The Way Forward In Afghanistan Post-McChrystal

Guests

Jackie Northam, foreign affairs correspondent, NPR
Richard Fontaine, senior fellow, Center for a New American Security
Max Boot, senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the overall strategy for the Afghan war would remain unchanged with Gen. David Petraeus in charge. But, after nine years of fighting, and in the midst of a surge, the military faces a jump in violence and insurgent activity.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Yesterday, President Obama replaced the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and today, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed that the strategy remains the same.

General Stanley McChrystal redefined the campaign when he went to Kabul a year ago. He asked for more troops to conduct a strategy called counterinsurgency. Most of those troops are there now or on their way, and McChrystal's replacement, General David Petraeus, instituted very similar policies when he turned around the war in Iraq two years ago.

But so far, counterinsurgency has met with very little success in Afghanistan. The offensive in Marjah continues to struggle. The larger and more important offensive in Kandahar has been postponed. The American public appears to be losing patience. There's no real sign of a change among the Afghan population, and the Rolling Stone profile that cost General McChrystal his job also reported that American troops are increasingly angry about it, too.

Later in the hour, a new documentary on the teenagers who run away from a polygamist sect in Arizona, "The Sons of Perdition," but first, Afghanistan after McChrystal. If you've been to Afghanistan, is this a chance to get counterinsurgency right or an opportunity to change the approach? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And we being with NPR foreign affairs correspondent Jackie Northam, with us here in Studio 3A. Jackie, always good to have you with us.

JACKIE NORTHAM: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And the president yesterday and the chairman earlier today said the strategy remains the same, but just an hour or so ago, the secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, told a news conference that when he gets to Kabul, should he be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, General Petraeus will have the flexibility to change things if he sees fit.

NORTHAM: Certainly, they're going to retain the overall strategy, counterinsurgency strategy of, you know, separating the people from the Taliban, creating security, trying to build up the political situation there and that.

But certainly, this is a point where General Petraeus has this golden opportunity to go in and start tinkering with it because it is not working at this point. It's faltering there.

As you mentioned, Marjah, they can't get that right. It's a speck of a town, you know, in the southern deserts, that type of thing. That hasn't worked, and that's you know, the spinoff on that is it hasn't allowed them to do other things, and they've lost the trust of the Afghan people because of that. They've lost the trust of the Afghan government.

So certainly, General Petraeus does have this opportunity to go in, rethink how this can be, you know, just tinkered with a little bit and try to get this up and running.

CONAN: Is tinkering a little bit going to make much of a difference?

NORTHAM: It's hard to say right now. I mean, one of the things about General Petraeus is that he's always been sort of had this innovative thinking. If it's not working, then he'll bring in people who think outside of the box, that type of thing. So he'll experiment, if you like.

And that's what worked for him in Iraq. Also, good timing worked for him in Iraq, too, so, you know, he might have luck in that. But certainly, you know, bringing him in at this point, you know, after General McChrystal has been dismissed, for all, you know, for all intents and purposes, is good because it creates this continuity.

He knows the strategy very, very well, but he's also been able to he's not in the weeds, if you like. He's standing back all this time looking at it. He might have a sense of what needs to be done at this point.

CONAN: Yet one of the complaints we hear from American troops in that Rolling Stone piece and other pieces, too, C.J. Chivers' story yesterday in the New York Times, is that the American troops who are forced to carry out these tactics are very unhappy.

They're it's so difficult to call in airstrikes, to get air support, so difficult to use artillery because they're so the idea is reduce civilian casualties. At the same time, they feel that lets them get into endless rifle fights with people who live there.

NORTHAM: Well, that's right. It also puts them in jeopardy, as well, because, you know, unless they're, you know, being fired directly upon and have some sort of okay to fire back, then they're exposed themselves. And this has come up time and time again.

So that might be one of the things, obviously, that General Petraeus will look at. But you have to admit, one of the things that General McChrystal did when he came in was he stopped a lot of these aerial strikes, which took out an awful lot of civilians on the ground, innocent civilians for all, you know, for all intents and purposes.

And that created a lot of anger amongst the population - you were losing a lot of support there. And that has had an effect. So he might rework that a little bit, but I don't know fully if he will or not. We'll have to wait and see.

CONAN: Yet we hear stories. Again from that New York Times story yesterday, a ground commander says to his troops, he's trying to get an airstrike in at a tree line. The pilot is not allowed to release weaponry until he sees enemy forces there. So he exposes his troops, stand up get fired at, so then the pilot can see.

