29 May 2008

Video Tele Conference

with Commander ISAF, General McNeill

MODERATOR 1: First of all I would like all of you to attend this round table from Brussels. We'll try to stick with our previous plan. Twenty minutes from Brussels and then 20 minutes from Kabul.

We'll start with a short opening statement from General McNeill completing 15 months as COMISAF, as ISAF commander. He will take some of his time to talk with you and this is one of the last opportunities that the media at Brussels have to talk with him in his capacity as ISAF commander.

Sir.

GENERAL DAN MCNEILL (Commander ISAF): Thank you, Carlos. I think I'm probably at about 16 months juncture, but that's not necessarily relevant to this. And I just want to lay out one ground rule for those that are here with us, this was brought in for you guys, coffee, tea, eat, whatever, help yourself.

Okay, and we're good...

(BREAK)

Are we back up? Let me... We just sort of warmed up here with a few questions and we've got one that probably is relevant to everybody there, and I'm going to lay the question out again. It has to do with Helmand and the fact that there are some significant operations there and I would point out, it's not just about the U.S. marines, it's also about the British, the Danes, the Estonians who are in the North, who are also doing their piece.

And the question evolved to okay, what next when the U.S. marines leave. And let's be clear, that the U.S. marines are here for a finite tour, and they indeed will leave, and that'll be sometime later this year.

So what do we do after that? Well, we're going to have made some gains, and I believe that we've already seen those. I think the article that Carlotta did that made the front page in the New York Times the other day probably a pretty good indicator that there is some gains by having that force there.

It was never our intent here to leave that additional force in Helmand province the whole time. In fact, I think I'm already quoted in some news reports as saying there's a task list for them. There is, indeed. The question is, how soon can they get to each task. But eventually, and this is the essence of the question, what do we do?

I think Dr. Gates, U.S. Secretary of Defence has been fairly clear. There is not a force right now to come in behind them. I can corroborate this on the basis of a job I held not quite two years ago where I was the Commander General of the U.S. Army's Force Generation Headquarters. It's just not a lot of options. But I'm fairly confident in saying, as I was trying to lead up to, the U.S. will try to find something to get here by next year.

So it will fall on me or my successor to move some forces around, to avail ourselves, with the help of other international entities, to hold onto the gains that we've made there, and right now we have a plan. And because our constituencies, the members of the Alliance, are not the only ones that read our newspapers and listen to our airings, because the insurgent does too, I'm not likely to give you great details on it. But I will say that I have a recommendation to leave to my successor and I think it mitigates some of the risks that are nuances in the question, and I think we probably can hold on to some of the things that we have done there.

A more relevant issue in this question is, what about the marines? And I'd like to point out we have a number of things we want them to get done before their time is up here. And these tasks are not just in Helmand. There are some other areas. And we fully intend to move them through that task list. The only question is time.

Now because of that, because there's something like a rapid response force, you can make the argument that they're a force here that's not doing the highest level of counterinsurgency operations, because they won't stay in one place long enough to make the right relationships and to exploit those relationships.

Be that as it may, the U.S. government has provided to them certain monies that they provide to other U.S. commanders here, for longer tours, to be used in on-the-spot reconstruction efforts, and I think you will see some pure counterinsurgency results, but yes, I agree if someone wanted to debate it they could probably sustain their argument that it's not the purest form.

But it's what we will do and I'll simply counter that argument by saying better than nothing.

MODERATOR 1: So shall I move to Brussels?

MCNEILL: I'm...

MODERATOR 1: Okay?

MCNEILL: I'm just here to respond (inaudible).

MODERATOR 1: Okay.

MODERATOR 2: General McNeill you will get the first question from Mark John from Reuters.

Q: Hello General. I have a question about the command in the south. I think you've favoured talks on ending the rotating command in the south, but it seems that the outcome of the discussion has been simply to extend the rotation from nine months through to 12 months. Are you satisfied with this result, or do you still feel that some of the problems that you've discussed are going to be there on the ground?

MCNEILL: Mark, at the risk of repeating something that I've already been quoted in the press as saying, what I have said is I favour talks by policy makers and politicians who make those kind of decisions. I don't. I simply make military recommendations.

But I stand fairly firm on my view that the Afghans and in their increased levels of capacity are somewhat... are from time to time befuddled and confused by the change in culture that occurs when one nation assumes command from another, and when you consider all these factors I think it's logical that there should be discussion, there should be debate by policy makers and politicians, about trying to further enable Afghan capacity by not confusing them and by getting something that stays fairly consistent.

