Guest: Ben Hodges
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Keith. Thank you so much.
Good morning, landlocked Central Asia.
As you can tell from how pretty I look and from the departure from the usual set, we are live at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan, for tonight‘s show. It is 9:00 p.m. on the east coast of the United States. Here, it is 5:30 in the morning because Afghanistan is exactly the kind of country that would get stuck with a half hour time zone.
Afghanistan is one of the 10 poorest countries in the world. It is the poorest country in the world that‘s not in the African continent. And here, it is the richest country in the world that is about to start year 10 of America‘s war here.
We brought the show to Afghanistan to try to figure out two things about the war.
One, does it make any sense that America‘s military is still here and in such huge and still increasing number numbers? If you take as given America‘s goals here—is putting 105,000 troops here the right to way to achieve those goals?
And second, what does all that mean for Americans who are here? How does our big 10 years here and still escalating strategy translate to the individual Americans we are asking to carry out that strategy? What are we asking our troops to do here?
When our elected leaders send people into combat, we take on a lifelong, darn, near sacred national responsibility to pay them back for their service as veterans—lifelong. If we‘re going to fight two of the longest wars in American history, if we‘re going to fight those wars simultaneously and we‘re going to have such a tiny proportion of our population actually serving in the military, people doing three, four, five, six combat tours, then we owe it to them to try to understand what they‘re lives are like at war—what‘s being asked of them and what‘s the strategic justification for why we‘re putting them through this.
So, that‘s our little cable TV show mission here on this trip. We are here to figure out as much as we can about these two questions, about this American war. Does this make sense? And what‘s it like here?
MADDOW: We start here at Kandahar airfield which they say is the busiest single runway airport anywhere in the world. Now, Kandahar airfield has both a military side and civilian side, so we started off the Fourth of July by flying commercial from Kabul to Kandahar—a fairly atypical Fourth of July at least in my lifetime.
But we landed here. The flight took about an hour. Last night, before we came down here, I had dinner with Richard Engel, NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent. And because Richard is awesome, he gave us an interesting briefing about what to expect when we got here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: There‘s a TGI Friday‘s here, a real TGI Friday‘s.
MADDOW: Just without liquor.
ENGEL: No liquor.
I think they‘re from the Philippines or Bangladesh or India, that kind of thing. They‘re not Afghans, and they‘re not western.
MADDOW: And they‘re not glad it‘s Friday.
ENGEL: No. They don‘t have any—and they have nothing, by the way.
They have three things on the menu, and, you know—but a big book menu.
Just off of this base, you get into Kandahar or into some of the very violent suburbs of Kandahar. So you could be at TGI Friday‘s one day, and then take a five-minute chopper ride and be in the dust with soldiers who are living on MREs who are getting killed every week. And it‘s a very, very stark contrast.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We‘re here to meet with the Brigadier General Ben Hodges, who is the head of the regional southern command. And everybody is paying so much attention to this part of Afghanistan right now, because everybody wants to know if what General Hodges is trying to do is going to work. Whether or not he can take Helmand province, this relatively hurdle river valley there, and Kandahar province, the spiritual home of the Taliban, and if he can make counterinsurgency doctrine work here. If they can do governance and security here in a way that effectively squeezes out the insurgents—can it be done here? If it can‘t be done here, what then?
MADDOW: When President Obama announced the escalation, the surge in that speech December 1st at West Point, those 30,000 extra troops, what General Hodges here in Kandahar repeatedly called the “president‘s uplift,” most of those troops came here to the south. You might remember hearing a lot about the Marjah operation that started in adjacent Helmand province in mid-February. Intense combat lead by U.S. Marines and British troops and Afghan forces to be followed by what General McChrystal called a government in a box, rolling out governance after the combat.
Government in a box hasn‘t exactly worked out that way. Marjah hasn‘t stood out by any means. Security there isn‘t established. And people siding with the Afghan government there against the insurgency have been threatened and targeted up to and including assassination.
Now, Kandahar has been portrayed in the press as the twin operation to Marjah. Twin but bigger. The line I‘ve read a million times before I got here was that since Marjah hasn‘t worked out to be a success, at least yet, maybe ever, but the same type of operation in Kandahar has been delayed. That‘s what it seemed like at home—at least to me before I got here.
But, here, it does not seem like that. Here, it‘s clear that Kandahar isn‘t delayed. It‘s well underway. It‘s just that they‘re not blowing things up in Kandahar. They‘re doing things like opening police stations.
Let me—let me show you some of that instead of just trying to explain it. We flew in a Blackhawk helicopter with General Hodges from Kandahar airfield to a nearby forward operating base called Camp Nathan Smith. Then we drove in a mine-resistant vehicle up through Kandahar City to see how the president‘s uplift—such a happy term—is working out on the ground here.