NORTHAM: No, and you can imagine if you're an American soldier or a NATO soldier something like that, having to work around these rules and that. They're incredibly stringent. I mean, they sort of went way too far out on the edge.

So again, that is probably one of the things that they are going to have to because let's face it, the Taliban have come back, just roaring back, despite this counterinsurgency, despite these rules. And so they're going to have to balance civilian concerns and taking out insurgents.

CONAN: And another point is that much of this relies on the Afghanistan government, and it's a government that's that we hear more and more is riddled with corruption...

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORTHAM: What can you do about them?

CONAN: ...incompetent and whose writ does not run much beyond Kabul.

NORTHAM: And it's led by a leader you know, the leader is erratic at the very best. And he had a very close relationship with General McChrystal, but that doesn't mean he was working with the Americans any better, frankly.

So they they're going to have to sort that out, and in fact, really, you know, there was this military strategy, but there wasn't a good, laid-out political strategy or plan, if you like. That was one of the real key things that we're missing here, and yet that's the heart of this whole thing.

You create security so you can get a government in place, but there wasn't a good strategy as to how to do that, and a lot of that depended on Karzai because he was such a is such a wildcard.

CONAN: And whose responsibility on the American side is that? Is that the general in command? Is that the U.S. ambassador? Is that the presidential envoy? Who?

NORTHAM: Right, well, I think all of the above in a perfectly working strategy, but it hasn't worked out that way. So really, you know, General Petraeus now should have a good working relationship with Karzai and push him towards these measures. So should the ambassador there. So should everybody else, as well.

But it just hasn't worked out that way and in part maybe because it was never laid out who exactly was supposed to be doing this.

CONAN: Well, Jackie Northam, thank you very much for your time today.

NORTHAM: Thank you.

CONAN: And we know you've got to work on other stories. We're going to let you go. NPR correspondent Jackie Northam, with us here in Studio 3A.

Let me introduce a couple of other guests: Richard Fontaine, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank on national security and defense policies. He previously served as a foreign policy advisor to Senator John McCain, and he's been kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you with us today.

Mr. RICHARD FONTAINE (Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security): Thank you for having me.

CONAN: Also with us is Max Boot, senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, a foreign policy think tank, with us today from the studios there. And Max Boot, nice to have you back.

Mr. MAX BOOT (Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations): Thank you very much.

CONAN: And let me begin with you. Do you think that there's just going to be tweaks, or should there be a change to the counterinsurgency plan?

Mr. BOOT: Well, one of the most heartening developments of the last several days is that President Obama in fact came out and said there will not be a total rethinking of the strategy in Afghanistan.

And I think that's a very good decision because in fact his strategy was only announced last fall. It's only now starting to be implemented. All of the troops in the surge force of 30,000 have not yet arrived. So I think it would be extremely counterproductive, even ludicrous, if we were starting to rethink the strategy before it's even being implemented.

Certainly, there will be tweaks along the way, but I think the appointment of General Petraeus, who is the very best that we have, is very good news. He was involved in formulating the current strategy, and I think he is the best guy out there to carry out that plan.

CONAN: So in the absence of success, it's just early days, be patient.

Mr. BOOT: You can't expect success before the plan has even been implemented. I mean, this is people are holding this surge to the same impossible standard to which they held the surge in Iraq. And I remember in 2007, in the first couple of months, before hardly any of the troops had arrived, we were already hearing that the surge was a failure. Now we're hearing similar talk in Afghanistan. It is way too premature to reach that kind of judgment.

CONAN: Richard Fontaine?

Mr. FONTAINE: I generally agree with that. It's ironic in a lot of ways to say that after nine years of war, we haven't had enough time to see if things would work, but in fact, I'm afraid that's the case.

We have only recently moved, as Max said, to a counterinsurgency strategy, and the full complement of troops isn't there yet. And again, if you look at even when in September of 2007, when General McChrystal and sorry, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker came back to testify, despite the fact that there were measurable metrics of success in Iraq, he was greeted with a lot of skepticism.

That doesn't mean Afghanistan will be a success, but it also doesn't mean that its not a success.

CONAN: What about Marjah? If this is supposed to be the model for what would happen in the much more important province of Kandahar?

Mr. FONTAINE: Well, I think if you spoke with the Marines down there, they would give a similar answer, that this is a longer and much more drawn out campaign than they had originally anticipated, that they think they need more time.