The fact that I have said one nation sort of in the lead, if that would be the outcome of such discussion, by policy makers and politicians, does not obviate the need of having a multinational headquarters. So I would envision that a possible outcome, and mind you I'm just saying possible outcome, it's not my decision, would be that there's a headquarters in which the billets are typically aligned or identified with a certain country, so every country can queue it up, sometime in advance, pick the right people to put in those jobs, with the right experience level, get them through the necessary requisite training before predeployment, so you have a very efficient and a very effective headquarters.

But I put the emphasis mark on the fact that I acknowledge this is a decision for politicians and policy makers. I'm simply a soldier and I make my best military recommendation and I have made it. Over.

MODERATOR 2: I will go to Marie (inaudible) from the Italian News Agency ANSA.

Q: Hi. My question is about the flexibility. Italian government is looking to relaxing the caveat and I would like to know how is your feeling on that decision and generally speaking if you think that the caveats are a big obstacle to the flexibility in the use of the troops on the ground? Thank you.

MCNEILL: If indeed there is debate in the new African... or sorry, correction, new Italian government, about caveats or any other dimension of the Italian contribution, which is significant and we're grateful for it, in the Alliance here, I'm not privy to it. And I shouldn't be. It sounds to me like politics and I remind you that the NATO expectation of me is soldier and being soldiers first and foremost and stay in the military realm.

I've been very clear previously in the press about how I see caveats and I will once again point that out. Most advanced militaries and the members of this Alliance of 40 countries, couldn't reasonably be considered advanced militaries, have a body of lore and knowledge as to how they do things. This is typically called doctrine. Many of them base their doctrine on the works of a Prussian by the name of Clauswitz. Depending on how you interpret his works it... you can come up with a certain numbers of principles of war they're called, and I've seen various interpretations, as few of five of these, as few as 10.

I was in the U.S. military, officer professional education system, and we subscribe to nine. Here is the underlying factor of that: you take... if you consider these principles of war when you plan, resource and prosecute military operations and you do not violate them in egregious ways you probably are in the 99 percentile of having a successful military operation.

So what does this have to do with the caveats? The caveats impinge upon our ability here to correctly apply the principles of war in our planning and resourcing and prosecution of military operations. Be that as it may, I understand the difficulties and the challenges of commanding an alliance. First anybody who joins an alliance has sent a clear signal that they will subscribe to a unified or a collective objective. But anybody who joins an alliance or simply or usually represents a body in which there is a constituency, and constituencies imply political context. And so each member of the alliance has its own national objections that tend to ensue from consideration of political context.

Sometimes, for members of the alliance, the default is first to national objections as opposed to collective objectives. It's a fact. I mean, I think Eisenhower dealt with it in the Second World War. I think you could find any one of a number of officers who were in the Balkans to say they dealt with it.

It's just the way it is. So rather than bang my head against the wall I've decided we'll see what the art of the possible was, and there have been occasions in which we thought it prudent, if a force here with a particular caveat against a certain type of operation or a certain locale for operations, if we requested of the leadership of that force, Minister of Defence, Chief of Defence, or what have you, that could, for this time, they grant an exception and we have done that on a number of occasions.

And if you were using baseball metaphor we'd have a pretty good batting average. It's about .500. But we're not using...we're not playing baseball here. We're doing military operations. That's not a very good average. But it's better than getting nothing at all.

And so for those who have, upon our request, assent to allowing an accommodation within their caveat I am truly grateful. It has been helpful. To those who have not I just simply ask them to reconsider and this is a credible force here, it could be made much more credible if it did not have some of the restraints that exist. Over.

MODERATOR 2: And now we go to James Neuger from Bloomberg.

Q: Yeah, General, would just like to follow-up that question by asking what particular missions or tasks the Italians would be best suited for in a non-combat or combat role in the south? And then relatedly, can you update us on the French deployment to the east where things stand with that, when will they go in, where precisely, give us a sense of what their mission would be? Would it include hunting for Bin Laden?

MCNEILL: Thank you and just so we make sure we get the record straight, I don't think I mentioned anything about the Italians or about the south in my response, nor about any caveats the Italians might have. But the Italians are doing us good service with commanding Regional Command West, mostly with their Spanish brothers, but there are a number of other brothers out there. It's a huge area. I think it's the second biggest Regional Command we have in terms of geography, but it's one of the smallest forces we have.

