13 Dec 2007

Video Tele Conference

Major General Champoux, Deputy Commander Security, ISAF

MAJOR GENERAL BERNARD CHAMPOUX (Deputy Commander Security, ISAF): I am Bernie Champoux and I think, as has been introduced, I'm the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations.

I've been here since April of 2007 and this is my second tour here. I had the good fortune of being here between 2004 and 2005 through the presidential elections. It was quite a year to be here.

I know that Musa Qaleh or Musa Qala, depending on who you are and how you pronounce it, is possibly on your mind, so I've got a very brief opening statement that will talk a little bit about Musa Qala and then obviously I'm open to any questions you may have on anything that you think I can offer.

December 2007 is what we believe a major step forward for Afghanistan and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. We believe that it will become a significant part of their history.

Operation Mar Karadad is an Afghan operation that is fully supported by ISAF and the international community to remove insurgent forces from Musa Qala in rural outlying areas.

The principal aim of the operation is to support ongoing Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan's efforts through reconciliation and tribal alliance, to remove concentrated insurgent forces from Musa Qala and to re-establish the Government of Afghanistan authority and security presence in order to enable reconstruction and development.

A combined task organization and task force of approximately a brigade plus strength was Afghan National Security Force led and supported by ISAF. The critical aspects of the operation was that it was an Afghan initiated and executed operation.

The end state for Operation Mar Karadad was to disrupt insurgent activities in Musa Qala to establish an enduring presence through the establishment of a forward operating base outside of Musa Qala and setting conditions for the reestablishment of the Government of Afghanistan authority and wider developmental projects throughout the area.

At 12:19 local Afghanistan time yesterday the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan once again flew their national flag at the Musa Qala District Centre. The operation was conducted in four distinct increments or phases. The first increment was a phase that built up and prepared necessary forces. The second phase witnessed the establishment of a wide cordon around the district town in order to set conditions for subsequent operations.

During the third increment a closer cordon was established to facilitate the insertion of ANA clearance forces and their subsequent actions to complete the clearance and seizure of Musa Qala, the urban centre of Musa Qala.

And the final and most important increment sees a widening security presence within the area, the promotion of legitimate governance and expansion of consent-winning activities.

And with those comments I'll turn it over to you for questions.

MODERATOR: Sir, thank you very much. Who wants to start?

Q: Good morning again. Ahto Lobjakas, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. I happened to be in Helmand in February when the Taleban re-took Musa Qala. I'm wondering if you could tell us what is going to be different this time? What is going to make this solution sustainable? Thank you.

CHAMPOUX: Thank you, Ahto.

I think the major difference between this operation and the previous operation is that it has the full commitment and backing of the Afghan Government. Not just the Afghan National Security Forces, but you know, a thoughtful vision from the Afghan Government on how they would proceed after we did the initial security operations.

And I had the good fortune to personally attend two meetings at the Palace where the National Security Advisor, Dr. Rasool, chaired a meeting, chaired both those meetings. We had senior representatives from the MOD, from the MOI, from the MDs, other partners from the international community. And the context for both these meetings was really to establish what they wanted to achieve, what their vision was.

And as we proceed in the next few days I think you'll witness their thoughtful approach to have a shura. They've already identified the 13 members of that shura. To announce new district leadership, and to try to do some quick impact aid to have really nine projects that they talked about, to demonstrate that the Government of Afghanistan is supportive of both the new security arrangement and the new government inside of Musa Qala.

So I just think it's a... you know, the bottom line is I think it's a much more comprehensive and thoughtful Afghan-led approach to retaking this district centre.


Q: Thanks. Two quick follow-up questions, if I may? Firstly, who's physically going to secure the town? The ANA or ISAF? And secondly, these nine projects, could you briefly say what they are? Last time they were mosques, I think. Thanks.

CHAMPOUX: Yes, the first thing is, it is the Afghan National Security Forces. Initially the ANA and as you know, Ahto, the ANA operates with embedded trainers, either ETTs if they happen to be U.S., or OMLTs, which are the Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams.

So there is a small coordination liaison combat advisor team that goes in with the Afghan National Army that are in Musa Qala centre right now.

In time there will be the announcement of a new district police chief and there is a commitment from the Minister of the Interior to place ANP in to maintain the security and the policing functions that we'd want. The ANA would move back to this forward operating base that I talked about and that's the plan.

