Drones Killing Civilians and Green on Blue Attacks — Today’s Q’s for O’s NSA — 5/17/2012

May 17, 2012 5:10pm

TOM DONILON, NATIONAL SECURTY ADVISER: Hi, Jake. How are you?

JAKE TAPPER: First of all, Tom, thanks for coming and doing this. I appreciate it. Two questions. One, given, according to Mr. Brennan, President Obama’s desire for there to be more transparency when it comes to the drone program, I was wondering if you could tell us what your concerns are given the lawsuits in Pakistan about the drone program, specifically the members of the tribal jirga that were killed in 2011, if you’re afraid that that is going to have an effect, not only on the drone program but on diplomatic relations with Pakistan.

And my second question having to do with — and I’ll — if you need a reminder of the second question I’ll be here too, just like Helene –

DONILON: Go ahead.

TAPPER: The second question, dealing with the handover to Afghan security forces, how concerned is the administration at this point when it comes to the green-on-blue incidents, which seem to be keep — which seem to keep happening? Are you still convinced — is the administration still convinced, as it was weeks ago, that there’s no correlation between these incidents?

And the fact that they keep happening — I don’t know the percentage right now, but I think it might be roughly a third of U.S. casualties this year are from green-on-blue incidents. How – what does that say about the condition of the Afghan forces when we hand over the country?

DONILON: On the first question, I really can’t — I really can’t comment on either — on either a lawsuit or a specific – or specific efforts. I can speak generally, though –

TAPPER: OK.

DONILON: — about it. We have undertaken, as I said earlier, from the outset of this administration, a determined effort to — and a targeted effort, which was really critical — against al-Qaida and associated forces who intend to do harm to the United States. And that effort has been successful, and that effort has a lot of elements to it.

That effort is carefully overseen by the White House, by the president, and by the senior members of his administration and carried out consistent with, as John’s speech laid out at the Wilson Center, really consistent with international law, domestic law, ethics, rules of war. And those are the instructions we have from the president, and that’s what we do every day with respect to these — with respect to these programs. So I really can’t go any further than that, Jake.

With respect to transition and the so-called green-on-blue issues, I guess I say the following things about that. Number one is we have built, with the Afghans and our partners, a very large Afghan National Army, an Afghan national force. It’s now, as I said, I think — and we can — Catlin (sp) and others can check the numbers – I think it’s around — it’s over 330,000 forces at this point, heading to 352,000. That’s the first point.

The second is, so — that the number of instances, right, that you raised are quite small when you take it against the backdrop of building a very large force for the ultimate security of Afghanistan.

Third, the performance of the Afghan national forces, in some quite important instances, as you know, including the attacks in Kabul recently and elsewhere, have been very good. And I think reflects, with respect to the training of those specific forces, and I think more generally, progress that’s been made.

Number four, with respect to the quality of the force going forward, as I said, we are — you know, we’re two and a half years out, right, from an ultimate turnover to full Afghan lead, although we will decide in Chicago, I believe — the leaders will decide in Chicago that that transition should begin in the course of 2013, that transition meaning the transition from the United States and ISAF forces being in the lead to having the — us step back into an advise-and-assist role and the Afghans being in the lead.

Number five, there are stresses and strains in a war zone. And there are lots of reasons for these instances. And we have to address them seriously, come up with systems for addressing what can be really kind of very complex situations. And we’re doing that. General John Allen is very focused on this — and again, putting in place the kinds of systems, the kinds of screening that you want to have in place to ensure that you minimize these kinds of instances.

But the overall point I would make is that when taken against the backdrop of the scale of the force that’s being built by the United States and ISAF, this is not a large number of instances. That said, it has to be taken very seriously because as you’re saying, Jake, you have to ask yourself, right, why? You have to ask yourself, if this — if this is a trend, why is that trend ongoing? You have to ask yourself, then, what can we do about that, right, in order to ensure that we do our very best to protect our forces, our men and women who are serving in Afghanistan and our allies and partners. Yeah.

TAPPER: This is just a quick follow on drones just because you didn’t really answer the question, so if I could offer a substitute — (laughter) — which is given the transparency that President Obama has called for, can we — do we pay innocent civilians when they’re killed by — I know that we do so, for instance, if there’s an accident in Afghanistan.

DONILON: If there’s — if there’s a civilian casualty incident in Afghanistan, you know, we obviously will investigate it and put forward compensation, obviously, for the — for the loss of loved ones.

TAPPER: But what if it’s not in Afghanistan? What if it’s in a different country in which we’re operating with different techniques of military operations and innocent civilians are killed? Does the United States do anything to compensate the families?

DONILON: Yeah. Well, I mean, there’s a — there’s a — there are a lot of possibilities in that question, including instances like occurred on the cross-border incident in the end of November in Pakistan, where it would be, I think, appropriate to talk about compensation issues. I don’t know if compensation was ultimately paid in that case. That was — those were Pakistani soldiers who were killed. With respect to other examples, Jake, I’m just not going to go there.

-Jake Tapper

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