Guest Host: Katty Kay

President Obama will be in Lisbon Friday for a NATO summit. On the agenda: finalizing plans for ending U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan by 2014. President Obama faces political pressure on all sides of the issue. In the U.S. there are strong advocates for a speedier military withdrawal and also those who warn against setting public timetables. In addition, in Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai claims current U.S. military strategy which include night raids on Taliban militants is undermining overall Afghan support. Join us for a discussion of the future of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan.


  • Ivo Daalder U.S. Ambassador to NATO
  • Michael Semple Fellow, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard University former, deputy, EU Special Representative for Afghanistan
  • Yochi Dreazen Senior national security correspondent, National Journal magazine.
  • Michael O'Hanlon Senior fellow and director of research of the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution co- author with Hassina Sherjan of "Toughing It Out in Afghanistan.”


  • 10:06:55

    MS. KATTY KAYThanks for joining us. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC, sitting in for Diane Rehm. President Obama has said U.S. troops will begin leaving Afghanistan next July. And according to reports of a plan to be finalized at the NATO summit in Lisbon this weekend, he is also proposing the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan will end in 2014. Joining me to talk about the U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan, Yochi Dreazen, senior national security correspondent of National Journal magazine, Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow and director of research of the foreign policy program at The Brookings Institution, and Michael Semple, fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining me.

  • 10:07:43

    MR. YOCHI DREAZENThank you.

  • 10:07:44

    KAYBut first of all, we will go now to Brussels by phone, where we are joined by Ivo Daalder, he is the U.S. ambassador to NATO. Ambassador, thank you very much for joining "The Diane Rehm Show" this morning.

  • 10:07:57

    AMB. IVO DAALDERMy great pleasure.

  • 10:07:58

    KAYYou are heading off to Lisbon for the summit. What do you think that summit will achieve in concrete terms?

  • 10:08:08

    DAALDERYes, I'm heading off tomorrow. And I think what we are aiming towards is three big goals. One is to agree to revitalize this alliance for the 21st century, to make it responsive to -- and a agile and flexible organization to deal with the 21st century security challenges. Today, we're as likely to be attacked by a ballistic missile coming from a great distance as armies marching across borders, and we need to upgrade and defend ourself against those kinds of threats. The second thing is what -- is to make sure that we are on the path to success in Afghanistan. And here, I think we will look towards a new phase in our strategy, a phase that says that we need to start moving towards handing over the lead security responsibility to the Afghans.

  • 10:09:06

    DAALDERWe expect that to happen in the early part of 2011 in a process that will take about four years to complete. Our aim is to -- by 2014, to be in a position for Afghan forces to be in the lead in security throughout the entire country, a goal set, by the way, by President Karzai himself. And at the same time, we want to make sure that the Afghan people and everyone else understands that NATO has an enduring commitment to Afghanistan, that the commitment will not only be there today and tomorrow and next year, but indeed will be there beyond the timeframe of the transition. So transition and strategy and an enduring commitment are the two big deliverables, as we call this -- achievements we're trying to achieve for this part of the summit.

  • 10:09:57

    DAALDERAnd, finally, the NATO leaders will, for the first time since the Georgia conflict, meet with President Medvedev of Russia in the NATO-Russia Council. And here, too, what we are looking towards is to match the U.S.-Russian, and indeed the bilateral recess, that has taken place between Russia and most NATO countries between NATO itself and Russia, so that we can move towards practical cooperation, and while maintaining our differences in trying to resolve them, also look at ways we could deal with the challenges together.

  • 10:10:28

    KAYOkay, ambassador. You've outlined an awful lot of things that the Lisbon summit is due to achieve. I want to pick up, particularly on the Afghan side, of what you're going to be talking about. First of all, your second goal there, are we on a path to success in Afghanistan?

  • 10:10:41

    DAALDERI think so. I think we are seeing a shift in momentum. We now have -- as Gen. Petraeus likes to say -- the inputs right. We spent 2009 to look at and figure out what it is that we needed to succeed, and we have spent the last year getting the forces into place...

  • 10:11:00

    KAYWhat does -- sorry for asking a question that perhaps might seem a little obvious. What does success mean?

  • 10:11:07

    DAALDERThe success means that Afghanistan is capable of providing for its own security and its own governance in a manner that it is not threatened by insurgents to the extent that it would create a safe haven for terrorists, because after all we're there because of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. And our fundamental goal is to make sure that Afghanistan, never again, can be a safe haven for terrorists as it was a decade ago. That is the fundamental goal of our operation. That's what we're trying to achieve, an Afghanistan that can stand on its own two feet while maintaining the security of its own country and be able to govern itself.

  • 10:11:48

    KAYAmbassador, is there a contradiction in the minds of Afghan people between the setting of a date of 2014 for withdrawing NATO forces and your assertion that the Afghan people should understand that we have an enduring commitment to the country?

  • 10:12:06

    DAALDERWell, let me make it clear that what I said is that the date of 2014 is actually a date that was set by President Karzai, when he was inaugurated and re-affirmed by the international community, as the time at which Afghan security forces would be in the lead when it comes to security in the country. That does not mean that NATO, at that point, would withdraw. It would mean that the combat operations would have ended by the end of 2014. And the NATO and ISAF capabilities -- the international coalition -- would continue to support Afghan forces through advising and assisting and training beyond 2015. So that's where the transition strategy comes in that says the Afghans are in control, or at least in the lead when it comes to security, and the enduring commitment that goes beyond 2014 of NATO to support that effort.