A bit of context that will be useful for understanding the discussion here, the operation in Marjah was called Operation Mustarak. This one in Kandahar that‘s now underway is called Operation Hamkari.
BRIG. GEN. BEN HODGES, REGIONAL COMMAND SOUTH: What separates Hamkari, say, from Mustarak, is that we‘re not trying to invade or go into Kandahar. We‘re already here. So, that means it‘s improving security with the existing infrastructure, with police.
Up until now, we‘ve only had one and a half companies, about 150 military police to partner with 1,800 Afghan police that are part of the normal Kandahar City police force. The president‘s uplift has given us five companies. So, we‘ll up to almost 500 military police here by the end of the summer, a tripling of our ability to partner with Afghan police.
The uplift will triple the number of M.P.s, military police, that we have, which will then enable us to put more M.P.s at every police station 24/7. Right now, they‘re there for about four days a week.
HODGES: So, eventually, we want to have just police on the security ring, no American soldiers, no ANCOP. The ANCOP are a national force that the government needs to be able to move around where they need them.
But where we are now for the security ring, we want to create this perception and sense of security just like you get when you go to the metro and you see a policeman there at the metro, you know it‘s being patrolled and you feel more secure because you see police that you trust. That‘s what the security ring is about. Everybody will see Afghan national civil order police—which have a good reputation—partnered with American soldiers.
And because you got American soldiers there, that will help defeat the perception that these things are just toll booths, that they‘re taking bribes. And then the police will come back in and be able to take these things over.
MADDOW: Well, can you imagine, though, at that point when the police come in and take these things over, when it‘s not ANCOP, when it‘s local city policemen, U.S. soldiers are gone—can you imagine it not going back to bribes and corruption?
HODGES: I believe it‘s possible, but it‘s certainly not a given. I mean, you know, the history of this city, of this area, of being on the silk route is people buying and trading with people passing through here. And so, safe passage is centuries old.
HODGES: So, I mean, that‘s—I‘m not—I‘m not trying to justify or defend somebody taking bribes for being able it move through it. I‘m just saying, for hundreds of years, in order to move with your camel caravan, or whatever it was you were bringing east or west, you had to pay the travel chief who dominated that area to get through there.
So, I think that that probably has been carried forth, and so police get money in many cases to allow people to pass through. That‘s an oversimplification, but I think that‘s part of the history.
MADDOW: It‘s hard to imagine undoing that. If we weren‘t talking about having a year of U.S. soldiers and ANCOP, there are some additional extension of that time, even if you‘re thinking about them having that for five years in place or seven years in place, it‘s still hard to imagine after all this history, it reverting to a—I don‘t know—a system in which the people are feeling like they‘re part of their—are being served by their government and by their police.
HODGES: You‘re exactly right.
HODGES: For most people, the face of the government is the policemen and the district—either city or out in the rural area—the district government. That‘s the face of it. Because they don‘t sit at home and watch TV, they listen to radio. They don‘t read the papers because of the illiteracy rate. So, what—when they see government, it‘s fixing the road, water, electricity, a policeman.
And so, if we‘re trying to connect them to their government, they‘ve got to trust it.
HODGES: And so, improving security enough so that more qualified, able people will come and work here, and then you—then you defeat the insurgency by taking away the base of support for people that would normally support the insurgents, because they trust their government.
All right. Now we‘re moving into District 9 now.
MADDOW: You can tell by the sounds of the rocks hitting the vehicle?
HODGES: Right. It is—
MADDOW: You see a little girl is waving and a little boy is throwing rocks. You see older men chastising the girls for waving. That‘s just—
I mean, a lot of hard stares it seems like.
MADDOW: We drove through Kandahar City, some kids waving and some kids throwing rocks at us. And we headed up to a checkpoint overlooking the Arghandab Valley. That is a place name that Americans are learning a lot about right now because it‘s the dateline for way too many stories of American troops losing their lives here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If the police efforts, the policing effort, security efforts don‘t combine to create enough space for Afghan government to step up in a way that is working, I don‘t get the sense there‘s a plan B. Is there a plan B?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We‘ll have more with the American general in charge of southern Afghanistan, Brigadier General Ben Hodges, in just a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SOLDIER: Blood type?
SOLDIER: O positive, right.
SOLDIER: In the event of the unlikely event of an IED strike, small arms fire attack, just stay on the vehicle, all right, and then in the event of a rollover, especially involving water, move to the nearest exit. Captain (INAUDIBLE) is going to brief you on those and then move to the nearest coalition vehicle or soldier, all right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: When we come back, more of my exclusive interview with General Ben Hodges, the man in charge of Regional Command South here in Afghanistan. If you have been paying attention at all to America‘s war here, you‘ve been paying attention to General Ben Hodges and his mission in Kandahar—which is a big, serious deal but one that doesn‘t preclude snacking.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: General, the official Regional Command South bread product?
