Department of Defense Press Briefing by Lt. Gen. Milley, January 23, 2014

Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—January 23, 2014. Presenters: Army Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley, commander, International Security Assistance Force, Joint Command

COMMANDER ELISSA SMITH:  Good morning here in the briefing room, and good evening in Afghanistan.  

I’d like to welcome Lt. Gen. Mark Milley to the Pentagon Briefing Room.  Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley has commanded the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command (IJC) since last May.  As the IJC commander, he is the operational commander for Afghanistan, which is primarily focused on the train, advise and assist missions being conducted across the country with the Afghan national security forces.  

Gen. Milley was commissioned in 1980.  His key staff assignments include chief of staff for the 25th Infantry Division Light; Joint Operations Division chief on the Joint Staff; military assistant to the secretary of defense; and deputy director for regional operations, J-33 for the Joint Staff. 

Lt. Gen. Milley has held command positions in airborne, air assault, light infantry, and special forces units.  He commanded 1st Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (Currahee).  He commanded the U.S. Provisional Brigade Task Force Eagle, 25th Infantry Division (Light), during their deployment to Bosnia-Herzegovina in support of Operation Joint Forge.  

He led the 2d Brigade Combat Team (Commando), 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  He was the deputy commanding general (operations) for the 101st Airborne Division deployed to Regional Command-East, Afghanistan.  And he most recently commanded the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry). 

Lt. Gen. Mark Milley currently commands the 3rd “Phantom” Corps out of Fort Hood, Texas.  He will provide brief opening remarks and take your questions. 

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

LIEUTENANT GENERAL MARK A. MILLEY:  Thanks for that introduction.  Can you all hear me?  


CMDR SMITH:  We can hear you, sir. 

LT. GEN. MILLEY:  Okay.  And let me just say hello to the folks in the room, some of whom I know.  I know Tom Bowman’s in there and quite disappointed with the Patriots, as the rest of the folks in the Red Sox Nation were, but you’ll get past that, Tom.  Hang in there. 

And for all, what I want to talk to you about, obviously, is Afghanistan.  I’m the commander of III Corps and IJC.  And we’re getting ready to be near the end of our tour.  We’ve got a little bit less than a month left.  We’ll be replaced by the 18th Airborne Corps.  Lt. Gen. Joe Anderson will be coming in here shortly. 

And I’ve had several tours other here.  And I think I can provide you sort of with a little bit of perspective when we get to the questions, if you want to — if you want to have some of that, as well.  And — and I think I can talk to you a little bit about the summer fighting season.  And I can talk to you and give you kind of an assessment of where I think we are and where we’re heading here in the war.  And for the folks back home in Texas, some of the corps, as you know, has already arrived back home, and we’re very proud of their service.

Quick opening remark here on the summer fighting season.  The Taliban, about a year ago right now, so they come out with their — with their campaign plan, and they set out a set of objectives that they wanted to accomplish in the summer of 2013.  And the ANSF [Afghan National Security Force] had a set of objectives in their campaign plan that they wanted to accomplish. 

And I would tell you, on balance, the Taliban lost the fight in the summer of 2013, and the ANSF acquitted themselves extraordinarily well.  There was — throughout the summer, it was a tough fight, and the — and the Afghans stood up to the fight from their enemies, and they fought very, very well across the board, throughout all of the provinces and the districts and so on. 

And I can provide you during question-and-answer if you want some data and statistics and so on and so forth to — to discuss that a little bit further.  But in my professional assessment, after 35 years and multiple tours here in Afghanistan, I can tell you that the Afghan security forces were tactically overmatching anything that the Taliban, Haqqani, or anybody else could throw at them. 

And they performed extraordinarily well.  And they didn’t do that with a whole lot of ISAF or international help.  They had some.  We provided that over the summer.  But for the most part, the Afghans carried the heavy load throughout the summer.  And I think that’s enormously significant. 

