U.S. Official Speeches and Interviews
Remarks To The Press By Senator Carl Levin and Senator Al Franken
January, 13, 2010 | Kabul, Afghanistan
Senator Levin: Good afternoon, everybody. Senator Al Franken and I just spent three days in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The first day in Pakistan, where we met with the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Kayani; Prime Minister Gilani; Minister of Defense Muktar. We spent two days then in Afghanistan. This is the end of our second day. We'll be returning to the United States tonight.
Here in Afghanistan we spent a lot of time with our Ambassador, Karl Eikenberry; General McChrystal, we spent a lot of time with him; General Caldwell, a great deal of time with him; and General Rodriguez. We spent time today with British General Carter, who is playing a key role at ISAF down at the regional command in Kandahar where we were, Regoinal Command -South. We met with the Foreign Minister here in Afghanistan and we visited a number of bases today in the field, in and around Kandahar. It was a very important visit for us for reasons that I'll explain in a moment.
But first, it's a real pleasure to travel with Al Franken. He's got a wonderful way of expressing himself. He's spent a lot of time with troops over the years, and the love of our men and women in uniform is shared by him fully, and it's a real pleasure to travel with him.
Since September when I was here last, I believe there's been a significant increase in the optimism here in Afghanistan. I sense progress in a number of ways, too. The counter-insurgency strategy which has been adopted here has been taking hold. It's fully operational. It has been taken to heart by our troops, by the Afghan troops. They understand it, they welcome it. There's greater risk in that strategy, but there's also a greater chance of progress and success by that strategy being put in place, which it has been. As you all know, it requires not just clearing, going after the insurgents, but also holding and I think part of this new strategy, critically important parts,...it's not just clearing and holding and building, but it's fully partnering in that process with Afghan security forces.
I spent a lot of time focusing on this question, insisting that we spend a lot more energy and effort on partnerships with the Afghans. Not just because it's more effective as part of the counter-insurgency strategy, in appealing to the people, reassuring them that we're not an occupying power so that they see Afghan forces in their neighborhoods and not just foreign forces. But it's also critically important that that partnering take place so that we can transition responsibility for the security of this country to Afghan security forces. That's really the final piece of shaping and clearing and holding and building. That's the part which needs to be added in every description of what we're doing here, and that's the fifth part, which is transitioning, transferring responsibility to the Afghan security forces.
President Obama, in his speech at West Point, indicated there is a date at which we will be reducing the number of forces here in Afghanistan, U.S. forces. It had a very important, positive impact here in Afghanistan. General Caldwell gave us one example of that when he pointed out the significant increase in the number of Afghan recruits coming into their army that followed that speech and the setting of that date by President Obama.
In the view of General Caldwell, who is in charge of training, it's the direct result of the setting of that date to begin the reduction of American troops because it focused the minds of Afghan leaders on their responsibility to put in motion actions which will make it possible for that transition to occur. Not just between now and July of 2011 which was the date the President decided on, but also at that time to be able to significantly transfer additional responsibilities. Between now and then and then, doing that transferring is the key to success here in Afghanistan. We were today given the opportunity to see first-hand just how much of that partnering is taking place.
When I was here back in September, the ratio of our Marines to Afghan forces, it was three of our Marines in Helmand Province to one Afghan soldier. We now are at a one-to-one unit connection. It was very good news and I was very glad to see how important that partnering is to our forces and to the Afghans, the Canadians with whom we visited. It's a huge difference in the amount of partnering that's taking place. So I would say in terms of the...what I saw here was almost totally positive.
The one shortfall that I was surprised by, frankly, was the number of trainers. This is for the initial training of Afghan troops, for that eight-week period of initial training. We only have about 37 percent of the trainers that we need. This is the easy part of the training process and the partnering process. This is the part that takes place away from the areas of greatest danger. It's an eight-week training period. Almost any well trained soldier from any of the coalition forces can carry out that training. Yet I was really surprised to see what a major shortfall we have in that area. It's not, frankly, acceptable. We need a lot more of our coalition partners to step forward and to provide a lot more of those trainers.
