Department Of Defense Press Briefing By Major General Hecker via Teleconference from Kabul, Afghanistan
Major General James B. Hecker, Commander, 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan, and Commander, NATO Air Command-Afghanistan; Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway, Pentagon Spokesman
MAJOR ADRIAN RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Good morning, everyone.
Today we continue our series of Resolute Support press briefings from Afghanistan to provide a better understanding of what has taken place since the implementation of the South Asia Strategy.
Today, U.S. Air Force Major General James Hecker joins us from Kabul, Afghanistan. General Hecker is commander, 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan, commander, NATO Air Command-Afghanistan, director for (inaudible) Air Component Coordination Elements for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, and support of NATO's Operation Resolute Support, and deputy commander-air for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.
In these roles, he's responsible for integration of air and space power in support of NATO's Operation Resolute Support. General Hecker oversees two air expeditionary wings, two air expeditionary groups, two aerial ports of debarkation, and is responsible for supporting and coordinating development of the Afghan Air Force.
We'll start today's briefing with a quick communications check.
Sir, how do you hear us?
MAJOR GENERAL JAMES B. HECKER: Adrian, I have you loud and clear. How about me?
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Great.
Please take it away with any opening statement.
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: Well thanks, Adrian.
And good morning, everyone.
First, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to be with us.
I'd like to talk today about the strategic air campaign and the status of the Afghanistan and coalition air forces.
Here in Afghanistan, we're focused on helping the government reach a goal of 80 percent of the population under its control. We believe increasing the Afghan air capability will be one of the most significant keys to expanding its control over the population in the next two years.
Prior to discussing the air campaign and the Afghan Air Force, I'd like to provide an operational update on the offensive operation in Badakhshan in northeast Afghanistan.
Over the past weekend, United States forces conducted air operations to strike Taliban and East Turkestan Islamic Movement, or ETIM, training facilities in Badakhshan province. The destruction of these training facilities prevent terrorists from planning any acts near the border with China and Tajikistan. The strikes also destroyed stolen Afghan National Army vehicles in the process of being converted to vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.
One brief note on ETIM, which I just mentioned. They're a terrorist organization that operates in China and the border regions of Afghanistan. ETIM enjoys support from the Taliban in the mountains of Badakhshan, so hitting these Taliban training facilities and squeezing the Taliban's support networks degrades ETIM capabilities.
What I'd like to do is show you a couple of videos of strikes in this area in Badakhshan. The first one that you're going to see is a B-52 strike on a Taliban training camp in Badakhshan.
Adrian, could you please roll the tape?
This strike occurred on 4 February.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Sir, the first tape is complete.
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: OK, the second tape that you will see is a -- the second pass from the same B-52 on another -- on a different training camp in Badakhshan. This was also accomplished on 4 February.
Adrian, go ahead and play that tape.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Sir, the second tape is complete.
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: Thanks, Adrian.
From -- from these videos you can see how a single B-52 demonstrates its reach and lethality by setting a record employment of 24 precision-guided munitions against Taliban narcotics and training facilities.
What allowed this impressive air power to be unleashed was a critical modification that we made to the B-52 at Al-Udeid in late November, installing a conventional rotary launcher that allows B-52s to carry more precision-guided munitions.
As many of you are aware, Afghanistan has become CENTCOM's main effort, thanks to the recent successes in Iraq and Syria. This has allowed CENTCOM to shift more assets our way, which will significantly improve our ability to assist the Afghans.
Here are three examples of air assets now available to our mission in Afghanistan. We have increased our close air support capabilities significantly by adding an A-10 squadron in Kandahar Air Force Base. We now have 50 percent more MQ-9 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. And we're adding an additional combat search and rescue squadron.
Those are just the tangible air platforms in Afghanistan, and these platforms would have limited value if those were the only changes here. But another change is one you don't physically see. It is the change of the weight of effort of the intelligence community. The intelligence community is the backbone that develops our targets, provides data analysis, and eventually produces the targets we strike in Afghanistan.
