Full transcript of Defense Department News Briefing via Teleconference From Afghanistan
Speakers: BG H.R McMaster, Janan Mosazai
Good morning here in the Pentagon briefing room, and good evening in Afghanistan.
It's my pleasure to welcome Mr. Janan Mosazai and Brigadier General H.R. McMaster to the Pentagon briefing room.
Mr. Mosazai is spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He has been a candidate for Afghan's parliament, and continues to be a prominent voice against corruption in Afghanistan.
Brigadier General McMaster is the commander of ISAF's Task Force Shafafiyat, or Task Force Transparency.
He has held a number of important assignments over the past several years, including a member of Commander Advisory Group at U.S. Central Command, a fellow at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, and most recently as director of concept development and learning at the U.S. Army's Training and Doctrine Command.
Brigadier General McMaster has briefed members of the Pentagon press corps before, however it was a number of years ago when then- Colonel McMaster was in command of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and was stationed in Iraq.
This is Mr. Mosazai's first time joining us in the Pentagon briefing room.
General McMaster, welcome back.
Mr. Mosazai, welcome.
They are briefing us today from ISAF headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, and will provide us an update on efforts by the Afghan government to counter corruption and ISAF support for these efforts.
Following their opening remarks, we'll take your questions.
And with that, gentleman, I'll turn it over to you.
OK, I guess that's -- it's my turn to go.
Good morning to you all in Washington. It's good to be with you.
I will give you a five- to 10-minute -- probably five-minute briefing on what we have achieved in Afghanistan over the past 10 years -- and this is my first briefing; just to set the context for a good discussion that I hope that we will be able to have when it comes to the question-and-answer part.
If we compare the Afghanistan of 2001 to the Afghanistan of 2012 -- I used to say 2011 until a few days ago -- there is an earth and sky difference, as we say in Afghanistan.
Back in 2001, Afghanistan was a severely isolated country where the people lived at the mercy of a brutal regime supported by international terrorists.
The Afghanistan of 2012 is a country where we've had historic achievements in virtually all spheres of life.
We have witnessed a historic expansion of political and social rights in Afghanistan. We in Afghanistan today are proud of having one of the most modern, one of the most open, and one of the most democratic constitutions in the region.
We are very proud of the expansion -- the unprecedented expansion of a free and independent media in Afghanistan over the past 10 years. In 2001, we had one official radio station in Afghanistan that basically sent out government propaganda. Today we have over 40 private TV stations, not only in Kabul, but across the country, and we have over a hundred radio stations and hundreds of print publications, basically holding the government accountable.
If you listen on a typical day to Afghan radio or watch Afghan TV or read Afghan newspapers, more than 50 percent of the coverage is critical of the government, and in many cases, as our president has pointed out several times, correctly, deservedly, because of the serious problems that the Afghan government has, because of the injustice that the Afghan people have been subjected to, oftentimes by those working in official positions of power.
We have also had over the past 10 years in Afghanistan historic achievements in the physical reconstruction of Afghanistan. Today, Afghanistan, for the first time in its history, has 18,000 kilometers of paved roads. We have more 8 million Afghan kids going to school compared to less than 1 million in 2001, and about 35 percent of these kids going to school are girls who were not allowed to get an education under the Taliban.
We have seen an exponential expansion of health -- basic health services to the people of Afghanistan. Today, about 80 percent of the Afghan population up and down the country has access to at least basic health services.
In 2001, an Afghan citizen had to travel for up to two days to be able to make a regular phone call to a relative or a friend outside Afghanistan. Today, there are more than 12 million Afghans who own cell phones, and there are at least 1 million Afghans who are online, printing newspapers, doing business online, and also discussing Afghanistan's current situation and the future.
I will -- and we have, of course, brought Afghanistan out of the dark isolation that it lived under back in the 1990s, during the civil war and the Taliban regime. Today we have -- and that I speak as the Foreign Ministry spokesperson -- today we have close to 70 missions in the four corners of the world -- embassies, consulates and permanent missions maintaining and advancing our relations with the region and with the international community. And we're proud of that -- that fact.
I will give you now a highlight of what we have done over the past couple of months, and then what we plan to do in terms of taking our efforts forward in the context of the transition process leading up to transformation between 2015 and 2025.
As some of you probably know, back in November, President Karzai called the Traditional Loya Jirga to discuss two vital issues for Afghanistan's present and Afghanistan's future. One was the peace process with the Taliban and other armed opposition groups; and the other was our strategic partnership dialogue with the United States and with other international allies and partners that Afghanistan has had over the past decade.
We heard a resounding yes from the people of Afghanistan, over 2,000 delegates from all the 34 provinces of Afghanistan, that a political process is the best and the necessary path to a dignified, inclusive, durable peace in Afghanistan.
It is something that we are pursuing with all the vigor that we can muster because the people of Afghanistan are tired of war. People talk about war fatigue in Western countries. The people of Afghanistan have been going through a brutal war for the past 32 years.
