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Henry Crumpton

Henry Crumpton

A veteran covert CIA officer, Crumpton ran the CIA's campaign in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. From 2005 to 2007 he served as the State Department's chief of counterterrorism. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on Sept. 4, 2008.

“Dealmaking is a part of what can be a successful counterinsurgency campaign. ... But it needs to be the right kind of deals, the kind of deals that will deny Al Qaeda that opportunity to plot and plan.”

If we can just go through the Afghan-Pakistani border region and describe the battlefield: What are we looking at?

It's hard for us to think of this in unconventional terms, but that's what we face. It's not a border like we think of a border, with defined populations. You've got maybe 40 million Pashtun that live on both sides of the border, a total of 40 million, and they go back and forth. They have family connections; they have business.

It is inhospitable in terms of access -- some severe terrain, large mountains. No one, including Alexander the Great, has ever been able to conquer and hold that piece of territory. So it offers us many challenges, ... but perhaps most importantly culturally, with a variety of tribes and subtribes and clans, and many of them view themselves as their own independent states.

So it's not just Afghanistan-Pakistan, but it's a shifting mosaic of tribal loyalties. Understanding, mapping that human terrain is probably the biggest challenge when we look at the battlefield.

In the sense that you're giving us a briefing, can you take me up the border? ... In Quetta, what are you looking at? What's the challenge there?

Quetta is inside Pakistan, of course, and you've got a population that's deeply oriented toward the Taliban and toward their ideology and provides a quasi, not safe haven, but the Taliban are able to operate there. The shura council has been established there for years.

This is the main governing council of the Taliban, headed by Mullah [Mohammad] Omar?

Right. Now, they don't have, you know, a permanent office, but they are in the area, and they have meetings there. And it's been tough not only for us but for our Pakistani allies to gain access and control into Quetta, into the surrounding area.

And as you move further north into more mountainous terrain, into South Waziristan, North Waziristan, you get this tribal collection. Many are allied with the Taliban, view themselves as Pakistani Taliban. And others who have resisted have faced some pretty harsh retaliation. Perhaps as many as 200 tribal leaders have been assassinated by the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

How does it work that they can be so brutal with the population and maintain a kind of indigenous support?

I think that they've been able to rally support because they've been able to focus them on an external threat, whether it's the Pakistani government or the U.S. government or the Afghan government or NATO. And they've been able to influence them through many years of residence, in some cases intermarriage and money and intimidation. They use a mixture of different things that they apply, and they're pretty adept at it.

Who are the main players in South and North Waziristan?

You have various groups there. A little bit further north is the Haqqani clan. They've operated in Waziristan and further north.

Who is that?

[Jalaluddin] Haqqani and the family, they are a well-known Pashtun tribal entity. They fought the Soviets very successfully. After 9/11, they made the choice to align themselves with the Taliban as the Taliban fled into Pakistan. And the ties to Al Qaeda are historical. They're tough and effective fighters.

Jalaluddin Haqqani knew Osama [bin Laden]?

Yes. And the relationship now? I'm not sure how close they might be. I'm not sure where bin Laden is. I wish I did.

But the Haqqani clan is one example, an important example, of how these tribal families are able to exert influence. But they are not universally respected or liked. In fact, there is competition among some of these tribes. Haqqani faces, I believe, some, if not resistance, suspicion and competition in that part of the world.

You've located Haqqani in North Waziristan. Do you know where he is? Does the CIA or the State Department or the ISI, [Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence]?

I don't know if the CIA does or the ISI does. I know that earlier, in '01, '02, there was an effort to have meetings and discussions with Haqqani. In fact, I encouraged this because he is such a key player. The idea was that if Haqqani would be willing to come to an agreement with us to work with us against Al Qaeda along that border region, that would be a good move. And I don't know where the U.S. government or where the Pakistani government is now, today, in any discussions with him. ...

Did you meet with him?

No, I did not. … We sent emissaries to meet with him and his people, and there were some limited communications, but for whatever reason, he decided he did not want to engage with us.

