THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL OF THE UNITED STATES
FIGHTING AND REBUILDING IN HELMAND AND NIMRUZ:
A COMMANDER’S VIEW
WELCOME AND MODERATOR:
VICE CHAIRMAN, BOARD OF DIRECTORS,
THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL
MAJOR GENERAL RICH MILLS,
U.S. MARINES CORPS,
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 27, 2011
Federal News Service
FRANKLIN KRAMER: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you very much for being here. This is one of a series in our “Commander Series” that the Atlantic Council is holding. We’ve had a number of senior leaders appear here to discuss various aspects of international security and of course issues surrounding some of the very difficult campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
General Abrial has appeared here, Admiral Stavridis has appeared here, then-chief of staff General Casey has been here, and also General Jones. Today we’re delighted to have General Mills. He will have an opportunity to discuss multiple things, but of course his service in Afghanistan.
None of this would be possible without the support of our sponsors. We particularly thank Saab, Saab North American and its chairman Dan-Ake Enstedt, and Ambassador Liljegren, who I’m not sure if I see Henrik here or not. So again, thank you for that support and the opportunity to have this series.
I think it’s clear enough to say that Afghanistan, the problems of an irregular conflict, the problems of Iraq and now what we see in a multiple set of countries coming out of, if you will, the Islamic spring – the Middle East spring, are issues that really make a difference to all of us. There’s a set of issues concerning free speech and the like, and what that’s happen, but then nonetheless a set of issues concerning conflict violence and how you deal with those sets of questions.
General Mills has had the opportunity to deal with those firsthand in multiple ways and multiple places in some of the most difficult parts of Afghanistan, in Helmand province, and I think his insights will be invaluable.
And with that, let me turn the introduction over to Colonel Butch Bracknell. He is our Marine fellow here at the council. He is a fabulous fellow despite the fact that, like some of us, he spent some time at Harvard – (laughter) – which he regrets, but is overcoming. He’s also a graduate of the University of North Carolina, University of Maryland, he served in active duty for 19 years, he’s a veteran of Bosnia, he’s a veteran of Iraq twice – if I have it right – he’s going to return to the Marines this summer. And probably, if I can make a guess, he’ll probably end up back in Afghanistan one more time. (Off mic.) Inshallah (ph), right.
And so with that, Butch, let me turn this over to you and then to General Mills and then, after General Mills does his presentation, we’ll have an opportunity for questions and answers. And we hope there are a lot of questions and we can really get down to the hard issues. Thanks very much.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL BUTCH BRACKNELL: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It’s my distinct pleasure to welcome you to the Atlantic Council of the United States, and thank you for attending this installment of the commander series. Today’s guest is Major General Rich Mills who recently returned from over a year in command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Forward, which is dual-headed as Commander – ISAF Regional Command Southwest.
Now, I could read you General Mills’ biography in all its glorious detail, but that’d be redundant because it’s publicly available and you can go and search it anytime you want. Rather, I’d like to frame this introduction by combining two of my favorite things in the entire world, which are the Marine Corps and baseball. (Laughter.)
Now, these two things have a couple of characteristics which are necessary for successful practitioners: strategy, patience, aggressiveness, field leadership, and a pinch of serendipity. Now in the Marine Corps, every Marine’s goal is to remain at the pointy end of the spear as much as he can and as long as he can. Every Marine officer’s principal ambition is to lead those Marines, holding those spears, and succeeding contingency operations in combat.
Now, in baseball every player’s manager end goal is to win the division, the league pennant and the World Series. And the baseball player’s ambition is to win as much as he can, as often as he can.
Now, in my view, Major General Rich Mills is the Pete Rose of the Marine Corps. Now before all the air leaves the room and you all start thinking, I just watched Bracknell commit career suicide – (laughter) – by comparing General Mills to Pete Rose, consider this context: First, I know Major General Mills to be an upright man, and I have no information suggesting he ever bet on baseball, and if he did I know he’d get right with the game – (laughter). And second, Pete Rose, like Major General Mills, had a knack for being in the right place at the right time for an entire career and succeeding in spades with each opportunity to lead that he was presented.
Major General Mills’ success as a Marine leader matches the success that Pete Rose had a player and manager, pound for pound. Charlie Hustle’s lifetime achievements: 17 all-star selections at five different positions, and he played 500 games at five different positions. Switch hitter and all-time leader in hits at bat in games played. Three teams, the Reds, the Phillies the Expos and back to the Reds, three world titles, two with the Reds and one with the Phillies. Three batting titles et cetera, et cetera. Extraordinary success everywhere he played or managed as a professional baseball player.
General Mills: U.N. military observer in Palestine; operations officer of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Bosnia and Somalia; commander of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit including operations in Kosovo, Operating Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom I with Task Force Tarawa; deputy director of operations at U.S.-European Command, where I knew him first; command of the ground combat element for II MEF Forward Multi-National Forces West in Iraq, where I knew him again as a Brigadier; and finally commander 1st Marine division leading to his assignment as the commander of RC Southwest.
Leading Marines in virtually every significant military operation in the past 20 years, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan twice, Iraq twice, afloat throughout the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. Extraordinary successes everywhere he’s served and led Marines.
So while Pete Rose’s career has a little bit of a black mark on it, General Mills has no such black mark. Simply a lifetime of selfless service wherever this nation has called and achievements as a Marine leader that are going to go down in the annals of Marine history. The right leader, at the right place, at the right time. Ladies and gentlemen, Major General Rich Mills.
MAJOR GENERAL RICH MILLS: Butch, thanks for that very kind introduction. I’ve often been accused of speaking like Yogi Berra but never of hitting like Pete Rose – (laughter) – I want you to know that. I want to thank both the council and Mr. Kramer for this invitation this morning and opportunity to speak in front of such a distinguished audience. And I’m a little bit – I’m a little bit in awe here, there are many of my mentors sitting in the crowd here today and so for me to stand up here and present myself as any kind of an expert would be an exaggeration.
But what I’d like to do over the next 20 minutes or so would be to share some of my thoughts on Afghanistan and then to take the questions that I know you all will have. Let me qualify my comments, in the beginning, to tell you that my portion of the world for the last 12 months was Helmand and Nimruz province in Afghanistan. And I will focus on those two provinces and a slight, small slice of Kandahar province that was also under my command. And I’m not going to really talk about Afghanistan in the whole – I would be happy to answer any questions, but anything I talked about in that way would be my personal opinion and not necessarily something that I had seen.
As I came out of Afghanistan, of course, you’re called upon to give a series of briefings. And I was asked at one of the briefings that if I were going to write a chapter in a book, what would the title of that chapter be? And I put some thought into it, and I stole something from Winston Churchill who at one point during World War II, when he felt the tide had begun to turn against the Germans, that that phase of the war was probably not the beginning the of the end; but rather the end of the beginning. And I felt that probably summed up what I had seen over the past 12 months, and that’s what I chose to call this lecture.
Next slide please.
You’re all very familiar with Afghanistan. I’m not – I certainly will not insult you with a basic geography lesson, but my area of expertise was the southwest corner, Helmand and Nimruz province, there’s about 2 million people who live there. My focus of effort was in Helmand province where the Helmand River runs through and which about 1.5 million people live. That province goes everything from 10,000 foot mountains in the north to very flat desert in the south. It borders Pakistan, a border that is wide open.
Nimruz province to its west is a little bit more developed but much more underpopulated area, one in which insurgency is not very active, and one in which we used less and less forces and it was an economy of force operation for my troops.
