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Gen. Dempsey's Media Briefing in Saudi Arabia

By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey, Saudi Arabia.
Q: Sir, yesterday we met with Ambassador Crocker and General Allen. And one of the things that they mentioned was that they anticipate that we’ll have a military presence in Afghanistan certainly in 2016 to train air force, but beyond the 2014 date. What do you anticipate that’s going to look like?

GENERAL MARTIN E. DEMPSEY: Well, I anticipate the same, that we will have some kind of partnership force – we haven’t picked the name for it yet, but some kind of partnership force beyond 2014, both to continue to deliver the FMS program of record. That’s what those – they were speaking about notably, the – those capabilities that won’t ever be there until ’15 or ’16. But also, the development of the Afghan security forces will be – will continue to be a work in process, just as it is in Iraq, by the way – and so some presence there to do that.

And then, if there are other areas of common interest now, we’re trying – we will at some point here in the future have a strategic partnership discourse that will lead to a strategic partnership agreement. And I think that based on what interests we define in common, that would then – then and only then can we talk about how big the force would have to be to deliver. You know, the Loya Jirga was pretty clear in the interest – in their interests, the tribal elders’ interests in some kind of enduring relationship. So yeah, I absolutely think there’ll be something there beyond ’14.

Q: Can you imagine counterterrorism forces beyond 2014?

GEN. DEMPSEY: I can – sure, I can imagine that that requirement exists because of the safe haven in Pakistan, in the FATA and North-West Frontier Province. But we’re not at the point yet where that has been established as a line of effort. If – were it to be established as a line of effort, then I think the answer to that would be yes.

Now, you know that in the meantime, we are building an Afghan special operating force capability. So that wouldn’t – this is not something that would be started in 2014; it would be extended.

Q: General, do you have any concern that expectations in Congress and the public have gotten out of sync with the picture you just drew, that people are looking at ’14 and thinking, boy, we’re going to be able to get as close to zero at that point as we can imagine?

GEN. DEMPSEY: I don’t – you know, I’m not sure about the American people. I think probably there are some congressional – I mean, I’ve had conversations with leaders in Congress, some of whom are very optimistic about our effort there, some of whom are exactly the opposite about our effort there, which suggests that we’ve done enough. I think what our – you know, our responsibility as military leaders is to provide a realistic assessment of stability and the force required to maintain it, how much of then, how much of us, how much direct, how much through – you know, by, with and through enablers. And, you know, to the extent that we’re articulate about what’s there and the threats that are there, I think, you know, that then it will be a decision made by the Congress of the United States and the executive branch on what we do.

But yeah – I mean, I’m not sure I would say I’m concerned about it yet, because – you know, we haven’t yet decided how we’re going to get from, you know, September of ’12 when the surge is gone to the Lisbon objective of ’14. I think that’s the next step. And then determining what happens beyond will literally be determined as the – as the next step after that.

Q: General Dempsey, could you give us a full picture of your current thinking and planning about any potential U.S. involvement to – in Syria and to work against the Assad regime?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. I can tell you that we have not done any work on planning for military operations, as you described it, against the Assad regime. Our initial instinct is always to begin planning humanitarian issues. You know, we would always plan for noncombatant evacuation. And that’s kind of been the limits of our planning to this point. I mean, we don’t have a U.N. Security Council resolution, we don’t have a NATO mandate, so we’re not doing anything unilaterally right now to plan for a military operation.

Q: Are you doing something, anything? Is there any discussion going on with coalition partners, with the Arab League to talk about any – are options on the table at this time potentially?

GEN. DEMPSEY: If there are discussions going on, they’re going on in diplomatic circles, not in military circles.

Q: General, in Kuwait, you talked about – you thanked the leadership for their help with Iraq, and you asked them for help in the future.

GEN. DEMPSEY: In Kuwait?

Q: In Kuwait.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. Right.

Q: Here, have you also asked for help with Iraq?

GEN. DEMPSEY: No, I wouldn’t describe it as “asked for help.” I will say that they were very interested in what we think it means that – you know, by the way, this morning, as we were driving to our embassy, there was an image on the media of the last vehicle crossing into Kuwait, which I found powerful. And they – it was not lost on them. And so they asked me what I thought it meant, and they offered to me what they thought it meant. And we didn’t – I wouldn’t describe our discussions as, at this point, us suggesting to each other what we might do.

