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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript


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WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Because some people think it is too little too late right now, that the damage is already done and the U.S. should cut its losses.

SEN. JOHN KERRY, CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE (D-MA): I don't think that would be cutting our losses, frankly, if we just sort of said hey, we're finished, say good-bye. I think it will increase our losses because Pakistan will then clearly -- there are factions in Pakistan that would feel motivated to then link up with the Taliban, as they did previously...

BLITZER: If the U.S. were to pull out from Afghanistan you're saying...

KERRY: Sure.

BLITZER: What if the U.S. were simply to...

KERRY: But not just that.

BLITZER: ... maintain the current level of about 68,000 U.S. troops without bringing in another 40,000, which is what General McChrystal would like?

KERRY: I think that there is a general assessment, Wolf, that it's very difficult to rapidly train the Afghan Army, get them partnered with us sufficiently, and be able to actually get the Afghans to be more out front and leading in this effort to decide the future of their own country.

BLITZER: But to get the Afghan army ready, that could take years and years...

KERRY: No. It's -- we -- well, I think not. I think we're at about 90,000, some say, today. I think it's more like 50 trained or -- and even less than that capable of going out and operating...

BLITZER: Fifty thousand.

KERRY: Yes. But as you bring them in now and train them more effectively -- and I think that's doable -- and partner them with American forces up front and early on, I think it is possible to get about 3,500 or so a month, which is what General McChrystal says he thinks they can do. BLITZER: So, let's just be precise. Are you with General McChrystal in wanting to advocate another 40,000 U.S. troops go in, or are you with Vice President Biden, who basically says the number right now is good, you don't need to go higher than that?

KERRY: Well, I'm not sure that that's precisely what Vice President Biden is saying, frankly. I think President -- you know, Vice President Biden has very appropriate questions that he's been asking and that he asks. He and I traveled there a year ago together. We shared many of the same thoughts and beliefs about some of the difficulties there.

BLITZER: He wants a counter-terrorism strategy...

KERRY: No, he did not.

BLITZER: ... as opposed to a. counterinsurgency strategy?

KERRY: No. Let me absolutely correct the record on that.

BLITZER: All right. Go ahead, please.

KERRY: Vice President Biden is not advocating a -- simply a counter-terrorism terror -- effort. I think he believes, as others do, that that won't work all by itself.

But he is asking appropriate questions about the scope. And that's what I raised today. I believe that the numbers of troops and the rapidity with which and the scope of what General McChrystal has sought to do is a little bit too much, too fast.

BLITZER: So what's a good number from your point of view?

KERRY: The numbers is not the debate. The numbers will flow out of what the strategy is. What I want to make certain is that we have the right several pieces in place that are critical to succeed.

One, that we are training the Afghan Army effectively and rapidly enough. Two, that we have a sufficient civilian activity on the ground that we come in underneath the troops. And three, that the governance -- that the local government, either in a district or a community or nationally, where it impacts it, is doing the things necessary to deliver.

BLITZER: A lot of us remember your service during the Vietnam War. And you gave a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations today. And you said when you were driving around in an armored vehicle in Afghanistan in recent days, you looked out, you saw the faces there looking at you, it brought back memories of the faces you saw as a young troop -- as a young -- you were in the Navy at that time...

KERRY: Right.

BLITZER: A sailor, 40 years ago.

KERRY: It did. I mean... BLITZER: Is this Vietnam that we're facing right now?

KERRY: No. No. It's very, very -- it's truly very different.

BLITZER: Because a lot of them see the U.S. as foreign occupiers.

KERRY: There are similarities, but there are also big differences. There are always similarities in a war, but there are -- you can't always see the entire new theater within the context of the old one. Some things lend themselves, some things do not.

This is not a situation where we have a national insurgency, with national aspirations, a country divided, a civil war. These -- you know, the Taliban are a very different entity. They are vastly disliked across Afghanistan. The problem is that the government of Afghanistan has not provided for people sufficiently that they believe that's the better alternative.

BLITZER: Can the U.S. trust President Karzai?

KERRY: I think the U.S. can work a relationship -- can we trust him to do the things that he says he's going to do in the next months? Those are the things we have to put to the test.

I believe he wants to move forward. I believe he is prepared to make changes in the process. I think he's prepared to make changes in personnel. We have to work with him very, very closely in that effort, and we have to make sure that our allies are working with us in concert.

We're not working effectively even as the allies in Afghanistan today. We don't have a unified command. We don't have a unity of the kinds of civilian efforts we're making. We don't have a unity of military operations even...

BLITZER: So the bottom line, from what I hear you saying, is the U.S. has to stay and make a long-term commitment to Afghanistan right now, to the tune of tens of thousands of troops, to the tunes of hundreds of billions of dollars?

KERRY: I am not talking about -- I mean, the numbers of troops are going to be determined by what we do with our strategy. If we effectively empower Afghans to be able to make these choices and decisions, and have an Afghan military capable of assuming responsibilities, I believe you can draw down American troops, and I can see the period of time where you do that, nearer term.

BLITZER: How long?

KERRY: I don't -- you know, Wolf, if you get into sort of pinning yourself down (INAUDIBLE). But not as long as Iraq.

You know, we're only just beginning a legitimate strategy in Afghanistan now. For eight years, we've been adrift. For eight years, Afghanistan has been sucked of its resources necessary for this, of American troops, other efforts. It's gone to Iraq.

And the truth is that -- one soldier said, you know, we haven't fought an eight-year war in Afghanistan. We've fought a war eight times over each year, the same war.

What we need to do is transition it now to a stage where we have a comprehensive strategy that is focused on Afghans making the choices, taking over the front lines of this war. The more rapidly we do that, the better chances of success.

But I think what happens in Afghanistan does have an impact on Pakistan. What happens in Pakistan, it could become the epicenter of extremism in the world. And that's where al Qaeda is.

We have to keep our focus on the real target here, which is al Qaeda. Taliban, because they have harbored al Qaeda, they still have a relationship with al Qaeda, it's important, therefore, to marginalize the Taliban. But we don't have to beat the Taliban in every single part of Afghanistan. We simply have to empower the Afghans...

BLITZER: Because, as you know...

KERRY: ... to have a stable government.

BLITZER: ... there's al Qaeda in Somalia and in Yemen.

KERRY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: The U.S. isn't going in there.

KERRY: And I said that my speech today. I said, you know, why should we stay in Afghanistan -- I asked the question -- when we have the ability to have al Qaeda make a plot against us in London or Frankfurt or in Yemen or somewhere? The reason is that the Taliban are linked to them, and they could provide them assistance and they could provide a sanctuary.

I don't think the likelihood of the Taliban taking over Afghanistan is very high at all. I don't think they can do it, particularly if we're there.

So, I think we can get a game on one side of the border that helps to stabilize the other side, helps us deal with Pakistan's challenge, where there are, after all, nuclear weapons, major strategic interests. And if we do both cleverly, I don't believe it has to be at the expense of American troops for a long, long period of time.


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