This is the intelligence community that's spread throughout the security enterprise beyond Afghanistan. They analyze surveillance and reconnaissance data to develop the networks that produce targets for our air power to strike. This behind-the-scenes legwork allows us to hit the Taliban where it hurts most, whether it's command-and-control of their -- or their pocketbooks.
We will cripple their revenue-generation enterprise. We will take away their ability to wage war on the battlefield, and brutally murder innocent civilians, like the recent cowardly acts that we witnessed in Kabul and Jalalabad.
With the current uplift in resources, we can decimate Taliban command-and-control nodes. That means we can strike at the heart of training camps, where they brainwash young men to strap on a suicide vest, to kill themselves and their fellow Afghans, who are working to rebuild the country.
So let me talk a little bit more about the air campaign that began in November.
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: As you know, 80 to 85 percent of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan. The Taliban is a criminal organization that profits from selling illegal drugs. Since November 19th, 2017, the Afghan 215th Corps, their special force commandos, and Afghan Air Force, in close cooperation with U.S. forces, have denied the Taliban over $30 million in direct revenue, as well as over $160 million in denied revenue from drug traffic organizations, according to DEA estimates. And this will only continue, not just in Helmand, but throughout Afghanistan.
I'm going to show you some recent videos from these strikes and, also, where we have employed the A-10 in the strategic air campaign.
The next video that I will show you will show a van. Inside that van are three Taliban. What you're not going to be able to see inside that van is also what they call a DShK. This is a .50 caliber machine gun that is used to either shoot down our aircraft or to shoot at the Afghan National Army. The A-10, on 20 -- the 24th of January, did the strike and this was only four days after they arrived.
So, Adrian, can you go ahead and play that video?
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Sir, the video is complete.
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: Thank you.
The next video that you will see is another B-52 strike. This one is in Helmand province and it's on a narcotics production facility. This occurred on 2 February.
Adrian, go and please play that video.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: It's complete.
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: Thank you.
This is just the beginning of the unrelenting military pressure we and the Afghan military will inflict on the Taliban. And that includes Afghanistan's own air force. In fact, an A-29 Afghan aircraft dropped the first bomb of the air campaign on a drug lab and, I might add, shacked the target.
One of the most important things I want to talk about in -- is the Afghan Air Force growth. It continues to grow in size and capability. While U.S. air power is destroying Taliban support elements in the deep fight, Afghan A-29s and ND-530 helicopters provide quick, lethal support to Afghan forces in the close fight.
This growth has already started but is going to continue. Eventually, we will almost triple the size of the Afghan Air Force. But this has to include more than an increase in quantity. We want to make sure the Afghan Air Force is both professional and capable.
Pilots and maintenance teams are being trained in the United States, in Afghanistan and other partner nations. And this kind of training includes not just developing skills, but a mindset that prevents civilian casualties to the greatest extent possible.
Several times, Afghan pilots on missions have resisted dropping their bombs to avoid civilian casualties. This isn't the case with the Taliban.
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: Innocent civilians have become the primary target of the Taliban's high -- high-profile attacks.
Conversely, the Afghan Air Force realizes dropping a bomb where insurgents have surrounded themselves with human shields means striking a fellow Afghan brother, sister, child or grandparent.
The Afghan Air Force takes every step possible to protect civilians. And we will continue to support the ANDSF to defend Afghanistan in the most responsible manner responsible.
Additionally, the Afghan Air Force is successfully fighting a war while simultaneously building an air force and giving it increasing capability, which is a very difficult feat to do at the same time.
So let's talk about how the Afghan Air Force is equipped to win this fight.
Right now, the Afghan Air Force has 12 A-29s, but that's going up to 25; more than double.
Three A-29 pilots are now trained to drop laser-guided munitions. The first was dropped in training in December, so the Taliban can look forward to those laser-guided bombs raining on what used to be safe havens in the near future.
The Afghans also have a fleet of 24 C208s that have added an air-drop capability. They added a roll-up door to the side of the airplane. They travel at 300 feet, 100 knots, and air-drop munitions or supplies out the door and hit their targets within 70 meters. This enables them to do air-drop rather than landing an MI17, which obviously reduces a risk in some regions.
