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Special Briefing on Afghanistan

Speakers: Michele Flournoy, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Brigadier General John Nicholson, Director of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination Cell, Joint Staff, and Paul Jones, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Afghanistan and Pakistan and Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Department of State
Presider: James M. Lindsay, Director of Studies and Maurice R. Greenburg Chair, Council on Foreign Relations
December 4, 2009
Council on Foreign Relations

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JAMES LINDSAY: (In progress.) I would like to welcome all of you to this special briefing on Afghanistan. As you all know, on Tuesday President Obama announced the results of his review of U.S. policy toward Afghanistan, a highlight being that 30,000 more U.S. troops will be deployed to Afghanistan over the next six months. And beginning in July, 2011, the administration is aiming to begin the process of withdrawing -- or reducing total U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Today we have the opportunity to hear from three administration officials who will be responsible for carrying out the policy in Afghanistan, and then to ask them some questions. I'd like to thank the Department of Defense and the Department of State for arranging this briefing; I'd also like to remind all of you to turn off your cell phones and pagers; and to say this briefing is on the record, so anything you say can be used against you.

Now it's my pleasure to introduce today's speakers. I would like to welcome to the Council Michele Flournoy, who is the under secretary of defense for policy. To Michele's right is Brigadier General Mick Nicholson, who is the director of the Pakistan-Afghanistan coordination cell for the Joint Staff. And to General Nicholson's right is Paul Jones, deputy special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and deputy assistant secretary of state for Afghanistan and Pakistan. You actually have an even longer title than I do, Paul.

I guess we'll turn it over now. I think, Michele, you were going to kick it off.

MICHELE FLOURNOY: Right, and thanks, Jim, very much. And let me just say that it's wonderful to be back at the Council and to see so many familiar faces in the audience.

Everybody knows the basics of the approach that we've outlined for Afghanistan. So I just want to briefly emphasize a couple of the key issues before turning it over to my colleagues, and then really looking forward to the discussion.

Let me start with a word about process. When we decided to review where we are in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we were very aware of the incredible complexity of the issues involved. And so the process through which this refined strategy was developed was designed to do full justice to the complexity of the challenges we face to make sure that president had the benefit of hearing a very broad range of perspectives, and that every option receive very careful consideration.

I know there are some who would have like to have seen a more rapid strategy review, but the president felt strongly that with so many lives on the line, and with so -- and our long-term interests at stake, doing this fast was not as important as doing it right.

Our review process involved 10 meetings with the full NSC team, plus many more smaller meetings. It was highly collaborative. General McChrystal's assessment was a critical input into the process. The president also solicited analyses and recommendations from other advisers within the government, with our allies and -- from our allies and partners, from outside experts, and so forth.

It was also a very disciplined process. We started by making sure that we were in agreement on the fundamental U.S. interests at stake, and that was our starting point; and then we focused on our objectives in the broader region -- both Afghanistan and Pakistan, on potential approaches and strategies; and then, finally, on resources.

And I say all this just to emphasize that the decision that the president reached was made with great care and deliberation. We all know there is no silver bullet available here. We looked for one, but it wasn't there.

We feel confident, though, that the refined strategy we've developed in this process is the best option that we have for the United States, and for Afghanistan in particular, going forward. It is the one most likely to succeed and the one that best balances various risks.

So let me shift now to talking about the substance of the decision. You all know the basics: 30,000 additional U.S. troops deployed, the vast majority of which will be deployed by the end of the summer in 2010; a very strong call that we've made, both privately and publicly, for NATO and ISAF partners to step up and provide an additional 5,000 to 7,000 troops; and we will be focusing on accelerating ANSF growth as rapidly as possible, with an emphasis on creating a quality force that is both effective and sustainable.

We'll also be tailoring our civilian assistance programs to increase governance capacity and economic opportunity in a very carefully calibrated way. And I know that Paul Jones will walk you through many of the details there.

And we have assured -- very importantly, and this message has not always come out in the reporting, we have assured our Afghan partners and our Pakistani partners that our engagement in the region and our assistance to them will be enduring. We will not walk away from this region when the military mission draws down.

I want to highlight both what is the same in our approach and what is different. What's entirely unchanged is our core goal in the region: We must disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and deny them safe haven in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. That was the goal that we set out in our March strategy review and that remains the same.

But here's what's different. The president's strategic review has led to a more focused approach and strategy for achieving a clearer set of concrete operational objectives.

Second, the refined approach calls for a far more rapid deployment of additional U.S. and international troops with a focus on reversing the Taliban's momentum and accelerating the growth of ANSF capacity.

And third, we are strongly committed to supporting Afghanistan and Pakistan over the long haul. The active involvement of U.S. combat troops, however, in Afghanistan is not open-ended. Our refined strategy emphasizes a gradual transfer of responsibility for security to the Afghan government that begins in the summer of 2011.

Let me say a little bit more about each aspects -- each of these aspects. To start with, when I say that our strategy now has greater focus, what I mean here is that we are being much more concrete and specific about what we are going to try to do and what we are not going to try to do.

As Secretary Gates said in his testimony yesterday, and the day before, "It is neither necessary nor feasible to create a modern, centralized, Western-style Afghan nation-state; nor does our strategy entail conducting textbook counterinsurgency from one end of Afghanistan to the other."