HODGES: It‘s the official Afghan bread product with an R.C. South seal of approval.
MADDOW: It‘s good, man. It‘s like pizza dough.
HODGES: It is wonderful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: Welcome back. We‘re coming to you live from Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan.
We arrived here on Sunday, and then spent two nights and two days in Kandahar, where I spent the day with the general in charge of southern Afghanistan for the U.S. military, Brigadier General Ben Hodges. I also did an embed with U.S. troops in the 82nd Airborne.
The idea of counterinsurgency is you, well, counter the insurgency, right? You fight insurgents by killing and capturing them, sure. But you also try to create an environment in which the insurgency can‘t survive because the population doesn‘t want the insurgents to be running the show. They want their own government to be running the show.
So, that term nation-building, that‘s becoming as much of an epitaph in the American politics as the word “liberal,” nation-building? That‘s honestly what they‘re trying to do here, and I don‘t mean that in a bad way. Standing up government and law and order via the government so that no one in the population wants what the Taliban is offering.
Here‘s one of the concrete problems with that—on law and order. In Kandahar, the province of Kandahar has authorization to have 87 judges working in the justice system -- 87. You want to know how many are actually on the job? Nine—nine judges of a province of like a million people.
So, if you live in Kandahar and you want justice, the Taliban is frankly offering much quicker service than the government can provide. It‘s just one of those weird facts. It‘s a weird fact, but it‘s one of the types of weird fact that is going to determine if Afghanistan falls into Taliban control again or not. Whether or not we win here, I guess, is the word.
MADDOW: When people talk about Kandahar, they—one of the things that we sort of say and don‘t detail really, at least in civilian coverage what‘s going on here is what that means for Taliban governance. I mean, we know there‘s a shadow Taliban governor here. But are they doing dispute resolution? Are they doing, you know, punishing people for theft? Are they—
HODGES: Yes. There is a—if you think of the insurgency as a around argument for the loyalty of the people, between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the Taliban is not a popular uprising. They don‘t do anything. They don‘t build schools. They don‘t fix irrigation systems. They don‘t any of that.
But they sure scare people. And they do dispute resolution very quickly, and they‘re not seen as corrupt.
HODGES: So, for an average farmer, you know, he‘s trying to say: is my life better with the government if I don‘t trust the government, if the face of the government is the police and they‘re taking money from me every time I go anywhere, it‘s not worth growing these wonderful pomegranate because I can‘t even get them into Pakistan to export, you know, is my life a whole lot worse with the Taliban?
MADDOW: Right. If they‘re not corrupt, but they‘re brutal?
HODGES: Right. And that‘s the problem, they‘re extremely—they‘re quick. I mean, they do dispute resolution very fast, but it‘s usually, you know, Shariah law, people get killed and physically punished. And, of course, there‘s no human freedom.
At times the Taliban outlawed kite flying. So, they‘re not popular, but the government has got to provide a better choice.
HODGES: Otherwise, people are not going to take the risk. That‘s what it‘s about. I mean, if they‘re seen supporting the government, if they don‘t feel secure, you know, the Taliban are going to come in that night and kill somebody or hurt them or rig their house.
MADDOW: But it‘s almost like we‘ve—that‘s the central—that‘s the central thing that makes this feel almost impossible because if the Taliban—when they took power in the ‘90s, it was here and other places, it was in part by saying we‘re not going to be corrupt. We‘re religious. We‘re students, and the corruption of the government isn‘t serving you. We can serve you. We‘ll be brutal but at least we‘ll be honest.
If they‘re still offering that and we‘re trying to make an Afghan government that is not corrupt to be a viable alternative to that, but our very presence, by the virtue of the fact we got to spend a ton of money and we‘re foreigners and we have to protect ourselves, is our influence here, our presence here is inherently corrupting because a lot of money flows everywhere we go—it‘s like it‘s not two steps forward one step back, two steps forward and two steps back.
HODGES: I don‘t think I buy that. I don‘t accept that we are inherently corrupting. I know what you‘re saying there. That certainly that much money coming in, the potential for that, and I have no doubt that, you know, money has—some money has made it to the wrong people.
But I‘ve met enough Afghans who have demonstrated those kind of qualities, whether they‘re in the military, police or government, who are brave, who take huge risks and are committed to having an Afghan society that respects its culture and traditions, and can provide some basic services. And the requirements are really relatively simple as you look around.
But it really is up to the Afghans. I mean, (AUDIO BREAK) we‘ll never have more capability than we got this fall. So, I think that the conditions are there for the Afghans to be able to take this opportunity. I‘ve met enough to convince me that they—that they can do it. And I‘m also very confident that the pressure that we have applied to the Taliban leadership and the insurgent networks has really taken a toll on them, too.
