Media Availability with Gen. Campbell in Bagram, Afghanistan

General John F. Campbell, commander, Resolute Support Mission and United States Forces-Afghanistan


GENERAL JOHN F. CAMPBELL:  And I appreciate the secretary of defense taking time to come here -- –minister of defense Afghanistan take time to come here to the (inaudible) and -- (inaudible) -- getting over here to, you know, go (inaudible) and say merry Christmas to the soldiers and all the -- (inaudible) -- pretty special.  So I want to thank him first.

Minister of defense was here today as well.  We had a very good bilat together, talked about many very tough subjects -- (inaudible) -- talk about the future and focused on the future, where we go in 2016, where we go in 2017 and beyond.  So I though that was very, very good.

Minister Stanekzai is a very, very good partner.  He and the secretary of defense know each other from before, so I thought it was a very, very meaningful discussion.  I know they both wish we had had more time, but again, I thought it (inaudible).

I've been on the ground about 17 months.  We just went through a very, very tough fighting season.  We don't even talk in terms of fighting seasons anymore because it's kind of continuous fighting.  But it was a very tough year.  We knew it was going to be a tough year, the Afghans knew it was going to be a tough year.

The Taliban fought hard, but I think the Afghan forces showed resiliency.  Their casualties were up higher, but again, they were out there, for the most part, on their own.  And for the most part, the Taliban were not able to get any of their strategic goals.  They took over district centers, they took over Kunduz, as you know, temporarily.  What was good is the Afghan forces continued to go back and take that back over.

During this kind of -- maybe not winter season of lull, they've got a couple of things they have really got to focus on.  They want to get after a force generation cycle where they do have forces that can train, that can fight and get on lead.  They haven't been able to do that, other than with their special operating forces.

So they're going to try to focus on that.  They're going to try to get after checkpoint reduction, really alignment of their forces so they can become more maneuverable because right now, they're very, very static.  That's where they've taken a lot of their causalities, on checkpoints, so they're going to work on those.

They're going to work on leadership and putting the right people in place.  They're in the middle of what we would call a pre-command course.  If you -- if you follow the Army, we do a pre-command course for battalion commanders, brigade commanders.  We've got a pre command course going on for their –Kandak battalion commanders today.  It's in its second week.  So they're -- they're taking that time to develop their leadership.  We'll run one for brigade commanders here very soon as well.

So they're looking hard, we're looking hard at the lessons from this very tough fighting season, of '15.  We'll make adjustments off that and then get ready for continued fighting here in '16.  The Taliban, as you heard the secretary talk about, Al Qaida, Haqqani, all of those insurgent networks continue to kind of morph together.

So it is very, very tough, but I do believe Afghanistan, you know, will continue to need our support and the international community's support for many, many the years.  And the difference from where we were a couple of years ago, where we are today, is you have a National Unity Government with President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah inaudible that want our support, that wants international community support, that are going after the things that we've asked them to go after:  corruption, building a strong army.

They've got a lot of work to do still, they know that and they're going to continue to get after it.  But again, honor to have the opportunity to -- to continue to serve with the great men and women.

Thanks to all of our families in this holiday season.  For all these folks here that won't be home for Christmas, you know, very, very tough.  Many have done it before and very appreciative of -- for the great support back in the U.S.

I'll take any of your questions.

Q:  What should the American public read into the fact that there is no fighting season anymore, it's continuous?

GEN. CAMPBELL:  Well, I think it's been that way for many years.  You know, it does go down, there is sort of a -- it depends on what part of the country.  For this year in the fighting season, during the summer timeframe, there was a lot more fighting in the north.  The Taliban did try to stretch the Afghan security forces out, so places like in Badakhshan, Faryab, Kunduz, we hadn't seen that for -- for a long time.  That happened over the summer.

During the winter, when the snow comes in up in the mountains, closes some passes between Afghanistan and Pakistan, we do have areas that there probably will be a reduced level of violence.  In places like in Helmand, today, down in Kandahar, where the weather won't change that much.  I think the Taliban, the other insurgent forces want to kind of continue to show that they're still here.

Again, they're all trying to -- this year was all about trying to show control and trying to make sure that they had a position of strength, so when we did ever get to reconciliation, when we did go to peace talks, that they could offer it from a position of strength.  So they know that the -- that our forces were drawing down, and at the same time, they knew the Afghan forces would be out there on their own, for the most part, and they've tried to take advantage of that.

But again, I'm very proud of what the Afghan forces have accomplished and they continue to work on those areas that are very tough for any army.

Q:  Sir --

GEN. CAMPBELL:  Logistics, intelligence, close air support.  You know, the U.S. Army's been around for 240 years, the Afghan army's been around for seven or eight years, so, I mean, we've got to put that in perspective.  We're trying to build an airplane while in flight.  You've guys have all heard that saying.  But they're trying to do it while they're fighting, so it just makes more difficult.

Q:  Sir -- (inaudible) -- questions.  It's not (inaudible) to me, the recent DOD report on the situation -- (inaudible).  You mentioned a number of things you could do to help the Afghan army:  checkpoint reduction, leadership.  What -- what else can you do?  And the secretary said that you were going to go after these nests of ISIS in this part of the country and find them and eliminate them.  How are you going to do that?