Nimruz province – or, I’m sorry, Helmand province – is dominated by the Helmand River that runs from the northeast to the southwest. It has some connections with American history. Back in the ’50s and ’60s the United States of America under USAID poured millions of dollars into Helmand province to develop a simple but very effective irrigation system.
It was based on a large dam built up in the northeast corner, the Kajaki Dam which still functions today, which produces some electricity but mostly it’s water control for the irrigation system below. The irrigation system which feeds off the Helmand River remains very effective today. It’s a gravity-fed, simple system but has been maintained. The result of that is that it turned a desert province into a fairly lush agricultural area, so there was a green belt that extends some 10 kilometers on either side of the river, again running from the northeast to the southwest.
That’s where the people live, 1.4 of the 1.5 million live there, and that’s where all of the villages are, the towns are, running from Kajaki, again, in the northeast down to Khanishin in the southwest. That was our focus of effort. That’s where the population was, that’s where the insurgency was. The area was a very lush agricultural area in the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s; it produced – it was called the breadbasket of Afghanistan, and produced foodstuffs that were exported throughout that part of Asia.
Unfortunately, it is also a very easy area in which to grow poppy. When Taliban took over they turned the area from a rich agricultural area really into a drug production area, in order to fund themselves. Most of the fields were plowed under, many of the orchards were cut down, and a very, very extensive growth of poppy took place. It was really a farmers delight: someone showed up in the fall, handed you a big bucket of seed, you threw it on the ground, it didn’t take much water or care, and then in springtime around April or May it blossomed, poppy was produced, someone showed up to buy the resin that comes off the poppy plant, and they paid you in cash for it.
We worked hard with the government of Afghanistan to eliminate that problem. We saw it as a major funding source for the insurgency, and I’ll talk a little bit about that in my remarks.
Next slide please.
This was our operational approach while we were over there. The force that I had was about 30,000 strong; it was built around a Marine Air-Ground task force based on the 1st Marine division of MINUS (ph). Had about 20,000 Marines under me, that was a large infantry-based unit that also had armor, armored vehicles, light armored vehicles, artillery, engineers, reconnaissance, all those forces that make up a typical Marine Air-Ground task force.
Also with a very strong aviation component that had both fixed-wing F-18s and C-130s and the whole gamut of rotary wing aircraft to include the V-22 Osprey. Those aircraft were extraordinarily valuable to me, it made about a 58,000 square mile area very small and I was able to move my forces, move supplies, and myself, around the battlefield using the V-22 with very little effort. There was very little of an air threat most of the time in Afghanistan, although there was some at certain points of our deployment.
Slide that you see there just shows our operational approach. Let me point out a couple of things. First of all, the fact that it was population-centric COIN. We did in fact focus on the population. When I got there I felt that were some changes that needed to be made and we shifted our focus a bit, we brought – I felt that perhaps too much of our effort was being applied to the population at that moment. We began to shift back to focus again on the enemy. We want to remember that the enemy has a vote; the enemy had great influence in the area. And we needed to find him and defeat him in order to deal, again, with the population.
Second of all, we were built around the development of the capabilities and confidence of the Afghan security forces, both the army and the police force. We did it through several ways. Most importantly was our full partnering with them. We were partnered up with our Afghan counterparts at all levels.
My partner was an Afghan two-star, a corps commander officer, Major General Malouk who commanded the 215th Corps – and I’ll talk a little bit about that, again, in a moment – but a corps that was – that came together about the time we arrived in March of 2010 and developed some fairly sophisticated operational capabilities over the year that we were there. And they are in fact now capable of semi-independent operations and conduct those operations, again, with just help around the edges by the coalition forces that are there.
Again, I felt we had to maintain pressure on the enemy. We got there, I felt that we were in somewhat of a stalemate, that the enemy in fact had the momentum at the local level. And I felt that was something we had to regain. Take it away from him and be able to dictate actions on the battlefield, make him react to him as opposed to us react to him.
When we got there, there was a fairly robust insurgency on the ground. We estimated somewheres around 10,000 soldiers that were active on a daily basis and well-developed lines of supply coming north from Pakistan up to the areas in the northern province where he was operating. We felt he had a decent communication system, a decent C2 system getting direction from Quetta in Pakistan at the highest levels, and then operationally working out of a series of commanders on the ground.
We targeted those commanders intentionally. We used our special forces, of which we had significant numbers, to eliminate that command network and we felt that we had fairly good success at doing that. Our estimation was when we arrived that the battalion commanders, if you will, of the insurgency were about 35 years old, with 10 or 15 years’ worth of experience in fighting.
We felt that because of the effectiveness of our special forces’ targeting, we were able to eliminate that, and we felt when we left there, the – it was about 24 years old. So the real experience level was being gutted from his command structure, and he was replacing them, of course, with younger, more inexperienced leadership. And we saw that on the battlefield.
We also felt that we needed to have a good information campaign. So we worked very hard to have a(n) active information campaign, both with the international media, and also with the Afghan media to ensure that we were telling the story that the Afghan people needed to hear.
Just real quickly on the way my command morphed, if you will, during my time there:
I arrived on the ground in March of 2010. I was part of RC South under a British two-star, General Nick Carter. We operated on our own battle space from the middle of March until the first of June.
On the first of June, I was chopped to Task Force Helmand. A 10,000-men British force was chopped to me, including 42 helicopters, and we began taking responsibility for all of the province at that point.
On the 14th of June, we became RC Southwest. That was a stand-up NATO command working directly for General Rodriguez up in – at IJC headquarters. On my staff were 120 or so British officers. They’d flesh my staff out. They were led by a one-star, Brigadier George Norton, who was my deputy commander. Now, I also had the normal NATO contingent of other countries, if you will. I had Germans, Italians, Danes, Estonians, Latvians on my staff, all of whom played a very, very critical role in our operations.
With the British forces came a contingent of Danish infantry and tanks, which we used well. We also had Estonians with us, and then we were joined by Georgians. A battalion of Georgian troops came in and we had two of those battalions rotate through the year we were there. We found them to be very effective fighters. They wanted to fight; they came with no caveats, they wanted to get into the scrape. Initially, I had them to the West, which was a more peaceful area, and they kind of came to me and said: Hey, boss, we’re looking for some action. So we have – a little along in the tour, we took some of the Georgians, we moved into Sangin, where they found the action that they were looking for.
Next slide, please.
This slide, which is unclassified, gives you an indication of kind of the progress we felt that we made. Again, you can see that river line that runs down there. It’s the red line to the east, there, on the first map in April 2010. Red, of course, is bad; yellow is where the GIRoA, government of Afghanistan has begun to have some influence; green is where the government of GIRoA we felt was in control.
As you can see again, the insurgency was focused on the people back in April, and that’s where we put our focus and main effort. In a series of battles over the summer, we began to impose what we felt was the – was our will, and began to recover large areas.
I know everyone here is familiar with the battle of Marja. We fought that over the summer. We took a different tack as to what we found in Marja. What we found in Marja was a rather static situation, and our decision was to get some momentum generated. So we began to generate some maneuver force and take the battle to the enemy as opposed to allowing him to come to us. The battle of Marja, I don’t believe was won in Marja. The battle of Marja was won in the areas outside of Marja: places like Trek Nawa and —(unintelligible). That’s where the enemy rested, it’s where he regrouped, it’s where he planned, it’s where he commuted to Marja in order to do his dirty work.
Once we began to maneuver on the battlefield, we found the enemy reacting very poorly to that. He is a – he fights (literally ?). He likes in prepared positions and to drop back from position to position. He doesn’t like the use of close air support on him. He doesn’t care for supporting arms. He doesn’t like to be maneuvered against. He wants to be able to dictate the action, and, of course, his intent to lure you into – it’s a very, very traditional – that he wants to lure you into areas that he has infested with improvised explosive devices, and then he – then you’re fighting him on his terrain, terrain that he controls.
