DOD News Briefing with Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins via Teleconference from Afghanistan
COL. DAVID LAPAN (Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Media Operations): Good morning to those here at the Pentagon, and good evening to General Martins in Kabul.
I'd like to welcome to the Pentagon Briefing Room for the first time Army Brigadier General Mark Martins, the commanding general of the Rule of Law Field Force-Afghanistan. In September 2009, General Martins was assigned as interim commander of the then newly established Joint Task Force 435, and he deployed soon thereafter to Afghanistan. Upon Senate confirmation of Vice Admiral Harward in November 2009, General Martins assumed duties as Joint Task Force 435's first deputy commander.
As he began his second year in Afghanistan this past September, General Martins transitioned to his current duties as part of a larger reorganization of U.S. government efforts to promote the rule of law. General Martins' command provides essential field capabilities, liaison and security to partner to Afghan and coalition civil-military rule-of-law project teams in nonpermissive areas of the country. I won't even attempt the acronym, but the task force mission is to enable partners to build Afghan criminal justice capacity, increase access to dispute resolution services, fight corruption and promote the legitimacy of the Afghan government.
As you know, we tried to hold this press conference a week ago but technical issues intervened, so we're glad those have been resolved. And as I said at the start, the general joins us from Kabul. He'll provide brief comments and then take your questions.
And with that, sir, I will turn it over to you.
GEN. MARTINS: Thank you. And good morning. Those of you I've had the pleasure of speaking with here in Afghanistan know that I wasn't completely disappointed that the technical glitch last week caused the cancellation of the presser. That said, it's great to be with you today.
As we move further into 2011, it's worth recalling that there were core grievances 20 years ago in the Afghanistan of the early 1990s that spawned and subsequently empowered the Taliban, leading to the opening of this land as a safe haven for al-Qaida. One of these grievances was the inability of the post-communist Afghan governments to establish a foundation at the subnational level. With no competing authority, the predatory actions of corrupt warlords fueled hatred as local strongmen vying for power sought to compel obedience through the use of force in support of blatant self-interest. Under such conditions, even the harsh and repressive forms of dispute resolution and discipline, advertised by the Taliban as justice, seemed a tolerable alternative.
Fast forward to today. And while much about the situation is different from and more favorable than that of 20 years ago, it is significant that surveys of the Afghan population in key districts reflect a continued lack of governance at this subnational level. Note that Afghanistan is subdivided into 34 provinces and 369 districts.
This lack of governance, the surveys show, is accompanied by a lack of confidence in the government's ability to deliver justice, resolve civil disputes and address a perceived culture of impunity among the powerful. Establishing the rule of law in these districts is critical to the kind of sound governance that will enable an enduring transition of security responsibility to Afghan forces and deny this rugged country as a sanctuary for global threats.
By providing essential field capabilities -- and by that I mean security, communications, transportation, contracting, engineering -- the Rule of Law Field Force is helping Afghan officials establish rule-of-law green zones in recently cleared areas in Afghanistan. Doing so requires close coordination with locally deployed military units and partnered Afghan forces, as well as with talented civilian officials from the U.S. interagency, from Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union, the United Nations and other committed international donors.
All Rule of Law Field Force operations are undertaken with an Afghan government lead, and pursuant to civilian policy guidance from Ambassadors Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. chief of diplomatic mission, and Hans Klemm, the coordinating director for rule of law and law enforcement. And as with all international rule-of-law support efforts in Afghanistan, those of the Rule of Law Field Force fall under the aegis of the United Nations and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1917.
Recent efforts to deliver better governance in western Kandahar City illustrate how an Afghan- and civilian-led rule-of-law campaign is being carried out, and how the Rule of Law Field Force is contributing. The campaign is focused upon holding what has been cleared and then building the institutions necessary for security that will last after soldiers are no longer present.
The large Sarposa detention facility in this area, run by Afghanistan's Ministry of Justice, has in recent years been chronically vulnerable and a symbol of the government's ineffectiveness. In 2008, some 400 Taliban prisoners escaped in a daring daylight attack. Assassinations of investigators, bribery of prosecutors, intimidation of justices, and attacks upon witnesses have corrupted the system and obscured both evidence and law. The Afghan national government has been reinforced -- I'm sorry, has been reinforcing the objective of establishing the rule-of-law green zone adjacent to Sarposa prison, and then projecting criminal justice, as well as mediation and civil-dispute resolution, to outlying districts.