And it was this past summer, as you know, that a fundamental condition changed in this war, and it was the Afghan security forces who were in the lead.  That’s — that is not just a talking point.  That’s not spin.  That’s not smoke.  That’s for real, and they paid for being in the lead, in their blood.  They sacrificed a lot.  And yet they never broke at any time. 

So the Afghan security forces were in good shape coming out of the summer fighting season.  They were confident, competent.  They remained coherent and cohesive.  And in general, across the board, the Afghan security forces accomplished the objectives that they had set out for themselves.  And the Taliban, Haqqani, Al Qaida, and all the rest of them did not.  And — and we can talk about that in a little bit, if you want to do that. 

As you know, we’ve shifted gears.  If you look back in time from when I just came into this country, there was no Afghan security forces.  There were no Afghan police.  It was the remnants of the Northern Alliance that were patched together in small units. 

And fundamentally, at the beginning of this campaign, beginning of this war, 13 years ago, it was the United States with some selected allies that were fighting a counterinsurgency fight and fighting a counterterrorist fight.  And we came into this country at the very beginning, following the slaughter of 3,000 Americans and other people from other countries on 9/11.  And we came into this country in order to prevent this country from ever again being a platform to carry terrorism to the shores of the United States or any other vital national interest. 

And that fundamental purpose of why we’re here has not changed.  And it is not changed.  And we chose to do that through stabilizing this country, establishing security forces as a fundamental means, and those security forces have gone from zero, when I first showed up, to almost 350,000 today, a mix of police and army, air forces, special operations forces, intelligence service with NDS and others.  And that force today did very well over this past summer. 

And you know that that transitioned several times over time in the last 13 years.  And we went from — we were in the lead doing most of the fighting to partnered operations, and shohna ba shohna was the — the slogan of the day, to today Afghan are in the lead. 

And as we go forward, you’re well aware that 31 December, 2014, is the end of the NATO mandate, and at that point we will hand over complete responsibility for the defense of Afghanistan to the Afghan national security forces and the rightful sovereign nation of the government of Afghanistan.  So we’ve got about 11 months left to continue to build this army, to build this police force, solidify them.  And then, at some point, NATO has announced that we will have a follow-on mission. 

And what that mission consists of, what it’s composed of, what the numbers are, et cetera, are unknown at this time.  Courses of action and options have been developed, and they’re in a decision-making process, and we’ll — we’ll get those orders and instructions in due time. 

But we are confident right now in the Afghan security forces.  And we’re confident that we’re going to continue to train, advise and assist them and to support them in the — in the coming months.  And then we are confident that we will do that, as well, beyond 2014. 

So with that, I would like to just say that I’m extraordinarily proud of the soldiers and the sailors, airmen, Marines, and all of the forces from our NATO allies and the Afghan soldiers and police that have been fighting the fight over here. 

And — and with that, I’ll go ahead and take whatever questions you may have. 

Q:  General, this is Bob Burns with Associated Press.  You made a reference to the uncertainty of the follow-on mission for the U.S. and NATO beyond this year.  And you also made a point of your confidence in the Afghan security forces at this stage.  I’m wondering what your assessment would be if, at this time next year, there are no U.S. forces there.  How would that affect the — the ability of the Afghan forces to contain the insurgency? 

LT. GEN. MILLEY:  Bob, thanks for the question.  Right now, we have a base plan, and we’re proceeding with the base plan through the campaign through 2014.  And, frankly, it’s — as you well know, there’s a variety options out there. 

I think that the decision-making processes and — at NATO and the capitals of NATO, and in the United States, those decision makers have got to be allowed to work through all the various courses action and look at cost and consequences, et cetera. 

The real key here is going to be with President Karzai and the government of Afghanistan.  The NATO nations and the United States have offered support in 2015 and beyond, and that is being deliberated right now in the capital, Kabul, with President Karzai and the other senior leaders of the government of Afghanistan.  So I hate to give you a kind of a wait-and-see, but I don’t want to speculate on anything like zero or anything like that.  We have to wait and see what the political leaders of the various countries involved decide.  


