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May 10 Defense Department Briefing

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - May 10, 2011

             COL. DAVID LAPAN (deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations):   Good morning to those here at the Pentagon, and good evening in Afghanistan.

             I'd like to welcome back to the Pentagon Briefing Room Army Major General John Campbell, the commanding general of Regional Command East.  General Campbell assumed his duties in Afghanistan in June of last year.  He previously spoke with us in this format in October.  And he joins us again today from his headquarters at Bagram Airfield.

             Next week General Campbell will transition responsibility for Regional Command East to the 1st Cavalry Division's Army Major General Daniel Allyn.

              General Campbell will make some opening comments and then take your questions.

             With that, sir, I will turn it over to you.

             GEN. CAMPBELL:  Well, thanks, Dave.  I'm at a disadvantage because I can't see anybody out there, so I'm not sure who's out there.  I'm sure I've talked to many of you over the course of the year or seen you around the halls of the Pentagon.  So thanks for giving me the opportunity to speak to you tonight.

             I think it's customary to have a written statement here at the end to kind of go over all of your accomplishments over the past year. I don't really want to do that.  I do have some cards that talk about security, governance, development, information ops, but I won't go through those.  I'd rather really get right away to your questions and answers.

             But what I would tell you is it's been a very, very exciting year here for Regional Command East.  We've been honored to serve with our Afghan partners for the past year.  I do want to bring up three different points.  So first is transition of authority.

             As Dave talked about, next week we'll turn over to the 1st Cavalry Division, a very good friend of mine, Major General Dan Allyn.  He's over here now.  We're going through that transition process.  Our legacy really is how well we set up the unit that comes in behind us, and that's what we're trying to do here.

             Staff officers have been working together over the last year.  There's been several leaders' recons here by both Dan and all of his staff personnel, his commanders.  You are most vulnerable when you transition, but I believe we've really mitigated that risk because of the great cooperation we've had between both the 1st Cavalry Division and the 101st Airborne Division, just like we had with the 82nd when we transitioned with them a year ago.  Again, the Army does these transitions of authority at every level.  We've been doing them for many, many years, so I think we got this down pretty well.  So I feel very comfortable, first off, about the transfer of authority.  And I could not have picked a finer officer to come behind me than Dan Allyn.

             I'd like to talk about realignment of forces.  We've been doing that over the last year, getting the inputs right.  There was a lot of talk early on in the February-March time frame about coming out of the Pech River Valley.  What I'm here to tell you is we did not come out of the Pech River Valley.  We realigned forces.  I still have forces in the Pech River Valley.  But over about a 10-month period, we really looked hard at what General Petraeus talks about, getting the inputs right.

             And so across the battle space in Regional Command East, we've been getting the inputs right.  That's moving around Afghan forces where they needed to be, where we needed them.  We've added additional battalions over the course of the year.  We've added additional police over the course of the year.  We really do think we have a pretty good set now and that we have the right structure, the right Afghan forces, the right coalition forces, the right leadership and the right strategy.  And we've seen great progress every single day; although, some days are very frustrating -- two steps forward, one step back -- it is progress.  And we're very proud of our coalition partners and of the Afghan partners.

             And so we have been realigning some forces over the course of the year.  We have over 130-plus COPs, or combat outposts; or FOBs, forward operating bases.  We have transferred some of those to the Afghans recently.  We've closed some, and then we've plussed up some.  And that's a continual process that every commander, as they come in, continues to do throughout his tenure here in Afghanistan.  So we've continued to do that.  But we feel pretty good about the set that we're going to turn over to both the 1st Cavalry Division and our Afghan partners here.

             A little bit about the spring campaign season -- and we've been at it about the March time frame.  Over the winter time frame, the op tempo continued to be high here in Regional Command East.  We've stayed after it.  The number of caches we've been able to take off the battlefield -- munitions, IEDs -- is well over double what it was the same period last year.  And we really think we've changed the dynamics of the battlefield by doing that as the insurgents have tried to come back and do their own spring campaign.  They announced it in late April, said on or about the first of May that they would come at us hard.  We have not seen really an uptick in Regional Command East on attacks.  For about the 30 days prior to 1 May, the number of insurgent-initiated attacks was between 25 to 30 per month.  And that number after 1 May has continued to be the same.