  • 10:12:58

    KAYOkay, ambassador, I have a couple of guests with me in the studio, and I'm sure they'd like to join us in this conversation. Yochi Dreazen is the senior national security correspondent. I'm sure you know him with National Journal magazine. Yochi has just returned from Afghanistan. Yochi, is there anything you'd like to ask the ambassador?

  • 10:13:13

    DREAZENThere is. Hi, ambassador. When I was in...

  • 10:13:16

    DAALDERGood day. I hear you, Yochi.

  • 10:13:17

    DREAZENHi. Thank you. On this last trip, I spent 10 days down in Panjwaii, you know, a very rural, fairly violent area of Kandahar, as you know. The Afghan security forces down there, before I arrived, had been described as among the best in the country. And speaking frankly, they were terrible. They were corrupt. They were lazy. They were often high on opium that they would cut from the fields surrounding their little base and then try to smuggle on to the base. They were undisciplined. Their ammunition was very rarely as it should be. They often fired their weapons accidentally. The U.S. commanders at this little base had just complete contempt for this Afghan unit, which again had been described as one of the best in the country.

  • 10:14:01

    DREAZENI know it's difficult to generalize, but what gives you confidence that nine years into an effort to build up Afghan security forces -- which nine years in has not had much success -- that somehow in the next three or four years, there will be an Afghan security force capable of, as you say, taking lead responsibility throughout the country?

  • 10:14:19

    DAALDERWell, I think what gives me confidence is that we haven't been doing this for nine years. We really only have been doing it for one year. The NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan was set up a year ago this week, in fact. And it is only since we have had a dedicated, focused effort that this NATO Training Mission gives that we have really put the resourcing and provided the number of trainers, put the courses into place, figure out how to put these forces into the field with good mentors and good partners that we have seen significant improvements in the Afghan force, both the army and increasingly also in the police.

  • 10:14:58

    DAALDERNow, this is a process that's going to take time. In fact, it won't even take -- it will take more time than the transition period. We will continue to have to support, train and sustain this force past 2014. It's not going to be easy. This is a -- it is a rural society. It's, after all, the third poorest country in the world. But if you look at the record over the last year -- as opposed to the last nine years -- the last year, you will see significant improvements, a much larger force and much more capable force. Of course, there are problems. There are problems in any situation like this, and I don't want to minimize them. At the same time, I think if you compare it to where we were a year ago or even six months ago, you see significant improvement.

  • 10:15:41

    KAYMichael O'Hanlon?

  • 10:15:43

    MR. MICHAEL O'HANLONAmb. Daalder, good to hear your voice and congratulations on everything you're accomplishing over there. I wanted to ask you about -- you're a long-standing observer of NATO. How do you feel that the alliance is holding together? You and I hear a lot of the critiques. And, I'm sure, you hear more than I do of how the alliance is fraying and people are leaving the coalition in Afghanistan. I know you've alluded to this already today. But I wonder, given your perspective on watching NATO over the years, how you feel about whether the glass is sort of half full or half empty on the alliance sticking it out in this effort?

  • 10:16:14

    DAALDERWell, good to hear you, too, Mike. It's been a while. You know, I think it's more than half full, is the way to look at it. Here's the remarkable thing. In the year in which casualties went up, the violence went up and indeed public support for the war in all NATO countries started to go down. In that same year, we have seen an increase of 40,000 troops, and not just 30,000 American troops but 10,000 allied troops in every single country, except the Netherlands so far. And there, there is a debate going on about what to do. In every single country, there has been a debate about what to do in Afghanistan, and the governments have decided not only to stay, but to increase their commitment.

  • 10:16:54

    DAALDERJust yesterday, we had the Canadian government, which had said that it was going to leave Afghanistan in 2011, sign up for another tour, sending 950 troops to do the training. So the remarkable thing is that we have an alliance that is united, things that what is happening in Afghanistan is vitally important to the national security as well as the alliance's security and is making the choices to give the strategy the chance it needs by providing the resources for the strategy to be executed. And so, in that sense, from an alliance perspective, I think what we're seeing is a pretty darn full lap.

  • 10:17:32

    KAYAmbassador, we just have a minute or so before our break, but I wanted to ask you quickly. What would you say to the American people who are saying we are spending too much money, we are losing too many American forces, it is time to get American troops out of Afghanistan, now we are never going to win a war that in a country that is not being governable before?

  • 10:17:50

    DAALDERWell, for one, Afghanistan has been governable before, but I would say it's too early. Where we are right now is at the beginnings of the improvement. We have spent a long time to make sure that we have the right people, the right military equipment, the right soldiers, the right numbers, the right civilians, the right amount of money. We now have all of that in place as of this summer. Now, we need to make sure that we continue and sustain that pace so that we can succeed in providing the Afghans with the tools and the capability they need for the future to take care of themselves.

  • 10:18:25

    KAYOkay. Amb. Ivo Daalder, U.S. Ambassador to NATO, joining us from Brussels. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 10:18:31

    DAALDERMy great pleasure.

  • 10:18:32

    KAYWe will be taking more of your calls and comments. I was remiss. I didn't give you the phone number. It's 1-800-433-8850. The e-mail address, We would love to hear from you. We'll be more on this conversation on Afghanistan after this short break.

