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January 4 Defense Department Briefing

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - January 4, 2011

                 MR. JAMES TURNER (deputy director, Defense Press Operations):  Good morning here, and good morning in Afghanistan.  I'd like to welcome back to the Pentagon Briefing Room major -- German Major General Hans-Werner Fritz, commanding general for Regional Command North.  General Fritz assumed his duties in Pakistan last year on June 20th.  Most recently, he joined us in September in this format.  And he joins us today from his headquarters in Mazar-e Sharif to provide an update on current operations.  General Fritz will brief today, along with his deputy, U.S. Army Colonel Sean Mulholland.  They will make some opening remarks, and then will take your questions. 

                 And with that, sir, I'll turn it over to you. 

                 GEN. FRITZ:  Yeah, hello, and good morning to Washington.  First of all, I would like to say it's a great pleasure to talk to you again like we did in September.  I think for all the ones who were not present last time, just one -- brief remarks on the Regional Command North.  First of all, to give you at least an idea, Regional Command North has about the size of Nevada or Wyoming.  About one-third of the Afghan population is living in Regional Command North.  We are talking about 8 to 10 million.  And what concerns our troops, I have under command around about 11,000. 

                 When we talked last time, I gave you some ideas about the restructuring phase we were in at this time.  Now we have finished that phase.  It starts with our HQ [headquarters] in Mazar-e Sharif.  We are now at the personnel level of about 360.  We are from 60 [sic - 16] nations.  I think this is the highest density of nations we have in all of the theater. 

                 We have restructured our troops.  We have now here a -- the complete combat air brigade from the United States, 4th CAB [combat aviation brigade].  We have here one brigade, 110th from the 10th Mountain.  We have here two German battle troops, mounted infantry and paratroopers.  And I must really say the soldiers, all grades, they are operating and they are cooperating diligently.  They are fighting brave, and they are doing very, very well.  And what I would like to say to you in Washington: especially the cooperation with the U.S. soldiers at all levels, it's really excellent. 

                 And if I may, just to give you an example for that, it was in October and we had a day of fierce fighting.  It started when a suicider attacked a German position.  These were paratroopers from my division in Germany.  And this suicider, he killed one German soldier and wounded a lot more.  And we asked for medevac, and the medevac came.  This was -- these were two American Black Hawks from Fort Campbell, and they -- although it was really -- as we say in German, there was a lot of iron in the air.  They came down, they recovered the wounded, and then they started again.  And obviously, being in the air again, they became aware that there was -- there's a dead soldier on the ground.  And they came back under fire, they recovered the soldier and they said:  We are taking home a fallen hero.  And I can promise you, the German paratrooper, the German "fallschirmjäger," will never forget that.  This is the quality of the cooperation we are talking about. 

                 But also, due to the Afghans, we are doing very well. The partnering is close, the mentoring is good.  And this also concerns all levels.  As you might know that here in Regional Command North we have the complete Afghan corps, so that the cooperation starts at corps level.  We are doing all the planning together.  We see each other on a regular basis, I would say nearly every week.  It goes down to the Afghan brigades, to the kandaks, which are the battalions, and to the companies as well.  And really, our soldiers -- might they be the Germans, the Americans, the people -- soldiers from the -- from Scandinavia -- they are fighting shoulder-and- shoulder.  And this is very important. 

                 We are planning together, as I have already mentioned, all our operations.  We had an interesting backbrief two days ago.  It was for a plan.  It's called Omid 1390 [Operation Hope], which stands for the year 2011-12 in the Islamic world.  And this backbrief was for the IJC [International Security Assistance Force Joint Command], for our superiors, if you like, for the Afghan MOD [Ministry of Defense] and the MOI [Ministry of the Interior]. 

                 And I think we could present ourselves as a really good Combined Team North.  And our Afghan friends, they did very, very well on that. 