So clearly we need a little bit of a change out there. We need more international force, we need more indigenous force, or we need more of both. The good news is we don't have that many spots of insurgency out there, and I think we've managed what we've had thus far.

But as... again, not to get into politics, I hope that if there is, in fact, debate and discussion in the new Italian government they will consider the status of their force, the allies that are out there helping them, and there will be dialogue and perhaps action to increase the size of the force, to increase their capacity, maybe not by adding additional humans, but by additional machines, such as flying machines, or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance… systems.

The second part of your question is our French brothers are not alien to this conflict or to the geography here. They have been here before. They were here as recently as late as 2006 with their special operations forces. We don't see that there's going to be... and they've got a battle group here in the north... I'm sorry, in the capital. They've actually, in my time here, had a commander in the capital and they're very capable and they've helped us a whole lot.

We have had their planners here and we think everything is on track for introducing their battle group. We have agreed on a... at least at this level, on a certain geography, where they would like to operate. They think that geography fits their situation better. We're pretty much in agreement with that, so we see that all on track. And sometime later this summer we think they'll be here and we don't see a whole lot of bumps in the roads. We think that's gonna work very well.

Did I get that question completely answered?  

MODERATOR 2: Yeah?

Q: Could you just give us a sense of what their mission will be? Will they be assigned specific tasks and would that include hunting for Bin Laden?

MCNEILL: Well, I give you the same response that I'd give anybody who poses that latter question to me. I don't have any compelling evidence that Bin Laden is alive. I don't have any compelling evidence that he's dead either. I do not spend a lot of time thinking about Bin Laden. A more pressing issue for me is to take on these terrorists and extremists that are inside of Afghanistan trying to destabilize and make more insecure the situation here.

And I think it's safe to say that our French brothers are prepared to take on those terrorists and extremists that are in the battle space which they will occupy. They expect to do so shoulder to shoulder with their Afghan brothers and I believe that will be a credible force and where they are I think the results will be effective.

MODERATOR 2: I have now Nikolas Busse from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Q: General, could I ask you two questions, if I may? First of all, the German deployment in the north, you know the political debate about moving some parts of that to the south or that the Germans should get more involved in the south. From your experience, from military point of view, how do you view that debate?

And secondly, after 16 month that you're leaving now, what's your most important insight? What does Afghanistan need? What's sort of to speak your legacy? What would you like to let the public know?

MCNEILL: Nothing that's been done here on my watch has been done by me as an individual. I typically show up for work, there's a great team here. They get the hard work done, so I'm not likely to address a legacy. I'm coming up on four years as an American officer. What I've done in four years I'll let it speak for itself at my retirement ceremony. I hope you don't think I'm being evasive, I'm just not into self-aggrandisement.

The... let me get reor... get your first part to me again and let me get my mind reordered here? The first part of your... I'm sorry.

There has been debate in Germany and it's not new. I mean, it's been, I think, fairly consistent. I would take the opportunity to pay respects to the leadership of Chancellor Merkel because it was fairly intense, the debate that was ongoing last year and I saw in one newspaper, I think it was about September, the results of a poll that said a huge amount of the German plebiscite was adamantly opposed to any Bundeswehr presence here. Yet if I remember correctly, Chancellor Merkel ushered through the Bundestag a vote that came out in the 70 percent range for the extension of the ISAF mandate. Turned it again and even had a few percentage points higher in the Bundestag vote to extend the OEF mandate.

So yes, there is political debate, but presently the leadership of the Deutsche Republik seems to be moving forward with things.

The north, like the west, does not possess a lot of spots of insurgency. It has maybe four or five where the insurgents could operate. Now the north, like much of the rest of the country, does have an absence of rule of law and does have criminality, a lot of it based on the illicit narcotics business, some of it based on former power brokers, the so-called old warlords, trying to hang on to some base of support.

And indeed, it's a huge area in the north. Nine provinces and given a term of reference, as I've said before, you can take Kosovo to scale. I don't think it'll cover one of those provinces in the north.

There are about 3,700, 3,800 soldiers in the north under the NATO flag, and simply contrast that with Kosovo, which has about 16,000 the last time I looked. So just... instead of being critical of what the German effort is here, I just want to point out that it's good to have them in the north. It's good to have them doing what they're doing, to keep a lot of that area steady while some of the rest of us work the work we have to do in some areas that are much more challenging and much more difficult.

