Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—March 6, 2014. Presenters: Major General Walter Lee Miller (USMC), former commander, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), and Brigadier Paul A.E. Nanson (British Army), deputy commander, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).
LT. COL. MURPHY: My name is Lt. Col. Neil Murphy. I’m with the Marine Corps Office of Communication, and I’m here to introduce Maj. Gen. W. Lee Miller, who is the commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) (Forward), which was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Since taking charge of RC [Regional Command] Southwest in February 2013, Maj. Gen. Miller has led Marines and coalition forces as they lead the security force assistance campaign in Helmand and Nimroz provinces, while overseeing the drawdown of Marine and coalition troops from the country.
He and his second-in-command, Brigadier Paul Nanson, MBE [Member of the Order of the British Empire], have been in the national capital region for a post-deployment speaking tour, along with Col. Donnellan and Col. Bennett, who are here to assist as well today.
Due to a concurrent secretary of defense event today, I’d like to thank the people in attendance and thank C-SPAN and the Pentagon Channel for covering this so it can be seen later today at 1330 [1:30 p.m.].
I’d like to also thank Col. Warren’s staff, Cmdr. Smith and Ms. Hahn for helping us tell and share the RC-Southwest story.
Once I introduce — once I bring the general up, he’ll talk about the time in Afghanistan between February 13  and February 14 . He’ll make a brief statement and show you a short video, and then we’ll roll into question and answers for about 40 minutes, standard — standard format on how we do it.
So, with that, I’d like to turn over the podium to Gen. Miller and Brigadier Nanson.
MAJ. GEN. WALTER LEE MILLER: Good afternoon, and thanks a lot. It’s a great opportunity to be here with you and have my deputy commanding general, Paul Nanson, with us.
Last time I was with you all was in June. And I talked to you from — from Afghanistan. And at that time, we were in the throes of the transfer of the lead security responsibility to the Afghans, both the national police as well as the army.
This year, it’s truly been a year in transition. We came in in combat and rolled towards the end. And we’ll try to cover and answer the questions that show you where we ended up at the end of our deployment.
It was ever-changing each day, new challenges, and each day the Afghan security forces stepped up and took on more and more on their own. The more we stepped back, the more they leaned forward.
There were historical changes in missions through the year. At the beginning, our mission placed emphasis on the transfer of lead security. In order to do that, we needed to release the reins at the district and battalion levels and work ourselves to a more provincial and regional focus for advising. This officially occurred nationally on 19 June with an agreement between Gen. Dunford and the government of Afghanistan.
The second half of our deployment was focused on setting conditions for the April 14  elections and the election support, furthering the transfer of lead security responsibility and normalization of governance. Retrograde and redeployment occurred throughout the year with each infrastructure shutdown.
We assisted the Afghan provinces of Helmand and Nimroz in ensuring security — their security for fair and impartial elections. I’m extremely proud of the coalition as a whole in the support of these efforts. We transitioned our advising effort from in-the-field combat advising to a focus on Afghan sustainability. We assisted the Afghan provinces of Helmand and Nimroz in their governance.
But there still remains a significant challenge, and that is how, within force limitations, do we ensure long-term sustainment with irreversible GIRoA [Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan] gains and prevent degradation in ANSF [Afghan National Security Force] capabilities after the ISAF’s [International Security Assistance Force] eventual departure.
With that, I’d like to roll the film.
(STAFF): We’re here for a good reason. And we’ve been doing good things. I think in the end, in 50 to 100 years when you look back on the Iraq war and the Afghan war, in my opinion, you’ll see more good than bad. You’ll see that we helped develop an economic system. We helped to build schools.
There are so many things that we did to help these countries that the negative feelings that we’ve gotten from the American public or from obviously the Taliban, I think those will be negated by all the good that we’ve done in these countries.
(STAFF): I feel very proud to serve the ABP [Afghan Border Police] and feel really good when helping the Afghan people and keeping them free.
(STAFF) (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The ANA, or Afghan National Army, is the backbone of Afghan armed forces. I would really like to continue this training and train all the soldiers so that the Afghan armed forces will stand on their own feet.
The Afghan armed forces needs a younger generation to come and join ANA to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan. The past 25 years of war is enough. We don’t need any more war.
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: With that, we’d like to open it up for questions.