So the partnering to me is essential to success here. It's the heart of our mission, which is mission number one: preparing the Afghan security forces to take responsibility for the nation's security, to be able to transfer that responsibility to them. We have some numbers which I can give you later if you're interested in the specifics, both on the partnering side to show you that every single unit that we have now -- and we were down in the south -- every single unit we have there now is partnered with an Afghan unit. That was a few months ago, not at all true. It is true now. That is a major step forward in a relatively short period of time.
Senator Franken: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It's a real pleasure to travel to Pakistan and to Afghanistan with the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee. This is actually my fifth time in Afghanistan. I used to do USO tours here. This is a very different capacity. It was great to watch the Chairman ask questions and just suck up information.
I'm in total agreement with him. What we're seeing here is the implementation of a counter-insurgency strategy that we really hadn't seen until a few months ago, and I see that we're paying a price for neglect of this theater during the last eight years. We've seen progress in the last few months, from indications that we're getting from Afghans and from civilian leaders here -- both Afghan and coalition leaders and the Ambassador and General McChrystal, and even poll data.
I don't know how much stock to put in it, but there was an ABC/BBC/German poll that showed significant change in public opinion here with, I think, 70 percent of the Afghans feeling that this country's headed in the right direction. Up very significantly, and most feeling that -- 61 percent feeling that -- the next generation will have a better life. We're seeing this in so many different ways.
One thing about counter-insurgency is that it encompasses everything, not just military. I think the first person I knew here that I saw was Secretary Vilsack from USDA, and he had what seemed like a very productive trip here about... just about how much more farmers can make here from hectares of different nuts and fruits than they can from poppies. And it was just really good to see that this isn't just a military operation anymore. We met with USAID, we met with... we're really surging the number of civilians that are here to help Afghans with their governance and with their economy. This is really what we should have been doing starting at the end of 2001. I took away a lot from the meeting with General Caldwell as well -- the training of the Afghans, both the police which is what General Caldwell is doing, and in the military.
The Senator spoke about the spike that we saw in December after the Obama speech. What the Chairman didn't say about the spike is that they had to stop taking men in because they couldn't train them. There is a shortage of trainers, as the Chairman said, but they actually had to stop taking recruits because of that shortage, which is a shame. So I would urge our coalition allies to help with that training and I would urge our military and President Obama to put emphasis on that.
We also saw our great troops, the great troops I met from the Minnesota military, some soldiers, very proud of them. We also did meet some Canadians who are almost Minnesotans. [Laughter]. One from Winnipeg and some from south of Minnesota, there in the Toronto area. Also just very impressed with this partnering between Afghan and coalition soldiers and also the police. There seems to be a lot of cautious optimism here, and there seems to have been a change in the momentum.
I'll just open this up for questions.
Question: You said that only 37 percent of the trainers are here. Why have they not arrived? And did they give you reasons for that? Also what is the caliber of the Afghan forces who are working alongside U.S. forces? Has the training been sufficient? And are they good enough to hand over properly in July 2011?
Senator Levin: Talking to our people, they are very satisfied with the caliber, the motivation of the Afghan forces. They are very high on their Afghan partners, and they're truly partners where we were today. They are literally living together in the same space. So they're very high on that.
As far as the reason for the shortfall in trainers, it's because a number of countries that have made commitments to send trainers have not carried out those commitments. I don't want to single out any particular country, but it is a real disappointment, I've got to tell you. Its one thing when other countries say: "well, we're not willing to put our troops in combat." It's hard for us to accept it. We have so many troops. There are so many brave troops that are here. But at a minimum we ought to expect that our allies will produce the trainers. These are people who are not taking particularly great risk. This is initial training of eight weeks. The numbers really surprised me, [inaudible] to be focused on the training here so that we can get the Afghan security forces to the point where they can take responsibility for their own country. I think it's inexcusable and we'll be putting greater pressure on our friends and allies to carry out the commitments relative to trainers to make additional commitments.
But the numbers...if I can get that yellow file, I'll share that number with you. I'll give you just the two numbers that General Caldwell gave us.
Question: Which country is meant to be providing those trainers?
Senator Levin: I don't want to say names because I may leave out some and that would be unfair.