You probably have heard of the battle of Sangin, to the north. Again, that was another area in which we had British forces initially, and we committed a combined force last summer. And following that, we took over U.S. control of Sangin area in order to consolidate U.S. forces under a U.S. command and control: U.K. forces which held the center of the battle area in the key province – in the key districts to the middle, and then U.S. forces to the South.
So I said, as you walk through the battle area, there was a series of fights, all of which had slightly different flavors to them.
Sangin was a breakout fight. We were in a – again, under siege. We were mined in by IEDs, and it was really a true – a breakout fight. Third Battalion 5th Marines, which led that breakout in the fall and suffered casualties as they did – once they, however, broke through the enemy, (we ?) prepared positions to the north and to the south, we were able again to maneuver on the enemy, and we found that to be extraordinarily successful.
Sangin now – last summer, if you were in downtown Sangin, you would have probably upwards of 50 or 60 significant incidents a day, either incoming enemy fire, or enemy small-arms fire or IED explosions. Visit Sangin today downtown, there may be one or two. It has become a much more – certainly it has come under control of the government of Afghanistan and coalition forces to great extent, and we have pushed northbound nearly to the dam to clear that area out.
Safar Bazaar, a smaller battle to the south where the enemy held a bazaar, in which you, if you went there again last summer, you could have bought any type of explosive, weapon, or ammunition that you would want. You could also buy drugs. You could not buy home products or buy building supplies, for instance.
We decided that we needed to close that place, and close the gap on the river, and we commenced operations against that.
The Taliban put a message out that, should we arrive in Safar Bazaar, blood would – the desert would run red with Marine blood, and we could fight there as long as we wanted, they weren’t going to – they would never give it up, they would fight forever, and we had no chance of taking it.
Forty-eight hours later, we owned it. If you go to Safar Bazaar today, you can buy vegetables, you can buy meat, you can buy home products; you cannot buy explosives nor IED-making materials nor drugs.
Lastly, if you look to the south there, you’ll see a red dot down near the border. That’s the – that is Baramcha, right, sits on the Pakistani border. It’s a little like something out of Star Wars. It’s a big bazaar in which no one but bad guys live. And if, again, if you go into that, hundreds of shops, you can buy all sorts of homemade and commercially-build explosives. You can buy all sorts of weapons up to mortars and small artillery pieces. You can buy all the drugs again that you could possibly think of.
We have hit Baramcha twice. It’s about 70 miles south of my main position, so it’s quite a – it’s quite a movement. But it is a movement in which we have twice taken the bazaar down a disrupted the enemy’s ability to resupply himself up north significantly.
Just a quick story, and then I’ll show a quick movie here.
You know, every general thinks he makes the perfect plan. And every colonel thinks he’s got that plan refined down to – again, to have success on the battlefield. But a lot of times, it’s that junior marine.
So I was with the forces moving down to Baramcha last fall. It was about a 70-mile movement, we made it at night. Our plan was – because it was a very, very prepared, intensive position, there were hundreds of fighters down there, they were built in, they were dug in behind a very-well constructed barrier of mines and booby traps, and there was one road leading in, and it went to a very narrow pass, and they intended to defend that significantly with heavy machine guns and artillery.
Our plan was to hit that right at dawn and use a line charge, which is explosive rope, if you will, to clear the mines, and then use a bulldozer to plow through to make a lane, and then our forces would flow through there and hit the city. But clearing that minefield was critical to our success. We had one armored bulldozer to do that, and we were moving down about 70 miles at night, and – I can see all the military guys here smiling, they already see what’s coming.
About halfway down there, the vehicle holding the bulldozer breaks down and gets bogged down in the sand. There are no roads down there, you’re moving through desert. It bogs down in the sand. Well, I was on the net (ph). The general didn’t have any good ideas, the colonels were a little upset, the majors were very upset, the captains were extraordinarily upset that we were going to – (laughter) – all bogged down and not make it on time.
We tried to pull the thing out, we broke the axle, that didn’t work. And at some point in the evening, a lance corporal, an E-3, walked over to it, looked at the bulldozer, climbed up on the truck, got behind the thing, started it up, backed it off the truck, put the blade up in the air, and then moving at about 3 kilometers an hour, asked the gunny: Which way do I go? (Laughter.) Everybody pointed south. (Laughter.) Off he went. It was almost like a John Wayne movie, off he goes to the south. (Laughter.) And I’m down there fretting and worrying. As the sun up came in the morning, here comes a bulldozer over the horizon with this young lance corporal driving it: Which way, sir? Right there. And we went through it, on time and on target.
So, despite whatever plans you come up with, it’s always going to be that E-3 down there in the trenches that kind of saves you.
That’s the kind of battles we were fighting. It was an aggressive enemy. It was an enemy that was well developed and very resilient and extraordinarily adaptive. He understood our tactics. He understood how we wanted to fight. He understood what we were trying to do. And he countered it very, very well initially.
However, he is an enemy that was – again, when he stood toe to toe with us, didn’t take a – didn’t have a chance. And I think by the end of our tour there, as you can see by the green and the yellow on that map that there were significant gains being made.
Amber (ph)? I want to show this. This is Marja. And I just – indulge me just a second here. You should have some sound here.
(Begin video segment.)
GEN. MILLS: This is the area that General McChrystal classified as the bleeding ulcer. We were there in June.
GEN. MILLS: Never under government of Afghanistan control, it was completely Taliban control.
GEN. MILLS: Those are Afghan soldiers with the Marines.
GEN. MILLS: I show you that just to indicate to you, because Marja does ring a bell with a lot of people, and I just wanted to show you the progress that’s been made there. Again, in June – some of the key things I think – as we bring the get the next slide up – is that Marja in June of 2010 when I went in there, they wanted nothing to do with the local police force at all. They told me they wanted absolutely no local police, that police were thugs, thieves and shakedown artists.
And we worked with them, we trained them, we recruited. We now have over 300 police officers that run Marja. They run five police stations that we – that have been built for them, they patrol the bazaars, the patrol the roads, they – a hundred of those young men are from Marja themselves, were recruited in Marja locally.
So again, that’s our ticket out of there. We’ve begun to thin out in Marja the Marine forces that were there. We have pushed north and south in areas in which there are still some insurgents left. But downtown Marja itself is run by the Afghans.
One of those street corners there that you saw the Marines were shooting, I crossed there the other day and a the guy wanted – the police officer there wanted to give me a ticket for jaywalking because I had disrupted his traffic flow. (Laughter) I tried to explain who I was but that didn’t cut the mustard. So, I thought I was back in Myrtle Beach on spring break.
The map – the picture here, there’s this overhead image that was taken – and this is just an indicator. Again, remember the insurgency is fueled by drugs; it’s fueled by the poppy crop. The picture on the left over there, that’s Marja in early 2010. The yellow is bad; the yellow is poppy that’s actively being grown. That shows you – and those are areas obviously that are not under our control at that point.
To the right, that’s Marja taken just a few months ago. This is U.S. overhead imagery; it’s about 90 percent correct, I’m told; it’s U.S. government product. And again – it shows again – I wish that thing was solid green, I really wish it did. Green, green is good, purple is OK, it’s some other crop – it’s not wheat, wheat is green – yellow is bad. I wish it was solid green; it’s not yet, but it will be. But again, I think that kind of shows you the progress that’s been made there over the past seven to eight, nine, 10 months.
OK, next slide please. And I will hurry through the rest of this.
