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Ex-NATO Commander Calls for More Troops in Afghanistan

January 17, 2007 at 6:25 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Twenty-four thousand U.S. troops now serve in Afghanistan, 11,000 under NATO command. Gen. Jones has often called for an increase in the size of the NATO force. He is to retire on Feb. 1, after 40 years as a U.S. Marine. I talked with him earlier this evening.

General, welcome.

GEN. JAMES JONES, Former NATO Commander and Marine Commandant: Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: How do you see the need for more troops in Afghanistan at this moment?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Well, when I left the theater about a month ago, we were busily trying to raise the troop level to the level that nations had committed to the plan some six months before.

And it’s my feeling that, if the nations do, in fact, provide the troops they said they were going to provide in approving the operations plan, that that would certainly be sufficient to get us through the winter months and ready for the next year.

So I don’t think there’s a crying need for a dramatic increase; I think that the nations should still resource the plan that they agreed to.

JIM LEHRER: How many total, when it’s all said and done?

GEN. JAMES JONES: It would amount to about another 1,500 to 2,000 troops.

JIM LEHRER: And it would be — what, there are 11,000 NATO, plus several more U.S. that are separate, right?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Right. Well, the whole NATO commitment, including U.S., is about 22,000 troops almost.

JIM LEHRER: And adding…

GEN. JAMES JONES: And so we’d be adding about the 1,000 or 2,000 that are remaining from the basic plan, that nations agreed to provide and they just so far haven’t kicked in.

JIM LEHRER: What’s the need, general? What’s the need on the ground in Afghanistan for more troops?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Well, the need is to actually stabilize a very important region in the south and in the east, where most of the fighting takes place.

The real critical need in Afghanistan, of course, is to understand that it’s not primarily a military problem. It’s a problem of reconstruction and development across four or five main areas to include, number one — my number one threat in Afghanistan is the influence of narcotics on the culture, on the economy, and with regard to the support, the economic support that it gives to the insurgency.

Number two is judicial reform. Number three is more police, more quality and more quantity of police. Number four is getting the Karzai government to be more visible inside of its own boundaries, to make sure that people understand that what they voted for two years ago is, in fact, a work in progress and it’s coming, and it’s coming in ways that will materially change their lives.

And number five is to get Afghanistan and Pakistan working together to solve the border problem.

The problems Afghanistan faces

Gen. James Jones
Former NATO Commander
The international community simply has to come together and tackle those particular problems -- crime, corruption, the Taliban, in certain parts of the country, a little bit of al-Qaida, but not much, and some other tribe-on-tribe conflicts.

JIM LEHRER: But there are severe problem issues, are there not? I mean, for instance, members of Congress have said just this day they're now calling Afghanistan the forgotten war.

GEN. JAMES JONES: Yes.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, people are ignoring this or forgetting about what the problems are in Afghanistan?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Well, I just completed four year as the NATO commander, and, of course, in my world it's not the forgotten war.

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

GEN. JAMES JONES: It was my primary occupation. So I think the fact that 26 sovereign nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, over the last two years, have agreed to take over the bulk of the responsibility for security and stability and reconstruction of this country is remarkable.

We have about 60 countries that are at work somewhere in Afghanistan; 37 of them are contributing troops on the ground, and all 26 nations of NATO. So this is a mission that has all the international legitimacy that anybody could want, five U.N. Security Council resolutions.

In Afghanistan, if we tackle the issues that are most pressing -- and I say, again, that it's not a military problem yet -- but it we do the other things with reconstruction and development that I just mentioned, I believe that Afghanistan can be a real success story.

JIM LEHRER: But the Taliban is resurfacing and killing a lot of people.

GEN. JAMES JONES: The Taliban is resurfacing, but I want to make absolutely sure that your audience understands that we tend to group things because violence seems to be associated with the Taliban in the south, but the Taliban is not the only problem.

There's a culture of criminality. There are very powerful cartels who are running a tremendously sophisticated and complex oil -- I mean, sorry, narcotics marketing, where 90 percent of the narcotics are sold in our capitals in Europe, and the money that's generated from that comes back in and builds the IEDs and the weapons that kills our soldiers and maims our soldiers in Afghanistan.

The international community simply has to come together and tackle those particular problems -- crime, corruption, the Taliban, in certain parts of the country, a little bit of al-Qaida, but not much, and some other tribe-on-tribe conflicts. That's the nature of violence.

But it's too easy to say the Taliban is back. The Taliban is not back throughout Afghanistan.

Situation growing worse

Gen. James Jones
Former NATO Commander
NATO prevailed militarily, and now we're getting on with the business of reconstruction, which is absolutely what has to follow any military action.

JIM LEHRER: But the impression, general, is that all of these issues that you just went through, that the impression is that things are getting worse on the ground in Afghanistan, not better. Is that right?

GEN. JAMES JONES: My judgment is -- and, again, having just come back from there myself less than six weeks ago -- that, if you really focus on the totality of Afghanistan, if you look in the north, if you look in the west, there's major progress.

If you look in the capital in Kabul, how long has it been since an IED has gone off in Kabul?

JIM LEHRER: That's an explosive device.

GEN. JAMES JONES: An explosive device. Some of the aspects of security and reconstruction are going quite well. Unfortunately, what you hear about is, of course, when a bomb goes off and people die, and most of the fighting has happened in the south.

And the reason that happened is because, prior to NATO troops getting there -- 9,000 of them now -- we had a capability that basically put us there intermittently. So there was no reconstruction. There was no permanent presence, and there was no peace.

In fact, the southern region of Afghanistan was a haven for the Taliban, the drug cartels, the criminals, corrupt governors, corrupt police officials, and the population was victimized. Now, with 9,000 NATO troops in the south, we had a contest in the fall.