If, in the political debate, in Germany, the leadership and the people of Germany thought it was in their best interest to introduce a force from the Bundeswehr in some other regions… in Afghanistan, I think all of the Alliance would welcome that, and I suspect I'd be the cheerleader leading all the Alliance saying that's very welcome. But it's an issue for the German people to decide and for their government, if there is a decision to act on.

In the meantime I'm simply going to offer my gratitude for what I have and I'll do my dead level best to lead it in ways that produces the maximum effect from it. And right now in the north we seem to be doing okay.

Hope we can, with this small, under-resourced force hold on to what we've got and help the Afghans take it forward.

By the way you didn't ask the question, but I will point out that the Afghan 209th Corps, although one of the smaller man corps is doing some very good work up there, very good corps commander who understands what's at stake, has some fairly good tactical skills and he moves out smartly. He knows where the risks are, he knows what he has to do.

I think you had a piece in the middle that I let get away? Did I get it all?

Q: Yeah, I just wanted to know what the most important lesson is you drew from what you did. It's not so much about your personal legacy, but what you think what Afghanistan needs.

MCNEILL: First let me say that there is an expression, a tribute to a long-past American president, Franklin Roosevelt that I thought of often here. Never take counsel of your fears. Had I taken counsel of my fears on the basis of what I was reading in the newspapers and seeing on the television screen, or hearing on the radios, I think I would have been paralyzed and I wouldn't have done anything here.

I think the NATO Alliance is far more resilient than people realize and the fact that through a tough year on the battlefield last year it has, in fact, growing and it's going to grow a little more before the end of this year. So I suspect that long after I'm gone I will remember the words of Mr. Roosevelt, don't take counsel of your fears.

But there's a separate issue about... you're fundamentally asking me what troubles me the most as I leave this country? Well, certainly the fact that many people look at Afghanistan and consider it only in the context of Afghanistan and fail to take note that there are six neighbours here, and the neighbours have to be equally as interested as the Afghan people are in security and stability inside of Afghanistan, because these nations are so closely tied, at least five of them, and I can make the argument on the sixth, that anything that's not well in Afghanistan, likely could spill over in the portions of their own country.

So when those people who try to... I read or hear of their views on Afghanistan, and they do it only in the context of Afghanistan, I know they're going to opine incorrectly about 99 percent of the time.

The neighbours not only have a right to expect security and stability inside of Afghanistan, they have a duty to help with it. And we need the neighbours to not only acknowledge that, but to show actions, that they genuinely support it and believe it.

Secondly, there are probably five provinces in the south in which the illegal cultivation of poppy and the narcotics business that ensues from that, can be argued to be a far greater threat in those areas than the insurgent. In fact, I think it's as simple as in portions of those five provinces the insurgency is illegal narcotics. Illegal narcotics is the insurgency.

So what do we do about that? Well, the NATO mandate is fairly clear as to what we can do in the counternarcotics business, and we stick with the NATO mandate.

The Afghans have what most of the international community agrees is a well-thought-out and well-defined counternarcotics policy. It has eight pillars. And by the way eradication is only one of those eight pillars.  But the Afghans, in my view, must prosecute this strategy better. Not just eradication, all eight pillars. They must do a better job of prosecuting.

In effect, I think the Afghan government must stand up and say presently much of our country is defined by the illegal narcotics business, and it's a negative definition in every trait and characteristic and we're no longer gonna stand for it.

Then I think those of us in the international community have to acknowledge that this is a fledgling government of self-determination, with processes and systems and institutions largely destroyed in 30-some-odd years of war, and it will be a while before they have the requisite number of petty bureaucrats to make things work routinely, on a routine basis. We'll have to help them do that.

When they have taken their stand and rejected this illegal narcotics business, and I think we, again, have a duty to help make that stick and to help them prosecute these eight pillars. But that's what I see at least in one region to be a troubling dimension.