What was the message you got back from Haqqani?

That he was not interested at this time.

And what were we offering him?

We were offering to sit down and to talk and to listen to what his concerns might be and to see if there was some common ground. And we were pretty open-minded about how we could perhaps bring him into a legitimate, constructive government in Afghanistan.

Some of the Taliban did accept our offers. In fact, that is why we had such success in the fall of '01, because we had engagement with a wide variety of Taliban commanders and local tribal leaders -- because our enemy, it was not necessarily the Taliban, and certainly not Afghanistan. Our enemy was Al Qaeda. They are the ones that attacked us on 9/11, and I think that's an important distinction.

And [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai, [has had] ongoing efforts to talk to the Taliban, to have them lay down their arms and come into a legitimate form of government. I think that's reasonable and that should be continued, especially if they give up other Al Qaeda allies, if we can get to bin Laden and other leaders.

And so we tried to talk to Haqqani. He rebuffed us?

Right.

He joined with Al Qaeda and with the Taliban?

Yes.

And still operates out of North Waziristan?

Yes.

And in South Waziristan, the Mehsuds are a major force. Can you tell me anything about them?

... Again, a fairly tight clan, effective. They play a similar role, I think, as the Haqqanis do.

And then, further north, if you could look at [Gulbuddin] Hekmatyar and the role that he plays -- again, a quasi-independent entity that's part of this network stretched up along the border.

So you cannot negotiate with a single entity or a single point of contact. There are multiple actors that you have to engage when you think about how do you wage an effective counterinsurgency campaign.

And bear in mind these tribal leaders are really a means to an end, and the end is Al Qaeda leadership and the denial of safe haven to Al Qaeda. That is what's of paramount importance to the United States government.

Who funds these guys?

They have a variety of sources of funding. They have small businesses. They profit from the trade in narcotics -- the heroin trade, poppies. They also have donations from local mosques and from foreigners and from smuggling. They take a percentage of the smuggling, which is a way of life along that part of the border.

... So over the years, have there been efforts to talk to Hekmatyar, to talk to [Baitullah] Mehsud, to talk to Haqqani?

Uh-huh, yeah, and to different degrees. Hekmatyar is an example -- really not interested in having a discussion. And you also have to bear in mind that at some point, when you look at questions of justice, well, how far can you go in being willing to reach out and to engage with some of these actors? Many of them have been involved in some pretty horrific crimes.

I guess that's my question. How far can you go in talking to these guys?

That's a great question, and there is no specific answer. As an example, if Haqqani would come onside and give up bin Laden, would that be a good deal? Imperfect, but yeah, I would take it. ...

But we must, perhaps foremost in mind, be aware of the sensitivities and the needs of the people of that area. What are their views? What are their aspirations? What are their hopes? We can't really cut a deal and put these populations at future risk. There's a moral, I think, imperative for us, working with the Pakistani government, the Afghan government and those tribal societies.

So it's about protecting the U.S.; it's about nullifying Al Qaeda leadership, denying them safe haven, but not at the risk of those populations.

In other words, making a deal with Haqqani that assures his sort of safe haven and continued rule of the area if he's, in fact, a harsh dictator in that area?

That's right, because then you're not going to have an enduring resolution to the issues anyway. But how do you strike that balance? That's something that depends on lots of variables.

How big is the Al Qaeda threat? What is Al Qaeda's capability at this point?

Al Qaeda's capability was severely diminished after 9/11, not only in their former safe haven of Afghanistan -- and, sadly, they've reclaimed some of that safe haven, I think -- but worldwide.

Now, in the intervening years, especially the last almost two years now, when Pakistan cut a very bad deal with some of the local actors in the tribal areas, it enabled Al Qaeda to establish more of a secure safe haven and expand it within Pakistan, overlapping into Afghanistan. And because of that, it gives them a place where they can regroup. They can plot and plan; they can train. They have a base of operations from which they can deploy operatives.