Q: Yes, hi. Phil Stewart from Reuters.
Just a quick question. You talked about the elections. How — what level of disruptions are you expecting during the elections? And if you look ahead to 2015, if no U.S. troops remain, what kind of degradation do you think you’ll see in the gains that you’ve made?
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: Paul, you want to go on the elections?
BRIGADIER PAUL A.E. NANSON: If you talk about the elections, there’s no doubt there is a move from the Taliban senior leadership for them to do some sort of disrupt in Helmand. Helmand’s slightly different because we believe the Taliban will still be focused at that time of the year on the poppy, because of course the poppy harvest time in April, at the same time as they’re going to try and do whatever they can to disrupt the elections. So I think they’re going to be torn in two ways.
What I can say, though, is that the preparations that the ANSF put together to provide the security for the polling stations in particular has been very thorough. And we have had the opportunity to sit with them as they’ve gone through their planning process and procedures. And they’ve been very, very honest and up front about what they can, and more importantly, what they can’t protect for the elections.
And their honesty has translated into a very good plan for about, you know, just over 200 polling stations, of which they’ve done a very detailed assessment of how they will provide the layered security around those polling stations. And of course, they’ve done it before and have a lot of experience, residual experience from the 2009-2010 elections.
So when we left, we were pretty confident that they had a good plan to provide that security.
Q: So you’re not expecting any disruptions?
BRIG. NANSON: Well, I wouldn’t say that. I mean, I think there will be some, absolutely. And I can’t tell you what that will be. You know, there has been talk about them — the Taliban, that is — targeting both the physical security sites, targeting the civilian population’s freedom to maneuver — movement — bridges, roads, that sort of thing — to try to put them off. And also, of course, targeting key — key political figures — key government figures to try and disrupt.
But as I go back to that, that has been recognized by the ANSF. They have understood the threat, and they’re to counter it the best they possibly can.
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: The key is when, as Paul mentioned, our confidence in them. The — the other end of this thing is that they’re very confident that they’re gonna pull off the elections, run pretty smooth. And not only that, the local populace is showing signs that they’re confident that the security is gonna be there and they’re gonna vote.
Q: Any (inaudible) as far as ’15?
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: That’s what I was mentioning in the challenge. The real challenge is not so much in their ability to tactically fight. One on one, the Afghan national security forces will win every fight it’s in. They will. It proved it this summer.
The key is gonna be in their ability to sustain themselves for the long term, and that’s where they still need a lot of work.
And that’s — that’s not just in — not so much in training mechanics, it’s a lot about getting parts from point A to point B and then being able to hang those parts. That’s where they need work.
Got any more on that?
BRIG. NANSON: We have — we’ve recognized the need to — to, as a CGC said at the beginning, shift from combat mentoring into the sustainability piece. And therefore we, and not just us, but the whole of the ISAF approach to that mentoring, changed over the year into looking more at how do we — how do we thicken the sustainability and particularly on things like logistics, how to ensure that they can sustain their vehicle fleet, as an example.
So a lot of our effort was put towards that.
But I think, as the CG [Commanding General] again says, we probably need a bit more time. We started that quite late. And, therefore, we feel we need a bit more time to make sure that institutional framework is in place for the long haul.
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: Yes ma’am.
Q: Courtney Kube from NBC news. Can you talk about the future of RC-Southwest? Do you see it either merging with RC-South at some point, in the near future or any idea of when they’re gonna close it down before the end of this year, presumably before the end of this year?
And then, can you talk at all about any kind of a glide path for the Marines and the ISAF forces that are there this year, as they draw out?
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: I can talk around them.
The — as far as RC-South and RC-Southwest remerging, that is — that could be part of the plan. I’m not gonna say it is the plan, because I don’t know that for sure. We did — we did go into some conferences and sit through that, discuss the pluses and minuses. Whether there’ll be a presence in Helmand or not, that’s still questionable.
Those — those are things that Gen. Dunford and his ISAF staff are wrestling with every day, as we go through what the number really will be.
As far as a glide slope for the — for the Marines, we have been — we’ve had the opportunity this year as well as this following year, to be given a number to be at at the end of the year. In our case, December or January 31st, be at a specific number.