And then lastly, the NATO mandate has said that we should operate here in three lines of effort: Security. We're doing well there I believe. Reconstruction. We're doing our part, but that's something that we might want to consider with the advent of the newly-enabled UN Secretary General Special Representative, maybe that doesn't fit as well with the NATO piece here. Maybe someone else should have that piece. And then lastly, enabling governance. And as I look back over what's occurred here in 16 months we've had good rates of progress in at least two of those lines of effort, but in the enabling of governance I think we have had a little slower rate of progress here. I believe there are tactical commanders working out in the field at the hamlet, village, district, provincial levels, have done reasonably well at that. I think all of us trying to help out at the national level have probably had less progress.

MODERATOR 1:  May I, sir?

MODERATOR 2: (Inaudible)...

MODERATOR 1: Government, (inaudible)... too fast I understand. We will continue here from Kabul, okay? Thank you.

MCNEILL: Okay, who's up?

Q: General, in the east of the country you've talked often about the pride you've taken in the efforts of U.S. forces out there, particularly in relation to reconstruction work. When you look at the south do you think that those forces operating in the south have enjoyed the same success and the same resources perhaps as troops operating in the east?

MCNEILL: Tom, let me point out one thing you used the term pride. I don't think you'll find any quotes which I've ever used, and I do not allow myself to be beguiled by false emotions and I think that's exactly one. But I have said very clearly in previous interviews that as I look across the battle-space, all of Afghanistan, that counterinsurgency doctrine in purest form has likely been practiced in the U.S. sector in a regional commandies. And take note of the fact I said U.S. sector. There are other allies in that sector. This is not solely a use effort. I think it's been practiced there better than it has some other places.

You'd like to slew this to the south and I'll simply point out there has been effort in the south and there will continue to be effort. Just last year I saw a listing of the countries of the world over the last several years who have enjoyed U.S. Agency for International Development largesse. Number five in that ranking was not a country, it was Helmand province. That's how much U.S. money has gone in that area.

Well, our British colleagues have put a lot of pounds sterling in it as well. So it's going... it's clearly going in there, and you can see it when you travel down there. You can see it in roads and you can see it in a number of other things.

But yet those reconstruction dollars and euros are in a tough competition.  And the competition is with the illegal cultivation of poppy. It is not only a corrupting thing that affects governments, it makes security more difficult, because I'm fairly well condensed there have been... or convinced there have been times in which we were engaged in combat and it might not have been insurgent ideologues, it might have been insurgent narco people. I'm fairly convinced there have been some occasions of that.

But the thing that undercuts us most is this money that we put down there in the way of reconstruction. Because a number of the Afghans who are involved in illegal narcotics, they turn their head away from the legitimate projects because this plant, this insidious plant is so beguiling and in the money that it's able to generate.

But it is not a way for this country to move forward. Literally and figuratively it poisons the children of this country. We had an aerial medevac last month. An Afghan child that we were called upon to help out, that the child was cranky, or had colic or had some malady and the family tried to calm this child down with opium. That's absurd. I mean, I can see that it's in some medicines, but... I think the Afghans need to understand the risk that they're at with this plant left unchecked.

Q: Could I follow up on that? Why... could you talk more about counterinsurgency, why in the east it's really worked, what it's taught you that needs to be done in the south? Do they need actually a firmer hand or a better practice as the second phase or holding, you know, why is Panjwaii still problematic two years later?

MCNEILL: Right. First, let me say that the suggestion, or the nuance, Carlotta, that there's a more firm hand in the east as opposed to the south. I don't think the facts support that. I think there have been some... what you would use the term firm military operations that have occurred in the south that have been very effective.

The difference that I see that has occurred in the east, again, and I want to be sure everybody captures this. U.S. is not the only force in the east. There are a number of umbrellas in the Alliance in the east. But the U.S. forces are there for the lengths of time they're there on the basis of a decision made early last year by the U.S. Secretary of Defence, in which he said we're going to extend the forces presently there, in his tour length from 12 to 15 months and until we say otherwise, any force, any maneuver force that comes in will be there 15 months and we're going to increase the amount of U.S. force in the east.

It went roughly double what it had been all through 2006.

So a properly resource force, one that's enabled not just by aggregate numbers of soldiers, but by the right kinds of technology, flying machines, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance apparatus has proven to be incredibly effective. And it's why I continue to say that this is an unresourced force and it needs more maneuver units, it needs more flying machines, it means more intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance apparatus. And I'm not just focused on the U.S. sector. I'm talking about across the country.

The other piece is, again, I do not try to prescribe to the various nations what sort of tour lengths their forces ought to have here. It's not really my business. Maybe SACEUR would want to opine something on that, but it's not my business. I'm glad to have them for whatever length of time I get them. But you can see a clear difference in the U.S. forces who stayed and what they were able to do in 15 months.