In the future, the Afghan Air Force will also get what we call AC208s, and they'll get a total of 32 of them. These are similar to the C208, but this is an attack model, so it will carry pods with laser-guided rockets and a gun. It can also capture full-motion video and assist other aircraft to achieve precision targeting, making it an ISR asset, which is going to be key to enabling the A-29.
Additionally, we've taken MD530 attack helicopters and transformed them into a very robust platform. For you folks in D.C., MD530s are small helicopters similar to those that report on the traffic jams on the Beltway you experience every day. The Afghans have 25 of these right now, and they're going to get five more each quarter until they have a total of 55 in about a year and a half.
The biggest difference between the Afghan MD530s and those traffic helicopters is their ability to carry rockets and a gun. The Afghan National Army loves them. They have proven to be just the right platform to provide quick, lethal support to commandos and Afghan ground forces.
Lastly, we recently delivered eight UH-60 Black Hawks to the Afghans over the last four months. They will eventually have a fleet of 159 of these. We are training 12 pilots, who have gone through their initial phase and are now preparing for mission qualification training. They will be ready for combat operations starting in May. After that, we'll get about 80 crews every 10 weeks, so by the end of the year we should have 28 pilots.
I know I'm giving you a lot of details, but I really want to give you a good idea of the rigor of our strikes this winter.
In 2017, the Afghan Air Force conducted approximately 2,000 airstrike sorties, or roughly 40 strikes -- sorties each week, with a record high of nearly 80 missions in a single week in October. To put this into context, the Afghan Air Force airstrike sorties are now almost double what the U.S. Air Force conducts in Afghanistan.
Between the added air power provided by the United States new authorities and the Afghan's continuing air force growth, we are putting unrelenting pressure on the enemy these days.
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: Obviously, air power is just one part of the effort in Afghanistan, but it's a very intimidating one. The Taliban trembles as they hear our approach. So now they have a constant eye to the sky, as we force them to engage our actual battlefield, where the Afghans are attacking from all sides. The Taliban is looking up -- not down, not across at their enemy, and we are seeing results.
With that, let me please open it up to any questions you may have.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Thank you, sir.
We'll start with Tara Copp from Stars and Stripes.
Q: Military Times. Thank you very much. Used to be Stars and Stripes. General, thanks for doing this for us.
I have, actually, a bunch of questions based on all the information you provided.
First, the -- the B-52 strike that you started off with, was that the same B-52 on both targets? And could you describe a little bit more the conventional rotary launcher modification you made to be able to hit those targets?
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: I sure can.
So, to answer the first part of your question, that was the same B-52 on both of those strikes. In fact, this was the B-52 that set the record for the number of PGMs, so it had a third strike that you did not see. So there's a total of 24 precision-guided munitions that went against those targets up at Badakhshan.
Your second part was, what was added to the aircraft to make this possible? It used to be that the B-52 was able to drop 16 precision-guided munitions. Now, with this new rotary launcher, it's able to drop 24 precision-guided munitions, and it could do that all in one pass. But in this case, we had three separate targets, so we did it in three different passes.
Q: OK, and you just answered -- because this was three separate sorties, or this was the same sortie that -- where both targets were hit?
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: No, this was the same sortie. So, on one sortie they did three passes, where they dropped a total of 24 precision-guided munitions.
Q: Secondly, you were just mentioning that the Afghan Air Force is now hitting -- or now conducting about twice as many strikes as -- as U.S. and Coalition air. Did I hear you correctly?
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: Yes, you did.
It's -- it's almost twice. The exact numbers, roughly, the Afghan Air Force, when they do a mission, and they actually do a strike on that mission -- so drop ordinance or shoot the gun -- they average about 40 of those kind of missions a week, where they actually employ a weapon.
Contrasting this with what the United States Air Force does, and our coalition aircraft, we average about 25 a week, where we actually drop a munition. So as you can see, it's almost double, what the Afghan Air Force does, compared to what our coalition aircraft do.
