Press Briefing

by Major General Stephen Day, Deputy Chief of Staff Plans, ISAF Joint Command

  • Last updated: 01 Aug. 2012 12:29

CARMEN ROMERO (NATO Deputy Spokesperson): Good afternoon, and thank you for coming to NATO Headquarters this afternoon. Today we have, as you can see, with us by video conference from Kabul Major General Day. General Day is the Deputy Chief of Staff, Plans, at Headquarters ISAF Joint Command. General Day will brief us today on ISAF's evolution to what we call here in NATO and in ISAF the Security Force Assistance concept.

General Day, you have the floor, please.

MAJOR GENERAL STEPHEN DAY (Deputy Chief of Staff Plans, ISAF Joint Command): Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I welcome the chance to talk to you this afternoon about the importance of the Security Force Assistance concept and how it is being implemented.

The Security Force Assistance... or as we like to call it here, the SFA concept, was approved by General Allen last year. SFA is not a change in the ISAF mission. The "what" we are trying to achieve has not changed. But it is a significant evolution in the method we are using to progress the campaign. It reflects a change in the “how” we go about our mission.

It is enabling a shift from an ISAF-led COIN strategy to an ANSF-led COIN strategy. It is a milestone in the successful transition to Afghan-led security.

Now, SFA is not a complicated concept, nor is it new. Simply put, it is the employment of small advisor teams working day-to-day with Afghan units to help them be successful. Perhaps the only thing that is unique about SFA is the scope and scale of the effort.

When fully implemented there will be more than 300 Coalition advisor teams, consisting of thousands of specially-trained officers and non-commissioned officers. And, I might add, perhaps a bit cheekily, that to date there has been little to no reporting in the press on this very significant undertaking.

Now the bulk of the program's 352,000-strong Afghan Army and Police have been manned, equipped and trained and are now in the field, protecting their fellow citizens from the violence and the intimidation of the Taliban.

Although much work remains to be done to develop the army and police to operate independently, approximately three-quarters of the combat units today are capable of operating effectively when supported with advisors.

We are, then, at a point in our campaign where in many areas we no longer need large Coalition formations manoeuvering side-by-side with their Afghan counterparts. It is an appropriately time to start replacing some of the Coalition company and battalion-sized combat units with advisor teams.

Now apart from being able to help with advice, these small teams also provide the Afghan Forces access to a significant array of Coalition capabilities. These teams are only a radio call away from bringing in fighter aircraft support, attack helicopters, artillery, additional intelligence, quick-reaction forces and medical evacuation.

Perhaps most importantly, these advisor teams provide confidence to Afghan leaders that they are not alone and that help is around the corner when it is needed.

Before I wind up, let me make a final point about SFA teams. An essential focus for us is their protection. When they are deployed in the field they have access to a variety of backup capabilities, including those that I just mentioned, as well as some quite specific arrangements where they are based. And if they move by ground they are afforded the same level of protection against improvised explosive devices as any other Coalition unit. But before they even arrive here force protection is a key element of their training. It is a fundamental part of the certification process that determines whether a team is ready to deploy or not.

In short, we aim to ensure that the risk to our SFA teams is no different from any other combat element here.

The SFA concept that is being implemented right now is an enormous undertaking by the Coalition. It reflects the next step in our enduring, and let me say that again, enduring relationship with Afghanistan, and it is how we will help Afghan Security Forces transition into the lead of protecting their own people.

And with that I would be very happy to field your questions.

CARMEN ROMERO: Some questions for General Day. Please, could you identify yourself? Any requests for the floor?

Q: My name is Christoph Prössel, German Public Radio. I have a question on the number of advisor teams in the coming months or even years. Can you give us an outlook there, please?

MAJOR GENERAL STEPHEN DAY: Certainly I can. And sorry, I think I heard your question right. It was how many teams will be... are here now and perhaps in the coming years.

Look, we will field somewhat over 300 teams. You'll find that about 90 percent of the teams, near enough, are in the field, or about to be fielded this year. I would imagine that over time, as our mission evolves, the number of teams that we require would reduce, but for the time being it will be more than 300.

CARMEN ROMERO: Yes, we're following with German.

Q: This is Nikolas Busse, for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in Germany. Could you give us an idea how big a team would be and about the regional outlay? Where would you... how do you go about this? Do you start in specific regions or does it occur at the same time everywhere in Afghanistan?

MAJOR GENERAL STEPHEN DAY: Yes, thank you. An average team, and let me say there are all sorts of teams, because we have teams that work with core level army headquarters, and we have teams that work down with battalion-size units, so they do vary in size. But the size variance is usually between 10 and 20 members.

In terms of their disposition, they follow the disposition of the majority of the Afghan National Security Forces. That is to say, they are moved about right across the nation.

