CB: "The Taliban war machine is not under threat. It's barely under pressure."
September 08, 2009
Campbell Brown talks to Michael (in Kabul) and Anderson Cooper (at Forward Base Jaker in Helmand Province) about the status of the war on the ground and the accusations of fraud in the recent elections.
CAMPBELL BROWN: We told you a little bit ago about the chaos in Afghanistan, uncertainty at the ballot box, violence in the streets and once again today, American blood was shed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. military is reporting four American service members killed in what it calls an ongoing event in Eastern Afghanistan. Those deaths make 13 so far this month alone, 196 so far this year.
KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The attack was apparently targeting a NATO convoy. It's the third major attack by insurgents in the Afghan capital this past month.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And today, a U.N.-backed commission said it found what it called convincing evidence of fraud in last month's presidential election in Afghanistan and ordered to recount some of the votes.
CHETRY (voice-over): They've already thrown out about 200,000 votes. Opponents of current Afghan President Hamid Karzai say that tallies have been doctored and ballot boxes have been stuffed across the country. Since the vote, there's been more than 2,000 claims of voter fraud.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Tonight, Anderson Cooper is at a forward patrol base in the Helmand province and Michael Ware is in Afghanistan's capital city. I spoke with them just a short time ago.
BROWN: Michael, you're in Kabul, not far from where those four American troops were killed today. There's obviously been an increase in the number of soldiers on the ground. But overall, what is your take? Is the strategy working?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, in a simple answer, Campbell, no, it's not. I mean, the mission here is in crisis. President Obama is holding a basket case of a war in his hands. And this is going to be a defining moment for the foreign policy initiatives in his administration. Does he decide to fight this war or not?
I've been talking to the top commanders here on the ground. They simply don't have the troops to put military pressure on the Taliban as is required. I've seen in the south, I've just come from there, I spent a week in southern Afghanistan in the heart of the combat zone in the southern capital of Kandahar, and I can tell you now the Taliban war machine is not under threat. It's barely under pressure. And in Helmand where this major offensive is underway, the American military is taking just a very small bite of a very large apple.
BROWN: And, Anderson, give me your take. You've been talking to soldiers there as well. Are they telling you essentially the same thing?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, I'm in Helmand province right now, at a patrol base called Jaker. And if there is -- if there are small signs of success and you don't hear that term very much here, they will say that in this area where I am, there are some optimistic signs. They've been able to push the Taliban out of these areas. But as Michael points out, they don't have enough forces to move into the areas the Taliban is now in. So there's some areas that are basically just no-go areas and that's where the Taliban is regrouping.
You also have large numbers of Taliban, perhaps not the hard core ideologues, who are still living all around in this area, and kind of just watching to see how long the Marines are actually going to stay here. The Marine strategy is clear, hold, and build. And as Michael said, this whole strategy is under review, but what's happening here, which is these small patrol bases, Marines going out every day on patrol, on foot, not in Humvees, interacting with locals, trying to build confidence in the Marines and in the government of Hamid Karzai, it's a very long-term strategy. It's slow, it's traditional counterinsurgency, but it requires time. And as U.S. officials will point out to you, time is not on the side of the United States here.
BROWN: And, Michael, let me go back to you in the election. What are you hearing specifically? Especially, I know you're talking to a lot of the U.S. commanders about how that may affect the strategy as we await the final outcome.
WARE: Well, obviously, the corruption allegations completely undermines the American mission here. They desperately needed these elections to go off successfully and in one sense they did. The election's -- the actual polling took place, but we now see hundreds of substantive allegations of ballot box rigging.
Now, most of those allegations seem to focus on the votes that went to -- you know, incumbent President Hamid Karzai. I mean, entire polling booths returned 100 percent of their votes for the incumbent or other polling booths returned more ballots than people suspected should have actually come from it. Again, virtually all of them would have gone to President Karzai, so that really does strip this incoming government if it is to be Karzai's, of any legitimacy and America really needed that. So this could be a serious blow to the political aspect of the mission going forward, Campbell.
BROWN: And, Anderson, before I let you go, let me turn to you because you're going to be talking about this issue on your program tonight, I know. IEDs have been such a danger and such a threat to American forces, specifically. Talk to us a little bit about what you're working on with regards to that tonight.
COOPER: IEDs, I mean, that's the number one killer of U.S. forces right now in Afghanistan. There are some estimates here in Helmand, 80 percent of the casualties are from these IEDs.
We were out on patrol today with a guy on point, sweeping every step he took with a metal detector. They had dogs out searching for IEDs. It's a difficult job. It is a slow process finding these things. It is very difficult, and it's an uphill battle.
BROWN: That was, of course, Anderson Cooper, Michael Ware reporting tonight.