February 10 Defense Department Briefing

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - February 10, 2011

                COL. DAVID LAPAN (Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Media Operations):  Good morning to those here at the Pentagon, and good evening to General Martins in Kabul.  

                I'd like to welcome to the Pentagon Briefing Room for the first time Army Brigadier General Mark Martins, the commanding general of the Rule of Law Field Force-Afghanistan.  In September 2009, General Martins was assigned as interim commander of the then newly established Joint Task Force 435, and he deployed soon thereafter to Afghanistan.  Upon Senate confirmation of Vice Admiral Harward in November 2009, General Martins assumed duties as Joint Task Force 435's first deputy commander. 

                As he began his second year in Afghanistan this past September, General Martins transitioned to his current duties as part of a larger reorganization of U.S. government efforts to promote the rule of law.  General Martins' command provides essential field capabilities, liaison and security to partner to Afghan and coalition civil-military rule-of-law project teams in nonpermissive areas of the country.  I won't even attempt the acronym, but the task force mission is to enable partners to build Afghan criminal justice capacity, increase access to dispute resolution services, fight corruption and promote the legitimacy of the Afghan government.

                As you know, we tried to hold this press conference a week ago but technical issues intervened, so we're glad those have been resolved.  And as I said at the start, the general joins us from Kabul.  He'll provide brief comments and then take your questions. 

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

                GEN. MARTINS:  Thank you.  And good morning.  Those of you I've had the pleasure of speaking with here in Afghanistan know that I wasn't completely disappointed that the technical glitch last week caused the cancellation of the presser.  That said, it's great to be with you today. 

                As we move further into 2011, it's worth recalling that there were core grievances 20 years ago in the Afghanistan of the early 1990s that spawned and subsequently empowered the Taliban, leading to the opening of this land as a safe haven for al-Qaida.  One of these grievances was the inability of the post-communist Afghan governments to establish a foundation at the subnational level.  With no competing authority, the predatory actions of corrupt warlords fueled hatred as local strongmen vying for power sought to compel obedience through the use of force in support of blatant self-interest.  Under such conditions, even the harsh and repressive forms of dispute resolution and discipline, advertised by the Taliban as justice, seemed a tolerable alternative.  

                Fast forward to today.  And while much about the situation is different from and more favorable than that of 20 years ago, it is significant that surveys of the Afghan population in key districts reflect a continued lack of governance at this subnational level.  Note that Afghanistan is subdivided into 34 provinces and 369 districts. 

                This lack of governance, the surveys show, is accompanied by a lack of confidence in the government's ability to deliver justice, resolve civil disputes and address a perceived culture of impunity among the powerful.  Establishing the rule of law in these districts is critical to the kind of sound governance that will enable an enduring transition of security responsibility to Afghan forces and deny this rugged country as a sanctuary for global threats. 

                By providing essential field capabilities -- and by that I mean security, communications, transportation, contracting, engineering -- the Rule of Law Field Force is helping Afghan officials establish rule-of-law green zones in recently cleared areas in Afghanistan.  Doing so requires close coordination with locally deployed military units and partnered Afghan forces, as well as with talented civilian officials from the U.S. interagency, from Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union, the United Nations and other committed international donors. 

                All Rule of Law Field Force operations are undertaken with an Afghan government lead, and pursuant to civilian policy guidance from Ambassadors Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. chief of diplomatic mission, and Hans Klemm, the coordinating director for rule of law and law enforcement.  And as with all international rule-of-law support efforts in Afghanistan, those of the Rule of Law Field Force fall under the aegis of the United Nations and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1917. 

                Recent efforts to deliver better governance in western Kandahar City illustrate how an Afghan- and civilian-led rule-of-law campaign is being carried out, and how the Rule of Law Field Force is contributing.  The campaign is focused upon holding what has been cleared and then building the institutions necessary for security that will last after soldiers are no longer present.  