We were allowed to work that glide path on our own, pulling them out, because our numbers are not that high to begin with in there. And I believe that’s probably how it’s gonna go this year as well.
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: The decision on whether there will be no Marines there or not, that still has not been made.
Q: At this point, you know, can we just left, do you think the security situation there is amenable to pulling all ISAF troops out of — out of Helmand and Nimroz?
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: No. And the reason I say that is the security for the populace within what’s considered the green zones, I believe is pretty effective.
However, we still need to maintain — in my belief, we need to maintain the ability to work on this — the institutional piece of advising, and that’s not complete. And that’s gonna take some time. And it will require security in order to do that.
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: Yes, sir?
Q: Joe Tabet with Al Hurra.
From your point of view, how important is to have the government in Kabul sign the BSA [bilateral security agreement]? And if we are heading towards the zero option, how do — how much do you think this will affect the capabilities of the ANA in the near future?
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: I really can’t talk to the government in Kabul or the BSA. I know that it’s a — it’s a policy decision that has to be made.
How much that is tied with the international community’s final decision, I can’t answer that either.
BRIG. NANSON: I was just going to say, we had reflections from the loya jirga down in Helmand and indeed, in Nimroz provinces. Anybody you talked to, they were for the BSA. They want — they want something. I mean, literally you go on patrol, you speak to the people in the streets, and they’re talking about this. And that’s — that’s something. So they’re obviously interested in it and they understand the benefits they would get from — from that commitment.
As far as, you know, the security forces and all they’re able to do, you know, as we’ve said, physically fighting on the ground, they are — they are confident about their own ability. And indeed, they’ve proven a number of times over the year that we were there with them that they don’t a lot of help anymore. They can take on the Taliban at a time of their choosing and win.
It’s all about confidence. And certainly when we left, bear in mind we’re three weeks out of date now, you know, they’d just come out of another successful operation up in Sangin, with very little — in fact, no support from us at all. And they were — they were buoyed and ready to go for the elections. And they, you know, they — they’ve got that confidence.
The long term link between that confidence and signing the BSA, they get that. And we can’t say what — what the negative effects of not signing that would be, but, you know, obviously they would feel that.
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: We need to not forget that the loya jirga is the most important community that gets together in Afghanistan. And how much faith the Afghan populace puts into the loya jirga. It said it wants the BSA. Going against that goes against what they intend.
Sir? And I apologize for missing you earlier.
Q: Dave Martin with CBS.
What is the current impact of the uncertainty surrounding the BSA and the seemingly real possibility that there will be no American troops there by the end of this year? So how is that impacting? You keep referring to the confidence of the Afghan forces. But we hear predictions from other people that if there are no American troops there, 30 percent of the Afghan army will desert.
So what — what is it doing to the confidence of the?
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: That’s a good question, sir. And what I need to do is capture in time what my continuity is. I departed on 5 February of this year. And as I told you in the introduction, things change daily over there. When I left, those that were most concerned about the signature on the BSA happened to be at my level, not any lower. Eventually, that could start to move down towards the troop level. And then you may see what you’re talking about.
What I’ve read here is coming from very high levels. What I ran into with the local populace as I moved around and worked local district shuras, there was no question at all on the BSA or American — or our involvement there as far as how long we would be staying.
Q: So what were the concerns at your level? What was the — what impact was it having at your level? And then what were the predictions of what no new BSA would do?
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: Paul?
BRIG. NANSON: I mean, at our level, we — we — Helmand in particular, there were options that there would not, even if there was going to be a Resolute Support mission elsewhere, there may not be on in Helmand. So we’ve been working with that potential outcome in our planning. And going back to your question, making sure that plan was flexible enough to move either way is something that we’ve been focused pretty heavily on.
The one thing — the one thing that we were very concerned about is maintaining relevance with the Afghans, particularly with the ANSF, as in when we had to announce to them that there would not be an enduring presence potentially in Helmand. And therefore, we — we looked at how we would mitigate that. And a lot of that was to do with maintaining a properly structured mentoring capability right to the end, whenever that end may be, to make sure we do as much as we possibly could on the way out.
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: Yes, sir?
Q: There were some media reports — I’m sorry — Jeff Schogol, Military Times.
There were some media reports earlier this year that the Taliban had taken over certain checkpoints from the Afghan security forces in Sangin. I’m wondering, can you tell us what happened and what has happened since?