And one of their strategic goals is to attack the U.S. in the homeland again, and Europe. We know that, right? That's no secret. And as long as they have that kind of safe haven, it poses a direct threat to the United States and to the people of the United States.

Tell me about the "bad deal" the Pakistani government cut with the militants.

The Pakistani government, bear in mind that they have waged war in the tribal area now for years. They've lost hundreds of people. They were trying to find the right solution, and they went from more of a conventional response to negotiating a settlement that afforded the local tribal leaders, and in turn Al Qaeda, much greater latitude in their movements, really affording them freedom. From that perspective, it was a pretty bad deal.

The terms of the deal were what, exactly?

Was that they would not attack Pakistan in terms of Pakistan military or installations or the Frontier Corps [FC]. In return, they would be given some degree of autonomy.

This is the Pakistani Taliban?

The local tribal leaders. And the other variable in that deal, or the other part of it, which was not adhered to by the local tribal leaders, was that foreign fighters, Al Qaeda, could not stay there; they would have to leave. They ignored that part of the deal. And not only did Al Qaeda leadership and rank and file stay, they've grown stronger and expanded their safe haven. ...

There were several peace deals, right?

Right.

You referred to the one in '06 as a particularly broad one. But they go back to '04?

Yes.

Where were we vis-à-vis the Pakistani government during this process?

There was consultation. There were discussions. But for the most part, these were deals struck by the Pakistani government with the tribes.

And dealmaking is a part of what can be a successful counterinsurgency campaign, because some tribal leaders, they want to make a deal, and they don't want Al Qaeda there. ... But it needs to be the right kind of deals, the kind of deals that will deny Al Qaeda that opportunity to plot and plan and attack Pakistani leadership, people in Afghanistan and, ultimately, worldwide.

When we complained to the Pakistani government that this deal wasn't a very good deal, what was the response?

It was that they were hopeful that in time it would work out. Sadly, it has not. And the Pakistanis clearly understand that. They've just had recent attacks against Pakistani leadership here in the last few months, some of them pretty severe.

Against [assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir] Bhutto, against [Prime Minister Yousaf Raza] Gilani?

That's right.

So it's backfired? ...

Al Qaeda and their Taliban allies in this safe haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, they've been able to consolidate their power. They've been able to build facilities and to train and to recruit. And you see some encroachment from the tribal areas into Pakistan proper, which is of great concern to all of us. And of course on the Afghan side, you've seen a spike in attacks there because they have this safe haven from which they can operate.

And I don't know this, but what worries me is if they've been able to re-engage in terms of their testing of weapons of mass destruction. We know that Afghanistan, prior to 9/11, they were testing biological and chemical weapons. Now, I don't know that's the case now inside Pakistan, inside the safe haven, but it worries me.

You say they've been able to use these peace deals as a way of consolidating the power, building training bases. What can we actually see? What is the evidence of this?

A combination of sources. You have overhead imagery. There's signals intelligence. There's HUMINT [human intelligence] collection. There's reporting from our liaison partners on both sides of the borders. So it really is a pretty sophisticated, all-source intelligence effort all along that border.

If we know that Al Qaeda is running a training camp in North Waziristan, for example, why can't we take it out? Or should we?

I think it depends on many things. What is the population around the training camp? Who's in the training camp? Can the Pakistanis do it without assistance? Should they do it with our assistance? Perhaps they're unable or unwilling. Therefore we need to consider unilateral options.

And then, how do you approach that? Do you use local tribal allies to help you? Strictly unilateral? With helicopter assault? It depends on many variables. But I think ultimately, after seven years and $10 billion that we've given the Pakistanis in military aid, we've got to see some progress. We cannot afford to wait longer.

We're not seeing progress?

No.

And most of that $10 billion went to what?

It went to the Pakistani military. But bear in mind the Pakistani military is not unlike ours. You have large conventional forces. But this type of fight is really a classic counterinsurgency up in the mountains, and the Pakistani military, they've made some progress, but they have a ways to go in terms of building the right counterinsurgency forces, working with indigenous militia like the Frontier Corps. They need to work on that, and we need to help them.