                The large Sarposa detention facility in this area, run by Afghanistan's Ministry of Justice, has in recent years been chronically vulnerable and a symbol of the government's ineffectiveness.  In 2008, some 400 Taliban prisoners escaped in a daring daylight attack.  Assassinations of investigators, bribery of prosecutors, intimidation of justices, and attacks upon witnesses have corrupted the system and obscured both evidence and law.  The Afghan national government has been reinforced -- I'm sorry, has been reinforcing the objective of establishing the rule-of-law green zone adjacent to Sarposa prison, and then projecting criminal justice, as well as mediation and civil-dispute resolution, to outlying districts. 

                Afghanistan's ministers of Justice and Interior on 27 September agreed -- of last year -- agreed to immediately build and man, with coalition-nation financing and international advisory assistance, a secure complex known as the Chel Zeena Criminal Investigative Center.  The immediate goal of Chel Zeena is to conduct professional, evidence-based investigations, and independent, law-governed prosecutions of the individuals detained in the newly refurbished Sarposa pre-trial detention facility adjacent to it.  

                Civilian corrections mentors, meanwhile, will work to bring the conditions of detention into compliance with Afghanistan's 2005 law on prisons and detentions, while also reviving the vocational, technical and education bloc of the facility. 

                The Chel Zeena center, two buildings of which have been inhabited since mid-December, features modest but efficient offices, round-the-clock lighting and utilities, administrative facilities, evidence and hearing rooms, as well as protective housing for investigators, prosecutors, guards and clerical personnel. 

                In addition to Kandahar City, rule of law green zones are being established in other provincial centers, with linkage to protective zones for outlying districts.  This hub-and-spoke linkage between green zones in key provinces and districts is helping to create a system of justice at the subnational level.  

                It takes a network to defeat a network.  The resulting improvements in district governance can help displace the Taliban and prevent their return by offering less arbitrary dispute resolution and dispelling fear among the population.  These efforts are modest in cost, and the improvements are achievable and sustainable.  The strengthening of traditional dispute resolution at the local level is one of the most efficient and effective ways to achieve the kind of security and stability that can enable transition of responsibility to the Afghan government and its forces, and protect our own core national security interests. 

                With that as an introduction, I will be happy to take questions. 

                COL. LAPAN:  Charley.

                Q:  General, Charley Keyes from CNN.  Personally speaking and looking back on your impressive resume, what's your expectation that this -- that this will stick when soldiers are no longer present? 

                And can you give us some sense of, over the time that you've been in Afghanistan, how you've noticed that there has been an increase in contact and connection with the central government? 

                GEN. MARTINS:  Yeah, the first question, on sustainability beyond the time when soldiers are present, this, we believe, as we see it now in the districts that have recently been cleared through the operations of brave Afghan National Security Forces and coalition forces and now are being -- governance being revived or resuscitated by some brave prosecutors and mediators and other government officials, is that this is the way to get sustainable security; that by having, really at modest cost, a few individuals who are pretty well trained and who are capable of receiving the grievances, you can turn shooting into shouting, as it were, and get the kind of security that is lasting.  

                There are challenges with that, actually getting them fielded, and we've seen those.  But you know, to transition into your second question, I've noticed that we have more districts covered, and deputy minister for the Independent Director of Local Governance Barna Karimi was telling me yesterday that there are about 88 districts that don't have a district attorney.  There are a little over a hundred that don't have a judge actually working in them.  

                We are moving with -- in support of the Afghan government to decrease that number, and I've just personally seen it reduced by several, being down in Kandahar, in Zhari district, in Arghandab and so forth. 

                So there's certainly tough sledding ahead, but one is able to see progress in this area. 

                COL. LAPAN:  Michael. 

                Q:  General, it's Mike Evans from The London Times here.  What component, if you like, or what part of the general assessments being made about which districts can be transitioned through Afghan -- Afghanistan, Afghan forces -- what roles do -- how big a role are you playing in that sort of assessment?  Because clearly the rule of law and justice, et cetera, is pretty important to every single district.

                GEN. MARTINS:  I heard almost all of your question, but you said -- what role is who playing?  I'm sorry.  

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