View Full Version : A New Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan

02-19-04, 06:38 AM

For the Record: A New Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan

Editor’s Note: The following are excerpts of a videoconference between Lt. Gen. David Barno, commander of the Combined Forces in Afghanistan, and Pentagon-based reporters on Feb. 17, on a major shift in coalition tactics in Afghanistan. Also participating was Col. Richard Perry, commander of civil-military operations in Afghanistan.


With the activation of our Combined Forces Command Afghanistan headquarters … what we’re looking to do is balance the ongoing need for focused combat operations against the remaining terrorists with a growing emphasis on what we call enduring security and aggressively enabling reconstruction. This balance in many ways reflects evolving new realities here in Afghanistan. With the help of our embassy here, we and our coalition partners continue to work very closely with the government of Afghanistan to ensure a more stable and secure future for the Afghan people.

Beyond security, reconstruction is perhaps the most critical part of our mission, because it impacts every citizen of Afghanistan. We recognize that our efforts here must be focused on the people of Afghanistan and [Provincial Reconstruction Teams] are a huge part of reaching out to the people.

In military terms, the Afghan people are our center of gravity. We currently have 11 fully operational PRTs with the 12th opening this week. Eight of these PRTs are U.S.-led, and the others are led by our coalition partners, to include New Zealand and the United Kingdom, as well as Germany, under the auspices of NATO. We expect to have 16 operational PRTs by this summer.

These PRTs are the cutting edge of stabilization here in Afghanistan. They’re changing both the face of security and of rebuilding efforts here in the country.

A PRT is really a catalyst. It forms focal point in a particular area, with the goal of building not only relationships but also serving as an accelerator in the rebuilding of the nation and extending the reach of the Afghan central government.

Working together with the provincial governors and ministries, as well as the U.N. and international organizations, PRTs help enable and integrate this reconstruction process. Our PRT presence here helps extend the reach of the Afghan central government, establishing security in an area and encouraging nongovernmental organizations and other international assistance organizations to move in. Provincial governors and village leaders are learning that where PRTs go, good things follow. …

Hand in hand with our PRTs, we’re also initiating new, complementary strategies; specifically, the Regional Development Zone, or RDZ, and also a concept called area ownership by our combat forces, which will maintain sustained presence in specific geographical areas.

Establishing an RDZ will allow us to focus on the local integration of security and development assets in a particular area and thus gain a synergistic local effect. An RDZ in conjunction with a Provisional Reconstruction Team can deliver a very clear message to those who would interfere with the dramatic progress in today’s Afghanistan.

This combination of PRTs, Regional Development Zones, and sustained presence in areas by our combat forces will present terrorist organizations with an impossible situation, one where they cannot demonstrate any viable alternative of value to the Afghan people.

We’ll continue to face challenges from terrorist groups that choose to operate in the south and east of the country. Their tactics have targeted innocent women and children, as well as targeting NGOs who are seeking nothing more than to help the Afghan people. We’re focusing our efforts first in those areas.

Our pilot RDZ has been established in Kandahar province, an area where recent attacks demonstrate both the criminal nature of the enemy and the need for our focused security effects. Kandahar’s status as a regional development zone will help ensure that this critical province remains a strong model for the potential out there for the Afghan people.

Finally, I will tell you that Afghanistan is moving toward a stable political and economic future and we're very proud to be part of that future. Provincial reconstruction teams are expanding at a very quick pace as the first of the series of regional development zones is also opening at the same time; all this in addition to more than $1.5 billion of reconstruction aid coming into the nation this year.

So again, we’re in a period of transition; many challenges remain, but we here will stand resolute against any of those out there that would deny the Afghan people their rightful future in this country. Which should be free of terror, free of oppression and free of intolerance and bridging towards a democratic state. We stand firmly behind our pledge to foster enduring security here throughout the country. …

So with that opening statement, we’d be happy to take your questions. …

Q. Do you still expect to apprehend Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar this year and if so what's the reason for this optimism?

BARNO: Well, I’ll tell you that we have a very, very high priority in bringing to justice here the leadership of each of the terrorist organizations that we face. And we have significant efforts and people devoted on a daily basis to tracking the leadership of these organizations and in bringing them to justice. …

Q. I think we’re all very curious about your very specific previous public statements that you would get Osama bin Laden this year. Could we ask you to specifically address the statements you've made in the past? Why your optimism about him in particular? Is there anything you can tell the American people about the hunt for him? You say that you're making every effort to close out these organizations. What about him specifically?