  • 10:20:03

    KAYWelcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Katty Kay of the BBC, sitting in for Diane. We are discussing U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. I'm joined here in the studio by Yochi Dreazen, senior national security correspondent at National Journal magazine. Michael O'Hanlon is also with me. He's senior fellow and director of research of the foreign policy institute at the Brookings Institution, and I have also on the line from Harvard, Michael Semple. He is a fellow of Harvard University and the former deputy EU special representative for Afghanistan. Mr. Semple, thanks for joining the program. And I'm afraid we haven't had a chance to get you in on that conversation with Ivo Daalder earlier, but I just wanted to ask you what you made of what the ambassador said.

  • 10:20:45

    MR. MICHAEL SEMPLEWell, I think you're doing a wonderful job of putting a brave face on it. I'm sure he and all the colleagues there in NATO realize that the challenge is much greater. I'm actually rather astounded that we're trying to say the clock has only been ticking for the past year. Some of us have been trying to, you know, work on this for nine to 10 years. They -- I mean, I just -- you know, I think that it is simply not appropriate to say that the efforts to build up the Afghan security forces started a year ago. Yes, it was reflagged as a NATO mission a year ago, but there have been efforts going on since 2002. And it's, you know, very good that Yochi reminded us that the -- in some -- in critical parts of the country, precisely we're all hoping for progress, the security forces barely exist and certainly are not the basis of lasting security.

  • 10:21:41

    KAYYochi, during the break, that's exactly what you and I were talking about, the idea that there is this attempt to reset the clock. What does that actually mean in terms of where we are and where we can hope to get to?

  • 10:21:52

    DREAZENWhat I find fascinating is that every year for the last year-plus, every six months, roughly, there's been this talk of the next six months in Afghanistan being critical, with a series of dates that all...

  • 10:22:02

    KAYAnd therefore we should stay that little bit longer...

  • 10:22:04


  • 10:22:04

    KAY...because we are at a turning point.

  • 10:22:05

    DREAZENExactly. And then that date arrives, and we push it back further. So a year ago I interviewed Secretary Gates. He said, the next year is critical. That year has now come and gone. When the Obama strategy review happened, we were told December would be critical. Then we were told the December review would be critical. Then we were told that troops would begin to leave July 2011. Now, here we are. The December review has been minimized almost to the point of total irrelevance. The July 2011 date deadline has been said to be a token withdrawal, if that, and now we're looking ahead to 2014.

  • 10:22:36

    DREAZENI mean, I agree with Michael completely that the idea that the war only started a year ago is somewhat insulting to the people who have fought and died there over the previous nine years. I also think it's politically a very, very tough sell to say to an American public concerned about the debt, concerned about the death toll, don't worry about those previous nine years. Now we have it right. Just give us five more at roughly $12 billion a month, roughly 3-, 4-, 500 fatalities a year. I think that's a very hard sell to make.

  • 10:23:04

    KAYMichael O'Hanlon, one of the other areas that commanders in the field point to, where they say they're making progress -- and we'll talk about Marja and Kandahar in just a minute -- is this idea that they are getting to a point where they can negotiate with some Taliban leaders, and therefore that if we pulled out now, it would be -- we would be squandering a historic opportunity to make Afghanistan a safer place in terms of international security goals.

  • 10:23:30

    O'HANLONWell, and that -- we have one of the world's experts on negotiation in Afghanistan -- Michael Semple on the line. I'm not going to try to say too much about that, but I would like to comment, if you don't mind, first on this issue of whether the war started one year ago or nine years ago. I think it's pretty important because I would like to comment, at least partially, to Ivo's defense on this point. Yes, it's true that we've been pushing off deadlines and hoping for progress previously. But what we're doing now with the training and equipping and partnering of the Afghan security forces is unprecedented.

  • 10:23:56

    O'HANLONI remember conversations I had in Kabul in 2009, and people said, through 2008, the average number of police who got any training at all before going into the field was about 25 percent. Twenty-five percent even got a few weeks, and then they were wished their best and went off to do whatever at the pay of $80 to $100 a month. That was the strategy for the first seven years. Now, we have at least doubled their pay. We have doubled the length of training. We have tripled the number of people in training.

  • 10:24:23

    O'HANLONAnd even once they're done with training, they're still not done because when they go out to the field -- this is especially true for the army, but we're starting to try to apply it to the police as well -- they have NATO partner units working with them on an apprenticeship sort of basis for an ongoing period thereafter. This is radically different. So I hear the critiques that we've been at this nine years, and it's a fair point. But what we are doing in this last year to year-and-a-half, under McCrystal and Petraeus, is radically different, especially with the Afghan army and police.

  • 10:24:50

    KAYAnd what's really important here is not so much what's been done in the past but what this means for the future, right? Whether we are at a position now because of the change in strategy -- and this seems to be what you're suggesting, Michael. I don't know whether you'd extrapolate from this, Michael O'Hanlon, that what you're saying has been a radical change has produced results, and therefore, we should stick it out because we have the chance to make the country safer.

  • 10:25:11

    O'HANLONYeah, but I'm not going to go so far yet as to say that it's produced major results. And here I would introduce sort of an intermediate position between those convinced that the war has been lost and those who want to talk up the progress. I think Ivo Daalder, again, said it correctly. "We have the inputs right," quoting Gen. Petraeus. We don't yet have evidence that this is working comprehensively. I do believe the Afghan army is getting a lot better. I would hear Yochi's point, and I'd have to accept that, in the south, we still have big problems with the Afghan security forces, especially the police.