Q:  General, Tom Bowman with NPR.  You mentioned that the Afghan forces sacrificed a lot this past fighting season.  Could you give us a rough sense of the casualty rate for the Afghans?  How many did they lose per month during the fighting season?  And maybe compare it to last year.

And also, since you said that the Taliban lost the fight this past fighting season and the Afghans were a tactical overmatch for the Taliban, a lot of people would listen to that, Americans, and maybe some people in this government, and say, well, why are the U.S. forces still there in the first place?  Why can’t they just leave now? 

LT. GEN. MILLEY:  Yes, great question, Tom, thanks.  And a couple things.  On the casualties, the Afghans did suffer — the Afghan security forces suffered significantly more casualties this summer.  Their casualties increased depending on the unit anywhere between 50 percent and 70 percent.  And the aggregate, it’s in that range. 

Precise numbers, I’d prefer not to give out precise numbers of the Afghan casualties.  But I can tell you that there was probably somewhere in the range of 3,000 to 4,000 firefights in this past fighting season, if you will.  And of those, several thousands of firefights the Afghan security forces probably lost somewhere between 100 and 150 maybe. 

So bottom line is, in 95-plus percent of the tactical firefights, tactical engagements that the Afghan security forces fought in, they clearly held their ground and defeated the attacks from the enemy.  And then there were — you know, there was probably about 100, 150 or so, where the Afghan security forces did not prevail.  And each one of those was mostly in rural areas, low levels of population, and they were not areas of tactical and — or operational strategic consequence.  But nevertheless, there were some minor tactical victories by the enemy. 

But for the overwhelming majority of the fighting that occurred this past year, that clearly went in the favor of the ANSF.  The ANSF set out for a campaign plan, and they said that Kabul and Kandahar were decisive terrain.  And Highway 1, the Ring Road, which you’re familiar with, along with Highway 7, Highway 4, and a couple of the other main lines of communication, that they termed — they described those as key terrain. 

And if the point of a counterinsurgency is to protect the population, roughly speaking, about 70 percent to 80 percent of the 30 million people that are in Afghanistan live in those urban areas and/or within about 20, 25 miles of those main lines of communication.  At no time did the Afghan security forces during this past summer lose any urban area or any population center.  Not a single district center was overrun.  That’s quite a change from a few years ago. 

And although Highway 1 was interdicted, and you saw news stories about Sayyidabad, and you saw some other areas along Highway 1, you have to put that in context.  Highway 1 is about 12,000 miles or so around or — I’m sorry — 1,200 miles around.  And if you — if you look at the areas that were interdicted by the enemy for short periods of time, you’re looking at probably somewhere around 100 miles of road, and the most significant of which was south of Kabul in Sayyidabad.  And the enemy was able to interdict that periodically for temporary periods of time consistently for probably about four to six weeks. 

And then — and then they replaced the ministry of interior with Minister Daudzai, who’s the current minister of interior.  And within a very short period of time, he energized the minister of interior forces.  The ANA (Afghan National Army) then piled on with a campaign, a multi-brigade operation conducted by 203rd Corps, and they re-secured Highway 1 south of Kabul and Sayyidabad area.

So bottom line is, the key terrain, the roads, and the decisive terrain, the main cities of Kabul, Kandahar, but also Herat, Mazar-e Sharif, Jalalabad and others, those were well within government control.  There’s areas that are contested, to be sure. 

If you look at North Helmand, areas in Sagin and Kajaki, Musa Qal’eh, areas to the west of Kandahar and Maiwand, if you look at Ghazni south of Ghazni City, that’s contested, area of Kapisa was fairly contested this past summer, Kona, Nuristan, and then parts of Laghman, and then in some parts down around Tora Bora in Nangarhar.

But if you add it up, all that geographic mass, you’re talking about, roughly speaking, about 20 percent of the land mass of Afghanistan was fairly contested.  If you look at the density of population, you’re probably talking somewhere about 15 percent or so of the population that was in those areas of significant levels of violence over the summer. 

