ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
To Afghanistan now, along the eastern border with Pakistan, where the Taliban has mounted a resurgence in recent days. Militants raided a prison in Kandahar on Friday, freeing hundreds of fellow Taliban fighters. And yesterday they engaged NATO and Afghan troops in heated gun battles northwest of Kandahar in the pomegranate groves of the Arghandab district. Last week at the Defense Department briefing, the departing top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said that these eastern Taliban attacks were up 50 percent in April over the same time last year.
General Dan McNeill spent 16 months at the head of NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. He wrapped up his term earlier this month and he joins me now from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Welcome.
General DAN McNEILL (U.S. Army): Thank you, Mr. Siegel. And thank you for having me on the program.
SIEGEL: You've said according to modern counterinsurgency doctrine that it would take about 400,000 soldiers to keep the peace in Afghanistan. You had a bit over 50,000 NATO troops and there are fewer than 60,000 Afghan troops. Is that force up to the job?
Gen. McNEILL: My comment, I think, Mr. Siegel, was actually well over 400,000 and it applied to the entire country of Afghanistan - which just to give you a term of reference is half again bigger than Iraq. But in reality that's an absurd figure. It's not likely to ever happen. So your question is, is there sufficient force? Well, it's an under-resourced force and that statement has been clearly made by the secretary general of NATO, the supreme allied commander of Europe. The force can get the job done. Because it's under-resourced it'll simply take it longer.
And indeed, there are some issues that involve the six neighbors of Afghanistan. The neighbors have to be helpful. And I think what you're seeing in the sector called regional commandees, which is U.S.-led, is there is a spike that can be attributable to lack of pressure on the insurgents.
SIEGEL: From the Pakistani side of the boarder.
Gen. McNEILL: Check.
SIEGEL: We'll come back to that in a second. But first I just want to clarify: do you come back from actually being the commander of the operation, when you look at doctrine, you say, well, the number 400,000 is out of the question, but do you come away feeling we really ought to have enough - more troops to be able to do the job better?
Gen. McNEILL: It's a question of the wills that are involved in this, Mr. Siegel. And by my reckoning, you have three distinct grouping of wills: the wills of governments and peoples of Europe; the wills of governments and peoples of North America; and the will of the Afghan people. They're perishable, they have shelf-lives. How long can they last? Well, that's a good question. For my money the most resilient of the three groupings is likely the will of the Afghan people.
So the question becomes, the rate of progress that we have now, and there is progress, even though it's an under-resourced force, will it be sufficient to stay out in front of the loss of any or all of these wills? And I don't know the answer to the question.
SIEGEL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai said recently that if border attacks continue from out of Pakistan, that he would be within his rights to send Afghan forces into Pakistan. Is that a realistic threat for him to be making? Is it possible?
Gen. McNEILL: Well, that's probably a question better put to President Karzai, but what I sense in it is a certain level of frustration that he has, that he is doing what he thinks he can do to bring better security and stability to his country. But it's almost as though it's an appeal to not only the neighbors but to the international community, that more pressure needs to be brought upon the insurgents where they find sanctuary just out of his reach.
SIEGEL: But if I hear you right, NATO and Afghanistan - one place where they have to win this war if they're going to - is in Islamabad.
Gen. McNEILL: Oh, I would point out that not just in one capital, but all - keeping in mind there are six neighbors to Afghanistan, and even those that don't clearly have sanctuary for the insurgents, they do have borders that are somewhat porous, and the illegal narcotics trade flows back and forth. I don't think there's any question - I think most of the international entities inside of Afghanistan agree that the insurgent gets a certain percentage of his fiscal resource from the illegal narcotics business. So that I think that all the neighbors have to be helpful.
SIEGEL: Does this strike you, by the way, as a long war yet - I mean that we're in for 10, 15, 20 years of fighting between Taliban guerrillas and NATO forces or the Afghan Army?
Gen. McNEILL: If, again - and not to play a worn-out piece here - but if there are going to continue to be sanctuaries that remain just out of reach of the security forces who are prosecuting these counterinsurgency operations, it will take longer than it should. On the other hand, I believe that's what the International Security and Assistance Force is there - to buy space and time for the development of Afghan National Security Forces, presuming that this is long haul and that they will have to take responsibility for their battle space and for their own security.
SIEGEL: Well, General McNeill, Dan McNeill, thank you very much for talking with us.
Gen. McNEILL: Good to talk to you, sir.
SIEGEL: General Dan McNeill talked with us from Fort Bragg. He is just back from an assignment as head of NATO forces in Afghanistan.
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