JIM LEHRER: The president and his top national security advisers unveiled their assessment of the war in Afghanistan today. It followed a year of increased deployments of U.S. combat forces.
Margaret Warner begins our coverage.
MARGARET WARNER: The U.S. is hitting al-Qaida and the Taliban where it counts in both Afghanistan and Pakistan — that was the overarching assessment of the administration’s review.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I can report that, thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians on the ground, we are on track to achieve our goals.
MARGARET WARNER: The review came just one year after the president announced a surge of 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
Among the positives, the report cited progress in dismantling and disrupting the leadership of al-Qaida in Pakistan, reversing the momentum of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and recruiting and training Afghan security forces.
The president particularly emphasized the impact of U.S. airstrikes against militant leaders hiding out in Pakistan.
BARACK OBAMA: Today al-Qaida’s senior leadership in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan is under more pressure than at any point since they fled Afghanistan nine years ago. Senior leaders have been killed. It’s harder for them to recruit. It’s harder for them to travel. It’s harder for them to train. It’s harder for them to plot and launch attacks. In short, al-Qaida is hunkered down.
MARGARET WARNER: But the president was more cautious about the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.
BARACK OBAMA: Progress comes slowly and at a very high price in the lives of our men and women in uniform. In many places, the gains we have made are still fragile and reversible.
MARGARET WARNER: Most of the international troops in Afghanistan are American, 100,000 of them. Another 41,000 foreign troops are also serving under NATO command.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today a U.S. drawdown can still begin next July, with a goal of handing over control to the Afghans by the end of 2014.
U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES: In terms of when the troops come out, the president has made clear it will be conditions-based. In terms of what that line looks like beyond July 2011, I think the answer is, we don’t know at this point. But the hope is that, as we progress, that those drawdowns will be able to accelerate.
MARGARET WARNER: In the meantime, casualties are mounting. Since the war began nine years ago, more than 2,200 coalition troops have lost their lives. Of those, 1,436 were American, including 489 this year alone, the highest one-year toll of the entire war.
The five-page unclassified summary acknowledged two significant challenges to winding down the war and bringing home the troops. One is the poor quality of governance in Afghanistan under its president, Hamid Karzai. The other is the continuing existence of militant sanctuaries in Pakistan.
Secretary Gates said today there’s been some progress in getting Pakistan to go after insurgent redoubts within its borders.
ROBERT GATES: So, I think that, like in many of the things that we have dealt with, with Pakistan, things will move in the right direction. It will probably take longer than we would like, but they have made clear their intentions.
MARGARET WARNER: Gates was pressed on how durable any of the gains are in Afghanistan.
BILL PLANTE, CBS News: There are reports from on the ground, from various sources, and apparently reports of — intelligence agency reports recently which paint a darker picture, a picture of corruption, incompetence, weakness or absence of government in Afghanistan. So, what reason is there to believe that, in the long run, you can prevail in Afghanistan?
ROBERT GATES: The key here is identifying our objectives clearly.
As the president said, our goal isn’t to build a 21st century Afghanistan. Our goal is not a country that is free of corruption, which would be unique in the entire region. Our goal is, what do we need to do, along with our partners and the Afghans, to turn back the Taliban’s military and violent capabilities, to the degree that the Afghan government forces can deal with them, and to provide some minimal capability at the local, district and provincial level for security, for dispute resolution, for perhaps a clinic within an hour’s walk?
MARGARET WARNER: The cost of the war to achieve those goals keeps climbing, and U.S. public support keeps slipping, with 60 percent disapproving in a recent Washington Post/ABC poll.
Asked about that, Secretary of State Clinton insisted today that war policy will not be governed by polls.
U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I’m very respectful of the feelings of the American people. But the question I would ask is, how do you feel about a continuing American commitment that is aimed at protecting you and your family now and into the future? Because that’s the question that we have asked, and this is how we have answered it.
MARGARET WARNER: Ultimately, Clinton said, the U.S. must make sure that the Pakistan-Afghanistan region is not abandoned to America’s enemies again.
JIM LEHRER: Now: two views of the review.
Retired General Jack Keane is former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army. He was an advocate and one of the architects of the surge in Iraq during the Bush administration. Andrew Wilder is the director of Afghanistan and Pakistan Programs at the United States Institute of Peace. He lived and worked in both of those countries for more than 20 years running humanitarian organizations and doing research.
Andrew Wilder, in general, does the official take jibe with your own, based on your experiences and observations?
ANDREW WILDER, director of Afghanistan and Pakistan Programs, United States Institute of Peace: Well, based on — I was able to read the official version of the review, not the classified version.
And, based on that, I think it does offer a fairly sober assessment of some — somewhat modest tactical and operational gains that have been achieved in the past year. So — and I agree that there have been, as was already mentioned in the preview of this program, in terms of some military gains in the south.