"It is instead a narrower focus, tied more tightly to our goal of disrupting, dismantling, and eventually defeating al Qaeda by building the capacity of the Afghans, capacity that will be measured by observable progress on clear objectives and not simply the passage of time." So that's what Secretary Gates has said.

And what we aim to do here is degrade the Taliban-led insurgency while we also build up sufficient Afghan capacity to secure and govern the country. This has a number of implications for the military mission, and here we have defined six core operational goals:

The first is to reverse Taliban momentum. General McChrystal highlighted the criticality of that in his assessment, front and center.

The second is to deny the Taliban access to control over population and production centers and key lines of communication.

The third is to disrupt the Taliban outside of secured areas and prevent al Qaeda from gaining or regaining sanctuary.

The fourth is degrading Taliban capabilities to a level at which the ANSF, on its own, can effectively combat them.

The fifth is to increase the size and capability of the ANSF while leveraging local security forces, so that by the summer of 2011 we can begin the process of transitioning responsibility for some areas to the Afghan government.

And, finally, selectively building the capacity of the Afghan government. For DOD, this is going to be a primary focus on support -- helping the development of both the ministry of defense and the ministry of the interior.

So you've all heard the phrase of "clear, hold and build" before. You might say the overall theme of the strategy we've described here, in Afghanistan, is clear, hold, build and transfer. And that brings me to my next key point.

Our refined strategy gets the necessary additional troops faster to the places where there is the greatest need. Instead of deploying brigades gradually over a much more extended period of time, we will seek to deploy the vast majority of the 30,000 troops, plus the additional troops contributed by our allies, by the end of this summer.

This will be no small challenge, particularly -- you know, those of you who have visited Afghanistan know this is not a country with well-developed infrastructure. So there will be many challenges and we are already hard at work, working to deal with those.

The rapid inflow of additional U.S. combat forces is absolutely critical to this core goal of -- core objective of reversing Taliban momentum. And I also want to be clear that we -- the decision, and making the decision, the president gave General McChrystal complete flexibility on the force mix and the geographic distribution of those 30,000 additional troops.

A final key point: Our military mission will not be open-ended. We currently plan to maintain the additional troop strength in a surge in Afghanistan for 18 months, and U.S. forces will begin the process of transferring lead responsibility for security to the ANSF in July of 2011.

And here I want to be very clear, because I think this is a point on which there have been -- there's been some misunderstanding. Some critics have interpreted this as meaning that we're going to be withdrawing all of our troops in the summer of 2011. Others, interestingly, have managed to draw the exact opposite conclusion, that the 18-month time frame is meaningless and that all 30,000 troops will remain in Afghanistan in a combat role indefinitely.

Both of these interpretations are wrong. As Secretary Gates said in his testimony yesterday -- and I'm going to quote him again just to be absolutely safe, "July, 2011 is the beginning of a process, an inflection point of transition where Afghan forces assume greater responsibility for security. The pace and character of that drawdown -- which districts and provinces are turned over, when, will be determined by conditions on the ground." So the start point is clear. The pace and scope of the drawdown will be conditions based.

I want to emphasize that the president did not pick the date of July, 2011 out of a hat. It's not an arbitrary date. During the strategy review we spent a lot of time -- and my colleagues can attest to this, going through an analysis of, district by district, province by province, looking at conditions on the ground in Afghanistan, and also looking closely at the capacity of the ANSF today and where we think they will be in 18 to 24 months from now.

And the conclusion we reached, based on that analysis, is that July, 2011 is quite realistic as a date to begin the process of transferring responsibility for security to the ANSF in some parts of the country. We have high confidence that by that time conditions will permit us to end the surge and begin a gradual and responsible drawdown of U.S. forces.

To be sure, we will likely be able to turn over responsibility for security more rapidly and more fully in some districts than others. Based on an assessment of conditions on the ground, the president will, at that point, determine and adjust the scope and pace of the drawdown.

So as Secretary Gates has said, this is an issue of balance. We need to show both our partners and our adversaries in the region that we mean business:

We will deploy the troops and civilian resources that are necessary to accomplish our strategic goals, and we will retain the tactical flexibility to adapt to circumstances as required.

At the same time, we have to send a clear message to the Afghan government that the U.S. military is not going to be there forever. The Afghans must take the primary responsibility for defending their own country and prepare to do so with a sense of purpose and urgency.

There is much more I can say about the details of the strategy, and particularly the regional dimensions. I'm happy to talk about Pakistan in the Q & A if there's interest. But I want to stop here and give my colleagues a chance to elaborate on other aspects of the policy. Thank you.

LINDSAY: Thank you, Michele.

General Nicholson.

(Cross talk.)

BRIGADIER GENERAL JOHN "MICK" NICHOLSON: I'm hoping to minimize what I have to say -- (laughter) -- (inaudible) --

PAUL JONES: It would be not covering what the rest of us was just covering -- good.

Well thank you so much for having us today. On behalf of Richard Holbrooke and his team from 10 different agencies and outside experts, (we) really appreciate the opportunity to describe a little bit the civilian aspects of the overall strategy. I'm joined here today by Vali Nasr, who many of you know -- one of the outside experts from Ambassador Holbrooke's team, as well as Sean Miscoe (sp), my special assistant in our office.

