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Barack Obama: Press Briefing by Bruce Riedel, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and Michelle Flournoy on the New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan
Barack
Barack Obama
Press Briefing by Bruce Riedel, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and Michelle Flournoy on the New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan
March 27, 2009
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Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building
Room 450

11:10 A.M. EDT

MR. HAMMER: Good morning, everyone. We had a little change in the programming note, but we do have Bruce Riedel and Michelle Flournoy, who both were very much a part of this whole review. Bruce will start off with a few remarks, and then we'll open it to Q&A. This is on the record.

MR. RIEDEL: Thanks very much, Mike.

You've heard what the President had to say, so I'm not going to go into repeating his remarks. Let me just open with a few process questions in order to put this in perspective, and then I might hit on a couple of highlights, and then as quickly as possible we want to get to your questions.

This review builds on three previous reviews -- one done by General Lute at the National Security Council, one done by Admiral Mullen at the Joint Staff, and a third by General Petraeus at CENTCOM. We took all of the results of those reviews into consideration right from the beginning.

We also did a lot of reaching out to experts outside of the U.S. government in think tanks across America and in South Asia, as well. We consulted very extensively on the Hill right from the beginning. We've had intense series of meetings here at the White House with Speaker Pelosi and others in order to hear what they had to say and to get their input into this process.

It has been thoroughly vetted through the interagency process at all levels, including the deputies committee and the principals committee of the National Security Council. And of course, we've reached out to our commanders in the field including General Petraeus, and our diplomats in the field including Ambassador Patterson. Not the least -- and I really want to emphasis -- we've been engaged in extensive consultations with our allies, starting, first and foremost, with our partners, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In February we hosted delegations from both countries here at the White House for very intense conversations about the problems they face and to hear what was on their minds. And then Secretary Clinton hosted a trilateral meeting at the State Department in order to bring us all together. And as you notice from the President's speech, this trilateral diplomacy will be an ongoing feature of this policy.

Of course, we've also reached out to our NATO partners and to our non-NATO partners who have troops on the ground in Afghanistan. The Vice President made two trips to Europe specifically to reach out to NATO and the other partners in Brussels in order to get their views. Ambassador Holbrooke briefed the North Atlantic Council last week on where we were in this process, and the President this week met with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

This has been a very intense and ambitious and aggressive 60-day effort to reach out and to make sure that we've gotten everyone's views into it. Next week, of course, the President will discuss this at the NATO summit in Strasbourg and also at the EU summit in Prague.

I'll just put one or two of the key headlines, I think, on the table here. I think, as you heard, the President wants to make sure that this mission has a focus and a clear, concise goal. And that goal, as he spelled it out, is to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda, and to ensure that their safe havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan cannot threaten the United States anymore.

As he put it, al Qaeda has succeeded in regenerating itself over the last seven years, and it is again a threat to the United States homeland and to American influence around the world and to our allies around the world.

Al Qaeda operates within a very sophisticated syndicate of terrorist organizations in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I'd be happy to try to explain that more to you in questions and answers.

Thus far, our policy sees Afghanistan and Pakistan as two countries, but one theater of operations for our diplomacy, and one challenge for our overall policy. As the President laid out, we're going to engage intensively with the Pakistani government. We have very concrete proposals for increasing economic assistance to Pakistan, proposals that have already been put forward by the Congress. We're also looking at what we can do on the military side.

On the Afghanistan side, the President has resourced fully the requirements of the mission -- not just on the military side, but I want to emphasize on the civilian side, as well. Now, for the first time, we are providing the kind of civilian support that this mission has always needed.

Lastly, we're going to engage in very intensive regional diplomacy with all the key stakeholders in the region in order to make sure we do everything we can to enhance security and stability in the broader region and isolate al Qaeda and the militants as much as possible.

You've heard the President, you've had the chance to speak to many of us on other occasions, so I think at this point the most useful thing to do is open it up to your questions, and we'll be happy to respond.