So it's -- the Afghan people's call for peace is a sacred one of us and it's something that we will certainly pursue internally but also with our regional partners, particularly the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and with support from the international community, including the United States of America.
The second issue was our ongoing dialogue with the United States and with our regional and international partners in defining in clearer terms our bilateral relations for the future throughout the transition period, but also more importantly during Afghanistan's transformation decade, from 2015, when transition will have been concluded successfully, we hope, based on our determination, the determination of the Afghan people and the international community.
And -- and on that, we also got a resounding positive response from the people of Afghanistan, that we do not want to go back at any cost to the isolation that Afghanistan suffered from in the 1990s and during the civil war and the Taliban regime, but we want a relationship with the United States, with our regional partners, India -- we signed a strategic pact with India in October -- and with our other international allies and partners, based on the twin principles of mutual respect and mutual interests.
We believe that when it comes to the partnership with the United States, that our joint sacrifices, in blood and in treasure, over the past 10 years have actually provided a solid foundation -- a solid foundation for a close friendship, a close partnership, and a long- term cooperation and collaboration between our two countries. So we are -- we are pursuing that, as well.
The Traditional Loya Jirga, to summarize, reflected a strong internal Afghan consensus about these twin important issues.
And then we had in December the Afghanistan international conference in Bonn, Germany, hosted by Germany and attended by over 100 countries and regional and international organizations. It was called a mini-United Nations -- actually, the biggest political gathering in German history on German soil.
We were very proud to lead and chair that conference, together with Germany.
And at Bonn we were witness to a different kind of consensus, an international consensus about Afghanistan.
But the investments of the international community and the people of Afghanistan in fighting terrorism, in helping the people of Afghanistan and the government of Afghanistan build credible, strong functioning state institutions is not only in the good of the people of Afghanistan in terms of their security, their peace, their prosperity and developing, but also essential for regional and international peace and security.
And we got at Bonn from the participants a strong political commitment to support and assistance for Afghanistan throughout the transition period, toward the end of -- leading up to the end of 2014 and then for the decade after transition, or the -- the decade of transformation in Afghanistan, all the way to 2025.
And we have, as part of the Bonn commitments from the international community, four key milestones coming up and that we are going to pursue in the next six months, together with our regional and international partners.
In March, we will have a regional economic cooperation conference on Afghanistan -- specifically on Afghanistan, hosted by Tajikistan in Dushanbe in late March, where we will discuss the regional economic agenda and -- and, hopefully, focus on specific projects that will take the vision of regional economic integration and cooperation in this region one step closer to reality.
A project that's -- that -- that we hope will be included in these discussions is the CASA -- so-called CASA-1000 power transmission line from Central Asia to Pakistan and India via Afghanistan, that will take Central Asia's surplus of energy to Pakistan and India, where it's in high demand.
In May, as you know, we will have -- we will join our NATO partners in Chicago at the NATO summit. And there we hope to discuss three things -- or rather two things: our enduring partnership with NATO, that -- a declaration for which we signed in Lisbon last -- in 2010, and then, hopefully, the specifics of our plan -- of our joint plans for the long-term financing of the Afghan national security forces, particularly during the transformation decade in Afghanistan between 2015 and 2025.
And then in June we will have a ministerial level conference in -- foreign ministers-level conference in Kabul to basically discuss the follow-up to the November Istanbul conference that we had on regional cooperation, specifically strengthening confidence in the region and also strengthening cooperation on security and development.
We hope to get to more specifics in Kabul in June, because as much as Afghanistan has its internal problems -- which are many and -- and serious, Afghanistan is suffering, if we are honest about it, from problems that have their roots in -- in certain parts of our region.
So we hope to -- to address that agenda in June at the foreign ministers level from the countries of the region.
And then finally -- and I want to end with that -- we will have an economic development conference in Tokyo hosted by Japan, and, hopefully, attended by the participants of the Bonn conference, where we hope to flesh out the political commitment that we got in Bonn into more concrete, specific commitments, numbers and figures when it comes to Afghanistan's continuing special needs for international economic assistance and support, for the remaining years of the transition process, but also through -- throughout the transformation decade, so that we get enough time in Afghanistan to develop our domestic revenue sources, our natural wealth, our mines, our agriculture industry, and revive Afghanistan's place -- Afghanistan's role as the region's land bridge and -- and hub.
And, of course, we will -- we will be doing all of this as part of a mutual commitment, a mutual partnership, a reciprocal commitment between Afghanistan and the international community, where we, on the Afghan side, continue to implement the reforms that we know are necessary, that we know are essential, and -- and -- and continuing the fight against corruption that, first and foremost, affects the people of Afghanistan and undermines our efforts in terms of building responsible, accountable, functioning durable state institutions.
And we are -- I can assure you that the Afghan government is fully committed to that. But 30 years -- 32 years of war does a lot to a country. We hope to pursue all of that together, in close partnership and close cooperation with our friends, our partners, our allies in the international community.
