COL. DAVID LAPAN (deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations): thanks — (audio break) — and good evening in Afghanistan.
I’d like to welcome to the Pentagon Briefing Room Army Colonel Andrew Poppas, commander of Task Force Bastogne and the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division.
As part of Regional Command East, Colonel Poppas’s 3,800-soldier brigade deployed to Afghanistan in May of last year. In June, the brigade assumed operational responsibility of Nuristan, Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman provinces. In September, the 1st Battalion 61st — or Calvary Squadron from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Infantry Division joined Task Force Bastogne. In December, Task Force Bastogne relinquished control of Laghman province to Task Force Red Bulls, composed of the 2nd Brigade of the 34th Infantry Division.
This is Colonel Poppas’s first briefing with us in this format, and he joins us today from his headquarters at Forward Operating Base Fenty, in Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. He will provide brief — provide you a brief update on his current operations and then take questions.
And with that, Drew, I’ll turn it over to you.
COL. POPPAS: Thank you very much. I’m Colonel Andrew Poppas. I command Task Force Bastogne. And if you’ll indulge me, I have an opening statement I’d like to read to you and then I’ll entertain all your questions.
I think it’s important to know that Task Force Bastogne has been fully resourced for success. We understand that to whom much is given, much is also expected. Our mission is complex, but it’s well-defined. It’s one that provides us the means, in full partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces, to defeat the insurgency that have historically operated with impunity.
Now, this has enabled us to create the critical time and space needed to bolster our decisive effort, which is governance and development in the population-centric areas of Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan provinces. We have aligned and deliberately synchronized our operations in an effort to achieve long-term security and stability.
Fully integrated in this plan are two Provincial Reconstruction Teams, three Agribusiness Development Teams and 10 District Support Teams, all of which have been able to make demonstrable progress in over 40 districts and municipalities.
Now, this progress is further enabling capacity growth to the Afghan government at the provincial and district level. It truly is because some of the very best experts that we have been teamed with from across the interagency are helping to truly identify those Afghan-capable solutions that will endure far into the future.
Now, Task Force Bastogne has aggressively partnered with and conducts combined operations throughout N2K [Nuristan and Kunar] with the Afghan National Army, the border police and the national police. We see this as an essential task in our comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy that lays out the foundation throughout our population-centric areas for security by and through the ANSF, as well as legitimizes the government’s ability to provide those essential services needed by the people of Afghanistan.
Great example: Barge Matal — it’s a district in northeastern Nuristan province — highlights this. The Taliban occupied the village with the intent to establish a base for planning and staging attacks. Then ANSF led a combined operation called Operation Azmaray Fury to take back the village, establishing security throughout the entire district, which has been in place for over five months now with no active presence of coalition forces.
Recently, Operation Strong Eagle, conducted early last summer, was another combined operation with ANSF and coalition forces with the Marawara district of the Kunar province. Now, this Afghan-led operation succeeded in defeating the enemy, and the local provincial government is now leading developmental projects that will continue to prevent the insurgents’ freedom of maneuver and that strengthens the population’s confidence.
In one of our most recent operations, known as Bulldog Bite in the Pech River Valley, also in Kunar province, we successfully reduced the amount of insurgent attacks on the local populace and proved wrong the entire mystique that there were safe havens from the enemy in N2K. We partner with ANSF, and there is nowhere that we cannot meet and defeat the enemy.
Now, these three examples and over 1,000 combined operations are setting the security conditions needed to allow the Afghans the opportunity to focus on governance and development.
In closing, I’d like to emphasize that Task Force Bastogne remains committed and steadfast in the unified partnership that we’ve established with the Afghan government and the security officials in N2K. Working together, we’ll continue to capitalize on the progress that we have made as we move towards a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.
Thank you. And now I’ll entertain your questions.
COL. LAPAN: Let’s start with Anne.
Q: Colonel, this is Anne Flaherty with Associated Press. I wonder if you could update us on any reintegration efforts that you’ve seen in your area of responsibility. How many Taliban fighters have you seen lay down their arms, and what percentage would you guess that is of the overall force?
