Press Roundtable at Camp Atterbury-Muscatatuck Center for Complex Operations, Indiana

Press Conference
Jacob J. Lew
Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources 
Camp Atterbury-Muscatatuck Center For Complex Operations, Indiana
November 19, 2009

DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Thank you all for joining us out here today for what, for me at least, has been I think a very – I know a very informative and worthwhile visit here. The training that we are watching today and the people that we’re meeting in a lot of ways tell the story of the civilian program in Afghanistan, coming particularly at a time of the – President Karzai’s inauguration, the commitments that he has made in his inaugural remarks to make the kind of change that are so badly needed in terms of how the governance system there works. It really underscores the importance of having our team, our civilian and military team, working together, going out prepared with the right skills, so that as – we’re fond of saying that we have the right people in the right place at the right time.

The challenges that all of the folks that we’ve been meeting here will undertake are many. There’s not – there’s – I don’t think one of them who thinks there’s a magic wand where they’re going to go and make everything in Afghanistan perfect. So I think you see the kind of determination to go to difficult places, to get outside of the wire and get into the communities where the hard work can be done, and to go with an understanding that, unlike the training sessions that we’ve seen which lasts an hour, that it’s going to take many times going out and having the kinds of meetings and conversations to have things heading in the right direction.

I think it’s important to recognize that this is a new approach to training. The traditional approach to training was the military trained the military and civilians trained civilians. This is truly a joint venture. This is military-civilian cooperation beginning with the training and the preparation so that when our folks go out and when they’re going to be living together and working together, they know what that’s going to look like. They can’t be prepared for every situation, but they can be prepared for many kinds of situations. And there’s really two aspects to it. One is the training to – for civilians to work in a military setting, which many of the PRTs and the forward-operating bases are. And there’s also training to work in an environment that is uniquely challenging, as the Afghan environment is.

I know I’ve talked with many of you about the civilian plan. And I think I’ll only talk for a couple of minutes now to give you a sense of where we are in the civilian buildup. As I think most of you know, we started with 320 civilians on the ground at the beginning of the year, and we’re on track to fill 974 positions. And as important as the number is that there are the right people who are going with – in most cases, almost all cases–commitments to stay for a year. So it won’t be a series of three-month assignments; it will be a year or longer commitments. We will be adding, as we need additional civilian personnel, to these numbers. And we have been working with the Embassy in Kabul to try and work over a – really not just months, but a couple of years, to have a plan for making sure that we have continuity of coverage in all of the places where we need to have civilians.

The question I know is on everyone’s mind with the strategic review, on the military side: What does that mean in terms of civilians? It’s important to remember the civilians don’t deploy in battalions. We deploy civilians one by one. We recruit people to fill specific positions, and the numbers will never be exactly parallel to the kinds of numbers that military deployments involve.

Typically, in a district where we have civilians, we’ll have two to six U.S. civilian full-time personnel surrounded by a number of foreign nationals, Afghans – roughly a 10:1 ratio. And in many of these areas, if you have three U.S. civilians with a total civilian presence of 30, that’s a very large presence in a sometimes pretty remote area. The question isn’t the numbers. It’s: Do you have people with the right skills; can they help with the agricultural work; can they help with the rule of law work; can they help with the local governance work?

In many places, helping provincial governors to reach out into parts of their province, which have never really known any kind of formal exposure to civilian governance. So there is a very big challenge ahead of all the people that we’ve had the chance to meet today. And I thank all of them for their service and for their courage in taking very difficult assignments and going out, as I’ve seen on the ground, performing with great excellence.

So why don’t I stop there and we can go to questions.


QUESTION: Deputy Secretary Lew, in The New York Times, in fact, today, there’s a question about – that Ambassador Eikenberry requested more staff to be sent, but he was turned down because of budget constraints and this cap at roughly 1,000. Is that correct?

DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Well, the editorial in today’s New York Times was not actually correct. The request from Kabul for additional personnel is very much under active review. In fact, we have approved quite a number of positions from that list, as they’ve become timely. The request was not for people immediately. The request actually spanned a three-year period, so that it was people over a different period of time with very different skills. We’ve been working with the Embassy to meet the requirements for the 940 – the nearly a thousand people that we’re sending out in the first wave.