Put that in the reverse, about 80 percent or more of the land mass and 80 percent of the people were actually secured during this last summer fighting season with the ANSF. 

Now, there’s another key point I think that came out of this past summer.  If you’re an insurgent — I mean, all war’s about politics.  And insurgency, guerrilla war, revolutionary war, call it what you will, that is more political than most.  And you have to have some degree of political support if you’re going to prevail. 

The Taliban and their allies, Haqqani, et cetera, their strategic goal is to re-seize political power in Kabul.  That’s what their aim is.  That’s what they’re trying to do.

To do that, you have to have some sort of political base.  And it was clear, throughout this summer, because of the murdering and the suicide bombing and the — and the terrorism that the Taliban conducted, that their popularity, if you will, declined and on average across the country you’re looking at something between a 10 percent and a 15 percent support rate through variety of polling and intelligence sources that we use. 

So, on the flip side, you’re looking at about — in terms of the ANSF, you’re looking at the ANP (Afghan National Police), according to all the data we have, the police forces, the people have confidence to the — to the tune of 83 percent.  So that’s pretty significant.  For the army, it’s even more:  92 percent of the people of Afghanistan have confidence and support the Afghan national army.  And — and it’s somewhere around the 70 percent to 75 percent that support the government. 

That’s — those are pretty significant numbers.  Those are facts coming out of this past summer.  And if you’re the regime and you’re trying to preserve power, that augers in your favor.  If you’re the insurgent and you’re trying to seize power and overthrow the regime, those numbers are not favorable to you. 

So the — the — the combat power in an insurgency is more than just the number of battles won and lost.  In fact, that’s probably the least important.  But the credibility of the force, the credibility of the government, the credibility of the insurgent matter a whole lot.  And the Taliban have very, very little credibility throughout the country from a political standpoint.  


Q:  Just a second question.

Q:  You know, if — if things are going so well, why can’t the Americans just leave? 

LT. GEN. MILLEY:  Well, yeah, let me — as I said, they did very well tactically.  So we are transitioning right now from combat advising to functional advising.  And what does that mean?  So it’s — it’s our assessment that the Afghan combat units, kandaks, battalions, companies, really do not need, with very few exceptions, tactical advisers with them on combat operations on a day in and day out basis. 

We know that the Afghan battalions and companies can fight.  We know they can shoot, move, communicate.  They can conduct combined arms operations.  We know that all of the maneuver brigades and — all 24 of them — are either partially capable, capable, or fully capable.  We know that the corps can conduct, plan, coordinate, synchronize, and execute combined arms operation.  That’s important.

But tactics an army does not make.  They have to be more than that.  They have to be more than tactics.  You have to have — in order to sustain yourself over time, you have to have institutional systems that are in place where they can, in fact, replenish their forces, they can do personnel management, they can budgeting, they can do intelligence operations, infuse all types of intelligence, where they can train pilots and conduct rotary-wing and fixed-wing operations. 

They’ve got to be able to sustain themselves logistically.  They’ve got to be able to get spare parts and run entire distribution systems, so vehicles and weapons systems and other pieces of equipment don’t break down.  We’ve got to get their special operations capabilities, which are very good, but get them up to a very high level.  You’ve got to develop a ministerial-level capability in order to do budgeting and planning and programming and those sorts of things. 

At the tactical level, we are pretty much satisfied that the Afghan army can fight.  There are a couple of areas where we’re working hard on right now, a couple of functional areas.  We want to improve the medical system.  We think we can do that and shore that up before the end of the year.  We want to significantly improve their ability to counter IEDs.  We know that one out of every two Afghan security force casualties suffered comes from IEDs, so we want to significantly improve their tactics, techniques, procedures, equipment, et cetera, in the counter-IED fight.