COL. POPPAS: I can’t give you a specific number of the Afghan Taliban that have actually turned — laid down their weapons. And there’s reasons for that. This is an Afghan-led initiative. And that’s the critical piece of that. They’ve accepted responsibility for that. They’ve put the infrastructure in place to facilitate that. And right now their High Peace Council’s been established.
We have seen at the lower levels, expressly after the Marawara operation, where people have come out of the valley and they engage at the provincial level, and the provincial governor himself has incorporated those families, moved them out of the Marawara Valley, provided them a place to live so they’re free from retribution.
I think the process — that’s the genesis of it at this point, but it does have a very bright future.
COL. LAPAN: Lalit.
Q: Thank you. This is Lalit Jha, from Pahjwok Afghan News.
Can you give us a sense of the strength of the Taliban in your area of operation? Are they on the run, or is it strengthening, or how — where are they now?
COL. POPPAS: You’ve asked me about the strength and, I believe, the disposition, where they actually are. If that’s correct, I’ll proceed.
We’ve identified there are certain areas — obviously, especially along the depth of the valley. You’re from Afghan News; you’re very familiar with the terrain that we face up here. It’s treacherous. We call it the tyranny of the terrain. There’s little areas that they’ve been able to operate in. If you look in the southern — initially, the southwest portion of Nangarhar, there’s a concentration of Taliban that have moved into that region, especially in the Sherzad district and Khogyani, that we’ve identified and recent operations have targeted.
We’ve also found that the Afghan Taliban that we’ve experienced have been along in the Kunar River Valley and along the basin, some of the ancillary valleys that we’ve been in there: Daridam, the village within Marawara, the Ganjgal Valley. And then also, as you look through the Pech River Valley, some of them, the Korengal and the Watahpur Valley. As I identify each one of those, especially up in the Shuryak in the northern portion of the Kunar River, these are areas that we’ve identified the enemy. They don’t have freedom of movement. And as we speak, each one of these, as identified, we’ve been able to conduct operations in order to reduce that problem set that you’ve just spoke of.
Q: Hi, there, Colonel. It’s Rachel Martin with NPR. If you could give us a few more details about the operations and the situation in general in the Pech River Valley. As recently as about a month ago, Major General John Campbell had suggested that he might foresee drawing down resources and assets from the Pech River Valley because the insurgents there — basically he said that it’s not worth the fight, that that’s not a good use of resources.
So could you just give us a more detailed sense of what the situation is, and if that resonates with you, if you see — if you could foresee drawing down presence there?
COL. POPPAS: Appreciate the question. That’s one that I’m glad that you brought up. Especially as we look — the Pech River Valley in and of itself, you have to look at it in a broader sense of the whole Kunar River Basin. And very familiar — obviously General Campbell is my boss. We speak about this frequently. I don’t think that’s exactly what he said, and I think he looked at — across the entire RC East. And I’ll tell you I’ll do the same under my battle space.
I have over 35 COPs [combat outpost], FOBs [forward operating base], and OPs [observation post] I continue to assess if they are in the right place to best influence the enemy situation that I’m facing and the problem set that needs to be reduced. I’m doing that in the Pech as we speak just as I am everywhere else in our battle space.
Specific to that, as we came into the — as we came into this battle space early last summer, late spring, we had identified that there was a problem set within the Pech River Valley and some of the ancillary valleys within. We identified that. We continue to build up the intelligence so we could build the proper target for an operation that you just referenced.
We referenced it as Bulldog Bite. It took place in the December time frame, in which we worked through each of the separate valleys, identifying, targeting the enemy network, predominately Taliban, Salifist in some regions.
But we were able to reduce the threat that was in there and destroy the networks that allowed them to operate unilaterally. As you can see from the success we’ve had — I reference it in the opening paragraph — a complete reduction in the number of offensive actions the enemy’s been able to conduct.
Right now you see disparate groups throughout the separate valleys. They can’t conduct any collaborative planning, any combined operation. And as such, that is success in our area. That’s going to lead to our continued assessment of the area. Same assessment that we make throughout all of our battle space.
Q: Okay. Colonel, just to follow up on that, can you talk a little bit about what the population is like in the Pech River Valley? In your opening statement you talked about the need to focus on the population-centric part of this, protecting population in urban centers. What’s the population of the Pech River Valley?
