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Over the past decade, significant advances have been made across Afghanistan, especially since the surge of 2009 and 2010. Our strategy is now focused, the coalition is strong, our Afghan partners are fully engaged, and we have the momentum, resources and resolve to succeed.
Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti
Presenter: Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti
Commander, International Security Assistance Force Joint Command
Deputy Commander, U.S. Forces – Afghanistan
DOD News Briefing With Lt. Gen. Scaparrotti Via Teleconference From Afghanistan
October 27, 2011
CAPTAIN JANE CAMPBELL: Good morning here in Washington, and good evening in Afghanistan. I’d like to welcome back to the Pentagon briefing room Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti, United States Army. He’s the new commander of the ISAF Joint Command, and deputy commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. He last joined us in June of last year as commander of RC East. This is General Scaparrotti’s second tour in Afghanistan, and he assumed his current duties in July of this year.
General Scaparrotti regularly travels throughout Afghanistan to gather a full picture of ISAF’s coalition and partnered efforts. He joins us here today from the ISAF Joint Command headquarters in Kabul to provide an operational update. He will make some opening comments, and then we’ll take your questions.
And with that, General, I’ll — happy to turn it over to you, sir.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL CURTIS SCAPARROTTI: Jane, thank you for that introduction, and good evening from Kabul. As you know, I left RC East over a year ago and I returned to Afghanistan in July. It’s good to be back. As the commander of ISAF Joint Command and deputy commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, and commanding general, First Corps, it’s my responsibility to manage the day-to-day operations for the coalition throughout Afghanistan. The six regional commands throughout the country directly report to our headquarters — a NATO headquarters of approximately 1,500 personnel, both military and civilian, from 33 nations.
Over the past decade, significant advances have been made across Afghanistan, especially since the surge of 2009 and 2010. Our strategy is now focused, the coalition is strong, our Afghan partners are fully engaged, and we have the momentum, resources and resolve to succeed.
Since 2002 the Afghan GDP has grown by 12 percent a year on average. More than five times as many children are in school. And while there is still a need to improve health care, access has greatly increased. Today, nearly 85 percent of Afghans have basic health care within one hour of where they live.
Over the past three and a half months I’ve traveled throughout Afghanistan, and it is remarkable what the Afghan government and security forces have achieved since 2009. Now there are over 300,000 Afghan national security forces throughout the country, and on a daily basis they are conducting operations across Afghanistan. A majority of all coalition operations are partnered with Afghan security forces, and increasingly the Afghans are in the lead.
This past winter we surpassed our own projections, significantly degrading the insurgents’ capabilities by targeting their command and control, their support bases and their infiltration routes. As a result, we created the right conditions for a successful summer fighting season and supported the process of transition.
In July, seven areas, Kabul province, Panjshir, Herat city, Lashkar Gah, Bamyan province, Mehtar Lam and Mazar-e Sharif, began the process of transitioning to the Afghan security lead. Although it remains too early to completely withdraw forces from these areas, across the board we are seeing progress. The Afghan security forces, local government and, most importantly, Afghan citizens in these areas welcome the responsibility and are taking it upon themselves to contribute to the process.
Our objectives this fall and winter will be the following: maintain pressure on the enemy; expand on our security gains; continue to hold the south, both Kandahar and the central Helmand River valley; maintain a strong offensive in the east; enable the Afghan security forces to take the lead during the spring fighting season; and finally, we will continue to press reintegration at all levels across Afghanistan.
Those who fight against the Afghan government and people have a choice: end their violent extremist ways and rejoin their communities, or face unrelenting pressure.With our Afghan partners, we will continue to create an inhospitable environment for the insurgents to return to in the spring.
Since 2009, the significant security gains have set the conditions for the growth of the government and development opportunities throughout Afghanistan. We understand that our campaign plan is not just about military operations; it is about creating the right opportunities and conditions for the Afghan government and the people of Afghanistan to be successful and have a better way of life.