Sir, you were first.

Q: Should we see this as an abandonment or shift from the counterinsurgency mission that had been undertaken in Iraq and to a lesser degree in Afghanistan, shifting from that to a much more narrowly focused counterterror mission?

MR. RIEDEL: Absolutely not. I'll let Michelle talk a little bit more about counterinsurgency, but I think there is nothing minimalist about this approach.

MS. FLOURNOY: If anything, I would say what we're doing is stepping up to more fully resource a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan that is designed to first reverse Taliban gains and secure the population, particularly in the most contested areas of the south and east; second, provide the Afghan national security forces with the training and the mentoring they need to expand rapidly and to take -- ultimately take the lead in providing security for their nation; and finally, to provide a secure environment that will enable governance and development efforts to take root and grow.

So this is a -- it has as its goal disrupting and defeating al Qaeda and its associates, and preventing Afghanistan and Pakistan -- preventing Afghanistan from returning to become a safe haven. But it is very much a counterinsurgency approach towards that end.

Q: Can I follow up on that, just to clarify? Is there an increase in the U.S. military or intelligence community conducting counterterrorism operations, going after high-value targets like al Qaeda or their sympathizers in Afghanistan or in Pakistan? Is that a part of this strategy?

MS. FLOURNOY: The counterterrorism piece remains a central part of this mission, and I certainly believe we are going to be increasing our intelligence focus in this theater, and as opportunities arise that may increase the pace of operations, as well.

Q: Is there anything specific about going after bin Laden?

MR. RIEDEL: I don't think that we're going to get into specifics about intelligence operations here. I think the President said very clearly during the campaign, and you heard him say it again today, that if we have actionable intelligence about senior targets, we will take the appropriate action.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about how you envision reducing the safe havens in Pakistan? You talked a little bit about the broad strategy versus Pakistan, but I don't understand how that will shrink or reduce the safe havens over time.

MR. RIEDEL: I think this -- the short answer to that is that the combination of military operations, aggressive military operations on the Afghan side, and working energetically with the Pakistani government to shut down these safe havens, creates the synergy which we hope will then lead to their destruction.

Q: When the President gave his first press conference about a month back, he said that the central government of Afghanistan was detached from the rest of the country. What is envisioned -- what is within your ability to do about undetaching it, because if it remains detached, how can you implement these programs, and how can you do anything about the corruption, which the President spoke about a little bit but didn't really detail how you address it?

MR. RIEDEL: I want to bring Richard into this part of the conversation, because he's had the distinction of having more opportunity to deal with them than Michelle and I have.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I'm sorry, I thought this was Bruce's press conference. Sorry I'm late. (Laughter.) Can you just -- I know, I really apologize for being late. Could you just repeat the question in a -- this is something to do with corruption, which, by the way, I'm totally against. (Laughter.) But could you just clarify what the question was?

Q: Well, the President himself said that the central government in Afghanistan was detached from the rest of the country. So I want to know what in this new strategic review will address that issue. What is within the power of the United States and NATO to make the government less detached, and how does that play into the whole issue of corruption, which the President talked about briefly today but didn't give any details on how you actually deal with corruption?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: First, let me just say that President Karzai has called and is trying to reach me now, and I may have to leave, take the call. But he sent in word already that he watched the speech live on CNN from Kabul, that he was extremely gratified by it, and that he will be issuing his own statement of support in -- quickly, but that may divert me.

I would just point you to the fact that no American chief executive has spoken about corruption this way ever before in open. Isn't that a fair statement, Bruce? And on the way out, a former Assistant Secretary of State, who many of you know, but I better not give his name, since he isn't -- I was going to say it -- with vast experience --

Q: Is he a big guy? (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: They're all big guys. (Laughter.) He said -- he said to me, I've been waiting six years to hear a speech like that, and the emphasis on corruption is essential. You've all been reporting it for years. We view it as a cancer eating away at the country and it has to be dealt with. And obviously we're not going to lay out how we're going to deal with it. To some extent, we don't know yet. There's so much dispute about it. Senators have talked about it, including senators who are now President, Vice President and Secretary of State. And they bring what they said as senators to this issue.