Of course, international security forces will be supportive of all those things with the other enablers that we have and we can bring to fight.

On your second follow-up, on the nine projects, I'll go through them quickly. And I believe these are the priority that they received. What I can't confirm is if the Lashkat Gah is going to execute these quick impact aid projects in the priority that I'm going to give you them, but it is my understanding that this is the priority that they received.

Number one is a high school in Musa Qala. Number two is a comprehensive health clinic. Number three was re-establishing of the electrical infrastructure, so they would have power. Number four are various road upgrades. Number five is the main mosque. Number six is the refurbishment of the district buildings and obviously you can see where that's important for the government to re-establish its authority. Number seven is a central ANP station, Afghan National Police station. Number eight were security works, which are, you know, police out-stations and the kinds of things that allow the security apparatus to be functional. And then number (nine) were three additional outlying mosques.

Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's. A couple of questions. What kind of equipment and weaponry did the ANA deploy during this operation? And conversely what kind of support in terms of equipment and weaponry did ISAF use to support them? Thank you.

CHAMPOUX: Thank you, Brooks. Primarily the weapons systems they used were their full complement of small arms of direct fire weapons systems. Primarily AK-47s, although they are starting to field, and I'm not sure if this... if the three Kandaks that went in had the M16, but they'll eventually go to the M16. So it's... 47s, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and that kind of equipment.

The enabling and supporting ISAF military equipment runs the spectrum, three dimensional. It was a surge operation for us to support. We had very good support both from ISR platforms, CAS platforms and an ISR that's the full complement of what capability's available in theatre and I think you're aware of what that is, both signals and full-motion video and that kind of capability.

As I said, we had close air support. We had indirect fire systems, artillery and the standard kit. And I probably have to send to you the task organization. I think once you saw the other supporting units you would realize the kind of equipment they have. You know, their full complement of equipment that U.S. Special Forces would bring, British infantry would bring, British cavalry would bring and so that was all available on the periphery and supporting activity.

Some of that was securing key choke points. I mean, it wasn't necessarily all proximate to the city. I don't know if that's close enough Brooks, if you've got a follow-up?

Q: Yes, I was wondering if you could give us a sense of how this operation unfolded; i.e. did NATO move in around the periphery and use close air support to first attack the city or did you just stand by, wait for the ANA to go in and then when you saw they needed help you brought in your heavy guns? Thanks.

CHAMPOUX: Yeah, thank you, Brooks. I forgot to mention we had rotary wing CAS or attack aviation too, of course, I think you'd understand we had that available.

The task force Helmand's concept of the operation really was to seal off in a wider cordon. First it was to get forces, sufficient force, close enough to Musa Qala to be effective. And the second phase I told you was to act as an outer cordon force that really sealed off ingress and egress routes. There is the Musa Qala Wadi that I think you're familiar with. There are crossing points there. The ability for any force that would want to influence it from outside of Musa Qala to come in, so that the international force really acted as an outer cordon.

We additionally had another battalion that acted as a little bit closer-in cordon and that was to seal off approaches from a city of Naw Zad and where there could be some reinforcement insurgent activity from the north and kind of the east.

But the force that went in, that... I guess seized might be the right word, maybe not, but there was no pre-assault fires. There were no aerial bombardment of Musa Qala. There was no preparation of the inner part of the city. It was the Afghan National Security Force that passed through ISAF and cleared the city. 

Q: Yes, General, it's Paul Ames here. I just wondered if you could give us some information about the energy you were facing in Musa Qala? How many Taleban fighters were there in there? How well equipped were they? How well armed were they?

And there were reports in the immediate aftermath of the city falling to the Afghan forces. These Taleban people who were there, fleeing the city in trucks and cars, I don't know what else, did they get away or what happened to these people who were fleeing the city?

CHAMPOUX: Thank you, Paul. As you can imagine, even before this started, as we started moving forces in and increasing the activity we started to see things change. I think the Taleban made some outrageous predictions about how they were going to barricade the city and how they were going to hold the city and none of that proved to be true.