You know, warfare is about will power. The enemy has morale. The enemy has will. That‘s been eroded. There‘s plenty of indicators that suggest that, you know, they‘re tired of running every night. They‘re tired of worrying about every time, you know, they pop up are they going to be killed or get rolled up.
So, there are enough indicators to tell me that this is very doable.
I‘m a very realistic optimist. You know, we‘ve been here nine years now. But the U.S. has been focused on this area in Kandahar really in a big way only in the last year and a half. So, I have no illusions about what it‘s going to look like a year from now, but I see the possibilities.
MADDOW: The people needed to provide policing, basic services, the kind of government jobs that you‘re talking about. Obviously, you need good, committed Afghan nationalists essentially to do that.
MADDOW: I mean, people that want to do it for their country—people who are brave and willing to see that transition through. Who‘s going to pay their salaries in the long run?
HODGES: Well, that‘s a great point. I think, you know, Afghanistan does not have oil, but they certainly have incredible mineral wealth potential.
MADDOW: Incredible mineral wealth potential. “Potential” being the operative term there. We‘ll be talking more about that on tomorrow‘s show with NBC‘s Richard Engel.
We went with General Hodges to the edge of the Arghandab Valley, which has seen fierce fighting recently. A soldier from the 82nd Airborne was killed there by an IED while we were here. American troops under General Hodges‘ command have with Afghan police set up a system of 13 checkpoints around Kandahar City to, they say, interrupt the freedom of movement for insurgents in that are area. Checkpoint 9-1 is brand new. It‘s on high ground, overlooking the Arghandab, and it is hot, it is dusty—and did I mention it‘s hot?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HODGES: President Karzai, a lot of senior leaders in Afghan history have come from this area also. They‘re very proud of that fact. So it‘s just an important area. So, having control of Arghandab is an important part of controlling—providing security for Kandahar City. Sixty percent, 55 percent of the Arghandab is under government control now. The other 40 percent, 45 percent is contested.
MADDOW: I mean, you get the sense both of—I mean, it‘s just probably naive of me to say—but you get a sense equally of how hard this is and how committed the forces are to try to make it work, despite what an uphill climb it is.
HODGES: That‘s true. I think that, you know, the soldiers, and just heard the ANCOP there. He‘s very professional.
HODGES: They are protecting the population so that they can trust their own government is what Hamkeri is all about. The security ring is probably the most visible manifestation of that.
MADDOW: Do you expect—because it‘s so visible—do you expect it to attract attack?
HODGES: I do, because the enemy will see that this is going to start having a positive fashion. People will feel more secure because there‘s police out there that are—these things are not toll booths. And so, it will be a threat to the enemy‘s ability to just kind of move around.
As you—as you saw flying over Kandahar City and driving through it, it is not a Taliban stronghold, but there is a sense of real need for law and order, and there‘s no doubt that there are Taliban in there. These checkpoints will significantly reduce their ability just to kind of go in, threaten people in town, and do that sort of thing.
So—you know, people worry about assassinations of government officials and that sort of thing—this is part of preventing that.
MADDOW: I know this is a difficult question, but if over the next year, it doesn‘t—essentially doesn‘t work to establish better governance in Kandahar, if the police efforts, the policing efforts, security efforts, don‘t combine to create enough space for the Afghan government to step up in a way that‘s working, I don‘t get a sense there‘s a plan B. Is there a plan B? Is plan B just more time?
HODGES: There‘s no reason why this shouldn‘t be successful if the Afghans do their part. I mean, we have—I‘ve never met an officer that didn‘t want more capability, so I would never turn away more engineers or military police. But we have enough to do what we have got to do in Kandahar, assuming that the Afghans step up and do their part.
MADDOW: If they don‘t?
HODGES: Well, then we will have—we will have given them the best chance they‘ve ever have.
MADDOW: You can only control about 20 percent of the variables that are going to determine the outcome here.
HODGES: Well, that‘s true. I think that‘s why, you know, General Carter said, look, you got to have an Afghan solution. You know, we‘ve been trying for years to come up with a coalition solution. All well-intended, great ideas that maybe just were not sustainable in an Afghan culture or financially were not sustainable.
So, letting the Afghans come up with the solution where we‘re the enablers in terms of helping with security so those things can take root.
I think that the people that live out here, they want to support their
government. The government has got to give them a reason to it. I think
they‘re predisposed and want to support their government so that they can -
you know, continue to harvest the best pomegranate in Central Asia and export them. But the government has got to do certain things to allow that to happen.
MADDOW: He swung real wide for us.