The biggest flaw in Marjah was the expectation that there would be some immediate form of governance that would come in behind the troops. That did not materialize. There was no governance to come in.

CONAN: The government in a box.

Mr. FONTAINE: Exactly, the government in a box. I think the box was more or less empty. So that is the hardest piece of this operation, and that arguably at least will take the most time.

CONAN: We're talking about Afghanistan after McChrystal. 800-989-8255 if you've been there. Email us, talk@npr.org. We'll start with John(ph), and John's calling us from Fayetteville in North Carolina. John, are you there?

JOHN (Caller): Yeah.

CONAN: Go ahead. Go ahead, you're on the air.

JOHN: All right, good. I guess my perspective on the issue is whether General Petraeus or General McChrystal are in - are the commanders of the war in Afghanistan, I don't think it makes a big difference. Because the campaign that we're trying to run over there is winning hearts and minds, and I think it's going to take a long time, a lot longer than probably most Americans are willing to spend to see any major results over there.

I think it would probably be five or 10 years before you'll really start to see I mean, it's really we need to change generations because we have a lot of angry Afghans over there who just want to fight and have been effectively brainwashed. And I think there's a lot of problems that we have to solve, and it doesn't matter too much which general is in charge because both of them are competent and good people to handle the job.

CONAN: Max Boot, maybe five or 10 years, but nevertheless, patience is running thin among the American population. You already had Vice President Biden saying, corrected by the secretary of defense, was saying a whole bunch of troops are going to come out next year.

Mr. BOOT: Well, I dont think we have to wait forever, but I don't think we can expect overnight results, either. And I think the caller's tone is unduly pessimistic because as Rich Fontaine indicated, it's only now that we're finally starting to implement a counterinsurgency strategy with any degree of resources necessary to carry it out.

You know, the biggest thing that we have going for us, and I think something that we need to keep our eyes focused on, is the fact that public opinion polls consistently show that only six percent of the people of Afghanistan want the Taliban to return to power.

They know what Taliban rule is like. They know how awful it was. They dont want the Taliban. The reason why the Taliban have been advancing is because there has been a vacuum in the countryside, and they have been able to use fear and intimidation to get their way because there's been nobody effectively to oppose them.

We are now finally starting to put forces into the countryside in key areas in the south to oppose them. And I think there is a good chance of success of General Petraeus is given the time to carry out his strategy.

CONAN: John, thanks very much for the call. More in a moment about what's next for the U.S. in Afghanistan under General Petraeus. Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Fontaine of the Center for a New American Security will stay with us, more of your calls, as well. If you've been to Afghanistan, is this a chance to get counterinsurgency right? Is it time to change tactics, change strategy? 800-989-8255. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

It's now up to the Senate to confirm President Obama's pick to take over as the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. General David Petraeus is expected to appear before the Armed Services Committee next Tuesday. He has the support of both Democrats and Republicans. The confirmation is expected quickly.

His job once he is confirmed will be anything but easy. Defense Secretary Robert Gates reiterated today the strategy for the war remains the same. So does the military's commitment. No one, he said, be they adversaries or friends or especially our troops should misinterpret these personnel changes as a slackening of this government's commitment to the mission in Afghanistan.

We're talking today about what's next there after McChrystal. If you've been to Afghanistan, is this a chance to get counterinsurgency right, or is this a time to change the approach? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Richard Fontaine is senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He's with us here in Studio 3A.

The alternative strategy that Vice President Biden was pressing when the president conducted his review last summer was called counterterrorism-plus. What's the difference between counterinsurgency and counterterrorism-plus?

Mr. FONTAINE: Well, counterterrorism is essentially a way of targeting, hunting down and killing or capturing individual terrorists or insurgent leaders. The plus, I assume, would be the training of Afghan security forces so that the United States and its NATO allies would be able to at some point rather swiftly turn over command to and operations to those.

Counterinsurgency is...

CONAN: So it would involve fewer American forces.

Mr. FONTAINE: Fewer American forces, more technologically driven and focused not on protecting the population but rather about killing the bad guys.

Counterinsurgency in some ways is the flip side of that. It focuses on protecting the population and establishing security in key population centers and allowing, in those areas, economic and political processes to begin as a way to marginalize the terrorists and the insurgents under the assumption that you will never be able to kill or capture your way to victory in a country like Afghanistan.