And I think if you were there you would probably put yourself in four different categories. You would leave because it gave you an opportunity to leave. Either not to be there when there's any kind of military activity, but also allowed you to leave the influence, the oppressive influence of the Taleban. So some of those were clearly non-combatants that wanted to clear out of Musa Qala.

I think there was another category of people, that said that they would stay and fight. There was another category of people that claimed that they would depart the city and meet the opposing... us, the opposing force, outside of the city. And then there was another category of insurgents that said that they would fight until they felt there was overwhelming force and then they would lay down their arms and they would melt into the countryside.

And I think we probably saw all four of those. What we didn't see was some of the outrageous claims that the Taleban made. And there was some fighting but the urban centre of Musa Qala was not significantly opposed, was not significantly barricaded or... I don't know if that's close, Paul?

Q: Just to come back on some idea of the numbers of Taleban who were in there, how well-equipped they were, how well... how well-prepared were they as a fighting force when the Afghan and international forces went in?

CHAMPOUX: We met some resistance as we were moving into position. I don't think their capability is any more... is any different than what we've seen up in the northern... in Northern Helmand or the Upper Sangin Valley. They had small arms. We did capture a dishka, and an anti-aircraft weapons system and some machine guns.

But the fighting was not remarkable and it was clearly not to the level that they promised that they would be, and it clearly did not match both in numbers and capability that the ANA had.

Exact numbers, you know, are difficult. They don't... I'm talking to very informed reporters, but it's sometimes hard to count in the numbers that, you know, that the uninformed would think. I mean, they don't line up where you can count them. But I think that some of the earlier reports on casualties throughout the operation, I think it's probably safe to say that there were less than a 100 casualties and I think forces that we opposed at times, depending on, and it's a very large area that we operated in, you know, three or four times that number is probably pretty accurate.

Q: Ahto Lobjakas, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty again. To return briefly to Paul's question, how many Taleban did you apprehend, or how many did the Afghan National Security Forces apprehend as they were trying to leave, or gave up the fight?

And secondly, about a year ago ISAF was saying the Taleban was not going to constitute a conventional threat ever again. Now, what happened at Musa Qala, was that a conventional engagement, and if so then what gives Taleban the continued ability to mount conventional threats? Thank you.

CHAMPOUX: Thanks, Ahto. I didn't... could you just repeat the tail end of the question, please?

Q: If what happened at Musa Qala this time rates as a conventional threat, then what does give Taleban the ability to continue mounting such challenges to ISAF a year after ISAF said it was finished as a conventional threat? Thank you.

CHAMPOUX: Yes, I've been a soldier for 30 years. Conventional threat's a fairly subjective term and it's pretty much in the eye of the beholder. What's clear is the Taleban primarily, but the insurgents failed to be a credible force. They have to mass enough force to feel as though they can, in very straightforward and conventional terms, that they can attack us.

Every time they do they're soundly defeated. So I think it's accurate to say there isn't a conventional threat from them. They may mass and attempt to be a credible conventional opposing force, but when they do that they lose and I don't... I think that your total there is fine.

The... thank you. A little distracted here. I forgot the first part of your question, if you'd repeat that.

Q: How many of the Taleban did you or the ANSF actually apprehend? Thank you.  

CHAMPOUX: I'm sorry. I don't... I haven't seen any reports of any detained Taleban or Afghans. Now there could be some field detention that isn't in the system yet, but I haven't... we haven't gotten any reports here yet. And we haven't seen any detainees show up in our tracking mechanism yet. It doesn't mean that there aren't any. You know, it's a little bit far forward and isolated and there is a certain amount of time that the forces have before they report that.

But I have not received any report of any detainees yet.

Q: Brooks Tigner, Jane's, again. I mean, this does raise an interesting issue, which brings us back to Paul's interesting question about press reports of truckloads of Taleban escaping the city beforehand or during. Indeed, we need a reality check here. There must have been many Taleban who did decide to leave the city. Did they do so on foot? Did they do so by vehicles? And there's where your ISR comes in because you have many UAVs, which are sending operational pictures to everyone in ISAF. So you know who's going where?

So what happened to those folks? I know the military doesn't like to talk about things like that, but did you strafe them? Did you capture them? Did you turn them back?

And second question, related to that, I don't know the geography there, but I assume it's mountainous. If they went up into the mountains, the escapees, what are you going to do to prevent them from coming back down the mountains? Or firing from long distance?

