that I would assign to what the relationship is. I'm just convinced there is a relationship. We constantly monitor convoys that transit some of the southern provinces, for example, and I think you know why we monitor them; I've already spoken to that. We're looking for insurgent convoys, we're looking for weapons convoys. In the process of doing that, we've intercepted a narcotics convoy or two.

It occurs to me that, when I put all this together, that in some places in Afghanistan, probably especially in the south, they're almost inextricable what the insurgents are doing and what the narco dealers are doing. Even with that information -- and I'm fairly confident that what I just said is accurate -- I don't have a numerical value that I'd say it's 20 percent, it's 30 percent. I don't completely understand how the money ebbs and flows in this narcotics business. I think a lot of it flows outside of Afghanistan. I don't know to who or to whose pocket it goes, and in turn, how much of it flows back in to plant next year's crop of poppy or anything along those lines. I just occurs to me that there is some connection, and I don't believe we can deal with the insurgency in a complete fashion without taking on the issue of poppy.


Q General, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News. If I could follow up on your comments here, are you suggesting that you would support a reassessment of the charter within Afghanistan so that NATO forces could be allowed to target poppy eradication programs and participate in law enforcement activities with regards to poppy cultivation?

GEN. MCNEILL: Absolutely not. I'm not looking to get into the business of eradication. As I said, we're not manned, we're not trained, we're not equipped; certainly we lack the requisite number of helicopters to do that. On the other hand, as I pointed out, there are eight pillars in the Afghan National Strategy for Counternarcotics; there are some pillars in which we can operate, and it's my intent to do so, and I believe I have the approval of NATO to do that.

Q General, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. You indicated that there should be a better, more unified international aid effort. And I know that your predecessor spoke quite passionately about the importance of reconstruction happening during this period right now, in order to convince the Afghan people that the Karzai government and the NATO effort was going to work out, remove support from the Taliban. Is enough happening to accomplish that goal?

GEN. MCNEILL: Certainly there is reconstruction ongoing in Afghanistan; lots of money involved in it, lots of projects. I take pride in what the provincial reconstruction teams, who are part of ISAF, are doing -- 25 of them; 12 of them from the U.S., the others from various -- scattered around the country. I don't know the exact dollar amount, but my guess is if you total it up, that when you consider the donors to Afghanistan, those countries who are trying to help out, that the PRTs might, just on the basis of money they have involved in projects, rank in the top five.

My view is that the Afghans have to take on a little more of the responsibility themselves about reconstruction. And with all this money flowing in, they should be able to call a lot more of the shots: We want it put here, we want it put there. I think one person speaking with the voice of all the members of the alliance can best help them with that.

Having said that, I'm optimistic about the way this is headed right now. The Afghans intend to have a bottom-up driven development strategy by March of next year. This involves in some part our PRTs dialoguing with those leaders, district leaders, provincial leaders, and all the way up to the national level. And it's our intent to help them get this thing shaped as best we can.

What we're doing in the meantime, let me just take an example of a school. It's a fairly easy project to put together, and one that the Afghans desperately want. If a school is built in a province and it's built without consideration of the desires of village leaders or of districts or even the provincial governor, it may well be sited in the wrong place. If it's built without consultation with Minister Atmar, the minister of education, he will not have primed the pump to train teachers to man that school as faculty. Also, he will not have budgeted for the roughly 1,000 U.S. dollars-equivalent that's needed each year to maintain that school building.

So we're working, through our own means, the provincial reconstruction teams, to help codify a process, to help make an efficient, an effective process. There are many more, besides our PRTs, who are contributing to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, lots of NGOs. Again, it's my view, one unifying voice that represents all who are involved here, all who are trying to do right by the Afghan people, might make a better or a coordinated effort that would be better for the Afghan people.

Q Can I just follow up on that?

How big an impact is there on both your reconstruction efforts and your security efforts, from the fact that the tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border are not controlled, and the insurgents are able to use Pakistan as a base? What more needs to be done down there?

GEN. MCNEILL: The Pakistan-Afghanistan border offers a unique set of challenges, not the least of which is, very few Afghans want to recognize any border at all, be that the Durand Line or the international line. They're not interested. It also involves certain areas on the Pakistani side of the border that may not be completely under control of the Pakistani government.

But I will point this out. Much of that border resides within the U.S.-led RCE sector. And I utter this not because I'm an American, because I've just been here and I've been around the country now, and I've watched it all. The most coordinated effort, the most productive effort in terms of counterinsurgency, of fusing together security sector reconstruction and enabling governance is occurring in Regional Command East. Some very gifted commanders, the largesse of the U.S. government, and the help of the Afghan people make this so.

We will continue to have our problems in RC East, too be sure. And some of the turmoil in Waziristan or the whole FATA for that matter, has probably added to that. But we're having a good bit of success out there. I'm not saying that the battle is done and we're all home free.

The U.S. forces out there are well-connected with village, district and provincial leadership. The U.S. government is providing them a considerable amount of funds to do reconstruction projects. Roads seem to be especially having an effect out there, and they are getting after it in the security sector. Everybody is benefiting from what's going on out there.


Q General, it's Mike Mount with CNN.

I just wanted to ask a housekeeping question from last week, regarding the NATO helicopter that was brought down. What can you tell us that you might now know? What brought that helicopter down? It seemed like it was a somewhat sophisticated or well-coordinated event. Was that the case? And are you also seeing any kind of insurgent cells that are kind of focusing on helicopters? Have you broken up any cells in the recent past?

GEN. MCNEILL: Mike, I don't believe there is sufficient information to say it was a complex attack. I think -- this is not conclusive, and I wouldn't want to be held to this, but it was probably brought down by groundfire, likely an airburst from an RPG. I don't have any information that there's any concerted effort anywhere in this country, by a force or forces with techniques, whose sole purpose is to bring down a helicopter.