  • 10:25:41

    O'HANLONWe have big problems with the sanctuaries in Pakistan, big problems with the Karzai inner circle and corruption, and big problems with trends and violence. And until we see that those trends have actually been reversed, it's going to be pretty hard to argue that we're winning. So I'm not going that far. I'm just saying I've got an open mind as to what happens over the next six to eight months, and I'm going to make my recommendations next year accordingly based on what I see happen.

  • 10:26:04

    KAYMichael Semple.

  • 10:26:07

    SEMPLEYeah, I think that we -- when we talk about the inputs that Gen. Petraeus has managed to get lined up, they're largely the military inputs. And the trouble is that there isn't an entirely security solution to what is largely a political problem, that the -- and the -- you know, the worst position to be in would be one in which, you know, there were hard-won gains on the battlefield and a lot of work in building up the security forces, but no political progress to go parallel to it. And, you know, we run the risk.

  • 10:26:37

    SEMPLEIf there are problems in building up the Afghan security forces in the old Taliban heartland around Kandahar, I mean, it's basically because, you know, respectable people there don't want to join the Afghan National Security Forces for various reasons. Some of them are frightened because they -- if they do join up, they'll -- you know, they're worried that, you know, their relatives will be assassinated. But others feel, you know, their whole communities are disengaged from a rather corrupt government. And, you know, the answer to that is not just doubling pay. The answer to that is, you know, a political solution, reconnecting the population there with their government.

  • 10:27:11

    KAYWell, Michael, what can be done about that political solution when you have so much criticism from President Karzai and other Afghan officials of some of the U.S. tactics, which they say are undermining efforts to win over the Afghan population to the NATO strategy? And we saw yesterday in the front page of The New York Times stories about Hamid Karzai being very critical about U.S.-led nighttime raids on the Taliban. Today, the story in the paper was about U.S. razing of houses which have been booby-trapped, all of which are not helping in the attempt to win hearts and minds.

  • 10:27:49

    SEMPLEWell, it's interesting that the -- you know, the communication strategy that the president of Afghanistan follow seems to be rather at odds with the communications strategy, you know, pursued by his international allies. I think the...

  • 10:28:00

    KAYWell, I wonder if it's just the communications strategy.

  • 10:28:03

    SEMPLEWell, in this case, I think the -- President Karzai simply does not want to project himself as a war president. He believes that he does not get support from -- you know, from his people by seeming to sort of, you know, tough it out, to seem to be -- to take on the Taliban. He prefers always to be talking down his role in the conflict, and that's why he allows a certain amount of space to appear between him and NATO. Whereas, of course, precisely because NATO has been involved in this -- you know, this U.S.-led surge over the past year trying to recommit itself to the battlefield, to try and push the Taliban back, they're saying exactly the opposite.

  • 10:28:41

    KAYOkay. Yochi, I want to pick up on a couple of things, both that Michael Semple said there and Michael O'Hanlon, just based on your recent trips since you're the person that's most recently come back from the area. And we spoke about some of the problems in terms of U.S. training and NATO training of Afghan forces. What about the other areas of political progress, of negotiations with the Taliban leadership, and whether that marked some sort of potential turning point winning over hearts and minds. And how is the strategy in Marja and Kandahar progressing as far as you know from the surge?

  • 10:29:16

    DREAZENSure. Let me -- if I could try to take them in order. On the issue of talks, what was very striking was the disconnect between how those talks were seen and described in Kabul and how they were seen and described here. From reading the American and British press, there was this kind of a surge of stories saying, you know, there's high-level talks and that this is something real serious and real significant. Universally, across the board in Kabul, the feeling in the NATO command, the feeling in the Karzai government was that these are at such an early stage as to be potentially good down the road, but in nowhere remotely close to something that can bring about a deal in the foreseeable future for the simple reason that the Taliban feel like they're winning.

  • 10:29:53

    DREAZENAnd until that changes, until they feel like they cannot win militarily, they have no incentive to negotiate with the government and with a U.S.-led alliance they've seen as the enemy for going on near decade. So there is a feeling that low-level Taliban leaders and mid-level Taliban leaders are amenable potentially. But the idea that Mullah Omar would be coming to Kabul himself to strike a peace deal tomorrow, that was just rejected out of hand by everyone I spoke to across the board. Interestingly, when Petraeus first raised the idea about two-and-a-half years ago of negotiations with the Taliban, Mullah Omar was seen as kind of off-limits.

  • 10:30:27

    DREAZENI interviewed him once and asked him, could you ever envision a day where you or someone else is sitting across the table from Mullah Omar? And his answer was no. You know, he has too much American blood on his hands directly or indirectly. I was very struck this trip in talking to multiple generals on Petraeus' staff and asking that same question. The answer came back, yes, we can envision sitting across the table. Yes, we can envision one day, years from now, striking a deal.

  • 10:30:50

    DREAZENAnd if it's part of that deal, Mullah Omar was living openly and safely and publicly in a Third World country -- Saudi Arabia was the one hinted at the most strongly -- we would have no problem with that. So that shift on how they see Mullah Omar was really fascinating. To your other question about Marja and Kandahar, the hardest thing to gauge is progress. I mean, in both cases, U.S. troops surged in in large numbers, in both cases, expecting to fight, and in both cases, there wasn't one. There were IEDs everywhere you turned, but there were no sort of masked Taliban fighters ready to fight to the death in the farmland, which makes sense.