The outlines of the strategy obviously were announced in March, but this intensive review resulted in a far-deeper, focused and aligned strategy, as much on the civilian as on the military side. And as Michele noted, the complexity of the issues is enormous, as are the stakes for the U.S. and our allies. The president's review brought the entire government to a level of understanding and alignment that we need to succeed.

Perhaps the most important conclusion -- somewhat obscured by the questions about July, 2011, is that the United States has enduring interests in this region and is committed to a deeper, long term relationship with the governments and peoples of Afghanistan and Pakistan. So we will remain diplomatically, politically, economically engaged long after the security situation improves and our combat forces are able to come home.

So let me take just a couple of minutes to walk through some of the civilian aspects of this strategy which haven't received as much attention obviously in our media, so I thought that might be helpful. To achieve the core goal with regard to Afghanistan, we need to help build the capacity of Afghan institutions to withstand and diminish the threat posed by extremism. If I had to identify a theme running through many of the aspects of the review regarding Afghanistan, it would be that all politics in Afghanistan is local, and we need to focus our policies and programs accordingly.

That does not mean that we ignore the central government, but it does mean that we will focus our support at the national level on those ministries that can have the most direct impact on service delivery, particularly in the geographic heart of the insurgency, the South and the East; and that we are broadening our support and engagement at the provincial and district levels to enhance visibility, effectiveness and accountability of the institutions that impact Afghan lives the most. This is where our most consequential programs will be delivered and where our vastly-increased civilian deployment will focus as well.

President Karzai's inaugural address set a pretty ambitious agenda on which rapid progress is important, with international support. This agenda, which comprises security, economic reconstruction, governance, reintegration and regional relationships, will be fleshed-out in coming weeks, including at the international conference in London, and subsequently in Kabul.

Skipping the security aspect, which Michele obviously addressed, I'd like to comment briefly on how we will partner with Afghans in each of these areas.

We're putting enormous attention and focus on reconstruction efforts in areas that we can quickly -- that can quickly create jobs, and especially in agriculture. Rebuilding Afghanistan's once-vibrant, licit agricultural sector will sap the insurgency of not only foot soldiers, but also the income it receives from the narcotics trade.

Simultaneously, we are rapidly transforming how we deliver assistance, decreasing our reliance on contractors and developing a process for Afghan institutions to receive direct assistance if they enhance accountability and transparency.

Our reconstruction efforts are quickly becoming more aligned with Afghan priorities, including through programs such as the National Solidarity Program.

On governance, we are taking President Karzai at his word and supporting strong actions to combat corruption through law enforcement, strengthened oversight and capacity-building at all levels of government.

We also recognize that our assistance -- too often contracted out with less-than-adequate oversight, has contributed to corruption, and we're increasing dramatically USAID personnel for more direct oversight, and we support wholeheartedly the independent audits of the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.

Alongside efforts to train more capable police, we are also focusing our rule-of-law effort on helping Afghan -- the Afghan government and local communities develop responsive and predictable dispute resolution mechanisms that offer an alternative to the brutal Taliban justice.

Recognizing the political dimensions of the Afghan conflict, we have reiterated our support for Afghan-led efforts to reintegrate Taliban who renounce al Qaeda, cease violence, and agree to participate in the constitutional process.

Our civilian-military efforts at the local level will local level will focus, as Michele indicated, on each individual -- on each district individually. Many districts are neither under Taliban nor government control, while others that are nominally -- while others are nominally Taliban, but animated by local political disputes. Political arrangements that meet our, and Afghan, security needs will vary.

Finally, we are launching a comprehensive communications effort to empower Afghans to challenge the extremists' narrative, and offer their own vision of Afghanistan's future.

Each of our civilian assistance programs is tightly bound to our strategy, and each must have a dual benefit -- helping the people of Afghanistan, while also advancing our national security by helping achieve our core goal.

The president will soon provide Congress with a resource request to implement the civilian -- this focus to civilian effort. That request will include not only a sizeable increase in civilian assistance, but also funds to support deployment of additional civilian experts beyond the, roughly, 1,000 U.S. government civilians who will be on the ground by early next year.

We are now in the midst of this civilian surge. I spoke yesterday at the Foreign Service Institute to a class of 90 experts from USAID, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the State Department who will be deploying before Christmas. The next such class is in two weeks, so we're on a pretty quick tempo. Next week I'll travel to Camp Atterbury, Indiana where every civilian who is deploying to the field undergoes a week-long realistic, intensive field exercise with our military counterparts.

Secretary Clinton is proud of noting that among these civilians are our top experts from 10 different U.S. government agencies and departments. And, once deployed, they report to our embassy in Kabul through a unified civilian chain of command, with civilian representatives located at every civilian-military platform.

In short, our selection, training and leadership is better than ever before. The result is improved civ-mil coordination at all levels of our effort in Afghanistan, and gives us the civilian expertise out in key districts that will allow our locally-focused strategy to succeed. Admiral Mullen attested to the quality of the civilians during his appearance yesterday before Congress.

With regard to Pakistan, we also believe there's a critical window of opportunity that has been opened, in this case by the transition to democratic, civilian rule under way since 2007, and the broad, sustained political support within Pakistan since April for military operations against extremists.

The theme of the review I would identify for Pakistan would be the need for the United States to develop a much broader, enduring relationship with Pakistan. Today it is clearer than ever before that our long term security requires us to lead the international community in helping Pakistan overcome the political, economic and security challenges that threaten its stability, and, in turn, undermine regional stability.