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: Yeah, I could easily tell you. I’m going to let Paul talk to this one. He spent a little bit more time on one of the engagements up there than I did on the deck.
BRIG. NANSON: Sangin — Sangin was a real focus for the Taliban throughout the summer fighting season for — for a number of reasons that I could go into. It’s a hub for them. It’s their spiritual heartland. They — they — it’s a crossroads of their facilitation routes. So they — they fought hard in Sangin.
And you’re absolutely right, in the early stages of a number of the operations up there, the Taliban were able to mass some significant strength to overmatch their checkpoints and take checkpoints. Mostly, I have to say, Afghan local police checkpoints, but they did. And that was unfortunate.
However, the positive was that the ANSF reacted quickly and particularly well. And every time, we took the checkpoints within a matter of 24 hours. And that was entirely of their own doing, no help from us at all. Often, we didn’t even know about the checkpoints being taken because, of course, our situation was deteriorating, as our troops pulled back.
And so, they did it off their own bats, with their own capabilities. And — and they did it, you know, effectively.
And — and then took the fight to the enemy in Sangin. And, you know, at the risk of repeating myself, you know, Sangin was probably the proving ground for the ANSF. Sangin, it’s not just the ANA, it was a coordinated operation involving police, army and cop, and they were able to coordinate that offense in Sangin, and, as we said, you know, they, in the final — the finals were back end of September, they defeated, and it was a defeat, defeated the Taliban in that area.
And the question now, as we left, was can they hold the gains that they made into elections and, obviously, fighting season ’14? And our view is, you know, it will be difficult, because the Taliban will come back; they will want to retake that area.
But at the moment, it’s looking — looking good for the — for the ANSF to hold up there.
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: Sangin was a real gut check for — for all the — the Afghan national security force pillars. And it was actually a good thing that it occurred, because it put them in the lead, forced them to take the reins and to run with it, and do, as Paul pointed out, coordinate amongst all the pillars and operate together.
Just before we left, in order to maintain their security for the elections, I believe that question was asked earlier, they ran another operation out of that — out of Sangin, along the route that you should be well aware of 611, which was built by the U.K. and the U.S., it runs from Lashkar Gah up through — through Kajaki up to the dam. And it was very successful.
And the intent of their operation from — that they planned and they — they conducted, was to ensure that the — the security was there, along the paved route, for the elections.
Q: I have a follow-up question. This is actually a serious question. Are there any more details about the British military working dog that was captured by the Taliban?
BRIG. NANSON: I haven’t got any more details on it, no.
I’m aware — I’m aware of the stories in the press, but I’m not aware of the details, I’m afraid.
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: Yes, sir?
Q: (inaudible) Pakistan has lost offensive against the Taliban and other terrorists in addition within the tribal regions. What impact do you see for those operations inside Afghanistan?
And do you see commitment from Pakistan to take on these terrorist organizations as (inaudible) in the FATA regions?
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: I’m sorry. The first part of the question I did not pick up on.
Q: The Pakistani operations in the tribal regions against the Taliban and Al Qaida leaders and its impact on — on Afghanistan.
BRIG. NANSON: I think it’s hugely positive. I mean, in our area — and I only speak for our area, but, I mean, we have — we had a sort of message that we tried to get across, right the way through our year, and that was why is Helmand so important in this fight.
One of the — one of the — one of the why it’s so important is the facilitation routes that come across from Pakistan, in particular, and, of course, the (inaudible) we were aware of.
For us to influence us — when I say us, for the ANSF to influence that, it’s very difficult, because it’s such — you know, it’s such an outrageous reach to get down to the Pakistan border area in our — in our AO [area of operations]. So they set — they set — they set quite a long way back from the border. So it’s very difficult for the ANSF to target those facilitation routes as they come across.
And our view has always been that the way to target that is from the Pakistan side. And the fact that the Pakistan authorities are now taking an interest and starting to do that, is gonna be hugely positive. And (inaudible) that continue.
Q: And secondly, a senior (inaudible) yesterday CENTCOM [U.S. Central Command] commander warned at a hearing on the hill about the possible disintegration of Afghanistan force 2014 if there are no U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Do you think, from the ground, you see that as a viable option, which is coming up after 2014 or ’15?
