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  May 25, 2009

No way to "win" in Afghanistan

Porter: The United States doesn't understand the forces it unleashed in Afghanistan
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Gareth Porter is a historian and investigative journalist on US foreign and military policy analyst. He writes regularly for Inter Press Service on US policy towards Iraq and Iran. Author of four books, the latest of which is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam.

Gareth Porter, investigative historian and journalist, speaks to Paul Jay about the war in Afghanistan and Obama's recent appointment of Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal to replace General McKiernan as the US commander in Afghanistan. Porter says the McChrystal appointment won’t fulfill Obama’s supposed intention of investing in a civilian surge that will “win over the population,” through “services and political programs” because during his five year service in the Joint Special Operations Command and recently as the Director of the Joint Staff, McChrystal “has only been involved in targeted killings." Porter has also interviewed Graham Fuller, the CIA Station Chief in Kabul during US support for the Afghan Jihadi movement against the Soviet Union, and says that Fuller “now believes very strongly the United States has to get out. That there is no way the United States is going to be able to win, [because the US] has no understanding of the forces it has unleashed in Afghanistan.”


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network, coming to you from our studio in Washington, DC. We're talking to Gareth Porter, who's an investigative journalist and historian. Thanks for joining us again, Gareth. So we're talking about the war in Afghanistan and President Obama's new policy, we're told. The appointment of General McChrystal—we're told that he's an expert in counterinsurgency and this will represent a smarter, better way to fight the war. So what do you make of that?

GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE HISTORIAN AND JOURNALIST: Well, it's very interesting, the way in which McChrystal was presented to the US public and to the media. Robert Gates suggested that this is a guy who is very qualified to move into this position in Afghanistan because he has this great background in counterinsurgency, whereas in fact this man has never had anything to do with real counterinsurgency in the sense of programs that are aimed at winning over the population—the supposed approach that the Obama administration has taken through, of course, General Petraeus and the guy who wrote the Army manual on counterinsurgency. The fact is that, of course, McChrystal has only been involved in targeted killings, not on anything having to do with the civilian population.

JAY: Which this strategy supposed to be seize and hold areas, and then you bring back electricity and water services [inaudible]

PORTER: To protect the population and provide services and political programs that will win over the population, not to focus primarily on the enemy.

JAY: Which is still what present Obama announced his Afghan policy, which people have called a civilian surge. You're saying that McChrystal has never had experience with a civilian surge.

PORTER: No experience whatsoever. He was for five years head of this joint command which only did targeted killing, and then went to the Joint Staff for six months.

JAY: So what is a policy that would work? You you've been investigating and talking to a former CIA bureau chief in Kabul, Graham Fuller, who says the best thing to do would either get or out pull back. What's that?

PORTER: Yeah, Graham Fuller, who was the CIA station chief in Kabul during the US support for the Afghan jihadi movement against the Soviets, he now believes very strongly that the United States has to get out, that there is no way the United States is going to be able to win in Afghanistan, no way they can win in Pakistan either, that the United States has no understanding of the forces it has unleashed in Afghanistan, does not understand the Pashtun population, which it has to work with. It's simply not equipped to do it, based on his experience and observation over the last 25 years or so. I think he's very credible as somebody who has observed and participated in Afghan affairs over the years.

JAY: Well, the counterargument you would get from the Obama administration and others is that if that happens, then the Taliban retake national control of Afghanistan, and offer a new base again to al-Qaeda as they did before, and so on.

PORTER: Well, one of the approaches that probably makes sense rationally is for the United States to support a movement to create a Pashtunistan combining the Pashtun populations of Pakistan on one side and Afghanistan on the other, giving them a stake in their own political system, let them decide what their fate would be. And the argument, I think, makes some sense that they're much more likely to support their own interests rather than the interests of al-Qaeda in those circumstances, particularly if United States leaves them alone. The other way in which I think United States could contribute to a solution which would serve everyone's interests outside of Afghanistan, particularly our own interests and the interest of the Afghans themselves, is to support the Saudi initiative to try to negotiate with Taliban leadership, Mullah Omar and his own leadership, to separate them from al-Qaeda, to get them to agree that they will not let al-Qaeda have any role in Afghanistan if the United States and NATO are willing to leave them alone. I think that's a solution that would serve the interests that Obama has identified as the real reason the United States is in Afghanistan much more effectively than what the United States is doing.

JAY: So explain that a little further. What is the Saudi proposal?

PORTER: What the Saudis are actually doing—they're not simply proposing it—they're trying to work diplomatically, politically, through their contacts, which, as you well know, they have historically had very close contacts with the Taliban leadership, you know, which has—.

JAY: Apparently, they finance most of the schools, Taliban madrasahs in Pakistan.

PORTER: They certainly have provided financial support in the past, both during the war against the Soviets and since then, and are one of the only two major countries, foreign countries, which have actually recognized the Taliban regime.

JAY: The other being Pakistan.

PORTER: Exactly. So they have credibility. They have reasonably good relations with Mullah Omar and the Taliban leadership. So the idea is for them to work directly through commanders in the field, actual Taliban commanders in the field, and then work their way up to the top level of the Taliban and persuade the Taliban to reach an agreement that they would reject any relationship, ongoing relationship, after the Americans and the NATO forces leave Afghanistan. That would be the quid pro quo.

JAY: And, in other words, give them southern Afghanistan.

PORTER: Well, I think in effect it means that if they are the strongest force, they would undoubtedly be able to take power in Afghanistan. That would be the implication of it, at least as we understand the balance of forces.

JAY: But it couldn't be just Afghanistan. If the Taliban come back and try to take national power, we have the beginning of a new Afghan civil war, because the north is not going to accept Pashtun control of Afghanistan.

PORTER: Well, there might be continued fighting. There's no question that that's a possibility, yes. But the United States would not necessarily have to be part of that war.

JAY: That would be rather interesting, to see a war the United States is not part of.


JAY: Thanks for joining us, Gareth.

PORTER: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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