CONAN: And Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations, the surge when the counterinsurgency tactics were tried in Iraq, involved U.S. forces staying not so much in their bases but moving out to protect Iraqi population in cities and towns and exposing themselves in the process to more casualties. Is that something we should expect at the same time in Afghanistan?

Mr. BOOT: Unfortunately, yes. It's very hard, indeed impossible, to defeat a determined foe like the Taliban without suffering some casualties. And unfortunately, we're going to see that, but we should not assume that that is a sign that the plan is failing because I think you're going to see casualties whether the plan is succeeding or failing.

And in Iraq, as the surge was taking hold, we saw some of our worst casualty months, and that's very unfortunate, but that was the only way to impose our will on the population and to ultimately get casualties down.

As we're thinking about the differences and the similarities with Iraq, though, I think there are two that we need to keep in mind, two differences in particular that could spell trouble in Afghanistan.

One is in Iraq, President Bush had not set a timeline for withdrawal in the way that President Obama has in Afghanistan. I think that's a very bad idea, which encourages our enemies to wait us out.

And the second major difference is that in Iraq, we had a really unified team, civil and military, between General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, who were really on the same page.

And that has not been the case in Afghanistan, where as we know there were deep divisions between General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry. And I would hope that going forward, either Ambassador Eikenberry is going to be able to work much more harmoniously with General Petraeus, or we're going to need to have a new ambassador in there who can do what Ryan Crocker did in Iraq.

CONAN: Did not President Bush in his last year engage in a memorandum of understanding that the Iraqi government which called for a timetable for withdrawal of American troops?

Mr. BOOT: That was after the success of the surge had become apparent. When President Bush sent the 20,000 extra troops to Iraq in early 2007, he did not say I'm going to send them for a year, see what happens and then pull them out no matter what.

He said we are determined to prevail. He signaled the resolution needed to win, and that I think was a very important part of the success that we had in Iraq. And unfortunately, by setting a deadline, President Obama seems to be temporizing and displaying an ambivalent attitude, which is going to discourage everybody in Afghanistan, from Hamid Karzai on down, from cooperating with us because they're going to be afraid we're going to leave them in the lurch.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in on the conversation, Fahim(ph), Fahim with us from St. Louis.

FAHIM (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

FAHIM: Hi, I just first of all, you know, I thought that General McChrystal was not the right candidate to begin with because he was involved with the Abu Ghraib scandal, was he not, in Iraq?

And then, you know, like going forward, you know, he was always at odds with Ambassador Eikenberry. So I'm really happy that he's out of there.

And General Petraeus, who is who was boss of General McChrystal, he was also successful in Iraq, and his strategy was successful in Iraq, and I'm pretty sure, you know, he will get along well with Ambassador Eikenberry.

And in my opinion, if they focus more on inclusion with the Afghan National Army and their police force and the intelligence agents, then they will be able to have them, you know, to get the job done and also offer the Afghan National Army more incentive and increase their salaries so that this way they will be able to recruit more.

And in my opinion, you know, I think only time can tell. You know, we'll see, I think, Mr. Petraeus and Ambassador Eikenberry will be able to produce better results.

CONAN: Well, thank you very much for that, Fahim. Richard Fontaine, Ambassador Eikenberry, I should remind listeners, also a former three-star general who did two tours himself in Afghanistan.

Mr. FONTAINE: Well, I think if there are two sort of key lessons beyond what General McChrystal's comments added up to in the Rolling Stone article, one was the deep dysfunction among those who are trying to run the war and deal both at the political and military levels in Afghanistan and that that had produced such frustration and lack of forward momentum that something had to change.

The second is, as Jackie had said earlier, the frustration that some of the troops on the ground had felt. But on the question of coordination, I believe that General Petraeus has a long record of dealing very well with the civilian side of a government and integrating those efforts toward a common goal.

We can only hope that he does the same thing here in Afghanistan, given the very difficult situation there, because we really have no alternative.

CONAN: Let's go next to Mark(ph), and Mark's with us from Green Bay.

MARK (Caller): Hi, how are you guys doing today?

CONAN: Okay.

MARK: So I wanted to comment. First off, I would like to comment on the Petraeus-McChrystal situation. First, I served under McChrystal, and I think an excellent general. I think the main difference here with McChrystal was he was fighting the actual war and not really fighting the political war.

CONAN: I'm sorry, not fighting the political war, is that what you said?

