AC: "They want you to go home. But they don't want you to leave the wreck that is currently Afghanistan."
September 11, 2009
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Another discussion about the state of the war in Afghanistan, this time with John King asking Michael about issues on the ground and David Gergen about political realities. (At one point Michael asks someone on his end whether the other panelist is Peter Bergen or David Gergen. Ahh, live television...)
JOHN KING: Let's talk strategy now. Michael Ware is in Kabul. He's been out and about in the country all week, including out on in patrol in Kandahar, where he narrowly survived a close call with a roadside bomb. And, in Boston, senior political analyst David Gergen.
Michael let's start with the news that Defense Secretary Gates is considering sending as many as 3,000 troops in the short term. There are larger troop requests perhaps in the future, but 3,000 troops in the short term to help deal with the threat of roadside bombs.
Would that be enough, Michael, to make a difference in the security situation?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not even close, John. That's a drop in the bucket. America does desperately need more soldiers here. It's right, there are not enough Afghan troops, nor international coalition troops, to even put a dent in the Taliban war machine.
This is not a war America is ever going to win in the classic military sense. The real intention here is to put military pressure on the Taliban that will then parlay into gains on the political front or at the negotiating table. And, right now, America isn't doing that. All it's doing is storing -- stirring the Taliban hornet's nest in Helmand Province.
But there may be a solution on the horizon to fill this troop dividend, this gap, this troop gap. What's happening here on the ground, is American commanders -- and I can tell you from the cabinet level here in Kabul from the Afghan government, the Afghan government has also become a part of this -- they're looking to learn the lessons of Iraq and bring them to Afghanistan.
There's already an Afghan government pilot program under way to recruit U.S.-backed tribal militias to put them into the fight as a force multiplier to fill the vacuum in areas where American troops cannot fight and to go out and kill the Taliban or deny them terrain, as only the tribes and the veterans of the Afghan wars know how.
This is going to be similar to what we saw with the Awakening Councils in Iraq, in Anbar, that turned on al Qaeda, killed them, and came on to the American government payroll -- John.
KING: So, David, you heard Michael Ware with the calculation overseas. What about the political calculation here?
Now, you have Speaker Pelosi, Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Arms Services Committee, saying, I'm not sure about sending more troops, and at a time when we also know in the polls that the American people are increasingly opposed. Does the president have a choice here?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It is a perilous choice, John. He's going to have a choice and he's going to have to make a very tough one. And, this time, he cannot split the difference. He can't sort of come down, well, I will satisfy people with sort of plan B, which is sort of halfway in, not halfway out. He has either got to go in full and big, or he probably has to pull back some. And, you know, if he pulls back some, he's going to satisfy a great majority of American people who have turned against this war, his own Democratic base, which has turned against the war.
But others will say, those are not red flags flying up there. Those are white flags flying up there on Capitol Hill among Democrats, and you have got to stay in, you have got to defeat the Taliban, and, especially, you have got to make sure the al Qaeda doesn't become a, you know, a resurgent force.
But I can't emphasize enough, John, this is not one -- you know, there is a temptation in every White House to say, well, let's split the difference. But, in this situation, if you just go in meddling, you are you're neither going to win, nor are you going to lose. You're just going to stretch out a bad situation.
So, if you're going to do it, you have got to do it fully. And that probably is going to require a new strategic review.
KING: And, Michael Ware, forget...
WARE: Is it Peter or David Gergen?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: David Gergen.
KING: Michael, forget the commanders and forget the military calculation. If you walked into the marketplace in any Afghan city and asked an everyday member of the populace, "What do you want from the United States?" what would they say?
WARE: They want you to go home. But they don't want you to leave the wreck that is currently Afghanistan.
First and foremost, the Afghan villager, the ordinary Afghan citizen in a busy capital street like this just wants a life, John. They want security. They want to know that they can go to their village and grow their crops and do their business, whatever it might be, without fear of interference from either coalition bombs, nor the Taliban coming to them at night, demanding they take care of Taliban wounded, offer shelter, hide weapons, let their soldiers, fighters hide among their population, while the Americans search.
They also want a government. And they don't have one. I mean, this state is in -- this country is in a state of national political limbo. They don't even know who the president is, after last month's presidential election was bogged down in corruption allegations.
And no matter who comes in, be it the incumbent, President Hamid Karzai, or his challenger, to the Afghan people, it's one bunch of crooks and their warlord cronies vs. another bunch of crooks and their warlord cronies.
They want a lot more from America, and they want it quick, and then they want you out -- John.
KING: All right, Michael Ware in Afghanistan -- Michael, thank you.