But look, I’ve been very clear with all of our partners around here, that if you – if you’re – if you are partners – Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and others, if you’re concerned about the future of Iraq, then we should all act together to help ensure that we achieve a brighter future for Iraq. And left unattended or left – you know, left to its own devices, then you – you know, you’re not – you shouldn’t come back and complain about the outcome. So I’ve been very clear about that with – at every stop along the way.

Q: What did they think?

GEN. DEMPSEY: You know, I – by the way, as you know, I’ve lived here for two years, so much of what we did in these initial meetings – this is my first trip here as chairman – were to renew our acquaintances. And if you asked, what did – what did they think about the specific issue of Iraq, I’d say they’re – they are probably concerned about Iranian influence and eager to know what we intend to do to ensure that Iranian influence doesn’t permeate Iraq. And so my answer was, well, we’ve got a plan; you know, do you have a plan?

Q: Mr. Chairman?


Q: I would like to ask about Egypt. You may – you may know that the situation in Cairo is getting –

GEN. DEMPSEY: I did see that this morning.

Q: Yeah. Have you made any contacts with Field Marshal Tantawi or General Sami Anan in the past few hours?

GEN. DEMPSEY: No, because I learned about it as I was involved in these meetings here in Saudi Arabia. But I do intend to contact him and gain their perspectives and encourage them to do what they’ve assured me they intend to do, which is maintain the process toward governance as well as protect the people. So I have – no, I haven’t yet –

Q: Sir, could you go back to Afghanistan, your day of traveling around the country - you also were down at RC East. Can you tell us what you learned there? And – (inaudible).

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, if I – my perspective on RC East was actually – I have read that – in intel and in – and the weekly reports from the commanders on the ground, I’d been reading that we felt as though we had reversed the momentum of the Taliban. But I didn’t appreciate it, really, till I visited RC South. And I’m told as well of the same kind of progress in RC Southwest.

Now, there are some challenges on the scene between those two regional commands. There’s a couple of districts there that are still quite contested. But I was really impressed by the degree to which the Taliban has lost influence there, and notably among the population.

Now, look. I’m not predicting that they’re not going to try to re-insert themselves. And, you know, we are now in the beginning of that part of the year when activity is historically low anyway as winter – at the onset of winter. But, you know, we’ve had two pretty good fighting seasons now behind us, and there is a sense, both among military leaders and civilian leaders, that the momentum is reversed in RC South.

Q: Is – I’m sorry, I meant East with the – (inaudible).

GEN. DEMPSEY: Oh, East. Well, very different story in the east.

Q: Right.

GEN. DEMPSEY: There I did not have the same sense, nor did the leaders I met with. I’m sorry; I misinterpreted.

I didn’t have the same sense that the issue was as – was as clear in RC East. And I suppose we would have to say, that’s, of course, because of the sanctuary in western Pakistan. But General Scaparrotti, the IJC commander and the commander of RC East have a plan to maintain pressure over the winter. They share with RC South the same commitment to the growth and development of the security forces. And, of course, we talked – we talk to some length in RC East about the tension between us and Pakistan.

Q: Have there been any adjustments to the – to what the commanders there have to do because of the tension, the cutoff in communication with Pakistan – just keeping tabs on what’s going near the side of the border and the flow of food there –

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. Well – you know, General Allen has – you know, General Allen has established some – he has changed a bit of criteria for coordination between one side and – by the way, coordination actually continues. And maybe, I would even suggest, has taken on a greater urgency to avoid any miscalculations or mistakes. But we have established some control measures. We’ve established some command-and-control architectures. But, you know, that has to continue. And we haven’t yet completed the investigation. And once we do and have a discussion about – with Pakistan – about what we learned from the investigation, I think that will illuminate some additional opportunities.

Q: General, one of the things we heard in our briefings in Afghanistan is that training of the ANSF – the capabilities of the ANSF are basically reasonably on the mark they should be on, and in some places, they’re ahead of the mark. But governance is still behind, is still a weak point – different parts of the country, but broad brush. Are we heading for an Afghanistan that has good military capability – governance is just too heavy a boulder to push up that hill and we have to figure out how to make it work in those circumstances?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, I mean – you know, we’ve heard – that wasn’t new to me, nor is it new to you, I’m sure. I – you know, if you think back where we were in Iraq in 2010, let’s say, I think 2009, 2010, people would say the same thing, you know.

