May 23 Defense Department Briefing

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - May 23, 2012

                GENERAL JOHN R. ALLEN:  Well, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  It is good to be here with you today and to see many of you.  I saw many of you recently.  And it's good to see you again in Washington after the NATO Chicago summit. 

            I'd like to have a brief statement beforehand.  And I'll tell you that I left the summit heartened by the overwhelming international commitment to Afghanistan through 2014 and beyond, and in particular the Afghan national security forces.  I believe that the NATO summit in Chicago sent three unmistakable messages to the world:  to the Afghan people, that we're committed to your future; to the region, the international community will not abandon Afghanistan; and to the Taliban, you cannot wait us out. 

            Among the important outcomes of this event was the resounding commitment by the ISAF partner nations for the long-term support of the Afghan national security forces, that is sufficient, a force that is capable and sustainable in the post-2014 period. 

            Further it was noted at the summit that the ISAF commander would assess the operational conditions, the capability of the Afghan national security forces periodically, and right now we're planning every six months, so that we can adapt our plan ultimately for the final size and structure of the ANSF in the post-2014 period as conditions require. 

            During the last 12 months, the Afghan security forces have expanded from 276,000 to 340,000, and they'll reach their full surge strength ahead of the scheduled deadline in October.  Additionally, Afghan forces are increasingly in the lead throughout the battlespace, and the Afghans were in the lead for the planning of this year's campaign plan, Operation Nawid.            

            President Karzai's recent announcement of tranche three of transition is a significant milestone.  The coming transition of every provincial capital and the Afghan national security forces providing security lead for three-quarters of the population of the -- of the population marks an ever-increasing authority, of the capability of the Afghan government and the ANSF.  And as a result of this success, we are able to increasingly reposture our own forces from the conventional formations to advisory teams, which is the logical next step in the counterinsurgency.  

            As you know, insurgencies have seldom been defeated by foreign forces.  Instead they have been ultimately beaten by indigenous or national forces.  Transition, then, is the linchpin of our strategy, not just the way out, and ISAF advisers will be alongside our Afghan partners, still combat ready, but increasingly there to enable Afghan lead.  

            Importantly this summit was unambiguous in the commitment for long-term support for the security of Afghanistan, and it is the clearest message yet that the Taliban and the enemies of the Afghan people will not win this war.  The Afghan national security forces, with the unwavering support and the tangible commitments of the 50-nation coalition, grows stronger every day.  Additionally the summit was a powerful signal of international support for the Afghan-led process of reconciliation, and in this process resides the greatest hope for the Taliban in the future.  In the wake of this historic NATO summit, as the Taliban see that their time grows short, they can choose to be part of the prosperous future of Afghanistan, but they can never prevail through the use of violence and intimidation.  

            This campaign has been long, it has been difficult, and it has been costly.  But I believe that ISAF's campaign is on track.  I see it every day -- tangible evidence of progress.  And we're making a difference.  We're fulfilling the Lisbon road map of transition, and the international community is standing with the noble people of Afghanistan and Afghanistan now and into the decade of transformation. 

            Lastly, I'd like to take just a brief moment to comment on the announcement yesterday by the State Department that Ambassador Ryan Crocker is retiring, again.  Ryan has been like a brother to me.  We first served together in the -- in -- when I was in al-Anbar in Iraq in 2007 and '8.  He has been a mentor to me in many ways, and I am confident that the course of the history of Afghanistan and in all the countries in which Ryan has served so ably as a diplomat have been inextricably altered for the better because of his selflessness and his skills as a diplomat and as a great American patriot. 

            We will always remember his sacrifice and his service, and I'm a better man and a better officer for having served with him both in Iraq and now, again, in Afghanistan.  And he will be missed in Kabul. 

            And with that, I'd be pleased to take your questions.  Yes, ma'am. 

            Q:  General, Lolita Baldor with AP.  You talked a little bit about being heartened over the last weekend, but over the last couple of weeks some of the news about Pakistan seems to have been sort of less heartening, including the sentencing today of the doctor that helped the CIA in the Osama bin Laden raid, the continued stalemate over the opening of the GLOCs, and the Senate's action yesterday to cut U.S. federal funding for Pakistan.  

            At this point, do you see the relationship deteriorating?  Do you think Pakistan is indicating that it isn't willing to be the partner that the U.S. needs in that region?  And how critical at this point is that, considering that a lot of the progress from the war may well depend on Pakistan's efforts, particularly along the border? 