The foundation of this effort, as the president pointed out, will be a long-term strategic partnership with Pakistan based on common interests, including recognition that we cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known and whose intentions are clear.

So the United States is making a sizeable, long-term commitment of economic assistance to Pakistan with the following objectives:

Helping Pakistan address immediate energy, water and related economic crises, thereby deepening our partnership with the Pakistani people and decreasing the appeal of extremists;

Supporting broader economic reforms that are necessary to put Pakistan on a path toward sustainable job creation and economic growth; and

Helping Pakistan build on its success against militants to eliminate extremist sanctuaries that threaten Pakistan, Afghanistan, the region and the world.

Additional U.S. assistance will help Pakistan build a foundation for long-term development, and will also strengthen ties between the American and Pakistani people by demonstrating that the United States is committed to addressing problems that affect the every-day lives of Pakistanis.

Secretary Clinton's remarkable three-day visit to Pakistan, much of which -- (inaudible) -- televised live in Pakistan, underscored our new approach by engaging people in honest dialogue that was both animated and, in some ways, cathartic. At the government level -- at the governmental level, she and Foreign Minister Qureshi agreed to a new strategic dialogue with the Pakistani government at their level.

We will also sustain counterinsurgency support and other security assistance to Pakistan's military and police to help them fight insurgents, as well as make greater civilian investments to meet the needs of people in the areas most affected by the militancy. And like in Afghanistan, all our efforts in Pakistan will be supported by a new public diplomacy effort expanding people-to-people contacts and challenging extremist narrative.

We are working to build the broadest possible global coalition in support of all these efforts. Discussions at the U.N. General Assembly and in capitals in recent months have underscored that not only the depth of international concern regarding the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also the breadth of nations with interests in contributing to stability in this volatile region.

Our objectives are shared by people in governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and by people around the world, from Europe to Australia, from Russia to China to India, and across the Middle East where Muslim countries also face a common threat from al Qaeda. We are in close contact with all of them, from an assistance-coordination delegation that's returning today from Turkey, to Ambassador Holbrooke's visit to Moscow two weeks ago, and many previous and planned travels.

And we're working to organize and harvest -- harness what we see as an untapped reservoir of support. Dozens of nations are taking an increasingly proactive role, with almost 30 special representatives from Afghanistan and Pakistan, who now meet on an increasingly regular basis, as well as 42 nations in the ISAF Coalition. The coalition will -- this coalition will contribute increased civilian and military resources, help build legitimate trade and economic activity, curb illicit financial flows, and provide critical political support.

And finally, our regional diplomacy is also expanding, with a sharpened focus on mitigating external interference in Afghanistan, and shifting the calculus of Afghanistan's neighbors from competition to cooperation and economic integration. And the Afghanistan-Pakistan- United States trilateral dialogue, meanwhile, will be reinvigorated, now that the Afghan elections are over, providing another venue for advancing cooperation on issues such as transit trade, agriculture, interior issues and intelligence.

So to conclude, the civilian side of our strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan is more focused, robust and resourced than ever before. Our commitment is for the long term, and it's wide-ranging. And I'd just invite anyone who wishes more detail on any of these aspects, our team is available for further discussions on any aspect of this, or more general -- more generally. So thank you very much.

LINDSAY: Thank you, Paul.

May I entice you to speak now, General?

NICHOLSON: Yes, you can.

And the reason I asked to go last was, in addition to now serving for the last two months -- or last month as the director of the Pakistan-Afghanistan coordination cell, I've really spent more time in Afghanistan over the last four years as a commander in Regional Command East and Regional Command South.

And what I'd like to offer you today is how we're going to operationalize this policy that has been articulated by Ms. Flournoy and Mr. Jones -- indeed, I'd argue that many of these things that we're talking about we've already started, and can offer some sort of bottom-up fidelity, if you will, on how this works and will work. And that's the bottom line from my perspective, is it will work.

And I say that, last year having been in Regional Command South as a deputy commander, where, as you know, President Obama authorized an additional 20,000-plus troops into that region. We brought them in and began a more focused approach, a more civ-mil integrated approach, and more focused work with some of the Afghan ministries that Ms. Flournoy mentioned.

And let me just offer a couple vignettes to illustrate that. And this really gets to -- and I'll key in, I'll tie this back to some of the key points that Ms. Flournoy mentioned on reversing Taliban momentum. As we introduced troops last year, and as we introduce troops in the coming weeks and months, many of them will go to the South and East.

And particular(ly) in the South, of course, you're familiar with Helmand Province. In Helmand Province the enemy did have the momentum, despite the very valorous and, in places, very successful effort of our British allies. Helmand's a very large and difficult province, largely because of the nexus of narcotics and insurgency that we find there.

As we introduced the U.S. Marine Expeditionary Brigade last summer, they moved into specific areas, and these, again, to talk a more focused approach. ISAF -- under the command of General McChrystal, of course, since last, early summer -- we sat down, reviewed and identified the critical districts throughout Afghanistan into which we would focus our efforts.

And then developed integrated approaches to those districts on how we would reverse momentum and implement our COIN campaigns in those areas to: separate the enemy from the people; connect the people to the government; help the government, then, to build; and then eventually to transfer responsibility to the government in those critical districts.