GEN. CAMPBELL:  Well, again, ISIL, or Daesh, as it's called over here, has been around for about the last year or so.  It's been in different parts of Afghanistan.  Over the last probably five or six months, it's kind of coalesced here in Nangarhar, Kunar, for the most.  They are trying (inaudible) they haven't kept it a secret.  They want to build from Jalalabad, they want to go into –Kunar, they want to establish this as the base for the -- (inaudible) -- province.  So they've been fighting pretty hard.

And what's happened is that Taliban has been fighting Daesh, and they've been fighting for the last several months.  So the Afghan security forces have watched that, but at the same time, they've planned operations against Daesh.  They're trying to keep that -- keep that (inaudible) down.

Minister Stanekzai came out early today.  He -- he spent some time here.  He went over to the governor's residence and met with senior elders from all across Nangarhar, and the topic was really Daesh and what the Afghan security forces -- (inaudible).  But he had an opportunity to sit down with the senior police, the senior army, and the elders -- get, you know, what's happening on the ground, because back in Kabul, I think you heard him talk about in his last statement, there was a lot of propaganda, information operations that people -- (inaudible) -- government was supporting Daesh.  That's just silly.

So he came out here on his own to really get the message out that they're going to continue (inaudible) they can't let Daesh get a foothold in Nangarhar or any place else in Afghanistan, and we're going to do everything we can through the coalition –to make sure we continue to build the Afghan capability -- (inaudible) conventional force and the CT force.

Their CT capability is probably the best I've seen in the region, and I've talked about that with many other –audiences, but if you take a look at their national mission force to -- (inaudible) -- their (inaudible) on the MOI -- (inaudible) -- I mean, it's pretty significant.  If you think about Kabul, for every single day, if you get one magnetic –IED or VBIED you know, that's bad news.  They try to stop that, and every day they're stopping nine or ten you never even hear about because of the -- the special operating forces that are working around outside -- (inaudible) -- to stop that from coming in.

I've talked before about the special operating forces taking off from Kandahar, flying into Helmand – four Mi-17 version 5’s, the very best in the world.  Afghan pilots flying in low visibility, three percent ilum gunning on a very small -- postage stamp LZ -- the commandos getting out the back of that thing -- (inaudible) -- with little iPad devices, getting full-motion video from an Afghan PC-12 that’s flying overhead --(inaudible)

That's a huge capability that they have and there are special operating forces that we do tactical advising with any of the special operating forces at that level that continue to -- (inaudible).

Q:  Does (inaudible) have the -- (inaudible) -- forces you need to go after ISIL?  And are you able to do that under existing authorities?

GEN. CAMPBELL:  ISIL is not really -- (inaudible) -- the secretary talked about, the minister talked about -- (inaudible) -- with that.  I have what I need to go after any -- any insurgent group, terrorist group that is going to cause force protection issues-- (inaudible).

Q:  Have you been doing a lot of that or increased amount of that because of the ISIL -- (inaudible)?

GEN. CAMPBELL:  Again, I think what ISIL has done has caused the Taliban to do something different, which has forced the Taliban to come up into Nangarhar and maybe -- (inaudible) -- taken that away from fighting the Afghan security forces.  Again, I look at it really from a force protection -- (inaudible) -- and make sure that I don't let ISIL, Taliban, Daesh, Haqqani -- (inaudible).

Q:  General --

Q:  (inaudible) -- estimate on the size of ISIL?

GEN. CAMPBELL:  I said before somewhere in the -- in all of Afghanistan, probably 1,000 to 3,000.  Very, very hard to determine that exact number.  And again, ISIL, at this stage, what we've said is operational emergent -- right?  It doesn't have the capability, I believe, to go to Europe and attack Europe or go to the homeland at this point.  Left unchecked, it will.  They said they want to do that, alright?

So we've been able -- and to our Afghan partners, we may want to keep that -- (inaudible).

Q:  What's that compared to Al Qaida?  Numbers -- (inaudible)?

GEN. CAMPBELL:  Again, the numbers out there for Al Qaida -- we really focus on the senior level leadership in Al Qaida, and that's gone down quite a bit.  But first week of October, we had (inaudible) -- (inaudible).  Not a whole bunch of press of on it, but again, it was 150, 200 AQ members that were killed in that attack.  This was a training camp about 15 kilometers north south or five kilometers (east west, dug-in, tunnels, training (inaudible).

Then over the year -- year and half or so, it was able to build up.  A lot of that is because, you know, it's a very remote part of Kandahar where -- (inaudible).

Q:  General Campbell --

Q:  (off-mic)

GEN. CAMPBELL:  The hospital issue?

Q:  Yes.

GEN. CAMPBELL:  Yes.  The 15-6, I forwarded it to the Central Command –and to SOCOM(inaudible).  I've worked through disciplinary actions and accountability here in Afghanistan and will work further actions from CENTCOM and SOCOM.

Q:  So they make -- they will make the final determination?

GEN. CAMPBELL:  You know, I -- I kept some here for me and I'd pushed some to Central Command and SOCOM (inaudible).

Q:  So when did you -- what did you -- (inaudible)?

GEN. CAMPBELL:  Say that again?

Q:  When do you do your part of this?  When do you think you'll -- (inaudible)?

GEN. CAMPBELL:  I've been doing my part of it.

Q:  (off-mic).

GEN. CAMPBELL:  Yes.  Probably another day or two, I would be -- (inaudible).

STAFF:  Thanks, General.

Q:  Thank you, sir.