STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
A U.S. commander is defending Pakistan's effort to fight insurgent groups. General David Petraeus is in charge of American troops throughout the Middle East and South Asia.
INSKEEP: General Petraeus sat down to talk after President Obama ordered 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. And we had questions about the country where the president cannot send more forces. General Petraeus believes that his troops will face insurgents who hide in Pakistan, just across the long and twisting border.
General DAVID PETRAEUS (Commander, United States Central Command): These are very remote areas, high altitude - you know, eight to 12,000 feet - in which these elements have operated all the way back to the decades in which we funded many of them when they were the Mujahedeen who were fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
MONTAGNE: That is a conflict from decades ago, and Petraeus spoke of specific insurgents who've spent much of that time in these wild lands. Consider a man named Siraj Haqqani. His father fought the Russians, and now the son is blamed for kidnappings and really vicious attacks on Kabul. If you stuck a pin on a map to mark the place General Petraeus thinks the son is, you would stick the pin in Pakistan.
INSKEEP: So, that's one insurgent, and then there is a group known as the Quetta Shura. A shura is a leadership council. Quetta, Pakistan is the city near which they are supposedly located, and it includes the most famous Taliban member of all.
Mullah Omar, the former ruler of Afghanistan, is one of those who is believed to be hiding on the Pakistan side of the border now, right?
Gen. PETRAEUS: Well, he is, in fact, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, the leader of the Quetta Shura, and indeed, he is generally thought to be located -most of the time, if not all the time - in Pakistan.
INSKEEP: What, in your view, is Pakistan doing about those specific threats right now?
Gen. PETRAEUS: Well, I think there was a major development there about nine months or so ago, and that is a recognition by the Pakistani population by virtually all of the political leaders - including the major opposition figure, Nawaz Sharif, for example - and the bulk of the clerics, that the most pressing threat to the very existence of Pakistan as they know it is the extremist syndicate again, and in particular, the Pakistani Taliban.
INSKEEP: If you'll excuse me, sure, they're going after Taliban elements that they see as attacking inside Pakistan, but they're not going after the elements that we just described who are seen as attacking inside Afghanistan.
Gen. PETRAEUS: In some cases, they are. Again, it depends on whether those organizations, needless to say, have posed a threat to the writ of governance, as it's termed, of Pakistan. In some other cases, there are elements that they have not yet gone after, and, in fact, I think we have to be very understanding of this, frankly. There are - you can only stick so many short sticks into hornet's nests at one time. They have done quite impressive operations in Swat Valley of the North West Frontier Province to clear and then hold and rebuild that very important area. And then, now they have gone after the Pakistani Taliban, really, in their home - which is Eastern South Waziristan - because they are threatening the writ of governance of Pakistan.
INSKEEP: It sounds like you feel there are limits to what the United States can ask Pakistan to do.
Gen. PETRAEUS: Well, there are limits to how fast we can expect or perhaps demand that Pakistan can take certain action. The fact is that they have shifted a substantial amount of their military from, for example, the Indian border from other locations to deal with this extremist threat. And I think you cannot underestimate how important the steps they have taken in the last nine or 10 months have been. They have also taken very significant casualties, and their civilians have suffered severe losses, as well, as these extremists have fought back. The seriousness with which the Pakistanis have now gone after them is quite significant, but we have to be measured in what we can expect in terms of the pace of these activities.
INSKEEP: You mentioned that for about nine months, Pakistan has been going heavily against some of these extremist groups along the border. But relatively recently, in October, we interviewed the foreign minister of Pakistan and asked him about Mullah Omar, who is believed, as you said, to be hiding frequently on the Pakistani side of the border. And the foreign minister, referring to Mullah Omar and his colleagues, said, quote, �If they were there, we could have traced them out by now, but we don't think that they're there.� It doesn't sound like the government of Pakistan agrees with your analysis at all as to who is on the Pakistani side of the border.