Q: OK, thank you.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Sir, how do you hear us? We lost your audio briefly.
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: I have you loud and clear. Can you hear me?
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Yes, sir. We hear you very well.
Q: OK, just one -- one of the main component -- (inaudible) talking again.
Q: ... about the maintenance and logistics -- he's talking again. We can’t hear him.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Sir, I think there's a delay in the line. We're going to let Tara Copp ask her question, and then wait a couple seconds, and then you'll probably have the time to respond. Over.
Q: So the maintenance and logistics piece of this, we've been hearing that there are plans to shift the entire maintenance and logistics responsibilities to the Afghans within the calendar year. Could you confirm that?
And, you know, in the past, the -- the logistics and maintenance part for any weapons systems we have helped train on, that's been kind of a weak spot. Could you give us a status report on that training now?
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: Yeah, you bet.
So, to answer the first part of what you said in your question, do we plan to shift the 100 percent of the maintenance over to the Afghan maintenance by the end of the year? That is incorrect.
Right now, where we sit is roughly about 20 percent of the maintenance done for the Afghan Air Force is done by the Afghan maintainers. About 80 percent of the maintenance is done by contractors; contractors that the coalition hires to do that maintenance.
We are in the process now from shifting that 80/20 split the other way. So the goal as we go through this campaign here, is that we will shift it so that 80 percent of the maintenance is done by Afghans, and 20 percent is done by contractors.
And of those contractors, we're rewriting the contracts so they will now start hiring Afghan local nationals, as opposed to hiring from the United States or other coalition countries.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Next to -- next to Ryan Browne, CNN.
Q: Hello, General. Thank you for doing this.
I just had a couple of questions about the Badakhshan strike.
It's been reported, and you said at the opening remarks that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement was also targeted in these strikes. Is this the first time that this group has been targeted by U.S. or coalition aircraft? And under what authority is that done? Is it due to their connection to other groups?
And if you could also provide a little more clarity on where Badakhshan -- these training camps were. Were they part of the corridor that connects to China?
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: OK, so I'll answer the last part first.
So, the -- the strikes, you know, if you look -- Badakhshan is in the northeast portion of Afghanistan. There is a -- that small corridor that runs to basically where it gets to the border with China. It wasn't along that straight right there; it was inland from that or more to the east, and that's where the strikes were conducted.
Now, we didn't actually strike ETIM terrorists when we were doing this. We were strictly -- strictly striking the -- the training camps that both the Taliban as well as the ETIM use. And we're using our existing authorities to do that.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Next to Jamie McIntyre with the Washington Examiner.
Q: General, back here in Washington you sometimes hear from arm chair generals something along the lines of, "You can't bomb the enemy into submission. You know, air power is great, but it -- it can't do the job."
What -- what would your response be to that, to someone who thinks that this air campaign is -- is -- can't be wholly effective in -- in achieving the objective, which we're told is to drive the Taliban to the peace table?
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: Well, I think you have to look at the strategic air campaign as just one facet of the overall campaign. And I agree, you're not just going to bomb them into submission. But it is another pressure point that we can put on them.
You know, we -- we have several things that we're trying to do here. We have diplomatic pressures that our president and our State Department are putting on neighboring countries to make sure that they don't enable any terrorist activity.
We have the air campaign that I've been mentioning about today and then we have the Afghan National Army. And they are trying to make sure that we get to 80 percent population control so that the Afghan government controls 80 percent of the population.
And then we have social pressures that we put on. And these social pressures are going to be seen later this year with the upcoming elections.
So it's not just one thing or the air campaign that you spoke of. It's a combination of all these things that we'll need -- that will force the Taliban to the reconciliation table.
Q: Another thing you hear back here in Washington, is people here see the high-profile, deadly attacks in Kabul and other areas, and they think the Taliban is winning or the Taliban is gaining.
How do you counter that kind of narrative, given these -- these, sort of, spectacular, high-profile attacks?