MADDOW: If things don‘t work, if for all that American troops are doing here, the space they‘re trying to create for the Afghan government to fill in isn‘t filled in by the Afghan government, then as General Hodges says, we‘ll have given them the best chance they have ever had.
That‘s what the deadline for next summer for starting to leave is all about. It‘s not about the Taliban. It‘s really not. At least it isn‘t in Kandahar.
That deadline is to create a sense of urgency to stand up Afghan police and Afghan governance now. We‘re not staying, and they have to know we‘re not staying if we want them to take advantage of the fact that U.S. troops are here now to provide security and kill Taliban guys, if we want them to act with a sense of urgency to do policing and governance here. Here, now, while they can with us. Here, now, because they know we won‘t stay forever.
None of what‘s happening right now in terms of building up Afghan capacity to compete with the Taliban would be happening without that July 2011 deadline looming. And anyone who tells you differently doesn‘t know what they‘re talking about, Senator.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So Kandahar airfield is like a bizarre universe, and it represents many ways that this - the international aspect of this (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It‘s broken up into - there‘s a Canadian camp. There‘s a Dutch camp. There‘s a NATO gym that you can go to. Then there‘s an American gym that you can go to.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST (on camera): Didn‘t you say that - one of the gyms, you said, is like spa quality, swanky and weird?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s not the American gym. The American gym stinks. It‘s big, lots of heavyweights, pull-up bars and it‘s very - they call it the prison gym.
MADDOW: I was just going to say it sounds very prison yard.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s what they called.
MADDOW: It‘s MSNBC weekend gym.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The other gym, the NATO gym, is more like a fitness center or an L.A. sports club or something like that. You have to change your shoes when you go there. They - you get a bottle of water and a towel.
And it‘s - I think it‘s almost emblematic of the entire conflict. There is also, in the middle of the base, a thing called the courtyard, and that‘s in the middle of the base, not that far from the sewer. You‘ll smell the sewer when you‘re standing there.
In the courtyard there is a hockey rink built by the Canadians.
And they have the keyboard where they play, you know -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They get really into the games, and you‘ll see the soldiers dress up in their Canadian jerseys and the Dutch all come in with their jerseys on. There‘s a TGI Friday‘s here, a real TGI Friday‘s.
MADDOW: I did actually go to the TGI Friday‘s at the big basic Kandahar airfield, but I found myself incapable of going in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(on camera): This is the aforementioned TGI Friday‘s on the basic Kandahar airfield. I‘m not going in. I don‘t think I‘m supposed to or something. It just feels wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Joining us now live here on set at Camp Phoenix in Kabul is NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent and my friend, Richard Engel. Richard, thanks for getting up early and coming out here.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: It‘s absolutely a pleasure. How are you?
ENGEL: Did you see a hockey game?
MADDOW: I did actually see a hockey game. What was funny is it‘s street hockey, but they‘re all wearing ice hockey gear.
ENGEL: Did they have the keyboard?
MADDOW: They didn‘t have the keyboard. I was sort of psyched to hear that.
ENGEL: For special occasions. Maybe that‘s for the championship game.
MADDOW: I think it was Fourth of July so maybe the Canadians were thinking, “We‘ve got to dial it down a little bit for the Americans.”
ENGEL: It‘s good to see you here.
MADDOW: Thank you. We‘ve been talking since I‘ve been here about essentially whether or not people, particularly folks at home, have the right impression of what‘s going on in the war, particularly in the south.
ENGEL: No, I don‘t think they do. And I think you talked about this in your reporting in the last couple of days that the impression is there‘s a massive troop presence building in Kandahar - that‘s true - and that suddenly they get the orders and they‘re going to flatten the city and storm the city and clear it out of Taliban.
That‘s not what they‘re doing. This is a much longer process, perhaps even a more difficult process because they‘re trying to prop up this local government, which is corrupt and problematic. It has been ineffective.
There will be heavy fighting in the suburbs, and I guess that‘s part of Kandahar Province. But in the built-up urban areas of downtown Kandahar, you might see some fighting and you might see some car bombs. But it‘s not going to be a push through the city.
MADDOW: On the issue on the deadline for leaving, the deadline for leaving - again, it‘s about understanding that not all war looks like a war movie, that sometimes war looks like standing up police, standing up governance.
And it‘s sometimes weird to see the U.S. Military trying to be the tool to accomplish that end. But the deadline - what I didn‘t really understand before I got here is what the deadline does. The deadline creates a sense of urgency among the Afghans that they‘ve got to start taking over the stuff because the Americans will.
ENGEL: Maybe or maybe not.
MADDOW: I know you and I don‘t totally agree on this.
ENGEL: Well, a lot of people say the deadline does just the opposite effect, that - let‘s say you‘re the Afghan government. And I‘m saying, “Look, I‘m going to be here for a year and then, I‘m starting to draw down. So you‘d better take advantage of this year and do what I want.”
