PA: "The flags say it all. This is an American war."
December 01, 2009
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Immediately following the speech, Michael is back at the map with John King to show the exact line of delineation between where the NATO troops are and where the American troops are ... and overwhelmingly the American troops are where the Taliban is strongest. Despite the NATO support, "This is an American war."
Google maps also gives a good idea of the difficulty of the terrain (at the end of the Himalayas) that we are trying to close down and control, and Michael asks where the discussion was about "the neighbors" who are such important players in this war.
WOLF BLITZER: Let's go to John King right now. He's at the magic map with Michael Ware. Michael has spent a lot of time in Afghanistan.
Guys, you know this story quite well. The challenges are daunting.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you heard the president make the policy argument why he's sending more troops. You heard him answer some of his political supporters and his critics. Let's take a closer look with Michael Ware at the challenge the president outlined tonight.
Let's just begin right here. Here's your map of Afghanistan. The capital, Kabul is here. Some of the more dicey regions here.
Let me start by showing you the state of play right now by bringing in the current troop levels just quickly to refresh. About 45,000 NATO troops, about 68,000 U.S. troops now. The president says he will add 30,000 plus to that.
And let's close it down, Michael Ware. What is most significant just as a quick set up about this map? You see most of the American flags down here. The NATO forces up here.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the flags say it all, John. This is an American war.
Now, whether NATO antes up with more troops or not -- which most likely it's not except in a tokenistic sense -- look at the NATO flags. Where's the conflict? It's not there. The conflict is down here on the Pakistani border region.
KING: Let me jump in and illustrate as you talk. Keep going.
WARE: That's where this war is being fought. America, Britain, even the Aussies in Oruzgan province, that's where the battle is. NATO isn't in it. This is an American war. That's what that tells us.
KING: To reinforce your point, inside the line where you saw most of the American troops, the darker the province, the stronger the Taliban. So the greatest Taliban presence --
WARE: And I'd even make some of these provinces darker. Kandahar, the capital city is under siege. Zabol, there's entire districts that are Taliban control right at this moment. Paktika, I mean, most of that is under Taliban influence if not control. And remember, there's an American soldier still being held hostage. He was taken out of this area and is somewhere around here. So, I would make this a lot darker.
KING: And let's reinforce the reason. You're in this area right here. We're focusing on this side of the border, which is Afghanistan, a huge military challenge. But the president did make the point that even if things go perfectly here, you still have a giant question as to what happens in Pakistan.
WARE: Absolutely. The war in Afghanistan is not going to be ultimately won or lost in Afghanistan. There's a lot of other pieces. Key to that is Pakistan. These sanctuaries, these safe havens. Now let's remember--
KING: I just want to show one view. I'll interrupt you for one second.
Safe havens including, we believe, Osama bin Laden.
WARE: Osama bin Laden. Most likely, people say, he's here in this region. But let's not forget there's two Taliban. There's an Afghan Taliban, and there's a Pakistani Taliban.
The Pakistani military right now is fighting the Pakistani Taliban. Right? But that's not the only sanctuary. All of this, all of it is Taliban sanctuary. Indeed, down here in the Pakistani city of Quetta, it's known by American intelligence, by Ambassador Holbrooke as the home of the Taliban Shura. So all of that is Taliban and anti-American militant safe haven, not just the highlighted areas.
KING: I want to do one other point. I want to show one other thing to illustrate two points. Number one, the president talked about the past and the under-resourcing, under- U.S. resourcing. And he talked about mistakes that were made. He said the al Qaeda leadership was allowed to escape.
This, of course, is Tora Bora where they believe back in the early days, Osama bin Laden escaped into Pakistan. Instructive not only to talk about past mistakes, but also, Michael, the terrain. This is not Iraq. This is not flat desert.
WARE: Absolutely not. Now a very key lesson was learned in this battle in 2001. There, American special forces relied on -- American special forces relied on Afghan militia to do most of the fighting. Well, Osama paid them more than we did. So he just slipped through the back door, which you can see, you know, there's a myriad of back doors.
So the next big battle in similar terrain in March, 2002, operate in Shahi-Kot, that was American-led and fought. That was the first lesson. The second lesson. Look at this, mate. Look at this.
This border region -- this is the end of the Himalayas. These valleys swallow infantry divisions whole. How on earth do you ever expect anyone, let alone the Afghans, even the American military to seal that? It's just not going to happen.
KING: Well, then on that point as we make this go away, let's come back to where we are in terms of the troops today. The president said he can send in 30,000 more. He hopes to get several thousand more from the NATO allies. And he makes the case to the American people tonight, you may be opposed to this. But more now is the solution to getting out sooner.
KING: Three years, he says, you can have the Afghans up into training and begin to transition to hand back them all of these difficult areas. Based on the past experience, training the Afghans, keeping them in the security forces once they join up, what are the challenges?
WARE: Well, first, like you say, you've got to put together as quickly as possible an Afghan fighting force that whether it's held together by sticky tape or string like the Iraqi security forces, can at least be effective to some degree. At least that gives you something. But it's not enough.
I mean, Kandahar, Helmand, do you know how many Afghan troops are down there? Virtually none. They're just token presences. You know who controls those regions? If it's not the Taliban, it's the local district chief. It's the local tribal chief. They're the people America needs to reach out to, either until the Army is built or even after. You're not going to be able to do anything without local partners.
KING: And as the president discussed the challenge tonight in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, as well, you make the case that something was missing.
WARE: Yes. Okay. We heard Pakistan mentioned. That was a key word, but it was such a brief passing mention. It was the rhetoric that we heard before from previous administrations.
The true story of this Afghan war is that Saudi Arabia is playing a hand in here. Iran is playing a hand in here. India has enormous concern in Pakistan because Pakistan and India are rivals. They're using Afghanistan as yet another battlefield. So, where was any kind of consideration from the president about the regional approach? This broad chess game that needs to be played to get Americans home from there?
KING: So, Campbell, we lay out there some of the policy challenges. Michael making the case that the president left out a few pieces of the neighborhood, but as we showed you on the ground in Afghanistan across the border in Pakistan, a huge military challenge for the president. And in that speech, Campbell, you heard full well, not only did he outline why he made these decisions but also piece by piece trying to address what he knows is a huge political debate back here at home.