Afghanistan's ministers of Justice and Interior on 27 September agreed -- of last year -- agreed to immediately build and man, with coalition-nation financing and international advisory assistance, a secure complex known as the Chel Zeena Criminal Investigative Center. The immediate goal of Chel Zeena is to conduct professional, evidence-based investigations, and independent, law-governed prosecutions of the individuals detained in the newly refurbished Sarposa pre-trial detention facility adjacent to it.
Civilian corrections mentors, meanwhile, will work to bring the conditions of detention into compliance with Afghanistan's 2005 law on prisons and detentions, while also reviving the vocational, technical and education bloc of the facility.
The Chel Zeena center, two buildings of which have been inhabited since mid-December, features modest but efficient offices, round-the-clock lighting and utilities, administrative facilities, evidence and hearing rooms, as well as protective housing for investigators, prosecutors, guards and clerical personnel.
In addition to Kandahar City, rule of law green zones are being established in other provincial centers, with linkage to protective zones for outlying districts. This hub-and-spoke linkage between green zones in key provinces and districts is helping to create a system of justice at the subnational level.
It takes a network to defeat a network. The resulting improvements in district governance can help displace the Taliban and prevent their return by offering less arbitrary dispute resolution and dispelling fear among the population. These efforts are modest in cost, and the improvements are achievable and sustainable. The strengthening of traditional dispute resolution at the local level is one of the most efficient and effective ways to achieve the kind of security and stability that can enable transition of responsibility to the Afghan government and its forces, and protect our own core national security interests.
With that as an introduction, I will be happy to take questions.
COL. LAPAN: Charley.
Q: General, Charley Keyes from CNN. Personally speaking and looking back on your impressive resume, what's your expectation that this -- that this will stick when soldiers are no longer present?
And can you give us some sense of, over the time that you've been in Afghanistan, how you've noticed that there has been an increase in contact and connection with the central government?
GEN. MARTINS: Yeah, the first question, on sustainability beyond the time when soldiers are present, this, we believe, as we see it now in the districts that have recently been cleared through the operations of brave Afghan National Security Forces and coalition forces and now are being -- governance being revived or resuscitated by some brave prosecutors and mediators and other government officials, is that this is the way to get sustainable security; that by having, really at modest cost, a few individuals who are pretty well trained and who are capable of receiving the grievances, you can turn shooting into shouting, as it were, and get the kind of security that is lasting.
There are challenges with that, actually getting them fielded, and we've seen those. But you know, to transition into your second question, I've noticed that we have more districts covered, and deputy minister for the Independent Director of Local Governance Barna Karimi was telling me yesterday that there are about 88 districts that don't have a district attorney. There are a little over a hundred that don't have a judge actually working in them.
We are moving with -- in support of the Afghan government to decrease that number, and I've just personally seen it reduced by several, being down in Kandahar, in Zhari district, in Arghandab and so forth.
So there's certainly tough sledding ahead, but one is able to see progress in this area.
COL. LAPAN: Michael.
Q: General, it's Mike Evans from The London Times here. What component, if you like, or what part of the general assessments being made about which districts can be transitioned through Afghan -- Afghanistan, Afghan forces -- what roles do -- how big a role are you playing in that sort of assessment? Because clearly the rule of law and justice, et cetera, is pretty important to every single district.
GEN. MARTINS: I heard almost all of your question, but you said -- what role is who playing? I'm sorry.
Q: You, General, you.
GEN. MARTINS: Oh, okay. Thank you. Well, with that, we are focused on these districts where the vacuum in governance creates a real opportunity for enemies of the Afghan state and people. The transition process is going to be something led by the Afghan government, and I defer you to them to ask, you know, which provinces and districts may be first in that regard or which ones they're thinking of.
But the Rule of Law Field Force, at the Afghan government's request and pursuant to their initiatives, is seeking to help shore up and provide those essential capabilities in the districts that are most at risk.
And remember, I mean, the Taliban's calling card, right, is justice -- so-called justice. It is an attempt to compete in the area of dispute resolution. So we see as essential to transition the providing of an alternative and a capable, credible alternative to the kind of draconian dispute resolution that the Taliban provide.
COL. LAPAN: Jim.
Q: General, this is Jim Garamone with American Forces Press Service. For the areas that have these green zones, have you noticed a change in Afghan attitudes? And how do you measure that?