You will understand that the bulk of the struggle that we face is in the south, the southwest and the east of the nation which is where the bulk of the Afghan National Security Forces are deployed, and so that's where the majority of our teams will also be deployed.

CARMEN ROMERO: German Public Radio again.

Q: Christoph Prössel, German Public Radio again. We were talking the last years about partnering, could you describe in practice the difference on the ground, in the field, for the advisor teams in comparison to what the partnering concept was looking like?

MAJOR GENERAL STEPHEN DAY: Yes, certainly. I think the easiest thing for me to say is that the SFA concept is the next step from partnering. So with partnering what we generally found is that we would employ a company, an organization of about a 100 to 120 soldiers. They would partner with an Afghan battalion, known here as kandaks, an organization of about 700 or 800. And they would fight together.

The Security Force Assistance team is, as I've already identified, a much smaller organization, who at the battalion or kandak level will actually work with the battalion headquarters rather than be in the field with the companies. They'll be there to provide advice to the key leadership of the battalion, and as I already indicated, to provide them access to key Coalition enablers to make sure that they're successful.

CARMEN ROMERO: Any other... yes, we have. DPA. It's really full of German media today.

Q: Hi, this is Alvise Armellini from DPA, German Press Agency. Just wondering, it wasn't entirely clear from what he said, are there any of these teams actually deployed on the ground now, and if so, where, and what's your feedback from their preliminary deployment?

MAJOR GENERAL STEPHEN DAY: Yes, sorry if I didn't make it clear. Teams are deployed and are operating on the ground right now. And the majority of the teams that will be fielded here are now here and doing the business.

I suppose what we did over last autumn and into the winter here, was we designed and developed the concept. We set the stage, if you like. Act one, the deployment and the actual execution of missions is really only just under way. It has got some more phases to go before this play completes. So it's early days yet to provide feedback on how things are going. But so far, so good.

CARMEN ROMERO: I think that DPA still has... is regarding the same issue? So, back to DPA.

Q: Sorry, can you say where they are, and just give a rough figure, you know, out of the 300 how many are on the field now? Thank you.

MAJOR GENERAL STEPHEN DAY: Yes, we tend not, of course, to want to be too specific, but can I tell you that just short of 300 are in the field right now. In terms of locations, I think as I was answering the question of one of your other colleagues, they're actually spread out across the nation, so you will find teams in every major population centre and every major province in Afghanistan at the moment.

The bulk of them, though, are in the east, the south and the southwest. But there are, indeed, German teams, and other teams from European nations in the north and the west right now.

CARMEN ROMERO: ITAR-TASS now.

Q: ITAR-TASS News Agency, Denis Dubrovin. I have a question on the national composition of the teams of advisors, so are these teams represented by the members of the same nation, each one team, one nation, or are they international? And is there any nations which provide the bulk of this advisor process? Thank you.

MAJOR GENERAL STEPHEN DAY: The second part of your question will be a fairly obvious answer, and that is as with the bulk of the forces here, the United States of America similarly provides the bulk of the SFA teams. Very good question about whether they are from one nation or mixed. One team, one nation. And this is quite a deliberate policy. Because the task is not an easy one, coherence in the team is essential. So what we do is before they get here they undergo quite extensive training in their home nations. Most nations... but it does vary from nation to nation, spend a good two months preparing these teams before they come over here so that they have a very close understanding of each other and the environment in which they work.

So, in short, one team, one nation.

CARMEN ROMERO: General, we've also got questions from journalists by email, so our colleague Liz Fry is going to read out a question we got from a journalist by email.

LIZ FRY: Thank you, Carmen. I have an email from James Hurst from the British Forces Broadcasting Services. How concerned are you that as the proportion of ISAF troops reduces the risks they face will rise, both from a potentially emboldened insurgency and from green on blue attacks within the Afghan Forces? Thank you.

MAJOR GENERAL STEPHEN DAY: A very important question. Let me deal with the green on blue first. Green-on-blue incidents, as you would expect, has our undivided attention. Some of the measures that we have in place to mitigate this threat I'm happy to talk about in public, some I am not.

Firstly, most green on blue are caused by misunderstanding or personal dispute. And so one of the best ways to deal with this circumstance is actually to build relationships, to build understanding, and so these SFA teams will actually be uniquely positioned to build up a close working relationship, and understanding with their Afghan colleagues. This, in and of itself, is actually, although it is counter-intuitive, a mitigation to the threat.

Some of the green-on-blue incidents, though less in number, are the result of infiltration by our opponents, and some of them have turned existing ANSF members against us. There are some thing we can do to resolve this. One is to improve the vetting process for those who enlist, and also an increased vigilance by the ANSF, and with our help, those who might be at risk of being turned.

