Video: Is a troop surge needed in Afghanistan?

  1. Transcript of: Is a troop surge needed in Afghanistan?

    MR. GREGORY: From Iran to Afghanistan and the bottom line question there: Will committing tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops to the war in Afghanistan make America safer?

    PRES. CLINTON: The answer to that is maybe. That's why the president hasn't answered yet. That is, I think what General McChrystal has said is that we have to have an Afghan version of the Iraqi surge in Anbar that worked well there. I think what the president is saying without saying it, because he hasn't issued -- said yes or no yet, is that an American surge in Afghanistan may be a necessary condition for success to make America safer; that is, to constrain the al- Qaeda , to keep the heat up on them, to keep the Taliban from taking over ever more of Afghanistan and giving the al-Qaeda more freedom to roam and more options to plan out-of-area terrorist attacks against us, the Europeans or anybody else. But it won't be enough.

    And my guess is, is what the president wants to do is to see how this Afghan election is resolved. And if President Karzai is adjudged the victor without having to run in a run-off election with Mr. Abdullah , whether he will then turn around and include Mr. Abdullah in the government and maybe even one or two of the other candidates for president there -- at least one other person that's supremely qualified on the merits to be a part of a modern functioning government. So I think that what the president has done here is not to dis the general or say -- but he, he's saying, "Look, my responsibility is not just to win military battles, but to see that at least it's something bigger, not -- for ourselves and our security and for the people of Afghanistan . And I got to decide whether we got a partner there," which means there has to be a functioning Afghan government. He also -- he and the secretary of state have said on more than one occasion, and Mr. Holbrooke has, that we, we have to have a development strategy there and a political strategy that works at the grassroots level. In, in Iraq , when that surge worked, you had Iraqis who were sick and tired of the al-Qaeda in Iraq who were willing to, to, you know, hitch up with us and risk their own lives.

    There are a lot of people now who are bringing up the ghosts of Vietnam . What really happened in Vietnam was -- all these things are, as I say, they're away games for the American military . We're not on our home turf, which means to succeed there has to be a partner. And the definition of partnership is someone willing to risk their lives in their home area to prevail because they think it's necessary to build a decent life and a better life for their people. The South Vietnamese army was the fourth biggest army in the world; it collapsed 10 days after the last helicopter left with Americans and however ]any Vietnamese we could take. And I, I just don't -- we're not there yet. We may get there, and that's what the president's trying to determine. And we should give him some time to make the decision.

    MR. GREGORY: What specific threat does al-Qaeda pose to the United States ?

    PRES. CLINTON: They have proven that alone among all the nonstate actors they have the power to organize and execute lethal assaults far from their home base . Since we've basically driven them into the mountains of the territories in Pakistan and the ill-defined border between Pakistan and Afghanistan , their movements have been constrained, their communications have been constrained and they've not been nearly as free to organize and mount such attacks.

    MR. GREGORY: And former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying this week if you abandon Afghanistan , you'll have another 9/11 in the U.S.

    PRES. CLINTON: Well, I think, you know, that's -- it's, it's impossible to know that with certainty, because our people have done such a good job now, even going back to the time that I was president, of working with the intelligence and law enforcement and money tracking people

    around the world that we've prevented far, far more attacks in America and in the rest of the world than have occurred. But I'd -- I would agree with her to the extent that if they have freedom of movement in Afghanistan it, it will increase by some significant factor the likelihood that they will attack successfully if not in the United States , somewhere else against people that we consider our allies and that we have to be concerned about.

updated 9/27/2009 7:05:33 PM ET 2009-09-27T23:05:33

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is pushing back against liberal calls for withdrawal timelines from Afghanistan, saying it's a mistake to set a deadline to end U.S. military action and a defeat would be disastrous for the U.S.

In a stern warning to critics of a continued troop presence in Afghanistan, Gates said the Islamic extremist Taliban and al-Qaida would perceive an early pullout as a victory over the United States as similar to the Soviet Union's humiliating withdrawal in 1989 after a 10-year war.

"The notion of timelines and exit strategies and so on, frankly, I think would all be a strategic mistake. The reality is, failure in Afghanistan would be a huge setback for the United States," Gates said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."

"Taliban and al-Qaida, as far as they're concerned, defeated one superpower. For them to be seen to defeat a second, I think, would have catastrophic consequences in terms of energizing the extremist movement, al-Qaida recruitment, operations, fundraising, and so on. I think it would be a huge setback for the United States."

War strategy under scrutiny
Gates' pointed remarks came as President Barack Obama re-examines his administration's strategy in Afghanistan and as the Pentagon sits on a request for additional troops from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan.

McChrystal has said a different strategy on the ground as well as more troops are needed in Afghanistan. In a "60 Minutes" profile airing Sunday night, the commander argued for faster progress. "We could do good things in Afghanistan for the next 100 years and fail," he says. "Because we're doing a lot of good things and it just doesn't add up to success. And we've got to think quicker."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton suggested Obama's decisions will come after the election in Afghanistan is sorted out.

"This is not like an election in Western Europe or the United States, to carry out an election in these circumstances was going to be difficult under any conditions. It's not over yet," Clinton told CBS television's "Face the Nation."

"We have to wait until it is resolved, hopefully very soon. Then make a new commitment on how to meet our strategic goals. And it's going to be up to the president to determine how best to achieve that."

Gates said Obama has made no decision on whether to send additional troops. He said if Obama were to choose to increase combat forces, they would not be able to mobilize until January.

The prospect of sending additional soldiers has created a backlash among some Democrats in Congress and has angered anti-war activists on the left who rallied behind Obama's presidential candidacy last year.

‘Flexible timeline’
Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin has said the administration should set a "flexible timeline" to draw down troops. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, has called for a specific date for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

"I do not believe the American people want to be in Afghanistan for the next 10 years, effectively nation building," she told "Fox News Sunday."

Others, such as Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan, have not gone as far, but have urged Obama not to escalate the war.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said he hopes Obama will decide to commit the necessary troops.

"I think you will see signs of success in a year to 18 months, if we implement the strategy right away," McCain said on ABC television's "This Week."

Obama sent 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan earlier this year. But in a tough assessment of conditions on the ground, McChrystal warned that without more troops the United States could lose the war against the Taliban and its allies. Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen also has endorsed more troops, telling Congress this month that Afghan forces are not ready to fight the insurgency and protect the population on their own.

Downplays suggestions of a split
Gates rejected suggestions of a split over troop levels between the Pentagon's uniformed leadership on one side and Gates and Obama on the other.

"Having the wrong strategy would put even more soldiers at risk," he told ABC television's "This Week." "So I think it's important to get the strategy right and then we can make the resources decision."

He said the strategy review would be "a matter of weeks," but he said he would not submit McChrystal's request for troops to the president "until I think — or the president thinks — it's appropriate to bring that into the discussion of the national security principles."

In veiled criticism of the Bush administration, which he also served as defense secretary, Gates said the United States was too preoccupied with Iraq to have a comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan.

"The strategy that the president put forward in late March is the first real strategy we have had for Afghanistan since the early 1980s," he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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