Transcript: Sec. Gates and Sen. McCain

Does that mean that the United States is re-thinking whether it can even -- whether it can bolster President Karzai's government or whether we have to give up on it?

GATES: Well, I -- you know, the Afghan people have gone to the polls and we have the two election commissions, one internal and one international, that could still come to conclusions, even if they throw out some fraudulent ballots or a number of fraudulent ballots, that there was a clear winner.

The key is whether the Afghans believe that their government has legitimacy. And everything that I've seen in the intelligence and elsewhere indicates that remains the case.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It does seem though you're caught in a dilemma right now. You've got your commanding general on the ground who's given you this report. He's said the troops -- more troops are necessary or you risk failure. That report has been endorsed by the head of Central Command, David Petraeus. Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went to Congress and said we probably need more troops.

Yet the president is saying that we need to think about the strategy right now. And it really creates the impression of a rift between the civilian leadership, you, as secretary of Defense, the president and the uniformed military.

GATES: I don't think that's the case at all. I talked with -- I had an extensive conversation on the telephone with both General McChrystal and General Petraeus on -- on Wednesday. General McChrystal was very explicit in saying that he thinks this assessment, this review that's going on right now is exactly the right thing to do. He obviously doesn't want it to be open-ended or be a protracted kind of thing...

STEPHANOPOULOS: How long will it take?

GATES: Well, I -- you know, I -- it's not going to take -- I think it -- it's a matter of a few weeks. And people should remember that the debate within the Bush administration on the surge lasted three months, from October to December, 2006.

So I think it's important to make sure we're confident that we have the right strategy in place and then we can make the decisions on additional forces.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the clock really does seem to be ticking again, to go back to General McChrystal's report. He says that if we don't turn the tide in the next 12 months, we risk failure. So every week that goes by puts the soldiers who are on the ground at risk, doesn't it?

GATES: But having the -- having the wrong strategy would put even more soldiers at risk. So I think it's important to get the strategy right and then we can make the resources decision. Because, as I say, I don't expect this to be protracted process. The reality is that even if the president did decide to approve additional combat forces going into Afghanistan, the first forces couldn't arrive until January.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what are the options right now?

You have said in the past that you didn't believe what some people are recommending -- stepping up drone attacks, stepping up missile attacks, using Special Forces.

You don't believe -- or haven't believed in the past that that's sufficient to contain the Taliban.

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