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Top General Says Time Running Out In Afghanistan


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Madeleine Brand here in Washington for the week.

And first this hour: time is running out. That's the central message in a report from the top American commander in Afghanistan. General Stanley McChrystal's assessment, written at the end of August, was leaked to the press yesterday.

SIEGEL: In that assessment, the General claims that unless the U.S. acts soon by sending more troops among other things, defeating the insurgency may no longer be possible. In a moment, we'll here from Senator Carl Levin, the Senate's top Democrat on Defense. He opposes sending new combat troops until there are more and better trained Afghan Forces.

First NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is with us. He's been reporting on this story and he's with us in the studio. Hi Tom.

TOM BOWMAN: Hey Robert.

SIEGEL: General McChrystal holds out the prospect that the mission in Afghanistan is, in his words, achievable. You read his description of it though then that it's been going on for eight years. That the counterinsurgency is not meeting basic standards, doesn't sound very achievable. How achievable is it?

BOWMAN: Well, here's the thing: I mean, McChrystal is saying that after eight years, hundreds of U.S. dead, billions of dollars spent, he says both the Americans, the allies in the Afghan government have all failed to focus on the key thing here, and that's the Afghan people. Protecting them, giving them hope, rebuilding the country.

And he says the Americans and the allies focus too much on protecting their own forces, driving around in big armored vehicles, staying on big bases, and focused too much on killing the Taliban, taking territory far from populated areas. And he also says the Afghan government, the report says, is corrupt and incompetent, unable to provide basic services, and this provides fertile ground for the Taliban to recruit. So to start turning this thing around, the first thing you need is a lot more American troops.

SIEGEL: He speaks of two main threats to the mission. What are they?

BOWMAN: Well, the main threats - first is - of the main threat is the insurgency itself. And the second surprisingly is the Afghan government. He's saying that there's unpunished abuse of power going on here by corrupt officials, lack of government service, lack of economic development. And I'll give you one example. We were in western Afghanistan back in May and June at this meeting of tribal elders, and they were complaining about the local district governor, saying he was involved in a kidnapping ring, and he grabbed one of their tribal members and were holding him for $10,000 in ransom. And they were asking for help from the American Green Berets. Eventually, this man was released and this governor who was appointed by the Karzai government is still in power.

SIEGEL: So, you heard quite a bit of that, mistrust of the government and corruption of the government…

BOWMAN: Absolutely, throughout.

SIEGEL: Just one quick thing: the report speaks of instead of thinking of two outcomes for Taliban - kill them or capture them - three, kill them, capture, and re-integrate them.

BOWMAN: Exactly, that's right. As part of this is re-integrating them with the support of the Afghan government, you need their help too. Providing them money and jobs, and maybe signing some sort of form that basically says I'm not fighting for the Taliban anymore. I'm willing to support this Afghan government.

SIEGEL: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman stay right here. Madeleine?

BRAND: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Robert Siegel
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.
Tom Bowman
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
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