And speaking for myself, I've written about it a lot. I don't take back anything I ever wrote as a private citizen. Now we've been offered the extraordinary challenge of trying to deal with this problem. And we're here to say, it is at the highest levels. Why? This isn't baksheesh. We've got to make a distinction between ordinary problems that happen in every society. This is massive efforts that undermine the government. President Karzai himself has said this, and we need to work on this. It's a huge recruiting draw -- excuse me, huge recruiting opportunity for the Taliban. It's one of their major things they exploit. But I can't lay out to you how exactly we're going to do this. We're just starting out. And by the way, we're in the middle of an election campaign in Afghanistan, which complicates everything enormously.

Q: Do you -- three precise questions -- do you fully support President Karzai and his family? How are you going to get the confidence of the local population? And is there an exit strategy?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: The only exit strategy that Bruce and Michelle and I and the people we work for and with can see is pretty basic. We can leave as the Afghans can deal with their own security problems. That's why the President today put emphasis on training the National Army, training and improving the National Police. And he said -- and I would draw your attention to this -- that there will be an increase in their numbers, although he did not give a precise figure. I've seen some in articles, particularly one in The New York Times the other day -- those figures were figures kicking around in the planning process, but they weren't sufficiently scrubbed down; they weren't sufficiently costed out. So the President felt that he ought to just talk about the increase now and we're going to keep working on it.

It's a -- that is -- the exit strategy of course includes governance, corruption, but above all -- and this is the single most difficult aspect of what we're talking about today -- above all, it also requires dealing with western Pakistan, because you could have a great government in Kabul; you could have a government that fulfills every criteria of democratic governance, and if the current situation in western Pakistan continued, the instability in Afghanistan would continue.

You all know that, those of you who've been there. It is clearly reflected in Margaret Warner's series from Afghanistan and Pakistan on Lehrer NewsHour recently. It's been reported in every one of your newspapers. CNN has done it. We have to deal with this western Pakistan problem. And I think Bruce and Michelle and I and our superiors would all freely admit that that is, of all the dilemmas, problems and challenges we face, that's going to be the most daunting, because it's a sovereign country and there is a red line. And the red line is unambiguous and stated publically by the Pakistani government over and over again: No foreign troops on our soil.

Q: Do you support Karzai? Do you support President Karzai and his brother? Do you fully support them?

MR. RIEDEL: We support the elected leadership of Afghanistan and we support the elected leadership of Pakistan. In the elections process, this is a decision for the Afghan and Pakistani people; it is not an American decision, and the United States is not endorsing candidates.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Let me phrase it even more precisely, because we have a mantra we're going to work out on this, and it's very clear. As I'm sure most of you know, the Constitution says under Article 61 that President Karzai -- not President Karzai -- but the President's term ends on May 22nd. The election commission decide -- which meant the election should be held on April 21st. The election commission in Afghanistan said they wanted to postpone the election to August 20th for various reasons. There may be a runoff that would take it to October 2nd.

The United States, in that interim -- there's going to be a big argument about who's President from May 22nd to August 20th. The United States' position could not be clearer, and President Obama has personally reviewed it and articulated it, and it's worth repeating again today: We believe there should be continuity of government until the election -- point number one.

Point number two: The United States will neither support nor oppose any candidate in these elections. In the meetings yesterday that the President had with the leadership, which we were privileged to be in, he was explicit on that.

And point number three: We believe the election should be free, fair, open, and the candidates should operate from a level playing field. We've reviewed this with President Karzai, we've reviewed it with the other candidates, and that's really all we're going to say on that subject.