Today many more Afghans are voting in local elections and participating in their local governments. Over 50 percent of all deputy provincial governors in the RC South and Southwest have been employed through merit-based hiring. And earlier this month, 57 new judges were sworn in by the Supreme Court, and these judges will be working in districts that GIRoA has prioritized as having significant potential to expand the reach of formal governance in the population.
Education is another area where we’ve made great progress. Today there are more than 13,000 schools, 170,000 teachers and 8 million students, including roughly 3.2 million girls, compared to 2001, when it was estimated that there was less than 1,000 schools and 1 million students total, and few of those students were girls. Although much progress has been made, Afghans and the coalition will face many challenges and be forced to make some tough decisions. At all times we’ll focus on our strong partnership, which is based on frank communication, respect and integrity.
I would like to express great appreciation to the coalition forces. Your nation will forever be in debt to you for your service, your courage, and devotion to protecting our freedom and our way of life.
To the parents, spouses and children of our military personnel: Thank you. You’ve sacrificed and remained steadfast in the face of great challenges.
Finally, I want you to know we are unified in our effort, committed to our mission and confident in our success. We must succeed.
Thank you. Now, I’d be happy to take your questions.
Q: General, it’s Spencer Ackerman with Wired. Thanks for doing this. I was hoping you could describe the strong offensive in the east that you mentioned. How central is that to your effort? Will you be taking any forces out of RC South to move in RC East? If not, do you have the force sufficient for that? And what’s the degree of cooperation you have with the Pakistani military to ensure that you have an anvil for the hammer to strike against? Thank you.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, I believe you’re talking about the recent operation in the east. Is that your question?
Q: (Off mic) — sir. And how will that expand and change throughout the coming — the month ahead?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, the operations we recently ran in the east, I believe known as Knife Edge — was a concentrated operation over a short period of time, focused on specifically the Haqqani Network. And within that operation, we used the full range of our capabilities, from conventional ANSF forces to their soft forces, as well as our conventional forces to our soft forces. It had a significant effect on that network.And over time, we intend to focus more effort in a similar way, as required.
It — really we — we’ve focused these kind of efforts across all the different networks that exist here in the operational theater. And in this case, we chose to focus it against one network.
In terms of the relationship to the south, when we talk about our efforts and where we place our priorities, it’s not simply about the numbers of troops or the number of maneuver battalions that we shift between, say, the south or the east. Today we have many more resources that are actually almost as significant, and that has to do with our joint fires; our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms; our helicopters, et cetera, all of which are probably not as readily seen but allow us to really focus combat power in a different way.
Your final part of that had to with Pakistan, and you know, we’re working very hard with our military counterpart in Pakistan. I am working hard to improve our relationship there. And with that improving relationship, we’ll focus on common objectives, and that too will have an impact in the future on our common enemies, the insurgents, in that Afghan-Pakistan area.
Q: (Off mic) — sound like a ringing endorsement of the relationship with the Pak mil as it is now. Could you expand on that?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, I would not — I’ll start by saying, you know, I was here a little over a year ago, and the comparison between my experience then with the Pakistan counterparts, our work with them, where literally I went on battlefield circulation with my counterparts on their side of the border — we had some complementary operations running with the Afghans and coalition on one side, the — Pakistans on the other.
Obviously, since this past May that relationship has not been nearly as good. And when I came in July, the communication was not — was not open, and there was a good deal of difficulty.
My intent now — I’ve been over to Pakistan — is to improve that relationship and work together where we do have a common enemy. It’s in their interest; it’s in our interest as a coalition and Afghanistan’s interest to get better control of the border that Afghan and Pakistan share.
Q: David Martin with CBS. Where are you on your plan or your requirement to get 10,000 troops out by the end of this year? And how will getting the additional 23,000 out by next September impact on your goals for next spring and summer?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Yeah, David, good to hear from you again. Thank you.We’re well on our way into the 10,000 that has to come out by the end of December. That was about a third of maneuvered forces, and the remainder a thinning-out of our base forces, support forces and headquarters. And we’re working our way through the detail planning now for the further reduction of another 23,000 by next September. The planning we’re doing today with the resources we have and the guidance that I have at this point, the 23,000 by September — we have maintained our campaign plan objectives, and I’m confident at this point we’ll be able to maintain those objectives.