  • 10:31:25

    DREAZENThey wouldn't want to fight against a much stronger force. So gauging progress is very difficult. The area that I was in, Panjwaii, had been seen, as with Marja, that this would sort of the D-Day of Kandahar Province, that this had been an area where the Afghan government did not exist. It has irrigation channels that are nine or 10' deep, so easy for Taliban fighters to move their mass weaponry. The Americans that went in by air, expecting a very long bloody fight, and there was no one there.

  • 10:31:50

    DREAZENThere were IEDs, but there were no fighters. And so the key question in Kandahar, as in Marja was, did they leave because we drove them out -- which should be a good thing -- or did they leave, plan to come back and mount assassinations, intimidations, other types of attacks -- which should be a bad thing? And in neither place is that question answered yet.

  • 10:32:07

    KAYMichael O'Hanlon, let's talk a little bit more about the political side of this. Because if these negotiations don't seem to be leading very far, or at least not with the high enough level Taliban leaders, and as Michael Semple was suggesting earlier, we just don't have a credible political strategy despite some successes on the battlefield. And even those, as Yochi was saying, are questionable. I mean, we -- how is it possible to argue a case to the American public that this one is worth sticking out?

  • 10:32:38

    O'HANLONFirst, I want to thank Michael Semple and Yochi for these very coaching comments, even though they complicate my answer even further by raising the bar of difficulty. But I think that there are elements of political strategy that one can begin to hold on to, and then continue to listen to people like Michael Semple and Yochi for more ideas. The elements that are looking more promising include the following -- and I don't want to overstate. I acknowledge this is the beginning of what we need. First of all, there are some very good ministers in the Karzai government. We focus on the Karzai family, and we should. It's problematic. It's a big, big threat to the mission. And there are too many of them who are corrupt.

  • 10:33:13

    O'HANLONBut some of the Karzai ministers -- and I would emphasize Minister of Interior Mohammadi, Minister of Defense Wardak. Although they're -- that's not a perfect unblemished situation, but relatively good. Minister of Finance, Minister of Rural -- these are relatively good people. There are also some good governors in both, for example, Kandahar Province and Helmand Province. And even some partially rehabilitated or improved governors in places like Nangarhar, the famous Sherzai that Sarah Chayes wrote famously about in her book criticizing him -- and she was right to do so.

  • 10:33:44

    O'HANLONBut even he has moved in a more favorable direction, so there are elements of progress. Now, this is not an answer to your question. It's not the complete solution. But one more piece -- and then I'll stop -- is that we've also recognized the Afghan government is not going to be effective as sort of as a central government getting into all the hinterlands of Afghanistan anytime soon. So one of the programs that's been developed by Afghans and then funded by the international communities, it's called the National Solidarity Program.

  • 10:34:10

    O'HANLONAnd it provides cash grants to communities once they have convened a council and established their own development priorities and made a request to help buy one specific thing like a bridge or a road connecting their village to the ring road. And that makes sense. That's very Afghan, culturally, and historically sensitive and appropriate, and we're doing that sort of thing as well. So there are pieces of a strategy that are emerging.

  • 10:34:35

    KAYI'm Katty Kay of the BBC. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And if you'd like to join us, please, do call 1-800-433-8850. The e-mail address is And we are going to go straight to the phones now to Stefan in Cincinnati, Ohio. Stefan, thank you for joining "The Diane Rehm Show." Stefan, can you hear me?

  • 10:34:55

    STEFANListen to this conversation and the Ambassador saying we got this right, that right. Everything is right, right, right. I'm hearing Nixon and Johnson all over again. We're going to win this war. You're not going to win. You're in a dream. It's not going to happen. Those days they're coming home waving the flag. Yeah, we won. It's over with. They kicked the Russians out. You haven't learned from that? You're still trying to sell us a bag of goods. Oh, we've got this. It's going to happen. Just give us time. Thank you.

  • 10:35:31

    KAYYochi. I mean, I -- you know, it's tempting to smile because I hear this all the time. Stefan's comments are what so many Americans are saying. This war has never been won before, and we are rerunning a tape. And, look, even in Iraq, where American forces are now pulling out, it's hard to say, as Stefan was saying, that you come back waving the flag held high.

  • 10:35:55

    DREAZENYeah, I mean, I would add a third thing to sort of the bill of particulars that Stefan was talking through. The other interesting parallel is we're now again talking about body counts. And Gen. McCrystal's command, one of the first things he did was ban public affairs officers in the military from putting out body counts, from saying we killed 80 Taliban or 90 Taliban, 'cause he thought that was counterproductive and a useless measurement. Here we are again, Gen. Petraeus, one of the first things he did was bring body counts back.

  • 10:36:22

    DREAZENSo now he's putting out statistics that, over the last 90 days, X hundred senior Taliban leaders were killed by special operations forces. In the night raids you mentioned earlier, a thousand had been captured. Every day, there's a drumbeat of, we've killed this number of Taliban. It doesn't seem, as of yet, to amount to much even though the numbers, looked at individually, look impressive. The one thing that I was...

  • 10:36:44

    KAYAnd the theory was it was counterproductive, or at least unproductive, because of what?