NATO prevailed militarily, and now we're getting on with the business of reconstruction, which is absolutely what has to follow any military action.

JIM LEHRER: So you believe things are going to get better?

GEN. JAMES JONES: I believe that, if we tackle those four or five things that you and I just talked about, and do them simultaneously, and get all of these countries organized to focus the relief aid so that it does what it's supposed to do at a minimum, that Afghanistan can be a success story.

Bush administration and Iraq

Gen. James Jones
Former NATO Commander
...Iraq is, obviously, the cornerstone of our focus right now. It is certainly something that has turned out to be much more difficult than anybody planned.

JIM LEHRER: More broadly, general, how well-served has the Bush administration been by the U.S. military, by the generals?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Well, I think, in my experience, the senior leadership of the military has been working overtime to try to do the right thing and to try to provide good military advice and bring success to our national policies. And I think, in the overall context, I think they've done a pretty good job.

JIM LEHRER: A pretty good job?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Yes.

JIM LEHRER: What about in Iraq?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Well, Iraq is, obviously, the cornerstone of our focus right now. It is certainly something that has turned out to be much more difficult than anybody planned.

I think that my colleagues -- again, I've been a little bit apart from that because, in NATO -- NATO's mission there is very small. We train, we organize, and we equip Iraqi forces, but it's a very, very small presence, but it's important.

My focus has not been, as a NATO commander, on the daily routine of Iraq and the daily strategy and tactics. But I've obviously taken an interest in my good friend, John Abizaid, and George Casey and others, and trying to be helpful in providing forces from Europe to go and do the things that are required to be done in Iraq.

JIM LEHRER: In general terms, does the system work, in terms of the professional military, the top military, the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the civilian leadership, does that system work, in terms of the military people having enough input, do you believe?

GEN. JAMES JONES: I think it -- you know, I think the system itself, in my 40-year career, my last 10 years as a very senior officer, I found that where I've personally needed to engage that I've never had any difficulty getting an audience or letting my feelings be known.

But I do think -- and I've said this in testimony -- I do think that it's time to look at the unintended consequences of the Goldwater-Nichols legislation, so that we can fix the things that probably need to be fixed in order to align things a little bit better for the future.

JIM LEHRER: The problem being that the military is not being well-heard and well-regarded by the civilian leadership?

GEN. JAMES JONES: I think...

JIM LEHRER: Meaning Donald Rumsfeld, to be specific?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Well, no, I think that, obviously, any system is going to be dependent on the people in it. And when you have a very strong secretary of defense who wants to understand the workings of the watch and how everything works and kind of control the second hand and the hour and the minute hand, that leads certain things to happen within the system.

But it is, on paper, it is a good system. It's the people, when they come together, that have to work out the dynamics so that the military opinion is heard, that it's voiced, that it's strong, and when it's heard, then the political decisions are made, and you go out and execute. That's our job.

JIM LEHRER: What do you make of the growing number of retired high-ranking officers, mainly generals in the Marine Corps and in the Army, criticizing Iraq specifically?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Well, I respect all my colleagues. I do think that it's -- while it's fair to voice opinions, I think you have to be careful that you don't cross the line and let it become, let it appear to become a little too personal. And I think some of those lines were crossed a little bit.

But I would -- I think our system and our structure allows for retired senior military officers to join the debate in a proper way and have their feelings known. And so I think it's a question of style. I would be very careful and I would caution people not to go too far in trying to give the appearance or inadvertently giving the appearance that it's a little more personal than it has to be.

JIM LEHRER: Personal, meaning the criticism of, say, Secretary Rumsfeld?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Right -- well, I think -- I guess what I'm trying to say is I think whatever voices that are out there should be constructive and should be well-intended and should not get into the personal aspects of particular leadership styles. It's the issues that are important.

Gen. Jones' next step

Gen. James Jones
Former NATO Commander
I'm most proud -- not of the generals, but I'm most proud of the young people who wear the uniform, because they are the country's best ambassadors, and they make us very proud every single day.

JIM LEHRER: You're going to be -- you're going to retire in two weeks.

GEN. JAMES JONES: Correct.

JIM LEHRER: What role do you plan to play after you step aside after 40 years?

GEN. JAMES JONES: That's a -- that remains to be seen, Jim. I am enjoying my brief interlude, having just come back from Europe and getting to know my family and soon-to-be seven grandchildren here in the area.

JIM LEHRER: Would you speak out? Would you be critical, if you saw something that you felt needed to be criticized?

GEN. JAMES JONES: I would be constructively -- I would voice a constructive opinion, if I thought it would be helpful and if I knew what I was talking about.

JIM LEHRER: But do you plan to do that actively?

GEN. JAMES JONES: I have not been asked, but if I can be helpful, and if I can bring some assistance to our national debate, I'd be happy to do it.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, general, what have been the rewards of 40 years of being a career professional Marine?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Oh, it's been absolutely terrific. I come from a family of Marines. We've had a Marine infantry officer on active duty in my family every day of every year since 1939.

My father and my uncle served in World War II, and I was happy to follow in their steps. And I have a brother, I have cousins, and now a son who is a captain in the Marine Corps.

So every day has been -- I won't say every day has been a holiday, Jim, but every day has been special. And I've enjoyed wearing the uniform of the United States around the world.

And I'm most proud -- not of the generals, but I'm most proud of the young people who wear the uniform, because they are the country's best ambassadors, and they make us very proud every single day.

JIM LEHRER: General, thank you, and good luck.

GEN. JAMES JONES: Thank you, Jim.