The Afghan national security forces, again, as I said, that was the second part of our focus of effort was to raise the capability of the Afghan national security forces both the army and the police force. And there’s various levels of the police force that I’m happy to answer in questions. But in the Afghan army 215th Corps, little over a year old, capable now of semi-independent operations.
When I say semi-independent, they rely on us for air cover, some communications capabilities and we do do their medevacs in order to give them the same medevac coverage that we have. But they could do their own medevac and they do their own resupply. They go to the field for up to 96 hours, conduct operations they – in areas they have selected, and have been very, very effective. They now have artillery that they’re able to use, both firing illumination and high explosives, and again it’s come on.
The 215th Corps enjoys the lowest U.A. rate – you may have heard about UA rates in the Afghan army – it’s a little under 9 percent. We found when working with the leadership there that Afghan soldiers go UA for the same reasons that U.S. Marines go UA: if they’re not getting paid, if they’re not getting fed, if they don’t get home on leave every once in a while, they decide there’s other things they want to do with themselves. Once we straightened out their pay, got a regular rotation of leave instituted in their day-to-day operations, their UA rates dropped significantly, and I think are pretty satisfactory today.
On the police side of the house, again, a police force that was plagued by a bad reputation of being thieves, shakedown artists and scam artists. And we had a difficult time rebuilding but we did, again, based on Afghan leadership. We had a very, very good provincial police chief that came in. He enforced discipline, he enforced standards, and we started up two academies, both one with the Marines and one with the Brits that trained basic police officers.
That worked through policing skills, but also emphasized literacy and also emphasized protect-and-serve ethos as opposed to paramilitary ethos. Those police now, about 7,300 in the province, again, are taking over areas of responsibility. You go to Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, you won’t see a uniform, you’ll just see local Afghans. If you go to places like Nawa and Garmsir you will see a majority of Afghan uniforms, not U.S. Marines or U.K. forces.
OK, next slide, please.
Again, these are just – that’s just a quick list of the Afghan led operations. You can see it was a building block approach. They became more and more confident, more and more capable as time went on. And they are now pushing the envelope, I think, significantly of what they can – what they can do.
They’re going to concentrate on maintenance and logistics this year. They did infantry and kind of supporting arms last year. And they’re going to try to build their maintenance base up to where they can work on their own gear. Right now most of that Afghan maintenance is done by contract. But they are – again, they want to learn, they’re aggressive, they’re mechanically inclined. And they’re doing – they can do fine.
Next slide, please.
Stability operations, you know, once you got – once the shooting stopped, the next thing you have to worry about is quick security – was stability operations. We used CERP funding, commander’s emergency response fund, in order to do a lot of that. We focused on schools, we focused on small work projects and we focused on business start-ups to get the people working, to get them moving.
Again, the literacy rate now in Helmand province for men is under 10 percent. For women it’s extraordinarily low, it’s below 1 percent, we believe. But we try to get them out, they’re doing manual labor, getting them involved in projects and spending money in the education field in order to develop their resources for later on.
Again, we focused on some health products. When we started to deal with some of the ladies we found that health issues were huge. So we began to build up clinics. Very, very basic, very, very rudimentary but we felt, again, that once the stability thing took root then we felt the insurgent had very little chance of coming back because the insurgent really has nothing to offer.
When he was in town he burnt schools; when he was in town he closed health clinics. He locked the women up, he closed the bazaars, he never paved a road while the entire time he was there. We gave them paved roads, we gave them an education system that they are expanding rapidly, and we gave them health clinics, and we gave them a chance to develop their economy along licit lines as opposed to the illicit economy that they had – that they were so used to.
On the governance pace, we worked very, very closely with the department of State on this. We had a good provincial governor; he had a decent infrastructure below him at the provincial level. Governor Mangal is a good solid professional governor and ran a good program. We focused on district governance when we got there because the situation on the ground, the security situation on the ground – it was kind of Wyatt Earp in Dodge City. I mean, you wanted bravery before brains.
As the situation changed, you needed to bring in the smart guys that could in fact administer and run local district governance. And we had some success at doing that. The Afghans had success in doing it. They selected the guys, they sent them down.
We developed as such that we were able to, in September, have the congressional elections, if you will. Again, an election, an event that the Taliban swore would not go off in Helmand province. We opened every polling place at 7 o’clock in the morning, and every polling place stayed open until 10 o’clock that night. We had probably about a 40 percent voting rate, but again, it was kind of a congressional election. But we had no major incidents, no suicide bombs, no indirect fire. All of it went off fairly well. All the security provided by the Afghans themselves. My troops were restricted to base; we were in kind of an overwatch situation. The Afghans provided the security and it was very, very effective.
In working at the district levels, and that’s kind of the state levels or at the township levels for here, we – again, five district councils were elected. Five of them are effective. And they’re working their own budgets now based on resources they get out of Kabul.
This is the district election that we held in Marja. You can see it was in – it was in March, early part of March. There’re 1,500 registered voters in Marja, 1,100 of them showed up for the voting. Again, the security was all run by the Afghans themselves. Now, it looks a little bit hectic there but they elected 25 representatives who represent their various locations within town. And again, an effective district council to make budgetary decisions and to make decisions on their development.
We worked with them closely to ensure that our development process was giving the people what we wanted. We don’t want give them soccer fields and airfields, things they couldn’t use. We wanted to give them what they wanted themselves and the district councils provided us with that guidance.
Next slide, please.
I’ll just really quickly talk about Task Force Nimruz’s. Task Force Nimruz was a different animal, as I said; low population, the insurgency was not very active in Nimruz, they had a good district governor in place. They were fairly – the one town that existed on the border with Iran is fairly prosperous; it deals off the train trade that goes back and forth between the two countries. It was a little bit of a different – a little different animal.
My approach there was to form a joint interagency taskforce. We were in the lead, but I wanted to give it off to the civilians as soon as I could. And we called it Task Force Nimruz. And there we didn’t work in security. We had very few security forces actually working in the province. We wanted to work in development and stability operations. Helping the education process, getting some of the economic infrastructure repaired such as the airport things like that, and work with their governance team again to help them as best we could wherever they – wherever they needed.
And that worked out. It worked out fairly well. It was a fairly low investment, very low investment for me but again it was a, I feel, very worthwhile. And I’d like to see this as kind of a model for some of the provinces over there because I think it could work out, again, fairly well. They had a good police force. They didn’t have any Afghan army, though.
One other place we worked was with the female population, as again, it’s a very rural, conservative population over there. About half of the population was unavailable to me. Male Marines, male soldiers, sailors, couldn’t have any access to females; they were kept away. You saw them in the bazaar, you saw them walking around, but would never talk to them. We were very sensitive to their cultural norms and especially, like I say, in a rural environment.
We established some gender – I took one of my officers, made her my gender adviser, and we established some female engagement teams. These were small teams, four or five female Marines and female corpsmen – female Navy corpsmen. They would go in with Marine units. The Marines would deal with the men; they would deal with the ladies of the town. And we found that to be extraordinarily effective.
Once they kind of broke – you know, got in there, they were invited inside the homes. They could take off their military gear, they could talk with the ladies, find out what it is the ladies wanted. Two things the ladies want: they want health care – local health clinics – and want education. They are desperately dying for education. It is – they understand that when Taliban was in power there were – there was no education, as such, you simply went to madrassah, you memorized the Quran or the Hadith, and that was it. They know what they missed. And so they want us to provide education.
We found this to be very good. The ladies were not on combat – were not in combat duty. We stayed carefully within our boundaries but again, very, very effective at opening up a very large part of the population which will have – which has great effect.
Next slide, please.