And with that, I will turn it over to B.G. McMaster, to give you more specifics on what Shafafiyat has been doing to undermine the roots and causes of corruption in -- in Afghanistan.
We have only one mike, so I'll...
If you just relay any questions for me, how 'bout that? And you just keep the -- you just keep...
And for those of you at the Pentagon press corps, thanks -- thanks for being here tonight. Thanks for the privilege of talking with you. I really appreciate what you're doing. Obviously, it's immensely important to bring back to the American people the complex story of the fight in Afghanistan -- the fight for Afghanistan's future.
I don't think we really hear from young leaders like Janan enough. Janan is one of my heroes here.
You know, I've had the tremendous opportunity to meet many young Afghan leaders across the government. And I think this is a country full of opportunities, it's a country that has achieved a great -- really vast amount.
And what we've been working on together, Janan and I and others across the government, is really the effort to reduce the threat of corruption and organized crime to the Afghan state. And, really, a critical effort to help consolidate the gains that have been made and to take advantage of opportunities, in a critical effort in this -- really, critical phase in Afghanistan's long struggle for peace and justice, as Janan has talked about, really the -- really recovering from, you know, over three decades of war, especially very destructive conflicts from 1981 to 2001.
And as all of us know, you know, the stakes are very high. You know, our -- our security is inextricably connected to the security of the Afghan people.
As you know, our troopers, our soldiers are fighting, bleeding, taking risks, making sacrifices together every day on the very difficult physical battlefields against a determined, brutal enemy.
And so it's important for us to fight on other battlegrounds together, especially as we take on this problem of corruption and organized crime, a problem that is inextricably connected and overlaps with the problem of the insurgency, the problem with terrorism, and the problem of the narcotics trade, as well.
And I think we've come a really long way in the last -- almost two years. I mean, if you think back to where we were a couple of years ago, you know, I think myths associated with this problem prevailed.
And one of those myths was, you know, "What are you, you know, trying to do, turn Afghanistan into Switzerland?" And it was sort of this all-or-nothing: You can't really take on the corruption problem unless your expectation is to make Afghanistan corruption-free.
But, of course, we know there is no country that is -- that is corruption and organized crime free and that almost every country that has emerged from a period of extended conflict has had this problem of organized crime, organized crime penetration of nation institutions, and this requires, really, a concerted effort by Afghan leaders and by the -- by the international community.
The other myth associated with this is what I would call bigotry masquerading as cultural sensitivity. You know, you would hear people who really were unfamiliar with Afghan history and culture saying, "Well, you know, Afghans have always just been corrupt like this. You know, there's nothing you can do about it."
Well, of course, that -- that displayed an extraordinary degree of ignorance because Afghanistan really had a reputation for being the most honest government in the region.
The scale of corruption, organized crime that you see now prevalent in Afghanistan is a manifestation of the trauma of the last three decades; is an aberration in the long scope of Afghan history.
And so what we're focused on doing is to -- is to reduce the threat of corruption and organized crime to the Afghan state such that we can consolidate gains so that the Afghan government and key institutions, especially those involving security, law enforcement and rule of law, are strengthened and hardened against what Janan diplomatically referred to as the regenerative capacity of the Taliban, which -- which lies in large measure out of reach and -- and across borders.
So Afghans recognize, I mean very clearly, the threat to the Afghan state of corruption and organized crime. And what's different now than maybe a couple of years ago is we have a common understanding of that problem as a basis for common action.
And we're working together on this problem in a sustained manner, in various working groups and -- and with Afghan leaders across the government, our civil military team, ISAF team -- ISAF in cooperation with key members of the international community to reduce this -- this threat to the -- to the Afghan state.
And, of course, it's -- it's an extremely difficult problem. It's difficult in large measure because of the political settlement as it is emerged here after three decades of war. And -- and it's also related to, in some quarters, lack of faith in a long- term vision for the country in which various communities, political groups think their interests will be advanced and protected. And so that drives to some degree a short-term maximization-of-gains mentality, in effort to consolidate power in advance of a post-ISAF Afghanistan.
So critical to the counter-corruption organized crime effort is really the long-term commitment, both on the side of the international community to sustain our support for the Afghan people, and of course the commitment from Afghan leaders to undertake the reforms necessary to strengthen Afghan institutions and to realize Afghanistan's promising future.
And so, all of us recognize that now, and the -- those with whom we're working, and we're working together on this to really develop solutions to this problem.
Now, one area we can help tremendously, and that we're -- I think we've made considerable progress, is to make sure we're not part of the problem.
And -- and President Karzai has stated this, and he's correct, is we have often delivered much-needed international assistance to Afghan institutions and to Afghanistan broadly without adequate oversight. And that -- that money, that assistance has oftentimes strengthened criminal networks that are subverting and weakening state institutions and state functions.
And so we've undertaken a broad range of reforms, our Task Force 2010, in partnership with various contracting agencies, USAID, other organizations, can follow really where our money goes much better than before, have restructured contracts for improved transparency, have vetted companies and individuals so we know who we're doing business with.