Now I don't recommend it continue, even for the U.S., and in fact the President of the United States has made a decision; it will not continue past August of this year because every country has to be interested in the health of what for most nations in the Alliance they have a volunteer force. And you've got to sort of slew to that if you want to keep a volunteer force. But in those 15 months those U.S. soldiers and their leadership were able to establish and maintain relationships with the terrain, with the indigenous people and their leadership, and with the enemy and fully exploit those relationships. You can see a clear difference there.

Maybe one of the more powerful things is when I say they practice counterinsurgency doctrine in the purest forms was the money given to tactical commanders, courtesy of the largess of the U.S. Congress. Money that was bureaucratically unencumbered, so that as a part of their security operations and their outreach to leadership, they were able to right on the spot affect reconstruction projects that answered genuine need of the Afghan people, not just once. It's powerful.

There have been a number of the Alliance ambassadors outside of the U.S. ambassador who've been out there and have seen it, and have come back to their own governments, to me, even back up to Brussels have said this is really powerful.

But it's a combination of all of those things. Aggregate force numbers, force capability and enablers. Money, you can even throw in pre-deployment training. We go to great pains and expense back in the United States before a unit comes over here or a unit in Europe. To put them through not only tactical training but emersion in the culture, in the how to go about engagements with the indigenous people to include their leadership. And the effects are rather profound.

I think that most people agree that if you take governors by region and you lump them into a cohort that are affected, you probably have more affected governors in the east than you do in any other regions. It's not because the Afghan government was biased of which put governors had put out there, it's because a basic tenet to U.S. tactical operations have been to support the local leadership up to provincial level. And it's been effective.

MODERATOR 2: Mr. Pollack(sp) from (inaudible)

Q:  You say it's been successful in the east, but there's been a vast increase in the number of incidents in the east. The level of violence in the east is higher now than it was a year ago.

MCNEILL: Check.

Q: How can you say you've been successful in encountering insurgency when the insurgency is actually killing more American soldiers?

MCNEILL: Well I think you know the answer to that question, Allestor(sp), but I'll give you the answer anyway. You know it's because of dysfunction on the other side of the border. And if there's no pressure on these extremists and these terrorists on the other side of the border, and there appears to be a lack of pressure on them right now, you also know that we keep a measurement of what occurs, and you know of a time when there have been dial over peace deals. The incidents have gone up. What you're seeing right now is the effects of no pressure on these extremists and insurgents on the other side of the border.

Q: I think you've touched upon this already, General, the question… two questions, they're short ones. One is the duration of deployment. (Inaudible) two months down to 12 months after all this. The British have done six months… (inaudible) does four months at the moment, and so forth. You know in the discrepancy in the sheer amount of time and since you've been saying in the most violent sector, and I appreciate you saying it's entirely up to individual countries, but there's a debate of sorts going on now in the military and whether or not that time should be extended. And I'm just wondering if you could give your thoughts on that. And secondly, just clarifying following up an earlier question, am I right in thinking that the 24th Mune(sp) will be replaced by U.S. forces as far as…

MCNEILL: First question is my experience with my dear colleagues, the British over many years I've come to one conclusion. They're the world's best debaters, absolutely bar none. In fact it's a treat for me when I'm back in the United States to see the parliamentary debates that occur once a week on CSPAN. And I suspect there is a rather significant debate going on right now back in London about the context of the British force here, and tour lengths and size and a whole bunch of other things. And since I've already conceded that they're the best debaters I've ever known, why should I enter into debate? They will get it solved. I simply stand on the comment I made, I think this for each nation to decide the health of its volunteer force, and tour lengths plays to that directly. Nobody knows that better than a U.S. army force or a general right now. Tour lengths are… they count, and in the U.S. we got a force, an army force that's largely a merit. I think probably in the neighbourhood of 55 percent today. And sometimes the soldier himself or herself doesn't make the decision, somebody else makes it. You better be accommodating decision-makers in this process. I would guess that that's been part of the debate back in the U.K., and I think they'll all get it figured out.

And what I said was I think Dr. Gates has been very clear that there is nothing to go in behind the 24th Mune. But I also predict that in the debate that is presently in the United States about Afghanistan, that likely some force will be found. It may not be in here to be right on the spot when the 24th Mune leaves. I think I said that I'm gonna bet that sometime next year, maybe in the spring there will be more U.S. force that finds its way to the south.