Helicopters certainly in the counterinsurgency fight we are in here are coin of the realm, and we are going to do our dead-level best to protect them and take care of them. But more importantly, we are always going to do our dead-level best to protect those people who fly on and fly those helicopters. When we are fairly certain that we know exactly what happened to this helicopter, I'd be the first to tell you, here's what I know.

But again, I've given you what I have. It's not conclusive. We're still working out way through this. It does not appear to have been a complex attack.

The insurgents could not have anticipated the flight route of that helicopter. It appears that it was brought down by ground fire, likely an air burst from an RPG. But beyond that, I have little more to offer.

MR. WHITMAN: Let's go back to Pam.

Q Sir, it's Pam Hess from UPI again. With regard to the NATO allies, what specifically has been promised or is on the requirements list that hasn't been delivered in terms of equipment and man power, and what difference would it make to your forces if you got that? What would you be able to do that you currently can't do now? And would you also address the issue of caveats? Have you made any progress in getting countries to lift any of the caveats, and do you have any anecdotes where a caveat has impinged -- infringed on an operation?

GEN. MCNEILL: Thank you. Very good questions, and questions that I am often asked.

I think secretary-general and SACEUR in open press reports have been very clear. The things that we're short that have the most effect on us: first, our maneuver forces, three-and-a-half to four battalions short; secondly, helicopters that would include medium-and heavy-lift helicopters and attack helicopters; and then thirdly, the OMLTs, the Operation Mentor Liaison Teams. Any of those resources, and especially all of them, would be helpful for us to prosecute our operational context.

The last part of your question had to do with caveats; again, a question I'm asked often. I usually address caveats in terms of the doctrine for warfare. Most advanced militaries have a doctrine for warfare loosely based on the writings of a German general called Clausewitz. Depending on who's translating his words, he has filed his principles of war, and based on the various translations, anywhere from five to 10.

When I explained to the secretary-general of NATO how I thought caveats affected us, I used these principles of war. I mean, I think they're pretty obvious: speed, mass, supplies, security. You can use any one of them to explain why caveats are not good. They -- caveats preclude you to planning a military operation to its most effective and efficient state.

Having said that, our choice is to work quietly with various governments about middle ground on certain caveats. We've been successful in some cases, not successful in other cases. Thus far -- and I'm now getting at about the four-and-a-half month mark -- we haven't had a tactical operation that had to be dramatically altered because of an imposed caveat. On the other hand, we have had some governments allow us to use their forces in ways not previously agreed to simply because we asked and we explained here's what we're trying to do, and those governments allowed us to help. That's okay with us. You may do so.

MR. WHITMAN: I think we have time for about one more.

Go ahead.

Q Okay. Sir, you were saying that there are areas where Taliban are allowed to set up sanctuaries. Is Pakistan playing a spoiler role and not doing enough to stop Taliban from crossing into Afghanistan? How would you assess their efforts in Waziristan in that area?

GEN. MCNEILL: Thank you. When I answered that question, I don't believe I named Pakistan, and I'm not desirous of doing it now.

I will make a statement that I have made fully consistently: that I do not see that long-term stability inside of Afghanistan is possible if there are sanctuaries just out of reach for both the alliance and the Afghan national security forces that harbor insurgents.

I'd point out that there are mutual interests between the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan in security in this whole region. I'd also point out that in my position, I facilitate a constant dialogue between the vice chief of staff of the Pakistani army and the chief of defense staff of the Afghan army. It's called the Tripartite Committee. We meet often. Thus far we have been together three times since I've been in command in NATO.

I'd also point out that Pakistan has been very helpful in that it has apprehended some insurgent leaders, some Taliban leaders inside of Pakistan. Some have been remanded to the Afghans. Some are in custody in Pakistan now.

They've also been helpful against -- in the fight against the al Qaeda extremists, which is not part of the charter for ISAF but certainly is helpful to our overall contact. So -- contacts, I should say. So I'm not given to speaking derisively about the Pakistani efforts.

MR. WHITMAN: General, we have reached the end of the allocated time for this, and we do want to be respectful of your time. We appreciate you spending some time this evening with us. It's immensely helpful to us to get the context and the experience from the commander on the ground there back here in Washington.

But before we bring it to a close, let me just turn it back to you in case there's something we haven't covered that you'd like to or any final comments that you might have.

GEN. MCNEILL: These would be my final comments, Mr. Whitman, and thank you for the opportunity. Just to reemphasize what ISAF is, it's the NATO military force. It's the command structure for an alliance of 37 countries. I believe all those countries have an interest in seeing long-term stability inside of Afghanistan.

We like to look at ourselves in this metaphor. Let's assume you pick the average ISAF soldier, and just for demonstration purposes, we'd say he was male, and he was dominant right hand. When you look at this soldier, you'd see a shovel in his right hand, an assault weapon of his country's choice -- G-5, M-4, M-16, whatever -- in his left hand. He'd be standing in front of his Afghan hosts and offering this question: "I've got the will and capability to use either. Which would you prefer I use, and where would you like me to use it?"

Further, I think ISAF is an interim force. Most of us know that the best force to bring against an insurgent is an indigenous security force. So ISAF is an interim force that provides space and time while we grow the institutions of the Afghan national security forces -- that would be both army and police. There is progress, great progress, in the army. There must be better progress in the police. But I have seen remarkable progress in all sectors from the first time I had a tour in this country to where I find myself at present.

And I'm grateful that you've given me the opportunity to share a little of my own views with you and to answer questions.

Thank you.

MR. WHITMAN: Well, thank you, General. And we hope to have you back in this format sometime soon.

GEN. MCNEILL: It would be my pleasure.

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