General Allen has issued COIN contracting guides, counterinsurgency contracting guidance: very lucid, clear description of his guidance and that is now being implemented as well.
And perhaps the most critical thing is we're working with Afghans on this problem of oversight, because nobody can help better -- help us better understand, sort of, the business intelligence aspect, where our money's going, what the effects are and provide oversight than -- than Afghan leaders themselves.
So that's the first thing, really, is to make sure we're not contributing to the problem.
The other key thing that we're doing is working with -- with Afghan law enforcement, intelligence organizations, to understand this overlapping problem of insurgency and terrorism, corruption, organized crime and the narcotics trade, to understand these networks, see flows through these networks of people, money, narcotics, precursor chemicals, understand really how these criminal organizations internal to Afghanistan connect to -- to the broad problem of transnational organized crime, and then to work together on multinational law enforcement strategies and efforts to go after these criminals to -- that are -- that are looting, you know, the Afghan state or engaged in corruption, victimizing the Afghan people.
The other -- the other key thing that we're -- that we're finding here that is, obviously, quite critical to this stage of Afghanistan's long struggle for peace and justice, but I think will be relevant to any armed conflict in the future, is the integration of law enforcement and military intelligence and military operations, and the need for us to understand the -- this phenomenon of criminality and illegal armed groups and terrorist groups melding together.
We should acknowledge up front the biggest criminal organization in Afghanistan is the Taliban.
I mean, not just because they commit mass murder of innocent people as their principal tactic in the war, but also because they fund their efforts, in large measure, through a broad range of illicit activity, especially the narcotics trade, which victimizes the Afghan people, which weakens institutions through the corrosive effects of the money that comes in and those who are put into positions to facilitate, protect and profit from the narcotics trade.
And we -- and so we really need to continue the -- along the direction that we've begun here, which is a much closer integration of law enforcement and military efforts. I mean, our partners in our embassy and -- the U.S. Embassy and the Department of Justice have been tremendous to work with.
And they've helped us understand this problem, and then also understand better the tools that are available on the Afghan side, obviously, Afghan-led law enforcement and judicial action against this problem, but also how we can support that effort.
But, ultimately, you know, as our Afghan teachers, Janan and others have taught us, I mean, this is a problem fundamentally of political will, and there's a need to generate the political will to take on this problem set. And so critical to that effort is understanding this problem and the effect it's having on the Afghan state.
What Afghan leaders often see is the power of these criminal networks. They often see political risks associated with taking them on. But I think now, because we've worked on this problem together, we can also see the long-term costs of inaction against these networks.
And so what we're seeing is a commitment -- increasing commitment among Afghan leaders to take it on, acknowledgement of the problem.
President Karzai's statements in Bonn -- the Bonn Conference Janan mentioned, I think were quite strong about the need to -- to take on this problem of obstruction of justice, what he called the culture of impunity.
The Afghanistan national security adviser, Dr. (inaudible), has been very clear about this. The attorney general and the speech in the Inter-Continental Hotel last year said, I can't do my job because of political interference and he's working along with our team and others on this problem of impunity for criminal actors that are -- that are weakening the Afghan state.
And so there's a broad acknowledgement of the problem and the overlapping problems.
Again, President Karzai last week made a very strong statement about narcotics traffickers and the need especially to lift impunity and protection from some of these key traffickers, who are victimizing the Afghan people, strengthening the insurgency, weakening Afghan state institutions.
And you've had the arrest of four key traffickers, just in the last week, which is a very encouraging sign.
And so I could go on about this and the nature of our -- of our efforts, but what I'm interested to hear are your questions, where you'd like to take the discussion, especially, you know, the questions you have for Janan, and maybe I can jump in as well, but, Janan, you're going to have to tell me what those questions are, because I can't, you know, I can't hear (inaudible) use my -- for my ears here. Thank you, (inaudible).
Thank you, gentlemen. And we'll start with questions from here, so...
General McMaster, I didn't quite understand the point you were trying to make related to the political settlement and the intersection between that and the efforts on corruption and what effect that has.
And for Mr. Mosazai, can you tell me, when is the last time the two sides met between the Afghan government and the U.S. government to discuss the strategic framework agreement and when do you think that will be completed?
You want to go first?
No, why don't you go first and then (inaudible)?
(Inaudible) questions (inaudible) strategic partnership. I think I'll take the second question first.
The last thing we met with the U.S. team here in Kabul, including Ambassador Crocker and General Allen, was just before Christmas -- I don't remember the exact date -- but since then, because of the Christmas and New Year holidays, we haven't been able to schedule a follow-up meeting to that last meeting.
But we have had very constructive discussions as part of the -- as part of our strategic (inaudible) dialogue with the -- with the U.S. side, and we hope to resume, in the near future, that conversation and we hope to -- both sides hope to conclude our dialogue on the long-term strategic partnership (inaudible) between the two countries.
