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McKiernan Outlines Challenges to Military Mission in Afghanistan

March 17, 2009 at 6:30 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Now, an interview with U.S. Army Gen. David McKiernan, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan. Margaret Warner talked with him Sunday at his headquarters.

MARGARET WARNER: General McKiernan, thanks for having us. Do you think the war is winnable in military terms?

GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN, U.S. Commander in Afghanistan: Well, the war is winnable. Let’s not put it in military terms, because it’s going to take security, it’s going to take governance, and it’s going to take socioeconomic progress, all three of those in a comprehensive way. But this campaign is absolutely winnable and will be won.

MARGARET WARNER: Are you seeing a greater presence or activity by al-Qaida? The head of the Defense Intelligence Agency last week said so in Congress. I’m just wondering, if you see it, where do you see it here?

GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN: I’m not seeing a greater presence of al-Qaida in Afghanistan, but we do know that al-Qaida provides facilitators, provides trainers, provides resources that assist different insurgent groups inside of Afghanistan.

MARGARET WARNER: And is that to a greater degree than recently?

GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN: I don’t think — I don’t see any increase in it, but it is persistent.

MARGARET WARNER: The Taliban seems to have this sort of — you called it an extremist syndicate, I think. Such control in certain areas that, for instance, you can’t — a foreigner can’t go on the Kandahar Road safely anymore. We were — as I mentioned, we were in Helmand province last week, and the State Department reconstruction team really couldn’t get out of its British garrison virtually.

Are 17,000 more troops enough to turn that sort of thing around?

GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN: Well, let’s be very clear that the 17,000 soldiers and Marines that the president recently approved are generally going to be positioned in the southern and southwestern part of Afghanistan. That’s the area where I’ve described that we’re in a stalemate, that we’re not increasing security, we’re not increasing freedom of movement, yet the insurgency is not increasing their control, either, but we’re in a stalemate.

We need additional security presence in the south to break that stalemate and set a foundation where governance, and reconstruction, and development can improve. Those are U.S. forces to reinforce our effort in the south.