Q: General, it’s Barbara Starr from CNN. I wanted to go back to the Haqqani network. And the Pakistanis have asked you — in your discussions with the Pakistanis, or from what you’ve seen, is there any indication that they are willing to go after the Haqqani center of gravity in Miran Shah, perhaps specifically the madrassa complex there, or is there any indication that the United States has any ability or interest in going after that, or does that center of gravity simply remain out of reach?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Barbara, in my discussion with the Pakistan counterparts and just my observations and intel, the Pakistanis have said to me that, you know, they simply don’t have the capacity at this time to take on that insurgent network at this point within their borders. And we are obviously working with them to determine how best to have an impact inside of that sanctuary. We work very hard on our side to affect them in terms of interdiction, their cache and the movement cross border. And as you probably know, we are having a greater success on the Afghan side, greater success this year in terms of interdiction. And our focus operations have had a good effect on that network as well.
Q: You say working with them on how to have an impact in that sanctuary. You know, beyond the drone attacks — which are never publicly acknowledged but of course exist, are you — are — is there a possibility of some other kind of U.S.-generated impact on the Haqqanis in that sanctuary?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, I — obviously we don’t normally talk about operations.I would tell you that we have an array of capabilities. But I am, as an operational commander, focused on this side of the Afghan border, and that’s the operations that I control here.
Q: General, Julian Barnes from the Wall Street Journal. First, do you think the Haqqani network is the gravest threat to the mission in Afghanistan right now, greater than the Quetta shura Taliban? And second, as the focus shifts from the south to the east, should we expect a campaign by the U.S. that looks a lot like what you did in the east — I mean in the south, or should we — is this going to be different? Is this not going to be the same kind of counterinsurgency you did in the south?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, first of all, and with respect to the insurgencies that we’re fighting here, the Taliban are a great threat and they have been our focus, because of numbers, first of all, and then secondly because they’ve had the intent to retake the country and rule Afghanistan.
The Haqqani Network itself is a much smaller network. It pledged — it has pledged its allegiance to the Taliban. But it’s a great threat to this country because it is collaborative. While smaller, it provides a great deal of expertise and facilitation, and it’s willing to work with almost any of the other insurgent networks that have effect in Afghanistan. So while they perhaps are not the most serious threat to Afghanistan’s stability as a country, they’re certainly a very serious threat.
In terms of the campaign that you might see in the east, I would say that, you know, we are focused on a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign throughout Afghanistan. And whether we focus that in the south or in the east, the lines of operation — the focus of this operation will be very similar.
Q: General Scaparrotti, Viola Gienger from Bloomberg News. You mentioned earlier that we had significant effect on the Haqqani Network in this recent operation. First of all, you did talk about it in the past tense, so do you consider the main push to be over at this point? And when you say significant effect, exactly what do you mean? What evidence are you seeing so far? What makes you say significant, specifically?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Right. Well, in terms of the operation itself, since we concluded the focused aspect of this operation, the activities, or enemy activity in the areas that we operate or we conducted those operations in, in the east, are down about 39 percent from the norm in the — in the short period after that. That’s one indicator of good effect.
The second is — is that, as you know, we captured or killed over 200 Haqqani associated either foot soldiers, and I think, some cases, mid-level leadership and commanders. So we know who we took off the battlefield and we know that that’s going to have a — that’s going to really deter their ability to operate probably for some time, maybe into the winter period.
Q: Dan DeLuce, from AFP. Could you tell us roughly the scale of this operation in the east, any kind of rough numbers, just to give us an idea of Afghan-U.S. coalition forces? And then a broader question: Is it possible to succeed in the whole campaign, as long as those sanctuaries exist over the border in Pakistan?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, first of all, in terms of scale, it included, on the conventional side, for the Afghans their 203rd Corps, and the predominance of that unit had elements involved in this. They’re predominantly in the Khost-Paktika-Gardez-Logar-Wardak area south of Kabul. And it also included on the Afghan side commando units. They operated nearly every night during the length of this operation, as well as their special operations forces and their police special unit forces operated every evening.