GEN. MARTINS: Well, I mean, one measure of attitudes, of course, is opinion polling. I'm working with them in some of these protected enclaves. You see integration. You see some of the silos or stovepipes that can often make a criminal justice system dysfunctional -- you see that breaking down.
Things that didn't seem possible in the area of coordination seem possible. I observe an energy that comes from that, a positive energy, a feeling of possibility, fears. And there are fears to be had out there. These people are under threat of assassination and attack. But as they get into a protected enclave, where they can have, you know, modest housing and a basic well-lit place to work with utilities and other things, working together with their fellow -- the colleagues in law enforcement, you see a sense of energy and optimism.
Already at theChel Zeena complex in these early days, they've solved a couple of cases by pulling together the different files that different investigative ministries had and that were in the possession of the detention facility itself, so generally a positive thing that happens when you bring government officials who need security into a security bubble. And again, we see this as absolutely essential to transitioning security responsibility.
COL. LAPAN: Raghubir?
Q: Thank you. Thank you – thank you for this. Raghubir Goyal from India Globe and Asia Today. General, thank you for this briefing here today. My question is that today more and more Afghanis are feeling better than before. But what they're asking is basics of daily needs in their life, like rule of law, corrupt-free society and no more safe havens as far as Taliban and al-Qaida is concerned.
Are they getting the basics of life today? And do you believe that no more safe haven? And can they have one day a corrupt-free society?
GEN. MARTINS: Well, thank you. Well, the question of whether they are getting the basics -- I agree with you. The rule of law and governance are a prerequisite for having the kind of economic development and reconstruction that are -- that are needed, and that if the basics of governance can be provided many of these other things then are made possible. There's a freedom of movement. There's a freedom of action, of economic forces and efforts that can raise the quality of life for all Afghans.
You asked whether they will move toward a corrupt-free society. Make no mistake. We are all aware of the fact, as President Karzai has said, that corruption poses a fatal threat to the institutions of the Afghan state and that there are criminal networks that enjoy a degree of public support, even, and political patronage. These have to be addressed. They have to be addressed.
There's needed to be a greater focus on that. And in fact there has been a greater focus on -- that will continue. The Rule of Law Field Force is very much focused on that provincial and district level providing pockets of security that can be islands of integrity where officials can act free from intimidation and attack and do their duties following the evidence where it leads and performing their functions in a non-corrupt fashion, with the aid of international advisers and trainers who know how to do these things and can provide the expert assistance.
COL. LAPAN: Rich.
Q: Hello. Sir, Richard Sisk from The New York Daily News. How do you decide on questions of custody of a suspect or a perpetrator, whether that individual will go into U.S. custody or Afghan custody to be dealt with? What happens along the intersect, sir?
GEN. MARTINS: I'm sorry. What was the last sentence?
Q: Just basically, what happens when there's a question of whether someone goes into U.S. custody to be taken to Bagram? Oh, and by the way, sir, how many prisoners are now held in Bagram by the U.S.? -- and whether they go into Afghan custody to be dealt with by them.
GEN. MARTINS: Yeah, I am not in the process of doing U.S detention operations any longer. I'd refer you on that question to U.S. Forces-Afghanistan for the figure up in Parwan. I know it's more than a thousand, but I don't know the exact number.
The individuals -- if they are arrested, captured, by Afghan security forces -- go into the Afghan system. If U.S. forces detain them, they will either be transferred to Afghan custody or detained under law of armed conflict detention at the Detention Facility in Parwan, which, as you know, is transitioning over time to Afghan detention under Afghan criminal courts and criminal procedures. In fact, there have been over 50 trials, I know, under the Afghan system of detainees at the Detention Facility in Parwan.
So long-term security threats that are determined to be under law of armed conflict detention will go to the Detention Facility in Parwan, where a detainee review-board system hears them.
But as of 1 September, I've been with the Rule of Law Field Force, very much interested in building the Afghan capacity for effective, humane detentions, but also trials under Afghan law. And that, of course, helps any effort in detention if we can build the Afghan capacity, which is very much key to transitioning security to them.
Q: If I could follow up, please.
COL. LAPAN: Yes.
Q: Sir, are there disputes between U.S. and Afghan authorities on matters of custody of individuals? And how are those resolved, sir?
GEN. MARTINS: Yeah, I would refer you for issues on detention policy and questions on that to United States Forces-Afghanistan.