Thank you.

CHAMPOUX: Yes, Brooks, as you well know, the effectiveness of ISR oftentimes depends on the weather, so there's not necessarily uninterrupted observation of the battlefield by the systems that we have.

I don't think we reported truckloads of Taleban. The Taleban might have reported truckloads of Taleban. We certainly didn't see that, and we certainly didn't have truckloads of Taleban exfiltrate through the lines of the cordon that we established.

So I don't know where the reports of truckloads came from. There were some early reports of people leaving the city. I think, you know, cars, you know, going to Lashkar Gah or those that had the means and the resources to go to a safer area, just like my family or your family would do. I think that accounts for some of the movement. Those are non-combatants and we're not going to engage them.

I think, again, if you're basing a lot of these reports on what the Taleban said they were going to do, it doesn't jive with what actually happened. And there were, I'm sure, because the terrain allows them to, that I'm sure that there were some of these forces that were capable of foot exfiltration into other areas.

Now, it is mountainous terrain and this is a... I was going to use a U.S. analogy. This is a country the size of... it's larger than Iraq. It's the size of the state of Texas, which is one of our largest states in the United States. I'm sorry I'm using that analogy. And you know, we don't have... there isn't sufficient force to, you know, track every one of these things.

Can some of the insurgents go in the mountains and potentially band again and come to fight another day? Quite possibly.

Q: That's very interesting. I'm from Texas, by the way, so... (Laughs).

Just on that very last comment you made, and thank you for the reality check. That seems reasonable. I always discount press reports by at least 30 percent.

What do you do? I mean, you have to do some forward thinking here. You, ISAF, along with the ANA, precisely about that risk that they're going to go back up into the mountains and bring in heavier machinery, or whatever, from Pakistan, and plan their retake of the city or the surrounding villages.

What do you do there?

CHAMPOUX: You know, Brooks, it's no different than the threat that we've had well before Musa Qala, and except for the probably the IO effect of the Taleban saying they were holding Musa Qala, it didn't have the tackle or operational significance to us that it did to the Taleban.

So, it's also helpful to remember that the Taleban isn't a kind of monolithic well-organized opposing force that has the ability, the means, the capability, the tactics, techniques and procedures to go mass, receive heavy equipment and readdress things. A lot of times they're a conglomeration of local fighters.

It's my belief that, based on some of the reporting that we received before the operation, there are quite a few of these, what we call tier two fighters, local fighters that are going to reconcile. You know, once the yoke of intimidation that the Taleban placed on them is lifted, they're going to look to be active and productive members of Musa Qala and get back to their lives.

Which is what the Afghans had hoped. Which is what the Afghan government heard from leaders inside of Musa Qala before they actually planned and executed this operation. That's why the timing was right.

But to directly answer your question, is there more of a threat because they've infiltrated to other areas? No, there's no more of a threat to us in doing that. There's no more of a threat to other towns or villages, because again, this is a combination of local fighters with other capabilities and so is that more of a concern than the benefit of Afghanistan re-establishing themselves in Musa Qala? I think the answer is no.

Q: It's a related question. We were talking to General Craddock here a couple of weeks ago and he was saying that one of the problems that you guys face down there is the lack of, the shortfall in the number of maneuver units and other troops. It means that you have to adopt this kind of, what did he call it, a whack-a-mole policy. You can chase them out of Musa Qala, these guys just show up somewhere else because you don't have sufficient forces to hold the territory that you take. So if you move into Musa Qala you're leaving a gap somewhere else that they then move into.

Do you think that you're not getting sufficient support from the Afghan National Security Forces to counter that problem, so that they can come in and hold territory once it's been taken, either by themselves or by the international forces?

CHAMPOUX:  Paul, that's a great question, and thank you for that. There is... you know, we are on record, and as General Craddock as SACEUR stated, you know, we do have insufficient force here. And it does lead us to tactics that we have to be selective and we have to prioritize how we're going to apply force.

While we're doing that, part of our objective is to build the capability and the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces, both the ANA, the ANP and the Afghan Border Police.