Think this is about my last slide. Freedom of movement – two other areas we worked very hard at developing the roads. When we got there, one paved road in the province. That was Route 1, the ring road that ran east-west, not very useful to the people. We focused heavily on developing the road structure, making the area secure, getting roads paved or at least improved so that we could move goods and people around. The Afghans love to travel. They love to visit people, especially on holidays; they like to move around.
And we got to a point where the governor in fact passed a rule earlier this year that said his people could no longer move by helicopter; they have to drive from place to place. That’s a huge statement in the stability and the safety of what’s going on.
I talked about the Marja election. He was in Lashkar Gah, which is the provincial capital. The night before the election he wanted to go check things out in Marja to make sure the election was going to go all right. And he got in his car about 9 o’clock in the evening, drove from Lashkar Gah to Marja. Six months ago that’d have been a suicide ride. You wouldn’t have made it outside the walls, you would have been dead. He drove to Marja, met with the governor. Had dinner, stayed around to have dinner, and got back in his car and drove back to Lashkar Gah that same evening.
Movement of goods and people around the area now is extraordinarily routine. For us, convoy operations going up north to places like Faryab and Kajaki which used to take days now take hours because the roads have improved, security’s improved and we’re able to move around.
We also look at the movement of ideas. Freedom of movement, people generally think about driving from place to place. We also wanted to be able to move – we thought movement of ideas. The two things we focused on, really three things we focused on, first of all was the media. We worked with the Afghan media to develop a rather – (chuckles) – rather aggressive Afghan media that weren’t afraid to ask questions and weren’t afraid to knock on your door.
And we also worked on cell tower coverage. Although it’s in many ways a remote, underdeveloped country, everybody has a cell phone. And the Taliban turn cell phones off, to show that they can. They turn them off at 6 o’clock in the evening and don’t turn them back on until early morning. We wanted to say, well, we’ll see about that. So we are working in establishing our own cell phone tower coverage so that we can then – there’ll be no point in them closing down the commercial towers. And that is progressing very, very well. We’re getting coverage throughout the province.
I knew I was making – I knew we were some progress when I was walking around one of the bazaars. And one of the – (unintelligible) – (dealer’s ?) shops that sell phone cards and cell phones and things, I saw one was open so I walked in. Through my interpreter I’m talking to the shop owner and I said, how’s business, and you know he’s, oh, it’s OK, could be better. You know, the usual Afghan response that you got for that.
And I said, hey, how’s your coverage? How’s your cell phone coverage? And he goes, ah, it’s terrible. He says terrible and I felt, oh, jeez, I’ve been working hard. I said, what do you mean, it’s terrible? And he said, oh, when I want to call my mother in Lashkar Gah, I have to go out in the backyard and get on the phone. I said, my wife lives in San Diego, she has to do the same thing – (laughter) – I said, what, do you have Verizon or what? (Laughter.)
So I knew if they were complaining about that kind of coverage that we were making some progress. They weren’t talking about the cell phones being down, just that they had to go someplace to these phone calls. So that was it. That was the other thing.
And lastly is the education. And I’ll just take two minutes to talk about education. The people there are dying for education, they’re thirsty for education. There was none under Taliban. They’re now over almost 125 schools open in the province. Those are funded by the Afghan government. They pay for it, they buy the books, they pay the teachers. The U.S., a lot – there’s a lot of civil organizations that contribute things like notebooks and pens and paper, things like that. But they are absolutely dying to learn how to read and write. They understand what it is they were missing.
I tell the story that when I went to visit one of the schools I walked into the third grade classroom, seven and eight year old kids, we’ve all been in third grade classrooms, and of course the general comes to visit and it’s a big deal and they’re all sitting there in their finery and they got a little – and they recite a poem for me.
But I looked in the back of the room – now, there’s probably 40 kids in this room, all of whom, I say, are seven or eight years old, but in the back row there’s probably about 10 or 12 big boys sitting there, probably 16-year-old young men sitting there; big guys. So I asked if that was the football team. You know, that third grade class, that big? And they said – and they didn’t get that joke either – but they – (laughter.) – they said no, these are young men who want to learn how to read and write and so they’ve come here.
And I thought to myself, what an investment. You know, when I was 16 I would not have sat in the third grade classroom in order to read and write. My pride would not have allowed that. These young men didn’t care about that; they wanted to learn how to read and write.
Hundred and twenty-five thousand students in the province this year going from everything from high school down to, you know, first grade. About 20 of them – 20,000 of them are women, are young girls – huge, big huge change. And the education process they get, although basic, is just absolutely – it’s absolutely wonderful to walk into these schools and to see what they can do.
And when people ask me, are things reversible over there? Are things going to slide back? My answer is, I think one of the metrics you want to look at is that education piece, because the insurgent has told the parents: send your kids to school, we’ll kill you. If your kids go to school, we’ll kill them. And yet the parents invest their children in that future and send those children to school.
In Garmsir, which is a relatively benign area, a couple of months ago now on Sunday afternoon or Sunday evening the Taliban showed up and burned one of the schools to the ground – burned it to the ground. We were – we had a base there and the next morning a bunch of parents showed up outside the base, knocked on the front door, and asked if they could borrow some tentage. We gave them some tentage. They hauled the tentage themselves down to the school grounds, erected the tents on the school grounds. Classes were in session by noon.
That’s the kind of investment these parents are making. So to me that is a huge, huge, huge metric.
The – and just to finish up real quick, and I don’t believe in statistics very much, but there was an independent survey done earlier this year that walked around Helmand province, asked questions. It was not done by us, it was not done by the coalition, it was done by an outside agency.
And they – 76 percent of the population who they questioned said their number one concern was education – 76 percent. Last year it was 90 percent security. This year 76 percent said their number-one concern was education. Ninety percent of them said they trusted the police. Sixty percent said that they dealt daily or weekly with the local government of Afghanistan on issues that local governments take care of: land issues, licensing issues, those kinds of things.
So those are the kind of metrics that I – that I kind of looked at and said, OK, this is what’s – this is what – this is good.
And let me just finish up, though, and remind everyone two things. First of all, I fully expect a counterattack this spring. The enemy can’t – he can’t let go. He can’t give Helmand up. He has to come back. It’s his psychological base. It’s the head – it’s the heart of the Pashtun world. And thirdly, it’s a huge money-maker for him. He needs to get that back. He’s going broke. He has to get it back in order to recover that – the ability to generate funds coming off of the drugs.
I laugh sometimes when people read that book Three Cups of Tea, because I wish – I wish that’s what all this had cost us. I had 131 killed in action. I had two hundred and – that was Marines, Marines and sailors. I had 207 total. I had 2,000 WIAs, Marines and sailors. I had 2,700 total coalition forces, WIAs.
But we feel that we killed upwards of 3,000 of the enemy. Difficult to have – he retrieves his bodies, but we think we have pretty much evidence that shows that. We had one Navy Cross, 12 Silver Stars, 120 Bronze Stars with Vs. I would tell you that the young Marines and sailors and soldiers over there today are the best we have. They’re smart, they’re gallant, they’re brave. They’re there as volunteers. They’re motivated. And they know what the mission is and they’re – and they’re focused on it.
I apologize for taking too much time. I’d be happy to answer any questions at this – at this point, and I appreciate your attendance. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
MR. KRAMER: I think that’s a great – more than great presentation. So thanks very, very much.
I’m happy to open it up to any questions from the audience. Let me just ask one starter question, and you – at the – you focused a lot at the beginning on the security part and especially what I would call persistent security, or not being reactive, but being proactive to – are there – and as you think about it – and you mentioned the V-22, for example, a force multiplier, if you will, to use a jargon term. Are there some critical elements, both for us and also for the Afghan security forces as they take over, that really would be key force multipliers to help them continue, and for us as perhaps we draw down over time, without getting into when that might be, that would really make a difference for us on the security side?