Of course, what's important for us is not necessarily the timeline, not getting it out there as fast as possible, but making sure that the document that we have reflects the true nature of the very broad and very deep and very comprehensive bilateral relationship that already exists between our two countries, and that will also be a document that will sustain and further develop cooperation and the partnership between Afghanistan and the United States for the next, you know, decade or so.
And so that's more important for us. And we hope to be able, in the near future, to resume that dialogue with our American partners.
On the first question of the political dimension of the corruption problem, we and our Afghan colleagues have come up with this term criminal patronage networks, which really describes criminal organizations that are pursuing criminal agendas and economic motives, but doing it in part for really political reasons as well. And that is really to -- to really strengthen the control of a particular group over a state institution or function, or to establish an exclusionary political economy in certain portions of the country or over certain sectors of the economy.
What these groups do is is they really try to take advantage of the trauma that Afghan society has experienced over the past 30 years. And they -- they try to use the divisions within Afghanistan to their advantage, to -- to gain protection.
We see the same thing with subversive -- other subversive groups, like hostile foreign intelligence organizations here in Afghanistan or insurgent and terrorist organizations, who really are trying to pit Afghanistan's communities against each other, and then to portray themselves, you know, as patrons and protectors of a grieved parties or parties that -- that view themselves as in a zero-sum game competition with other groups.
And so what's -- what's critical to do here is first of all to understand that problem, to not allow these criminals to seek refuge in the politics and expose their -- expose their behavior as -- as criminal, as destructive to the Afghan state and as victimizing the Afghan people.
And increasingly Afghan leaders see this.
And so, you know, what is happening is protection that these individual have counted on by trying to make their criminality an issue either of ethnicity or politics or an issue between the foreigners and Afghans, it is now becoming, as -- as we pull the curtain back together on this problem, an issue just of criminality.
And so, really our efforts, along with our Afghan colleagues, are not to end patronage in Afghanistan, you know, but just to decriminalize the patronage, so it's not destructive to the Afghan state or -- or that it -- such that it victimizes the Afghan people.
So, do you wanna -- do you wanna comment on that particular question as well, Janan?
Well, I -- I would agree with -- I think you referred to the -- the political sentiment in terms of the post-Taliban government back in 2001 -- first Bonn agreement and its provisions.
Of course, you know, Afghanistan, even back then, was coming out of more than 20 years of -- of first foreign occupation that was totally destructive, that destroyed not only our, you know, physical infrastructure, but also Afghanistan's judiciary, Afghanistan's police force, and also, you know, resulted in the killing of more than a million people and the displacement of more than 5 million Afghans. And then, of course, an even more destructive civil war in the early 1990s. And the Taliban regime in the late 1990s.
So, you know, back in 2001, different Afghan political factions -- political groups came together in Germany, with the mediation of the United Nations and the international community, to work out an intermediate administration for Afghanistan with a timeline towards building permanent Afghan state institutions.
And of course, as General McMaster has pointed out already, the -- the way that international money has been spent, not only international military spending, but also money specifically distant (ph) towards reconstruction in Afghanistan, is basically a shared problem: lax oversight by both sides, weak Afghan institutions, you know, the lack of -- in the early years, certainly -- of a judiciary or a police force that -- that could pursue or prosecute any corruption cases.
And the -- also the absence of an attorney general's office that had been completely destroyed during the civil war during the Taliban regime.
So we're slowly coming out -- coming out of that. We have accomplished an enormous amount in terms of building indigenous, permanent Afghan state institutions over the past 10 years.
And I think we can all agree that fighting corruption, whether it's in Afghanistan or elsewhere, but particularly in a country like Afghanistan that's gone through so much war, is not a matter of a few months or even a few years. It will take a long time.
But the Afghan government is determined to fight this menace because it is, first and foremost, harming Afghanistan and damaging our past, present and future efforts to ensure that Afghanistan is finally out of its 30 years of war and that Afghanistan is a just, fair, peaceful and stable society that's a factor for cooperation and peace in the region and nothing else.
General McMaster, you said that these criminal organizations are looting Afghanistan. What is your estimate of the amount of looting that has taken place since 2001? Has anyone come up with a figure, the amount of stuff that has gone from -- the donations from international community has landed in the hands of criminal organizations?
OK, that's a good question.
Of course, that's what everyone's interested in, is really to be able to get -- to understand the degree to which international assistance, our security assistance, other assistance has been diverted by criminal networks.
And I'll tell -- I think it's really impossible to tell or to give a number with a high degree of confidence. I know SIGAR has given some numbers for the region; there are other figures out there. I mean, I think those help you understand that is a problem of significant scale.
But -- but what we have been able to do, I think, over the past -- you know the past almost two years now is to develop better understanding of the problem, but we're in almost a continuous discovery mode.