Now, rule of law issues, there are individuals who are in Afghan custody in Sarposa Detention Facility. And we are occasionally helping them move detainees who are serious insurgents to a facility known as the Afghanistan National Detention Facility. This is something that when they seek our assistance in moving an insurgent to the national detention facility in Pul-e Charkhi or the recently opened wing of the Parwan facility, we seek to help them with logistical support and so on to ensure that their more serious insurgents remain out of contact with the rest of the population and secured.
One of the objectives of the rule-of-law strategy of the United States is to have detention facilities. And this -- by this we mean the detention facilities of Afghanistan no longer be breeding grounds for insurgents and for terrorism. So this is something that the Rule of Law Field Force is also associated with.
COL. LAPAN: Kevin.
Q: Hi, this is Kevin Baron from Stars and Stripes. I'm a little unclear of how much of what you do is just providing security -- or you said logistics -- helping the Afghans and civilians do what they need to do and how much of it is are military lawyers, military JAG [Judge Advocate General] crew, people in uniform, training Afghans how to run a legal system, a judicial system.
And secondly, what is your end goal for what you do? You mentioned -- you know, there are 88 districts without DAs [district attorneys] and hundreds of judges, you know, unfilled. Is there -- is there an end point to what you're doing, or are you guys just trying to do as much as you can before you're told to come home?
GEN. MARTINS: First -- the first question on whether we're actually providing training and advisory assistance, helping them run the system or facilitating providing security and so forth, the answer is the latter.
The Rule of Law Field Force facilitates the provision -- or facilitates the training and advisory assistance by civilian trainers and advisers. For every one member of the Rule of Law Field Force, a military organization that provides those essential field capabilities, there are at least two civilian trainers and advisers that have otherwise been unable to provide the support because of security -- lack of a security bubble. So it enables civilian talent to get into the effort. And then for every one of the Rule of Law Field Force involved, the objective is four to five Afghan partners -- you know, those who would receive the benefits of that civilian training and advisory assistance.
Now, we do have judge advocates in the Rule of Law Field Force to not only provide legal advice, but also to do liaison. It certainly does help to know what a functioning criminal-justice system looks like, to know the value of a transparent case-management system and how that gets managed. But the focus is on enabling and facilitating U.S. but also inter agents -- international-partner civilian efforts to train and advise.
On your second question on, you know, what is the goal here, the goal ultimately, of course, is security, stability, transition to Afghan control in a manner that prevents this -- the rugged terrain from ever again becoming a sanctuary that enables al-Qaida to operate from. We have milestones and markers that do involve the provision of officials to districts, the manning of them, the level of training those individuals have, public opinion surveys and so forth.
I can tell you one encouraging measure -- not numerical, but it goes to just the fortitude and the desire of the Afghans to do this. I was with Tahir Momin, who is the senior investigator for national-security crimes in Afghanistan, the other day. We were up at 7:30 in the morning, at his first engagement. He was talking and working with investigators, prosecutors, judges, throughout Kandahar province, until 3:30 in the morning the next day. And I have no doubt that after that he was still talking to one of his colleagues when he drove away, and I left him at the Kabul Airport.
But these are -- the encouraging sorts of metrics and indicators are really the ones in the hearts and minds of our Afghan partners. And there are some real brave ones and some real motivated prosecutors, judges, defense counsel, who want to take on this difficult effort.
COL. LAPAN: Carl, do you have one?
Q: I changed my mind.
COL. LAPAN: Okay. Charley.
Q: Charley Keyes again, CNN. Please, sir, just getting back to the issue of detainees -- and I realize that's not your direct role, but I was wondering if you are frustrated or aware of the frustration that some U.S. forces feel that detainees are released too quickly from the Afghanistan system -- what's been flippantly called "catch and release." Is this an issue? And doesn't this play to the undermining of confidence in the whole system?
GEN. MARTINS: Detention has to be a -- an option in armed conflict. The alternatives are not -- are not something we can really allow to happen. Soldiers have to have the ability to take prisoners.
The building of capacity in Afghan institutions has involved deploying national-security prosecutors to provinces where there are insurgents. These aren't, as you've indicated, normal criminals; these are groups seeking to take down the state by force of arms. So it's clearly important and a big part of this effort to assist the Afghans in strengthening their institutions so they can put individuals in confinement in a legitimate way.