January 12th, so these are current numbers: we require 4,235 trainers. That's the requirement to meet this 134,000 goal that's been established for next year in the Army, and 96,000 police. 4,235 is the requirement. So far, 1,574, leaving a shortfall of 2,661. Sorry to give you so many numbers. The key number, we've got 37 percent of the trainers that we need.
It's so unacceptable to me. There are so many good things that are happening, so many positive things that are happening, I don't want to dwell on the one negative, but I think it's important that we point it out. There's a long way to go here, obviously. There's I think a stronger sense of optimism here that this can be successful. That's a much more optimistic feeling than I had a few months ago.
Question: Where are we now with the progression of training up the police and training up the Army? I know those numbers are being negotiated. Where are we? [Inaudible] the 134?
Senator Levin: The numbers, that is the fixed objective for next October.
Question: But aren't those numbers changing soon?
Senator Levin: I don't think so. I think the objective is 134,000 Army; 96,800, believe, Police. What has changed are the numbers beyond that.
Question: That's what I'm asking you.
Senator Levin: At one point we had a goal for 2013, a combined goal of 400,000. That goal has been dropped.
Senator Levin: By the way, I favored that drop. I always have. It's been dropped. It's no longer an official goal. The goal for July 2011, however, is still there. I don't know how many more numbers you can handle here.
Question: What about 2013?
Senator Levin: There is no stated goal. However, the Afghans have been assured and our leadership has made the statement that the objective for 2010 which we have adopted is a stated formal objective and the goal for 2011 still is a goal. If those objectives and goals are met, it will allow us to get to the 400,000 figure by 2013. But that is not a stated goal. It would just put us in a position where we could reach that should we decide to do that. The President has basically decided we're going to make these decisions every two years rather than state something which may not be necessary and may give a false impression.
Question: What's the objective for 2011, sir?
Senator Levin: 2011, the goal is, for the Army is 159,000; and 123,000 for the Police.
Question: Senator, you sound today almost like a convert to the overall COIN strategy which, as you know, has a robust combat element to it. And in September you were opposed to sending more combat forces here to Afghanistan. What on this trip or since then has convinced you that this combat element is just as important as the civilian surge?
Senator Levin: I'm not a convert to the counter-insurgency strategy. I've always favored a counter-insurgency strategy. What I did not support was the additional combat troops because we have sufficient combat troops to do the partnering in the field with the Afghans.
We can, in the field as partners, train as many as three Afghan units to one of ours. There were three Afghan troops to one of ours. That is our actual formal standard, three-to-one. Not three of ours to one of theirs, but three Afghans to one of ours. So we do not lack sufficient combat troops to do that in the field [inaudible] critically needed partner. So I always have favored the training mission, the partnering mission. We were short of trainers and still are. It's shocking, but we still are. We were not short for this purpose, for the training purpose, of combat forces.
What General McChrystal asked for was additional combat forces for the reason of actually doing the so-called kinetic work, but they were not necessary for the training piece or the partnering piece. In General McChrystal's view, and this was adapted basically by President Obama, the importance of that was to make a strong statement of commitment that we are here, and it's proven in a very clear way when you add combat forces. I laid out a number of ways you can show that commitment without additional combat forces, by additional trainers, number one; and also additional support personnel, which I specifically favored so that we could bring in additional forces to do the support, the logistics, the intelligence, the other kind of support which is critically needed for the Afghans.
Question: Are you any more convinced that that additional combat element -- while the Afghan forces in partnering are getting up to speed -- that those additional combat forces are in fact needed to fight the war at hand?
Senator Levin: I've never been convinced that we needed the combat forces for the warfight. I supported additional forces for two reasons: one, the training purpose; two, the support purpose when it came to logistics and that kind of thing.
The President made a decision, and now that decision has been accepted by our military. We know they support it, we've asked point blank: do they support it, including the setting of that date, by the way. And I think once that decision is made -- it's a reasonable decision, although it's not exactly the way I would have made it, and I fully support funding it and getting on with, succeeding with --
Question: Senators, last week we had two Republican delegations here. They were more enthusiastic about President Obama's surge than I guess you are.
