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June 11 Defense Department Briefing

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - June 11, 2012

            (Note: General Scaparrotti appears via satellite from Kabul, Afghanistan.) 

            CAPTAIN JOHN KIRBY (Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Media Operations):  Good evening, sir, there in Afghanistan.  

            I'd like to welcome you all -- or I'd like to welcome back to the Pentagon Briefing Room Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti, United States Army.  He is, as you know, the commander of ISAF Joint Command and the deputy commander of U.S. Forces - Afghanistan.  He last joined us in person in February this year, and this is his third briefing with us as the commander of IJC.  It's also going to be his last.  As you probably also know, he will be -- there will be a change of command of IJC tomorrow, when he will turn over to Lieutenant General Terry.  This is General Scaparrotti's second tour in Afghanistan, and he did assume his duties in July of 2011.  

            The general regularly travels throughout Afghanistan to gather a full picture of ISAF's coalition and partnered efforts.  He joins us today from IJC headquarters in Kabul to provide a full -- a final operational update before completing his turnover.  We will allow him to make a few opening comments and then turn it over to your questions.  

            As we've done in the past, I'd just ask you to please identify yourself and who you're with before you ask the question.  I'll call on you, but the general can't see you, so it would be helpful for him to know who it is he's talking to. 

            And with that, General, sir, I'll turn it over to you for any opening comments you might have. 

            LIEUTENANT GENERAL CURTIS SCAPARROTTI:  John, thank you for that introduction.  And good evening to you all from Kabul. 

            Tonight I'd like to give you an update on the progress that's been made in Afghanistan by both Afghan and coalition forces.  Over the past year, Afghanistan has seen significant advances.  Today there are over 346,000 Afghan national security forces protecting the country, and the number of independent Afghan and partnered operations continues to increase.

            Over the next six months, we will see the Afghan government taking the lead for security in areas representing 75 percent of the population.  My two top priorities over the past year have been accelerating the development of the ANSF, moving them into the lead, and maintaining the momentum of the campaign in relentless pursuit of the enemy. 

            The combined team, Afghan and coalition, has the initiative, and so far the enemy spring offensive hasn't been successful.  Additionally, the enemy's mid- to low-level leaders remain frustrated with their leadership in Pakistan, creating the opportunity for both formal and informal reintegration across Afghanistan.  Currently there are over 4,000 formal reintegrees, with many more informally laying down their arms and returning to their homes. 

            There are still many challenges, and we still have setbacks.  The enemy continually proves its adaptability, and safe havens in Pakistan remain one of the greatest concerns. 

            Today our main effort remains in the south.  During this past winter and into the summer, we have consistently expanded our security gains, allowing us to move the Afghans into the lead.  Together we've secured the Helmand River Valley, Kandahar and most of the surrounding districts, and now our Afghan partners are taking the fight to the enemy.  

            In the east, we are seeing some positive signs in several of the most kinetic areas.  One recent accomplishment just occurred in Paktika province where Afghan soldiers learned the fundamentals of field artillery and, with the help of coalition advisers, these soldiers will increase their capabilities from effective with partners to effective with advisors over the next year.  These incremental steps, especially in the development of enablers, are the building blocks of a trained and sustainable force.  

            The capital region has remained secured by the Afghans for almost two years.  They've repeatedly proven very capable of handling some very serious security threats, including the complex attacks on 15 and 16 April.  In the west, Herat in particular, security continues to improve.  And finally, in the north, the level of insurgent activity has decreased, and the Afghan forces continue to demonstrate growing confidence in their operations and their ability to neutralize credible insurgent and criminal threats. 

            In conclusion, I would like to highlight the remarkable difference between Afghanistan today vis Afghanistan under the Taliban rule.  Today more than 5 times as many children are in school, roughly 85 percent of Afghans have basic health care within one hour of where they live, women represent 27 percent of the parliament, and 52 percent of the Afghan people believe their government is headed in the right direction. 

            All of this success has been the result of a strong partnership and also great sacrifice.  I want to take this opportunity to thank the brave men and women currently serving across Afghanistan for their sacrifice and dedication to the mission.  It has been an honor to serve as their commander over the past year. 

            Now I'd be happy to answer your questions.  Thank you. 

            CAPT. KIRBY:  Bob. 

            Q:  General, this is Bob Burns with AP.  A question for you about the ground supply routes through Pakistan.  We were told here today at the Pentagon that the U.S. team that has been in Islamabad for several weeks to spearhead the negotiations is leaving.  And I'm wondering, from your perspective, do you feel any urgency to get those routes reopened?  And does the failure so far to do so -- does that have any spillover effect in the relationship with the Pakistanis in your operational environment? 

            GEN. SCAPARROTTI:  Well, Bob, it's a good question.  I appreciate it.  First of all, in terms of the GLOC, as you know, the GLOC was closed last November on the incident that had occurred along the border.  And since that time we've continued to operate without an impact at all, in fact, and we've continued to build the supplies that we have in Afghanistan.

            So I -- as the operational commander, we've continued to do our job.  It's not really affected us.  And I don't expect it to be a problem here in the future.  We have several other means, and they're providing sufficient resupply for our forces.  

            In terms of the relationship with Pakistan, we're working very hard on a mil-to-mil relationship, to try and develop that and to bring it back perhaps to where it was at one time in the past, when I was the RC East commander.  We're a fair ways from that right now.  

            But our focus -- my focus, as I talk to my counterparts, is -- has to do with areas of mutual interest, and that is along the border, our cooperation along the border, potentially future complementary operations along the border against insurgents that are a threat to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the coalition forces as well. 

            So those are the things that I'm focused on primarily, to re-establish the communication that we once had and then begin to work from that step on to -- into operations on both sides of the border that's complementary to both their security and our coalition objectives. 

            CAPT. KIRBY:  Spence. 

            Q:  General, Spencer Ackerman with Wired.  A related question:  What can you tell us about the coming offensive in eastern Afghanistan?  We've been hearing that this may be the last major U.S. offensive ahead of the 2014 deadline.  Has it started?  What constitutes success? 

            And you were mentioning future complementary ops that you desire with the Pakistanis.  What can this offensive accomplish if the Pakistanis aren't providing those operations? 

            GEN. SCAPARROTTI:  Well, first of all, I think you're referring to the operations that we've begun in the east, predominately in the area of Ghazni -- we've inserted a brigade there from the 82nd Airborne Division. 

            And the intent there is to place sufficient combat power into a region that really has been an economy of force for the last couple of years.  And as you know, it's not so much a sanctuary as it is a transient -- or transition area that provides for -- really support areas for attacks into Kabul.  

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