MODERATOR 1: Let's go for the last question.

MCNEILL: I thought this was going to (inaudible).

Q: So do you expect seven…?

MCNEILL: Okay, whatever.

Q: About the concern going on in Pakistan, should we expect an increase in (inaudible) in the actions on the other side of the border?

MCNEILL: Well… there was… quite a bit of insurgent activity in Pakistan last year. We all know that. We all saw it play out in the newspapers. A huge bike and suicide bombers, the red mosque event, 250 some-odd Pakistanis, soldiers captured by about 20 insurgents. Some forts laid siege to… I mean, it had a very difficult year. And I think there in Pakistan, and my connection is military to military and I think in the Pakistani military they know that this is an issue, that they have to take (inaudible) and they have to do it in a way that is consistent with counterinsurgency doctrine. But they've also just gone through some rather huge changes within their government, and I think still trying to find their way to get something coalesced and get it congealed and to where there is a forward movement in the business of governance.

So I'm optimistic that all this at some point will come together and will translate itself into better military operations. On the opposite side of the border, military operations that are discussed, coordinated with military operations on this side of the border so that the effect is not the sum of the parts taken individually but it's more synergy. And the way to get that done is through the Tripartite committee meetings. And we've had some difficulty here having three meetings postponed over the last two or three months, but I'm confident that the Pakistanis soon will be able to find time on their agenda to get this back on schedule, and not likely in the few days I have remaining, but I have every expectation that my successor will be part of that soon, and I'm hopeful for the results that will come from that.

MODERATOR 1: There is a change in the plans so we can some more questions.

MODERATOR 2: Can we take… can we have some questions from Brussels?

MCNEILL: Please, please. And do not be concerned about the sound in the background. We're going through a normal weekly test of our systems and processes.

MODERATOR 2: So I’m going to give…

MCNEILL: Kabul is not burning or blowing up as near as we know.

MODERATOR 2: Paul Aames(sp) from Security Press.

Q: Hello General, it's Paul Aames here from Associated Press. General, I'd like to ask you about cluster bombs. As you know several of the allies signed up I think yesterday to this agreement in Dublin, banning those weapons so the United States didn't… is that gonna have any impact on the operation in Afghanistan? To what extent do you use cluster bombs there? And more generally with your line of experience as a soldier, where do you stand on the debate on cluster bombs?

MCNEILL: I'm not aware that we've used cluster-mmunition here in Afghanistan and I'll go back and check my traps again, but I'm not aware that we've used one.

I'm not gonna get into the politics of negotiations on… on various ammunitions, it's really not my business. As a soldier, yes I have had previous experience with cluster bombs, and I know used in the right set of conditions and in the right sort of way, it's a weapon that can produce some desirable effects. On the other hand we find ourselves here in a different kind of fight, and I'm not sure that as a tactical commander here I'm likely to ever call for the use of cluster bombs. For… all I know is what I read in the newspapers about Dublin, and I don't know who is for and who's against and who's thrown in and who's not. But the political leadership of the various countries who are confreres in this, I'm confident they'll work it out the best way. And in the meantime whatever we have within our repertoire, whatever we have that accommodates the requirements, rules, the constraints, the restraints, the law of armed conflict, we'll use it where we need to use it and we'll apply it in the right sort of way. But I want to emphasize that I'm not aware that we've used a cluster-mmunition here in Afghanistan.

MODERATOR 1: Carmen, the floor is open for one more question.

Q: This is Mark John from Reuters again. General, I just wanted to follow up on the point you made about the level of resourcing of the ISAF operation. Because when you make the comparison as you did with troop entity levels in Kosovo, for example, that would seem to imply that you don't even think that the levels of resources at the moment is even anywhere near the correct ballpark for what it should be. Is that correct? Are we still looking at essentially small incremental increases or would you… are you looking at something much, much bigger than what we've seen so far?

MCNEILL: Mark, I'm gonna give you a long answer, it's probably more than you bargained for, but I think we need to understand all the dimensions of it. First, there's a tenant in counterinsurgency doctrine that says the best force to prosecute counterinsurgency operations is indigenous security force. It even goes further to say that more times than not, indigenous police is the force of choice. We find ourselves here with a situation in which the indigenous force, while it is gaining in capacity has not reached the levels of capacity or even adequate numbers that it should. So that translates into… what does really ISAF do? Well ISAF buys space and time in my view for the development of Afghan national security forces with the expectation that when they're there, they take over responsibility for their security and stability, and in the time that ensues after that while they get the fullest development of capacity, that we're probably here in lesser in numbers and a different role, we're just simply backing them up.