COL. POPPAS: Well, there are certain portions of the Pech River Valley — roughly about 42,000 people throughout the entire river valley. Now, that said, you talked about a population-centric strategy, and that’s exactly what that is. But a population-centric strategy doesn’t deny us the ability to — just because you don’t have boots on the ground in a specific region doesn’t mean you can’t influence it or deny that as a safe haven or an area that they think they operate with impunity. And that’s critical to note.
Through the Pech River Valley, there is no place that we can’t go, and we have proven that through our conduct and our operations recently. Speak of the “mystique of the valley” — that’s no longer the case. As we came in in the May time frame — (inaudible) — much was given. I picked up additional combat power that has provided me the operation — the operational capability not only to focus specifically on the population centers but to be able to project out to those areas and influence the insurgents, deny them the ability to actually influence those population centers. That’s well within a COIN strategy, the counterterrorism ability to strike at them and, again, deny them the ability to influence your population centers.
COL. LAPAN: Charles?
Q: Colonel, Charley Keyes from CNN. Thanks very much.
I was hoping you could talk a little bit about, from your perspective, troop morale, hard fighting, high casualties, and at the same time a sense that back home, fewer Americans are supporting continuation of the policy in Afghanistan.
COL. POPPAS: Again, another excellent question. And I — if you come forward and you go to the bases and you walk the operations and you look in the face of these men and women that are fighting this fight, you will find that they have a definite belief in this operation, the mission that they’re entrusted with, and they take incredible pride in its execution. It is truly — you know, for me to look at them, it’s inspiring, to talk with them, as they support their brothers in arms, as they take the fight. And they understand the implications and impact of their actions.
When you talk about troop morale and you engage with them, you will find it is extremely high. They take pride that they’re a disciplined, well-trained and effective unit. The camaraderie they have when they come forward, whether it’s the most desolate outpost that you think that’s forward or the most challenging operation that they’ve taken part of, when they come back, that’s the discussions that they have, not what’s happening back in the States with regard to how people feel about it. It’s the accomplishments they’ve made — “Did you see what my buddy did on that last operation?” — the bravery that they’ve shown routinely throughout.
And you spoke about our heroes who have fallen. Let there be no doubt: We grieve and mourn them, each and every one, as we must and as we should.
Because they’re our friends, they’re ones we’ve trained with, they’re ones we have partnered with and have fought by our sides. There’s no deeper brotherhood than you have seen in that regard. But those that have passed, it truly emboldens those of us who remain for the fight. And we fight honorably to honor their memory.
Q: Colonel, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. Do you agree that the enemy that you are facing in your area of operation is different than the enemy in the south? And if yes, do you have any figure, any number about the size of the enemy? We hear that you’re facing the Taliban, the Haqqani network — could you give us a sense on that?
COL. POPPAS: I’m sorry, I didn’t understand your question. If you could repeat that?
Q: Okay. Yeah. I wanted to ask you about if you think, if you agree, if the enemy that you are facing is different than the enemy you’re facing in the south. And do you have any number — any figure about the size of the enemy you’re facing in the east?
COL. POPPAS: What I do know about the enemy that we face here — there are differences. There are different networks that work in different areas. You mentioned Haqqani. Haqqani is not as prevalent in my battle space. We do have Afghan and Pakistani Taliban that operate in our battle space.
Numerically, they have increased. As we have seen a surge in our battle space, as I came forward with additional combat power, it actually coincided with the time frame when you saw the Peshawar shura identifying the operations we had in Helmand, and additionally with the upcoming operation at that time frame in Kandahar. They didn’t intend to face our strength with their strength. So they identified an area, what they see in Nuristan — again, because of this remote and really treacherous nature of the terrain, that they could etch out what they would consider a safe haven. So really what you identified is a confluence of two different entities that were coming together in that battle space. That plays to our strength.
We saw an increase of personnel. We saw an increase in materiel and weapons. We also saw an increase of lethality, an increase of IEDs [improvised explosive device] within our battle space that wasn’t present the year previous. And it was a continuous — they tried to fight to — again, to identify a position of strength so in the future, they thought they could have an area that they could conduct plans from and operate with impunity.