Senator Levin: At least me. I don't want to speak for anyone else besides me.
Question: But I was intrigued that first of all, you have an impressive delegation but it's small. Was it hard to recruit Democrats to come with you? [Laughter]. Is it not possible to have bipartisan delegations from the Senate these days?
Senator Levin: We were expecting that Senator Graham was going to join us, and then he was unable to. That was the intent, it just didn't work out that way.
Senator Franken: I've been looking forward to traveling with Senator Graham.
Senator Levin: He's a wonderful person.
Question: But there's 100 Senators. This is the number one issue on earth, I think, for the U.S. Are there not others who would want to find out on the ground just as you have?
Senator Levin: I'm sure there are. There are many Senators who have other responsibilities, who have gone to many other places during this period which are very very important, so I can't judge...
Senator Franken: I guess it's a matter of timing. I know that, obviously this is more the Chairman's CODEL than mine, but I remember talking to Senator McCain and his timing, he had come here earlier, about possibly doing this one, and you talked to...
Senator Levin: As a matter of fact I talked to Senator McCain. He's my ranking Republican. He's the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee. He has...
Senator Franken: I don't think it's a real issue. I think this is probably more coincidental.
Question: It's just that Democrats look like they're running the other way. What Nancy Pelosi has said publicly about supporting the President, and Democrats in general don't seem to be...
Senator Levin: Not supporting the President on what? I'm sorry?
Question: She said the President's on his own if he wants to campaign for support in the House for the surge. That was about a month ago.
Senator Levin: She's only the Speaker of the House. I think it's really much too simplistic an assessment to suggest that somehow or other Democrats are not going to be supporting this effort. We do support this effort. I would have gone at it somewhat differently. But now that decision's made. We're fully supporting it. I think you will find that there will be 100 percent, or darn near it, of Democrats funding this effort. There's not going to be any effort that I know that not to fund this when the supplemental comes up as it will in a couple of months. So I think it's just not accurate to talk about a divide here, a partisan divide. The fact there's not a Republican on this particular CODEL is again, coincidental and has to do with a scheduling issue.
I want to give you one other fact, by the way, on the training. We talked about the surge in Afghan recruits. There's also been a surge in Afghan retention and a decline in Afghan forces going AWOL or whatever they call it in the Afghan world.
I want to give you another number. In the initial training areas there were 3,000 to 4,000 Afghans in initial training in November. Now there's 11,000 Afghans who are in initial training.
Senator Franken: Again, that would have been more. They had to limit because of the number of trainers.
Question: How was your meeting with President Karzai? Do you think he's going to have his act together by the time of the London Conference? And can you give us any...
Senator Levin: In terms of the cabinet?
Question: In terms of the cabinet and outlining a plan as to how he's going to deal with the allies, and also reintegration and...
Senator Levin: I'm glad you mentioned reintegration. We've spent a lot of time on that issue. It's a very important subject. There's some significant confidence that President Karzai had and that our people have by the way, that reintegration can work. And it's something that we spent, again...we put some real focus on this issue.
The Afghan perspective, and I think we share it -- the vast majority of Taliban, particularly these low level Taliban, can be reintegrated providing there is a plan. President Karzai...we talked about that plan. It will be a plan which we hope he will announce before London with our support to work...the joint effort to have them decided upon in the next month or so. The implementation of that plan will take another couple of months after that. But this is a very important part of success in Afghanistan. The Cabinet I gather has been submitted, the new Cabinet nominees. We're Members of the Congress. We will support the right of this Parliament to handle that the way they see fit, as does President Karzai. He was not critical of the Parliament for not confirming many of his nominees.
Senator Franken: We had lunch at the palace of the President, and that's where we talked about this subject at some length, and then also dinner at the Ambassador's house with a number of Ministers who also spoke extremely optimistically about the reintegration, the rate of reintegration of Taliban forces -- not only foot soldiers, many of whom are fighting for the Taliban or staying with the Taliban simply to have a job, but actually some of the commanders. Again, a lot of this will have to accompany all the other aspects of this counter-insurgency surge.
Senator Levin: Thank you all.