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: Well, quite frankly, it shows that they're losing. Because when they started this year, they had what they call Operation Mansouri. And what they tried to accomplish with that was to take provinces. They weren't able to do that; the Afghan National Army pushed them back. So then they tried to take districts. They weren't able to do that; air power and the Afghan National Army pushed them back from that.
So they're really left with nothing else to do. So what do they do? They try to grab some headlines. How do they try to grab headlines? By strapping a bomb around them, or, you know, making a vehicle-borne IED, going out and brutally murdering thousands and hundreds of their civilians.
You know, that is not what the Afghan people are looking for. But that's what has, you know, come of the Taliban. They have not been able to do anything this year, so they go to these kinds of measures to try to gain legitimacy. And the Afghan civilians can see right through it.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Next to Luis Martinez with ABC.
Q: Hi, General.
Hope you can clear up some confusion for me based on your earlier comments about the Afghan Air Force conducting double number of coalition strikes.
You mentioned that there were 12 A-29s, which I would assume are conducting the bulk of those ordnance drops or that close-air support. And yet we've seen the numbers from AFCENT that the number of munitions being dropped from coalition or U.S. aircraft are the highest it's been in a long time.
So how do we correlate that in terms of, is it semantics here, in the terms that we're using more precision-guided munitions than ever before versus A-29s which are just dropping caliber weapons as opposed to real ordnance?
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: Let me see if I can clear this up for you.
So, there are 12 A-29s like you spoke of. But they do not drop the vast majority of the Afghan Air Force bombs.
The most of them come off of an MD530. As I told you, they -- they have 25 MD530s. They shoot laser-guided rockets and they also shoot the gun. So when an MD530 is in direct support of an Afghan National Army unit, and it goes out in front of the unit and shoots rockets at the enemy to enable the scheme of maneuver for the Afghan National Army, that counts as a strike mission.
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: For us, you know, we just got another A-10 squadron to go along with our F-16 squadron. And then we have some MQ9s that also drop weapons.
But if you look at the totals on who's doing the most shooting, you'll find that it's roughly double with the Afghan Air Force, compared to what the coalition air force is doing. And the vast majority of those are coming from that MD530 aircraft, which has just proven to be a great force multiplier for the ANDSF.
Q: And if I could follow up on a different -- the Badakhshan air strikes. Does that have anything to do -- when you mention Taliban, are you referring to Haqqani Network Taliban, or do you have authority to strike against the Haqqani Network in eastern Afghanistan? And -- and how often do you do that?
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: So -- so, again, this -- this wasn't an attack on people. This was an attack on defensive fighting positions. And these were defensive fighting positions that we have witnessed the Taliban using, as well as ETIM using. So that is what this attack was against.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Next to Idrees Ali with Reuters.
Q: Very quickly, when did you see the shift from U.S. forces conducting the majority of strikes to Afghans? Was it -- how long ago was that?
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: Well, we officially became the main effort for CENTCOM on 1 February 2019 (sic). We started getting some additional aircraft about a week prior to that and we're still seeing some more that will come in here in the next day or two.
In addition to that, as I mentioned earlier, we're seeing a shift from the federated system, the intelligence community, which takes a little bit longer to shift their effort towards Afghanistan. And we will see that play out through the next month.
In addition to the air power that I've discussed, we're also getting the army SFAB, or Security Forces Assistance Brigade, which will be showing up around mid next month.
Q: What about the -- the Afghan Air Force taking more strikes? What procedures do you have in place -- because I know you guys, the U.S. Air Force, for example, does have protocols to avoid civilian casualties. Are you concerned that, as the Afghan Air Force takes more strikes, that civilian casualties could rise?
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: You know, the -- the good thing about that is a lot of the Afghan -- most of the Afghan pilots are trained in the United States or in other Western countries. During their time there, they -- they are trained on our ideals and how much we try to avoid civilian casualties.
A-29 pilots routinely will come back with their bombs, because they saw a child or they saw a lady or a mosque near the target. Which is exactly what we want. You know, we -- we praise them for doing that, as opposed to, say, "Why didn't you drop your bomb?" So that is very good.
