January 5 Defense Department Briefing

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - January 5, 2011

             COL. DAVID LAPAN (deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations):  thanks -- (audio break) -- and good evening in Afghanistan. 

             I'd like to welcome to the Pentagon Briefing Room Army Colonel Andrew Poppas, commander of Task Force Bastogne and the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division. 

             As part of Regional Command East, Colonel Poppas's 3,800-soldier brigade deployed to Afghanistan in May of last year.  In June, the brigade assumed operational responsibility of Nuristan, Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman provinces.  In September, the 1st Battalion 61st -- or Calvary Squadron from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Infantry Division joined Task Force Bastogne.  In December, Task Force Bastogne relinquished control of Laghman province to Task Force Red Bulls, composed of the 2nd Brigade of the 34th Infantry Division. 

             This is Colonel Poppas's first briefing with us in this format, and he joins us today from his headquarters at Forward Operating Base Fenty, in Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan's Nangarhar province.  He will provide brief -- provide you a brief update on his current operations and then take questions.   

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

             COL. POPPAS:  Thank you very much.  I'm Colonel Andrew Poppas.  I command Task Force Bastogne.  And if you'll indulge me, I have an opening statement I'd like to read to you and then I'll entertain all your questions. 

             I think it's important to know that Task Force Bastogne has been fully resourced for success.  We understand that to whom much is given, much is also expected.  Our mission is complex, but it's well-defined.  It's one that provides us the means, in full partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces, to defeat the insurgency that have historically operated with impunity. 

             Now, this has enabled us to create the critical time and space needed to bolster our decisive effort, which is governance and development in the population-centric areas of Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan provinces.  We have aligned and deliberately synchronized our operations in an effort to achieve long-term security and stability.   

             Fully integrated in this plan are two Provincial Reconstruction Teams, three Agribusiness Development Teams and 10 District Support Teams, all of which have been able to make demonstrable progress in over 40 districts and municipalities. 

             Now, this progress is further enabling capacity growth to the Afghan government at the provincial and district level.  It truly is because some of the very best experts that we have been teamed with from across the interagency are helping to truly identify those Afghan-capable solutions that will endure far into the future. 

             Now, Task Force Bastogne has aggressively partnered with and conducts combined operations throughout N2K [Nuristan and Kunar] with the Afghan National Army, the border police and the national police.  We see this as an essential task in our comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy that lays out the foundation throughout our population-centric areas for security by and through the ANSF, as well as legitimizes the government's ability to provide those essential services needed by the people of Afghanistan. 

             Great example:  Barge Matal -- it's a district in northeastern Nuristan province -- highlights this.  The Taliban occupied the village with the intent to establish a base for planning and staging attacks.  Then ANSF led a combined operation called Operation Azmaray Fury to take back the village, establishing security throughout the entire district, which has been in place for over five months now with no active presence of coalition forces. 

             Recently, Operation Strong Eagle, conducted early last summer, was another combined operation with ANSF and coalition forces with the Marawara district of the Kunar province.  Now, this Afghan-led operation succeeded in defeating the enemy, and the local provincial government is now leading developmental projects that will continue to prevent the insurgents' freedom of maneuver and that strengthens the population's confidence. 

             In one of our most recent operations, known as Bulldog Bite in the Pech River Valley, also in Kunar province, we successfully reduced the amount of insurgent attacks on the local populace and proved wrong the entire mystique that there were safe havens from the enemy in N2K. We partner with ANSF, and there is nowhere that we cannot meet and defeat the enemy. 

             Now, these three examples and over 1,000 combined operations are setting the security conditions needed to allow the Afghans the opportunity to focus on governance and development. 

             In closing, I'd like to emphasize that Task Force Bastogne remains committed and steadfast in the unified partnership that we've established with the Afghan government and the security officials in N2K.  Working together, we'll continue to capitalize on the progress that we have made as we move towards a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. 

             Thank you.  And now I'll entertain your questions. 

             COL. LAPAN:  Let's start with Anne. 

             Q:  Colonel, this is Anne Flaherty with Associated Press.  I wonder if you could update us on any reintegration efforts that you've seen in your area of responsibility.  How many Taliban fighters have you seen lay down their arms, and what percentage would you guess that is of the overall force? 

             COL. POPPAS:  I can't give you a specific number of the Afghan Taliban that have actually turned -- laid down their weapons.  And there's reasons for that.  This is an Afghan-led initiative.  And that's the critical piece of that.  They've accepted responsibility for that.  They've put the infrastructure in place to facilitate that. And right now their High Peace Council's been established.   

             We have seen at the lower levels, expressly after the Marawara operation, where people have come out of the valley and they engage at the provincial level, and the provincial governor himself has incorporated those families, moved them out of the Marawara Valley, provided them a place to live so they're free from retribution. 

             I think the process -- that's the genesis of it at this point, but it does have a very bright future. 

             COL. LAPAN:  Lalit. 

             Q:  Thank you.  This is Lalit Jha, from Pahjwok Afghan News. 

             Can you give us a sense of the strength of the Taliban in your area of operation?  Are they on the run, or is it strengthening, or how -- where are they now? 

             COL. POPPAS:  You've asked me about the strength and, I believe, the disposition, where they actually are.  If that's correct, I'll proceed. 

             We've identified there are certain areas -- obviously, especially along the depth of the valley.  You're from Afghan News; you're very familiar with the terrain that we face up here.  It's treacherous.  We call it the tyranny of the terrain.  There's little areas that they've been able to operate in.  If you look in the southern -- initially, the southwest portion of Nangarhar, there's a concentration of Taliban that have moved into that region, especially in the Sherzad district and Khogyani, that we've identified and recent operations have targeted. 

             We've also found that the Afghan Taliban that we've experienced have been along in the Kunar River Valley and along the basin, some of the ancillary valleys that we've been in there:  Daridam, the village within Marawara, the Ganjgal Valley.  And then also, as you look through the Pech River Valley, some of them, the Korengal and the Watahpur Valley.  As I identify each one of those, especially up in the Shuryak in the northern portion of the Kunar River, these are areas that we've identified the enemy.  They don't have freedom of movement.  And as we speak, each one of these, as identified, we've been able to conduct operations in order to reduce that problem set that you've just spoke of. 

             Q:  Hi, there, Colonel.  It's Rachel Martin with NPR.  If you could give us a few more details about the operations and the situation in general in the Pech River Valley.  As recently as about a month ago, Major General John Campbell had suggested that he might foresee drawing down resources and assets from the Pech River Valley because the insurgents there -- basically he said that it's not worth the fight, that that's not a good use of resources. 

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