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: A viable option if there’s no U.S. involvement, is that the question?
Q: With no U.S. troops in Afghanistan, that Afghanistan might disintegrate into various pieces.
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: Well, there’s always the possibility. Where we have them today, let’s face it. It’s an Afghan problem. We have given them the tools to defeat the problem. It’s whether they want to defeat that problem.
So that’s — that can go either way. It would be — in order to ensure to where I could be more sure in telling you that no, it would not go that way, I’d need to be there a while. And I would need to be able to work on what I was talking about with the institutional train, advise and assist piece, to get them fully seated prior to our departure.
However, it could go either way.
Q: General, you mentioned — I was wondering if you could flesh-out a little — first of all, Maggie Ybarra, Washington Times.
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: Hi.
Q: Hi. You said an institutional piece advising is not complete and will require security. Can you flesh-out that statement for me? I’d like to know what sort of advising still needs to be done.
And training — correct me if I’m wrong — but there’s a lot of assets they’ll still be getting, like the light attack aircraft, that sort of thing. What sort of security will that kind of training require? And can we possibly — would there be the option of using civilian trainers — American civilian trainers, as opposed to American forces to train the Afghans on that sort of thing?
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: There is that possibility. However, with whatever possibility you come up with, you still — you still need security in Afghanistan until you totally defeated what it is that you’re fighting there.
The — as far as the institutional piece, any — any advising comes at a cost. And that cost is with your security. You — you — whether you have five advisers or 50 on the ground, you need a force around it to ensure that it’s secure. It’s not having to look over its shoulder while it’s doing its jobs advising.
For any more detail, I’d like to pull Baz Bennett up on institutional.
COL. BAZ BENNETT: Good morning. My name is Col. Baz Bennett and I was the director for security force assistance. And actually, we already use quite a lot of civilians in our advising, particularly on the area which the generals were talking about, which is the logistical side and looking at the sort of combat service support area, certainly down in Helmand, where we’re using a number of contractors, be they U.S. or other countries as well, who are being funded through the — through the coalition. So I don’t see that stopping whilst we have that capability on the ground.
But the areas you’re really — we’re really still focusing on, it will be — it will be leadership, command and control, and training. But the big one that you’ve heard a lot from both the generals already is sustainability. That’s not just at our level. That was the management of Gen. Maluk and the police as well on the sustainability side. By that, I mean understanding how to manage a vehicle fleet; manage the huge number of — huge number of — billions of dollars of infrastructure that’s been given to them; managing the electricity; managing the plumbing that’s going to go with all of that. And getting in to things that we would take for granted in our barracks and making them work correctly over time.
So, that sort of piece is going on. And then coming down a level — ensuring that the vehicles aren’t breaking at such a frequent rate through correct driver training; how to maintain those vehicles on a daily basis; making sure oil is in them. It sounds very simple and I’m not being flippant at all. And we have done some great work there, but there is more to be done.
And getting into, starting with what U.K. had, what we call an “equipment care culture,” where you realize that without your equipment, you can’t — you can’t defeat the enemy because you haven’t got the equipment, and making sure that you’re maintaining it on a regular basis.
They are the areas that we’ve got to keep working on. When you add in the things such as very low literacy rate, that’s very difficult. And (inaudible) go up the way in terms of, you know, the equipment being replaced from the national centers, that flow of a broken vehicle moving its way back through the process, and then being replaced at the national level. And making sure the ministries are putting the right finances into, you know, say, Humvee transmissions is a very good example, to make sure we understand how many Humvee transmissions are breaking and how we get them back.
Again, sounds very simple, but in your country and my country, we have a very good process for doing that. Their process is still very young. The corps that we’ve been advising is four years old in January, and so those sort of areas have still got an awful lot of work to be done to make it sort of just naturally in their DNA. And when you say, when you’ve got a very low literacy rate, it makes it more difficult. And when you haven’t got that culture yet, that makes it more difficult as well.
Q: Okay. Let’s say that there is no security. How long would they be able to function on their own in the state that they are right now? And if there is security, how much more time do you need to make sure that they’re in a stable state?
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: That’s a very hard question to answer. I don’t know how long it would take for them to break everything they’ve got. They have some very technical equipment now. I mean, it would — it would be tough.