The other thing you were talking about, what's going on and how are we training them? Let me tell you about a story in Helmand province.
Helmand province has -- had a series of operations and it's called the Mylan Operation. We're currently on Mylan 11. When we got to about Mylan 9, we were able to do something for the first time with all Afghan -- and this is going to be army and an air force story.
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: So on Mylan 9, the army, were -- was going to do a scheme of maneuver. So they wrote their own targeting package, sent it up to the Afghan minister of defense, you know, their Pentagon, if you will. They took that target, they sent it off to the mission planning cell at Kabul. They plan that target and then they sent that to the wing operation center down at Kandahar. At Kandahar, they gave that targeting package to the A-29 pilots and said, "Hey, take off at 8 o'clock, be airborne at 9 o'clock over the target."
At 8 o'clock, the ground commander took off an Afghan-owned ScanEagle, which is an intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance platform that can do full-motion video. They're in their own Afghan joint operations center looking at the video.
An hour later, the A-29s check in. They check in to the Afghan terminal air controller, the equivalent of our U.S. JTAC. That ATAC, Afghan Terminal Air Controller, talks the A-29 onto a target. They strike the target, and then the Afghan National Army takes the hill.
All done by Afghans, you know, from the beginning of the scheme of maneuver to producing a target package to getting it through their Pentagon down to the A-29 pilots to the ISR platform that -- their ISR platform to see where the enemy is.
That is how far that the Afghan Air Force and the Afghan National Army has come.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Thank you.
Next to T.M. Gibbons-Neff from the New York Times.
Q: Hey, sir, thanks for doing this. Couple of questions.
First, can I start with you talking about, you know, surging air assets into Afghanistan. I'd like to hear, you know, how your staff has added personnel to investigate civilian causalities, you know -- you know, a la OIR and how they, kind of, gave monthly reports on, you know, civilian casualties or at least assessments that airstrikes you know, prove -- you know, created civilian casualties.
And then I have a couple of follow-ups.
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: You bet.
Well, we haven't added any staff to take into account any additional civilian casualties.
As you know, over the last several months, coalition air power has increased airstrikes significantly. In 2017, we've done more airstrikes than we did in 2015 and '14 combined. Yet, in 2017, this past year, our civilian casualty rate has significantly gone down, and we don't expect that it's going to change.
And we continue to strive for perfection. We go to extraordinary efforts to avoid civilian casualties. And we don't see an increase in air power will change that one bit.
And then the follow-up question.
You talked about how quickly the Afghan Air Force can respond, whether it was an A-29 or an MD530. I understand the MD530s take around anywhere between four to 12 hours to react to, say, a close air support request. And then the A-29s can go from a day to two days before they can action a target.
Can you just explain, you know, what the U.S. is doing to cut that time down and why the Afghan targeting process is the way it is?
And then I'm going to hit you with one more.
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: Yeah, you bet.
So here's what we've already done. And I'll use that Mylan example.
It used to be with the A-29 aircraft, we just did what we call deliberate targeting.
When we do deliberate targeting in the Coalition air force or for U.S. air power, it's pretty much a 72-hour cycle. You know, to find the target, get it approved through the targeting package, get it through the air tasking order, and then down to the crew to actually fly.
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: The way that we get around that in the coalition air force is we do something called XCAS, OK, close-air support, where we just take off the aircraft, get it in the general vicinity, and then we have a JTAC -- Joint-Tactical Air Controller -- talk him onto the target.
Well, that is what we just started about three months ago in Mylan 9 with the Afghan air force A-29s. So now they do not need a deliberate target with exact coordinates on what to hit. We simply give them a targeting package that says, "Be in this general area, this ten nautical mile circle at 0900," let's say. OK? So they will take off not knowing what their target's going to be. All they'll know is they will have some intelligence surveillance, reconnaissance aircraft, and they will have somebody in the joint-operations center, and then they will also have a ATAC -- Afghanistan Terminal Air Controller, to talk them onto the target. They get airborne, they get there, and they just start doing circles, waiting for them to give them a target. So now they can be immediately responsive for that two-hour period that they're airborne.
