Weighing American Options In Afghanistan

Should President Obama commit more troops in an effort to stabilize the region? Or should he pull back and concentrate on hunting terrorists in Pakistan? Jack Keane, former Army vice chief of staff and Peter Galbraith — just removed as the U.N.'s second-ranking official in Afghanistan — discuss the president's options with Guy Raz.

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GUY RAZ, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

This week, President Obama held the second of five top level meetings that are planned to rework the administration's Afghanistan strategy. And Friday, during a visit to Copenhagen, Mr. Obama met with his top commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal.

McChrystal has publicly rejected calls for scaling back the Afghan operation. The U.S. will have nearly 70,000 troops there by the end of the fall. The general is expected to ask the president for as many as 40,000 more troops. But inside the White House, there's considerable resistance to that idea. Some in the administration want to shift the focus to counterterrorism operations along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

For more, we turn now to two key voices in national security policy, Ambassador Peter Galbraith, who was until this past week, the second highest ranking United Nations official in Afghanistan. He was recalled because of his disagreement with the way the U.N. handled allegations of fraud in the recent elections there. Peter Galbraith is with us from his home in Vermont.

Welcome.

Mr. PETER GALBRAITH (Former Deputy Special Representative, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan): Good to be with you, Guy.

RAZ: Also joining us is Retired Army General Jack Keane. He's the former vice chief of the Army and the man widely credited with writing and conceiving the counterinsurgency strategy for Iraq. Keane has been a mentor to General David Petraeus. And he joins me here in the studio.

Welcome, Jack Keane.

General JACK KEANE (Former Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Army): Glad to be here. Thank you.

RAZ: Peter Galbraith, first to you. You were removed from your post as the deputy U.N. representative to Afghanistan. You have been critical of the election process there. But let me ask you about the U.N.'s role in that country. Is it playing enough of a constructive role in Afghanistan in your view?

Mr. GALBRAITH: The U.N. has an important role in Afghanistan on a range of issues supporting improved governance in a country where the government is widely seen as being ineffective, and it is the coordinator of economic assistance. It was also charged by the Security Council with supporting free, fair and transparent elections. And the problem that arose is that these elections were, in fact, characterized by massive fraud.

RAZ: Jack Keane, General McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in the country - in Afghanistan, spoke in London this week to a group of military analysts. He seemed to insist that success in Afghanistan is dependent on sending in more troops. He was asked if his troop requests aren't granted by this administration would the mission fail, and this is what he said.

General STANLEY McCHRYSTAL (Commander, NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan): I don't think that if we align our goals and our resources that we'll have a significant problem. Our problem will be is if we didn't.

RAZ: General Keane, is McChrystal headed for a confrontation with the Obama administration over this issue?

Gen. KEANE: I frankly don't know. I mean, I think the administration is doing the right thing by exploring all the options. It is curious because back in March, the president had announced a counterinsurgency strategy and then removed the commander who was not prosecuting one and put one in place ostensibly to execute a counterinsurgency strategy and to be able to implement a counterinsurgency strategy, he needs the resources to do it, and I think that's what much of this is about.

RAZ: Jack Keane, the counterinsurgency plan you wrote for Iraq worked at the time. You were instrumental in getting David Petraeus installed as the ground commander there. Do you think that kind of plan could work in Afghanistan?

Gen. KEANE: Well, they're not the same countries to be sure. I mean, the enemies are not the same. But there are some principles, I think, that probably have some application. One of the things that we learned, and dramatically so in Iraq, I think to a certain degree applies here is that we had to recognize that until you've got a certain level of security and stability, it was very difficult to make the kind of political progress that everyone wanted.

While the level of violence in Iraq in 2006 was dramatically higher than what it is in Afghanistan, I take McChrystal at his word that he sees the situation there deteriorating and he wants to put in place a strategy to stop that deterioration as soon as he can.

RAZ: But to do that, he needs more numbers. He needs more troops.

Gen. KEANE: Yeah. Frankly, he does.

RAZ: Peter Galbraith, you have spent much of the past 18 months in Afghanistan. Would Afghans regard 40,000 more troops as an occupation? Would that work?

Mr. GALBRAITH: I don't think that most Afghans would regard it, the additional troops as an occupation force. There is not the same hostility to the American presence in Afghanistan as there was to the U.S. presence among the Sunnis and the Shiites in Iraq.

The problem with the additional troops is that for this strategy to work, you need to have a government that's going to be a credible partner. It doesn't make sense to add troops in circumstances where the additional troops are not actually going to be able to accomplish a mission.

RAZ: Jack Keane, what is the bottom line now? I mean, before the surge in Iraq, we kept hearing that there were no good options for Iraq. This is a choice between bad and worse. But the surge seemed to have worked out. We're now hearing the same thing in Afghanistan: there are no good options. What would you recommend now to the White House if they asked for your advice?

Gen. KEANE: I would certainly recommend the counterinsurgency strategy that McChrystal and Petraeus are advocating. I don't know how you stop the bleeding until you are able to stabilize the situation, and that is put a counterinsurgency strategy in play which focuses on the people. The center of gravity, therefore, are the people and not the enemy.

RAZ: And so, if you were advising the president now, Peter Galbraith, what would you tell him to do?

Mr. GALBRAITH: I would tell him to follow what I believe are his instincts, not to send additional troops at this time. It's late in the day to be doing very much about the elections, so we can only hope that the Afghan process is going to eliminate enough fraud that the opposition is going to feel confident with the result.

RAZ: Peter Galbraith was until this week the second highest ranking U.N. official in Afghanistan. General Jack Keane was the vice chief of staff of the Army and the primary author of the surge strategy for Iraq.

Gentlemen, thanks to both of you.

Mr. GALBRAITH: Well, thank you.

Gen. KEANE: Thank you. Enjoyed it.

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