             What we have noticed that has continued to go on is they also said as they've made that pledge about 1 May and the spring offensive is that they would try to reduce civilian casualties.  And they have done the opposite of that.  On the 1st of May, in fact, they killed seven Afghan civilians and wounded 34 in some vicious attacks against women and children.  And again, 90 percent of the civilian casualties are caused by the insurgents in Regional Command East.

             We have our own spring campaign that really has worked hand in hand, shohna ba shohna, with our Afghan partners.  I'm very proud of how they have continued to uptick their planning and their integration with the coalition forces.  We have several operations that are ongoing at this point in time.  We've been very aggressive out there going after the enemy.  I think that has really made a difference on what the enemy's tried to do and come back for their own spring campaign, which again, we have not seen.

             You know, going back to that piece where -- the insurgent casualties on the 1st of May; that was done by a 12-year-old boy, a suicide bomber that the Haqqani network coming out of Pakistan had strapped on some explosives, walked into a marketplace and killed many of those civilians, as I talked about.

             So on the spring campaign, again, I've been asked a lot lately about the difference of the spring -- have they come on harder, have they changed since the death of bin Laden after the 1st of May -- and my answer really is no.  We have not seen that increase.  We've heard a lot of talk about it, but again, the coalition forces and our Afghan security partners are prepared for that and feel very good about the set that we have right now.

             The last thing I'd really like to talk about here at the beginning is our -- is our cooperation, our coordination with our Afghan security partners.  Everything we've done over the past year has been shohna ba shohna, shoulder to shoulder, with both the army, the police and the ABP, or Afghan border police.  We've really worked at that hard, and I think we can really see the results over the past year.  We feel very good about where the Afghan National Security Forces are.  Still a lot of work to be done, but we do think that we're handing off a much better Afghan security force than we had a year ago.  And that really is a lot of great work by the coalition partners but also by the Afghans themselves.  They've really stepped up, and we really feel good about the future of Afghanistan, especially RC East based on the performance to date.

             Again, with that, I've talked to many of your throughout the year, but I welcome your questions.  And thank you for the opportunity to speak to you here tonight to talk a little bit about RC East.  So I stand by for your questions.

             COL. LAPAN:  Mr. Burns.

             Q:  This is Bob Burns, general, from AP.  Picking up on your point about not having seen yet any uptick in Taliban attacks lately, we had a story today quoting a police chief in Nuristan province as saying that there was a rather large-scale Taliban attack on police.  I'm wondering if you have any details on that.

             And if I may add a second question; as you finish up your year there and prepare to transition out, what is your view on whether there is room for a drawdown of U.S. troops either in your region -- either the summer or later this year?

             GEN. CAMPBELL:  OK, Bob, thanks.  Appreciate both those questions.

             The first one, on the attack on a checkpoint in Nuristan, I think is what you talked about.  I've seen the report, also.  I just got off the phone with my TAC(1) [tactical air command], which is located at Gamberi in Laghman province.  They're in -- they have police there; they have army there.  It's a joint TAC.  They're in -- they just got off the phone with that same provincial police chief -- General Nuristani is how he goes with us.  He had reported about 400 insurgents attacking a checkpoint.  He is not at that location.

             We're talking about what do they need.  We have never seen, the whole year that I've been here, 400 insurgents massed, you know.  In fact, I would welcome if we could get 400 insurgents to mass.  So we asked him really to go back and tell us what he is seeing; get better information from that checkpoint.  The latest that he had was there was three wounded Afghan National Police; they believe they've killed or wounded about 10 insurgents.

             We asked them if they needed ammunition.  They did not need that at this point in time.  He's continuing -- now, he is a long distance away.  He's in Paroon.  It's about 20 miles to the north of this particular checkpoint.  It is not a district center.  There was talk that a district center had been run over.

             We have moved unmanned aerial aircraft to that vicinity.  We are having some weather issues right now.  As you get up into Nuristan, as you know, the mountainous terrain up there is very, very tough, and with the weather it comes in and out.  So we're trying to get full-motion video so we can see what's going on up there, but the initial reports right now is that checkpoint is still intact; they're still working there.  There was some sort of attack; still sketchy on the details.  We'll continue to work with our partners there.

             We do not have any coalition forces up in that part of Nuristan, so it is hard to get back and forth to try to get the coverage there.  There are hundreds and thousands of isolated, small valleys up in Nuristan.  And again, communication is very, very tough.  But I feel very good with the -- with our TAC, that they are getting at least phone calls in to General Nuristani, and it was not as hectic, with the 400 insurgents that he talked about.

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