Let's say you're briefing the next president of the United States. What do you tell him about Pakistani military capabilities?

Of greatest importance, they have nuclear weapons. That's a big variable. But the army is primarily trained and equipped and focused to fight the Indian army in the Punjab Plain.

And in Kashmir.

And in Kashmir. But what we're seeing now in the tribal areas is a classic insurgency. And the way you counter that is working with indigenous forces. You use hard power in the beginning, the first 10, 20 percent, and then the next 80, 90 percent is what you might refer to as soft power, and that would be health facilities; that would be roads; that would be economic opportunities, education -- all the things that come with an effective counterinsurgency. ...

You hear a lot of people complaining about the Pakistanis not really being interested in doing what needs to be done in the tribal areas. How do you score them on this?

I think that some Pakistani leaders at a local level have been ambivalent, some perhaps even complicit in working with the Taliban.

But bear in mind, if you live in that particular area, you might not have a lot of choice. It's easy for us to complain when we're in Washington or in Islamabad. But you look at how many Pakistanis have died fighting these insurgent forces -- in the hundreds -- and you look at how effective Pakistan has been in the urban areas in working with the United States and delivering Al Qaeda leaders, Al Qaeda operatives. [It's] one of the most effective relationships we have in terms of counterterrorism.

So it's not just a question of ambivalence or unwillingness. I think it's more a question of capabilities, and how do you wage counterinsurgency in that part of the world?

We hear a lot of people complain about how the ISI is dependent on the Taliban in Afghanistan to create a bulwark against India, and so it's not just a matter of capability in this view. It is that they aren't really willing to go after Pakistani Taliban, Al Qaeda, because there's a usefulness.

Right. ... From a Pakistani perspective, ... they view Afghanistan as affording them strategic depth. If they have control or influence over the Pashtun people that live on both sides of the borders, it gives them strategic depth from a geographic perspective. And that's important.

But what's happening is, in some ways that's backfiring, because you've got these radical elements that have gained greater traction, greater influence in these tribal areas. ... And if you look at Pakistan, the part of Pakistan that is relatively safe and functions, it has become more narrow. ...

So I think you can make a pretty good argument that this notion of strategic depth that some leaders have advocated clearly has failed. In fact, I think it might be counterproductive.

So what do we do about this?

It goes, again, to counterinsurgency.

You started something called the Regional Strategic Initiative?

Right. If we look at theater of operations, not just in this part of the world but anywhere, I view it in four levels. There's the global level. ... And then there's a regional aspect. Then there's the national level. We do that very well because of the Westphalian nation-state system. We have diplomatic relations, countries to countries. That works pretty well. And then there's a local level. And this is so crucial in counterinsurgency. But you've got to work all four of those, and that's a challenge for us, especially at the regional and the local [levels].

The thinking behind the Regional Strategic Initiative that we developed at State Department was to bring together countries in particular regions so you can resolve issues. [There has been] a great deal of success in Southeast Asia, where Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia come together -- very good progress there. In Pakistan-Afghanistan, not much. And you've got to resolve these issues on both sides of the border. You have to look at it regionally, including Kashmir, including India.

Why didn't it work?

Because of the historical animosity between the Afghans and the Pakistanis. But again, I think in time it may work, because this radical element along the border poses a threat to both governments. It's in their long-term interest to work together on this. And there has been some communication, some effort among the intelligence services and among the military.

Let's talk about diplomatic efforts. ... How good a job have we been doing, and what do we need to do better?

We have a pretty good ways to go. ... If you think of this type of conflict as an insurgency -- and it has many of the characteristics of an insurgency; it's not just an act of terrorism -- but you see Al Qaeda and their allies collecting intelligence. They're engaged in propaganda; they're engaged in subversion; they're engaged in sabotage. All these things are reflective of an insurgency. And if that's your premise, well, then, a counterinsurgency is one way to attack this. And in classic counterinsurgency, you blend hard power with a range of soft-power elements.

Example: If special forces and the CIA working together go into a particular valley and make progress, establish a liaison with local tribal leaders, ... you've got to go in with the infrastructure, with education, with health care, with economic opportunities. That inoculates that valley, that area, from Taliban encroachment. Otherwise you just keep having the same battle year after year. And the U.S. government, really, we're not structured to do that. ...

Now, the provincial reconstruction teams, the PRTs, in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are some positive examples out there, and we need to learn from those examples. Develop a curriculum, and teach people how to wage war in the 21st century, a 21st-century counterinsurgency effort.

Now, you were in the State Department, in charge of counterterrorism?

Yes.

You wanted these resources?

Right.

What happened?

We asked for them and did not get the resources.

Who did you ask? Why didn't you get them?

Oh, we asked the secretary; we talked to people in the Pentagon. And here in Washington, of course, the ongoing issue is about resources, authorities and credit. Where you have greater success is in the field. In fact, the further you get away from Washington, the more successes you have in integrating all these instruments of statecraft. ...

But frankly, the national leadership here, the White House and elsewhere -- and especially Congress -- they need to look at this holistically. And sadly, many people look at aid or the soft-power instruments as not very useful. But, in fact, it's critical to securing these victories.

How do we get people from Agriculture or Commerce, State Department, development banks, into the mix? Again, there are some good examples at an operational level. But we should be thinking about it strategically. I'll give you an example: the role of the U.S. ambassador overseas. If we want to use all the instruments of statecraft, all the tools that we have, who is better positioned to bring all these instruments together? ...

I have argued that the U.S. ambassador should be given the authorities and the resources to do this. ... But we're not recruiting or training or providing the right incentives for U.S. ambassadors to do this. ...

Why hasn't this been understood in the last seven, eight years?

My only guess is that you see the momentum of the status quo that's been in place for generations, where ambassadors are chosen based on either their career, if they're Foreign Service officers, or on their political contributions. ...

What you're saying is the State Department has not fielded a very strong team?

Not to wage counterinsurgency. There's some good examples where they've learned on the job. Ambassador [to Iraq] [Ryan] Crocker is a great example. Ambassador [Kristie] Kenney in the Philippines is another good example. But it is not a systemic program or plan. And I think that it's part of the need to restructure U.S. national security.

And if it's not the U.S. ambassador to take the lead on this, well, then my question is, who is it? You can't default to the military, because in many cases, 90 percent of this should be nonmilitary. They're a critical part of it, but they shouldn't have the lead, in my view.

We saw resources move, after '03, toward Iraq from Afghanistan. How has that affected your ability, when you were at State, to actually get things done in Afghanistan-Pakistan?

It had an operational impact, because you moved some of the top-tier forces from the Afghan theater into Iraq.

A significant one? You make it sound like it wasn't that big a deal.

It wasn't such a compelling military requirement. Bear in mind, in that window in Afghanistan between '02 and really '05, there was a large degree of stability. You didn't have a resurgence of the Taliban until a couple of years ago.

And this window of opportunity would have been more useful -- it was not more troops, but more of the soft-power instruments that I referred to: more economic development, more roads. We should have secured that hard-power victory that we achieved in '01 and '02, and we did not. ...

But was that soft power not deployed because of our attention on Iraq?

I think it was less about Iraq and more about our conventional way of thinking about warfare and how poorly organized and poorly resourced we are to secure those hard-power victories. Now, we have a history of doing that; in the Marshall Plan, in Europe after World War II, is a terrific example.

We didn't face hostility from the local population.

By the spring-summer '02, you had almost zero hostility throughout Afghanistan. You had a great window of opportunity for a couple of years, but we did not secure that victory.

Is that window closed?

It has not closed, but it is certainly more narrow now than it has been since 9/11.

... Is [the Iraqi Awakening, a council of local tribes which formed an alliance to fight Al Qaeda in various Iraqi provinces,] a model that can work in Afghanistan or Pakistan?