And if you were to ask us, "Hey, everything that you've done, whether it's, you know, the debarment of 79 companies and individuals in recent months, if it's the -- you know, the prosecution and conviction of, you know, 50 to 60 or so, you know, international -- internationals over the last year or so, if it is -- you know, if it is the auditing of $27.2 billion of contracts, which we've done, or vetted over 600 companies, how does -- how do all those measures of performance relate to measures of effectiveness? Has -- have your efforts been of sufficient scale, you know, to really, you know, reduce the -- the -- you know, this problem to such a degree that we don't have to worry about it anymore?"
I'd say, "Certainly not. We have to continue to ramp up our -- our efforts in this area, to continue to get better at improving our oversight."
I think what we've done lately, which is involving Afghans in that oversight, working together on this problem, closing down that gap where often times, you know, kind of the audit trail, or visibility on this problem is lost as it goes from the international community over to -- to Afghans.
Whether it's international companies subcontracting to Afghan companies, or whether it's delivery of assistance from our -- you know, our logistics -- you know, our logistics system into Afghan logistics systems, that handover, that -- you know, to have continuous visibility through that, is obviously immensely important.
And so, what we've done is formed various working groups, joint working groups, joint organizations. We are conducting what we call now joint-supported investigations. So, if we have criminality, organized crime activity that spans international community and Afghan jurisdictions, that we work together on that problem to close down here what we've called this investigative gap.
So, you know, I know that's, kind of, a non-answer to your question. The answer is for me is I don't really know. There are estimates out there. It is a significant problem. We are making progress. I mean, quantifiable progress.
How that progress relates to the overall scale of the problem, I can't -- I can't tell you yet. But we're working on that, as well.
What is the government of Afghanistan's official position on the U.S. having direct talks with the Taliban? You know, Ambassador Grossman is coming to Kabul later this week.
That's an important question.
And as I pointed out earlier, the peace process is something that we are fully committed to. It is something that the Afghan people want us to pursue. And that's what we heard from them at the Traditional Loya Jirga and also at the Peace Consultative Loya Jirga before that -- about a year before that.
Of course, we want to make sure that any peace process that happens in Afghanistan that is aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan is one that basically includes the preservation of our achievements -- our historic achievements over the past 10 years as a -- as a very clear condition of our constitution -- the progress that we have made in -- in expanding political and social rights in Afghanistan, including the -- the rights of Afghan women, who form half of the Afghan population, the progress we've made on free and independent media in Afghanistan, elections, our young democracy; these are all -- the secession of hostilities and attacks and violence against the people and government of Afghanistan.
But we know full well and are committed to a political solution to the war in Afghanistan.
And that's why President Karzai has expressed the Afghan government's support for the establishment of an address for the Taliban. As you know, we -- we have had this problem for a long time where alleged so-called peace emissaries turned out to either be fakes or suicide bombers, one of -- one of whom killed the chairman of the High Peace Council, former president, Professor Rabbani.
So we support the idea of the establishment of an address for the Taliban. Our preference, of course, was for inside Afghanistan, but if it's going to be in -- in Qatar, a Muslim country, we -- we support that.
But we want to make sure that the Afghan peace process is led and is owned by the Afghan government. Because we want to make sure that the outcome of the -- of that peace process is a dignified and inclusive and a durable peace; that it's not a peace that's just called peace in name and -- and -- and nothing else.
Of course, we looking forward to the visit by Ambassador Grossman to Kabul and we hope to discuss, among other issues of bilateral importance between our two countries, the peace process and the confidence-building measures that -- that, you know, we hope -- we hope to see as part of this process.
But, ultimately, direct peace negotiations as part of the peace process will have to be between Afghan parties. There's no alternative to that.
We welcome the support and the assistance of countries in the region, particularly the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the sincere and result-oriented cooperation in support of Pakistan to the Afghan peace process.
And, of course, we welcome the support of the international community, particularly the United States. Because the United States, after all, is a major party to what is -- what's gone on in Afghanistan over the past 10 years and what's going on in Afghanistan right now.
And so we -- we hope to discuss all of these with Ambassador Grossman when he's here in Kabul.
Hi, General McMaster.
You've said that the goal was to decriminalize patronage networks. Could you please elaborate on that a little bit and explain exactly how that process would work?
Well, one of the -- one of the things that the Afghan leaders have been doing is really assessing leaders across -- you know, across Afghanistan, within ministries and -- and at the local level. And we have tied this, to some degree, this effort -- this joint effort, to assess the strength of leadership within security forces, within local government as part of the transition process.
So as you go through the tranches of transition -- this is really at the request of Afghan leaders. They said, "Help us assess the degree to which we have the right leaders in positions of leadership, leaders who are strengthening the institutions, that are -- that are working for the Afghan people, that will be capable of dealing, you know, with the security -- taking the lead for the security situation, delivering good governance, rule of law, and so forth."
And so we do these joint assessments. That's part of it. And then, obviously, it's up to Afghan leaders to make decisions that are required to strengthen leadership at the -- at the local level.