Q: Luis Martinez with ABC News.
One of the things that came in the — one of the results of the ANSF moving into the lead in combat operations was a significant spike in the casualty counts, lethality counts on their part.
Can I ask you, during that year how — that you were there — how did the — how did that affect operations in Helmand? How large was the spike?
And what did you attribute it to? And what factors do you think may have mitigated with that?
Because we kept hearing that there was an ongoing effort to try to bring those numbers down. And do you think that there was actually success in that?
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: There is success. In fact, what I’d like to do is to get into a little bit more detail, because that’s a very good question. I’m gonna bring my operations officer, Col. Donnellan.
COL. JIM DONNELLAN: I’m Col. Jim Donnellan. I was the OPSO [operations officer] for the deployment.
A lot of attention from — you know, for good reason, on casualty counts. What we saw — and when you heard the brigadier speak about — about Sangin specifically, is, you know, the harsh reality is, when you’re in the lead, you — you also take more of the casualties.
So — so ANSF casualties went up, from 2012 to 2013, by 7 percent. However, coalition casualties went down by 51 percent.
So they were taking much more of — of the direct coordination of the fight, but their casualty count did not go up dramatically.
Now, obviously any increase, you know, is a concern. But we also saw their — their responses to IED [improvised explosive devise] events being greater than what ours were in previous years. Their finds versus strikes of an IED going up.
So some of the things that Col. Bennett talked about of — of really kind of — ceding the — the gains on some of the early training, specific to counter IED or medical, some of those gains, we’re just starting to see, you know, kind of the payback from that training investment.
And I think what you’ll see over the course of the coming months is the gains from the medical training. Because there are huge — huge differences, as you all know, in what we have on the coalition side for protective mobility, what we have for combat lifesaver care, again, going back to a largely illiterate or undereducated, you know, private soldier base, it’s hard to get, you know, what we have as a combat lifesaver, that first responder, understands stop the bleeding; you know, start breathing; treat for shock. You know, they know that intuitively because we’ve invested that training in them over time.
So — so, those things, are — still need some more depth before you flatten that, you know, before you start driving those casualty rates down.
But it was — it was certainly something that we were aware of. And Gen. Maluk, the corps commander, was aware of. And more so on the police side, because they are, you know, day-to-day, lower numbers and higher exposure, you know, to the — to the threat.
And we saw, you know, those casualties went accordingly.
BRIG. NANSON: Some of those — some of those figures, as well, get confused between what is attrition, battlefield attrition, and what is wastage.
And there was, you know, quite a lot of high figures of under around about, soldiers not coming back from their R&R [rest and relaxation] and that sort of thing, people not coming back, which is — which is an issue.
One of the things that we, we are trying to get them into is an operation and deployment cycle. So at the moment, a soldier, for example, using ANA as an example, a young soldier will come out of training. He’ll get posted to Helmand province; 215 corps. He’ll go into combat. And he’ll stay in combat.
If he’s lucky, he’ll get some R&R, he’ll go home to his — to his home in Kabul or wherever it is, and he’ll come back from R&R, and he’ll go back into combat. There’s no — there’s no break for him. It’s on or off.
What we’re trying to do is get them into a cycle, where, you know, they get an opportunity to, you know, obviously, they have to go into combat, but then they get an opportunity to go on R&R, when they know when that’s gonna be.
And then, when they come back, they get some reset training. So they get a bit of refresher training, develop their skills a bit more, get more kit. And then they go back into the fight.
Getting that cycle is, we think, fundamental to reducing the wastage. And therefore, you know, as you quite rightly said, trying to reduce some of those attrition figures that you read about.
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: Which is part of the institutional piece of the advise and assist that we would like to get to.
Q: If I can follow-up on what you’re talking about the numbers of ANSF going down. The — the current level is going to go down significantly because GIRoA is not going to be able to sustain the numbers. And I think NATO has agreed that those numbers should go down by 100,000, if I’m correct.
So, how are those decrease in force levels going to impact security in Helmand?
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: It depends on how they shift around. If there — if, you know, you’re talking at a national level, which is kind of out of my league. But if they take a look at where they really have to fight, they’ll shift their people in-country and maybe move a couple of brigades from elsewhere to where they really need it. But that’s going to be a policy — an Afghan policy decision they’ll have to make.