What I can assure you, and the past seven months of our operations here have proven, that that is not the case. We can still focus on our population center [sic, centric] strategy, but I still have the combat power and the projection platform to go anywhere within any one of the valleys once we identify that enemy threat, and reduce it. And we have done that. There’s nowhere we have not gone and nowhere that we will not go in the future.
Q: How do you see your mission after six months, or by the end of the year? Are you optimistic that you would be able to achieve positive results by the end of this year?
COL. POPPAS: You asked me how I — do I assess my mission after six months? And after that, I didn’t understand what you were asking me about to the end of the year.
Q: Optimistic that you would be able to achieve positive results by the end of 2011.
COL. POPPAS: I will tell you that we have achieved positive results by the end of 2010. Right now we have focused a lot on the kinetic fight that we discussed. Again, the kinetic fight — the intent of that was to build the time and space to allow for the development of governance, and then also the development of industry internal to our battle space. We have seen that. We have Torkham Gate. And from Torkham Gate is the whole economic corridor that runs from the gate through Jalalabad all the way to Kabul.
We have seen in revenue that has come through the gate. We’ve seen an increase in economic development through the area that runs all the way through Jalalabad, and then from Jalalabad up toward Asadabad. We’ve had agribusiness that’s increased exponentially, especially when you look at the dedication of our agribusiness teams that are working with them.
We’ve seen a development within the governance on rule of law, holding trials within the area, the engagements and development with their own jurisprudence. We’ve also seen it in terms of governance, development of a budget, working with line directs to identify the needs to better address those of the people.
So I’ve already seen within six months, and as we continue our operations, again, under this umbrella of security that we’re providing along with our ANSF brothers, you’ll continue to see that development and governance progress.
Q: Greg Jaffe, Washington Post. Can you talk a little bit about what it means to defeat the insurgency where they’ve historically operated with impunity? What do you mean by “defeat”? And, I guess, what does that mean in Kunar province versus a place like Nangarhar?
COL. POPPAS: You have two different threat groups that are in the area. In the Pech River Valley, it’s a great example: Very isolationist throughout the independent valleys, and in the fight — Marawara’s another great example. There — that runs from the Kunar River Valley towards the Pakistan border. And they are disruptive on both sides of the border, these entities.
As we developed our operation — you talk about the ability to defeat and destroy in detail. We identify, we assess, we develop intelligence. A great side story is, especially in the Marawara Valley early on, the district sub-governor is an old muj [mujahideen] fighter that actually fought against the Soviets in that same exact valley. So as we were developing our plans to go after this insurgent element that was operating in the area, he’s part of this planning process.
He’s discussing the high ground that they went to when they defeated the Soviets on two separate occassions back during that — during their invasion.
As we continue to develop the high ground that they historically would go to, the escape routes that they would use, the points of fire that they would operate from, we could target those, put personnel in those because we were assaulted in in the early morning hours, and then we’re going to have a ground movement up, fully acknowledging that they were going to move to those locations, we were already in that location. And then we were able to air assault using our assets and our technology in behind them, identify where the enemy’s moving to, how they’re communicating, and target them, so by the time we got into position the next morning, they thought they were going to move to the high grounds and trying to [reduce] us. What they found was a wall of American forces partnered with the ANSF, and no escape capability.
The end result, we destroyed that insurgent capability. What’s more important is after that clearance operation is the hold and the development on the backside. So when you talk about progress, the provincial governor and the district subgovernor move into the area. They’re engaging with the villages now that are no longer under the oppressive control of the Taliban. Humanitarian assistance comes in, development. Those services which you have an expectation from your local government to provide are now being brought to those people. And that was in the June time frame. It is still a safe and secure and developing region with projects now in that secure environment.
COL. LAPAN: Al?
Q: Colonel, it’s Al Pessin from VOA. What sort of pace of operations do you expect in the coming six months? And with the July deadline to start the U.S. withdrawal looming just about six months away, do you see the potential for thinning out of forces in your AOR [area of responsibility]?
COL. POPPAS: So I understood the entire question except for the last piece, about — your question referenced forces in my AOR at the end of the year.
