AC: "The Taliban will continue to fight as long as U.S. troops or foreign troops want to be there."
September 21, 2009
Michael is back in New York, and in light of the leak of General McChrystal's report to the president, takes part in a panel discussion about the future of Afghanistan, along with Peter Bergen and Rory Stewart.
ANDERSON COOPER: In the leaked report, General McChrystal describes how Taliban insurgents are more dangerous than ever. We know they're operating now in the north and the west, not just in the traditional south and east.
He also says Afghanistan's government is riddled with corruption. We know that. And that, as a result, Afghans are suffering a crisis of confidence. Those are his words.
The general says he needs more U.S. troops to win the mission.
For President Obama, none of this is welcomed news. Let's dig deeper with CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen. Also, Rory Stewart, a former British soldier and diplomat and now director of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights. He also wrote a great book, "The Places in Between," about his solo walk across Afghanistan in 2001, and our own Michael Ware.
Rory, you don't support sending more forces into Afghanistan. What do you think needs to be done there?
RORY STEWART, DIRECTOR, HARVARD'S CARR CENTER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: I think what we need to define is that a long-term sustainable strategy, the last thing Afghanistan needs is for us to increase troops and then run out the door again. We've seen a lot of boom and bust. It needs a patient, long-term relationship. And that probably means a lighter relationship. Because I don't think the U.S. taxpayers, U.S. voters are going to put up with having 100,000 or 200,000 troops on the ground indefinitely.
COOPER: Peter Bergen, is that how much it would take?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you know, classic counterinsurgency doctrine suggests that you would need 600,000 soldiers and cops in Afghanistan to control the place.
Right now there's about 150,000 Afghans and some 100,000 international forces. So do the math. I mean, it's nowhere near the point where you need to be. In General McChrystal's assessment, he's asking for an Afghan army of 240,000. That's going to take a long time.
It's not really a matter of, you know, clearly, there's no political will to send large numbers of American forces into Afghanistan now. And the way out, the only effective way out is to build up the Afghan national army. Not an easy thing to do.
COOPER: And Michael, I mean, everyone seems to admit, look, there is no -- even the soldiers say, the Marines say there is no military solution. And, yet, politically, there's hardly any civilians on the ground in a lot of these areas. And the Afghan government is just riddled with corruption. And so we're trying to bolster in these areas a government which has not traditionally represented its people.
MICHAEL WARE: Well, a government that doesn't exist. I mean, America is not going to win this war. Let's face facts. I mean, we're now at the point where we could lose this war. The Taliban will continue to fight as long as U.S. troops or foreign troops want to be there.
So the whole idea is to put enough military pressure on the Taliban war machine to parlay that pressure at the negotiating table or to bring a political solution.
Now President Obama has to man up and decide: is he going to fight this war or is he going to oversee an American defeat?
Now, he needs to put more troops on the ground. That's not going to be the only solution. You're not going to build the Afghan forces up in time; no way in hell. But there is something else that's in the wind. We saw it in Iraq. It's already begun in Afghanistan. The U.S. is backing a program by the Afghan government to draw upon the old warlords, to draw upon the tribal forces just like we saw with the awakening councils...
COOPER: Essentially to pay off the people, people who might have been fighting us.
WARE: Might have been fighting you or have been sitting on the sidelines or drawing upon the traditional tribal system that's being ignored by America.
Now these people will be able to fill the vacuum. If you put a local warlord or tribal leader in command of his area, you give him the money to pay his troops and to arm them, you put it in their interest, there will be no Taliban in that area. And if there are, they'll be dead.
COOPER: I want to get Rory's opinion on this, and Peter's, as well, in a moment. We're just going to take a short break. We'll have more on the other side. Peter Bergen, Michael Ware, Rory Stewart, stay with us.
COOPER: We're talking about Afghanistan with Rory Stewart, Peter Bergen and Michael Ware.
Rory, a couple things. You say more troops is not the answer because why? You think it alienates more people than it actually helps?
STEWART: I think the fundamental problem is about public opinion in the United States. I think it creates an unsustainable presence. A very big fragile edifice that we're not going to be able to maintain.
And a country like Afghanistan is going to take 30 or 40 years for us to make much difference there. It's such a fractured society -- there's so little literacy, there's so little capacity in government -- it's not likely that you're going to turn anything around in two, three years.