Gen. PETRAEUS: Well, first of all, to be fair, the intelligence on the whereabouts of these individuals is sketchy in many cases. I mean, when you come to Osama bin Laden, for example, there hasn't been a confirmed location for him for years - not just months or weeks. But by and large, certainly, we think that the bulk of the leaders of the Quetta Shura spend at least a reasonable amount of time in various locations in Pakistan.
INSKEEP: Why don't the Pakistanis�
Gen. PETRAEUS: But we can't�
INSKEEP: �agree with that?
Gen. PETRAEUS: �but we can't give them, you know, the geo-coordinates right here, right now for you name it - you know, Mullah Omar or some of the other senior leaders.
INSKEEP: Is there a bit of a dance that goes on in that you say we have intelligence, generally, that we think they're in Pakistan? They say show us exactly where. You say it's your country. You've got the local people on the ground. You need to find them. And they say, no, show us exactly where they are.
Gen. PETRAEUS: I think we're a little bit past that point, candidly, Steve. I mean, let's remember that, number one, manhunts are pretty difficult. And you have a sense of where someone is, but senses don't provide geo-coordinates to people. And so I think you have to be somewhat tolerant, again, of also how fast the dynamic can change.
INSKEEP: Can you win in Afghanistan so long as there are apparently safe havens for some of your enemies crossing the border to Pakistan?
Gen. PETRAEUS: Well, clearly, to continue to make progress, there have to be complimentary efforts on either side of the border. And ideally, we want to build that not just with us as the go-between, but ideally over time, the respective intelligence organizations of Pakistan and Afghanistan, leaders of the two countries and so forth. But, again, there's a lot of history here. And nine months of progress against extremists in Pakistan has achieved a good bit, but we have a very long way to go in that regard.
INSKEEP: But getting back to that fundamental question: Can you win, so long as there are safe havens outside of Afghanistan for the people you're fighting?
Gen. PETRAEUS: Depends how large the safe havens and sanctuaries are, obviously. And, again, the objective is to see those whittled down on either side of the border. Again, there has to be continued level of pressure and progress in that regard.
INSKEEP: That's General David Petraeus, the commander of all U.S. forces in a huge region that includes the Middle East and South Asia.
Pakistanis got another reminder today of the stakes for them: A bomb exploded today at a mosque near Pakistan's army headquarters, and early reports say dozens of people were killed in the city of Rawalpindi.
MONTAGNE: And, Steve, all of this is happening in the same week. President Obama says that he's sending 30,000 troops to Pakistan's neighbor, Afghanistan. The president also set a deadline to start bringing those troops home, which brings up one very important question for General Petraeus. He believes in a very disciplined, patient effort to fight insurgents. Can they do that and really start leaving in July of 2011?
INSKEEP: Well, let's play a little more of the interview that gets to that issue. I asked if there is time for that patient approach. It's very tough. It takes a lot of discipline for soldiers to work in a civilian population and not do more harm than good. And I asked if the U.S. can train Afghans to do that in 18 months, and Petraeus says that it's tough, but achievable.
Gen. PETRAEUS: There is nothing easy about anything in Afghanistan. It's all hard, and it's hard all the time. But this is what we need to do, and that's what we're going to strive to do.
INSKEEP: Have we touched on maybe the greatest challenge, here? Getting Afghans ready that quickly.
Gen. PETRAEUS: Well, certainly, the Afghan security force development is one of the long polls in this overall tent, as are just the sheer efforts to develop human capital in a country where illiteracy is 60, 70 percent or more. But we have seen that where we do this properly, that progress is possible. And what we're now going to do is employ a substantial amount of additional resources to try to do just that.
INSKEEP: And General David Petraeus is one of many U.S. officials reminding us that this 2011 date is just a time to start withdrawing. More troops could stay longer if needed.
MONTAGNE: And you can read a transcript of the General's remarks at npr.org. This is MORNING EDITION.
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