CB: "It's about putting it in the interests of tribes or commanders or individuals who have drifted over to the Taliban, simply to drift back."
October 29, 2009
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Michael, Peter Bergen, and Michael Crowley of "The New Republic" discuss the Afghan problem and the possibility of putting local Talibs on the US payroll in order to take them out of the fight.
CAMPBELL BROWN: Tomorrow, President Obama sits down for an all-important meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And this will be one of the last meetings before the president decides whether to commit thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
With so much on the line right now, another part of the war effort is also getting a lot of attention tonight. The president has signed a bill that would essentially put Taliban fighters on the U.S. payroll, I mean, literally buying the loyalty of local Taliban members.
It has worked before. Some 90,000 Iraqis switched sides and were paid $300 each per month. So, could this same idea work in Afghanistan?
We're going to talk about that and this strategy more generally with CNN's Michael Ware with us tonight, national security analyst Peter Bergen, and Michael Crowley, senior editor of "The New Republic," who, we should mention, just traveled with Secretary Gates.
And we will talk about that with you as well.
Michael, let me just get your take on this, generally. How much will it help, paying Taliban?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, a program like this can't be taken as a given.
Iraq is Iraq, and Afghanistan is Afghanistan. You can't just pick the model up and dump it down. That being said, the principle -- there is room and indeed tradition in Afghanistan for doing just these things. It's about putting it in the interests of tribes or commanders or individuals who have drifted over to the Taliban, simply to drift back.
BROWN: Who don't have real loyalty to the Taliban.
WARE: That's what I was about to say.
I mean, a lot of the fighters on the ground and even the mid-ranking commanders aren't in the Taliban to be Taliban. It's because it's in their best interests right now. So, you just have to put it in someone else's interests to go your way, to align their interests with yours for either a brief period or not.
That being said also, it won't be as simple as Iraq. It won't be -- it will be messier. It will be much more complicated. And the repercussions can be enormous.
BROWN: Is that a danger we have here, Peter, thinking about this in terms of the way we did in Iraq, that it worked with the Sunnis, and that they're just trying to apply the same model?
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, as a general principle, it's a good idea, and certainly in Iraq, it was probably one of the best use of American taxpayer money, was the $300 million a year that was spent on getting 100,000 people who used to be shooting at American soldiers to be shooting instead at our -- at the United States' enemies.
That's a massive surge of effectively 200,000 people. So it so worked in Iraq. In Afghanistan, you know, I think on the lower level, the lower-level commanders, as Mike has indicated, this is very plausible.
In terms of the upper levels of the Taliban, this is a nonstarter. But this money is not meant for that. This is meant for commanders on the ground who are at sort of a local level, buying off the local commander. The higher levels of the Taliban have taken every opportunity to say they have no interest in having a deal. And I just take that at face value.
BROWN: So let's go a little broader with this. We mentioned earlier this big meeting taking place Friday. You have traveled very recently with Secretary of Defense Gates around the con -- around the world, I should say.
Give us your impression, because I'm -- he didn't come out and tell you what the plan is going to be.
MICHAEL CROWLEY, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": Right. No. No.
BROWN: But where do you think he's leaning? Did you get a sense for that?
CROWLEY: Well, he's been very cagey. He's playing his cards close. He's a former CIA man, so he likes secrecy and discretion.
But I think, if you read the tea leaves, if you look at his public statements, and you look at who he -- who is reporting to him, the military chain of command, Admiral Mullen, General McChrystal in Afghanistan, those guys want to go big with counterinsurgency, 40,000 or more troops.
And I think Gates is much closer to those guys than he is to Vice President Biden, who wants to try to do this as much as possible with a light troop presence and Predator drones and special forces.
I think Gates is pushing Obama in the direction of a bigger counterinsurgency operation that uses a lot of troops. And I think one reason that this new strategy is appealing is an understanding that there are so many troops, number one, that our military can supply, and, number two, that public opinion and the political system will support right now.
So, even if you're not going to be able to buy off the whole Taliban insurgency, if you can shrink that population of people that we have to deal with, that's very important, because we just don't have enough troops to really just come in and conquer them.
BROWN: And is that kind of the thinking here?
BROWN: It's that you have got to bring -- you have to look at this twofold. The political will is not there. We just don't have the raw numbers.
BROWN: We have got to look at other areas where we can...
WARE: Really, on the military, you know, formula, if you really wanted to win the war in Afghanistan, you need about 400,000 or 500,000 troops. Now, that's just not going to happen.
Plus, you also need local solutions at the end of the day anyway, because you are hoping to get out of there as quickly as possible. And let's be realistic. The Obama administration has really only got to look for a solution that's going to hold itself together with glue and string for a couple of years until the next presidential election.
So, yeah, you need to look beyond what you have got and you ultimately need a local solution. I was just sitting with some of these warlords six weeks ago. And some of them have been ignored by the Karzai government, and are saying, well, tell me why I shouldn't go to the Taliban? Give me something better.
BROWN: Let me quickly, before we go, Peter, ask you how Pakistan plays into all of this, because you still have these issues with terrorists along the border in Pakistan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the country's inability to take out those terrorists.
How much of a challenge are we facing if Pakistan isn't dealing with the situation it faces, I mean, especially given the recent violence?
BERGEN: Well, I think that one of the biggest strategic changes in the last year or so is, the Pakistani population, government, and military are really -- have got very sick of the militants.
These new military operations by the Pakistani military are much more serious against the Taliban than anything we have seen in the past. This is supported by the population. They don't have to win any hearts and minds. They have got the population behind them.
And it may not be a perfect solution, but it is certainly better than anything that's preceded, you know, in the last several years.
BROWN: Peter Bergen with us tonight, Michael Ware, and Michael Crowley, thanks, guys. Appreciate it. Thanks very much.