Now, they don't have the capability that we do, where we can go get some gas off a -- a U.S. tanker. They don't have that capability, so when they go up there, they have about two hours. We always synch that up with the Afghan National Army's scheme of maneuver, so when they need help, they have help, and it's right there with either A-29s. And MD530s, by the way, are also doing this same tactic, and now they're able to dynamically hit targets, as opposed to have a deliberate target when they take off.
Q: And last question, Resolute Support has been touting, you know, this narcotics -- anti-narcotics operations, $30 million, $40 million, whatever. I mean, this is not the first time that we've targeted Taliban narcotics in this war. And I just want some kind of explanation on what exactly that does to, you know, quote, "Taliban operations." I mean, has that -- have you seen any effect on the battlefield after blowing these things up, or is this just something we're going to do for the next 10 years?
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: What we're going to do -- this is just one more, you know, pressure point that we could put on the Taliban. You know, it's going after their revenue sources. You know, we mentioned narcotics, but we're also going out of their -- after their command and control, after their safe havens, those kind of things as well, which will put pressure on the Taliban.
And what we see, you know, got it. You know, we -- we don't listen to intel, and hear, "Oh, my gosh, we just lost $5 million today." And then I know there's a big dispute on, is this, you know, $40 million? How exactly do you come up with this figure, and the $160 million?
What I care about is it's affecting the Taliban, and when we do these strikes, we obviously get reflections from different sources on intel. And what we're seeing is this is throwing them off their game. It's putting turmoil into their process, and that's exactly the effect that we're looking to get.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: We are nearly out of time, so we'll go to Lucas Tomlinson, and then over to Jeff Schogol.
Q: General, how many bombs or other munitions did U.S. aircraft drop in the month of January?
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: Lucas, I --I apologize. I don't have that exact number on how many we dropped in January. I will tell you, over the last four to five days, we've seen a significant increase of the number of bombs that we have dropped, but I don't have an exact number for you.
Q: And would you like to see that Taliban be labeled a terrorist group, after this rise of attacks in Kabul?
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: You know, I'm going to leave that, you know, to -- to our people in Washington. It's their decision on what we label the Taliban.
My label for the Taliban is a group that kills innocent children and women. They are not able to meet us on the battlefield, so they resort to those kind of tactics.
And I know that the Afghanistan civilians, that is nothing that they're going to support, and it's nothing that we're going to sit idly by and watch them do. So we're going to take the fight to them, and make them reconcile.
Q: Has Pakistan been helpful in any of these airstrikes thus far? Those B-52s do fly over the country of Pakistan, don't they?
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: They do. There's a corridor that we have with Pakistan, so they're coming out of Al-Udeid and they will fly over Pakistan as they come into drop their weapons.
Q: So has Pakistan been helpful in this ramp up of operations against the Taliban?
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: Well that's something that, you know, we continue to try to work together on. You know, we look for common ground, as our strategic -- the new South Asia policy is a regional approach. We look to Pakistan, we look to Iran, to Russia, on where we can find some common ground.
You know, we -- they realize, you know, a lot of narcotics go into their countries. Iran, you know, is dependent upon the water that comes from Afghanistan. So that's some common ground we can look at.
As was mentioned by our president, you know, we are putting some diplomat pressures to make sure that regional countries don't enable these terrorists. And they will -- will continue to put that pressure on.
And if they're willing to help us, we will definitely work with them and share intelligence together to get rid of these terrorist networks.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: General, finally to Jeff Schogol with Task & Purpose.
Q: Thank you. General, you've mentioned that Afghanistan became CENTCOM's priority as of Feb. 1. I know it's only been less than a week, but can you give some idea of how your sortie rate and weapons-release rates have increased since Feb. 1?
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: So our -- our sortie rates have increased because we have another squadron of A-10's that we're flying, and they fly, you know, 10 to 12 lines every day. We have another 50 percent more MQ-9's, so we're flying more lines with the MQ-9's.
