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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript

Interview

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CROWLEY: I'm joined now by the heads of Senate and House intelligence committees, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and Congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan. They are both just back from Afghanistan.

So thank you for joining us despite what may be some sleep deprivation. Let me first start with something that we talked about a little earlier, and that is I was really struck by the defense chief, Leon Panetta, instructing some troops that were about to go over to Afghanistan and saying, you know, behave yourselves.

Here is a little of what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I need every one of you, every one of you, and all of your fellow service members to always display the strongest character, the greatest discipline, and the utmost integrity in everything you do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: I know that Eisenhower was not defense chief, but I found this highly unusual, and it made me think that the damage done by the accidental burning of the Quran, which was not done as a men behaving badly, but then you had, you know, the urinating on the bodies of dead soldiers -- of dead Afghans, of posing with body parts.

I mean, there has just been sort of time after time of just really bad behavior. Has this taken a toll? And part of why I ask is we now have another incident apparently in Afghanistan where someone dressed in an Afghan government uniform, a military uniform, has apparently shot someone with the NATO troops, the coalition troops.

So I wonder if the damage has been so bad from these things that, A, Pentagon chief has to say, behave, and, B, we're still having some real problems over there.

FEINSTEIN: I think there's damage. There's no question to that. There's damage to our integrity. There's damage to the military. And there's damage to our mission. There's also no question that the overwhelming bulk of our military are real professionals, and I think the people there see it. We talked with General Allen, Mike, and he pointed out that he went into the area and expected the leadership to talk with them and say how upset they were. Instead, what they talked about was, we hope you'll stay, we need you, we hope you'll stay.

So I think it's a mixed bag. I think that Secretary Panetta is absolutely right in what he said. It has got to be listened to and it has got to be adhered to.

CROWLEY: Does it just strike you as unusual that we have to tell grown men and women going overseas, behave yourselves, don't do these sorts of things?

ROGERS: Well, he didn't really say, behave yourselves. He was -- as a young army officer, it's always instilled to you about integrity, the military ethos of respect and discipline and acting correctly. And I think he was reinforcing that.

And in the military, and that's what sets us apart from every other military in the world, is we pride ourselves on that good discipline, on that good order, and on our good success. And I think what you saw there was reiterating, hey, this is who we are as a military force, that's why we're so good.

Those incidents are unfortunate, but as the senator said, they are a small part of who our United States military footprint is.

CROWLEY: You were just over in Afghanistan. You did speak with President Karzai. First, I want to ask you, how does he assess the relative strength of the Taliban? I know you and the president have different visions of whether the president thinks they're weaker, you think they're stronger. I want to get your opinion and then find out what President Karzai thinks.

FEINSTEIN: Well, President Karzai believes that the Taliban will not come back. I'm not so sure. The Taliban has a shadow system of governors in many provinces. They've gone up north. They've gone to the east. Attacks are up. The number...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: So they are stronger now.

FEINSTEIN: ... of people attacking out of Miramshah have killed over 500 of our people. So there is a strength. Now let me say something about that strength because this is where Pakistan enters the equation. The Pakistani radical madrassas are fueling a new generation of fighter. So that an insurgency which one can expect will burn itself out after a period of time, will not necessarily burn out...

CROWLEY: New recruits.

FEINSTEIN: ... because there are new recruits, that's right.

So we were not able to go to Pakistan. I think that was a huge mistake for us because if we had the chance to talk to the Pakistani leader, to say, look, we want to make things better. Two, we need your help. We need your help on the IED factories. We need your help to see that the Haqqani in North Waziristan is stopped. We need your help with Miramshah. We didn't have that chance.

CROWLEY: So can I just -- do you think that comparing it to when the surge came in Afghanistan, when the president sent more troops in, is the Taliban now weaker or stronger?

FEINSTEIN: I think we'd both say that what we found is that the Taliban is stronger.

ROGERS: Yes.

CROWLEY: So how...

FEINSTEIN: Agree?

ROGERS: Yes, I do agree with you.

CROWLEY: ... are we going to ever leave -- you both agree with this. I'm assuming you both have information that I don't have, and I'm wondering, A, why the president has said they're weaker now, and, B, what that means for U.S. withdrawal?

ROGERS: Well, we have to decide, and we're going to have to have a hard conversation in America. Are we willing to leave and have a safe haven re-form in Afghanistan?

We have to remember, this is tied back...

CROWLEY: By re-form you mean re-dash-form.

ROGERS: Yes, exactly. This is a huge problem. And what we have found is maybe the policies, the announced date of withdrawal, the negotiations with the Taliban, have worked against what our endgame is here. And we ought to have a hard discussion about saying, listen, war is when one side wins and one side loses.

And if we don't get to that calculation for a strategic defeat of the Taliban, you're not going to get to the place where you can rest assured you come home and a safe haven does not re-establish itself.

And, remember, this was about U.S. citizens having to decide to burn alive in a building or jump to their death. That's why we're in Afghanistan. It is in our national security interests and we had better align or policies, and I think that's what the Senator and I both saw, we need to do a better job of aligning those policies to say, the first priority here is to deny safe haven.

And that means a strategic defeat of the Taliban and we have to also defeat the safe havens in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

FEINSTEIN: Let me just say one thing, the two good things I think we saw was, one, the professionalism of the Afghan military is increasing dramatically. CROWLEY: Will they be ready by next year so the U.S. can't stop combat?

FEINSTEIN: That is the belief and General Allen spoke to us for some time, and I was really impressed with what he had to say.

The second thing were young girls in schools. About 40 percent of the school population are young girls. And as you know, Taliban threw acid on them to prevent them from going to school. The Taliban, while we were there, tried to close schools in one province, but as you drove in, you saw young girls in their white scarves holding hands, walking down the street coming from school. That is wonderful to see.

CROWLEY: Quickly, because I have to close this off, unfortunately...

ROGERS: But we abandon those girls if we don't get this right.

FEINSTEIN: That's right.

CROWLEY: Well, that's what I meant to...

ROGERS: If Sharia Law is allowed to come back under the Taliban, these girls are at risk. And that's something we have to talk about.

CROWLEY: So at the same time that we're talking about, oh, listen, we're trying to get the Taliban in to have conversations with the government, you're telling me that the Taliban is stronger and you're worried that we will leave and they will have the strength to re-form regardless of how ready the Afghan troops, is that...

FEINSTEIN: And the Taliban has not been designated as a terrorist organization by our government.

CROWLEY: Well, because we're negotiating with them, right?

ROGERS: Well, and the Haqqanis.

FEINSTEIN: Yes, the Haqqani, I meant to say -- excuse me, I meant to say the Haqqani. And the Haqqani are attacking our troops.

ROGERS: And we both agree that the next important step here in this equation is to designate the Haqqani Network as a terrorist organization and take aggressive steps to disrupt their ability.

And the senator is right, they've killed nearly 500 U.S. troops. This is -- they are based in Miramshah. They have outposts along the Pakistani border. They fuel IEDs and other activities. This is something that we've got to be very aggressive to put an end to.

CROWLEY: Congressman Mike Rogers, Senator Dianne Feinstein, both heads of their intelligence committee, come back, because this is too important. Too much has been invested in this not to get it right.

FEINSTEIN: Good to see you, Candy. Thank you. ROGERS: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much.

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