  • 10:36:48

    DREAZENBecause if you're trying to win hearts and minds, the idea that you're just going to continue to sort of say to the Afghan public...

  • 10:36:54

    KAYWe're killing your leadership.

  • 10:36:54

    DREAZEN...we've killed a lot of your fellow Afghans, it would just cause anger and rage. What I was very struck by in this last trip, compared to prior trips both through Afghanistan and much more so in Iraq, the U.S. troops that I met --not the sort of generals like Petraeus but the combat troops, particularly in Kandahar -- had total contempt for the Afghan security forces and for Afghanistan as a country. I mean, they did not see the mission that they were given as worth the cost, and that was very striking to me. In Iraq, even during the darkest days, there was a feeling that Iraq was winnable, that Iraq mattered, that Iraq had the -- you know, a future state that could be won. I didn't see that among the troops I was with at all.

  • 10:37:32

    KAYYochi Dreazen has just come back from Afghanistan. He's with the National Journal magazine. The phone number here is 1-800-433-8850. The e-mail address is We'll be taking more of your calls with your questions and comments after this short break. Stay listening.

  • 10:40:03

    KAYWelcome back. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC, sitting in for Diane Rehm. You've joined our conversation on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, ahead of a critical NATO summit in Lisbon this weekend, which will be looking at the future of that mission. I'm joined here in the studio by Yochi Dreazen of National Journal magazine. He has just returned from Afghanistan. Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, is also with me. Michael Semple has joined us from Harvard. He's a former deputy EU special representative for Afghanistan. Michael Semple, I wanted to read to you an e-mail that I've just got in during the break, and I have to say this reflects a lot of the calls and the e-mails that are coming into us.

  • 10:40:40

    KAYEd in Ann Arbor writes to us, "I'm old enough to remember Vietnam, especially the statements of that administration. Listening to the ambassador speak brought back those memories, especially the unwavering support for a corrupt government that exists only to enrich themselves with no regard to the population in general. They say that those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it." Michael, what do you make of that?

  • 10:41:06

    SEMPLEI think that when Afghans get that kind of sort of deja vu, they don't think back to Vietnam. Of course, they do think back to the Soviet experience and anything which sounds like, you know, what the Soviets were doing has got to be bad news in Afghanistan. But things are different and that as it happens, the United States and its allies, you know, had a very strong hand actually in constituting the current order in Afghanistan in helping to put these people in power. This is not -- you know, this is not something that has got absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the United States. And I think that there is a reality that Afghanistan is going to affect the United States for quite a few years to come because there isn't an easy option of walking away.

  • 10:41:54

    SEMPLEIf the United States were to walk away, and if the regime were either be toppled or Afghanistan were to be plunged into a civil war, you know, you would certainly see the effect throughout the region. And, certainly, it would give, you know, the kind of, you know, incredible encouragement to all sorts of groups who are mobilizing in -- you know, in Pakistan, in the area beyond and in the Middle East against the Unites States. They -- I think the reality is that the United States is not going to be able to walk away from there. So the question is going to -- is, what does the United States why -- do while it is there?

  • 10:42:31

    KAYAnd, Michael, you're suggesting that the U.S. can't walk away from there in terms of its own national security interests.

  • 10:42:39

    SEMPLEI think that the United States is going to find it impossible to walk away from Afghanistan despite the very strong sentiment, which is -- you know, I have absolutely no surprise at the sentiment that what is being done is wrong. Therefore, I think that we're going to be -- require some new looks at what the United States is doing there, and I'd have thought the very simplest way of expressing what it makes sense for the United States to do in Afghanistan is to promote peace. The single thing which unites the interest of the United States in this -- the people of Afghanistan and the people of their region -- is achieving peace in Afghanistan. And that, of course, sounds rather different from what we're hearing from the people who are trying somehow to, you know, achieve a victory.

  • 10:43:25

    KAYOkay. Let's go to Lynn in Vashon Island, Va. Lynn, you've joined the program.

  • 10:43:30

    LYNNGood morning. The person I listen to most about terrorism, generally, is the gentleman named Robert Young Pelton, who is a gentleman who has lived with and studied terrorism -- lived with terrorists and studied terrorism for decades, traveled around the world. He says that, right now, actually the biggest build up of al-Qaida is occurring in Yemen and, secondly, in Somalia. And his take is that soon the United States will be turning their attention to those countries in which to wage war. The question is, given the state of the financial situation in this country, where in the world are we going to get money to fight wars in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan when we are broke and we owe China trillions of dollars? Is China going to have to fight our wars for us from now on?

  • 10:44:27

    KAYMichael O'Hanlon, Lynn raises a very interesting point. When we look at the two most recent attempts -- terrorist attempts against America, the ones that we know about anyway -- the Christmas Day bombing and the most recent one with packages on FedEx and UPS planes -- they originated in Yemen.

  • 10:44:46

    O'HANLONIt's a great point, and, by the way...

  • 10:44:48

    KAYNot Afghanistan.

  • 10:44:49

    O'HANLONI can't help but -- I'm sure a lot of Americans would agree with me that if China wants these wars and wants to buy these wars from us, I think they can have them. So there's -- but, seriously, the problem we face in Yemen is one of a couple of parts of the country that are relatively geographically confined. There are still serious problems, but the right strategy there, I believe -- now that the Yemeni government is working with us -- is to strengthen its security forces and provide intelligence support.