We want to improve their fires.  We anticipate that it will be some years before they have a full-fledged capability for counterinsurgency fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, so we want them to have the capability to retain tactical overmatch through the use of indirect fires, through the use of mortars and artillery, and they made a lot of progress on that this past year. 

Sustainment and logistics, to — we think they did okay this year.  They were able to, you know, feed themselves in the field, provide water, provide ammunition, et cetera.  But we’ve got to make sure the flow from Kabul, the international community, and the donors coming through Kabul down into the field in combat units, we’ve got to improve that. 

And then the last area we want to make sure, that in order for an army to sustain itself, it’s got to be able to train itself.  So the — I believe that the army itself, the operational fielded force, the combat battalions brigades are pretty well trained.  However, they’ve got to learn how to train over time. 

So right now, they’re doing very well at like — things like basic training and some small unit tactics.  But we’ve got to also work with them to support and build a training management system that works over time without foreign help. 

So the big ones — aviation, ministerial development, special ops, intelligence, medical, C-IED [counter-improvised explosive device], fires — those piece parts, those systems, those functions we want to shore up here in the next year or so.  Some of them may take longer than a year.  I think most of them — medical, counter-IED, fires — we’ll be able to get that progressed pretty well during this year.  


Q:  General, Jim Miklaszewski with NBC News.  You said that President Karzai is the key to any kind of follow-on operation, yet he still refused to sign on to the bilateral security agreement (BSA).  One gets a sense that there’s a political deadline and an operational deadline.  What is the drop-dead deadline for the U.S. and international forces before they’ll just have to pick up and go home?  And — or can that can be kicked down the road indefinitely? 

LT. GEN. MILLEY:  Hey, Jim, thanks.  Great to hear your voice.  Frankly, I think it would be inappropriate for me to, you know, put out deadlines and that sort of thing. 

I think there’s a decision-making process, and that’s ongoing.  And I think it’s more appropriate for the government of the United States and the member states of NATO to talk any deadlines with respect to that. 

Operationally, we’ll execute whatever we’re directed to execute whenever we’re directed to execute it.  We have a redeployment schedule.  We’ll be — we’ll hit 34,000, as you know, here on 1 February at 34,000 U.S. troops on 1 February. 

We have, you know, closed a lot of bases over the past year or two or three.  If you go back a couple of years, we had 800 or so pieces of tactical infrastructure, FOBs [forward operating base] and COPs [combat outpost]) and bases, and now we’re down to about 89.  We’ll — we’ll close or transfer to the Afghans more of those in the coming months.  We’ve retrograded a large amount of vehicles and equipment and, as you know, personnel.  So we are on a glide path to continue to reduce the force to whatever number the national leadership of the various nations decide is appropriate.  


Q:  Personally confident that an agreement will be reached? 

LT. GEN. MILLEY:  I didn’t pick up the question. 

Q:  General, are you personally confident that an agreement will be reached? 

LT. GEN. MILLEY:  Well, I would tell you that we have a base plan, and everything that we’ve planned is built upon an assumption that an agreement will be reached.  That’s what NATO has instructed us.  That’s what our plans are.  Unless directed otherwise, we’ll proceed down there. 

So I don’t know all the politics of it, to tell you the truth, Jim.  I don’t deal with the palace personally.  That’s the purview of Gen. Dunford, Ambassador Cunningham, other NATO leaders.  We have a representative, senior ambassadorial representative of NATO.  Those are the guys that deal with that.  And we proceed on the operational level and — and below.  So our planning that we’ve done makes base assumptions that agreements will be met, and we’ll execute base plans.  


Q:  Thank you, general.  Spencer Ackerman with The Guardian.  To go back to tactics for a second, the language that you used, the ANSF held their ground, that they withstood attacks from their enemies, suggests that most of the initiative during the summer fighting season was with the insurgency.  Is that the case?  Or did the ANSF actually take territory that is contested back? 

And if not, do you anticipate that being a feature of this coming year?  Or is it going to be more of an effort around sustaining the institutions and the other effects of combat arms that you mentioned? 