On our side, we had the elements of about three brigades, as well as our special operations forces, operating in partnership with the Afghan forces.
And your second question, please.
Q: I have a broader question. As long as those sanctuaries exist over the border in Pakistan, is it still possible to succeed in Afghanistan and especially in the eastern area?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, that’s — I think there are several threats to our campaign, and the one of the ones — that one’s the one I’m perhaps the most concerned about.And I do believe that we can meet our objectives in 2014 without a direct impact in the sanctuary, but I believe, in order to do that, we have to build a strong, capable layered defense with the ANSF in order to provide, you know, a proper interdiction. And it’ll be a much tougher task.
Q: (Inaudible) — thank you, General. This is Raghubir Goyal from India Globe and Asia Today. My question is, as far as the Haqqani Network is concerned, you know from the reports in Pakistan and also here, visiting many Pakistani experts in Washington, that General Kayani and Pakistanis made very clear to the U.S. that they will not allow to go and come after the Haqqani Network inside Pakistan.
And second, as far as how was the impact on your mission when President Karzai made a statement that if there’s a conflict between Pakistan and the U.S., Afghanistan will side the Pakistanis, not the U.S.?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, you know, first of all, as far as the statement, I’m focused on operations, as are the soldiers that I lead inside of Afghanistan. So you know, we’re focused on operating. And I have a great relationship with my Afghan counterparts in the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior. And so really, little effect there. And we’re focused on getting the job done.
Q: Haqqani Network? I’m sorry, the first part was how do you, say, take it seriously when Pakistani generals and Pakistani visiting scholars here are saying that U.S. will not be allowed to go after the Haqqani Network inside Pakistan because that — they are part of — since they’ve been fighting against the Soviets?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, I understand that Pakistan is a sovereign country, and we obviously recognize that.
And part of the reason that I’m working hard on the mil-to-mil aspect to improve relations with my counterparts is so that we can have the discussions about our common objectives and those insurgents. The insurgents inside of Pakistan, in my opinion, are a threat to Pakistan as much as they are a threat to Afghanistan or to our country. And those are the kinds of discussions that I have with my military counterparts. They’re professional, but I get across, you know, my interests as a commander, a coalition commander and a U.S. commander in Afghanistan as well.
Q: (Off mic) — from Talk Radio News. Can you give us some specifics on Afghan involvement in these operations? And in terms of what’s going on in the east specifically, what is the criteria that deems whether this will be a — or whether a mission will be Afghan- led or ISAF?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: In terms of more specifics on the mission there in the east, I mentioned 203rd Corps; 203rd Corps is about 20,000. Not all of the corps was involved, but a good bit of it. The commando brigade provided battalions on five or six missions, night missions, and they also included their police special units and their SOF forces.And in all those cases those units are partnered with either ISAF SOF or U.S. SOF, and they lead the way. When they — when we enter a compound, in almost every case it’s Afghans with those SOF forces that are the first in the compound, first in the door.
In terms of our conventional forces, it depends on the unit’s proficiency. But my — one of my prime objectives is that we’re working hard, one, to accelerate their development, but two, to put them in the lead whenever that unit is ready.
And so, often throughout Afghanistan, there are Afghan units, police and army, that are in a lead and being partnered with coalition forces. That’s coming along pretty well. In a number of these operations, Afghan forces led in these operations.
Q: Hi, General. John Harper with the Asahi Shimbun. Are you seeing any evidence of Iranian activity in Afghanistan in terms of providing assistance to the insurgents?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, actually, within Afghanistan you see Iranian influence in terms of what I would say is soft power. As you know, on the border near Herat there has always been a relationship across that border, so in some ways that’s productive. It is helping with some of the development out there. In other ways, it’s not productive, but it’s generally in a soft manner.
The number — we have seen some indications of weaponry and supply that came from Iran, in those regions, not necessarily the government support, but cross-border in the south and west of the area. But at this point those are relatively limited — limited occurrences or events.