  • 10:45:13

    O'HANLONI don't think it's going to require an American military presence, nor do I think it is the same scale of a problem as we had in Afghanistan prior to 9/11 where virtually the entire country was a free go-zone, a sanctuary for extremists, including al-Qaida. And if the Taliban re-take power in Afghanistan, or even in the southern half, they will then have, in effect, the largest possible sanctuary on the planet, by far, into which al-Qaida can return.

  • 10:45:39

    O'HANLONAnd those who want to argue that the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida have somehow distanced themselves from each other, I challenge them to produce one shred of evidence. We've had Osama bin Laden swear loyalty to Mullah Omar. We've had operatives traded across these groups depending on where they thought the operative could be most effective, like the attempted New York City subway bomber of last year. There is no suggestion that a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan would lead to anything but the re-infiltration of al-Qaida under that territory. So I think this is a scale and magnitude of a problem that is more serious than Yemen, and that's my main response.

  • 10:46:15

    KAYOkay. Michael Semple and Yochi Dreazen, I'd like you both to jump in there because I have heard also the counterargument that there isn't the evidence, although a case can be made that if the Taliban were to resume control of Afghanistan then it's not an automatic assumption that al-Qaida would be back in that region. Yochi first and then Michael.

  • 10:46:36

    DREAZENI've heard that argument as well. I mean, there are people who make a point out that for the Taliban, as an entity, they have suffered terribly over the last decade precisely because of their tie to al-Qaida in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks. But there's one thing that Lynn, the caller, pointed out that is really worth talking about, which is Pakistan. I mean, the idea of, is the U.S. (word?) go to war in Yemen or Somalia, is sort of a separate question from the more immediate issue of what do we do in Pakistan? The border, if you've ever been into that part of the world, is totally non-existent. It's not delineated. It's not marked. There are Pashtun tribes that freely go from one side to the other.

  • 10:47:11

    DREAZENThe havens right now that are the biggest source of concern for the U.S. are not Yemen and are not Somalia, although those are rising in importance. They're the enormous expanding havens already existing in Pakistan. And the question is what do you do? I mean, right now, it's not an issue of, do we borrow more money from the Chinese to go invade Pakistan? It's the Pakistani government has made clear that they don't want us to do anything. And then anything we do do, whether it's special operations, raids across the border, whether it's air strikes, as we saw recently that prompted Pakistan to shut off the main supply route for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Anything we do has a repercussion.

  • 10:47:45

    DREAZENSo, to my mind, the question isn't where do we get the money, what other countries outside the region do we invade? The question is what do we do about Pakistan? And that's a question of political will in Washington, political will in Islamabad, more than it is a question of money.

  • 10:47:59

    KAYMichael Semple, what would be the scenario that would lead to Pakistan being less of a threat to U.S. national security interests?

  • 10:48:07

    SEMPLEWell, let me just, you know, come back to this issue of the al-Qaida and Taliban. I think one of the most spectacular failures of strategy over the past decade has been the failure of the United States and its allies to split al-Qaida from the Taliban. And, you know, you can decide who you want to blame for that. Do you want to blame the Taliban? Or do you want to blame the big powers for that failure? If you want to look in terms of leadership, the leaderships are different, and they are not fused. These are organizations which are definitely still cooperating. We've got all sorts of evidence on that, but they are different. And, yeah, I personally believe that they can be separated.

  • 10:48:47

    SEMPLEAnd so that's the -- I mean, that's the issue when you're trying to talk about these scenarios of what happens if the Taliban ever were to come back into power or to have some kind of share of the system, if they are part of some kind of negotiated process where they are part -- perhaps even a small part of the political system, on the basis of a deal? I mean, they know very -- full well that the first condition, which would be imposed on them, would be the full separation from al-Qaida.

  • 10:49:15

    SEMPLEWhereas in the situation where they fought their way back into, you know, grabbing part or all of the country, there's no such deal, there's no such condition -- they bring al-Qaida with them. Finally, on the issue of how can Pakistan be persuaded to help more? The Pakistan government has always, you know, made this clear. They believe that they would be the first beneficiaries of things going well in Afghanistan. They benefit economically, and they also benefit in terms of security. But the reality is that the Taliban have gone on to exploit a safe haven in Pakistan.

  • 10:49:53

    SEMPLEBasically, there seems to be a list of security concerns that Pakistan raises. These are issues to do with, you know, guarantees that there will be a friendly government in Kabul, guarantees that the -- India would not exploit the territory along the border. I think the basic principle to deal with these is, you know -- the issues of Pakistan have got to be dealt with in -- you know, in tracks, where the government of Afghanistan dealing with Pakistan and also the United States with its own track. The issues of Afghans who are currently exploiting their safe haven in Pakistan, you know, have got to be dealt with absolutely separately and not using Pakistan as an intermediary.

  • 10:50:37

    KAYYochi, when and if NATO forces do withdraw from Afghanistan, does that give us more or less leverage over what happens in Pakistan?

  • 10:50:45

    DREAZENIt's a great question. I mean -- and the related question is, does our presence there right now lead to Pakistan being better off than it would be if we were not there? Or is our presence there the irritant that is itself spurring the violence within Pakistan? I'd be lying if I said I knew the answer to either, frankly, and I don't want to lie about it or say to suggest that there's an easy answer to one or both of the questions. I do think it's worth pointing out that when you talk to people within the Obama administration, they continually say Pakistan is the priority, Pakistan is the cancer, Pakistan is the threat, Pakistan this, Pakistan that.