Sure. I think you've got two good examples. If you look at the CIA and special forces efforts in Afghanistan immediately after 9/11 --

Those are the ones that you headed.

That's right -- some very good examples. Bear in mind, to give you some specifics, on Dec. 7, 2001, Kandahar fell. It was the last major urban stronghold of the Taliban. Perhaps as many as 70, 80 percent of Al Qaeda had been killed. The Taliban had been decimated. Many had come onboard with the emerging Afghan government. Taliban leaders were in flight.

And at that point in time, there were 410 Americans on the ground inside Afghanistan, 410 total. This was an Afghan victory. And the Afghan people were looking to the U.S. and to the West, to the global community, to come in there and help them rebuild their nation.

I thought air power played a big role in that victory.

Played a critical role. It was a huge role. And it was Afghan ground forces with U.S. and allied air power, pulled together by the CIA and the special forces. That was one of the keys to victory. But it was a victory. And you had a relatively peaceful situation in Afghanistan starting in, really, the summer of '02.

Now, the border area has always been problematic because of the safe haven in Pakistan. But there are some positive lessons to be learned.

And if you see what [Gen.] David Petraeus and his people were able to do in Iraq, there are some parallels: again, working at a very local level, listening to those constituents, those tribal entities. What were their needs? What were their perceptions? And how do you enable them? How do you further their sense of pride and prestige and honor? Those are the keys to victory, whether it's Afghanistan, Iraq or anywhere. And so, yes, I think positive lessons can be learned and employed in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Is it a parallel situation? I talked to [New Yorker correspondent and Pulitzer Prize-winning author] Steve Coll about this. He says ... [in Afghanistan] the tribal structures are much less intact [than in Iraq], and therefore it's harder for a kind of Awakening strategy to get traction.

Again, I would agree. But there are still tribal elements that you can work with. It would not be as clear or as defined as the Sons of Iraq, the Awakening there.

But if you look at the individual tribal leaders and clan leaders in Afghanistan or Pakistan, they want to be empowered. They want to be able to live their lives without external interference, whether it be the U.S. or whether it be some Arab Al Qaeda individual or entity. ... You can't draw exact parallels, but there are some basic elements that apply in Iraq, in Afghanistan, [that] are really universal.

And understanding those local needs -- Tip O'Neill, late speaker of the House, he famously said, "All politics is local." I promise you, all counterterrorism, all counterinsurgency is local, whether it's Iraq or Afghanistan or anywhere.

Let me throw out another criticism we heard from former Ambassador [to Afghanistan Ronald] Neumann, who says that [it's] not a good idea to run an Awakening strategy in Afghanistan, because the central government is so weak that you're going to create militias and a further sort of fractioning of power in a country where the central government is not equipped to handle the aftermath.

I tend to disagree with this. I believe that you can work with local leaders and empower them in a counterinsurgency campaign and also look to the future and to find ways to bring them into civil society. Some of the local shura councils, the local tribal councils -- the loya jirga is the term in Afghanistan -- they could be analogous to a city council. They can be part of a future local government. ...

But the Awakening was about allowing them to take up arms and fight Al Qaeda, ... and this would be a similar situation where we'd empower local tribal leaders, allow them to take up arms and fight [the] Taliban.

Yes, that's what we did in '01 and '02, and it worked pretty well. And I think that you could employ some of those same measures again, now that you do have an Afghan government, with the expectation that they would become part of a local militia that's part of the government, perhaps like our National Guard. Now, maybe that might be a stretch, but I think it's doable.

And, of course, what are the alternatives? Do you want to deploy 400,000, half a million U.S. troops there? I would argue no. I think that the Afghan people would respond negatively to that. So why not empower local fighters? ...

Should we be sending troops into the tribal areas?

In Pakistan? Again, it depends. If bin Laden, [his deputy Ayman al-] Zawahiri is there, if there is an Al Qaeda training camp, if there is a clear objective and if your intelligence is good, I believe yes, because you may be able to disrupt a plot that's aimed at the U.S. homeland or Europe, or at the leadership in Pakistan for that matter.