MARK: Yes, exactly. The fact that he he's a (unintelligible) general. He is unconventional. Many have heard about how, you know, he runs seven miles a day, he eats one meal a day. That's the type of man he is. And he sticks up for his troops, and he sticks up for what he believes in.

And yes, the comments were definitely out of line. However, it is a reflection on the type of soldier that he is. He does stand up for his men. He stands up for what he believes in. He's going to do what he thinks is right.

As for Afghanistan itself, the American public needs to understand that Afghanistan is the wild, wild West. It is mountainous. It is very, very difficult terrain to get through moving supplies, and even let's say you can't we can order airstrikes and mortar strikes whenever we wanted, it's very difficult to get those in where we want them to be.

The Afghan people know the terrain very well. They are able to move through it very quickly and efficiently, whereas we are not able to. The type of mechanized force that we really are relying on as a majority of our American forces are not prepared for that. And they need to understand that we are making progress.

We are making progress there, and the all-volunteer force that is the Army, Marines and such now, we are prepared to go on with this fight. We believe in it, and is 100 percent absolutely necessary.

CONAN: All right, Mark, thanks very much for that, appreciate it. Here's an email we have from Captain Murphy(ph) in Maryland: I spent a year in Paktika as a civil affairs team sergeant back in '04 and '05. Things have changed radically since then.

One thing remains true, and that is only Special Forces appear to be able to get it done right, and that's because they're the only ones given the freedom to do so.

You can't win the populace over in Afghanistan when you live in big bases outside town. You have to live in houses in town, all over town, so that when you drive the Taliban out, you don't leave and let them back in.

Live amongst the people, shop in the markets with them, eat their food, work beside them to solve their problems, take your helmets off. When you are their neighbors and live among them, as we did while we were laying the foundations for what became the monstrosity of FOB Sharana, they are more likely to be separated from the Taliban.

And Max Boot, has Captain Murphy got a point?

Mr. BOOT: Absolutely. That is classic COIN 101, COIN being counterinsurgency, and that's a doctrine that was validated in the case of Iraq. That was one of the big changes that General Petraeus made in 2007, was telling the troops you can't commute to work. You've got to go out and live among the people.

Unfortunately, one of the consequences of doing that is in the short term, you are accepting more risk. You are putting troops more in harm's way, and you're going to see casualties go up. But longer term, what you're actually going to do is you're going to be able to pacify the situation and reduce casualties because you're going to be able to win the trust of the people. And then, they will provide you the intelligence to target the insurgents in a very precise, calibrated way, often using special operations forces. That, at any rate, was the experience in Iraq. And that is the basis of the strategy which we are only now starting to implement in Afghanistan.

CONAN: Afghanistan, a much bigger place than Iraq, is it not - is the number of troops that have been asked for, is that going to be enough?

Mr. BOOT: Well, I think that is a real issue. You're absolutely right that Afghanistan is much bigger terrain-wise. It's about the same population, but it's much more spread out. We have fewer troops.

Now, I will also say that the level of violence in Afghanistan is much, much lower. It's about 15 times lower last year in Afghanistan compared to Iraq, in 2006, the pre-surge year. So the Taliban are killing many fewer people than the insurgents did in Iraq. But there are legitimate questions to be asked about whether even now, despite the continuing surge, we're still - whether we're still going to have enough troops to get a handle on the situation.

CONAN: Let's go next to Matt(ph), and Matt is with us from Allentown, Pennsylvania.

MATT (Caller): Thank you so much for taking my call. I really enjoy the discussion today. There are so many things wrong with what being - to what is being said today that I don't even know where to begin, but let me take a stab at it. I've been to Afghanistan now three times. I am of Afghan descent. So I know the culture. I know the people, and I've been there three times since 2001 - in 2002, 2004 and 2006.

Here's the issue: Number one, the first time I went there, the second time I went there, the Afghan population was predominantly in support of the American forces, the coalition forces and United Nations. They were supportive of Karzai and where the country was leading, or at least where they thought the country was leading, to a better day for them. That did not happen until 2006, actually until last year.

We try to win this war on the cheap. Neocons had an agenda. As soon as Iraq came up, Afghanistan was lost and nobody thought about it. In fact, if you remember, the second budget that Congress passed - excuse me, the Bush White House wanted for the war, Afghanistan wasn't even on the budget. So that's number one.