                 But it's not only the cooperation with the military. It's also with the civilian side.  We invited in Regional Command North some days ago in mid-December all the governors of the regional commands.  They came together.  We talked about the security situation, about development, about government.  And this really formed some sort of a team spirit, of a very good team spirit. Today, I, for instance, I was in the Samangan and the Takhar province talking to the two governors, listening what they have to say.  And this is really what brings us forward. 

                 So I can say our partnership has really produced tangible results. 

                 We have improved the security in our region.  We are doing well in the Baghlan-Kunduz corridor.  You remember, we talked about this in September.  I think we have, especially in this critical area, made good progress.  We have a good combination of operations between the conventional forces as well as the special forces, which is an excellent mix, doing well very.   

                 And I could imagine my perspective is we are approaching some sort of a culmination point. Like we had mentioned, we will have still some hard weeks and months to go, but my guess is the -- my estimate is that the situation will become more better.   

                 And with that, I would like to turn it over to my deputy, to Colonel Mulholland.  Colonel, please. 

                 COL. MULHOLLAND:  Thank you, sir.  Good day, ladies and gentlemen.   

                 I would like to complement what Major General Fritz has stated. Truly, I'm -- I am optimistic about the last few months, since we last talked in September all the way till now.  Progress has been made in RC North.  There are factual operations that have taken place that have done very, very well moving the insurgency out of the areas such as Kunduz, Baghlan and Faryab.   

                 We've been using SOF [special operations forces] as -- in the form of shaping operations before conventional troops have gone into the area, and we've had great success winning the hearts and minds of the civilians once the conventional forces have gone in there.  And also, we've been able to hold large expanses of terrain and also build COPs, combat outposts, and FOBs [forward operating base] to secure and anchor those areas that have been gained through the wintertime. 

                 Also, as an adjunct to that, the Afghan peace and reconciliation program has taken off in RC North due to people that are -- don't want to fight anymore and people that have decided to side with the Afghan government. 

                 Another program that has been very efficient up here is the Afghan Local Police program.  Currently there are two sites that are functioning, with a tashkil [roster] of 225 and 325 [personnel].  That's in -- (inaudible) --, which is west of Kunduz and Baghlan.  And the next site they'll go up in is in Faryab. 

                 The Afghan Local Police is a GIRoA-backed [Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan], GIRoA-led program that gives former insurgents jobs and people that have reconciled jobs.  So it also helps us fill in the white space, and it builds another security force for us up here in RC North. 

                 Once you've secured those areas, you have the ability to put in CERP [Commander's Emergency Response Program] projects and do some good construction and development programs with USAID and other international NGOs up here in RC North, which have really -- has really made a difference up here in terms of the civilian populace and how it feels towards ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] and the Afghan government. 

                 So to sum up what we've done in the last four months, persistence -- as General Fritz covered -- persistence and partnerships have improved; coordination, planning, and execution of missions have improved.  Communications between leaders have improved to include the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] leaders as well as the governors that General Fritz just talked about.  

                 And development projects are maturing.  As you know, CERP is used for quick-hitting projects.  The mid- and long-term CERP and NGO projects take a little longer to take place and get contracted and be implemented.  So all that -- all those development projects are starting to maturate, and the people are really starting to see an improvement and the backing of the Afghan government up here in RC North. 

                 Over to you. 

                 MR. TURNER:  Okay.  Who's first?   

                 Dan. 

                 Q:  Could you describe over -- the state and the strength of the insurgency in the north over the past six months or a year?  You mentioned a culmination point approaching.  Are you suggesting that the insurgency is weaker in your region than it was since September or previous to that? 

                 And can you describe the levels of violence that you're seeing and whether there are certain -- you talked about terrain that's now secure.  Can you be more specific?  Are there main roads now that are now usable that were not before, that are now secure? 

                 GEN. FRITZ:  Thanks.  First of all, what concerns the, let's say, the fighting, the resistance of the Taliban, of the insurgents, my impression is -- and this is why I'm using the term "culmination point" -- the way they fight becomes more and more desperate and more and more brutal. 

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