I think that there has — that has set back the Taliban. I think, in Pakistan, some of the drone attacks have been effective in disrupting al Qaeda activities there. But, in terms of sustainable strategic effects, I think we have seen limited ones.
And I think that’s where it’s already been identified in the report, the lack of progress in terms of a partner in Pakistan to crack down on the sanctuaries issue for insurgent and terrorist groups there, but also a partner in Afghanistan in terms of the government that’s going to be serious on promoting the good governance and the rule of law in Afghanistan. And those are critical, if our long-term success is to be achieved.
JIM LEHRER: So, to put it simply, then, I take from what you’re saying, the glass is less than half-full?
ANDREW WILDER: Yes. I think, in the context of the last year, there have been successes, but I think we can’t do a review just looking at the last year. We have to look at the context of the last eight or nine years.
And if you look at the trend lines from the last eight or nine years, the problems identified in the review actually get even more serious, in terms of the consistent lack of progress on the sanctuaries issue and in terms of the governance agenda within Afghanistan.
JIM LEHRER: We will go through some of those specifics in a moment, but I want to get General Keane’s overview.
You heard what Mr. Wilder said. How do you respond? Do you use words like modest and fragile? Or what words do you use?
GEN. JACK KEANE (RET.), U.S. Army: Well, I did an assessment myself there in September for General Petraeus. And I pretty much agree with the content of the report.
It’s unmistakable that the momentum is beginning to switch to our favor. We have seen erosion of Taliban will. We listen to them every day on their radio traffic. We interrogate them on a regular basis. And we have begun see that change.
Plus, every battalion and brigade commander that I spoke to had evidence of Taliban that wanted to cross back over and reintegrate into Afghan society. Under General Petraeus’ program, it’s called the Afghan local police. Now, there are hundreds of those. Hopefully, they will grow into the thousands, like it did in Iraq.
That’s tangible evidence of a shift. The other shift is, is that we are literally in many areas where we have not been before, and we have secured them, and we have removed the Taliban from the throat of the people.
Challenges lie ahead in terms of governance, to be sure. I agree with that. And, also, I fundamentally believe that the sanctuaries in Pakistan put the 2014 accomplishment at risk, unless we eliminate those sanctuaries — either the Pakistanis pull the plug and stop supporting them to the degree that they are now, or we are given permission to deal with them ourselves.
But the fact is, those sanctuaries will have to cease, if we intend to be successful by 2014.
JIM LEHRER: And, if they don’t cease, we won’t be successful; that’s what you’re saying?
GEN. JACK KEANE: That’s my judgment. And I do think, in time, we probably could attrit the forces down, even with the sanctuaries, but I think we’d be fundamentally out of political will in this country and political capital.
And 2014, I think, is a reasonable expectation for us to bring this to a stable, secure situation, where we can turn it over to the Afghan security forces.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Andrew Wilder, that the key to this are those sanctuaries in Pakistan?
ANDREW WILDER: Well, I would add to that the sanctuaries in Pakistan, but also the governance piece in Afghanistan, because we can kill as many Taliban as we want, but, one, if they can go back to Pakistan, you know, that’s not going to ultimately be successful.
But we can clear an area, which is what we’re doing in some areas of the south. I agree that the momentum of the Taliban in some areas of the south has been halted and in some cases even reversed, but then what steps into that void? We can’t stay there and hold that territory forever.
That’s where the Afghan government needs to step in. And so far there’s been a pretty consistent track record that it has been ineffective in stepping into these voids and providing good governance.
And I think this is where I think we need to recognize that there’s been a divergence in the interests on — in terms of what President Karzai’s interests are in Afghanistan, which I think, ultimately, are political survival, which is often achieved through developing these patronage networks and supporting his local strongmen.
But our objective is to promote good governance that is going to win the Afghan population over to the government. And I think that, unless we achieve that, I think our effects, our military gains, cannot be sustained.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, General, that, without the Afghan government being able to sustain what they’re doing, this isn’t going to happen; this isn’t going to work?
GEN. JACK KEANE: I think there’s some real truth to that.
But I’m more optimistic about the possibility of being able to do that. I mean, the fact of the matter is, what we see now on the ground, when we get the Taliban removed from the people, there’s community development councils called shuras, many of whom elect those council members. And they represent the people.
The problem we have had in the past is, there’s a shadow government there from the Taliban. And that has been against the goals of the Karzai government and our own goals in the local area itself.
What we’re able to do now, when the Taliban are gone, is start to build local governance around those community development councils. And there are better people coming forward to participate, which has always been one of our problems in the past, once you get the Taliban out there who are threatening, terrorizing, and intimidating.
And just — in a general sense, just let me say this, that some of these problems that seem so intractable, lack of proper governance in — at the local area in particular in Afghanistan, and also the sanctuaries, when you get the significant momentum, and it’s obvious that there’s going to be a different outcome in Afghanistan for the Taliban, what seems intractable now can actually get some resolution on.