GEN. MILLS: Yeah, I think the key – probably the key for getting security is the – your ability to deal with the enemy’s IEDs, with his improvised explosive devices. It’s his weapon of choice. It’s cheap, it’s easy to build, it’s fairly adaptable, and it’s terrorizing. It terrorizes everybody. He plants them everywhere, regardless of – he could care less whether a child steps on it on his way to school or a lady steps on it on the way to – the way to market.
And our hospitals – we opened up our hospitals to the Afghans, and I tell you, there was nothing more heart-rendering (sic) than to go into the hospital – and we visited over there on a regular basis – and see a four-year-old Afghan child without any legs because he stepped on an IED, or a woman – young woman in her – 19, 20 years old, who’s lost two legs and an arm to IEDs, who’s going to survive, but you wonder how in that – in that environment.
So we have to deal with that. It is a weapon designed to inflict the most horrendous of wounds. They understand the psychological impact of it. And they – the battlefield is absolutely littered with them. So you have to have the forces figured to defeat that. There is no – and I hate to use this term, but there is no silver bullet for IEDs, either. It’s a – it’s a mixture. A, you attack the system, which we did using our special forces.
But you’ll also need to have those self-protection items, everything from the Kelvar (sic), of course, that they all wear, to the ballistic boxer shorts that we – that we recently purchased. But you need the ground-penetrating radars, you need all of that equipment, you need the MRAPs and the MATVs, you need the overhead imagery, you need the ISR. All of that you need in order to defeat this very, very horrendous system.
And I failed to mention – I don’t – I talked about coalition and U.S. casualties. Please don’t forget that the Afghans themselves have lost many, many, many more. They are much more susceptible to it. They are on the – they are out on the battlefield all the time. And so we need to make sure that we give them as much protection as we possibly can, give them the training that they desperately need in order to defeat the IED. But it’s the IED piece, I think, that you really have to keep your – keep your focus on.
MR. KRAMER: Great. Thank you.
Well, let me open it up. Would you just identify yourself as you raise questions?
Q: (Off mic) – Bob Magnus (ph).
GEN. MILLS: Sir.
Q: (Off mic) – need a microphone. Of course, it’s not working.
Very, very dangerous to draw any parallels between Iraq and Afghanistan, mainly because we never really did understand Iraq. We’re still trying to figure out Afghanistan. So any parallels you could draw might be just accidental serendipity.
However, clear, hold and build was certainly a template that can be applied differently in different societies. We could do the clear. We did the clear, 2004, 2005, 2006 in the river valleys in Iraq. We finally learned how to do the hold when we started to get the indigenous population seeing that their objectives were roughly aligned with ours. Because you need the time to build.
You know, probably not only an Afghan saying about us. You have the watches, we have the time. We are going to start drawing down, whether it’s one pair of boots or some larger number this summer. We have the timeline now extended to 2014. I don’t know whether that’s the end or not. But the problem is, neither do the Afghans and neither do the Pashtun and neither does AQ.
So the question is, how much time do you think the Afghan security forces and the Afghan police forces need to be able to build acceptable indigenous governance before we start a dramatic drawdown of the people who’ve got their backs?
And second question is, financially, we know they can’t sustain this level of security without a tremendous amount of foreign subsidy. So at what level do you think is necessary for them to have Afghan military and Afghan police, regardless of whether they get the money from, in your area of responsibility, Richard? Over.
GEN. MILLS: Sir, as always, a great – two great questions.
The – I think it has to be a combination. I think that, again, our forces – my job there was to set conditions for transition. And I think that General Petraeus has a clear plan on how to do that and how to – and how to transition. And I think that he looks at it as a process as opposed to perhaps a date in which we begin to – we transition.
The Afghan security forces I think are critical to that – to that process, but I think there are other – there are other factors involved as well. I think the – you have to reduce the insurgency to a level at which at some point the Afghan security force capability confidence rises, the security is – or the insurgency is pushed down. When those two – when those two bars cross, at that point you begin to think about – you begin to think about transition.
I think you also can begin to think about transition as you – as you restrict the missions of the coalition forces on the ground, much like we did in Iraq. We moved to tactical overwatch to prevent, you know, a catastrophic defeat which would allow them to do what security forces do, which is take on the threat.
And I think that you have to deal somewhat with the – with the border with Pakistan. There was no question in my mind that guidance and supplies were flowing north fairly unrestricted, except for our efforts down in the desert to interdict. That has to be, I think, dealt with in some fashion.
You know, it’s difficult to say when the Afghan security forces would be ready to take over. They’ll tell you themselves they’re ready to take on – take over today. They – they’re – they want – they actively want to be given the responsibility and the authority to run their own security.
It all depends on the – on the severity of the threat, sir. I mean – and that’s kind of a cheap answer. But – so I think – but I think that the way that we reduce that threat – because it’s a local insurgency fueled by local boys going to fight – we thought about 70 percent of the insiurgents came from the local towns and fought locally. Only about 30 percent were outside guys. If you can reduce the factors that make them go to the insurgency, then you can do that.
And you can do that, I think, fairly on the cheap. You can do that through the education process, which we stressed. You can do it through finding employment for these – for these guys and being able to build a – an economy in which they can find jobs at the local level. You know, the young men over there, the young members of the insurgency – and we’re starting to see that through the reintegration process that’s taking place, where they’re starting – at the lowest levels, beginning to put down their weapons and come back to join their families and their societies and their villages – they’re much like young men in the United States. What they want to do is find a job, have enough money to get married and begin to start their own family.
I’ve often said, in Afghanistan, much like Iraq, your key acquisition was, if you’re a young man, was to find a good friend, because you’re going to spend a lot of time sitting there, drinking tea, shooting the breeze with the guy, because the unemployment is so – is so bad.
So if we can get the economy back up and running, if we can get the agricultural piece able to support a national commercial network, then I think that you – that employment piece will really depress the insurgency down to a great level. There are not – tremendous number of those guys, I don’t believe, who are religious fanatics. I think many of them are what we call the $10-a-day Taliban. They’re the young men who are being paid to go out and plant IEDs. They’re being paid to fight. And they tend to drift away pretty quick when things change on the ground.
So I do believe that the path we’re on, sir, will get us out of there on time. I don’t know if it’s going to be sped up. Obviously, if you speed it up, that incurs risk. You know, things will tell.
MR. KRAMER: Peter (sp).
Q: General, thank you. Peter Florrie (sp) with the NDU Center for Transatlantic Security Studies. You answered half of my question with your remarks on counter-IED. This was something that was laced throughout your briefing as one of the key threats you face. And you talked a lot about a number of the measures that have been introduced to deal with that, particularly on the technology side. And I just wanted to take it one step further and ask where are we overall? I mean, this is – we have an adaptive enemy here. We get ahead, they get ahead. Curious to hear where you think we are on that continuum, and particularly with regard to some of the longer-term, more sort of human-software aspects, like TTP, training, doctrine, all the other things we do besides technology.
Secondly – and very much with your NATO commander hat on – we had a chance to talk earlier briefly about the question of interoperability, how allies fight together. There’s a lot of attention on this issue now, both coming out of Afghanistan but also from the experiences in Libya. And I’m just curious – your thoughts and what you think the – where you see the strengths and weaknesses there. Thank you.
GEN. MILLS: Sure. Sure. The IED threat is the threat. Once you – once you can – once you can defeat that, then you’ve gone a huge way towards taking the enemy out. Because that’s what he relies on.