And we hope, over time, as they become a more effective force, and I think this operation... You know, a year ago I don't think the ANA could have planned or conducted this kind of operation. I mean, to me this is remarkable progress and exactly where we need to go and also exactly reinforces another one of General Craddock's comments when he talks about that, the need for these OMLTs. And that is the vehicle, the trainers, that help us, help the Afghans build this capability and capacity.

So it's a pretty logical assumption that, if you don't have everything that you need to do all that you need to do when you need to do it, you have to be selective, and you know, I guess whack-a-mole is one way to describe that, but I hope that answers your question.

Q: I'm trying to put this in some proportion, or perspective here. You said in your initial remarks, I think, that part of the ISAF force was detecting approaches to Musa Qala from Naw Zad, which is another major regional district centre and that sort of suggests you do not control Naw Zad. I'm wondering what proportion of Helmand do you control at this stage? Obviously when you want to move in somewhere I understand you can do that, but in real terms, again, especially given that the Taleban are getting stronger. And why I'm saying that is because if one looks at the drug figures and the assumption is there that the Taleban takes most of the money, clearly as drug poppy cultivation goes up they obviously take the proceeds and put them into use.

Thank you.

CHAMPOUX: You're absolutely right. The way we look at the battle space sometimes is in terms of our freedom of movement and freedom of maneuvering. And whenever the Afghan National Security Forces, primarily the ANA, or whenever ISAF wants to go into an area, we have total freedom of movement.

Naw Zad is heavily influenced by different factors. One of them are insurgents. The idea to isolate Naw Zad was to make sure that if there were insurgents that wanted to influence Musa Qala they wouldn't have the ability to do that.

That's not a recognition that it's in the Taleban's hands and that it's a security issue we need to address. The people in Naw Zad are addressing that. The governor of Helmand is addressing that. And the Afghan people are addressing the security issues in Naw Zad.

On counter narcotics I would challenge your view that the Taleban's getting stronger. The connection to narcotics, it helps enable them, but my view is that this has been a very, very successful campaign that we've had, at least since the time that I have personal observation of it. And I think that the reconciliation that's going on, the desire for the Taleban to want to talk to the government of Afghanistan, is a clear metric, a clear indicator of the progress that's being made.

They're not doing that because they feel they're in a position of strength, and as I stated earlier, when they mass, when they want to fight, they lose. And I think our efforts and the efforts of the Government of Afghanistan in terms of filling that void after that, by legitimate government, by meaningful development that shows the intent and the future of Afghanistan to its people, you know, help keep the influence of the Taleban at bay.

My thoughts.

Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's, again. Just to shift geographic focus and subject, Afghanistan-Pakistan border, could you bring us up to date what's going on there in terms of surveillance or this is a security operations prerogative, I imagine, for someone in your position. Is ISAF more heavily surveying that area, or have you moved any troops up, or are we still just doing these three-way political talks? Please give us an update there.

CHAMPOUX: There is a comprehensive approach, Brooks. One is the Tripartite Commission that you talked about, and that is the military of Afghanistan, the military of Pakistan, facilitated by the military... the ISAF military, do mil-to-mil discussions. And obviously the primary agenda for those is security and mutual concerns for security.

Our presence on the border has remained constant, both ISAF and Afghanistan's and Pakistan's and I think in some areas we're seeing a downward trend. It's probably too early to tell if that is the effect of what the Pakistan military has done in their operations in the FATA and their operations up in Swat right now. But we're seeing a kind of five or seven month downward trend on cross-border activity.

So a direct answer to your question, we have the same amount of capability on both sides of the border, and probably at times in the last six months we've seen an increased presence from the Pak military to try to address some of the security issues they've had on their side of the border.

We have a comprehensive approach and good dialogue from a military security perspective, and I think Afghanistan is building a capability that allows them to be a sovereign country and to protect its borders.

Q: A quick follow-up, but precisely how is the ANA trying to protect its side of the borders? Leaving aside the political mil talks. The talks are fine, but it boils down in the end to something physical that has to be on the border.

CHAMPOUX: Yes, that's a great point. There was a move afoot... there's the Afghan Border Police currently under the Minister of the Interior. There was some thinking at one point that because a lot of activity, just like some of the policing activity is paramilitary, that quite possibly the Afghan Border Police should come under the MOD.

To be honest with you I don't recall how far that thought has progressed, or if it's going to progress much further than some initial thinking.