Q: The question was about the July date the president has set for beginning an American withdrawal from Afghanistan. And the question was whether you think your AOR will be ripe by July to participate in the initial thinning of U.S. forces.
COL. POPPAS: Okay. Fully understand. In terms of the pace of operations, our pace and our operational tempo is very high. But that’s expected, and that’s exactly what we came in and planned to do.
Now, we have a large battlespace. And our intent is, every night and every day, that we are conducting operations. That’s what the surge provided us. We talked again about capability. We will continue to attack and keep the enemy off guard, denying him his ability to move through the wintertime, denying the historical safe havens, what they thought through the winter they could rest, refit. That’s not the case. That’s not the case previous, and it’s sure not the case this year.
As we speak, operations are ongoing, day and night, through the entire three provinces that we’re responsible for. So we’re going to keep up a high op tempo.
Now, fighter management and maintaining the soldiers is critical, and that’s a leader responsibility. But we have the capability to do that: maintain the force yet continue to press the enemy. And that’s our responsibility, and that’s what I’m telling you that we’re doing exactly right now.
In terms of by 2011, we’re continuing to make progress. And I owe the feedback to my boss where are those areas, especially within the Afghan provinces, in the key training districts, that are ready to transition to Afghan unilateral lead.
Q: So if I could just follow up on both questions, on the op-tempo question, what percentage of the operations, would you say, are Afghan or involve Afghan troops, and what percentage of the operations fall on the U.S. troops?
And on the second question, in terms of this report that you wrote to your commander, what’s your current thinking about whether any of those districts in your AOR will be ready to transfer to Afghan control by July?
COL. POPPAS: (Off mic) — the — in terms of every one of our operations are partnered. We — (inaudible) — combined action. We live on the FOBs together; we do the patrols together. I’ll tell you, where we work with them is really the unilateral Afghan security force operations, which is the true test of success: if they can plan, execute and then report back, and that feedback comes back to our own fusion cell. But in terms of our operations, they’re partnered.
The areas that we look at transitioning — the economic corridor that are running from Torkham gate through Jalalabad into Kabul, that is the area explicitly with — those are the key terrain districts we’ve been focusing on in terms of development for the governance, being able to provide those essential services to the people, developing the infrastructure in order to be self-sustaining and the ability to continue on with the developmental projects in the area.
There are those within this battle space that this summer, I believe we’re going to be able to transition over.
COL. LAPAN: Raghubir and Mike and then Carl. And then we’ll wrap it up.
Q: Thank you. Raghubir Goyal, India Globe and Asia Today.
Colonel, let me ask you a question. And first of all, happy New Year to you all. Are you saying that by July of this year, Afghans will be ready to take over for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, and free of terrorism and Talibans?
And also, what do you see your mission will affect as far as the ongoing situation next door in Pakistan?
COL. POPPAS: I can speak specific to my battlespace, not to all of Afghanistan and in the areas that I’ve talked about with the Taliban. I do not think by this summer the entire Taliban will be out of this — my battlespace.
But I’ll tell you, there are key areas within the population-centric portions of it that we have focused on in our District Support Teams, you know, under the umbrella of the security that we’ve provided, that we’ll be able to transition over: self-sustaining, district tied to province.
Just the other day, I was in a meeting — a tripartite meeting with the — Pakistan and Afghanistan specific to the security and operation that we’re going to be conducting with the 250 miles of border that I have and share with Pakistan.
Q: Thank you.
Let me just follow up quickly. What message you think you have for the new year for the basic and innocent Afghanis? Do they see a light at the end of the tunnel, as far as their future is concerned, when you leave?
COL. POPPAS: Well, what I’ve been inspired by is the leadership that I’ve seen, the leadership that I’ve seen at the provincial lever — level, understanding we’re working for betterment of a greater Afghanistan.
I’ve seen that at the district level, the district leaders, previously under threat, no longer the case, that are committed to a better district, that are committed to the people that are within their area, and committed to an overall better Afghanistan. That’s inspiring. And to the people themselves, as you engage with them, as you talk with them, as you walk through the markets and you get a sense, the atmospherics of how they feel about it. And it’s extremely positive, extremely positive in most areas that you’re — that I’m dealing with.