And then the -- the other key thing is, we engage with those people who usually would be counted on by criminal networks to -- to provide protection for them and -- and really try to expose the activity of these -- of these -- these particular actors who are, in fact, weakening state institutions.
Now, criminal organizations who have penetrated and are subverting certain state institutions are stakeholders in state weakness, you know, because it's the weakness of state institutions, especially those involving law enforcement and rule of law, that give them freedom of action and perpetuate what President Karzai's called a culture of impunity.
Now, there are other countries that have experienced this. I mean, people -- if you were to, you know, ask people, what do you think the future of Colombia looks like, you know, in 1999? It would have been pretty bleak for many of the same reasons, criminal capture of critical state institutions and functions.
Also, what we're working with Afghan leaders on is really putting the right systems in place, especially insulated, investigative and adjudicative processes that can detect, investigate, prosecute, and sanction corruption and organized crime. And this is an issue that Afghan leaders have raised with us in the context of one of our sustained efforts called the ONSC TAWG, the Office of National Security Council Transparency and Accountability Working Group, an interministerial working group that frames this problem of corruption and organized crime to find specific problems and then works with key leaders and key institutions to undertake necessary reforms.
Now, we just finished one of these with the Ministry of Defense, I mean, really exceptionally well done by Afghan leaders with -- you know, with -- you know, with U.S. and international community assistance, really giving ourselves tasks, identifying the concrete tasks and who's responsible to do it, to begin to -- you know, to undertake reforms in the area of personnel, for example.
So we are able to implement, really, what President Karzai has been highlighting, as well, recently, which is merit-based hiring and merit-based promotions to insulate personnel decision-making from undue political interference or intimidation or coercion. These investigative, adjudicative and -- insulated, investigative, adjudicative bodies, other specific reforms within the Ministry of Defense, we've done some previous work with this group on borders, airports, and customs depots, critical to what Janan laid out, was a vision of Afghanistan as the hub of Asia, getting access to regional markets for Afghan goods, really being able to tap into the tremendous natural resource wealth here in the country.
So we're working with Afghan leaders in a sustained manner on those specific, you know, geographic locations, border crossings, airports, customs depots, and then we're also shifting this work now to the Ministry of Interior, an enthusiastic endorsement by Minister Mohammadi to do that. And so I could go on with a whole bunch of specific things, which -- what it means to decriminalize, you know, patronage -- but it's really to also insulate critical institutions from, you know, criminal penetration and subversion.
I think there's also now a recognition, as, you know, law enforcement and rule of law institutions are better insulated, like already exists in the counternarcotics area -- you know, the counternarcotics judicial center is an insulated adjudicative body -- that that is going to also provide an additional incentive to ensure that leaders are in positions of leadership who are going to discharge their responsibilities responsibly and -- and not engage in activity that either -- you know, either robs the state of revenues, victimizes the Afghan people, or weakens those institutions.
If I may, I just wanted to add a brief comment to what you just said. I should have probably said this in response to the previous question. But there are some who link the problem of corruption in Afghanistan, which as we agree in the Afghan government is a serious matter, to the violence in Afghanistan, to the terrorist attacks and to the overall violence in Afghanistan. That, in our view, is completely unfair, because there -- Afghanistan is not the only corrupt country in the world, and we don't see -- yet we don't see people blowing themselves up elsewhere around the world, in countries where corruption is also a big problem.
We don't see roadside bombs blowing people up. We don't see people attacking schools. We don't see people attacking clinics. We don't see people attacking and murdering civilians in open markets, 14 only yesterday in Helmand province, 36 killed and wounded, and then again in Kandahar in the east over the past few days.
So I think we really need to be careful about this. You know, there's no relationship between -- there's no direct relationship between corruption and the violence that we have been suffering from in Afghanistan specifically over the past 10 years, the terrorist attacks and the rest of the violence in Afghanistan. So I just wanted to make that clear.
Two more questions from here.
General McMaster, you mentioned the connection of the drug traffic, you know, as part of the Taliban's criminality. The United States has been reluctant to go -- to use eradication to attack the drug problem. What is the solution to narcotics trafficking if we don't go after drug production?
Right. OK, I mean, obviously, there is a comprehensive plan for counternarcotics here, which is -- you know, which is run by the Ministry of Counternarcotics. There are a number of components to that plan that involve, you know, crop substitution, alternative livelihoods. Eradication is part of that plan. It's governor-led eradication. And eradication has had an effect in key provinces, in Helmand in particular, and it's been run very effectively, for example.
But one of the key things, I think, associated with the narcotics trade is to recognize that the narcotics trade is an outgrowth, to some extent, of the conflict economy, and it has -- the cultivation and narcotics trade has been greatest, most severe in areas that were contested or areas that were -- that used to be safe havens and support bases for the Taliban.
If you were to overlay, you know, from a couple of years ago, you know, the map of areas where the Taliban had the highest degree of control and poppy cultivation narcotics trade, those matched almost precisely. And so some big things have changed.