But the Afghan National Army operates with ISAF. In fact, in RC East, in Paktia, there is an operation called Shamshad, which is another Afghan-planned, Afghan-led operation to do operations in the vicinity of the Bermel Valley which is one of the kind of infiltration lanes between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Before that they did an operation a little further north up in Khost, called Operation Attal, where they partnered with ISAF and they did a month-long operation, security and followed by key leader engagements and development and governance. And again, it was to show a presence in the vicinity to the border that could address some of the cross-border security threats and concerns.

And then there was another operation earlier that you might have heard about it. It was called Maiwand which was in Ghazni. Again, on one of those accesses that is historically used between Afghanistan and Pakistan that leads to the Ring Road.

So how is the ANA addressing that? Well, they're conducting operations that demonstrate both their capability and also put a presence proximate to the border that acts as a security mechanism.

Q: I have also some questions on the Afghan forces. You said the ANA has made remarkable progress over the past year and the operation in Musa Qala demonstrates that. I just wondered about the Afghan police. Have they made similar progress and have they the forces which are ready and able to move in to patrol the city, to look after the city?

And secondly, when you mention the question of hearts and minds, I just wondered whether the Afghan... you said the three Kandaks, were those Kandaks what was their... were they made up from people from that region with the same sort of ethnic and tribal background as the people in Musa Qala or are they coming in from another region?

And just one other question, you said there were mentoring units, OMLTs, with those Kandaks that moved in. Is there any idea of which countries those OMLTs were from and how many international personnel were involved in those units?

CHAMPOUX: Paul, I'm going to demonstrate how much of a (inaudible) officer I am. I didn't catch the first... I forgot your first question. I got the second two, but could you just readdress your first question, please.

Q: The first question was on the Afghan National Police, whether they've made similar progress to the army, and whether they have the forces which are ready and able to move into Musa Qala?

CHAMPOUX: Yes, probably because that was the hardest question. Maybe that's the reason I forgot it.

We clearly haven't had the progress with the ANP that we've had with the ANA. I should... and when I say we I'm not talking about ISAF, I'm talking about Afghanistan and their U.S. partners under a U.S. command that is trying to build that capability.

And as you know, under the Bonn Agreement, the United States has the responsibility for the ANA.

We have seen, and there are a lot of reasons for it. They're all reasonable reasons, but the growth of the ANP, some of it is that the threat that they've opposed, that they've had to deal with hasn't specifically addressed the capabilities that they had. And in a lot... in some of the areas, not a lot of the areas, in some of the areas there's very much a paramilitary threat and some of their training, most of their training was pure policing.

There is a new initiative afoot to all of our partners to attempt to build the capacity of the Afghan National Police, and there's a new, relatively new, initiative called the Focused District Development where they'll take some of the ANP out of selected districts, selected by the Minister of the Interior, to take these Afghan National Police offline, to bring them back, to re-vet them, to make sure that it's still the police that they want to be serving there. To retrain them based on the needs of that community. And then to reinsert them.

In the vacuum that's created by that you either have Afghan National Army that goes in, or a new type of MOI police called ANCOP, which is a gendarmerie or a carabinieri capability. A paramilitary force. They are fielding five of these battalions and so they'll go in, provide the security in that district as they take these Afghan National Police offline, retrain them, remand them, oftentimes, re-equip them, provide the kind of leadership that they're going to need and re-insert them.

You know, this is a long process. In my time here, since 2004 forward, you know, that I've seen remarkable progress with the ANA. I think it's going to take that amount of time to see the same kind of progress with the ANP.

They need the resources and they need this kind of attention.

The three Kandaks. They were all out of the 205th ANA Corps.  The 205th ANA Corps is... there are corps that are geographically assigned and the 205th Corps is geographically assigned to the Regional Command South. So that they generally lined up with the boundaries, the borders that we have for our Regional Command down south.

These three Kandaks came out of the 3rd Brigade of the 205th Corps. And really I said three Kandaks. There was just really a Kandak minus the first Kandak and then the second and third Kandaks. In each of those Kandaks there were about two companies per. So that's where they came from.

You asked about the makeup and ethnicity of the ANA. You know, one of the remarkable experiments of the Afghan National Army is that they purposely draw from all regions of the country. They are purposely multi-tribal, multi-ethnic and many would say that's one of its many strengths, that it is representative of all the people. It has a national look, and very much a national appeal and feel to it.

