AC: "U.S. troops are bleeding and dying in Afghanistan over less to do with jihad...and almost everything to do with Pakistani and Indian rivalry."
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Erica Hill talks to Michael, Fareed Zakaria, and Atia Abawi about the expected announcement of a troop increase to Afghanistan. But will more boots on the ground be enough to turn the situation around?
ERICA HILL: First up, though, President Obama's decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan. Three months after his commander, General Stanley McChrystal, called for additional forces and more than eight years after the war began, the outlines are now coming into focus.
Reportedly, as many as 34,000 additional troops will be sent. That's on top of 20,000 the president sent in March. And it would push force levels there above the 100,000 mark -- the new strategy evolving out of nine top-level White House meetings in consultation with former commanders, including General Colin Powell, who, along with more than 300 others, is spending the evening in a massive tent on the White House's South Lawn.
The president and Mrs. Obama, of course, are hosting the first state dinner of this administration, their guest, the prime minister of India, which, along with Pakistan is a vital player in the Afghan conflict.
We will have more on the dinner shortly and what the president said tonight, but, first, what he said about Afghanistan earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: After eight years, some of those years in which we did not have, I think, either the resources or the strategy to get the job done, it is my intention to finish the job.
And I feel very confident that when the American people hear a clear rationale for what we're doing there and how we intend to achieve our goals, that they will be supportive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: Now, the president will make his case to the country one week from tonight. Already, though, new polling shows Americans are sharply divided -- a number of Democratic lawmakers objecting to spending more dollars and more lives on Afghanistan, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi leaving the door open to a war surtax to cover the cost, which could hit $1 trillion over 10 years.
And on top of all that, there simply aren't any guarantees on any of this. So says our panel, CNN's Fareed Zakaria, who we should mention is also attending the state dinner tonight. Also with us, CNN international correspondents Michael Ware and Atia Abawi.
HILL: Fareed, we heard the president say he intends to -- quote -- "finish the job" in Afghanistan, words which were obviously chosen for a reason. Do his actions back them up?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: It's not clear yet.
I think that the president has brought a commendable kind of focus on Afghanistan. And the focus has broadened to include the central role that Pakistan plays. They're trying to figure out what it is they need to do, how do they get an Afghan partner. That is the government of Hamid Karzai.
But the crucial question of whether or not more troops is going to bring some kind of magical stability to these areas, or whether that will produce a certain kind of exacerbation of the conflict, when you bring troops into areas, mountainous areas, tribal areas, where people don't want outsiders, I think remains somewhat unclear.
I think that he's going to have to do more than just a few words to convince most people.
HILL: And obviously going to need to see what happens when those troops are sent in.
Michael, CNN has learned that president will likely send 34,000 additional troops, which is slightly below the 40,000 requested by General McChrystal. Is that enough to, as the president put it today, ensure that al Qaeda and its extremist allies cannot operate in the region?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it depends how they're used.
I mean, you're not going to win the war. And you're not going to defeat the Taliban. And, indeed I'm sure that's not the aim. The aim is to hurt them. Right now, the Taliban machinery is virtually untouched. They're able to recruit, train, deploy, supply, and engage fighters at their will. And there's no shortage of them. But using extra troops to try and put pressure on the Taliban, to at least force them to a negotiating position, I think, is the ultimate objective. And it depends how they're used.
And you use them with local forces, not just this paper tiger which is the Afghan army. But you need the tribe leaders. You need the old warlords, the veterans of the Soviet war. You need to bring these people in, because, once you get them onside, a local boss, when he says there will be no Taliban in my district, there will be no Taliban in that district.
HILL: Which, as we have learned, of course, is easier said than done.
So, Atia, when we talk about the sentiment on the ground regarding this troop buildup, do the Afghan people, A, want it? And they -- do they see it as something that will help, perhaps, move their government along? And -- and do they have faith the government will rise to the occasion here and eventually set the country on the right course?
ATIA ABAWI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, it really depends on who you talk to, because, when you talk to the Afghan people, it changes from province to province, from village to village, district to district.
Many Afghans do believe, if the troops are brought in, they should be brought in for the right reason. And that is to help build a society, build their country.
When you talk to the average Afghan throughout the country, which we have been doing from provinces, they will tell you that their number-one issue isn't necessarily security. It is actually poverty. They say, help bring them jobs, and that you will help Afghanistan stabilize. And it's not necessarily just about defeating the Taliban.
It's helping their government, because, right now, the majority of the Afghan people do not trust the Afghan government. They see it as a reason to move to the Taliban right now, go towards them. And the Taliban are using that to their advantage. They're using the propaganda to push the Afghan people away from the coalition efforts, away from the Afghan government by pointing at the corruption.
HILL: Well, and there's also a lot of talk about how the American people, of course, are reading this and how they feel about it.
Fareed, two CNN/Opinion Research polls released today, the first one showing 52 percent of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan, 45 percent support it. But when they were asked what they thought about the president sending 34,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, they're basically split here.
And, as we know, presidencies can often be made or broken by decisions when public opinion is divided like this. How much does President Obama, Fareed, have riding on this decision?
