U.S. Special Representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke completed a four-day trip to Kabul today, pitching the administration's new Afghanistan policy and hearing subtle suggestions that President Hamid Karzai's support was weakening ahead of next month's election.
Holbrooke brings an aggressive approach to altering U.S. policy in Afghanistan, unafraid to blame the Bush administration for contributing to the country's woes.
ABC News interviewed Holbrooke in Kabul - here is the transcript of the interview.
ABC News: There are people who think this is a stalemate right now. Do you agree?
Holbrooke: It's been a stalemate. Neither side was going to win. And that is not where you want American troops and those of our allies so we're changing it.
Holbrooke: If you're asking what we've inherited… the U.S. strategy was to eradicate the poppy crops and all that did was punish the poppy farmers and didn't cut the Taliban finances…. The U.S. spent hundreds of millions of dollars that weren't worth it…. This is an agriculture country. Afghanistan used to export grapes, raisins, pomegranates, even wheat. All that was destroyed when the Soviets invaded…. We're going to refocus on that. Give jobs to rural young men which will take them away from the Taliban….
We're going to help the government get strengthened. [Only] 10 percent of foreign aid [under the Bush administration] went through the government. The United States was in effect weakening the government it was trying to help….
We've sent 21,000 troops – 4,000 trainers, 17,000 combat – into the south to retake the south from the Taliban. The early indications of those operations are very positive, though it's too early to declare victory.
ABC News: Many commanders believe there still aren't enough troops to spread a lasting peace.
Holbrooke: Most military commanders most of the time want more resources. [Brig. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, the commander in southern Afghanistan] has enough troops to do what he needs to do right now – in the clear phase. But in order to succeed, he's going to need a lot more Afghan troops, and we all know that. So one of the biggest things we're going to do is build up the Afghan security forces.
ABC News: Have you seen evidence that the Afghan National Army is capable of doing what U.S. soldiers do, without corruption?
Holbrooke: I think the Afghan army is one of the most respected institutions in this country. My concern is much greater with the police.
ABC News: Why?
Holbrooke: Police training has been inadequate. A lot of the police were involved with drugs themselves. Corruption is very high and has to be fixed and will be fixed.
ABC News: The U.S. can't turn the war around solely through kinetic means, can it?
Holbrooke: Military operations are an indispensible part of this process, essential part. But stamping out every last person supporting the Taliban through military means is not a rational or viable option, and everybody knows it. And nobody would ask American soldiers to risk their lives for that objective. Our objective is to help Afghanistan stand on its own two feet. To help it develop its own security forces, and then to phase out our own combat troops.