LT. GEN. MILLEY:  Yeah, I think the question of initiative, I got to look at that from a couple different levels.  In an insurgency, typically, the tactical initiative, the micro-tactical initiative — who fires the shot, et cetera — typically is with the insurgent.  That’s not always the case, but typically that is, in that they get to pick the time and place and choosing typically of their engagement.  And then, very quickly, in this case, the ANSF not only repulsed the initial blast, but then quickly overwhelmed the enemy.  

Operationally, though, I would argue — and strategically — I would argue that the initiative, both operationally and strategically, which is far more important to the outcome of the war, is clearly with the government of Afghanistan.  And I say that because the Afghan security forces advanced so far in their confidence and their competence, their capability, their cohesion, really significantly over this past summer.  

And I think the enemy — and you can never be sure, but based on all of the intelligence that we have and our analysis, et cetera, I think the enemy struggled this summer, significantly struggled.  

They had a difficult time in and around Kandahar, R.C. South, which was always one of their areas of — of a stronghold area for the enemy.  They struggled even in Helmand, which was really one of their heartlands.  

In the east, you see about — roughly speaking, about 50 percent or so of all the contacts, violent contacts occur in the east.  And in the east, you have 201st and 203rd Corps.  Both of them did very, very well.  Then they were able to retain the key and decisive terrain, and they were able to maintain government control of most of the areas under their — in their areas of responsibility.  So at the operational level, I think the initiative was with the government.  

At the strategic level, I would argue the initiative was also with the government, in that they’re proceeding — not only did we do a security transition, which was a major milestone, a major objective for this past summer, when we had the 18 June ceremony, which was really just representative of the transition to the Afghan security force and lead security.  

But now we’re in the midst of political transition, and we’re about to start the campaign season with the upcoming election.  They’ve completed voter registration.  Roughly speaking, about somewhere between 18 million and 20 million people registered to vote out of a population of 30 million-plus.  Of those that registered, 76 percent of them said they are very likely or likely to vote in the upcoming election.  

I think it was clear from the loya jirga, where you got the — all the elders from the various tribes and areas and regions and districts together.  I thought the overwhelming message coming out of that loya jirga was a rejection of the Taliban agenda.  And I can tell you, from polls, from intelligence, from things like the loya jirga, from people who registered to vote, et cetera, that the people of Afghanistan reject the Taliban.  

They know what the Taliban’s about.  They lived under Taliban rule for some time.  They went through 30 consecutive years of uninterrupted civil war with the Soviets, then the post-Soviet period, followed by the civil war, followed by Taliban rule.  And now they’re going through the last decade or so of the fight that they’re in.  

And most people in Afghanistan would tell you they’re better off today than they were in the last 40 years.  If you look at everything from the progress that’s been made in health, education, telecommunications, airlines, connectivity to the outside world, and — and a whole wide variety of other societal factors, the Taliban come up on the short end of the stick here.  

And that’s because they are widely known and widely recognized at — that they can only destroy.  They can kill.  They can intimidate.  They can blow up a Lebanese restaurant.  They can commit suicide bombings.  They can assassinate selected people.

But what they can’t do is they can’t build.  They can’t create education.  They can’t create health care.  Under Taliban rule, hardly anybody had access to health care.  Today, everybody’s within about an hour or two drive of a hospital that has doctors and nurses and has a wide variety of other medical capabilities.  

Under the Taliban, hardly anybody went to school.  Today, there’s 10 million people in this country going to school.  There’s almost 200,000 university students in this country.  None of that existed under the Taliban, and the people of Afghanistan recognize that.  

So, strategically, the tide of the war is not with the Taliban and their fellow travelers.  The Taliban recognize that.  They know they are on the edge of strategic defeat.  And they — they intend to try to disrupt this election, prevent a BSA, prevent a NATO SOFA [status of forces agreement].  That’s their — they have to do that, the enemy has to do that if they are going to have any relevance whatsoever in the future.  