What those MQ-9's allow us to do is find more targets. Those targets can go after drug labs, command-and-control facilities or training camps up at Badakhshan, which has allowed us to significantly, over the last week, increase our strike rate.
Q: You have mentioned that the Afghans are dropping weapons a certain amount of time. Is it really an apples-to-apples comparison when you're talking about an MD-530 firing a machine gun or a rocket versus a B-52 dropping a precision-guided ordinance?
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: Nope, that is -- you know, and it wasn't meant to be a total apples-to-apples comparison. But I wouldn't say it's apples to oranges, either. If you're on the other side of that rocket and you're a Taliban, you probably don't care if it's a rocket or it's a PGM that's hitting you in the forehead.
So you know, we have, for instance, a B-52. As you just saw today, you can drop 24 of those. On an A-29, they don't have places, you know, to hang 24 bombs on their wing. But they can drop four bombs, they can shoot up to 14 rockets, and they can shoot 30-caliber machine gun at the enemy. They're getting more and more capable.
As I mentioned, the A-29s are going to have a precision-guided capability here very shortly. Three pilots are trained right now, but we're going to train the rest of them. We're going to get an AC-208, the attack version, and it's going to have laser-guided rockets, just like our A-10's, just like our F-16's have today.
So they're not as capable today, and they never will be as capable as an F-16, with the platforms that they have, but they're becoming extremely more capable than they are right now, and it's a real good fit for what they need here in Afghanistan.
Q: Last question -- thank you for your time. Has the U.S. dropped a massive ordinance penetrator, or MOAB, since the last time?
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: No, we have not. You know, I showed up a week prior to the MOAB being dropped. But we never take anything off the table. You know, so it's there, if we need it, but we haven't seen a target set that requires it.
And quite honestly, after only being here a week, and my mom heard that a MOAB was dropped, she immediately, you know, sent me a note and asked if I was OK, and I let her know that, you know, we won't drop on ourselves; this is meant for the enemy.
But it's there if we need it, but right now we don't have a use for it. But if we do, it's there for us.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Sir, thank you very much for your time. Do you have any closing remarks for the group?
MAJ. GEN. HECKER: Yes. First I'd just like to thank everybody. I know your weather wasn't great coming in this morning, but if there's anything I didn't answer to your satisfaction, please feel free to talk to Adrian there, and he can get you any more information that you need.
With that said, let me just finish with a few parting words. Here's what I know today. When the Taliban started out, civilian casualties were collateral damage, something that they wanted to avoid as they pursued military targets as part of their campaign, Operation Mansouri.
But last year, and the year when our primary objective was to help the Afghan military grow more rapidly and become more capable as we moved on the offensive, we still were able to hold off the Taliban. They made no territorial gains last year.
And as a result, they tried to show their continued relevance by conducting numerous high-profile attacks that killed hundreds of innocent Afghans. Our goal was to build a military. And from where I sit, a good part of that military was the Air Force.
The Intercontinental Hotel, Save the Children and the other recent attacks, they brought the Taliban headlines. But as we all know, the real headline is how they continue to kill innocent fellow Afghans. That's not leadership.
That's not what the -- Afghanistan or any other country needs. Driving an ambulance through Kabul and blowing it up, that's not even something the old guard Taliban would've done. It shows how desperate they've become, as we ratchet up the pressure with increased airpower.
The Taliban cannot win on the battlefield, so that is why they've resorted to slaughtering civilians.
But war is a test of wills, and the Afghanistan military has that resolve. On top of that, they're becoming more capable every day. With the new South Asia strategy, the Taliban now know we have no timetable for when we're going to leave Afghanistan.
It's condition-based. They see the resolute commitment from the United States and the Coalition. More importantly, they see the commitment from the Afghan government and military, that want to take back their country and restore stability and secure their homeland.
Thank you very much for being with us today.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Thank you very much, sir. The videos from today's briefing will be up very shortly on RS's DVIDs page.
Q: One more small question for the General, if he's still around?
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: We have to wrap it up. Thank you.