BARNO: Well, Barbara, I would tell you that he’s part of a leadership network in al Qaeda, and his significance is in the influence that he can continue to serve in the al Qaeda network. We also have other leaders of terrorist organizations – Mullah Omar of the Taliban; we have Hekmatyar, the leader of the HIG [Gulbuddin Hekmatyr] group in Afghanistan – who are also very serious leaders.

Clearly, Osama bin Laden has very much name recognition as a result of 9/11, and we take our mission to bring him to justice very seriously. I think our entire force here is energized with that mission here and the focus we have on it here in the coming months. But I won’t want to get into more specifics, beyond that, in terms of the directions we may be heading.

Q. I have two questions for you. Could you discuss the nexus that you're seeing with Afghanistan in the border region and with the work that’s going on in Iraq? There was recently an interception of a courier that was apparently making his way down to you. What effects have you seen from the war, and maybe what intelligence connections are you making there? And then, could you also just discuss in a little more detail the RDZs, how … that's going to make such a difference.

BARNO: Well, let me take the first question here, and then I’ll give [Col.] Rich [Perry] a chance to talk a little bit on the RDZs in the second part.

With regard to connections between terrorists between Afghanistan and Iraq, we certainly watch for evidence of that in our intelligence work. We see some potential indicators that there are some transfer of what we would call tactics, techniques and procedures between the groups that are fighting in each of these countries. Probably the most significant indicator there may be in some of their ambush tactics and some of their improvised explosive devices.

But we’re continuing to be watchful in terms of any movement of these elements back and forth. But I don’t think there's strong indicators that I’ve been able to see in that regard yet. But we do see what we would believe, at least preliminarily, to be connections in terms of them trading off lessons learned, and tactics and things of that nature.


02-19-04, 06:39 AM
PERRY: In regard to the RDZ, I might point out that down in Kandahar, in the south of Afghanistan, is the pilot project for the first RDZ. To distinguish it from a PRT, it encompasses a larger area. It’s more regionally focused. Perhaps a PRT is somewhat more locally, semi-regionally focused. And we have focused our efforts in regard to the RDZ, in regard to bringing in outside help, development, focusing the efforts of USAID, the U.N. and so on. In regard to Kandahar, we have a lot of projects in the hopper right now. It’s only a couple of months old, but we’re moving on down the road and we're going to make that happen.

BARNO: Yeah, I might expand on that a bit to tell you a little bit about the origins of this concept. We did some analysis back in the fall time frame that led us to believe that trying to integrate all of the efforts of the international community to include the United Nations, the various U.S. efforts going in there through AID [Agency for International Development] and other projects, the efforts that were being delivered by Asian Development Bank, World Bank, by the Afghan government itself in terms of its projects moving forward with good governance, the expansion of Afghan police, Afghan National Army. The intent and the plan in the fall was that this could all be integrated from Kabul here in the center.

The RDZ concept came out of the recognition that the most effective integration to get synergy, to get the whole being more than the sum of the parts had to happen in the provinces, on the ground, face to face, with all these actors sitting down around a table and discussing how the efforts could be integrated and deconflicted to create the most powerful effect in support of the Afghan government. …

Q. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the strength of the al Qaeda/Taliban fighters in the south and the east, particularly around Kandahar, and what kind of cooperation you getting from Pakistan? And also, [Taliban leader Mullah] Omar.

BARNO: I think in terms of the strength of the fighters, we see the groups clustered in different areas down there. I think the area around Kandahar, in the south-central part of the country there, is the area where we see more predominant – or more influence, if you will, of the Taliban than perhaps al Qaeda or Hekmatyar's group.

In terms of giving you numbers on that, I’m reluctant to put a great deal of faith in specific numbers, because we have fighters, we have supporters, we have couriers, we have interlocutors. Those are all different parts of a terrorist network; not all of those are people that are going to pick up a weapon and fight the Afghan government or fight coalition forces. …

With regard to the question on Pakistan, I’m very actively involved in continuing to develop better military cooperation between coalition forces here and the Pakistani military across the border. Tomorrow, in fact, I’ll travel again to Pakistan for meetings with Pakistani military officials in our embassy country team over there. We've seen great progress, in my judgment, since I've been here – in the early October time frame – in what the Pakistanis are doing in the tribal areas.