So, for example, if you look at central Helmand right now, Garmsir District as an example -- some of you may have heard of that, U.S. Marines went in there in the spring of 2008. By the spring of 2010, they will have been in there two years. We are seeing a difference in Garmsir District. We have a solid governance team, consisting of a district governor, military police commanders, NDS chief, and some linkages to the provincial government.

The provincial government in Helmand, headed up by a man named Gulab Mangal. Mangal is probably one of the best governors in all of Afghanistan. He has experience in the East -- he was governor in Paktika, Laghman Province. Now, after a series of poor governors, frankly, in Helmand, Mangal came in and has made a huge difference in that area. This would be one of those key appointments, though, that we'll be looking at closely -- clearly, not within our control, but to keep that kind of governor in place in a place like Helmand.

But, again, another ingredient, together with the Marine security presence, partnered with an Afghan national army battalion, a solid district governor, a good provincial governor, now adding in the civilian component that was increased last summer as well.

And as Paul mentioned, we have significantly increased, and are continuing to build on the civilian component. When I got to RC South last year there were 13 U.S. government civilians in the entire six-provincial region. Hardly adequate. By the time I left -- well, actually now we're up to about 85.

Perhaps most importantly, I had a senior civilian counterpart -- as a senior military officer in RC South, I had a senior civilian counterpart. Some of you may know him, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Frank Ruggiero -- very competent, very qualified, with a degree of unity-of-command, if you will, using a military term, but a degree of authority that enabled us to begin to have a unity of effort in the civil effort, in these focused districts.

So what did we -- what did we do with that team? Okay, in implementing the agricultural strategy, which Paul articulated, we brought in Minister Rahimi, the minister of agriculture, irrigation and livestock; Minister Zia, from the ministry of rural rehabilitation and development, to work focused programs into those districts. Clearly, a lot of capacity-building going on, but they were quite enthusiastic about the idea, want to get into these areas, and we're beginning to get them in there.

We have one of our first U.S. Department of Agriculture civilians working, for example, in the Nawa District. There's going to be -- and eventually I think we're up to 64 USDA employees that'll be coming in by the beginning of the year to help us enable and build the capacity of the agriculture minister's local district-level personnel.

Now, is this working perfectly? No, of course not. But we are bringing these people together. It is working. We're making those initial steps.

So as we look forward to, you know, the summer of 2011, and we talk about accomplishing our objectives in some of these key districts, my message is: There is a formula for this, and we are working it in those key districts, and will continue to work it in those key districts, enabled by the additional resources that the president has just authorized, enabled by the additional civilians we're getting in; looking closely at those ministries that we need to focus on, and work closely with (in ?) building capacity, then we'll be enabled by them as well.

There are some difficulties with Afghan governance, obviously. We have looked very carefully at this issue -- again, in our civ-mil teams, at how to work this, and we're working along multiple lines. Clearly, working with district- and provincial-level leaders is critical at the sub-national level to increase their (effectiveness ?), but also working at how we can bring national-level ministries down to have an effect at the district and local level.

And the National Solidarity Program, which I'm sure many of you have heard of, is an example of one of these national programs, and a way that we can invest at the national level, and in their capacity, and bring that capacity down to the district level to work to strengthen the connection between the government and the people at the local level.

This is critical because quite often we find you might have a single district leader -- or, you know, and the government, (that rise ?) or falls on this individual in that district. If they're credible, capable, can connect with the people, we have good governance. If they're not, we have poor governance.

What we're looking to do is broaden that definition of governance and enable several points of connection, beyond just the individual district leader, but including these national-level ministries, enabling them to get down to the local level. So that's an important piece to this.

I'd also mention, in the South, our allies and their effectiveness down there. And quite often -- I don't know that this gets the, that this gets the publicity that it deserves, but our allies in Regional Command South, for example, have been doing a lot of heavy lifting for us over the years.

It was very impressive for me, as a commander, to work with the British, the Canadians, the Danes, the Estonians, Australians, Romanians, Dutch, all in RC South, and all of whom taken -- have taken quite a few casualties, but have, for that sacrifice, made some very solid gains. Typically what I found is they have not had the capacity that they would have liked to have had to accomplish more. They welcomed our working with them down there to enable us to do more.

Let me talk a bit about what may, then, happen over the next few months. And I share this vignette because, as we introduce more forces -- and this has come up in testimony with the chairman and the secretary -- and as we clear some of these districts, it's inevitable there's going to be an increase in violence and the potential for greater casualties. And as Senator McCain said yesterday in his dialogue -- or two days ago in his dialogue with the chairman, he said it's important that we share this with the American people and they be aware of this. And as a military commander I would echo that sentiment.

And yet it'll be important to look behind that optic of violence and casualties, and really understand what we're gaining for that sacrifice. And understanding what is going on in those districts, and how we can measure that, will be critical. And what my message is, is that we are setting the pieces in place to have success for the sacrifice we're about to make. And in those key districts that General McChrystal is focusing on, I think we will start to see those results.

So I paint this picture because the question always comes back to, What's going to happen in 2011? And as you've heard the secretary articulate, the chairman articulate, it's a transition point. There will be certain areas, certain districts where the activities that I just outlined will have occurred, and will get us to a level where we can begin that transition to Afghan security lead, and other -- lead in other areas as well.