            GEN. ALLEN:  I don't see, necessarily, that it is a deterioration.  I think the fact that we're talking about reopening the ground line of communications is a very positive step in that regard. 

            Now it's -- it is a negotiation, and negotiations take time, so I can't predict what the outcome will be and how soon that will be.  But I have recently led a team to Islamabad to renew our conversation with the Pakistani military in the context of the Tripartite Commission, first time in a year.  It was a very positive conversation about taking steps and measures necessary to prevent a recurrence of the events of 25 and 26 November. 

            And I think it's important to understand that Pakistan has many of its own challenges on the eastern side of that international frontier.  It is engaged in a significant insurgency, in a counterinsurgency campaign.  And it's been engaged in that for some period of time.  And the effects of many of their operations have been helpful to us on the other side of the border. 

            But we hadn't had a conversation with them in almost a year on that level.  And so with the reopening of the conversation about the ground line of communications, with the, I think, positive outcomes of the conversations that we had over two days in Islamabad, I don't see that there is a decrease in the relationship or a decline necessarily in the relationship.  I think we're actually poised to improve where we were, frankly, and I look forward to continuing a constructive series of engagements with General Kayani and the Pakistani military over time. 

            Q:  Just as a follow-up, do you have other meetings scheduled with them?  And do you think they've gone as far as they can go? 

            GEN. ALLEN:  Well, again, I'm not engaged either in the negotiations for the opening of the ground line of communication, nor am I engaged in the policy-level conversation between our governments.  But we committed ourselves as the military.  As the military commander of ISAF, I was also accompanied by General Karimi, the chief of defense of Afghanistan. 

            We committed ourselves to recurring meetings to ensure that we're properly organized to take maximum advantage of both the time on the ground, the passage of time from the year ago when we last met, with the idea of creating a constructive long-term relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan in that regard.  So I was -- I was encouraged in that regard.  

            Q:  General, from our perspective -- and we don't sit down -- and when you sit down with Kayani, the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan now appears to be as bad as it's been since the start of the war in Afghanistan, yet you say you see a chance here to improve it.  How?  Where do you see a chance for improvement, since there appears to be a stalemate?  

            You know, the Pakistanis demand to stop drone attacks over the FATA, no agreement on the ground lines of communication, and if I could also ask, the -- is there a danger here?  Because we heard -- we heard for years that Pakistan was of a much larger strategic -- of strategic importance than Afghanistan could ever be.  Is there a real danger here that that could deteriorate to the point where that region -- the entire region could be in trouble? 

            GEN. ALLEN:  Well, let me hit your last point first.  I think that Pakistan and the region are extraordinarily important to our policy outcomes in the region.  And we cannot -- I think we need to be careful about overstating the progress that we're making, but I think that we've made real progress in the last several weeks with respect to having conversations with Pakistan we were not even having before.  

            And we should build on those.  We should seek opportunities for common ground. 

            Now, again, I am not in the policy world.  But we had a very important conversation with the Pakistanis about seeking both strategic congruence in what our long-term outcomes would be for both Afghanistan and Pakistan in terms of the insurgency and the destabilizing influences in the region.  We talked about an operational relationship that could leverage our respective militaries on each side of the border.  And we talked about the sorts of tactical measures that we could take to prevent a recurrence of what happened in Salalah on the 25th and 26th of November last year. 

            All of that is positive, from my perspective.  Anytime that you can talk, anytime that you can create opportunities for discussion, anytime where the objectives of all of the parties is ultimately some form of a strategic outcome that can benefit the region and benefit the component elements there, the countries, I think that's a positive thing. 

            Now, we're not there yet.  We've got more conversation that needs to be had.  But I think that there's a real opportunity here, and we should be seizing that if we can. 

            With regard to the FATA, the Pakistanis are engaged in a significant insurgency themselves in the federally administered tribal areas.  Now, they've suffered more casualties in the last two years killed in the FATA than we have in the 10-year war that we have been engaged in.  So we shouldn't dismiss the fact that they're paying a price for the insurgency on their side of the border, just as we're seeking to modulate and deal with the insurgency on our side of the border.  And where we can find intersection of our interests, we should leverage those.  And I think we're to the point where that conversation can occur. 

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