Afghan President Is In Favor Of Trump's Strategy To End The War
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The U.S. says it is in Afghanistan for the long haul. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made that point at the annual Air Force conference yesterday.
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JAMES MATTIS: Victory would look like the people and the government of Afghanistan can handle this threat from the terrorists using their own security forces with international mentors, probably, there for many years to come.
KELLY: Many years to come - now that is the starting point for our conversation with the president of Afghanistan. Ashraf Ghani is in New York this week for the U.N. General Assembly. We caught him as he was in search of a good cup of coffee. And as he made the diplomatic rounds, I asked Ghani about President Trump's strategy for Afghanistan and how it doesn't set a date for when American troops might come home.
This new U.S. plan is open-ended. It potentially leaves U.S. troops in your country for another decade, maybe more. I wonder, do you welcome this or would you prefer to have heard from President Trump an exit strategy?
PRESIDENT ASHRAF GHANI: First of all, let me pay tribute to the men and women in uniform, over a million of whom have served in Afghanistan and particularly those who've paid the ultimate sacrifice. This strategy is a tribute to their sacrifice and sense of commitment to the values of freedom and the fight against terror. I welcome the strategy.
KELLY: You're saying you welcome this strategy. This strategy calls for ramping up U.S. military action. There are more U.S. troops arriving in your country as we speak. Are you happy about an increased U.S. military footprint in your country?
GHANI: I am. But first of all, the number is modest.
KELLY: Few thousand troops.
GHANI: Yes. There is no comparison to the type of scaling up, the surge that took under President Obama in 2009-10. Second, there is no return to combat role for U.S. troops. It is advise, assist and train. And this would enable us really to form our security forces.
The army is undergoing significant reform. Now we will focus on the police. The additional troops will enable us to do the reform process better and to coordinate better. So its a very well thought out plan with a four-year objective, which weve worked out. And let me pay tribute to General Nicholson, the commander of Resolute Support Mission and a remarkable partner.
KELLY: The U.S. commander now in Afghanistan.
GHANI: U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
KELLY: And give me more detail on this four-year plan. What is it?
GHANI: The four-year plan involves the goal of really bringing 80 percent of the territory of the country under control. It involves doubling our commando force. That's probably the best in the region.
Second element is air power. Now American equipment is being provided in the next four years. Our Air Force is going to be built to the type of strength that will enable the commando forces to operate.
We, ourselves, are changing management in leadership. Our Ministry of Defense is under 40. A new generation is taking over. And the overhaul of the security forces, I think, is proceeding very well and is on course.
KELLY: You said the goal is, in four years, Afghan forces will control 80 percent of the country. I heard that right?
GHANI: That's correct. That's correct.
KELLY: Can you put a date on when Afghan forces will be capable of securing the country without outside help?
GHANI: Well, this depends - this does not depend on us because there are two threats.
KELLY: But how do you think about it? Are you thinking about this in years, in decades, in lifetime?
GHANI: No, no. I'm thinking about the years. It's within this four-year period. But to get a precise date, depends, A, on regional cooperation. And one of the most significant aspects of this new strategy is the Pakistan component of it.
I think under this strategy, the Pakistani army and Pakistani politicians will have to think seriously. And I think they are thinking seriously. And what I am offering is a comprehensive dialogue so we can deal with the key issues. If that component moves, as I have been the most optimistic since I've become president...
GHANI: Because Pakistan has never had this type of dialogue with the United States. And I hope that wisdom and shared national interest will prevail.
KELLY: Before we move on from Pakistan, what you have been describing that you say has given you hope are diplomatic efforts underway. Do you think a military effort on the Pakistani side of the border is going to be necessary?
GHANI: That depends on the attitude as to whether support, sanctuary, logistics and management of the war frankly continues.
KELLY: Well, may I ask your personal take? Would you support unilateral U.S. military action to flush out safe havens in Pakistan?
GHANI: Reduction of safe havens is absolutely necessary both for counterterrorism and for stability in Afghanistan. It depends...
KELLY: I guess what I'm driving at is the U.S. has been pressuring Pakistan to shut those safe havens down for years. And diplomacy hasn't worked.
GHANI: For years - and I hope that this time, Pakistanis get the message loud and clear that business as usual cannot continue. It's not in their interest. It's not in anyone's interests.
KELLY: Let me turn you to just the how-does-this-end question. The Taliban has said they will not come to the negotiating table in any meaningful way until the U.S. leaves your country. And on the contrary, more U.S. troops are pouring in. How do you square those two things?
GHANI: Well, first of all, the U.S. troops were reduced. Had the Taliban engaged in peace, as they had promised, the U.S. troops would have been reduced to 600, as announced by President Obama. It's they who are responsible for the war and increase.
They need to realize that they need to reduce violence. We did. And the U.S. did reduce the violence. So this cannot be blamed either on the Afghan government or on the U.S. Taliban cannot win militarily. And the only way is a political dialogue. But it's they who must embrace politics and separate themselves.
KELLY: What I'm hearing from you is that there is not a meaningful dialogue underway at the moment between your government and the Taliban - back channel or official or any other form.
GHANI: There are indications. This strategy has just been announced. I'm hopeful. And my focus is to make sure that the goal of a political settlement now is front and center for us. Use of force is an unfortunate necessity. But the key to security and to the exit of all international troops is a meaningful political dialogue. And that's what I'm calling for.
KELLY: My last question to you, President Ghani, is an open one. If you could make one ask of the U.S. going forward, what would it be? More money, more troops, more pressure on Pakistan - what would help your country the most?
GHANI: It's implementation of this strategy. Our ask has been awarded. We're extremely pleased and gratified for this. Its implementation, implementation, implementation.
KELLY: President Ghani, thank you for speaking with us.
GHANI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.