So as we look forward now, coming into the, say, next 120 days and beyond, if a BSA and a NATO SOFA and an election happens that’s generally acceptable to the people of Afghanistan, the Taliban have taken a very mortal blow.  And they know that.  If those events happen, they know that.  

So the Afghan security forces know that this upcoming election period is critical to the future of Afghanistan, and the people of Afghanistan know that.  So I think the strategic tide — I know the operational tide clearly went with the ANSF and against the Taliban, Haqqani, et cetera.  I would argue that the strategic momentum, the strategic initiative is with the government at this time.  


Q:  Can I just get an answer on if the — if the ANSF actually took territory away from the Taliban this summer or if they simply defended what they already had.  

LT. GEN. MILLEY:  Yeah, they — well, they defended what they already had, but they had most of it.  There were some areas — the government, I mean — they had some areas in rural areas where the Taliban had some advances.  And then the ANSF went in and conducted some operations and cleared those areas.  

If you look up in it the Pech River Valley, for example, back on 6 June, the ANSF, without hardly any coalition, any NATO support, no NATO forces on the ground, they went into the (off mic) Nuristan, up to Chapa Dara, and their continuing mission.  They are — and they’ve been doing that steadily, June, July, August, September, all the way through, so they took that ground, for sure.  

They also — there’s — there’s an area, Hesarak and Azra, that was contested considerably, launched an offensive there.  If you look at the areas in the outskirts of Kandahar, down in R.C. South, heavily fought over in years gone by.  The 205th Corps launched an offensive in the last couple of months there and pretty soundly defeated the enemy in that area.  

The enemy sent orders out to their people to go to ground, withdraw.  The pressure was too much.  So it was clear to us that the Afghan security forces — yes, they held the ground that they already had.  And in some areas, which were pretty heavily contested, the Afghan security forces made some good progress.  


Q:  General, hey, it’s Andrew Tilghman with Military Times.  I’d like to ask you about force protection.  As you all draw down over the course of this year, and those numbers get lower and lower, is that going to raise any new concerns in terms of force protection?  Is it fair to say that there’s an inverse relationship, the numbers get lower, force protection concerns go up?  

LT. GEN. MILLEY:  Yeah, absolutely.  Force protection is on our mind every day.  It’s on the mind of every commander and every leader in Afghanistan.  We are in a war zone.  We recognize that.  And force protection is — is the top priority of every commander, no doubt about it.  And we take all the appropriate measures.  

The basic TTP [tactics, techniques and procedures] we use is layered security in and around all of our compounds, and that includes ANSF, army, police, NDS [National Directorate of Security].  We have a very robust intelligence capability here for early warning.  And we have very, very capable reaction forces, as well.  But force protection is definitely high on our priority list every single day, day in and day out, 24/7.

Q:  (off mic) will that change?

LT. GEN. MILLEY:  Over.  

I’m sorry?  Say that —

Q:  If you draw down, will — will that — will those concerns increase?  

LT. GEN. MILLEY:  Well, we’ve been steadily drawing down.  So as we draw down, we take appropriate force protection measures.  And as I said, we’ve gone from 800 pieces of infrastructure down to 89 today, and every single one of those a deliberate military operation.  So, yes, it’s always a concern.  

And force protection, risk to force is first thing on our mind all the time, every time we do anything.  So the bottom line is, is it going to increase or decrease?  It’s relative to where you are.  And we measure all of that appropriately.  So that’s about all I want to say about it.  I don’t want to give you, like, a risk assessment sort of thing in public.  


CMDR SMITH:  I think we have time for one final question and closing remarks.  


Q:  General, Missy Ryan from Reuters.  You mentioned the attack on the restaurant in Kabul.  Do you see that attack as a shift in tactics by the Taliban?  And are you all expecting, as foreign military forces withdraw, an increase in attacks on civilian targets or perhaps Western civilian targets?  And do you believe that the Afghan government and the Afghan security forces are equipped and able to prevent such attacks and keep aid workers and other civilians, Afghans themselves, safe?  

