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.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, are more U.S. troops going to necessarily mean more casualties on both sides and for civilians?
GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN: That's a hard thing to make a general statement, that more forces equal more casualties. I think in areas where we do have some security presence and we're going to reinforce that presence, that's not necessarily going to be the case.
In other areas where we're going to have a security presence where we have not been before, then there might be an initial period where casualties, Taliban or other insurgent groups, does spike until we get to a certain point where it should reduce and then level out.
MARGARET WARNER: Just because there will be more action, there will be more engagement?
GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN: Because there it'll be areas that we have not previously had a security presence in. And so there -- we would expect there will be initially resistance on the part of those that don't want us there, whether it's Taliban, whether it's narco-criminals, whether it's other sorts of criminal activity.
MARGARET WARNER: It won't come as a surprise to you to know that, also, Afghans have been complaining to us about civilian casualties. That's a real bone of controversy. Have you adjusted tactics at all recently to minimize those casualties? And if so, how?
GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN: Well, first, let's be very clear on the issue of civilian casualties. We keep a very detailed accounting of every allegation of civilian casualties in this country, no matter where it's reported from, and then we go out and investigate it.
We show that about 80 percent of civilian casualties in Afghanistan are caused by the insurgents, a fact that is not well publicized sometimes, 80 percent.
In the cases where there's loss of civilian life that involves actions with ISAF or U.S. forces, first of all, it's a tragic occurrence that nobody wants. We do everything we can to avoid that. We do have procedures in place for our tactical units to exercise good judgment, proportionality, to try to make sure that escalation of the use of lethal force is appropriate.
But at the end of the day, we place judgment -- we place great faith on the judgment of our junior leaders. And they do an incredible job.
But everyone needs to remember that, by the very nature of an insurgency, the threat, the enemy mixes in on purpose with the civilian population.
MARGARET WARNER: But can you confirm reports that, after President Karzai spoke to you all about this, that you have minimized the number of night special forces raids, for example, or the kinds of operations that might lead to the need to call in air support?
GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN: No, I wouldn't say we've limited the pace of our operations. We have an absolute desire to make all these operations driven by good intelligence. We try to partner with Afghan security forces whenever and wherever possible.
If it involves having to go into an Afghan house in the middle of the night or search Afghans, all of us, we would much rather have Afghans doing those house entries and searches. In some cases, that's not possible, because the capacity and the capability doesn't yet exist in this country. But wherever possible, we try to do that.
MARGARET WARNER: No matter how effective you are here and with the additional forces, can you really achieve what you want if Pakistan and the Pakistani military and intelligence don't restrain the insurgent leadership, the Taliban leadership, and foot soldiers that are right on the other side of the border?
GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN: Well, this is certainly a regional insurgency. It's certainly a regional problem set. And I've always said that, unless there is a -- a resolution of the militant sanctuaries that exist across the border in the tribal areas of Pakistan, it's hard for me to envision a degree of stability and security in this region.
So I think that's why there's a regional outlook here, there's an Afghanistan-Pakistan approach to this insurgency.
MARGARET WARNER: President Obama and some military leaders, including General Petraeus, have talked about reaching out to "moderate," quote, unquote, elements of the Taliban, yet President Karzai is said to be entertaining communications with Mullah Omar himself. Is the U.S. open to that?
GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN: Well, you're asking me a policy question that I don't decide. That's decided in Washington.
What I would say, though, is that ISAF and U.S. military as well here favor the idea that if a fighter, if an insurgent wants to lay down their weapon, support the legitimate constitution of Afghanistan, then that probably is a legitimate reconciliation that should be led by the Afghan government, that certainly the military would be supportive of.
MARGARET WARNER: But does the U.S. have any red lines in terms of who could be included in these negotiations, who might become part of the government?
GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN: I think it's fair to say there's some that we see as perhaps irreconcilable.
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, let me ask you, what would you say to Americans who say or are maybe thinking, "We're finally getting out of Iraq after many long years. Why do we have to go back to Afghanistan with greater numbers to fight a war we thought we'd already won?" What would you say to that?
GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN: Well, I'd say I'm not sure we ever should have thought we had won this war. This is the region that sprung al-Qaida operatives that attacked our country in 2001. Al-Qaida still exists in this region.
If we don't have a successful outcome in Pakistan and Afghanistan, that will allow a terrorist organization like al-Qaida to continue to have effects globally. That's why we're still here. As part of that, we are committed to achieving a level of security and stability in the country of Afghanistan.
MARGARET WARNER: And how long do you think that will take?
GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN: I always hesitate to try to give any prediction on how long it will take. Counterinsurgencies are very difficult, lengthy campaigns. I think we need to stay committed here in Afghanistan for some period of time.
MARGARET WARNER: A matter of years?
GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN: A matter of years.
MARGARET WARNER: General McKiernan, thank you.
GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN: Thank you.