So I do think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I think it’s one that they have recognized. And the second part of your question, I think it is sustainable because of a lot of the mentorship and stewarding that we have done previously and will be able to start transitioning specific areas over to Afghan control.
COL. LAPAN: Carl, Dan, and then we’ll wrap it up.
Q: Mike Evans from the Times, London Times, Colonel.
You mentioned a number of times in your opening remarks, and also in reply to one of the questions here, about defeating the enemy on a number of occasions in various different parts, but here we are in the 10th year of this particular campaign. In your experience as a military commander and in your experience in Afghanistan, do you actually foresee that the Taliban will ever go away; in fact they will always be there? Do you have a sense that you will achieve this ultimate aim of defeating the Taliban?
And secondly, can I ask you what the scale of IEDs is at the moment?
COL. POPPAS: Yes, I do think we’ll be able to defeat the Taliban. But I think if you look at the end of any insurgency, it always comes down to a political solution. Now, the military is obviously a vehicle in which to bring about the combatants to the table.
I don’t think that you’ll ever destroy every single Taliban but you see the mechanisms in place already: a better future, reintegration, reconciliation, Afghan programs that are in the lead. The security that they’re providing internally, denying the ability for the Taliban that’s external to come in and influence them, as they continue to expand out that bubble of security, that will continue to influence, enforce and you can see the progress. And whether it’s the “ink blot” approach if you want to refer to it as, it is successful.
And now that you can see the forces that we have committed to this battlespace, they will be successful in a population-centric strategy, a population-centric with a capability of a platform from which to project out to all the regions, to deny any type of — you’re talking about, safehaven or another name you want to give it for the Taliban. Nobody operates with impunity.
COL. LAPAN: And Drew, the second question was the level of IEDs in your AOR right now.
COL. POPPAS: We’ve seen the level of IEDs — you know, found — in terms of — in relation to what — the numbers that we have — the strength we found it — when we first came in, the IEDs have actually increased. As I spoke before, you saw the enemy themselves had dictated and directed from the Peshawar shura to move into this battlespace. We saw an increase of personnel and an increase of IEDs. We had more in our first month than the previous unit had in a year, a year previous.
That’s understandable. Now we do have the means to survive them, the means to identify them and to mitigate their effectiveness. We also go after the networks themselves that are bringing the accelerants into the battlespace.
So there is an increase numerically than what we saw last year, but we have an increase in the effectiveness of found versus detonated.
COL. LAPAN: Carl.
Q: Colonel, I’m Carl Osgood with Executive Intelligence Review.
Can you tell us a little bit about the relationship of the population in your area to the central government? It would seem that with all the stories that we hear about corruption in Kabul, that it would be difficult for the government to actually command the loyalty and support of the population. So I wonder if you have anything that you can comment on that.
COL. POPPAS: Well, another excellent question. As we talk about connecting the people to the government, it’s often connecting the government to the government. And that’s the development of those — of the institutions which support the separate levels of governance.
I think that one of the strong points we have seen is the development of the budget, you know initially CERP [Commander’s Emergency Response Program] was the budget. Now that you are finding that it’s from the central government that is providing the budget for the provinces, the provinces then internally have identified what their priorities are, which are at the district level, and that’s the level on which they get the feedback from the people. So you have a bottom-up review. It’s still the central government now providing the resources for the budgetary nature of that region.
I’ve seen the engagements. I will tell you that when you talk about the friction at the national level, it would probably be a question better answered probably at the General Petraeus level, or General Rodriguez.
COL. LAPAN: Okay. Dan.
Q: In your area — Dan De Luce, with AFP. Thanks. In your area, could you tell us what your impressions are of the attitudes of Afghans, and how those attitudes might contrast between certain areas and other districts? What’s a — what’s your general impression of the Afghans’ attitudes towards their government and towards the insurgency? And often, we hear that in the east they’re sitting on the fence, trying to hedge their future — hedge their options.
COL. POPPAS: Another excellent question, as you try to find the atmospherics of the people and who it is you’re really trying to influence, you know. And when you walk through our battlespace, Nuristan to the north, very isolationist, as they engage, they look at what services — the services that a local district government provide, as opposed to the historical tribal society that they are.
