For U.S. Ambassador, A Decade On The Hot Seat On Sept. 11, 2001, Ryan Crocker had just gotten off a plane and was stuck in traffic as he watched the twin towers collapse in New York. Now, as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, he acknowledges that the war has been long and expensive, but says it would be even more costly if the U.S. suffered another terror attack on the same scale.
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For U.S. Ambassador, A Decade On The Hot Seat

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For U.S. Ambassador, A Decade On The Hot Seat

For U.S. Ambassador, A Decade On The Hot Seat

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We're heading into a weekend when Americans will spend a lot of time recalling the decade since the 9/11 attacks. Thousands of Americans have spent much of that decade in Afghanistan, and that's where MORNING EDITION's Renee Montagne is this week.

She spoke with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who has a history with the country where he serves.


Ryan Crocker has spent much of his diplomatic career in the Middle East. He was present at the earliest suicide attacks on Americans, the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut that left 241 dead. And he was in his Beirut office that same year when the U.S. embassy was attacked.

His office here at the embassy in Kabul reflects little of that history. Instead, on a table between our chairs, is one faded memento, a small yellow boarding pass.

As we approach the Sunday anniversary of September 11, I think a lot of people are thinking about where they were. Where were you?

Mr. RYAN CROCKER (U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan): I was on the 8:00 a.m. US Air shuttle from Reagan up to LaGuardia.

MONTAGNE: So you were going from Washington to New York?

Mr. CROCKER: Right. And as we were making our descent into LaGuardia, passing over Manhattan, we could see the smoke coming out of the first tower, and the second tower was hit just as we landed. I was then stuck in traffic on the Queensboro Bridge, and I watched both towers go down. And this is the boarding pass from that flight.

MONTAGNE: This is the boarding pass? It's in a small little frame.

Mr. CROCKER: Little plastic frame, and it has been everywhere I've been since 9/11.

MONTAGNE: I mean, it's so unusual that you would be there, flying in at that moment, at that time in history.

Mr. CROCKER: I guess since 9/11 shaped and changed my life and career in so many ways, to be present where and when it happened, adds to the process I've been through the past decade.

MONTAGNE: When you say shaped and changed, people talk about how it changed everything - the attacks on 9/11. For you personally, how did it change your life?

Mr. CROCKER: Well, it wasn't my first encounter with terror, obviously. I'd been in the embassy in Beirut when it was bombed in 1983, and was still in Lebanon when the Marine barracks went up six months later.

MONTAGNE: So you know what it means to be attacked.

Mr. CROCKER: I know what it means to get bombed, yeah. But again, life started changing for me - spent Christmas at home. The day after Christmas was told to get on a plane and reopen the embassy here. And I got on a plane and reopened the embassy here in the beginning of January 2002.

MONTAGNE: So between September 11 and today, you have been in some of the key places in the region - Afghanistan, Pakistan, and then on to Iraq during the surge, where you partnered with General David Petraeus. What do you say to Americans who are so weary of this 10-year war, and also the hundreds of billions of dollars that has been sunk into it, tax dollars - what do you say to those people who just want out?

Mr. CROCKER: What I say in the case of Afghanistan is, you know, this is where 9/11 came from. We're engaged with the same adversary that gave shelter and space to al-Qaida to plan those attacks - the Taliban. And the Taliban, in the intervening 10 years, has not become any kinder or gentler. So if we decide we're tired, we want to go home, without having established the conditions for a stable, secure Afghanistan, the Taliban will be back. And they will bring al-Qaida back with them. The reason al-Qaida isn't here now is because we are.

I know people are tired of this war. I am tired of this war. I've been deployed for five years since 9/11, going on two more. But if we think the war is expensive - and it is it's a lot cheaper than another 9/11.

MONTAGNE: But what do you say to people who say there's not, or hasn't been, very many al-Qaida in this country for a long time, and they've moved on. You know, what evidence do you have, or indication that you have, that they'll regroup and come back here?

Mr. CROCKER: Again, it's a complex war that has to be fought on a number of fronts. There's al-Qaida in North Africa, remnants of al-Qaida still in Iraq. But al-Qaida central, in my judgment, is on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Killing bin Laden was, of course, a major blow to them, and the new number two didn't last very long in his position.

MONTAGNE: Which brings us to Pakistan. You were the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan from 2004 to 2007.

Mr. CROCKER: Right.

MONTAGNE: Pakistan is generally understood to be a key to any sort of reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban. From your time there, what would it take for Pakistan to give up what is generally thought to be their position, and that is an unstable Afghanistan is good for Pakistan until the point at which they can control what's happening here, that they will have some power over who's running Afghanistan, as they did the Taliban back in the '90s?

Mr. CROCKER: I think what they want to see is a stable, secure Afghanistan that does not in any way threaten them. But I don't think they want to see a weak Afghanistan that can be exploited by who knows which groups, that could be dangerous to them.

MONTAGNE: So what's it take to get, I mean what is friendly to Pakistan? Why aren't they just right now urging everyone to the negotiating table, especially the Afghan Taliban that they've been protecting for the last 10 years?

Mr. CROCKER: And don't I wish they would. Yes, we have made exactly that point, as have the Afghans. We have mechanisms for Afghans and Pakistanis to talk to each other. I mean ultimately you can't kill your way out of an insurgency. There will have to be a political resolution at the end of the day. That's what the Afghan government is seeking. We need Pakistan's cooperation to make that happen.

MONTAGNE: Although also in the works, I think, what is the state of the negotiations for American military staying here? How would you describe what is being worked on?

Mr. CROCKER: Well, there are talks under way in Washington between an Afghan team and ourselves on a strategic partnership document. We have also agreed that, as you know, by the end of 2014, Afghanistan will have full responsibility for security throughout the country. What is not yet determined is whether Afghanistan will desire a military presence after 2014.

MONTAGNE: Would that be desirable?

Mr. CROCKER: It's too soon to tell. One thing, though, that I can tell you is that we do not seek, nor do the Afghans desire, any permanent U.S. or other foreign military bases in this country. If there were to be a follow-on presence of some sort, it would not be permanent, and it would pose no threat to any of Afghanistan's neighbors.

MONTAGNE: That's Ambassador Ryan Crocker. He sat down with us in his office at the American embassy in Kabul.

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