One of the things that have changed is, first of all, I think we understand much more clearly than we did in the past the interconnected nature and the overlap, you know, between the insurgency, the narcotics trade, and the problems of corruption and organized crime, and so that allows us, I think, to take a more holistic approach to these interconnected problems.
The other -- the other thing that's changed is, with the reinforced security effort, especially in the south, you know, we have been able to deny the enemy safe havens and support bases that they were using to finance the insurgency through the narcotics trade. And that has had a significantly disruptive effect, especially in Kandahar and Nimruz provinces -- I mean, Kandahar and -- and Helmand provinces.
But a lot of that -- that trade, that narcotics activity is shifting out of secure areas now, and that is driven, you know, by the -- by the Taliban. The other -- the other dynamic associated with the narcotics trade is the infiltration and subversion of security forces, sometimes local governance, border police and so forth, because there's so much money associated with this, so that they can put people in a position who can facilitate that trade rather than interdict it.
So the effort has been on improved mobilization of Afghan law enforcement against this problem to -- to improve, really, the Afghan law enforcement ability to arrest, prosecute and imprison some of these traffickers, especially the key traffickers.
The other thing is to combine not just that interdiction effort against individuals, but to combine that also with military support to other law enforcement action against some of the geographic targets associated with the narcotics trade, labs and collection points and key trafficking routes.
The other part of that that we've had some significant gains in recently, but, you know, an area that we need to even integrate more fully is the illicit financial part of this, you know, and being able to go after the money, you know, and the flow of money associated with the narcotics trade.
And the other aspect of this is to internationalize the effort, because these -- you know, these narcotics and networks are connected to the insurgency, and they're also connected to transnational organized crime. So an improved, combined law enforcement and intelligence picture of this problem is enabling much better integrated military law enforcement operations against these networks.
We've had orders of magnitude increases in seizures. People will say quite rightly that's not going to solve your problem, but there have also been I think it's something like 660 convictions in the counternarcotics judicial center this past year.
Crop substitution programs have uneven results, as you know, but are doing well in certain parts of the country. And eradication is still part of the program, but it's governor-led eradication.
Well, I just wanted to add briefly to add. Of course, the Afghan government recognizes drugs and drug trafficking as a major problem. It is something that we are addressing internally in Afghanistan. But given the regional dimensions and international dimensions of drug production and drug trafficking, we are working with neighbors, with countries in the region as part of the Istanbul process most recently, which we will hopefully follow up with the foreign minister's conference in Kabul in June, and also with the international community, in terms of the precursors, in terms of the efforts to reduce demand in countries where drugs flow to.
But, you know, it would be wonderful if we could address the drug problem through eradication alone. It's not as simple as that. It's extremely complex. You can't take away a poor farmer's livelihood if -- if, you know, opium cultivation is what he has been doing and what he relies on for subsistence. Yes, he's being abused by the Taliban, by the -- by the criminals in -- in his province. Yes, he's being abused by the drug trafficker. But it's something that allows him to put food on the table for his children.
So if you look at the big picture, addressing the drug problem is also linked to the development of a licit, of a legal, national, stable economy in Afghanistan. Helmand province, for example, has tremendous potential for agricultural development. Helmand marble is world renowned, and Helmand also has gold and other minerals. Helmand has, you know, tremendous amount of water, Helmand River Basin.
So if our efforts internally in Afghanistan, strengthening Afghan institutions, the peace process, our regional cooperation agenda, and working with the international community are all focused partly on strengthening the legal economy in Afghanistan so that there is no room left for those who will be able to abuse Afghan farmers and also, by doing so, undermine the rule of law and the peace and calm of the people of Afghanistan.
General, also on the narcotics trade and the funding that the Taliban gets from it, sir, last spring, there wasn't much of a spring offensive in Helmand because everybody went home, including the ANA, including the local police, to harvest poppy. What can be done about that, sir?
Can you please repeat the question?
The Afghan army and police last spring in Helmand, a lot of them went home to harvest poppy, so there wasn't much of a spring offensive. The involvement of that, what can be done -- what can be done about that, General?
(OFF-MIKE) familiar with that (OFF-MIKE) I'm not familiar with that report, so I'd have to look at it. I mean, I'm not sure it's the army and police...
No, first time I hear that, too.
... but it may be portions or something. I don't know. I've not heard that report.
All right. Gentlemen, we -- we greatly appreciate you devoting so much of the time of -- of your evening to join us back here to brief the Pentagon press corps, who genuinely has an international audience of -- of viewers, listeners and readers. So thank you for your time. And we will look forward to having you join us here again in the Pentagon briefing room. So thank you very much, and have a good evening.
That's it, I think.
That's it. Then they just close it.
Thank you so much.
CQ Transcriptions, Jan. 19, 2012
List of Speakers
BRIGADIER GENERAL H.R. MCMASTER (USA),
COMMANDER, TASK FORCE SHAFAFIYAT
SPOKESMAN, AFGHANISTAN'S MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS