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After NATO Leaves, Will Afghan Forces Be Ready?

May 21, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Judy Woodruff speaks with former Ambassador to the European Union James Dobbins and retired Col. David Lamm about NATO's exit plans coming out of this week's summit in Chicago and whether Afghan forces are ready to absorb security responsibilities once most foreign troops leave in 2014.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more, we turn to two men with extensive experience dealing with Afghanistan. Ambassador James Dobbins was a career diplomat serving in a number of conflict zones, including Afghanistan. He’s now the director of RAND’s International Security and Defense Policy Center. And Ret. Col. David Lamm was the chief of staff to the Combined Forces Command in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005. He’s now at the National Defense University.

Gentlemen, thank you both for being here.

Ambassador Dobbins, to you first. This NATO meeting, how does it affect events in Afghanistan?

JAMES DOBBINS, director, International Security and Defense Policy Center Director, RAND Corporation: Well, I think the NATO meeting, it was well prepared. There weren’t any big surprises.

It did confirm a course that NATO has been on. It clarified somewhat the schedule for turning combat responsibilities over to the Afghans. It affirmed an intention to meet the costs of Afghan national security forces well beyond 2014. And it affirmed that NATO and the United States would remain there militarily in non-combat roles beyond that.

It left uncertain exactly how much each state is going to contribute. And it certainly left uncertain what kind of forces they would retain beyond 2014.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Col. Lamm, how do you size up the contribution or not of this meeting?

COL. DAVID LAMM (RET.), U.S. Army: Well, I think, as the ambassador pointed out, they’ve affirmed a number of things. But the devil is in the details here.

Exactly what does the troop footprint of ISAF look like after 2014 into ’15, particularly the enablers, intelligence, aviation, medical, support? All of these things that up to this point the Afghans have not provided for themselves are going to have to be provided. And in fact the cost of just the enablers, I think, would exceed the $1.4 billion — the $4.1 billion that the pledge is for the ANSF over the period for each year. So a really difficult — a lot of details to be worked out still.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about the timetable itself? Does that seem clear now coming out of this meeting, the withdrawal timetable?

COL. DAVID LAMM: I think the timetable is very clear. But the problem that Gen. John Allen will have now is how he executes that timetable and how quickly we can get the Afghan national security forces, both army and police, to function as an integral national body.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s talk about that. How ready are the Afghan — the government, the military, the police, how ready are they, will they be by 2014?

JAMES DOBBINS: Well, and as President Obama said, they’re never going to be ready until they’re thrown in the pool and told sink or swim, that as long as they remain dependent on us, they’re going to be dependent.

And so it’s only by essentially forcing a level of independence and autonomy that they’re going to develop the skills necessary to survive without the large American and NATO presence. They’re not ready in many respects. On the other hand, they’re much more numerous than their opponents. They’re much better equipped than their opponents.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meaning the Taliban.

JAMES DOBBINS: Than the Taliban.

And they’re going to be receiving substantial American and allied support for what now amounts to 14 years from now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Col. Lamm, how do you see their — the readiness of the Afghan forces?

COL. DAVID LAMM: Well, I tend to agree with the ambassador, with one major caveat.

And that is, from the aspect of logistical support, turning this over very quickly to the Afghans by 2014 is going to be very difficult. I think there will be a long period of time where coalition forces — and read into that U.S. forces — are going to have to do that, aviation, close air support, all. . .

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean after 2014?

COL. DAVID LAMM: I believe so, yes, certainly after 2014.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But combat troops will be out?

COL. DAVID LAMM: But, remember, if you’re a support personnel and you’re driving a truck on the ground or you’re flying a helicopter in Afghanistan, I think even President Karzai would mention the fact that even if you’re a support troop, you will be engaged in combat.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Ambassador Dobbins, you don’t sound as concerned about the long-term ability of Afghan forces to secure themselves.

JAMES DOBBINS: Well, I am concerned.

But I think, you know, there’s two transitions that take place in 2014. One is the transition from NATO-led to Afghan-led combat operations. And the other is the transition from Karzai-led to somebody else-led Afghan government.

I don’t think the Afghan army is going to run away in 2014, but I think that there’s — I think the bigger risk is that the center begins to disintegrate, that you no longer have a national leader who, despite all his failings and all his shortcomings, continues to enjoy very substantial support across all of the sectarian groups in Afghanistan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you’re talking about the political leadership of the country.


JUDY WOODRUFF: And the effect you’re saying that would have on the military and the security?

JAMES DOBBINS: Right. In other words, an army is only as good as the level of political support, oversight that it receives.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that what your concern is?

COL. DAVID LAMM: My concern as well is that what happens as the political center begins to erode is that the Afghan army and its security forces will revert to what they have done for hundreds of years.

And they will protect local interests, tribal interests again. But the problem will be is how well they’re able to function at the behest of the central government.

JUDY WOODRUFF: As a national force.

COL. DAVID LAMM: As a national force. That’s right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that on that point, Ambassador Dobbins?

JAMES DOBBINS: Well, I think it’s a legitimate concern. It’s not a prediction that this is going to happen.

But I think that, as I said, the larger risk is not that these forces will run away. It’s that the center of gravity in the country will erode under the pressures of selecting a new leadership in a country that hasn’t really had peaceful transitions of government in its history. So I think we need to follow that as closely as we do, the training and equipping of the Afghan national security forces, which frankly have almost monopolized our attention over the past several years.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how much, Col. Lamm, is Pakistan a concern in all of this? Because this agreement over reopening the supply routes, it does now appear they’re on the verge of an agreement after not being able to work one out for some months. But in terms of this — of being able to determine the future of Afghanistan, what role does Pakistan play?

COL. DAVID LAMM: Pakistan’s role is huge.

And I think everybody in Washington and our coalition partners realize that. It is the place where the relative safe havens are set up. At the same time, supplying Afghanistan, as you mentioned, I’m not sure how close we are to a deal to reopen the ground logistical routes into Afghanistan from Karachi up in through into Afghanistan.

Those costs are on the margins about six times more expensive to come through the north than they are to move up through Pakistan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which has been the most recent. . .

COL. DAVID LAMM: Which has been the most recent situation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ambassador Dobbins, just finally, how do you see the role of Pakistan in all of this?

JAMES DOBBINS: Well, I think a successful negotiation to reopen the supply route simply brings us back to where we were three or four months ago, which is a very unsatisfactory position.

It’s one in which the Pakistanis are both our allies and are to a considerable degree operating against us, in they’re allowing, they’re acquiescing in the operations of insurgents in their country operating against us. We’re, on the other hand, conducting military strikes on their territory over their objections.

So putting aside this particular issue really only advances us, you know, in a very marginal way toward some real understanding with Pakistan over the — Afghanistan’s future.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Nothing simple about this one.

Ambassador James Dobbins, Col. David Lamm, we thank you both.

COL. DAVID LAMM: Thank you.