We have an understanding with Kabul that as they identify immediate needs from that additional list, we’re not going to wait for some big decision to do it all at once. We’re going to prove in 20s – 10s and 20s – as additional positions are identified. Just over the last several weeks, we’ve done that with 40 additional positions.

So I think that we tend to get locked into numbers that are more rigid than the realities on the ground. If there is a need identified for an additional 20 agricultural specialists, we’re going to recruit 20 additional agricultural specialists. We’re not going to wait until there’s some big strategic decision.

The strategic decision will involve how many places do we need to be. Once we’re in a place, the decision of what we need to do to get the job done is really not at the big strategic decision level. As they deploy people out into these teams, they discover that there may be some additional needs. And that’s kind of the nature of the conversation. So I actually don’t think it is correct to characterize the state of things as it was characterized.

QUESTION: But just one clarification. On the budget issue, is there enough money in the budget to pay for what ultimately you think is necessary?

DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: There is enough – we have resources in the budget to cover the full request that we have been discussing with Embassy Kabul. I can’t speak abstractly to a request that I haven’t seen. So obviously, budgets are limited. But there’s roughly 300 positions that we’ve been discussing with them, and we are reserving room in our budgets so that it’s not a budgetary limitation. There are questions of when people are needed and what their positions are. We’re going through the hard work of figuring out exactly – they’re going through the hard work of figuring out exactly when and where they need people and what skills they need. So it’s really more a question of getting it right than whether we have the resources to do it.

QUESTION: You spoke of a 10:1 ratio of Afghan civilians. Looking at how difficult it is on the security side to get Afghans to serve as NCOs and officers and essentially in leadership positions, how difficult is it for you to find people with the right kinds of training to partner with the civilians you’re sending at a ratio of 10:1? And is that something that constrains in any way the speed with which you’re sending people over there?

DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: My sense is that there are a sufficient number of Afghans with the skills that are needed to provide the support and the leverage. They’re not always in the same area where they’re needed. So the issues that I’ve been working through are not so much with can we identify the people, but can you get the people to the places they need to be and have the mobility for them to do the work they need to do. Mobility is a real issue in many parts of Afghanistan and in many of the places where we’re deploying people. And it’s very important that when we deploy our civilians and the people who are working with them – the Afghans who are working with them – that they can get out and do the work that they need to do.

So far, we’ve been doing pretty well. I mean, I’m not getting a lot of reports that there are mobility restrictions. But as we fully deploy, obviously, we’re going to see more and more demand for transportation for civilians. And we’re working very closely with the U.S. military to make sure that whenever we are based on U.S. bases, that the mobility will be there. As we assign people to bases that are run by other countries, we have to work those arrangements out with them separately. And we’re working on that. Those conversations are going on as we deploy people. But I’m not aware of it being a real problem identifying the civilian partners there.

QUESTION: If I could just follow up to on something that Jill was asking. You said that the – in terms of the strategy review, that you’re looking more at where we need to be. I mean, we all know that one of the decisions is how many places we need to be and what strength, and that’s the – and in what capacity. Do you foresee a situation where you would be in fewer places and need fewer people, or do you see this as just an upward trajectory, as far as you can tell?

DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Well, obviously, I’m not in a position to kind of – give any kind of a sense of the number of places where we will be after the strategic review. That obviously will be a result of the decisions made very shortly. We are doing contingency planning to be able to respond to a number of different possible scenarios. And any of the options for military deployment also are over a period of time.

So the question then will be: If there is an increase in the number of military troops deployed, if there is an increase in the number of districts where we’re present, when will we be going into those districts, and when will we need civilians to work with them?

So without getting ahead of a decision, one can do the kind of thinking that puts you in a position to respond quickly, should a decision be made.

QUESTION: And that would be to expand or in fact to reconfigure yourself in not being (inaudible)?

DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Right. Right. To the extent that a decision were to be in fewer places, that could theoretically reduce the number of civilians required. To the extent that a decision is to be in a greater number of places, it will increase the number of civilians. It won’t be proportional because if you’re in 10 more places and you need six more civilians in each place, that’s 60 people. If it’s the opposite, it’ll be 60 less people. So it’s not going to be as dramatic on the civilian numbers as it is on the military numbers. It’s significant because if we are in 10 more or 20 more or 30 more places and we need more agricultural specialists, that means we have to recruit more agricultural specialists. But what we’re effectively doing is maintaining a recruiting program where we understand that with the one-year tours that people are taking, as soon as you deploy people, you’re back into the recruiting business. And the question is, as we go through the recruiting for the – what is the next cycle, do we assign some people earlier if need be. And these recruiting pipelines will be staying open. The outreach to U.S. Government direct hires to special employees, who are brought in through the special authorities, will be ongoing. And I’m pretty optimistic that, based on the response we’ve had in this round, that we’re going to continue to get good candidates for these assignments.


QUESTION: How big an element has the civilian surge been in the deliberations on the review? And what about the issue of the Afghan Government and it’s been such a big part of the review and whether you can work with the – with an Afghan Government that doesn’t necessarily have legitimacy, how does that affect your civilian efforts? Are you looking to work, sort of, outside of government and focus more on local officials or how are you planning to get –


DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: The strategic review is very much focused on both civilian and military efforts. The – because of the nature of the – what I’ve just described in terms of what the impact on the civilian deployment is, it’s something of a – after a decision is made on what your strategic objectives are in terms of geographical presence, you then make sure you have a civilian plan that ties up to it. I don’t think the civilian deployment will drive the military strategy in that sense. But there’s every sense that the civilian deployment will be a critical part of any place where we deploy militarily. So they have to go together.


In terms of the partnership with various levels of the Afghan Government, I think we’ve made it clear that we don’t believe that we should be choosing to work with one or another aspect, that we need to have a multifaceted approach, working with the ministries of the Afghan Government that have the capacity to deliver the kind of programming that we’re working on. And there are a number of ministries that have developed very significant amounts of capacity and are very good partners. I mean, the agriculture program that we’re working on is very much developed with the agriculture ministry there. I think it’s their program that we’re helping them with. It’s not our program that they’re taking. It’s an Afghan program. And I think there are good working relationships, a high degree of confidence in that. That’s true in a number of other ministries as well.


I think it’s equally true that there are parts of the Afghan national government that is not as adept at getting money to the districts as it should be; that there are problems in the pipeline both in terms of efficiency and corruption. And we can’t just work with the national government. We have to work at the sub-national level with provincial leaders, with local leaders. And it’s not – those are not in conflict with each other. Ultimately, we’re working with the national ministries, the federal ministries, to build their capacities so that they could provide services at the district level. So the capacity building has to go at both ends.


QUESTION: And how many contractors are set for – how many contractors are part of the civilian surge? What’s the –


DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: I don’t have an exact number, so I’d have to get back to you.


QUESTION: I mean, all of these 900 and whatever it is –




QUESTION: 74 – 974, they’re all attached to one U.S. Government department or another.


DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Yeah. They’re either existing U.S. Government full-time employees or they’re people who are hired through special authorities that we have to hire people for a shorter period of time in career appointments. And in many cases, that’s how we’re identifying people with the specialty skills. You can hire people with technical skills, with language skills, and with relevant experience. And they’re renewable appointments, so if they are willing to serve for three or four or five years, you can reappoint them. So we’re using every tool that we have in terms of drawing on the standing workforce and also supplementing it.


STAFF: I think we have time for two quick questions and one follow-up --


QUESTION: (Inaudible). Could you just tell us, very quickly, what made you decide to visit Muscatatuck, and if the training that you witnessed was in line with the President’s strategy?


DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: You know, I had been wanting to come to Muscatatuck in Atterbury for some time, because we talk about the training here almost every day. It’s not just an afterthought. It’s an essential part of the program, and it came out of conversations that General Petraeus and Ambassador Holbrooke had early, early on in the conversations. And it very much reflects our approach to working as a whole-of-government, not just civilian-military but across agencies. The reality is, just as you can’t really understand what’s going on in Afghanistan without visiting Afghanistan, you can’t really understand training unless you come out and see it. And I thought it was important to come out and visit and see it, and I’m glad I did.