I mean, the most legitimate sustainable, legally, form of detention is a sentence pursuant to a court process where a judge has imposed that sentence. But then of course the institutions need to be able to secure the individual in a detention facility or a prison where treatment is humane and there -- and the insurgency is not allowed to breed within it.
So that's very much at the center of what we're trying to do -- is to prevent the situation where individuals who need to be deprived of their liberty. And detention is one of those things that still is the most humane way of reconciling security interests and liberty interests. Humane detention still in armed conflict is one of those best and humane ways to deal with that difficult balance. But it's very much a part of what the Rule of Law Field Force is doing to create detention within the Afghan system that is humane, effective and legitimate.
Q: And your level of frustration in how that's being implemented, sir?
GEN. MARTINS: Yeah, I don't -- I'm not at all sure I share your characterization. There are challenges here. There's need to continue to provide officials with security. The effort down in Sarposa includes the provision of a barracks for the guards so that they can be on-station 24 and seven [24 hours a day, 7 days a week]. There are western trainers and advisers. These are very experienced prison wardens from state, federal, local prison systems who can provide the expertise. And there are coalition forces nearby partnered with the Afghan National Police. So Sarposa, were it to -- you know, when it suffered the escape of the 400 in 2008, that was a big blow. It has now become a hard-won symbol of government strength now under the rule of law. And that's certainly something that we're seeking to help replicate in other areas around Afghanistan.
COL. LAPAN: One last.
Q: Thank you, General. It's me, Goyal, again. My question is that in the past many Afghans were being misled by Taliban that they can provide better life than what they had or have. My question is that -- what message are you giving them, to the Afghans that you are there to protect them, their security and better life than what they had before?
GEN. MARTINS: Yes. Well, you know, trying to get the word out, the transparency that the government of Afghanistan is showing in its system. I noted that today there was a press conference involving the alleged suicide bombers that have been posing a serious threat to Kabul and (inaudible) and Wardak and elsewhere. Showing the system working is something that is a major challenge of the government. And, as you know, the media markets or the listening markets are very compartmentalized. Radio is the main form by which individuals get their information. So getting this kind of word out is important.
But humane treatment of detainees, justice that comes out of a court process, these kinds of things are going to -- appear to be sending signals that are preferable when Afghans are given the choice to the Draconian sort of dispute resolution that the Taliban offers. And as, Barna Karimi, again, this deputy minister for the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, was telling me yesterday, you know, that really is the calling card of the Taliban, isn't it? It's that they can provide governance or dispute resolution. That is their main offer. Karimi said to me they really can't compete in providing systemic health care or developmental opportunity or the coordation of international aid from donors.
What they can purport to do, if they're allowed and if they -- a vacuum exists, they can purport to provide dispute resolution swiftly, if harsh and repressive. And unless that vacuum is filled with a credible alternative, they'll be given a chance that the Afghan government doesn't want to give them.
COL. LAPAN: Okay. Thank you, General Martins. I'll send it back to you for any closing remarks that you'd like to make.
GEN. MARTINS: Well, thank you, Dave. In conclusion, so-called shadow Taliban courts present a challenge to the extent that Afghans do not associate them with the harsh sentences they often mete out, or with the imposition of repressive norms that they often facilitate. And it is because of memories of both, under Taliban rule, of course, that the Taliban get little support in polls even among the Pashtun.
Though only one part of what must be a comprehensive campaign, rule-of-law green zones can provide Afghan investigators, prosecutors, judges, corrections guards, arbitrators and others the security and other support necessary for them to present a capable Afghan-government alternative. We find that in the provinces and districts where law and dispute resolution are being tolerably delivered, Afghans give the government decent marks. To be sure, as President Karzai has repeatedly noted, Afghan officials also have to take on official corruption, and all the instruments of a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign must be employed against those threatening the Afghan people and security.
But because rule of law is a critical aspect of effective and legitimate governance, these zones and other types of basic support are quite important. Under appropriate civilian policy guidance, in coordination with international partners and other military commanders, and while following the lead of the Afghan government, the Rule of Law Field Force-Afghanistan is helping to provide such support. This support is modest in cost, is directed towards goals that are achievable, and results in improvements that are sustainable. Establishing the rule of law in key districts will be essential to setting conditions for a form of transition to Afghan security that protects our and our partners' vital and enduring interests.
COL. LAPAN: Thank you again, General.