MS. FLOURNOY: If I could just clarify one point on the topic of exit strategy, even as we ultimately consider transition of responsibilities in the security sector, one of the things that's very clear in this strategy is a long-term commitment to assisting the Afghan people, in terms of economic and security assistance long-term, even as the security sector may transition over time. So I wanted to clarify that.

The other thing that, with regard to your question about connecting to the people, is I think there is a shift in strategy towards emphasizing more bottom-up approaches in development and governance at the district and provincial level to complement the investments we're making at the national level in ministries and so forth.

MR. RIEDEL: And in that regard, that's one of the most important things the President mentioned, but which could get otherwise missed: agricultural-sector job creation. We're talking to Secretary Vilsack about that; the U.S. Department of Agriculture is going to get much more involved.

This is a rural country. There is no agricultural -- senior agricultural attaché in the mission right now. AID and USDA don't work together. We're going to fix all that, I hope. We're going to go to -- we're going to emphasize wheat; it's a wheat culture, and the current wheat is very low in nutrients. President Obama is personally enthusiastic and interested in this. Tom Vilsack will be part of our next trilateral meeting; he wasn't part of the first one.

So that's what Michelle means by ground-up. We also want to work on training district-level officials in Afghanistan. There are 396 districts in Afghanistan. There's been no training at that level. There are lots of things like that we can do. It's not nation building; it's what you do to help a country that is in need. They have a nation; we need to help them stand on their own feet.

Q: What's happening in terms of an increase in troops among our allies?

MS. FLOURNOY: This is -- we are -- the President is going to the NATO summit; Secretary Clinton is going to The Hague on March 31st. We are -- have been engaging extensively throughout the review with our allies and our partners and we have made some very clear requests of them, not only in the military sphere, but in the training and mentoring sphere, in the capacity sphere on the civilian side, in terms of -- also in terms of financial contributions. So we are making very specific asks; we've been in consultation with them already and we expect many of those to be -- come to fruition over the next month or two.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: But The Hague is not a pledging conference. We're not going to The Hague to collect numbers; we're going to The Hague to set the framework for a new revitalization of the commitment. However, many countries have already talked to us privately about either troops during the election period, or nonmilitary support.

I would particularly draw your attention to Japan. Japan is going to pay the salaries of the National Police for the next six months -- all of it -- as an example of huge -- and this is very important; the Congress emphasizes it all the time.

Q: Can you go through the benchmarks, please? What are they? Who set them and who will determine whether the benchmarks are being met?

MR. RIEDEL: The benchmarks is a process that's just beginning. We have not established them. Let me say that this strategic review is a road map for moving forward; it's a strategy. It's not intended to be a campaign plan or a straitjacket.

We will develop benchmarks across the board. Some of these are fairly obvious, like levels of violence, levels of casualties, periodicity of suicide bombings both in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- those kind of benchmarks that you measure any conflict by. Those are some that are pretty obvious. There are going to be other ones about moving against corruption; there will be other ones about the speed with which we build up the Afghan army and the success rate of building the Afghan army.

So the benchmarks process is not something that's locked in stone today. It's something that we're only at the beginning phase of starting to work on.

Q: Well, will the benchmarks be just for Afghanistan, or will they also be for any kind of progress being made in western Pakistan?

MR. RIEDEL: The President feels very strongly that this strategy needs to be flexible and adaptable, and that to the extent possible, we develop metrics -- and you heard him use that word in the speech -- that give you an idea of our success rate. He wants to reevaluate periodically how we're doing, what's working, what's not working, make mid-course corrections and adjustments.

This is a very, very difficult problem, as the President laid out. It's going to be a long and difficult road ahead. And he wants to have, and we have built into the strategy, maximum flexibility and adaptability. For example, there may be a benchmark that we don't even know of now that, as we go forward, we begin to realize is something we want to test and measure. So the theme of this process is to be flexible, adaptable and comprehensive, and self-regulating with periodic reviews.