I don’t — I’m not aware of exactly what the number is. I do know there was a lot of discussion on how much you could actually afford to field as far as personnel. But that was — that was at the higher levels before I left.
Q: Night raids have been cited as a very effective tactic to put pressure on the Taliban, weaken the Taliban. In your area, how do you see that evolving? I know the Afghans are now heavily involved in the night raids, but after 2014, is there a danger or risk that the Taliban somehow becomes stronger, is under less pressure with no more sort of ISAF raids going?
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: There’s always that — that concern. But — but I think watching their special forces operate, they are very — they are very solid, very mature. When I say “mature,” a very bright organization and very well trained. They’ve been pretty successful.
Now, they do have advisers with them. It’s not partnered, at least it was not out at Helmand and Nimroz. And they were doing — they were pretty successful. It will depend upon the drive of the leadership as to whether they will continue to put the pressure on the Taliban with strictly Afghan night raids.
Q: How does air power figure into that — airlift and the lack — the lack of much — of many helicopters for them?
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: Well, obviously, airlift makes it easier in some cases. But towards the end when we did the operation at 6-1-1, that was not an air insert. And the Afghans — and it was not partnered. In fact, I can’t remember whether it was even advised. But the Afghan special forces inserted themselves by vehicle and they operated that way.
So, yes, air would be nice to have, but it’s not a necessity at this time. They can continue to press until they can get their aviation — their aviation arm trained and outfitted. There are two helicopters that have — in our last few months in-country were assigned to the 215th Corps. And they were mainly used at that time, and partially driven by us, to do medevacs [medical evacuations], to get them in that mode. And they were very successful in that — in that realm.
Q: Hi, Paul Shinkman from U.S. News and World Report.
Based on your experience, do you have a sense of by when this year you would need to know whether or not all ISAF troops are coming out at the end of this year? Or that there will be an enduring force? I imagine that’s a very different mission preparing (inaudible) by the end of the year, versus knowing that there’s going to be some sort of enduring force.
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: It’s kind of like the movie, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” I mean, it depends on how you want it in the end. So, your red lines can continue to shift. We — as was noted earlier, in our case, we – we never knew whether there was going to be a Resolute Support mission strictly in Helmand. So, we had planned for such. However, reversing that would not be that hard. The numbers would not be that high that would need to remain.
Q: But even if there isn’t a force in Helmand, they’d still be benefiting from you — ISAF intelligence, medevac, as you said, logistics, all those kinds of things. That must factor into that decision as well, though, right?
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: Well, when you’re talking about medevac capability, parts of Helmand probably would. None of Nimroz would. And mainly because of the legs that it takes to get in and out — the distance and the tyranny of distance when you’re talking about the southwest.
So, if — if there was no RSM [Resolute Support mission] in Helmand, it would be difficult to provide any type of support at all.
Q: General, you said earlier to Jeff’s question on Sangin that — that as ISAF troops have been (inaudible) as much with the Afghans, that the situational awareness on the ground has deteriorated, specifically in Sangin.
Can you — I don’t know if this is something you both could speak to, or maybe even Col. Donnellan, but how has — as fewer and fewer ISAF troops have been working with ANSF, has that presented more of a problem with communications with the Afghans of what’s going on on the ground? Not that I expect you to speak to this, but there was this — an air strike in the east earlier today and some Afghan soldiers were killed.
Have there been problems with communicating who is where and what they’re operating on since — with fewer or any partnered operations?
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: Overall, no. It was — it was a rude awakening to us. I mean, but you’re also talking about a significant drop in numbers of ISAF forces on the ground to provide that situational awareness. You’re also talking — when we arrived in — in country, we had 45 forward-operating bases. We were everywhere from Nawzad to Garmsir. We’re now at nine.
So, and we’re not in Nawzad. We’re not in Garmsir. So, I use that as perspective.
BRIG. NANSON: I think two things. Firstly, I think we have to increasingly become more comfortable at accepting information through an Afghan lens. And we often have to accept what they tell us and get on with it.
But secondly, we have — we have a mechanism in place that was established not by us, by our predecessors — an operation called Nation Census, which is now handed off across to the Afghans. And they are at district level, at province-provincial level, and also at the regional level. And these are — these are opportunities for the pillars that I talked about before, police and all to come together and coordinate operations.