Q: Hi, General. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. I apologize if I misunderstood this, but I think earlier, in response to a question about Haqqani — I’m sorry, about Pakistan, you said that when you got there in July, the communication was not open with Pakistan. Can you explain a little bit more about what you meant by that? Is that specifically as a result of the Bin Laden raid? And when you’re talking about communication not being open, do you mean you with a counterpart there, or what?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, what I mean by that is — is that if you — if you go along the Pak-Afghan border, it in a year ago — or a year ago, it was common, and has been for some time, that we would have radio communications cross-border between coalition, Afghan and Pakistan forces who face each other across the border. We would have communication between counterparts at brigade level, counterparts at RC or division level. We had, you know, quarterly planning conferences where we would compare our planning along the border and perhaps do complementary operations.
About May of this past year, after the Bin Laden raid, those routine communications just were not available in most cases. We had a difficult time arranging border flag meetings. We had a difficult time arranging communications back and forth. And that is — they’re showing an interest, and since probably about July-August. And I have made a trip there, and we’re attempting to reestablish the communications along the border, particularly between units that are facing each other, Afghan and Pakistan.
It’s important to ensure that, one, we can interdict cross-border movement, but, two, that when there is a conflict, the insurgents attack, crossfire, cross-border fires, that we can react and the Pakistanis can react, without firing upon each other.
Q: Just to be clear, General, those more common occurrences, like radio communications and whatnot, are those now occurring again, or is there — has there still been sort of a cutoff of communication?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: There has been communications now — they’re not at the — at the regularity that at one time they were or I would like them to be, but I believe we’re moving in that direction. We recently had a fairly significant meeting — discussed communications with RC East and the counterparts in 11th Pakistan Corps. We are in communication now and writing a standard operating procedure that would lay out the daily communications expected of each side. So I think we’re moving in the right direction. But right now we’re having conversations, and I hope to see that that’ll move into action here in the near term.
Q: Sir, Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg News. I want to go back to a question you were asked about whether the United States can meet its goal by 2014 if the Haqqani network and the sanctuaries in Pakistan are not greatly diminished. I think you said you can — you believe the goal can be accomplished, but it would be much tougher because the U.S. would have to set up a layered defense. Can you elaborate a little bit on that?And was I hearing you correctly?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Yes, to say it again, I believe — and there’s an awful lot of unknowns between now and 2014, but I believe, with what I know today and expect of this campaign and the way it will come out, the way that we will execute it, that we can reach our objectives in 2014 if that sanctuary were to remain about like it is today.But in order to do that, one of the requirements is a fairly stiff defense being executed by the Afghans along their border.
And I say layered because it would be the border outposts stiffened that are along that border and exist today with the Afghan Border Police, their conventional units and a little more depth, some of their mobile units to cover those gaps, and then to respond to incursions and then, in the interior, their normal police and army forces. But it’s a layered defense, is the best defense along the border. You can’t possibly block every possible crossing point or man a border completely, particularly the length of the border with Pakistan and the ruggedness of the terrain that’s here.
Q: But what role would technology play in this I don’t want to say Maginot Line, but this kind of layered defense? The United States has fielded these dirigibles, these persistent surveillance dirigibles to protect bases. Would something like that technology be needed round the clock to provide persistent surveillance?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: That technology, the sensors that are available, et cetera, and we use today, is a part of my thinking on this. And what they allow you to do is to use less force, to be agile and use your force in a mobile way to counter incursions so you can, as you would — as you know, you can cover a lot more ground using available sensors, and they would be a part of this defense.
Q: Sir, Richard Sisk, The War Report Online. Where does it stand on transitioning more areas to the Afghan security forces? Where might that be? When will it happen?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, as you know, we’ve transitioned seven in the first tranche.
And we have done the studies with our Afghan partners and provided our insights in terms of conditions of those additional provinces or districts or municipalities that are being considered by the Afghan government. The actual decision itself is under consideration by the president. I’m told that we might expect a decision here soon and a decision here as you approach, you know, the December time frame as what was expected.