Q: Can I ask about the question of corruption with regard to Pakistan? The President alluded today to some problems in getting Pakistanis to respond when we have high-level intelligence -- or have intelligence about high-level terrorists, and he said, "We will insist that action be taken." Does that mean if the Pakistanis will act we will not, and if they do not, we will?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I just don't think we can answer that question. It's speculative, it's hypothetical, and it would be deeply injurious to our national interest to speculate. But I appreciate the importance of the question, and that's all we're ready to say.

Q: Can you say something about what the President meant by that?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: No.

Q: The Taliban has come out with a statement in response to the President this morning. They basically said that the U.S. is repeating the mistakes of the Russians, and if winning the war by military power worked then the Russians would still be in charge. I wonder if you have any comment to that. And if that's the kind of rhetoric that they're -- they sound like they're ready to fight. Is the U.S. ready for casualties, more Afghan casualties? And how can the U.S. engage with them in any productive way?

MR. RIEDEL: Let me comment on the Taliban. It's no surprise. We know that the core Taliban leadership, led by Mullah Omar, is determined not to negotiate with anybody. They want to take Afghanistan back to the medieval hell that they created in the 1990s. But there are many of the -- those involved in the insurgency who may not be so committed as that, and if we see the momentum of the Taliban broken this summer and over the course of the fighting season, we may see some fractures within that movement. And I suspect that the core Taliban leadership is very, very worried about just that kind of thing happening.

MS. FLOURNOY: And I would just further add that there's absolutely no valid comparison between the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, which was an occupation to control a country, repress a population, install their own sort of puppet leadership. We are there to, first and foremost, combat terrorism and protect our own interests and our own people from attack. But we're also there to help the Afghan people and enable them to reclaim their country. There is absolutely no comparison that's valid between the two.

Q: I want to just check a few things. How do you plan to deal with the danger to -- you're talking about significantly increasing aid to Pakistan, for example, on the civilian side. How do you plan to deal -- get that aid into the tribal areas when even Embassy workers in Peshawar had to retreat? I mean, how are you going to deal with that problem?

And is there any risk of ending up -- and maybe this is for Michelle Flournoy -- ending up with an Afghan army that is too large to actually support financially in the long term?

And the other question is, do you have any plans for how to improve coordination between all of the foreign interests that are involved in Afghanistan? Is there some central way that you're going to be able to coordinate?

MS. FLOURNOY: Let me just take the Afghan national security forces question first. We have identified this as a key priority -- building their capacity is a key priority in the new strategy -- and we're going to fully resource that effort for the first time in years.

We are going to -- right now the first step is to focus on accelerating that growth while maintaining quality to the established targets for both the army and the police by 2011. At that point we'll need to assess whether that growth is adequate or whether they need to be expanded further, and that determination will be made down the road. Part of that determination will be the question of sustainability, and that will obviously depend on the state of the Afghan economy, the willingness of the international community to continue to support and so forth. So that is a question to be determined in the future.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: The last part of your question was on --

Q: Coordination.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Yes, between the civilians and the military in the U.S. side.

Q: Among all of the --

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Oh, the international. Yes, that's a very interesting question. Since the job I was given includes that issue -- I'm actually interviewing now for somebody to do that on a full-time basis, that particular issue.

We've already begun extensive discussions with many other nations on how to refocus international assistance in a way that is more coordinated and more rational.

If a country has a geographic location for its troops -- the Dutch and Australians in Uruzgan, the Germans in Mazar-e-Sharif, the Italians in Herat -- wouldn't it make more sense for their aid to be focused in that area, too? We're going to concentrate on the south and east. We are also going to focus much, not all of our aid in that area.

And so we're -- we need somebody working only on that issue, just on that issue, because it's so important. You've all reported on the lack of coordination among the international -- now, the U.N. has a central role in all this and will be very -- the U.N. is hosting the conference in The Hague that Michelle mentioned earlier, and that needs to be underscored. The Secretary General of the U.N., Ban Ki-moon, will open it; Kai Eide will preside.