So we need to reframe this. I think General McChrystal will get his troops. I don't think the president has much choice now. He should have never allowed the general to submit this report if he wasn't going to give him the troops. But those troops won't last long. They'll come down again in four or five years time. And my guess is we won't be in a significantly different situation when those troops come down.
Then we have to begin the very long, difficult process of dealing with a very poor developing country, facing a very wild, tribal fringe.
COOPER: Peter, what is happening now is essentially nation-building. I mean, it's what the Marines are doing in Helmand province. And it's really not, A, the traditional purview of the Marines. And there are not enough forces to go into all the areas that the Taliban is in right now.
BERGEN: Well, one of the striking things on our trip, Anderson, one of my takeaways, was that a classic counterinsurgency doctrine would suggest that 80 percent of the effort be nonmilitary and only 20 percent military.
Yet, in Helmand, you know, 99.9 percent of everybody you encounter on the U.S. side is a soldier. I think we met maybe two or three civilians in Helmand who actually worked directly for the U.S. government. So there's a real mismatch between the resources that are available and the resources that are really needed.
The Obama administration has talked about a civilian surge for Afghanistan. It hasn't really -- that hasn't really happened yet for all sorts of reasons, including the security situation and recruiting the right people.
COOPER: Peter, you -- I'm sorry, Michael, you talked about the likelihood of more troops actually going. The mission, though, is very different than hunting al Qaeda. That's sort of the way it's being presented as, you know, these troops are kind of knocking down doors, looking for al Qaeda. But you don't hear commanders on the ground talking about al Qaeda.
WARE: Well, what's al Qaeda got to do with the war in Afghanistan? They're not in Afghanistan. And they haven't been, basically, since the invasion. They're in Pakistan.
You've ended up with an eight-year fight for Afghanistan against Afghanis, against the Afghan Taliban. Now, we don't know how to fight that fight. You need Afghanis doing it. But not enough Afghanis have it in their interest to oppose the Taliban.
So President Obama's dilemma is going to have to be fixed with some creative solutions. He's just got a few years left in this term where he can actually fight this war and get it to a better position before his next electoral cycle. And I think he needs to do that by thinking outside the box.
Sending more troops is going to be a part of it. But unleashing local forces, whether they're in Afghan uniforms or not, who are on the U.S. side for one reason or another, is going to be the only way. That's going to sate the public back home; it's not going to take as many troops. And it's actually going to be the only way, an Afghan solution. It will be bloody; it will be messy. And there will be knock-on effects later, but what else are you going to do?
COOPER: Rory, there are some who say, well, look, we did that before with, you know, the Mujahideen against the Soviets. And it ended up having long-term results, which you know, hurt the United States.
STEWART: Anderson, the problem is that none of this adds up. As Peter Bergen has been pointing out, what we're doing at the moment doesn't fit the counterinsurgency doctrine or the theory that we've been given. We don't have enough troops. We don't have a credible effect as a legitimate Afghan government. We don't control the borders.
So what exactly is happening here? I think we're pursuing a policy which is really a half policy. It's not properly resourced. It's not properly thought through. And we're dealing with a country that's so fragile, so poor, so traumatized.
All those things you talked about -- the problems after the Soviet Union, the problems when we left before -- will occur again, because we don't necessarily have the wherewithal or the resources or even the ideas of how we're going to fix it. So what I'd like to see is the present administration acknowledging that and coming up with a strategy which doesn't attempt to do the impossible.
COOPER: So what is that, protect the cities? Don't kind of chase after the Taliban in remote areas? I mean, sort of conserve where the forces are?
STEWART: I think we need to focus on only two things. One of them is a very narrow definition of U.S. national security, which effectively is about al Qaeda. And as we heard, al Qaeda are basically in Pakistan. So that's not very difficult. That's something we can do with Special Forces.
The second thing is to try to see what we can do for the Afghan people. Not a blank check obligation. But we can aid the Afghan people in ways over a long period, and that's going to be the kind of project we do all over the world. It's going to involve development. It's going to involve diplomats. And it might involve a light troop presence, which stops the Taliban from taking the cities. But it's not about building the states, and it's not about winning a counterinsurgency.
COOPER: We're going to have to leave it there. Rory Stewart, I appreciate you coming on the show. We'd love to have you on again. Michael Ware, as always. Peter Bergen, as well.