What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

McMaster: U.S. has ‘partnered with the Taliban against the Afghan government’

The United States is moving to reduce its troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia over the next two months. As national security adviser to President Trump, retired Lt. General H.R. McMaster was at the center of the administration’s military decisions. He joins Nick Schifrin to discuss why he’s concerned about U.S. security strategy in Afghanistan and beyond.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How to end our longest war? We heard the White House and the Pentagon both promise today to bring U.S. troops home.

    Nick Schifrin has the details.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Judy, the U.S. is reducing its forces in three countries, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia. There are currently more than 4,000 forces in Afghanistan, and 3,000 in Iraq. By January 15, there will be 2,500 U.S. forces in total in each country.

    Here's what acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller said today about the drawdown in Afghanistan.

  • Christopher Miller:

    This is consistent with our established plans and strategic objectives, supported by the American people, and does not equate to a change in U.S. policy or objectives.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    We now turn to a man who has been at the center of President Trump's national security decisions, former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, a retired general who has spent multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    His latest book is "Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World."

    General McMaster, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Thank you very much.

    Let's start on the Afghanistan drawdown. As we just heard, acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller says the mission is not changing. Can the U.S. continue the mission if it goes down to 2,500?

  • H.R. McMaster:

    Well, Nick, I don't think so.

    And I think it really goes beyond just the paltry number of troops, right? These are historic low numbers of troops anyway in both Afghanistan and Iraq. And — but I think it's really the overall strategy. I mean, essentially, in Afghanistan, Nick, what we have done is, we have partnered with the Taliban against the Afghan government.

    I mean, the Afghan government officials are sitting across the table from the Taliban in Doha. And what they're hearing is, hey, we defeated the world's greatest superpower. Why are we even talking to you? We're going to dictate the terms.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, I spoke with a senior Afghan official today who echoed your fear about those Doha peace talks. He told me this will — quote — "further embolden" the Taliban.

    But I also spoke to other Afghan officials who said, look, we don't know if the military's capacities will go down. And so, actually, Afghan officials are holding out and say that, if the capacities that the U.S. military brings to Afghanistan today are continued, which the U.S. military says they will, it's OK to draw down a few thousand; it's not a big difference.

  • H.R. McMaster:


    And, of course, that remains to be seen. I'd like to know what Joe Miller thinks about that and what the assessments are on the ground, right, because, again, the number doesn't matter. I think your point is right/. The Afghan officials' point is right.

    It's more about, what is the capability that's there? And do we have enough capacity to support the Afghan government and their security forces in their fight to maintain the freedoms that they have enjoyed since 2001 and to prevent jihadist terrorist organizations from gaining the strength to commit mass murder again on the scale of 9/11?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    With all due respect, the military has not been able to do that with 100,000 troops. So, why does it matter if there are 4,200 or 2,500 troops in Afghanistan?

  • H.R. McMaster:

    Well, Nick, it's difficult to prove a negative.

    But I would say that our sustained commitment abroad has — is what has prevented jihadist terrorists from committing another attack on the scale of 9/11. And we should remember, hey, it's not a theoretical case, right?

    It's — we know that it was the safe haven and support base in Afghanistan. And it is this terrorist ecosystem that exists between Afghanistan and Pakistan that poses a grave threat, because it gives these groups the ability to recruit, train, plan, organize, and also to fund their mass murder attacks against all civilized people.

    So, I mean, the argument that I would make, Nick, is not for hundreds of thousands of troops in the region. I mean, the American people don't need to support that. What we do need to support are those who are bearing the brunt of the fight. About 30 Afghan soldiers or police give their lives every day fighting these groups. And I think they're worthy of our support.

    And when I say our support, it's the U.S. and a coalition of nations. Actually, U.S. forces are lower in number than the rest of the coalition that are supporting the Afghan forces these days.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On Somalia, they didn't discuss this publicly, but U.S. is drawn down in Somalia, where the U.S. trained Somali troops to fight al-Qaida link Shabaab, as well as help launch drone attacks inside Somalia.

    Can the U.S. continue that mission if there's a drawdown inside Somalia?

  • H.R. McMaster:

    Well, I would ask, obviously, the officials who know better.

    But I think what's really important is, if you just look at the math of it, of the small forces that we have, highly capable forces, extremely courageous service men and women who operate with partners, and compare that small number to the large number of force that you can now access to fight against these terrorist organizations, I think it's a win for us. I mean, it's economical for us, actually.

    And it's very important, I think, Nick, to recognize that these groups, many of them are more dangerous today than they were on September 10, 2001. And the reason why we haven't seen massive attacks on our soil is because our forces have been engaged against them.

    And these terrorist organizations have to worry about their own security more than they can worry about what they're going to do to us next. And I think that sustaining the effort is certainly in our interest.

    Remember, Nick, in 1998, right, al-Qaida had already declared war on us earlier in that decade. Then they committed the first World Trade Center bombings, the truck bombing, and then they attacked our embassies. And under the Bill Clinton administration, we fired a few cruise missiles and called it a day.

    Well, we know what happened on September 11, 2001. It's not a theoretical case. So, I think we have to remain engaged and, as I mentioned, militarily, but also diplomatically and among partners who are working together to secure all humanity from these jihadist terrorists.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You worked for President Trump. Are you concerned about what he might try and do in the 60 days before inauguration?

  • H.R. McMaster:

    Well, I hope that he prioritizes a smooth transition to the Biden administration.

    Of course, Nick, any time you have a change in administration is a turbulent time. And I think that our adversaries, our rivals internationally, I think they look opportunistically for ways that they can advance their interests, at our expense, while we're distracted, right?

    So I think the emphasis ought to be on a smooth transition. And I hope that everyone rises to the occasion. The presidency, any position in government, they should all be bigger than any individual's ego, right? We should all want what's best for our country. And I think that — I hope that that sentiment prevails here in the last two months of the Trump administration.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, thank you very much.

  • H.R. McMaster:

    Thank you, Nick.

Listen to this Segment