AC: "You have seen the Taliban here. It is an evolving enemy."
September 02, 2009
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Anderson Cooper holds a "Strategy Session" with David Gergen as well as Michael, who is in an unspecified location in southern Afghanistan. It was not quite 7am there, and it looks like Michael is heading out for a long day of work. [We later learned that he was in Kandahar, and this is the day the truck he was riding in would hit an IED.]
ANDERSON COOPER: President Obama has a new problem in the war in Afghanistan tonight: public opinion. A new CNN/Opinion Research poll shows 57 percent against the war. That is up 11 percent from April.
And the new numbers come with a new all-time high in casualties. At least 47 U.S. troops died in Afghanistan in August, making it the deadliest month since the battle began eight years ago.
Making matters worse, the U.S. commander on the front line said it's time for a revised strategy, a different approach to the fighting, and a majority of Americans calling for our troops to come home -- plenty of challenges for the president. Let's talk about them.
Joining us now for our "Strategy Session," senior political analyst David Gergen, and, in Afghanistan, Michael Ware.
Michael, General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, submitted a report this week assessing the situation in Afghanistan. It's not public, but sources say he is calling for a change in strategy. Do you think -- what, do you think it's going to be more troop increases? Would that actually help?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I certainly know that more troops are needed.
I mean, it's very difficult for these American generals to try and fight this war with their hands tied behind their back politically. Now, we all know how sensitive troop numbers are here in Afghanistan. I mean, no one wants 68,000 troops to be here by the end of the year, let alone 80,000 or more, whatever it might take.
So no one is rushing to bring troops here. But the way America is set up to fight this battle as it stands in Afghanistan, it can't win. So, some kind of change is needed -- Anderson.
COOPER: David Gergen, how concerned are you about the situation on the ground there?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I'm not as concerned as those are to the people at the president's left in the Democratic Party.
You know, that poll showing 57 percent all Americans are opposed to this, Anderson, among Democrats, that number is 73 percent in the CNN poll. So, you have got a lot of Democrats to President Obama's left who would like to pull out. There are even some conservatives, like George Will, who called for pulling out, pulling the plug on Afghanistan.
But the president has said this is a war of necessity -- necessity. And he said during the campaign we had to win it. For him to pull the plug at this stage, just as Michael says, we are moving -- we are already starting to change strategy under General Petraeus and General McChrystal. We are moving toward a counterinsurgency strategy.
It's -- we knew we were going to get a lot more casualties at about this time. It was all intentional to try to soften up the Taliban. To pull the plug now, I think, would bring -- I think the president would get clobbered from a lot of people to his right. And the U.S. military would be really, really angry at him if he pulled the plug at this point.
COOPER: Michael, are we seeing an uptick in the casualties because the U.S. is on the offensive against the Taliban, and there's more engagements, or is it also -- or is it and, as well, because the Taliban tactics are evolving, they're becoming more efficient, more deadly, using IEDs, using suicide attacks?
WARE: Well, unfortunately, it's both, Anderson.
I mean, you have seen the Taliban here. It is an evolving enemy. It is a constantly changing insurgency in tactics, in style, in number. I mean, that's classic guerrilla warfare. As the conventional forces, like the U.S. or the British troops do something, the Taliban sits back, watches, and then formulates its response.
We saw that happen with this massive offensive that's become President Obama's war in Helmand Province here in Southern Afghanistan. There, we're seeing a great focus of American troops, more soldiers dying than we have seen before, a lot of that happening there, focusing on one small area of a very big picture.
So, it's a matter of both things, unfortunately, an evolving enemy and more engagement from American troops...
COOPER: And, David...
WARE: ... in President Obama's war -- Anderson.
COOPER: And, David, these stories now of widespread vote-rigging in favor of President Karzai in the recent election, that certainly does not help President Obama in terms of trying to sell this as a war of necessity.
GERGEN: That's absolutely right, Anderson.
And it's really added to the burden of the U.S. military, because basic to the strategy of counterinsurgency that General Petraeus has brought to this, just as he brought to Iraq, was that you need to get more security for the people of the country and have a central government that is trusted.
These fraudulent -- the amount of fraud in these elections could easily delegitimize the Karzai government -- and Michael knows this better than I do -- in the eyes of millions of the Afghani people. And that makes it much more complicated for the U.S.
Anderson, I might add, in terms of what the president may decide to do, there is a good deal of speculation right now fueled by a report in "The Los Angeles Times" that what is being considered is the idea of increasing the number of combat troops, U.S. combat troops, by 14,000 or 15,000, but then to reduce the number of American supply troops, the non-combat troops, and to replace them with private contractors.
We already have more contractors there than we have soldiers. That would be a major shift in the way we do things.
COOPER: Already, as you said, more contractors serving there than in any previous war in U.S. history.
We have got to leave it there.
David Gergen, thanks.
Michael Ware, stay safe. We will see you next week.