Can I just give a little bit of broader contest on green on blue. The challenge of soldier-on-soldier violence is also one for the ANSF. So it is not only we, ISAF, who have to deal with it and are facing the challenge, so indeed are the ANSF internally. And when one considers the history of Afghanistan, in that it has been in conflict for the better part of two or three generations, it's not surprising that there's a slightly easier resort to violence to solve disputes than perhaps we're used to in our home nations.

So I hope I've answered the issue on the green on blue. In terms of force protection generally, if I just repeat, I guess, what I said in my opening remarks: We intend that the risk profile for our SFA teams be no different than what it is for the other combat elements here. I spoke a little bit about training, and that is a fundamental first step. There are some measures we take in the places where these teams will work, which I'd rather not go into, which will also afford them protection. And I've mentioned the substantial array of enablers that they have at a moment's notice. They have attack helicopters, they have fighter aircraft, they have quick-response teams, and they have an excellent medical backup system for them.

Now, we're very confident that the measures that we've put in place will protect their safety to the extent that one can in a combat zone.

CARMEN ROMERO: Okay. Any questions? Yes.

Q: Adrian Croft from Reuters. Was the reducing the green-on-blue incidents any kind of motivation behind the introduction of this strategy of Security Forces systems concept, and that's one question? And secondly is, what impact is this strategy having on the effectiveness of your fight against the insurgency? Thank you.

MAJOR GENERAL STEPHEN DAY: Perhaps if I deal with the first part of your question first. No, the SFA strategy concept was not part of dealing with green on blue. To get to the second part of your question, we see the SFA concept as a means of accelerating the development of the Afghan National Security Forces. It gives them very close and personal specialists and experts to help them as they go about their daily duties. As I've said, we provide them a very good plug for enablers to ensure that they are successful.

So, when one looks at the history of counterinsurgencies one of the things that is clear is that they are ultimately won by indigenous forces, and so a key part of our strategy is to have the indigenous forces, here it's the Afghan National Security Forces, lead the fight against their opponents.

So the SFA concept will, we think, accelerate the end towards that end, and therefore improve our chances of success in a shorter timeframe.

CARMEN ROMERO: AP.

Q: Slobo Lekic from the Associated Press. Will this SFA program continue after 2014 when the ISAF mission is supposed to end? And will it be part of the follow-on mission?

MAJOR GENERAL STEPHEN DAY: A very fine question but one that you might best put, I think, to policy makers. What I know is that there will be SFA teams here through until the end of 2014. What I also know is that the international community is desirous of a follow-on mission, an enduring presence here beyond that. Exactly what that mission looks like is still subject of debate in nations' capitals, and no doubt where you are.

It's not discussed too much here because we're a bit more focused on the near and current.

What I do know, though, is that there is an intent to have some training assistance provided to Afghan Forces beyond 2014. I'm not sure whether this is the model that will be chosen. But an enduring presence of some sort is certain to be there.

Q: Christoph Prössel, German Public Radio. What are the teams advising? Can you make it more concrete for my audience?

MAJOR GENERAL STEPHEN DAY: I think the question you asked is what are the sorts of things that they are providing advice on, if I've got that right?

Okay. There are a wide variety of teams. I think as I said there are teams who are advising at the core level, so they will be helping the commanders and staff at that level with operational level planning. They will help them with logistics. They will help them with coordinating the movement of significant numbers of forces across the battlefield.

There will be teams who work with the district police, and these teams will, and indeed are, helping them with their prosecutorial skills, with evidence-based operations. There are teams who will be working with infantry kandaks. They will be providing advice on... again, on planning, on making sure that the communications systems between the various levels of the infantry battalion work, and they will be helping them design their medical evacuation systems.

So almost every endeavour of the military enterprise you will see advisors providing advice in.

CARMEN ROMERO: Any other questions? Liz, do we have more questions by email? I think there is maybe one more.

LIZ FRY: Another one we received was: By your own statistics enemy attacks are up, violence is up. Aren't you leaving just when it's getting difficult?

MAJOR GENERAL STEPHEN DAY: Well, can I first tackle the word leaving. In the part of the world where I come from leaving means you take yourself and whatever else you have and absent yourself from the area. We are not absenting ourself from this area. The international community have made pledges to stay with the Afghan government and the people here to ensure that they have stability into the future. The international community made significant pledges in Chicago, and again at Tokyo. Scaling back, I accept. Leaving, I don't buy. So that's the first point.

The second point on the violence statistics. I'm not sure where your correspondent got those statistics from, but actually taken across this year, when compared to the same period last year, the statistics are showing a downward trend.

Now it's not... it's true that there are good and bad weeks. There might even have been a bad month. I'm not sure about that. So there are variations in the figures. But the trend this year has actually been down, which I think is a very positive thing.

CARMEN ROMERO: Okay. Do we have any further questions? No? Well, if that's... if we don't have further questions then we will bring an end to this briefing.

We really thank you, Major Day, for your time. Thank you very much.