ZAKARIA: Well, I think he has a lot riding strategically. I don't think he should make the decision by reading public opinion polls.
I also think the polls, as you say, suggest the American people are sort of split down the middle, which means that it is all up to the administration and up to President Obama to articulate a strategy.
And, if it is successful, you will find that the public will go along with him. I think what the public is worried about and is ambivalent about is whether or not we have a coherent strategy, whether we understand what we're getting ourselves in for.
I think, as long as we were doing something, and it seemed, broadly speaking, successful, they would be comfortable with keeping a bunch of -- you know, a lot of troops in there; 30,000 or 40,000 more troops wouldn't be a problem. The real question is the strategy, not the number of troops.
HILL: And the president, as we heard earlier today, said that when the American people hear his reasons for doing this, that they will perhaps be behind the surge more. So, we will be interested to see what happens with that.
Stay with us, Fareed Zakaria, Michael Ware, and Atia Abawi. We are not done with this discussion yet.
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ERICA HILL: President Obama tonight hosting the first state dinner of his presidency, his guest, India's prime minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, one superpower, one rising power, each with very powerful interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and each coping with the consequences, including terrorism.
One year ago this week, Mumbai, India's largest city, was targeted in a string of coordinated and deadly terror attacks. The killers targeted hotels, transportation, and Mumbai's Jewish community. The story is told in a new HBO documentary, "Terror in Mumbai," which airs tomorrow and throughout the year.
In one especially heart-wrenching moment recounting the slaughter at a Jewish center, you hear the actual cell phone conversation between a terrorist in Mumbai and his boss in Pakistan, who has already given the order to kill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "TERROR IN MUMBAI")
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm listening.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What, shoot them?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Do it. Sit them up and shoot them in the back of the head.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: Again, from the HBO documentary "Terror in Mumbai."
Back now with our panel and "Digging Deeper," Fareed Zakaria, Michael Ware, and Atia Abawi.
Fareed, this really was India's 9/11. And you say the terrorist organization behind it, the LeT, was actually created by Pakistan. And there is sort of a tacit agreement between the LeT and the Pakistani government to keep it operating, which obviously puts the U.S. in a very tough position. I know you wrote about it in "Newsweek" this week.
FAREED ZAKARIA: It is the central problem with the Afghanistan strategy and with the AfPak problem, if you will, which is that the goals of Pakistan are not the same as the goals of the United States.
Pakistan wants an Afghanistan that is pliable, which means that they have supported the Afghan Taliban, and they have supported the Taliban to keep Afghanistan on edge, to give them what they call strategic depth.
Now, we need the Pakistanis to cooperate with us. We need them to get tougher on terrorism. And, yet, they don't see their interests as exactly the same. How you square the circle, you know, how you support the Pakistani government and try to get the Pakistani army to do something that, deep down, they don't believe is in their national interests is really in many ways the central problem in the Afghanistan area.
HILL: Michael, despite what is currently happening in western Pakistan against the Taliban, since 2001, Pakistan's main focus, which Fareed alluded to, has always been on its eastern border with India.
So, can there ever be full cooperation from Pakistan when we're talking about this fight?
MICHAEL WARE: This is what America needs to understand, that U.S. troops are bleeding and dying in Afghanistan over less to do with jihad, far less to do with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, and almost everything to do with Pakistani and Indian rivalry.
Afghanistan is just another battlefield where that competition is being fought out. And it's in neither side's interest to help America, who is caught in the middle right now. So, it's about making Pakistan feel secure about its national interests. It's getting India to feel secure about its national interests while at the same time somehow furthering America's interests. It's a very complex mix, Erica.
HILL: And so much of it is being played out in Afghanistan.
Atia, are any of the actions that are happening, then, specifically in places like southern Waziristan, being taken seriously in Afghanistan?
ATIA ABAWI: Well, the situation in Afghanistan, when you talk about Pakistan and India, the Afghan people, the troops on the ground, they know it is a big issue. They know that it is an issue that is continuing the war here in Afghanistan.
And when you talk to the Afghan people, they're afraid to say anything about exactly what's going on until you talk to them after an attack, after a suicide attack, after a car bomb, after they have lost a loved one.
And they will tell me, as they have told me time and time again, that they know who is behind it, that they know that their country is still a battleground for different ideologies. And they actually continuously point the finger at Pakistan.
But it's also too simple to say that it's just Pakistan. Many people time and time again will tell you that, in Afghanistan right now, it's the greater game. It is many hands that are playing a role in the continuous war, whether it be the West, whether it be neighboring countries, whether it be Islamic fundamentalists.
HILL: I only...
HILL: Thanks, Atia.
I only have time for a quick yes or no, Fareed. But it is possible for the U.S., heading forward, to maintain a strong relationship with both India and Pakistan, given all of these issues?
ZAKARIA: Sure. The United States has done it in the past. We give the Pakistani military a lot of money. I just think we should be asking more from it.
HILL: And we will see if they follow that.
Fareed Zakaria, Atia Abawi, Michael Ware, appreciate the time from all of you tonight. Thank you.