  • 10:51:16

    DREAZENAnd yet our policy towards Pakistan, in terms of giving the civilian government more money, giving the Pakistani military more money, it's been a mixed success at best. I mean, Pakistan has moved into South Waziristan, has not moved into North Waziristan. The main ingredient to the IEDs, which are the biggest killer by far of American NATO troops in Afghanistan, is ammonium nitrate, which comes in almost entirely from Pakistan. So they're trying -- the White House is trying, to its credit -- they're trying, not just on the military side but on the civilian side. Unfortunately, the results, even if you're being generous, are mixed.

  • 10:51:48

    KAYI'm Katty Kay, listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And if you'd like to join us, please do call 1-800-433-8850 to join our conversation on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. We're going to go to the phones again to Jerry in Nashua, N.H. Jerry, thank you so much. I know you've been waiting a long time. Thanks for your patience.

  • 10:52:04

    JERRYThank you for taking my call. I heard our ambassador say that we now have the right elements in place. Well, I would ask the question, what are the right elements? We're dealing with an illiterate force. The desertion rate is rampant. They cannot execute their own basic supply mission to take care of their own troops. There's a rural population that's dependent on the drug industry. We're dealing with a material Karzai who acts like a man who's off of his medication. How much more money do we continue to pour into this country? And more importantly, how many of our children, our family do we continue to sacrifice for this? It's just amazing. I mean, I get so upset about what goes on there. I have a son who's had two tours in Afghanistan already. He will be going for another. We are creating a population of future individuals who will have severe emotional problems, and all for what?

  • 10:53:11

    KAYJerry, may I ask you one thing? Your son, who is going back to Afghanistan, what does he say about his mission there? Does he believe the mission is possible?

  • 10:53:23

    JERRYLike all and many soldiers, he does not talk a lot about what he has done. I'm retired military myself. I know that, many times, when someone goes off to war, they don't die for their country. We haven't had an individual die for their country since the Second World War. What they die for is for the guy next to them. And for all of these people that continue to say how valid this mission is, I want them to look the parent of a child who has lost his life in Afghanistan, and look him in the eye and say to them, you gave your child for a worthy cause. I don't think anybody can do that.

  • 10:54:13

    KAYJerry, we thank you for your service and, of course, also for your son as well. Michael O'Hanlon.

  • 10:54:17

    O'HANLONWell, those are very powerful comments, and I certainly appreciate them. And I can't disagree with the fundamental concern about the war and how it's been going. All I can do -- without trying to disagree but simply to, in a sense, broaden the discussion -- is to point out that some of the problems you mentioned, sir, have been fixed. Now, whether that's going to be too little, too late, is still a very fair question. But you mentioned, specifically, things like literacy in the Afghan army and police. Gen. Caldwell has created a program. We have about 30,000 Afghans at a time now in literacy courses. You mentioned desertion rates. They have been an issue. You're right.

  • 10:54:52

    O'HANLONBut the improvements in pay and other reforms have now led to a remarkable reduction, even in the elite Afghan police force, which has been so crucial in many of these clearing operations that we do, especially in the south. And Karzai is a very problematic leader. There's no disagreement on that front, but I would point out -- I would encourage people to look at things like the Asia Foundation survey that just came out or the International Republican Institute survey. Karzai is still semi-popular among his own people. And it's a contradiction or a paradox, and it's not a resounding popularity. And people say he's also corrupt.

  • 10:55:25

    O'HANLONAnd clearly, 20, 30 percent of the country hates him. And it's from that pool that the insurgency generates it strength, but nonetheless, this is a leader who is not Mobutu. He has some brothers who would like to be Mobutu, perhaps. But he himself is a weak leader, but who is trying to create a big tent and who has also appointed some good ministers and governors. So I think Karzai is a more complex figure than we often give him credit for in the American debate.

  • 10:55:50

    KAYAnd again, Jerry, thank you so much for calling in to the program. I'm just going to -- before we go, read one e-mail that's come in from Imam Johari. And I think Imam Johari is based in Fairfax, Va. I've met him a couple of times. He's a very wise man, and he writes to us, "I am an American imam, and I just got back from Kabul with the U.S. State Department. My reflection is the development work is making a difference, and the military footprint is too big." An interesting paradox there, Yochi.

  • 10:56:15

    DREAZENAnd that's, in some ways, what Karzai has been saying publicly, particularly in this interview with The Washington Post that has caused the latest in a series of huge blows between Washington and Kabul. But Karzai was effectively saying, there are too many troops. They're too visible. We don't want them. We want better targeted development projects. So it's interesting that the imam's take seems to, in some ways, line up with what the Afghan government is calling for.

  • 10:56:38

    KAYAnd very briefly, did you see the development work having some success?

  • 10:56:42

    DREAZENIn the cities, yes. In the countryside, no.

  • 10:56:45

    KAYYochi Dreazen is senior national security correspondent with National Journal magazine. Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow and director of research of the foreign policy program of the Brookings Institution, has been with me as well. Michael Semple has joined me from Harvard University. He is former deputy EU special representative for Afghanistan. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining me for this fascinating conversation.

  • 10:57:06

    DREAZENThank you.

  • 10:57:07

    KAYI'm Katty Kay of the BBC, and thank you all so much for listening.

  • 10:57:10

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.

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