So I wanted to share, kind of, the vignette to give you, from a practitioner's standpoint, the understanding of how this is going to work, that it is quite doable in many of these key areas, and, in fact, we are going to focus on these key areas.

A final word on the selection of these areas -- and this has been, this is something we began as soon as General McChrystal got on the ground last summer -- a very thorough, rigorous analysis of all of Afghanistan, and what are those key areas where we believe that we need to have this effect in order to enable the government to get, with its security forces and its government capability, to a level where they can take over this campaign.

General McChrystal has identified those areas, and those will be the focus of this effort coming up. So with that, again, I just wanted to offer a couple of practical vignettes to round out what you've heard from Ms. Flournoy and Mr. Jones, and I'm happy to take any questions.

LINDSAY: Thank you, General Nicholson.

As I said at the outset, our guests have graciously agreed to take questions. I would ask people, as we call on you, to state your name and your affiliation, and please keep your questions brief. We have to get Under Secretary Flournoy, General Nicholson, Mr. Jones back to work as soon as possible.

Begin with Senator Robb, please.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

First of all, let me say that I was encouraged by the president's formal presentation. There was much to -- reassurance. I also had the opportunity to visit with Jim Jones just before he went over to talk to some of the forces that are going to be involved in this.

My question is with respect to what kind of leverage that we have, particularly with the Karzai government, and at the district, provincial level, and whatever. All of these plans are contingent to the degree that the level of cooperation that we receive from the Afghan government, at whatever level, and that cooperation in recent months, particularly with the election, it looked like it was a little less forthcoming.

So could you talk in open session about any of the aspects of leverage that we can focus on, in terms of ensuring that the Afghan part of the deal, if you will, is carried out?

FLOURNOY: Do you want to start with the Compact, and then I can (back in with the military piece ?)?

JONES: Sure.

Yeah, I think we put a lot of effort in election period -- frankly, with all the candidates, in discussing what we, where our commonalities are. And I think where we came out was a place where we can sort of turn the page and begin afresh with President Karzai.

His articulation in the inauguration speech -- which I commend people to read, was something that I think the international community can rally around and support, as I articulated, in areas of governance, security, sovereignty, you know, taking areas back under Afghan security control, governance, reintegration, economic reconstruction.

So we think we have a good agenda to work from. We don't have disagreements on that. We have a very intensive, close relationship. Ambassador Eikenberry was just in, seeing him again yesterday. They meet frequently. But beyond President Karzai, we have very good relationships with members of his cabinet, and all the way down to the district level in these areas, specifically the areas we focus on.

And there are good people in those -- I mean, in many of the ministries where we rely on, now we're, you know, he will be appointing new ministers. And he has made clear in his inaugural speech that he is cognizant of how important it is to appointment people based on merit. There, of course, will be politics. You know, in any democratic system there'll be politics in the appointments.

But we are, you know, guardedly optimistic that we will have partners to work with in these key ministries, and district -- and governors in districts. So it's a process, but we feel like we have an opening to move ahead in that area.

FLOURNOY: If I could just add, I think one of the things that we did in the review was ask exactly this question -- where do we have leverage and how best can we use it?

And I think -- so I think, you know, we've gone through the process of really identifying what is critical to success, versus what's nice to have, and how do we focus our leverage on those critical points.

I think, you know, one of the things that will follow-on in the appointment process is, where we have, you know, noncorrupt, effective governors, for example -- district governors, we'll be fully supporting them, enabling them, helping them be successful in their jobs.

Where that does not exist, I don't think those individuals will expect the same -- should expect the same level of support. And there will be a lot of discussion and engagement with the government to try to remove people who are highly corrupt or ineffective.

This is something that Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus did extremely skillfully in Iraq, and it is one of the lessons learned that I think we can borrow and actually apply in Afghanistan over time.

QUESTIONER: Thank you, Jim.

John Barry, Newsweek.

A question either for Secretary Flournoy or for General Nicholson. To what extent is it realistic to think that we can build up the capacities of the Afghan army as rapidly as the plans seem to indicate? And I ask this because, you know, we've concentrated deliberately upon building an infantry-heavy army. We have very little by way of combat support and combat service support.

So even if the Afghan forces can "take the lead," to use the phrase General Nicholson used, isn't it necessary for the U.S. military to provide essentially all of the back-up they need even to get into the battlespace, and then to communicate once they're there? This -- (inaudible) -- places great limits upon the degree to which we can actually hand over responsibility to the Afghans themselves.

FLOURNOY: I think that there are a number of -- there are a small number of units that are actually already doing some independent operations. There are a much larger number of units that are operating with our support. You know, 18 to 24 months from now we hope that some in that second category will have moved up to the first.

But the process of transferring responsibility will go through a number of steps. And again, here I think the Iraq model is instructive of transitioning from the U.S. force out of the lead role to more of a tactical overwatch, than strategic overwatch, advise, and assist, and so forth. And there are different levels of enabling support that we'll be providing as units go through that process in particular areas.

So, again, July, 2011 is the beginning of a transfer process in parts of the country that are ready for that. But it will take time. Our sense is that, as that begins, we will be able to begin a process of thinning out U.S. forces in some areas, but it's not going to happen overnight.

And you may be able to -- I'm sure you can speak to (laughs) --

NICHOLSON: Yeah -- yes, ma'am, and --

FLOURNOY: -- much more details into how that works.