This is a very important part of our plan here. Transition itself is a part of the process. We’re building it into the campaign plan so that as we reach campaign plan objectives, we’re reinforcing the transition in these provinces. And I think it’s a good sign of progress, as well.
Q: David Martin again. Excuse me. Back to the Pakistani border.
Can you quantify for us the increase in shelling that is coming from the Pakistani side of the border? And there’s certainly a perception that a lot of the shelling is happening under the noses of the Frontier Corps. So, in addition to whatever numbers you might have, your opinion on whether this is being done with the tacit acceptance of the Frontier Corps.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, David, first with respect to the number, in the south along Paktika’s Khost — Patika border area with Pakistan, the cross-border fires this year are about — are over four times higher than they had been in the past year, so considerably higher.
Up north in the Kunar region, while there’s been a lot of reporting of increased fire, the actual numbers of cross-border fires have not been nearly as great. In the north, it’s primarily insurgent action and Pakistan countering insurgents who cross the border.Down in the south in Paktika, the area that you’re referring to where it has increased a great deal, we have seen indications where fires have originated from positions that were in close proximity to some Pakistan outposts — which, as you might imagine, give us great concern. And we immediately get in contact with our Pakistan counterparts in that case.
I think the collaboration is, at least in some cases, local collaboration with the insurgents, and we talk very bluntly with our Pakistan counterparts about this. I would tell you, since we began our discussions here lately, the Pakistanis have in fact returned fire on several of those points of origin that we’ve taken fire from now. That’s a positive indicator here in the last month.
We routinely now immediately contact at each level across-border when we take fire, and provide them the point of origin. And then finally, I’ll say we also return fire cross-border when we take effective fire from the enemy.
Q: General, Viola Gienger from Bloomberg News again. Can you tell us anything about this attack today on the Kandahar PRT and what is happening with that?What’s the latest before you came in here to talk to us?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Right. Right before I came in, there had been an attack on the PRT in Kandahar.
It was a smaller-scale attack to begin with. The ANSF responded with mobile force. They moved into a compound about 600 meters southwest of the camp itself, and they were isolated in that compound. When I came in here, the Afghan national security forces had entered the compound. They had cleared the first two floors of the building. And the insurgents that conducted the attack had barricaded themselves on the third floor.
So you know, the ANSF have responded. They’ve got it under control. I expect that they’ll take some time on this now because we believe that, you know, normally, on something like this with a small number, they’ll have — probably be suicide vest — have suicide vests on, et cetera. And so I wouldn’t be surprised about that. And we’re using a lot of caution because typically, they’ll put a — perhaps a vehicle bomb someplace in proximity. And that’s what it was when I came here — when I came in here about probably 45 minutes ago.
CAPT. CAMPBELL: Sir, we’ll take one more question.
Q: General, Spencer Ackerman again. Quick follow on David’s question. Did I hear you correctly that you were saying there was local collaboration by the Pakistani military with the insurgency? Or did you mean local Pakistani civilians?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, the Frontier Corps is a — is a part of their police, actually. It’s — but it’s led by Pak mil. And it is — the soldiers are conscripted from the locality. Not as well- trained as the — as the Pak mil, the regular army. And in some locations, from time to time you’ll see what just appears to us to be a collaboration or was a collaboration or, at a minimum, looking the other way when insurgents conducted rocket or mortar fire in what we believe to be visual sight of one of their posts.
CAPT. CAMPBELL: General, with that, we’d like to turn it back over to you for any closing comments that you may have. And from this end, we genuinely appreciate you devoting your evening to join us here in the briefing room, sir.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, thank you, Jane. It’s my pleasure. I appreciate the attendance and the opportunity to talk to you.
I would tell you personally, I’m — having come back after a year out of here, I’m very pleased with the progress that’s been made by the ANSF, the momentum that we have in this campaign. And my objective is to maintain that momentum, accelerate the development of the ANSF, push them into the lead.
And then finally, before I go, I just want to thank our service members and their families for their service, for their sacrifice in this great mission. It’s important that we succeed. And thank you all for your time, and have a good evening.
CAPT. CAMPBELL: Thank you, sir.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: You’re welcome.