ENGEL: Well, you could also say - you‘re the Afghan government, “Well, you‘re only going to be here a year, so why do I need to listen to you?”
MADDOW: But then, that‘s only true if the Afghan government doesn‘t feel vulnerable about the idea of us leaving. I mean, the national government, I don‘t think, is very optimistic about its chances of staying in power once the coalition forces are gone.
ENGEL: It depends. President Karzai has made it clear that he is looking beyond U.S. forces. He‘s looked to Pakistan. He‘s had meetings with Iran. Clearly, he likes the benefits of having U.S. troops here.
ENGEL: But if you keep convincing Karzai that - look, we‘re leaving, that there are other options. There‘s the Soviets who - the Soviets‘ sphere of influence and the Russians. It does, to a degree, and many people here on the ground will argue that it takes some of your arguing power away.
MADDOW: Unless what you‘re trying to do is get them to try to be self-sufficient. That‘s the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
ENGEL: If you and the government have the same objective -
ENGEL: And then, you can say, “OK, we have the same objective. We have a year. Let‘s get this done.”
ENGEL: If you don‘t have the same objective -
ENGEL: Then it gives you a year to wait it out.
MADDOW: Yes. It‘s fascinating stuff. Obviously, since we‘ve been here, Gen. Petraeus has come in here to assume command. How do you think - obviously, Petraeus was involved in setting up the strategy that Gen. McChrystal was implementing. So there isn‘t - this is not like a 90-degree turn away from what we were previously doing. But how does it change things here?
ENGEL: Very different personalities.
ENGEL: Gen. Petraeus, very strong personality, close to President Obama. That is key, that he‘s seen as having the president‘s ear.
ENGEL: General McChrystal, frankly, was often accused of kowtowing to
Karzai, that Karzai did what he wanted. He would become hysterical every
once in a while and that Gen. McChrystal, because he wasn‘t seen to be
backed by the president - the American president -
MADDOW: The American president - yes.
ENGEL: Didn‘t really take him to task. That‘s changing, and I‘ve been told that‘s changing already, that there have been several meetings, at least two meetings so far, between Gen. Petraeus and President Karzai, and they haven‘t gone very well.
The first meeting, a dinner, cordial, no problems there. The second meeting turned into an argument, and that is a potentially - not an ominous sign but a sign of different times. And the argument was over. Gen. Petraeus, like he did in Iraq, wants to create a local force to work with Americans, a militia, so to speak.
They wouldn‘t be called militia. They‘d called citizen groups.
There have been attempts to create this in the past. Every time, Karzai
has crushed them. There is now $150 million budget to create these
militias, if you will. Petraeus -
MADDOW: Sons of Afghanistan.
ENGEL: Sons of Afghanistan.
ENGEL: Petraeus wants them. He had success with them in Iraq.
Karzai doesn‘t. This could be a major point of conflict.
MADDOW: And you read that one of the great assets of Petraeus is his very positive relationship with everybody involved and Karzai, that new reporting - what you were able to report here for the first time adds, I think, an important new dimension to that. Richard, thank you so much.
ENGEL: Oh, it‘s a pleasure.
MADDOW: Are we going to keep hanging out?
ENGEL: I‘m here. I‘m here.
MADDOW: NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel. Check out more of Richard‘s excellent reporting on what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan on our blog. We‘ve got some incredible, original stuff there from Richard. It‘s at “MaddowBlog.MSNBC.com.”
If the big idea of what we‘re doing here now in year nine of this war is that we‘re trying to give the Afghan government its best chance of - at being and staying in charge here so the Taliban doesn‘t come back, part of what that means is law and order.
And part of law and order is locking people up. After Abu Ghraib, after Bagram, the way that locking people up is being dealt with now here in Afghanistan is not what you think. We‘ve got some amazing footage you‘ve never seen anywhere else when we come back.
MADDOW: So where we are right now is at the governor‘s compound at Kandahar City. This is the governor‘s compound. You see people right here waiting to get into the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) point.
These are the vehicles that we came in on. But sort of the amazing thing is that this immediately adjacent to a big, beautiful mosque, a shrine, in fact. This is where Mullah Omar - Mullah Omar - you remember Mullah Omar of the Taliban, right? The shrine marks the post where he put on the cloak of the prophet, thereby potentially declaring the religious character of the Taliban rule.
And it‘s sort of a perfect microcosm of what‘s going on here, to try to be establishing governance that will supplant the theocratic governance that used to here, that, in fact, sprung from here and that is still spiritually based here and trying to do it via - I mean ultimately what it boils down to is American military might. I don‘t exactly know what counts as incongruous here, but something is incongruous.