So I'm glad you raised that issue.

Q: Thank you very much. With all of the consultations you did, there must have been some very attractive ideas that just didn't fit in the strategy today. So are there things that you have in your notebook to look at in coming months that you may adopt? And if so, what are they? And more broadly speaking, on the continuum from doing nothing to trying to create a Central Asian Valhalla, where does this strategy fit: maximum, minimal, or just right in the middle?

MR. RIEDEL: I have never understood what the Valhalla thing was about, so I'm going to stay away from that. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Which province is that in? (Laughter.)

MR. RIEDEL: I would say that this strategy is focused on a concise goal, and I think the President made that very clear. And it's a goal that is about protecting American citizens and American interests. From that there are a series of objectives. But from the beginning of this process and in every conversation I had with the President about this, he kept coming back to, let's keep the focus clear on what the goal is.

As for what's in my notebooks and Michelle's notebooks and Richard's notebooks, I'm sure there are lots of good ideas in there and we're going to come back to this. As I said at the beginning, this is a road map. It will now be followed up by days, weeks, months of detailed implementation plans as we try to put this together in a way that can be executed and bring success.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: May I just expand on that for those of you who are interested in process. I know Washington loves to talk about process. We began with a very wide range of ideas. One of the goals of this project was to form a common consensus, a base, for people who have to implement policy. So you're quite right that there were hundreds of ideas thrown out.

The emphasis in agriculture emerged from our dialogue. The realization that the drug and narcotic program was not working, which was not the view we inherited, emerged from study involving a lot of agencies, and by the way is not universally agreed to. You'll be able to find plenty of people in the government who don't agree with what Bruce and Michelle and I have said about drugs. But that's the direction that we took it.

Of course there are ideas we didn't use. Some of them were just -- by the way, we've got thousands of ideas from citizens all over the country, and many other governments made inputs -- Pakistan and Afghanistan, first of all; all our NATO allies; Australia; Japan. They all came to Washington and we talked to them. We have -- we have mounds of paper. And out of this, there was a consensus. Here was the dilemma: How do we avoid the consensus becoming watered-down conventional wisdom, which in my experience in this city is what usually happens.

The way I think we've avoided it is that this is a not a straitjacket, a detailed blueprint. It's a framework within which there's plenty of flexibility to bring in ideas which are not in the report. One of the most important ideas in this report -- which is new for this country but has been done in many other wars, including Iraq -- is the information issue. We can -- in Swat, for example, there are about 150 illegal FM radio stations, and Fazlullah is going around every night broadcasting the names of people they're going to behead or they've beheaded. Any of you who have a sense of recent history know that that's exactly what happened with Radio Mille Collines in Rwanda, and the United States did nothing, to our eternal regret.

And nothing has been done so far about that. These are unimpeded. We have identified the information issue -- sometimes called psychological operations or strategic communication; used to have different names in the old days -- as a major, major gap to be filled. Senator Kerry is pushing this very hard from the Senate side. So this is the kind of thing that emerged from our discussions.

Q: Thank you. When you talk about comprehensive strategy and consulting with allies in the region and elsewhere, does this include the Saudis? Because there was talk about they might play a mediation between the so-called moderate Taliban. And if you have been in consultation with them, and whether it's going to be effective actually, talking to them?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: We identify seven or eight countries that have critical importance beyond our NATO allies and Australia, Japan. And Saudi Arabia is definitely one of them. So is Turkey and the countries the President mentioned -- China, Russia, Iran, the neighbors, obviously Pakistan. And I would add the United Arab Emirates. These are countries that have real influence in either Pakistan or Afghanistan or both, all of whom are involved whether we like it or not, and we're going to spend a great deal of time on this. And I mentioned earlier that I was looking for somebody to coordinate international foreign assistance. I'm also looking for somebody to focus on that issue on our small -- our small interagency staff that we have.