QUESTION: May I very briefly? I was just wondering how the civilian – you talked about civilian deployment that they did training for affects the broader civilian goals that Ambassador Holbrooke says have been delayed, like cracking down on corruption, like an amnesty for insurgents and so on. And also, if I may, you know, we’d all like civilian – civ-mil cooperation, we could have that on one side. On the other hand, we all heard Ambassador Eikenberry’s cables and we’ve all read (inaudible) reports, and we’ve gotten (inaudible) a clear sense of different priorities between the Embassy and the head of the military in Afghanistan itself. So how close does that civilian-military cooperation go, and how high up?


DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Well, I’m obviously not going to speak to the views that are being expressed privately, particularly in classified communications. I think that the fact that we have the kind of civilian-military plan right now that we have speaks for itself in terms of the quality of the cooperation on the ground. You know, the map of where we have civilians deployed and the map of where the military is either presently or planning to be is entirely consistent and overlapping. The skill sets that we’re filling on the civilian side are performing functions and missions that are part of a jointly developed civilian-military plan. So I think that the work that we’re watching people prepare for here, it’s as good – it’s probably the best level of civilian-military cooperation that’s ever taken place.


The fact that there may be different views on one or another topic, that happens sometimes within our offices in the State Department. We don’t have to go outside of the 7th floor to have sometimes heated discussions with different views. I think you have to distinguish between people airing views and working through to a policy decision, and then the question of bringing all the resources to bear to effectively implement the strategy as a team. And they’re very different questions.


QUESTION: And how does the deployment here affect those wide goals of --


DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: I think that if you look at what people here are training to do, it’s at the core of the mission. The – we went and watched a vignette together of working with the provincial governor. Working with provincial governors, for them to extend the writ of government to people who have not had exposure to a local authority of that kind, that’s a big part of the challenge ahead for Afghanistan. We can’t do it for Afghanistan. Afghanistan will ultimately have to do it for itself. But we can help provide people and resources to give them the ability to do it. And I think the people you saw here training were working on developing exactly the skills you need to go out and do that effectively. No one thinks it’s going to happen overnight.


It’s not – one meeting with a provincial governor is not going to reverse 300 years of history in the vignette we saw of tensions between the local people. That’s not what the purpose of the U.S. presence there is. I mean, it’s not to rewrite history or to build a nation. It’s to help them figure out how to work with each other and take responsibility for finding outcomes, and coming to the table with resources, with people, with funding for projects, with the promise of the tools that can provide a better life and better services for the Afghan people is bringing quite a lot to the table.


QUESTION: How will you know it’s working?


DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: That’s a very good question. We’re obviously focused on metrics at many levels. We’ll know it’s working in some areas when we see that Afghans are able to do things that we go there to help them with without us being there to help them. And as we are able to hand off responsibilities at a local level, as we see areas that we’re not in starting to do some of the things that we’re helping to drive in the areas where we are, those are the kinds of indicia of success and programs like this. The broader objectives, the metrics, we’re working through at a strategic level. But I think programs like this, you can see on the ground in a village if – when I was in Helmand, and I met with Governor Mangal in Helmand, you could see that it was working locally there.


I mean, the fact that in the very brief period of time over the summer, after the ISAF military forces cleared the area, civilians came in with the military, proceeded to work with farmers to plant legal crops, to work with the local ministries, to build an airstrip so that farmers could get their crops out of the area without just relying on roads that weren’t always passable. And there was a process underway to extend the writ of government to places that had never seen it. You know that was – I was there in August. They’d been there together for eight weeks.


Now, to say that that was working there locally, you could see that it was having an effect. Now it has to have an effect where that can lead to more indigenous developments and spreading to other places. You can’t see it all in eight weeks. So we have to be realistic about the timeframe that we have in mind. But we do have to look and see, in each of the areas of we go, are there results and is it – and as we stop doing something, is there something that can have lasting impact.


STAFF: Thank you, guys.


DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Thanks. Thanks again for coming today. I hope this was as useful to you as it was to me.


# # #