MADDOW: We‘re live at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan and we‘re getting to the point where you should probably get to see the tripe cart at the street market. That‘s coming up.
MADDOW: President Obama announced an escalation of the war here in Afghanistan in December - 30,000 more troops, a whole new round of people saying the word “surge.” And now post-Gen. McChrystal, it is, once again, Gen. Petraeus who is overseeing this surge just like he did in Iraq.
Here‘s the question, though. Part of the way we did counterinsurgency in Iraq was locking people up. At this point in the Iraq surge, we had over 20,000 people in prison. Here in Afghanistan now, it‘s less than 1,000.
Even if you don‘t really care about prisons, if you only care about whether our troops still being in this country makes sense, whether there‘s any point to it, what‘s up with the prison thing?
Our producer, Cory Gnazzo, went to the Parwan Detention Facility since we went we‘ve been here. Hey, Cory. How are you?
CORY GNAZZO, SENIOR PRODUCER: Hey, Rachel. We went Parwan Province yesterday, about 30 miles north of here which is very close to the Bagram airfield. The U.S. is trying to make the world forget the alleged atrocity that took place there.
GNAZZO (voice-over): After years of incarceration by the U.S. military, these seven men are now free. Tuesday afternoon, at the tent by the Parwan Detention Facility, at a shura, the traditional Afghan council, the freed men listen to speeches from Afghan and American officials.
Before they were released, their cases were heard by an American military review board. The panel determined the men were no longer part of the Afghan insurgency and so they were set on the course to be freed.
But first, they had to personally pledge that they would renounce violence and support a peaceful Afghanistan.
MICHAEL GOTTLIEB, CIVILIAN DEPUTY COMMANDER: We have not yet had a case since our task force stood up in January of an individual released who has been re-apprehended or who we can confirm has gone back to the battlefield.
GNAZZO: Another condition for release - a member of each of their families or tribes had to be their guarantor and participate in a shura. Sadr Ali(ph) began his detention at the Bagram prison which had a notorious reputation from reports of prisoners being mistreated, tortured, even killed.
SADR ALI(ph), FORMER BAGRAM DETAINEE: I was in Bagram facility before. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We were here in, like, last December.
GNAZZO: And how does this compare to Bagram?
SADR: Like heaven to something else.
GNAZZO: We visited the new Parwan facility, but were not allowed to film inside because the Geneva Conventions are seen as banning shots of prisoners while they‘re in detention, although the military provided this video from before it opened.
Parwan is home to the more than 900 prisoners of this war. That‘s a much smaller number than the tens of thousands of people imprisoned in Iraq at any given time, some infamous, sometimes scandalous conditions.
After the international outcry following the incidents at Abu Ghraib and Bagram, the Pentagon, with the support of the Obama administration, decided to build a new facility and established the military-led joint Task Force 435 to run it.
COL. JOHN GARRITY (U.S. ARMY), COMMANDER, TASK FORCE PROTECTOR: It‘s a newer facility designed specifically as a theater internment facility. So the cells are designed to hold detainees. They‘re not prefabricated out of mesh.
GNAZZO: The people who run Parwan say one of the facility‘s goals is to educate the detainees in the hopes that once they‘re released, they will be able to earn a living and not be tempted to join the Taliban. Another mission? To interrogate prisoners for information about the enemy in Afghanistan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are interrogations that take place pursuant to the Army Field Manual and Executive Order 13491 which governed how interrogations can take place by the United States personnel.
GNAZZO: For now, the U.S. Military is in charge. But if all goes well, that will change next year. That means the military must train and house hundreds of Afghan guards.
GARRITY: On the 15th of July, the first class will come in and work side by side with U.S. forces in a detainee housing unit learning skills of guard force personnel. And eventually, we‘ll have enough forces available to us from the Afghan army that we‘ll able to turn this facility over. And we‘re on track to begin the transition on 01 January.
MADDOW: Cory, that‘s amazing footage on the part of this that doesn‘t get talked about often. On the issue of the handover, didn‘t they originally have a later deadline planned for the handover?
GNAZZO: They did. Originally, it was going to start in January 2012 and the Afghan ministry of defense would start taking over Parwan. But McChrystal decided to move it up to January of next year so they need to get those Afghan prison guards trained fast.
MADDOW: OK. That‘s how this war is going to end, handing over basic governance, things like prisons, things that Americans and westerners are doing here now to the full control of the Afghan government.
And maybe they‘ll be able to handle it and maybe they won‘t, but it will be up to them. Knowing we‘re leaving is what‘s making them stand up to do this now. The deadline for leaving is driving all of this. Cory Gnazzo, senior producer on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW and excellent travel companion, thank you for going out there.
GNAZZO: My pleasure.