[The Pakistani government] never had been in those areas at all in the history of their country until this last year. We now see them operating periodically there with their regular army. We also see them taking on, I think, some pretty innovative programs over the last six weeks to get in and use the tribal leadership in the Fatah area, in the northwest provinces area, to get after foreign fighters who may be in those locales. So again, I’ve seen some very positive developments from Pakistan, and I’m going to continue to encourage them to do more in those areas.

Q. [I]n your last answer you said we are reenergizing the effort regarding Osama bin Laden. I guess I don’t understand that. That suggests if you’re reenergizing it that it wasn’t at some point in the last 2½ years at the top energy level. Why are you reenergizing it?

BARNO: We do have confirmed reports that over the last six or eight weeks that the Pakistani military and their local paramilitary elements in the tribal areas have been undertaking a very serious effort, working with the tribal leadership, to uncover and disrupt terrorist organizations that may be living and operating in their midst. And again, we see indications of that on a fairly regular basis there.

So I’m encouraged by that. I think that’s one of several new initiatives that I see the Pakistanis undertaking that are very encouraging and I think will have effective results. And I think it’s quite innovative, in terms of their approach.

And during [the last 4-6 months], we have revisited how we're conducting operations in the country. We’ve adjusted our strategy here in Afghanistan, to focus on enduring security across the country, expansion of PRTs, realigning how and where our combat forces are operating. So we’ve done an overall complete reassessment, which is normal when a new commander comes on board.

That's no reflection of any efforts in the past. It’s a reflection of changing relates on the ground over here. Afghanistan is maturing. The political environment here is changing in a positive sense every day. And so we’ve adjusted our military operations in country to mirror that and to stay ahead of the enemy over here.

As we look at the enemy, we also see him adapting and changing his tactics, based upon the progress the Afghan people and government have made. We see him moving from large formations. Where last summer we would encounter hundreds of Taliban in the field and other terrorists in large groups – and as a result of their contacts with us, they found that that was a non-habit-forming way to encounter coalition forces – they were destroyed in large numbers. So they have adapted their tactics, based on that.

We then looked at how they operate and are assessing how we can best target them in their new operating conditions. Part of that is – part of this assessment is looking at the leadership and ensuring we’re focused on the leadership targets in all these organizations. So I think it’s a natural evolution of our military operations over here in Afghanistan.

Q. Can you expand on your [earlier] last comment there about the hammer and anvil? I mean, we’ve been hearing about that as a desired strategy for a couple of years now, but do you have regular meetings or regular communications with your counterparts in Pakistan?

BARNO: [W]e have a series of meetings that are now very regular with the Pakistani military. I go over there at least once a month and meet with my counterparts. I also host about a monthly to six-week meeting called the Tripartite Commission that brings together senior security leadership of Afghanistan, of Pakistan and the U.S. here in a three-way talk. That has produced tremendous benefits over the last several months. …

On the second part of the question regarding area ownership, I would probably describe what we’re doing is moving to a more classic counterinsurgency strategy here in Afghanistan where – in the past our units had oftentimes go out, gone into areas for short periods of time to conduct a focused operation, then returned to their base area for planning and preparation, then gone out on another focused operation into a completely different area and returned, and that was the more common cycle.

What we’ve moved to over the last three months is a system of areas of operation battalions, and oftentimes companies and sometimes even platoons now own specific large chunks of the countryside; stay in those areas, operate continuously out of those areas; maintain and develop relations with the tribal elders, with the mullahs, with the local government officials; work hand in hand with the PRTs that are now going into those areas. And the units, then, ultimately get great depth of knowledge, understanding, and much better intelligence access to the local people in those areas by “owning,” as it were, those chunks of territory.

That’s a fairly significant change in terms of our tactical approach out there on the ground. Part of the results of that we think is we’ve seen turned in to us the highest number of [weapons] caches in the last month that we’ve seen in over half a year. And there's other very, very positive indicators of how that more long-term relationship with specific groups of Afghan people and government officials have paid off for us in terms of having a collective security outlook for an area as opposed to being in an area for a very short period of time. We think that’s the way to go. We’ve already seen some very good success with that in the last two months.

Footnote: The full transcript of the videoconference can be accessed at the DoD Defenselink website.