Two ways we – two ways you can deal with that. First of all, of course, is through training, is through rigorous TTPs. And we’ve looked – in the Marine Corps, we’ve adapted our training to reflect that. It’s not just a small package you go through, but rather it’s a constant in your life, whether you’re moving a supply convoy from point A to point B or whether you’re in the attack into a(n) insurgent-held area, you have to constantly be alert to the IED threat.
Everyone has to understand it – both the truck drivers, the engineers on the ground, the logisticians. Anybody who’s moving outside the wire has to understand what it is and how to deal with it. So the training is absolutely critical. And most units over there now will pull their guys back into a refresher training about halfway through, just, again, to spark it. We have a very good lessons-learned program; we feed information back to the States so we can adapt our training, so that they’re seeing the very latest techniques.
Because they are adaptive. They have moved from metal to very low metal signatures to almost some – almost no metal in them at all. They’ll use the carbon from pencils to impact – to actually make some of their – some of their connectors. There are some other things I don’t – I don’t want to go into because they’re a little classified. But let me just say that he is – he is an adaptive – he is an adaptive enemy.
But you train to defeat that IED threat, and we’re seeing that now. We now recover probably 60 to 70 percent of the IEDs before they’re used. That comes through training and it comes through equipping.
Some units were remarkably good at – the Brits were remarkably good at for some – for some reason. Some units are better than others. That has a lot to do with terrain, perhaps, and perhaps some of the expertise that comes out of Pakistan to teach us how to do it.
But again, what you’ve got to be doing is saying you never have the answer. You’ve always got to look at, what’s his next step? What is he going to do to do it? Whether it be mount them higher in the walls, whether it be, you know, put tin cans halfway down and have the pressure plate be more sensitive. All sorts of things that he does, you’ve got to be a step ahead of him if you’re going to – if you’re going to beat him. And our guys have shown, I think, a remarkable response.
I have a picture that I normally show during my briefs which kind of shows it. It’s a mixture, and it was taken outside of Sfar (ph) bazaar, in which there was dust on the ground because the terrain down there is probably 12 inches of dust on the ground. It’s like moving on the moon, almost. And I took a picture of two Marines who were in the IED fight whose job was to clear in front of the troops. And one guy’s holding the brand-new low-metal detector mine-clearance gear. It’s fresh off the shelf. It’s very, very effective. He’s holding it. He’s kind of the technical aspect of it.
Standing next to him is another young Marine who developed the piece of gear that he developed on his own, because it was effective. And what it was, it’s basically a long – it was like a boathook. It’s a long piece of wood, probably as long as this stage, and it has a curved metal hook on the end of it. And what you do is you put it in the dirt and you just kind of drag it back. Because they – what they’ll do is they’ll have – they had tripwires inside the dirt. And you would – once you got a little pressure, just like catching a fish, they stopped and would move forward and clear it.
So you had homemade devices and you had the best technology the U.S. can get. So again, it’s – and the other factor is you have to attack the system and you have to get him as he – as he moves his – as he moves his things from Pakistan up north, as he builds them at home. If you can hit that system, if you can interdict that system so he can’t build it, you begin to see some results.
We saw it in things like – we all of a sudden saw him digging up a lot of old IEDs. He wouldn’t do that if he had a barn full of them. He was doing it because he was running short. And when he digs up an old IED, he runs through the same threat that you do when you’re clearing one. So we had numerous explosive events where he lost people because he was trying to recover things at night and they didn’t do it right.
So all of those things add to it.
As far as interoperability goes, I think the NATO forces themselves – you know, work very, very well. We – the Marines probably had a large challenge because we don’t – we don’t do many NATO operations, not like the Army, that grows up in a NATO environment. So we probably had a little more – little more growing and a little learning to do than the – than the average unit.
But again, equipment-wise, you know, when you talk about working with the U.K. forces – who’ve done a magnificent job, by the way; let me – let me just – let me just say that. I know there was some – there was some controversy in the newspapers, more than any place else, about perhaps the U.K. hadn’t done this or hadn’t done that. It’s all nonsense. No one – no one says that who actually looks at the effects on the battlefield. If you look on the battlefield, the U.K. forces were incredibly effective. They fought a hard, savage fight up in Sangin. They were victorious. They did the job they were – had to do.
If you look at the central province and the central districts, which was the key terrain for us, Nadi Saraj (ph), Nad e-Ali (sp), Lashkar Gah, that’s where the Brits were. Fantastic job. Fantastic job. And those are the first areas we’re going to transition to Afghan control.
So let me just – let me just put – that’s a myth; let me kill it right now, put a stake through it. Because the U.K. forces, with their Estonian partners, with their Dane partners, did a magnificent job. And their casualty rates reflect that.
But interoperability with them was seamless, a simple exchange of – transition of liaison officers. No problems at all: very, very smooth and very, very easy.
The Georgians: new on the battlefield. There were some language issues, and they did require some enablers that we provided to them. But they were – they were well worth it. Like I said, they like to fight. They – we had – we had them running the western part of our province, and they did a very, very good job. We were a little concerned that they might have trouble with the Afghans, being identified as Russians. We sat them down with the elders when they first got on the battlespace. They had a long meeting and discovered they had something in common: They both didn’t like Russians. (Laughter.) They had that going for them.
So they – you know, they kind of get along very well.
And we took one company away from them, sent them into Sangin, where they fought very gallantly, took some casualties, and – but did a good job. So interoperability there was – as long as you have a training piece up front, give them a – give them a period when they first arrive in country to work with the local – with the coalition forces, well worth their while.
I had some other – some other forces with me, some Tongans, some Bahrainians (sic). They did mainly security force. And again, that was kind of easy, fixed-(side ?) security. But very, very – very, very – very, very good.
MR. KRAMER: Yes, sir.
We’ll do both.
Q: Thank you. As the colonel mentioned in his introduction, strategy, therefore planning, is a key element for operation success. In your opinion, is it important – or how important is it to include Afghan culture in the (Mac PP ?)? And if so, can you share an example with us?
And was it helpful for you to know about Pashtunwali? And is it a myth, or it was important for you to know about it?
And finally, if you had to give an advice to General Toolan, which one will it be?
And by the way, I’m a cultural advisor for USMC in Quantico.
GEN. MILLS: Ah. Well, you and your guys did a great job.
Q: (Off mic.)
GEN. MILLS: I think – yeah, they did a great job both in the – in the – in the workups sessions and in the ones that come over to us and advise us on a day-to-day basis. Extraordinarily valuable.
Absolutely, it is a – it’s a coalition-Afghan fight, and it’s a coalition-Afghan effort. And if you don’t fully integrate your plans into Afghan culture, you’re wasting your time. We’ve all read Dr. Kilcullen’s book about the accidental guerrilla. You have to be extraordinarily sensitive.
Again, the – probably the female piece was probably a great example of that. You had to understand the role of the females, and you had to work carefully within the boundaries so that you did not – you did not insult or – we weren’t there to change their culture in any way, shape or form. That was not our – that was not our mission. And so you had to be careful how you worked with it.
You could work on the – you could work around the edges. Again, I’ll use the female – the females as an example there. We – one of the programs that we tried to get – we tried to get started, and it’s rolling now, is to teach literacy by radio. We talked to some of – again, our female engagement teams engaged with some of the ladies in the villages. They listened to radio. They’re big – they’re big radio fans over there.
So we got some schoolbooks and some teachers capable of doing that. We kind of started a small program of being able to teach literacy by radio that would give – again, ladies could be exposed to that without having to actually move out and go to school, which would have been – which would have been against their cultural norms.