NICHOLSON: -- and I echo everything that Ms. Flournoy said.

Again, to bring it down to a practical level -- and having discussed this problem with General Karimi, for example, the G3 of the Afghan army -- how are we going to do this; you know, can we do this; how are we going to do this? And so he shares -- he and the other Afghan leaders share the same concern. They want to build an institution that's durable, you know, resilient, can withstand the blows of combat and stay together as an institution. This is foremost on their mind.

When we look at how we're going to accelerate growth and get them into these key areas, it's done with, I think, a realistic appraisal of what's possible. I'll give you an example. The literacy -- you know, within Afghanistan in general, and within the army, is not, clearly, not at a Western standard. But is literacy necessary, you know, in a rifle company? Maybe not. Is literacy necessary to do civil policing? Yes. Is literacy necessary in an artillery unit, or a battalion or brigade headquarters? Yes.

So we've looked very carefully then at what we can produce in the near-term to meet the need. And this is why you'll see there's a -- the Afghan army is producing 44 rifle companies this year to specifically push into some of these key areas, some of these -- the units operating in these critical districts, over the near-term, while they do the longer-term stuff of building those enabling capabilities, engineers, artillery, intelligence, route-clearance capabilities, and battalion and brigade staffs, and one new core staff.

So I think they've done a realistic appraisal of what's possible and they are trying to meter the production of units. Part of that has been -- the limiting factor is, frankly, the training -- the capability within the training base. That will be increased as a part of these additional forces that have been authorized by President Obama. So the increase in the training base; the careful selection of what types of capabilities we're building; how quickly we can build them is the approach we're taking to ensure we have, you know, a resilient and capable force.

And having worked with the units across the East and the South -- the 201st, 203rd, 205th Corps, yes, you do see some difference from unit to unit. Across the board, though, I would say that where we do have partnership -- the close partnership that General McChrystal is implementing, you do see the curve, in terms of improvement, is more exponential instead of just linear, in terms of the improvements within the units. And so what he's advocating is not only more forces, but a closer partnership with the Afghan forces -- (inaudible) --

One of the -- one of the related issues here is that initially we will see Coalition Forces in what we call a bridging role. Meaning, until we get sufficient Afghan forces, we may, indeed, have more Coalition Forces in areas like Helmand than we will have eventually, when they field more brigades around. So there's a bridging role, there's an enabling role, but the bottom line is I do think we're approaching this in a very thoughtful and deliberate manner. We're going to build a resilient Afghan army.

LINDSAY: Mindful that we're running out of time, and we have more hands up than we can possibly answer, let me get a few questions out on the table.

We can do Mitzi.

QUESTIONER: I'm Mitzi Wertheim with the Naval Postgraduate School and MIT Seminar XXI.

I want to ask about selling this to the public. And I've been concerned for years about the language which was focused on "winning" and "victory," which I just don't think are terms that are appropriate in what we've been trying to do since World War II. That's sort of my view.

So I ask the question, what are going to be your metrics for measurement, in terms of how you're going to tell the story? In Vietnam it was body bags. How are you -- how are you going to define success to the public as you are, in fact, moving in this direction?

LINDSAY: Okay, yep.

QUESTIONER: Charlie Stevenson, (CIS ?).

Two quick questions: One, how are you changing your plans for the expansion of the Afghan national police, (in contrast ?) -- (off mike) -- army?

And what actions by Congress are necessary for this program to succeed; and how soon does the Congress have to act? Especially, do you have any range on this resource request for civilian activities that -- (off mike) --

LINDSAY: We'll do Bill; and then we'll give a chance to answer; and we'll try to solicit a few more questions.

Can I get you to identify yourself for everybody else.

QUESTIONER: Bill -- (inaudible) -- retired diplomat.

In the case of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, there was an excellent relationship that appeared to facilitate the mission. In Islamabad, under Ambassador Anne Patterson, the same situation exists.

Earlier in Baghdad there were tensions. There are press reports about significant tensions now in Kabul. How is that going to be addressed?

LINDSAY: Thank you.

FLOURNOY: On selling to the American people, I think, you know, part of what the president was trying to do was to go back to the -- I think the assumption was a lot of the American people have "lost the bubble" on why are we there.

And in his speech, in the secretary's testimony, they were trying to make the -- explain the situation and make the case of, What is the connection between al Qaeda and Afghanistan-Pakistan region, and the various groups there; why is this a vital American interest; what could happen if we walked away, and so forth.

But you're asking an important question about, how do we define success in metrics. And that is something that we've been -- we refined in the process. There are certain things we're going to look for in the near-term, like, you know, the quality of Karzai's appointments at all levels, and so forth.

Over time, we're going to be looking at metrics, really, based on this, sort of, district-by-district assessment of, Are we meeting -- are the conditions there for transfer of responsibility, governance, et cetera? And we are in the process of spelling that out, and we'll be sharing those, particularly on the Hill.

I'm going to defer the ANP plans to General Nicholson.

But let me just say, on the Congressional piece, I think we have the funding requests that we need to take us through the spring, in terms of supporting the building of ANP and ANA capacity. And Congress has actually been very helpful, providing authorization for us to do some transferring of equipment from both excess and non-excess stocks to enable that.

Let me let others jump in.