Now again, that's contingent upon the Pakistanis being unable or unwilling to execute it. The preference is to work with our Pakistani friends, but if they cannot, then we have to exercise unilateral options, given what I think is a clear and present danger.

You must find working with the Pakistanis pretty discouraging.

Not necessarily. The strategic policy piece is challenging, to put it politely. But working with some of the individual Pakistani leaders, both military and intelligence and in the civilian arena, they've done a lot of good work. So it's not black or white.

You look at the former minister of interior, [Aftab Khan] Sherpao. He is from Peshawar. I've got a lot of regard for him. He was recently wounded in an attack by the Taliban. He understands that part of the world. He understands those aspects of counterinsurgency. So again, it's not black or white. You've got some dedicated, courageous Pakistani leaders, and those are the people we need to work with. ...

The next president is inheriting a very challenging situation here. What should his priority be?

I think his priority should be Al Qaeda, given their intentions, given their demonstrated capabilities to attack us in the homeland. And the next president needs to reach out to the Pakistani government and the Afghanistan government and work with them to find a solution.

But at the same time, there has to be a pretty tight timeline. We cannot wait much longer, because I am concerned if there is an Al Qaeda attack in the homeland, our response will not be proportionate. I think the American people will demand a very harsh response, and in the long term, in fact, that might be counterproductive for us.

Our response must be precise. It must be nuanced. It must be certainly lethal if we're talking about Al Qaeda leadership and those responsible for a future attack. Time is not necessarily in our favor. So while we need to work with our partners, both at a national level and a local level, we must also reserve the unilateral option. I think that's critical.

What's the unilateral option?

It's that we go into parts of Pakistan or Afghanistan with U.S. troops and engage the enemy -- especially if you're talking about Al Qaeda leadership or if you're talking about units or cells that are instrumental in plotting and planning an attack in the homeland or Europe or somewhere else. Again, give our partners every opportunity and give them the resources where we can work with them and they can take the lead. But if they cannot, we must reserve the unilateral option.

And you think that we've given the Pakistanis enough time?

It's been seven years and $10 billion. At the same time, I would still work with them. I would communicate with them. I would encourage them. I would continue to give them the right kind of assistance to wage an effective counterinsurgency campaign.

But if we get compelling intelligence that bin Laden is in a particular house, or if there is an Al Qaeda element that's getting ready to attack inside Afghanistan and, for whatever reason, our Pakistani allies cannot act, well, then I think we should.

Have we had that kind of intelligence? And have the Pakistanis not acted in time?

Yes.

How many times has that happened?

I can certainly think of more than one [time] when that has not happened.

When what has not happened?

When the Pakistanis have not responded to what I thought at the time was decent intelligence, and also examples of the Pakistanis responding but responding late, or responding not as forcefully as perhaps we would have liked. …

But in the long term -- and this is true of Pakistan; it's true of any ally -- to the extent we can build those partnerships and have successful partnerships, it increases our odds, both short-term and long-term. And we should not forget that.

Let me make sure I understand this. You're saying that there have been times when we have identified Al Qaeda's presence in certain particular places in the tribal areas of Pakistan. We've asked the Pakistanis to go in, and they have not, or they have not done it quickly enough?

Yes. But I can also make the same comment about U.S. forces. There has been compelling intelligence where U.S. forces have not acted quickly enough or effectively enough. And again, it is more, in Pakistan's case, I think a question of abilities, although there are political elements at play there that view the Taliban in particular as useful, whether it's India, whether it's Afghanistan.

As an ally?

As an ally. …

You made the point that we can't operate that freely anymore, that we're bureaucratically encumbered in such a way that we can't really operate on the ground effectively.

Again, it goes back to my point about the need to restructure U.S. national security. There should be much more of a bias to the field. Where do you have the right kind of leadership, and they're empowered in the field to be dynamic and to be aggressive and flexible? That's where we have some success. ...

posted october 28, 2008

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