It also is an opportunity for us to — to be able to assist with battlefield de-confliction, with air space de-confliction. And if I could go to Sangin as an example, when, you know, when the Afghans were firing their D-30s, their (inaudible), their mortars, they would de-conflict that with us, who would be flying CASEVAC [casualty evacuation] missions or whatever it would be.
And that was — it was fledgling, but it’s developing every day. It’s getting better and better. And I see that as being the mechanism through which we will be able to ensure that as we get less and less ISAF troops on the ground, we can — we can retain the situational control of those assets that we have to go into their battle space.
But eventually, in fact now, they — they own the battle space. You know, we are — there are no more partnered operations. It’s their operations. And therefore, we have to ask them before we go in. It’s — it’s difficult. We’re not there yet, but it’s getting better every day.
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: Yes, sir?
Q: I’m not sure I understood your reference to the “rude awakening.” That was the degree to which you had to depend on — on Afghan sources of intelligence? Or the lack of situational awareness?
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: The degree that you have to depend upon the Afghan security forces to provide it, and the fact that it was being provided. It’s not — it wasn’t a perfect lens, but let’s keep in mind I came into the Marine Corps in 1980. It didn’t have a perfect lens back then either. So, I had to readjust my expectations on how rapidly I was going to get information.
I think you mentioned a strike that I was unaware of earlier. That probably took a while before that information made it in. I mean, it’s an awakening we all have to come to.
Q: You had mentioned about the casualties — the casualty for the ANSF was up 7 percent this year as opposed to 2000 — the year prior. Is that a sustainable trend? Or does the ANSF run the risk of being bled white by the Taliban?
BRIG. NANSON: I don’t think, I don’t think – I generally don’t believe they run the risk of being bled white by the Taliban. I think as we go back to the wastage issue. We — we need to make sure they can sustain that. The moment can they – the recruiting into the ANSF, Baz jump in if (inaudible). The recruiting ANSF is matching the output. So there are enough soldiers coming in to replace the ones going out. Of course the issue is these are trained soldiers, they’ve got experience and therefore its replacing that experience that’s the issue. So anything we can do to stop that we must do.
But as far as, you know, getting back to what we’ve been talking about, I don’t see in any — in any major operation the Afghans, the ANSF outmatch the Taliban so I don’t see there’s going to be (inaudible) battles where they lose huge numbers of casualties.
That said, things like counter-IED, that’s where we see them losing multiple numbers it’s the vehicles, the unprotected vehicles. It’s the counter-IED. That’s where we need to (inaudible) reduce the casualties and that’s what we are trying to do.
Q: But as we all know, when in guerrilla warfare, you don’t defeat your enemy you exhaust him. So if the Taliban continues to inflict higher and higher casualties each year, how much longer than the ANSF sustain these types of numbers?
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: Let’s not forget that the — the. I’ve got to go back to — correct me if I’m wrong on Governor Sabat — out of Nimroz, made a comment when he was talking to some of his troops. Let’s not forget who actually started the insurgency and taught the insurgents. It was us, not – and I’m not saying the U.S. I’m talking the Afghans – and their national forces.
So, I find it really hard to see the Taliban depleting the Afghan National Security Forces or bleeding them white, as you — as you were saying. It’s not going to happen.
I have a very positive view of where the Afghan National Security Forces are headed. They’re going to come out on top. And they’re going to buy the space for the government to become popular with the locals. That’s going to happen. They just need the time. It’s not a McDonald’s society. It’s the East. Don’t forget it. It’s not the West. It will take time, but they’ll get there.
LT. COL. MURPHY: Are we all done with questions? Everyone get what they need? With that, I think if you want to offer any last parting comments sir and we’ll close it out.
MAJ. GEN. MILLER: Sure. For you and for the public that may be listening on this, you can be extremely proud of your soldiers, your sailors, your airmen and Marines. And I say that from my heart. They have — they’ve accomplished their mission — the ones that we sent over this past year, and those that have gone before, and those that are over there now carrying on.
And where it really lies now is with the Afghan people. We gave them the tools. We taught them how to use them. It’s up to them. If they want to — if they want to come out of this on top, they will.
I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you.