NICHOLSON: Yeah, defining success is absolutely critical to us.

And I know, you know, as a soldier, this is very important. It's a moral issue for soldiers, because you're going -- we're going to sacrifice for these outcomes, and we want to know that they're important. We want to know they're important to the American people. We want to know that we're being successful. And as a soldier, when I talk to other soldiers, we talk in very -- you know, we talk, and tend to talk in terms that are very personal, and really at the moral -- on the moral plane, about the sacrifice and the meaning of it.

And I'll speak to you as one who's lost soldiers, who's spent time with their families. You know, I believe this effort is worthy of their sacrifice, and I've had that conversation with many families who've sacrificed. Why? Because this is where the attack against our country came from. Preventing the return of al Qaeda to this country, and sanctuary, is critical to our interests. The costs of failure are extremely high. This is a war. This is extremely difficult and hard.

And measuring success is something we work very hard to define. I talked about some of that in my vignettes, so I won't rehash that, but we are looking at essentially how to connect these people with their government; and that government be functional and able to meet their needs; and they believe that there's a better future.

So the soldiers, and Marines, and sailors and airmen we have today are very intelligent young men and women. And we don't try to reduce it to simplistic phrases. We talk about fighting in a way that connects the people to the government. And so achieving outcomes that connect the people to -- and they can understand that and operationalize that. So we do take a very sophisticated approach when talking in those terms so they understand what their sacrifice is all about and can assess that.

Communicating that to the American people, I agree, it's something we need to work on. We're constantly working on how to do that, how to communicate that so that they understand what it is we're accomplishing. And we'd be interested in your thoughts on that.

QUESTIONER: Well, I would say, "and to the American people," because there are lots of folks who are not happy with the choice, as they heard it. And so we need to -- we need to get their support, so it goes to Congress and it doesn't inhibit what the White House is trying to do and the rest of you.

NICHOLSON: Shifting to the ANP, the police expansion is obviously a critical part. They provide the enduring security in any given area. In many cases, the army, because it is further along in its development, is a surrogate for what really is a police role.

And we eventually want to -- just like we want to get our forces eventually moving into more of an advise-and-assist role, (vice ?) a direct security role, we likewise want to get the police in the primary security role (vice ?) the army in many areas. But as everyone knows, the police are further behind in terms of their development as an institution.

We're still, of course, utilizing the model of focused district development, so I mention these 80 critical districts. We focus on those districts. We take the police force -- they're taken out, they're vetted, they're drug tested. New recruits are added; they go through eight weeks of training; and they return with a mentorship team.

Now, the challenge has been inadequate mentors. And, of course, next week, on the 7th of December, we have our Force Generation Conference with NATO, and this will be one of the topics of discussion, is the need. It's been tremendous news, is we've gotten more pledges of additional support. And I know one of the subjects will be the police mentoring and OMLTs and POMLTs for police and army mentoring, as we go forward.

So I think you'll see, operationally, fundamentally the same approach, but now the ability to apply it with additional resources in these focused districts.

And, of course -- to your question, sir, you know, General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry will be sitting side by side next week in testimony. I know there will be -- this issue may well come up, and I'd rather let them talk about that.

I will tell you this, sir, I've worked for both of these gentlemen. I worked for General Eikenberry -- he was my commander in Afghanistan; I worked for General McChrystal. They're both outstanding -- they were outstanding commanders, and I know they -- they're very focused on accomplishing this policy for our country.

LINDSAY: You want to add anything?

JONES: I think, in the interest of time, maybe we should move on to the other --

LINDSAY: Okay. We'll take one last question.

QUESTIONER: Thank you all for coming. There's been some --

FLOURNOY: Name?

QUESTIONER: Oh, sorry. Edwin Williamson. I'm retired from Sullivan & Cromwell.

Some have speculated that part of Karzai's behavior that we found, sort of, not terribly satisfactory has been influenced by his perceived lack of commitment from the U.S. And so, sort of, other side of Senator Robb's question on leverage, what sort of assurances have you gotten from the national and local leaders -- sort of, outside the military area, that they believe that these measures will be successful?

So, specifically, what signals have you gotten that they believe that our long-term commitment is real?

LINDSAY: Just so our panelists know, they have permission to keep their answers very brief. (Laughter.)

JONES: I'll just refer to a very interesting interview -- that I know Ambassador Holbrooke has referred to a couple of times as well, that President Karzai had with Margaret Warner on the NewsHour, where he said quite openly, he said, you know, the international forces are not here for us; they're here for their own purposes.

And it was an, I think, an insight into the disconnect that we've had over the years, or has developed over the years with President Karzai and some of the leadership -- and some of the leadership, I'd say, in Kabul. I think we're closing that gap now, again. And I think there is a perception that we have shared interests and that we can accomplish both objectives, for both of our countries -- or, the ISAF countries, and President Karzai at the same time.

And I think that we can see that with the, sort of, new manner in which President Karzai is speaking. He welcomed the additional forces, and welcomed the July 11th transfer date as an opportunity for Afghans to take more responsibility for their country.

I don't know if I addressed it, but.

LINDSAY: I think I could say, on behalf of everybody in the room, that we certainly hope that the president's strategy succeeds. And we want to thank Under Secretary Flournoy, General Nicholson and Deputy Secretary of State Jones for coming. (Applause.)

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