I'm gonna quote to you an absurd figure, but it has some basis, and the absurd figure is better than 400… well better than 400,000. If you take U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine, and many countries subscribe to similar tenets, then there's a certain (inaudible) of question that has several unknowns, and it allows you to compute what force do you need to use to prosecute counterinsurgency operations? Afghanistan is half again bigger than Iraq for example. Has a population estimated to be three, five million more than Iraq, and we can't be absolutely sure 'cause I think the last legitimate census was done here in the decade of the 60's. But most entities estimate it's probably a figure that makes it three to five million more than Iraq. You know the size of the force we have here compared to Iraq. It's not nearly in that ballpark. You also know because it's reported weekly what's the size of the Afghan security forces? It's not in the ballpark with what's in Iraq, so right away you can stop there and say game over, we've won the army… we're an under-resourced force. But don't depend just on me to say it. Go back in the press reports of the last eight months or so. Here are some of the people you will find that says it's an under-resourced force. Secretary-General of NATO, SACEUR, head of the NATO military committee, and by my last count about eight minister or secretaries of defence, so there's no news here. It's an under-resourced force.

What does that mean? It doesn't mean that we cannot get the job done. But it clearly implies it will take it… it will take us longer to get it done. If you consider that there are three major wills at play here, and I deem those to be the wills of governments and peoples of Europe, governments and peoples of North America, and the Afghan people. And if you accept that wills typically are perishable, they have a shelf-life, then you can say we're in somewhat of a race here, chronological race, I don't know. By the way there's a lot of debate about this and a lot written in the press, but for my money maybe the most resilient will is that of the Afghan people. But at any rate, so you must presume that we're on some kind of a timeline here. Nobody exactly knows what that is. At the rate of progress we have now, we know it's gonna… you know, it's somewhere out there, and we've got all our pieces and marks on the wall. You've got the UN Millennium plan that I think plays out to somewhere around 2017 or 2020. You've got the U.S.-led coalition Sisticka that is predicting about 2013. You have a fully enabled Afghan national army and the expectation of the police institution will be closing pretty soon, after that if not in the year of 2013.

So you have some expectation that there's a point in time that at least in the Alliance we can begin a debate about okay, here is more greatly enabled Afghan security force, and why do we need the same size force that we have now, and in fact does it even need to grow past that point? And the answers to both those questions are fairly obvious.

I have said, and I stand by what I'm saying about the basis in the progress I see in the army, what we're just beginning to see in the police over the last six or so months, I think we're gonna hit a point somewhere in the year 2011 in which the Afghans have the capability and capacity to take responsibility for most of the battle-space here. That does not say game over, pack up and leave. It also doesn't say the insurgency is over. It just says that we will default back to an underlying tenet in good counterinsurgency doctrine which says the best force to use is indigenous security force.

They'll still need some help. Because on the timeline what comes to past in 2013 is the fullest development of the Afghan air corps, and they need that to move themselves around the battlefield, to when they get in the real tough fights to have the right kind of help coming from the air. So I think that somewhere in between where we are now with this under-resourced force and that absurd figure that would be produced by the counterinsurgency doctrine (inaudible), lies the true answer. And it's going to be a dynamic figure because it will be true today but with the increased capacity of the Afghans, it will be less true tomorrow, meaning you can have less international force each day you increase the capacity of the Afghans.

And in fact I don't think that if we got the right kind of force here today, the aggregate number is nearly as important as having the right capability. And there is no question, as I mentioned to a previous question that we are short manoeuvre forces, flying machines and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance systems. We will get the job done. You have to accept that with an under-resourced force, it's likely to take longer. And the risk in the fact that it takes longer means that those perishable wills, one or more of them could indeed go asunder.

MODERATOR 1: With this we end up our round table. General McNeill, many thanks for sharing your views with us. And I also like to thank all of you for being present and for your questions.

Good morning Brussels, good afternoon here for you in Kabul.

MODERATOR 2: Many thanks.

MODERATOR 1: Thanks very much for coming.