I – we’ve always said that, you know, the two hardest things about these kind of environments and security situations are the selection of leaders. You know, you can build units. We know how to build units, we know how to enable them. But we did – what we discussed with the leaders on the ground militarily was, how do you find the right leaders? Because if you can find the leaders, they can overcome some of these other things.

Well, I’d suggest to him – let me connect the dots here for you – I think the same thing is true of governance. I think that what I sense in Afghanistan is, you know, still kind of trying to determine, where do we find the right leaders who can be figures who bring issues together as opposed to drive them apart? And I – and it’s very mixed across the country. Some places I go, my – and visit, our military leaders are extraordinarily complimentary of their Afghan counterparts, military and civilians. And in some other places, you know, they’re just very disappointed in them. So yes, it’s very much – it’s very much mixed. But that’s the issue; we got to work – we got to work that governance line of effort and make sure it stays the pace, or close, anyway, to the military line of effort.

Q: Does it mean we have to look at in fact inventing a variation of counterinsurgency theory in which governance may just have to lag?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Let me state – where, I think it is lagging. Whether that’s deliberate or not –

Q: – whether we like or not.


GEN. DEMPSEY: But here – let me phrase it a little differently. I think where we’re moving, what we’re moving toward is a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy executed through our Afghan partners, not executed by us. And by the way, I think that that will be a catalyst to encourage Afghan governance to keep pace, because as long as we’re in the lead, then it’s also our governance model, our economic aid that’s in the lead.

And by the way, this briefs well sitting in the comfort of this, you know, conference room. I’m not suggesting it’ll be any easier, but I will suggest that I think it’s the right way ahead and that it has a very good chance of succeeding.

Q: General Dempsey, in your conversations with Crown Prince Nayef today, did you find – you know, besides perhaps the traditional concerns of Iraq and Afghanistan and Iran, did he – did he express concerns here about the lack of progress in the Middle East peace discussions? Did he express any – I’m just trying to get a sense of what was on his mind because of course, in this region, some of the political statements that are being made in the United States about the Palestinian people, of course, is causing a lot of concern. I wondered if he brought up any of these types of issues with you.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Every Saudi leader that I’ve met with, not only today, but in my previous experiences in the kingdom – generally speaking, we begin our meetings with a reflection on the fact that from their perspective, the key to a lasting settlement in the region is the Arab-Israeli conflict. So sure, they – absolutely, they discussed it with me today.

Q: Does he have – did he express any dissatisfaction or concerns about U.S. government progress on this right now? Is that something that is on their minds? They want to see more progress? Do they feel that the political campaign in Washington just means there will be no more progress, you know, till the next election? Did he – did he express any concern about Newt Gingrich’s remarks?

GEN. DEMPSEY: (Chuckles.) No. They didn’t delve into whether they felt we were managing it as well as we should or not. They didn’t render any value judgment. They just – it’s a – it’s a point on which they push at every opportunity. And of course, you know, if you lived in this region, you’d – and you were on this end of it, you’d push as well. So it wasn’t specific.

Q: Can I just ask you to circle back once more on Iran?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Sure. Yeah.

Q: What is your sense, now that the Saudis have said that Iran got a nuclear weapon, they would pursue one. And now that you’ve talked to them, is – do they have a growing level of concern? Is this status quo for them? How – just how concerned are they?

GEN. DEMPSEY: No, I wouldn’t call it status quo. I wouldn’t – I wouldn’t characterize it as a growing sense of concern.

Q: What did the crown prince have to say?

GEN. DEMPSEY: I didn’t see the crown prince, actually.

Q: Oh, I’m sorry.

GEN. DEMPSEY: He canceled that because of traffic.

Q: Oh!

GEN. DEMPSEY: And by the way, I agree with him. I – I’ll tell you, traffic – not that this is anything reportable, but traffic is unbelievably more challenging than the last time. And I found out why: They are now giving loans – you can buy cars in installments, where when I was here before, you had to pay cash on the barrelhead. But anyway – so I didn’t see him.