MADDOW: Good to have you here, Cory. Still ahead, Richard Engel and I in Kabul in a way I really could not have imagined before I got here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ENGEL: This is tripe. And they keep the heads because you can make soup and also shows that it‘s fresh. Because if the heads and the eyes were all dried out, then it would show that it‘s old intestine and - we‘re not having that for lunch.
MADDOW: Those goat heads look very fresh.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW live from Kabul. Please stay with us.
MADDOW: So when you come to Kabul, at least if you‘re me, the one thing you really want to do is have Richard Engel show you around.
ENGEL: Welcome to Kabul, Rachel.
MADDOW: Tell me where we are.
ENGEL: We are in the center of the city. This is a market area.
It‘s a crowded area. And this is where a lot of business takes place.
MADDOW: The ratio of men to women here is like 95 to one.
ENGEL: Yes. You‘ll notice you‘re followed right now. There are not many women out on the streets. The women you do see are going to be wearing burqas unless they‘re girls.
MADDOW: Yes. And very young girls, too. Not like you see 10, 11 year old girls.
ENGEL: Normally, when girls hit puberty, according to culture here, they‘re supposed to be covered up. But usually, fathers will anticipate a little bit so if the girl is getting even close, nine, 10, they‘ll cover her.
MADDOW: Richard and I were negotiating before about whether or not I was - not negotiating. Talking about whether or not I was going to be wearing a head scarf and the idea was no, no. You don‘t really need to.
In Kabul, you don‘t really need to. Then when we figured out we were
coming here, he was like -
ENGEL: Yes, this area. There are also mosques around here and it depends. If you‘re in an area where there are many westerners and there are some westerners in this country, probably not necessary. But there aren‘t many westerners coming into this neighborhood certainly to buy, you know, phone cards or soft drinks or anything like that.
MADDOW: Right. What‘s this neighborhood called?
ENGEL: This is just the market area, very near to the canal, the canal which is part of the Kabul river that goes through the city. And you‘ll notice how really crowded it is. Most people don‘t know Kabul has expanded dramatically since 2001.
ENGEL: There were about one million people here before the war.
ENGEL: Now there are between four and five million people.
MADDOW: My god.
ENGEL: So it‘s grown three to five times.
MADDOW: Is that because of people leaving outlying areas to come here either for opportunity or because they can‘t stay where they are?
ENGEL: Once the invasion began, lots and lots of money started pouring into Kabul.
ENGEL: Billions of dollars a month is ending up here.
ENGEL: So there‘s jobs. And as the Taliban has come back and made a resurgence, people have gotten more nervous and more insecure in the outlying areas. So a lot of jobs, a lot of security, and then there‘s just the general trend of urbanization that‘s happening in poor countries all over the world.
MADDOW: And in terms of Kabul‘s infrastructure and the degree to which the city can sustain (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
ENGEL: Well, there is no infrastructure. There is no infrastructure. There are open sewers over there. There‘s not much infrastructure. It has improved dramatically.
MADDOW: You do see electrical lines and some stuff.
ENGEL: That has improved considerably.
ENGEL: In 2001, there were about three hours of electricity a day. Now, there‘s almost 24 hour power in Kabul. So that is a dramatic difference. But there‘s still really no infrastructure to support the city. The roads are packed. Every time it rains, the streets flood.
There are - sewage and garbage are not collected efficiently or at all so it can‘t really manage itself. But like places, it just sort of pushes through.
MADDOW: This looks like lunch.
ENGEL: This is tripe and they keep the heads because you can make soup and also shows that it‘s fresh, because if the heads and the eyes were all dried out, then it would show that it‘s old intestine and - we‘re not having that for lunch.
MADDOW: I don‘t know. Those goat heads look very fresh.
ENGEL: Yes. They look fresh and that is the sign. But the common perception or misperception is that this is a narco state and that people here who are corrupt live off of drug money.
ENGEL: And yes, there is some drug money, maybe even a few hundred
million dollars a year in drug money -
ENGEL: Which is a lot. But by far, the biggest industry is the war.
ENGEL: $5.5 billion a month - billion dollars a month. So anyone connected with the war has made much, much more money than anyone connected with drugs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your name.
ENGEL: Hello. How are you? Who is working here? Give us a minute,
MADDOW: The new junior correspondent.
ENGEL: Yes, he‘s taking my job.
MADDOW: That‘s exactly right.
Wait until you see when Richard and I went to chicken street and I horrified him with what I bought as a souvenir from there. We‘ll show that on tomorrow‘s show.
Plus, reporting from my embed with the 82nd Airborne in Kandahar, some interviews with some amazing Afghan police and civilians there in Kabul and in Kandahar. We‘ll see you again live from Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan, tomorrow night.
Meanwhile, there‘s tons of extra footage and photos from this trip posted at “MaddowBlog.MSNBC.com.” “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now. Good night.
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