LT. GEN. MILLEY:  Well, let me first say, for the, you know, families of the 21 murdered civilians at that restaurant attack, both Afghan and international, to include three Americans, our heartfelt condolences and thoughts and prayers.  And that was a terrible attack.  It was vicious.  It was brutal.  It was unprecedented.  And it was the most serious attack on innocent civilians, foreign nationals in Kabul in a long, long time.  

Is that a shift in tactics?  I think that — I think the enemy tactic is — their aim, the way they are achieving their aims is to instill fear, like terrorists do elsewhere.  So their whole purpose is to create a perception, an atmosphere of fear, and I would expect additional attacks like that.  They’ve been doing it all summer.  

Years ago, they were capable of conducting what would be called perhaps guerrilla war, where they were able to mass combat power in 100-, 200-man elements, and they were able to execute operations in a more coordinated way.  

This past summer, they weren’t able to do any of that.  All they were able to do this past summer was do high-profile attacks, suicide bombers, vehicle bombings, murders, assassinations, and some IED attacks.  And the short answer is, yes, I would expect more suicide-type, high-profile spectacular attacks.  And I would expect that those would be aimed at Afghan security forces, Afghan officials, ISAF, our own forces, as well as innocent civilians.  

The — the Taliban murders an awful lot of innocent civilians in this country every — every day and every week and every month.  And their whole policy is to kill and maim and murder in order to instill fear and de-legitimize the government.  

Are they having that effect, though?  Are they able to achieve the effect, the perception of insecurity?  And if the — if the polling is correct, if the intelligence is correct, they are not having that effect on the people of Afghanistan.  What they’re having on the people of Afghanistan is they’re hardening the people of Afghanistan against the Taliban, not in favor of their purpose and their aim.  

CMDR SMITH:  Sir, we only have time for you to quickly wrap up.  

LT. GEN. MILLEY:  I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear that one.  

COMMANDER SMITH:  Sir, we only have time for quick closing remarks.  

LT. GEN. MILLEY:  Oh, closing remark?  Okay.  Well, first of all, thanks for the opportunity.  

And I mean, here’s my basic kind of message, basic observation from me over here, from what I’ve seen over the years.  What I saw this past summer — and we lost soldiers.  The United States lost soldiers.  NATO lost soldiers.  We lost half as many in ’13 as we did in ’12, but we lost soldiers.  And those soldiers sacrificed.  

But the Afghans stepped up to the fight.  There were a lot of people a year ago, two years ago that said that wasn’t going to happen, and it did happen.  The Afghan people and the Afghan security forces fought the fight this summer.  Was it perfect?  No.  Was it pretty?  No.  But war is not a pretty thing.  

And — but they did.  They fought, fought hard, and they achieved their strategic and operational objectives.  And the Afghan security forces emerged from this past summer very, very competent, very capable, and very confident in their own ability.  Their leadership improved.  Their cohesion was maintained, and their skills were demonstrated.  

But there’s more work to get done here.  We have got to continue to build the institutions to ensure that this security force can continue to stand on their own, and then that security force provides the shield to buy the time and space for the rest of the society to develop in health and education and government and — and economics and so on and so forth.  

That’s the fundamental premise in order to stabilize this place and prevent it from ever again becoming a haven for terrorists to attack the United States.  And I think it can work.  I think it is working.  I think it can work.  And I think it relies significantly on the commitment of the United States, the commitment of NATO.  

And I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that the soldiers — over here, of all the nations, are absolutely committed to the mission, and — and they are doing a great job at it.  And — and I look forward to seeing the Afghan security forces in the coming months secure an election and have a peaceful and credible transition of political power from one administration to the other for the first time in Afghan history.  

And that will be a huge turning point, and that will just reinforce additional strategic momentum, strategic initiative with the government of Afghanistan.  And — and I think they’ll be in good shape.  

I’ll take any alibi questions.  If not, I’ll go ahead and sign off from here.