Pelosi and Gates Differ on Expectations for July 2011 Troop Withdrawal

"This Week" host Christiane Amanpour interviews Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.Martin Simon/ABC News
"This Week" host Christiane Amanpour interviews Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

As July became the deadliest month in the almost nine-year-old war in Afghanistan, Christiane Amanpour sat down with two key players and asked them the hard questions about America's longest war.

In exclusive interviews on "This Week," Amanpour spoke with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who just passed a bill to fund the war, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who supervises the war effort.

Both Gates and Pelosi insisted that the war was in the strategic interest of the United States but differed on what they hoped the July 2011 troop withdrawal date might mean.


"We are not there to take on a nationwide reconstruction or construction project in Afghanistan. What we have to do is focus our efforts on those civilian aspects and governance to help us accomplish our security objective," Gates said. "We are in Afghanistan because we were attacked from Afghanistan, not because we want to try and build a better society in Afghanistan."

Pelosi emphasized our security interest there. "We're in Afghanistan because it's in our strategic national interests to be so for our own national security, to stop terrorism, to increase global security."

Gates: "Guilty" Verdict on Wikileaks' "Moral Culpability"

Gates said that the huge cache of secret documents obtained by the Web site WikiLeaks left him disgusted.

"How angry are you about it?" Amanpour asked.

"I'm not sure anger is the right word. I just -- I think mortified, appalled," Gates said.

"And if I'm angry, it is because I believe that this information puts those in Afghanistan who have helped us at risk. It puts our soldiers at risk because ... our adversaries can learn a lot about our techniques, tactics and procedures from the body of these leaked documents," he said.

"You know, growing up in the intelligence business, protecting your sources is sacrosanct," Gates, who served as director of the CIA in the early 1990s, explained.

Amanpour asked Gates about a Taliban spokesman who told a British news organization that the militant Islamic group would be hunting down informants named in the documents.

"I mean Admiral Mullen said that this leak basically has blood on its hands," Amanpour said.

"Well, I mean given the Taliban's statement, I think it -- it basically proves the point," the secretary said.

"And my attitude on this is that there are two areas of culpability. One is legal culpability. And that's up to the Justice Department and others. That's not my arena. But there's also a moral culpability. And that's where I think the verdict is guilty on WikiLeaks," Gates said.

"They have put this out without any regard whatsoever for the consequences"

Pelosi Dodges War Spending Question

Pelosi refused to say whether she would have voted for the war funding bill.

"Now you didn't vote. I know the speaker doesn't have to vote. But how would you have voted?" Amanpour asked Pelosi in the speaker's ceremonial office inside the Capitol.

"Well we brought the bill to the floor," Pelosi explained. "And that was a statement that said that we knew that our troops needed to have ... would be provided for them. So we will never abandon our men and women in uniform," she said. "On the other hand it gave our members a chance to express their view," the Speaker said.

"How does this figure into our protecting the American people? Is it worth it?" Pelosi asked rhetorically.

"Is it worth it?" Amanpour repeated pointedly. "Is it worth it?"

"That is the question," Pelosi replied.

"But that's my question to you," Amanpour pressed.

"Well we will, as I said, we will see the metrics as they unfold in the next few months," the Speaker said.

Mixed Signals on July 2011

"July 2011 is not the end. It is the beginning of a transition," Gates said. "Drawdowns early on will be of fairly limited numbers."

Pelosi said she hoped the transition in a year would be more significant than administration officials have made it out to be.

Last month on "This Week," Vice President Joe Biden said that the transition "could be as few as a couple thousand troops" come July 2011.

"Well, I hope it is more than that," Pelosi said. "I know it's not going to be turn out the lights and let's all go home on one day. But I do think the American people expect it to be somewhere between that and a few thousand troops."

Amanpour pointed out to Gates that the Taliban sees July 2011 as a withdrawal date and is trying to run out the clock. She showed him a video of counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

The Taliban, he said, "believe that we had stated a date certain, that we were going to leave in the summer of 2011. And they immediately went out and spoke to the population and said, the Americans are leaving in 18 months, as it was then. What are you doing on the 19th month? Who are you backing? Because we'll still be there and they won't be."

"So many people are arranging their schedules for the summer of 2011," Amanpour told Gates. "What can General Petraeus do to defeat the Taliban at their own game? What can he do now in Afghanistan to avoid this deadline that they're setting for themselves?" she asked.

Gates insisted that July 2011 was not a deadline. "Well, first of all, I think we need to re-emphasize the message that we are not leaving Afghanistan in July of 2011. We are beginning a transition process and a thinning of our ranks, [the] pace [of which] will depend on the conditions on the ground," he said.

"The president has been very clear about that. And if the Taliban are waiting for the nineteenth month, I welcome that, because we will be there in the nineteenth month and we will be there with a lot of troops," Gates said.

Last December, the President said that the United States would "begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011 ... taking into account conditions on the ground."

Reconciliation with the Taliban?

Is the only way out of Afghanistan to strike a deal with the Taliban?

Gates said any reconciliation with the Taliban would be up to the current Afghan government and would only occur when the Taliban were "degrade[d]" enough to consider a negotiated settlement.

"The way out is to improve the security situation in Afghanistan to the point -- and to degrade the Taliban to a degree -- where they are willing to consider reconciliation on the terms of the Afghan government: detaching themselves from al Qaeda, agreeing that to abide by the Afghan constitution, agreeing to put down their weapons," the defense secretary said. "Those are the conditions that reconciliation must take. But it must take place on the terms of the Afghan government."

"And you think that can happen in a year?" Amanpour asked.

"Well," the defense secretary said, "we're not limited to a year."