So up in that area you would have Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaris, you'd have everybody under the command of the brigade commander who's a Tajik, believe it or not. He's not Pashtun.

The OMLTs. The OMLTs were primarily Brits. There were some U.S. ETTs that work with the logistics, that provide some of the logistics. And were also able, this was a fairly comprehensive effort in terms of support, some of the ANA were partnered with U.S. special operating forces.

Q: Two questions, one a quick follow-up and another one. Firstly, following on from Paul's question about the ethnicity of the Kandaks that went into Musa Qala, I'm a little bit intrigued, because in September when I had the chance to be down there and talk to the commander of the 205th Corps, he said quite clearly that the policy of the Afghan government was to recruit the men they deploy in the south from the north and vice versa. He made that very clear.

That may not agree with NATO or ISAF strategy, but that is what he said, so I'm assuming that... I mean, am I correct in assuming that most of the men who went into Musa Qala were not Pashtun?

And secondly, he said the Taleban want to talk to the Afghan government and more so I assume since Musa Qala. Do you have any notion of which parts of the Taleban, what seniority, how much... what proportion of the movement may want to talk now? Thank you.

CHAMPOUX: To answer your first question, the goal of the ANA is to be multi-ethnic and I will check Ahto, and get back to you through our PAO to Peggy on exactly if... if there is a predominant ethnic group in that corps then I'll get back to you.

The policy is that it is kind of multi-ethnic. That's the going-in policy.

Who's talking about reconciliation? There are informal talks that I have with my counterparts that say that all types of leadership in the Taleban are talking to different and various members of the Afghan government. And some of these are from their tribes, their countrymen, and there's a... so it's easy to have that dialogue and they're having it.

Tactically, we also see when we go into certain areas the people that talk when we have our key leader engagements about people from that area that would come back, there is an Afghan program called PTS that addresses a reconciliation and ISAF supports that and when we come across lower level Taleban that want to reconcile then we get them in touch with the right people in the Afghan government to facilitate that.

Q: General, you said there was no significant fighting in the actual urban core of Musa Qala. What can you tell us about civilian casualties? Were there a significant number of civilian casualties during the fighting?

And also there were some reports of evidence uncovered of atrocities carried out by the Taleban in their final days there. Do you have any further details and any further information about that?

CHAMPOUX: Thanks, Paul. I heard the report too, but we have not been able to substantiate the report of Taleban atrocities.

There were no civilian casualties to the best... no reported civilian casualties to the best of my knowledge, or none reported yet in the actual seizures. I guess securing Musa Qala is a better term to use. So there are none reported.

We are looking into an event that occurred earlier on where some vehicles ran an ANA checkpoint and they were engaged and we believe there were some civilian casualties involved in that. That's the initial report.

You know, we take all these seriously and there's an investigation that is going into that. There were no ISAF forces right there during the engagement and so we're working through our Afghan counterparts and brothers to look into this.

But the initial reports were that they went through an escalation of force. They had some indication that they were going to run this and we don't know if the non-combatant casualties were the result of, you know, that they were in the vehicles against their will. We don't know what they were. But there were some reports and I believe the number was two, but again, I'll have to get back to... I'll have our people get back to Peggy on the numbers.

MODERATOR: I guess that on this last comment we're going to conclude our VTC today. I would like to thank you very much for all this time that you dedicated to us, as well as for this frank exchange of a number of issues.

Musa Qala obviously took the main part of it. I'm sure that this didn't come as a surprise to you. But we also touched upon other important issues as ANA, ANP,  border security and so on and so forth. And I guess that we all appreciate here the level of details and quality of information that you were ready to give us.

So thank you very much again. I don't know whether you're going to be in theatre for the coming weeks, but as we've reached the end of the year I would like to provide you all my best wishes for the year end and the coming new year.

CHAMPOUX: Peggy, thank you very much. It was my pleasure and I hope we can do it again. I'm always available to you and we remain very committed to what we're doing here, and I think we're encouraged by what we see and I think we're encouraged by what we see the Afghans, what they're willing and what they're capable of doing. And I'll extend your best wishes to them also, but thank you very much for those kind comments.