CT: "America did not go there to save Afghan women, to educate Afghan children..."
Erica Hill talks to Michael, Peter Blaber (author of "The Men, the Mission, and Me"), and Jeremy Scahill (author of "Blackwater" and a writer for The Nation). Michael explains why we have to deal with the Afghan warlords in order to stabilize the situation enough get our troops out.
(People may bristle at his ending comments, but as usual, he lays the truth on the line, politics be damned. I may not like the reality, but it is the reality, and that's what we need to deal with.)
ERICA HILL: For more now on the president's plan and its chances for success, I'm joined by Peter Blaber, former Delta Force mission unit commander. He's also the author of "Mission, The Men and Me." Here in New York, Jeremy Scahill, the author of "Blackwater, the Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army and also an investigative journalist for the "Nation." His story in the current issue is on the "secret war" in Pakistan. Michael Ware is also with us in the studio, CNN's international correspondent who has of course reported extensively from Iraq and Afghanistan. Good to have all of you here.
Michael, I want to start with you because I know it was something that you mentioned last night. You spent so much time there. You said last night, the key to this, really, is winning over the warlords. The average American sitting back, you hear that, you think, why on earth would the U.S. want to deal with warlords in Afghanistan?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, sadly, it's just an unavoidable truth that the fundamental building blocks of the Afghan society are the warlords or the tribal chiefs, depending on what you want to call them. It's a very feudal society. If you're up in some remote mountain valley, Kabul can exercise absolutely no authority over you or your village. So if you got a land dispute or any kind of problem, you go to the local big chief. And that big chief will have another big chief. They're the people that America needs to be reaching out to. At night, in the villages, that's when the Taliban comes in. That's when the Taliban roams. That's when they have control. It's these people that can counter the Taliban at night and when America is not there. But only if we finally put it in their interest to do so.
HILL: So, Jeremy, how do you put it in their interests? How do you make it enticing to them to work with U.S. forces?
JEREMY SCAHILL, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST, "THE NATION": I found it very interesting to read the communications from al Qaeda and from the Taliban both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan -- and there is a difference -- where they were essentially saying we're glad President Obama made this decision because it's a great recruiting tool for us. I think this really it has to be part of the calculus. How is the U.S. presence in Afghanistan affecting the swelling ranks of the Taliban and hindering the kind of cooperation that Michael references here when talking about the other tribes?
HILL: In some ways wouldn't you expect that, because a bit of that is inflammatory language, is it not? So they're going to say that no matter what?
SCAHILL: Well, of course. But I also think that we are seeing an increase in the ranks of the Taliban now in an unprecedented scale since the war was first launched. And we cannot eliminate what the glaring factor that the U.S. occupation presents in terms of being that kind of flypaper for the Taliban and for al Qaeda.
HILL: Peter, you were there when the war first launched. You went in, and you feel that small special op groups are really the way to make this happen. How do they end up helping dealing with the Taliban that you're dealing with today, which is not exactly the same as the Taliban that was there in 2001?
PETER BLABER, AUTHOR, "THE MISSION, THE MEN, AND ME": Sure. Well, the Taliban is a guerilla-type army, they move in small teams. They use hit-and-run tactics. They usually fight from terrain that they're familiar with. And they exfil using the same terrain. And you know, to try to counter that type of tactics with large non- nimble forces is an exercise in futility. It just gives them more targets. And allows them to -- it just plays into their game, which is that hit-and-run type of operation. So I really believe that we should go back to what we already know works, what's been tried and tested in the early days of Afghanistan, when less than 500 interagency forces working together in small cross-functional teams with their Afghan counterparts were able to overthrow all of al Qaeda and all of the Taliban. The situation has changed.
HILL: So are you confident from what you heard of the president's plan, yes, the numbers were much larger than the numbers you're talking about, but are you confident within the president's plan there is that strategy you that feel is needed to accomplish this?
BLABER: I believe that if any commanding general can recognize and employ that type of strategy, it's General McChrystal. So I am optimistic that General McChrystal will array and allocate his forces accordingly.
HILL: What about from your viewpoint, is this plan something that's going to work there? Because you do need the support of the Afghan people. There wasn't so much talk about the Afghan people last night. The talk was really about the American people.
WARE: Absolutely. It's all very American-centric. And I've got to tell you despite what others might say, America is now pretty much seen as an occupier. It may be an occupier with good intent. But you are an occupier, nonetheless. And as we know, occupiers have never fared well in Afghanistan.
HILL: Does the date help with that? There's been so much controversy about--
WARE: No, they still are seeing foreign troops in their villages. They're still seeing foreign tanks. And we know what they do with foreigners, even al Qaeda. Al Qaeda, from the very inception, from the very beginning of their alliance, Osama Bin Laden swore fealty to Mullah Omar as the protector of the faithful and that was a very savvy PR move. Osama didn't want the Afghans to see a bunch of Arabs from al Qaeda to be imposing their will on Afghans and that's what we're doing.
SCAHILL: Let's remember, that there are, according to General Jones, the national security adviser, less than 100 al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan with no ability to strike. And he said on CNN in October that there is little chance of the Taliban rising up. Those are precisely the justifications the president laid out last night. So what are we talking about here? A career military guy in General Jones laying it on the line and then the president contradicting him in this address. I think there's a muddled message there that ultimately is going to come back to bite the president.
HILL: You think there should be no troops at all in Afghanistan, they should all be gone at this point.
SCAHILL: We need to have a sober discussion in this country on this question, is our continued occupation there, as Michael says, ultimately harming our national security? Are we creating fresh enemies that will come back and blow back on us later? That to me should be one of the crucial questions and it goes unaddressed.
HILL: We have only about 15 seconds for each of you, and Peter, I'll start with you. Is this decision by the president is it making the U.S. more or less safe?
BLABER: It's making us more safe. No matter what you think about the numbers in Afghanistan, one fact remains the same, that a small disparate group of terrorists eat, drink, sleep, and live to kill you and your family and destroy the western way of life. We can either take the fight to them or sit on our hands back here and wait for them to accomplish their mission. And I don't know about you, but I'd rather take the fight to them and destroy them before they have the opportunity to destroy our families, our country and our way of life.
HILL: More or less, I guess you're --
SCAHILL: Well, I guess it makes us less safe. By that standard, then we should be invading Saudi Arabia tomorrow and overthrowing the monarchy dictatorship there. The fact is this makes us less safe as Americans. We're creating a disaster in terms of instability in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and I think we're going to pay the price of this for years to come.
HILL: Michael, 15 seconds to answer this question. What is a win for the U.S. there?
WARE: A win for the U.S. is leaving behind some kind of functioning state, whether it's recognizable to us or not, that can at least hold itself together in some fashion, prevent sanctuary to al Qaeda and you can walk away. Bottom line, America did not go there to save Afghan women, to educate Afghan children. America was tacitly accepting the existence of the Taliban government until al Qaeda came to strike. So America's interest is simply denying sanctuary. You achieve that? Go home.
HILL: Those are some fighting words for a lot of people in this country that it's not about women or children but we're going have to leave it there.
WARE: It is what it is.
HILL: Michael Ware, Jeremy Scahill, Peter Blaber. Appreciate your insight all of you this evening. Thanks.