We were fortunate to do the same in Iraq with major, major problems. And, once we turned the tide there, a lot of problems started to fall into place.
Listen, these are tough challenges. I’m not suggesting that they’re not. But I’m more hopeful as we move forward here that we can get some local governance there that’s responsible to the people. And, also, I’m — I believe, if we’re tough with the Pakistani, the way we need to be, and we don’t just put a finger in their chest, we put a fist in their chest about what — what the outcome is going to be and what side are they going to be on as we turn the tide here…
JIM LEHRER: All right.
GEN. JACK KEANE: … then I think we can make some definitive progress on governance and also on the sanctuaries.
JIM LEHRER: Andrew Wilder, is that what’s required, put the fist on Pakistan to get this thing — get those sanctuaries out of there?
ANDREW WILDER: Well, President Obama talked about this mutual partnership. And for it to be a partnership, it actually has to be mutual.
And I think this is where there are questions. And, you know, there’s two interpretations that you hear. One is that the Pakistan government is unable to stop the sanctuaries — and that’s a serious problem — or that they’re unwilling to stop the sanctuaries. And that’s a problem.
But I think — I absolutely think that, if that issue cannot be reversed, it’s hard to succeed — see how we’re going to succeed militarily in the long term in Afghanistan.
JIM LEHRER: Well, which — which theory do you buy? Are they unable or unwilling?
ANDREW WILDER: I think, in terms of the Pakistanis, they have actually cracked down considerably on the Pakistani Taliban and at times on al-Qaida.
But where we don’t see any effort to crack down is on the Afghan Taliban based in Pakistan, both in terms of the Quetta Shura down in Baluchistan, as well as in terms of the Haqqani Network.
JIM LEHRER: Is it your reading that the United States has the power to actually get this done, get the Pakistan government to do this, and we just haven’t exercised the power, or is something else at work?
ANDREW WILDER: Well, I think that’s a very good question. And I think that’s where my interest in this review — this has been backward-looking in terms of what the problems are.
To me, now that these problems have been identified, now the interesting part of looking forward, what are we going to do about these? And the big thing is, what are we going to do about Pakistan? And I think it’s a big question. Can they be pressured into it? That’s not proved to be terribly successful. Can they be bought?
Now our strategy is to try to buy support. But the history of U.S. aid to Pakistan doesn’t suggest that that will be successful either. So, I think it is a real, real bind in terms of how to proceed, in terms of getting Pakistan’s commitment on the sanctuary issue.
JIM LEHRER: You agree it’s a bind, do you not, General, but it can be done?
GEN. JACK KEANE: Well — well, I’m convinced of this, is that, when we make the definitive progress, that the Pakistanis see that their strategy no longer makes sense — and their strategy right now is a hedging strategy, because they have fundamentally believed, with some justification, that the United States is not committed to the stability and security of Afghanistan.
And they want to make certain, if that’s the case, as they have believed for a number of years now, that they have the relationship with the regime that will take over. And they believe that is the Taliban. And they do not want that regime to have a closer relationship with the Indians, which is part of their paranoia here.
Come spring and summer of 2011, it’s going to be obvious to the Pakistanis that that’s not going to happen. The Taliban are not coming back into power, and we’re going to begin to fundamentally turn the tables here. I think, then, they have to re-look their strategy. And we should be right there with them, helping them rethink and re-look that strategy and move them in the right direction in terms of eliminating those sanctuaries.
And let me tell you this. Make no mistake about it. The evidence is unequivocal that the government of Pakistan and the military leadership of Pakistan aids and abets those sanctuaries. We have clear evidence to that — that fact. That’s the reality. It’s not a question of unable or unwilling.
They — they willingly support…
JIM LEHRER: They just won’t do it.
GEN. JACK KEANE: … those sanctuaries.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
GEN. JACK KEANE: And it’s outrageous, because, from those sanctuaries, every single day, our troops are being killed.
JIM LEHRER: Outrageous, Andrew Wilder?
ANDREW WILDER: Yes, it is.
I mean, I think — and it’s been — it’s particular given the amount of resources being paid at this point to Pakistan in terms of aid and support for the military, that you would think we should be able to get more in terms — in return.
I was just in Pakistan in November and had the opportunity to meet with some senior officials there. And I do actually think that they do not want to see Pakistan — Afghanistan fall back into anarchy. I think they do recognize that it’s in their interests for Afghanistan to be stable.
They don’t want another influx of Afghan refugees into Pakistan, and the destabilizing effects there. They want an Afghanistan where they have influence and where India doesn’t have influence. And, so, I think that’s where, probably, the negotiations need to start.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Gentlemen, thank you both very much.
ANDREW WILDER: Thank you.