TSR: "You've got to start banging India and Pakistan's heads together because they are the ones who are fueling this war."
November 24, 2009
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Suzanne Malveaux talks to Michael about the upcoming announcement regarding the Obama administration's Afghanistan strategy. On the night that Obama hosts a dinner for the Indian prime minister, Michael reflects on the role India plays in the AfPak equation.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX: While President Obama is vowing to finish the job in Afghanistan, will more troops actually make a difference? Over the years, CNN's Michael Ware has spent a lot of time covering the war in Afghanistan, and he's joining us now from New York.
Michael, thanks for being here. Obviously we're hearing that we're on the very verge of getting a decision about the number of troops. What do you make of the idea of putting more U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan? Is it going to make much of a difference?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it depends what the president hopes to achieve. If the president wants to put pressure on the Taliban war machine, then, yes, he needs to send more troops because right now with all the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, the Taliban machinery is virtually untouched. Indeed, American operations are feeding into it, giving it more recruits -- indeed, as Nic's package shows -- from the drones, from other sorts of attacks. So America doesn't have enough forces on the ground to actually hurt the Taliban. The idea would be to put pressure on them, to turn the screw and to bring them to the negotiating table, which we see the Afghan government trying to do.
But more importantly, and perhaps poignantly we have the Indian leader in the country today meeting with the president, and what Americans need to understand, and this is a bit difficult, American soldiers are dying more because of India's rivalry with Pakistan using Afghanistan as a battlefield than it has anything to do with jihad or holy war or the Taliban, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: And obviously, Michael, that's something that the president talked about with the prime minister of India today, but I -- I know there's been a split. I've spoken with senior administration officials over months on end here about this top-down versus bottom-up approach, that you either try to build up the Afghan Army and police, or you try to work with these warlords, these little small militia groups to try to take on the Taliban themselves. How do you think more U.S. troops is going to -- is going to affect the balance there?
WARE: Well, it's going to help you meet in the middle between those two notions. The U.S. mission desperately needs to do both of those things. It needs to build an Afghan Army and an Afghan police service that can at least vaguely do the job, at least in an Afghan way.
But at the end of the day, I mean, I lived in Afghanistan. I lived in Kandahar, the homeland, the heartland, the birthplace of the Taliban. I know that place, and there, there's no such thing as a central government. There's no federal tax or services. It's about valley by valley by valley and village by village by village. That's where power rests. If you have a dispute with your neighbor, you don't go to the police. You go to the local warlord, and he answers to a warlord above him. They are the ones who control it. So if you can bring them on board -- some of them are on the fence, some are now with the Taliban simply because that's in their interests right now -- then if one of those warlords says there will be no Taliban in my district, there will be no Taliban in his district. Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Michael, what do the Afghan people think about this? Do they want us there?
WARE: Ah, well, certainly at first, certainly at first, removing the Taliban. Although let's not forget, the Taliban were welcomed when they first arrived because the chaos after the Soviet invasion and America turned its back, that's something the Afghan people have yet to forget, that that left them in this anarchy -- raping, pillaging, it's unimaginable the anarchy that went on, Suzanne, and America left them to that fate. The Taliban rose up and in the religious cloak that it wore said we'll bring you law and order, and they did. Now when that went too far, sure, the Americans removed them. There was some celebration, but at the end of the day ordinary Afghans are fiercely nationalist, and they see any foreigner as a foreigner. They see the Americans as foreign occupiers.
MALVEAUX: So they don't trust us? Do they trust us?
WARE: No, no, they don't at all. So many promises made. Where's the delivery? Where's the roads? Where's the electricity? Where's the schools? Where's the security? You have your tanks roll through my village in the day. You pass out lots of lovely leaflets. You talk to our elders, but who rules at night? And where will you be tomorrow when I'm attacked? No. They don't trust you at all.
MALVEAUX: What would you do if you had a chance to talk to the president? What would you say to him about what needs to be happening next when you see the situation on the ground?
WARE: All right, several things. We could talk for a long time about this, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Only a few minutes, Michael.
WARE: First, send in the troops. Apply the pressure at the joints and ligatures of the Taliban. You can't cover the whole place so try to find places where you can hit them with U.S. troops where it hurts. Bring in the Afghan forces as best they are and as quick as you can build them where you can, but turn to the tribal leaders and the old warlords. Pay them off. Put it in their interests, outbid the Taliban. That will give you a success similar to what you saw in Iraq. It won't be pretty. It will be messy, but at least it will hold itself together.
MALVEAUX: All right.
WARE: And finally, you've got to start banging India and Pakistan's heads together because they are the ones who are fueling this war.
MALVEAUX: All right. Michael Ware, thank you so much.