But they – I would describe on the part of both the leaders that I saw and the Saudi Arabian National Guard and the Ministry of Defense, I would describe it as a – as a heightened sense of concern on the basis of two – what they considered to be two facts: They are very concerned that our withdrawal from Iraq opens the door for greater Iranian influence. That’s fact number one of them. And fact number is, they consider – now, you ask me what they consider; I’m not passing judgment on this myself. But they consider that Iranian influence in Bahrain has the very real chance of destabilizing the region. So that’s their view.

STAFF: Tom, Kevin, finish up?

Q: Yeah – on that point, did they ask for anything materially from the United States?

GEN. DEMPSEY: No. You know, I tell you, it was a – it was a – first of all, you know, their investment in our foreign military sales program has probably – even in the program I ran with Saudi Arabian National Guard has probably increased fourfold. And the program at the Ministry of Defense has nearly doubled. And, of course, there’s a new program to do facilities protection here – critical infrastructure, oil refineries, water plants, power plants.

So in a very – I thought, in a very positive, we used to talk about stuff – you know, material procurements, bright shiny objects. It wasn’t that kind of conversation at all today; it was very – it was actually quite substantive about leader development, about training, and then, of course, the geopolitical issues.

But no, we didn’t talk about procurement; we talked about – I think – I think they feel like they’re in a very good place and actually a strong place in terms of capabilities. I think they’re genuinely interested now in how they – how they can get better at utilizing the things they purchased. And I find that to be actually quite encouraging.

STAFF: All right. Kevin, last one?

Q: I’ll bring it home, then – literally back to Washington.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Do I have to? (Laughter.)

Q: That’s – (inaudible) – eventually.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, that’s right.

Q: So you and General Allen have come out pretty bluntly on this trip about Afghanistan post-2014, and then you’ve –

GEN. DEMPSEY: Bluntly in the sense that we need a partnership with them beyond –

Q: Right.


Q: Continued military presence, you know, right at the time when Iraq is ending and, you know, the wars at home are lighting up with people saying, it’s about time. At the same time, we’re hearing a lot of talk about listening to the generals. So when you go back to Washington into next year, are you – are you preparing to fight for this – for this plan for Afghanistan? Or are you preparing to accept political decisions that might be coming from whether it’s the politics or the public or money, that this may not be, we may not be able to get to beyond 2014.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. I’ll probably make news with this, but I find some of those articles about, you know, the divergence or the control of the generals to be kind of offensive, to tell you the truth. And here’s why. You know, one of the things that marks us as a military profession in a democracy is civilian – is civilian rule. I mean, our civilian leaders are under no obligation to accept our advice. And that’s what it is – it’s advice. It’s military judgments. It’s alternatives. It’s options. And at the end of the day, you know, our system is built on the fact that it will be our civilian leaders who make that decision. And I don’t find that in any way to challenge my manhood nor my position. And, in fact, if it were the opposite, I think we should all be concerned.

So – and by the way, you suggested – and I want to make sure that I address this suggestion – that it will be a fight to keep some kind of presence beyond 2014. I don’t think that at all.

Now, Mark, mind you, I’m also one who thinks that we’ve got it pretty close to right in Iraq, to tell you the truth. And that’s not something – that’s not a talking point I’ve been handed; that’s a personal belief based on a long time in this region and what I believe to be an important in encouraging Iraq to take control of its own future with our help, which can be delivered on the basis of the Office of Security Cooperation and eventually with rotational training exercises. I think that’s actually quite good.

Break. Afghanistan is a much more challenging environment. And I think our presence beyond ’14 may require – I mean, remember, now, we’re trying to predict what Afghanistan’s going to look like in three years. And that’s a little risky, actually. But my prediction today would be, we’ll probably need some different – there’s no template – we’ll probably need some different relationship with Afghanistan. And I think it’s important for us to say that right now so that the Pakistanis understand that this is not – you know, three years from now, we don’t shut the lights off and run away and leave this to them.

And secondly – there’s three – secondly, I think the Taliban needs to understand that, you know, this is not the post-Soviet void that they can rush in and fill and then we’ll have a sequel to “Charlie Wilson’s War.” And then third audience is ourselves, because I think it’s important that those who are there serving right now understand that we’re committed to this now.

Now, you know, I’m not predicting tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines; but I am predicting that the template will probably be different. I don’t think it’s going to be a fight with our civilian leaders; I think they understand that. I think it’s up to us to scope it.

All right. Thanks.

Q: Thank you, sir.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Thank you.