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MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The Afghan president has agreed to a runoff election, after charges his election win was rigged. But how will this affect Barack Obamas way forward in Afghanistan?
Senator Barbara Boxer of California is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Jack Reed is on Armed Services.
Thank you so much.
Senator Boxer, are your--has your thinking about Afghanistan evolved over the months? Or where are you at it right now, given the fact hes going to hold an election next month--early next month?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: First, I want to say that Senator John Kerry did an amazing job on this, standing with Karzai, talking to him, and I think making sure that the way forward is better than what has gone on in the past.
This election really had a lot of problems. I think thats a very positive thing. And I just wanted to say that, Secretary Clinton, I saw her last night, and she was saying what a good role that John Kerry played. So, thats number one.
But heres where I stand. I think the president is handling this just right, because he has already doubled the troops in Afghanistan. So, the question is, where do we go from here? And, before we send more brave men and women out there--thats tough terrain--we need to be clear as to what the function is. We have to make sure that we are not sending too many troops, rather than training more Afghan troops, because the--the people in Afghanistan dislike the Taliban immensely. And thats in our favor.
So, I think this president is listening to General McChrystal. I think hes listening to people up and down the chain of command, including, of course, those in civilian life, Secretary Gates, and Vice President Biden, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton. And I think thats appropriate.
MATTHEWS: Senator Reed, is the United States military right now the main bulwark against the Taliban retaking that country?
SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Well, the United States is a significant part of the NATO force, but theyre not alone. The--the British forces have done extremely well and they have fought extremely hard, Canadian forces, Dutch forces.
But as far as size goes, the United States is the largest contingent.
But we cant forget its a NATO fight.
Our troops have done a remarkable job. We have great leadership. And we are, I think--I agree wholeheartedly with Senator Boxer. The president is taking the time, being deliberate, looking at a very complex, comprehensive challenge.
Its not just troops. Its civilian advisers. Its the capacity of local government. Its international support. Its the situation in Pakistan. All these things have to be weighed very carefully, and hes doing that.
MATTHEWS: Senator Boxer, you start and then Senator Reed. What scares me is when you read Dexter Filkins piece in the "New York Times Magazine" this weekend about our policy over there, the interview with General McCrystal, it seems like his goal is to put our troops out there in the outlying areas of Afghanistan, sort of embed them in the communities, and play defense against the Taliban.
That seems to be creating almost a Bojest (ph) situation, a French Foreign Legion situation, where we have guys, mainly guys in outposts, who are ready to be attacked at night or whenever by the enemy. And we are, in fact, out on point, defending the nation of Afghanistan against its own insurgent force, the Taliban. Is that something youre happy with?
BOXER: Well, let me respond. And I know Jack served in the military, so hes going to be the one whos going to be more on point. But let me say, youve proven our main point here, which is youre right in explaining what the general has talked about, General McCrystal. And it will put our troops in greater harms way. And that is why this president is taking his time.
Look, for me, I voted--its interesting--to go to war against al Qaeda. Thats what I did. And I voted no to go to Iraq, which took our eye off the ball. And we have to now make up for the lost time.
But we need to be clear on what our mission is. And I believe our main mission is to make sure that al Qaeda is disrupted, destroyed. Right now, we think theyre down to almost double digits in Afghanistan. But we know and we want to say very clearly that Pakistan is finally doing its job that we hoped they would do before, taking the fight to al Qaeda in the hills there between the two countries.
But as far as the Taliban in Afghanistan, we have to come up with right strategy. And I keep thinking, in my mind--and I agree with Senator Levin whos spoken out on this--what we have going for us is the majority of the Afghan people despise the Taliban. So we need to, it seems to me, before we subject our troops to more casualties, see whether or not the Afghans can take the fight to the Taliban, just as now we see in Pakistan theyre taking the fight to al Qaeda.
MATTHEWS: Do you think thats credible, Senator Reed? Do you think the Afghan forces can take on the Taliban as aggressively as the Pakistan military can take on its own Taliban?
REED: Not at this juncture. The Afghani forces are being trained. They have been trained. But theyre not of sufficient size or of sufficient organizational skill comparable to the Pakistanis.
The Pakistanis have a large army. Theyve had it for 50 years. Theyve engaged in warfare, unfortunately, with regional entities like India. Theyre a much more experienced force.
The issue in Afghanistan on the ground is General McCrystal is trying to protect population centers, and also trying to use that security to provide for the building up of a basic delivery of services. Essentially, its a struggle to gain the support of these Afghanis. Thats limited by the number of forces on the ground.
But the real limitation, ultimately, is not American forces. I think as Senator Levin and Senator Boxer suggested, its Afghani forces, and its also Afghani capacity to govern. Those are things weve not concentrated on during the Bush administration. We have to concentrate on now. The hope is that we can make this transition from American forces to Afghani forces. In fact, ultimately thats going to be the test. Ultimately the Afghanis have to protect themselves.
BOXER: I totally agree with that. There are 94,000 of them. They have to be better trained. And were going to train another 94,000 of them.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Senator Boxer and Senator Reed.
Up next, what were two Republican officials in South Carolina thinking, if they were thinking, when they complimented Senator Jim Demint, their Republican senator, by comparing him to--well, it was a Jewish kind of a reference. Well let their words speak for itself. Were not used to hearing this kind of talk. Thats next in the politics fix. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
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