So yeah, you have to absolutely take that into full consideration. You have to look at, you know, holidays like Eid, understand what you’re going to see on the roads, understand how that’s going to impact your Afghan soldiers, and make sure that you, again, plan for all that. you have to understand their need to go on leave, take their pay home, all those – all those types of things.
The Pashtunwali code – you know, it was big. I mean, I was living in Pashtun land there, and you have to understand that code. It’s a – some people in the West probably snicker a little bit at it because it seems a little old-fashioned but it is – it is a deeply engrained part of their soul and the way they – the way they do business. And although there are some efforts – there are some parts there which are hard to deal with – the revenge piece: if harm or hurt is done to you, that you have a – you have to revenge that.
But I think the hospitality piece and I think the openness piece plays to your advantage. I find the Afghan people extraordinarily hospitable. Once they invited you in and had tea, you were safe and they would deal with you.
And I found that their word was their bond. If they told you something, they wouldn’t – now, they weren’t – they’re not like Americans. They’re not going to agree on the first – you know, on the first date, they’re not going to, you know, necessarily agree to something. But they – once they agree, they’re – you can count on them. Some yeah, the Pashtunwali code was part of their way of doing business, part of their law, part of their culture and you had to – you had to respect it.
For General Toolan, I – you know, my advice to General Toolan – I don’t – he doesn’t need any advice from me, certainly. He’s a – (chuckles) – much finer warrior, a tremendously experienced officer.
During our turnovers, I just explain to him that I thought we needed to continue to press on the security – on the Afghan security piece, that we needed to make sure that everything we did was partnered and understood by both sides. We couldn’t be directive; we needed to be in partnership with them. And now – and then, he can anticipate a splitting of that partnership, I think, as they become more confident.
And then you move from partnership into more coalition-type warfare where you’re operating alongside of them as opposed to being part of what they – what they do, and we began to see some Afghan independence.
They’re very – as you know, very – they’re an independent people and they – they had their ideas about certain things and, by gosh, we would talk about it and discuss it and they do – you know, not naturally mutually agreed upon, but we would support them in their efforts.
They had a big effort to go west, for instance, where our focus was to the east. So you have to work with them to understand their (pros/prose ?) and you have to have understanding that the Pashtuns are tough fighters; they are tough fighters. And, you know, they have fought a lot over their – over the course of their history. They’ve beaten some pretty good armies that have tried to impose their will. And so you play to their strength. And they are, like I say, good, loyal fighters once they understand what it is you bring with you.
Q: (Inaudible) – Netherlands army. Thanks for the opportunity to listen to you. If you look at RC-East as a lot of cross-border coordination going on between the ISAF forces and the Pakistani military, could you expand a little bit how that was in your area of operation ? Because on your slide, there was one little area which grew more red in 2011, and that was exactly the border.
GEN. MILLS: Yeah, I’m a little – well, RC-Southwest is a little different than RC-East because of the operations on the border. Basically, once you got south of the Helmand River, which is about 75 miles north of the Pakistani border – from there, down to the border, is pretty much wasteland, you know, in all honesty. It’s desert; there’s very little agriculture that takes place there. There’re basically some herders that move through there, some nomads that move through there. That type of thing. There’s not a lot – there are no population centers at all until you get down right to the border – that one – the one red dot we had down there, which was Baramcha.
On the Pakistani side of the border, they don’t operate very close to the border as well. They do have some border guards that are up there but they basically stay well south of the border and don’t really operate up in that tribal area.
So, (RC) East on the other hand, they’re much closer, and so they have operations that impact both sides of the border and they are closely coordinated.
Ours was a little bit less coordinated just simply out of need, but we would certainly – whenever we operated near the border – and we did both in the formal raids I talked about going into Baramcha, but also, we had a lot of special forces down there. We kept our Pakistani counterparts across the border well-informed of what was going to happen, and we would tell them – and work with them. And we found them responsive and relatively easy to deal with when you had specific requirements.
For instance, in the area around Baramcha, which sits right on the Pakistani border, the first time we went down there, the enemy simply fled across the border and began to – we began to take fire from the Pakistan side. We were very careful about using aircraft or weapons because that was Pakistan; we didn’t want to violate anybody’s sovereignty.
The second time we went down there, we worked closely with the Pakistan border forces and with the army forces to get permissions to fire on specific targets on the other side of the border. And those permissions were granted, and we surprised the enemy when we were able to then direct fire very carefully across the border.
So within RC-Southwest, there was an exchange of liaison officers. I had an officer down in the health division headquarters and he worked down there. And they would send people to me kind of on an as-needed basis.
Now, as operations, I think, in the future, close on the border, I think there will have to be closer coordination. But I found the Pakistan officers for the most part to be well-educated, well-professionaled (ph) – you know, very professional – and relatively easy to work with.
MR. KRAMER: We’re running out of time but let me take one last question and then we’ll close.
Q: Sir, Richard Sisk, New York Daily News. Reports this morning of another incident of a uniformed Afghan turning his weapon on American troops. Did you have incidents during your tour – similar incidents during your tour in Helmand? And sir, can you say – does this get down to the troops? Do the troops – our troops – your Marines – do they trust the Afghan police, do they trust the Afghan army? Indicating the progress that you spoke of earlier, sir.
GEN. MILLS: Yeah, the answer to that, say, a resounding yes. OK, they do – they trust both the Afghan army and the Afghan police force. They understand – our troops understand that they are – there are renegades within the Afghan forces the same way we have, unfortunately, from time to time, bad people within our own forces. I think that the way it’s been looked at – and we had several incidents both in the U.K. sector and in the American sector over the course of a year of violence between the two units.
Both times, it was regarded as the separate, or, a unique incident, if you will, confined to one individual who was doing it for a number of reasons. We never in our area ever had any proof that it was a Taliban infiltration. It was a rather emotional response. We had one Afghan soldier who was having a difficult time in some relationships and he decided to use a weapon to resolve those relationships and we had some U.S. force guys that were caught in it. And in Britain – or, in the U.K. area, we had an unfortunate incident where the Afghan soldier fled, although he never popped up in the insurgency, so we don’t know why he did what he did.
But the individual-soldier level, the leadership of the U.S. forces is so good – and the U.K. forces – that we get down there right away, we talk with everybody; they understand that it’s an isolated incident and we ensure they’re working together very closely.
Again, I will only talk about Southwest, but in Southwest, our coalition forces and the Afghan forces lived together, they operated together, we use the same medevacs, we use the same hospitals. You walk into the hospital in Bastion, you would see U.S. guy there, you’d see U.K. guy there, you’d see an Afghan soldier here, you’d see an Afghan police officer there and you might even see some Taliban over here behind a screen.
So we ensure that those incidents did not impact the trust that’s so vital between two military and two security operations working together. And so I’ve got to tell you that I think the troops we have today are savvy enough, smart enough to understand – to take that into consideration that it’s not a – there’s always a few bad actors.
MR. KRAMER: I think we could continue this for another hour or two or three. Let me thank you, General. It’s really been an extraordinary privilege to hear what you had to say. I think for all the audience, what we had here is not only a presentation but a lot of data and supporting information behind it, so that you’ve got the capacity both to hear what the general said and to evaluate it, yourself. I think he’s done a remarkable job both in his tour – multiple tours, I should say – as well as in the presentation, itself. And I think we’re extraordinarily lucky to have him as well as for all the soldiers, airmen, Marines, Navy, and, for that matter, Coast Guard that are down there.
So let me thank you very much –
GEN. MILLS: Thank you.
MR. KRAMER: – and on – just ask you to thank all our guys who are out there as well as our coalition partners. Thanks very much for coming and we appreciate it.