LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.
An American general told us, this week, that the fight against insurgents in Afghanistan is affected by how civilians feel. So we are going to talk this morning with an American whose job is to understand exactly what Afghans are thinking.
MORNING EDITION's Renee Montagne is in Afghanistan as an election approaches, and as the U.S. tries to apply a new military strategy. And Renee who is this is man who is trying get inside the heads of Afghans?
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
He is the handpicked general, who is leading the intelligence effort here in Afghanistan. It's Major General Mike Flynn, and before he came here he was at the Pentagon following every move, virtually, that the Taliban and other terrorists made in this region. And while that yielded plenty of information, General Flynn says it wasn't nearly enough to mount a successful counter insurgency. When I sat down with him here in Kabul, General Flynn said he had to change the way he thinks about intelligence entirely.
Major General MICHAEL FLYNN (Director of Intelligence, U.S. central command): We have been studying the enemy to the nth degree. What we have really not done to the degree that we need to, is to really truly understand the population; the tribal dynamics, the tribal networks, the ethnicity, the different cultures that exist out here, the various languages. It changes from valley to valley -those things that I just described. I think that we just haven't done the job that we need to by just focusing on the enemy. I think by focusing on the population, much more so that we have in the past, we'll have a better understanding of which direction we need to go in the future.
MONTAGNE: Well, what are you doing to make up for that?
Maj. Gen. FLYNN: Well, I tell you. We really are reaching out to a much wider array of academia, cultural experts, social scientists, archeologists, anthropologists, a world of people that, frankly, traditionally we wouldn't reach out to. And by bringing those subject matter experts in, we see the battlefield in a much different light. Much more so than the just the enemy -it includes so much more.
MONTAGNE: Are you saying you are trying to figure out what people in this country are thinking.
Maj. Gen. FLYNN: What they want?
MONTAGNE: And what they want?
Maj. Gen. FLYNN: And we are trying to understand, you know, what are the most important things. What are the factors that the people of Afghanistan are willing to sacrifice, you know, their lives, their time, their own talents and resources to achieve. And I think that, right now, it's different depending on where you go, but I don't think we have as good a grasp of that as we should.
MONTAGNE: Well, I'd only just say, if experts are coming in, in different fields, so much of the country that's of concern here is dangerous.
Maj. Gen. FLYNN: Hmm-umm.
MONTAGNE: So how much can anyone learn and pass on in terms of this kind of intelligence?
Maj. Gen. FLYNN: Yeah, there is a lot of people operating in a lot of places in this country. And I've traveled around, completely around the country twice now, and then, you know, sort of episodically popped out to different places -like I was in Ghazni about 10 days ago and back down in Kandahar on this past Saturday. I think it's one, it's very important to get away from Kabul. All of us that are trying to help figure out what's going on out there to get away from the city, the capital and get out to talk to people, to get out to talk to not only coalition forces that are operating out there, but to get out to talk to some of the Afghan leaders, Afghan citizens, to the degree that you can.
MONTAGNE: And can you?
Maj. Gen. FLYNN: I think you can. No you can't go walking…
MONTAGNE: I mean can you?
Maj. Gen. FLYNN: Oh, yeah sure. I mean you can't, there's places where you can't, you know, walk down the city street, but I think that the point really is to get out and talk to people to get a sense of all the things that I have been talking about.
MONTAGNE: You spoke of going down to Kandahar. This offensive in Helmand has engaged with the enemy but also…
Maj. Gen. FLYNN: Hmm-umm.
MONTAGNE: …pushed the Taliban out. Are they going to neighboring Kandahar, which is where they're from and which is a natural place for them to set up shop?
Maj. Gen. FLYNN: Yeah, Kandahar city is - and this may be overstating it a little bit, but I'm going to I'll say it - is a city that's probably under duress right now, and the surrounding districts around the city - you know, the Taliban probably feels pretty comfortable in there right now. I would say that they probably walk around the city, to a degree. You know whether they are showing themselves as Taliban and they got big T on their back or anything like that, you know, I wouldn't go that far. But still, from an intelligence perspective, that's my read. Now operationally we are bringing in additional combat power, and that combat power is coming into Kandahar City where we believe the Taliban has the strongest hold, and that's the districts that surround Kandahar.
MONTAGNE: But are there the resources to move the Taliban out of Kandahar?
Maj. Gen. FLYNN: Yeah. You know, I don't know. I mean, you know, I think that we're going to see some post-elections here shifting in momentum on the side of the Afghans. And these are the intangible factors that exist in warfare and exist in combat. You just can't tell.
I mean, there's a sense of optimism that you hope for that you get out of these people. But to answer your question specifically, I really don't know yet. I think it's too early to tell and we'll - once all those forces get on the ground and we start to see exactly what kind of combat operations they get in -whether or not we're into something deeper than we had originally assessed.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much.
Maj. Gen. FLYNN: Great. Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Major General Mike Flynn. He's director of intelligence for joint international forces, and he was talking with us from military headquarters in Kabul.
INSKEEP: MORNING EDITION's Renee Montagne with us from Afghanistan as an election approaches. And Renee, since the general was talking about trying to understand Afghan culture, I'd like to get you to move into a particular slice of Afghan culture. What can you learn about this country by traveling on the roads?
MONTAGNE: Well, one thing you can learn about this country by traveling on the roads is there are now rather than pockets of conflict, there are now pockets of safety. The country has got a fair amount of insurgent violence in many more places than it did a couple of years ago.
But the people who know about this best are long-distance truck drivers. I mean, these guys, as truck drivers will, they carry all kinds of goods, including supplies for the military between major cities. These guys have a harrowing job.
I talked to a group of them readying to pull out of Kabul, and they say that they take a risk basically every time they take the wheel. The Taliban are out there; they're along many roads. They're watching for these guys, either to shake them down for money or simply to attack.
Sometimes these guys get caught between the army and Taliban, actually in battles. One young man, by the name of Abdullah, told us that just a month ago the Taliban stopped him, set his truck on fire. He managed to escape by running away. But he has an idea, like they all do, of what he may run into at any moment in his drive.
(Soundbite of truck running)
ABDULLAH (Truck Driver): (Through translator) Well, it depends what sort of Taliban you face. Unfortunately, there are some brutal Taliban that they, you know, shot you at the spot. Some of them even (unintelligible). They behead you. And some of them are, you know, nicer and the prevalence that they give to you is one chance to live and they charge you money. And you have to, if you give money, then you're fine, you're safe.
(Soundbite of clanking)
MONTAGNE: That's long-distance truck driver Abdullah. And tomorrow we're going to talk to his boss who's built up this trucking company from scratch. And it's a conversation about how hard it is to do business here in Afghanistan.
INSKEEP: MORNING EDITION's Renee Montagne in Kabul, Afghanistan. And Renee, good to hear from you. Be safe.
MONTAGNE: Thanks, Steve.
(Soundbite of music)
INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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