I think at the district level that they’re very supportive. I find that — and obviously, it’s because they’re elected from internal; they have an understanding of the specific battlespace of the area in which they live and the support of all those needs; and they feel much more responsive because it’s people within their own tribe or from their own community.
As you continue to move from the south of Nuristan through the Kunar area, it’s very diverse. In the Pech River Valley, each one of the separate valleys, again, it’s extremely independent and isolationist. The Korengalis are — you know, are solely, for — you know, Korengal for the Korengalis.
What they have reached out for — they do recognize: What is it that the government can bring? What are those services? Health, education; you know, road networks to get them better facilities to that health; road networks to get them better movement and capability to come to markets. Those are things they have an expectation for and want of the government and they reach out and that’s what they express. There’s always a — there’s a fear that they’re going to encroach upon the village themselves and the historical societal nature of them, but that’s not the case.
When you work through the Kunar River Valley and Nangarhar especially, which is a little more cosmopolitan with 1.7 million within Jalalabad itself, it’s a much more bustling economy, much more supportive of the district government. The complaints are often the same — we have potholes in the street; you know, why do they — why do we have those? — are the same engagements I have if I’m back in Janesville, Wisconsin, drinking coffee with my father and his friends, the same complaints that they think aren’t being addressed.
But what the strength is, they look to their district governance and they look to the provincial to solve those problems. And the mechanisms are in place — the line directors, the district subgovernors — to address those. And they feel very comfortable going to those. And I think that’s the big difference when you look through the battlespace. And that’s what we want to start to continue to increase and project up — not only through the Jalalabad area, up toward Asadabad. And then they’ll continue to spread throughout the entire battlespace and the entire region and province.
Q: Just a follow-up. Is there — do — have you seen in — just in your time there, any kind of evolution in attitudes from Afghans? And do you see them perceiving the war and the conflict differently? And also, there’s always been this concern about the Taliban’s sort of shadow administrative judicial system. Has the local government been able to offer ways to settle disputes in a way that competes with the Taliban?
COL. POPPAS: Another excellent question. That’s why the rule of law is so critical and one of the areas that we have focused on. And the mentors are working with them. We’ve had court cases. And the key is that it’s transparent and that they all can see that conflict resolution is capable within the society and the governance structure that they have. And we have seen a — we’ve seen an increase. We’ve seen initially cases that were taken care of at the provincial level, and that was the initial area, cases come to fruition from — (inaudible) — the forensic evidence, at the lower- level police, it comes up through the prosecutor, works with the defense and the judge, and it is adjudicated.
Now, those are — everything is open so that the people can see. And now — we go to those, and you watch, the amount of people that come to watch and only assess, and they walk out with a very positive — that they feel that justice has been served. We’ve seen that at the provincial level.
Since mid-November, the real progress we’ve seen is happening at the district level also.
And conflict resolution is a critical component when you look at the government and its legitimacy. So we have seen a specific change. We’ve seen an embracing of that, especially within our battlespace.
COL. LAPAN: Okay, Colonel Poppas. Thanks very much for the time. I’ll send it back to you for any closing remarks you’d like to make.
COL. POPPAS: Oh, I appreciate, I truly appreciate the time. And before we close, I just want to sincerely thank everybody for coming, and back home, and thanking the people back home for the support too for the warriors of Task Force Bastogne, who are all deployed forward, and especially for our families that we left behind. Our families are truly the heroes. I once heard someone say that, you know, the soldiers do it because we love our nation, but our families do it because they love us.
There’s been a significant progress that we’ve made here in N2K because of the collaboration and cooperation of every member of the team Bastogne. Kinetic operations, they tend to overshadow the Herculean efforts that are being made to establish the long-term stability through governance and development. I think that’s why it’s — we’ve made it the cornerstone of our plan, that’s fully understanding that we must provide that critical time and space for the enduring success to manifest itself.
I want to thank you for your patience and the time this morning. Bastogne “Air Assault.”
COL. LAPAN: All right. Thanks all. Hoo-ah.
COL. PAPPAS: Thank you very much.
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