Q: I know there's no fixed timeline for what you're working on, but there have been some time periods mentioned. The President mentioned building up the troops by 2011. You mentioned making inroads with the Taliban this summer.

Can you give any time sense about how long it will take before you know this is working or not working? Or how long -- what the time horizon is? Are we talking about two years? Five years? Ten years?

MR. RIEDEL: We very deliberately do not have timelines in this study. And it goes back to what I said about the President's determination that we check the metrics, we see how we're doing, and we remain flexible and adaptable throughout the process.

We're not going to impose artificial constraints. The 2011 timeline is about building up the Afghan National Army. It's a notional idea that by 2011 we'll be at the 134,000 --

MS. FLOURNOY: Army.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: And 82,000.

Q: Just building on from that, General McKiernan has avoided using the term "search" for the extra troops that he's asked for. And he's made the point that he thinks that the extra troops that are going in will need to be replaced. In other words, this is a longer-term commitment than just one-off deployments.

Do you agree with that? And will the troops, the combat troops at least, operate any differently in the field under this new strategy than they have been doing up until now?

MS. FLOURNOY: Again, I think what Bruce -- I want to underscore the importance of what Bruce said. We have committed to a regular process of reassessment and evaluation of this mission. And I can assure you that the question of troop levels and duration of how many -- and rotations, and so forth -- will continue to be addressed over time.

What we don't want to do is pretend that we can predict where we'll be in a year, or what have you. But I can tell you there's a very strong commitment at the highest levels to that process of evaluation.

And in terms of what -- the missions of the troops on the ground, I think that American forces and our allied forces are going in with a couple of key missions in mind. First is protecting the population, reversing Taliban gains, creating secure environments that will allow other things to happen in the country.

But equally important is we are going to be focused on the training mission and the mentoring mission, and the building of Afghan national security force capacity, both by embedding training teams with Afghan units, but also by partnering coalition units and Afghan units. So they work together day in, day out, every day.

That -- from one of our lessons learned from Iraq, is how powerful that partnering can be as a supplement to the embedded trainers.

Q: Thank you. The President mentioned the Kerry-Lugar bill, billions of dollars' worth of aid to Pakistan. He also said that Pakistan won't be given a blank check. So I'm wondering what restrictions does the administration want to see on that money specifically?

And also, how do you react to statements from some senators, such as Senator Levin, who have said that this strategy places too much dependence on the Pakistani government to deal with extremists, and perhaps gives too much of a reliance on them to help us make progress in Afghanistan?

MR. RIEDEL: I'm not going to comment on Senator Levin's remarks. I'll say this: For the last eight years, Pakistan received billions of dollars in support from the United States -- much of it was unaccountable; much the Pakistanis don't even know where it went.

As the President indicated in his speech, we're going to make sure that there is rigorous oversight by an Inspector General's office. And we're going to work very, very intensively with our Pakistani partners, the democratically elected civilian leadership in Pakistan, to see that we're moving in the right direction, in the same direction that we want to go.

The United States has a long history of legislative-required sanctions on Pakistan. I think one of the things that we have learned from that history is that we need to be very careful in how we do this, and that we need to work with the Pakistanis and not box ourselves in or box them in.

So it's going to be a complex process. We will work very closely with the Hill on the legislation. But we're going to try on this area, as in every other area, to maintain the adaptability of our strategy, so that we can avoid finding ourselves boxed into a corner.

Q: Very quick follow-up? Very quick follow-up? Is the ISI aiding the Taliban?

MR. RIEDEL: I'm not going to get into the intelligence questions which have been in every newspaper in the United States in the last several days. This strategy is built upon a very clear understanding of what's going on the region, but I'm not going to comment on intelligence matters today.

Thank you very much.

END 11:50 A.M. EDT



Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Bruce Riedel, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and Michelle Flournoy on the New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan," March 27, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=85923.
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