Number two, if you remember, there's only one ethnic group that's fighting right now and that's the Pashtuns. We are losing the population day by day. The counterinsurgency does not work when you send drones and kill families. This is going to spread all throughout the country and soon as the Uzbeks, the Tajiks and the Turkmens get involved in this fight, it's over. So the best thing to do, if you really want to control this insurgency, is to do it right.

CONAN: The Uzbeks, the Turkmen and the others getting on the fight on which side, on the Pashtun side?

MATT: On the side of the uprising, yes.

CONAN: Yes.

MATT: At the moment, if you really want to get into this - nobody talks about Pakistan. People talk about AfPak. AfPak is not an issue. The Pakistani government and the ISI is the issue. This is a country that is a state sponsor of terrorism even though this does not appear on our State department's list, other countries are. Why is that not on the state to have the sponsor of terrorism?

CONAN: And the...

MATT: We've given them billions of dollars. Where is the money? Do you want end this war quickly without the rest of the Afghan nation getting into a fight? Control Pakistan. Put the screws down. That'll take care of it.

CONAN: Thank you very much, Matt. And ISI, of course, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency in Pakistan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let me ask you, Richard Fontaine, he says the Pashtun population there in the east and the southern part of the country, the largest single group in Afghanistan, he says they are lost. And this is a fight that is on losing terms unless we look across the border into Pakistan.

Mr. FONTAINE: I don't think that's exactly right. I mean, the Pakistani government and events in Pakistan clearly have a link to what's going on in Afghanistan. But if you look at least at the poll data, Pashtuns and the rest of the Afghan population don't want to see a return of the Taliban. What do they want? They want security, they want the ability to try to get jobs, and they want some basic level of governance. The lack of security and the lack of governance has made the lack of jobs also impossible.

There have been high expectations that the U.S. and the coalition troops could come in and help deliver some of those things. We haven't for a variety of reasons, one being that we haven't done counterinsurgency. We've been doing different forms of activity in Afghanistan that have not allowed us to even open up the possibility that those things might take place. So I think it's much too early and probably inaccurate to say that the Pashtuns are sort of lost forever to insurgency.

CONAN: Let's have one last caller. This is Catherine(ph), Catherine with us from Tucson.

CATHERINE (Caller): Hi, I really like this last caller you had. This is right on target. I used to live in Pakistan. So I have a little bit of a view on this. First of all, nobody has mentioned one thing, it's that the United States installed the Taliban in there in the first place as the option to the Russians, so we've only got ourselves to blame. I think...

CONAN: I'm not sure that's quite right, factually - the ISI in Pakistan perhaps, but not the United States. But anyway, go ahead, Catherine.

CATHERINE: Well, I'm sorry. All right, I'm talking about in Afghanistan. Anyway, we supported them, but neither here nor there. The - I think what we need rather than more drones, more fighting, more killing is just a big Marshall Plan, Peace Corps-type thing. I think we're going to win a heck of a lot more hearts and minds by building schools, hospitals and homes than in blasting people to smithereens.

CONAN: Max Boot, is it time to build schools and roads and hospitals in Afghanistan?

Mr. BOOT: I think you need to do some of that as part of an integrated counterinsurgency strategy. But if you do it in a security vacuum, the money is going to be wasted. In fact, a lot of the money is already being wasted because we, the international community, is donating tens of billions of dollars to aid Afghanistan. But what happens when contractors go out to build hospitals or other projects? They wind up paying off the Taliban protection money. So in effect, the international aid winds up subsidizing the enemy. That is what's going on right now.

And we saw something similar happened in Iraq prior to 2007, where tens of billions of dollars in international aid was wasted because there was not a secure environment for the aid to be delivered in and the enemy could easily hijack it. So we should not see throwing money at the problem or sending Peace Corps workers there. That's not the solution. That's a small part of an - of a larger solution.

But the first and foremost requirement is to have security there. And that has to be done by American forces, by NATO forces and most importantly of all by Afghan security forces, and training those forces to deliver ground level security is the most important thing we can do to set the conditions under which aid can be fruitfully employed.

CONAN: Catherine, thanks very much for the phone call. Our thanks as well to Max Boot, who you just heard, from the Council on Foreign Relations. He joined us from a studio there. Our thanks as well to Richard Fontaine, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, with us here in Studio 3A. We thank them for their time.

Coming up, the story of three young men who fled the polygamous FLDS Church. We'll talk with documentary filmmakers behind "Sons of Perdition." Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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