OBL Mission and the Future of the Afghanistan War: Today’s Q’s for O’s WH – 5/11/2011

By Cullen Dirner

May 11, 2011 2:58pm

TAPPER: At the end of the "60 Minutes" interview, President Obama seemed to suggest that the successful mission against bin Laden could have ramifications for the war going forward. Specifically, he seemed to suggest that we could have a smaller footprint because of the effectiveness of these smaller, highly trained teams.  And he also said that he thought that this might quicken the pace of reconciliation.  How — was he just thinking off the top of his head, in terms of things that might be?  Or is there a direct correlation between the orders he’ll put forward in June-July and the successful mission?

CARNEY:  Well, I — let me take this in two parts here.  The comments that he and others have made about the potential for reconciliation I think are — follow from the hope that the fact that the head of al-Qaida has been eliminated, that that might encourage some Taliban members to view their situation differently in terms of the reconciliation efforts led by President Karzai.  And that's, obviously, informed speculation, but it is not — you know, but it could happen, that this advance in the fight against al-Qaida could have that kind of impact in Afghanistan.  It would certainly be welcome, if it did.

The other part, I don't think — I don't remember the president suggesting that it would — a relation particularly to our footprint, if you mean in Afghanistan.  The president has a policy in Afghanistan.  It very explicitly contains within it a transition point in July of 2011, where we begin to draw down U.S. forces.  The pace of that drawdown, the scope of that drawdown depends on conditions on the ground.  And the president has yet to receive a recommendation for the first — the number for the first, you know, movement of troops out in that drawdown.  So I think –

TAPPER: He seemed to be suggesting that he, at the very least, or the country could feel more confident that we would still be able to engage in counterterrorism, even with a smaller-sized force in Afghanistan.

CARNEY:  Well –

TAPPER: I don’t have the exact quote with me, but I mean, it was — it was –

CARNEY:  I don't –

TAPPER:  — it was a direct correlation.  It was this could tell us X.*

CARNEY:  Well, again, I don't remember the quote you're referring to, but I think the counterterrorism efforts, the kind of effectiveness that we saw in the raid that eliminated bin Laden, has been replicated in a lot of actions by our remarkable special operators in other areas, in Afghanistan in particular.  And I think that it's part of the package that the president put together when he very deliberately devised his strategy for Afghanistan and the Af-Pak region, was — and remember, there was a big debate about is it COIN, is it CT, and the — it was never was one or the other.  It was a very thought-out approach that involved both, elements of both strategies.

TAPPER: Right, but some people argue — proponents of COIN argue that CT is most effective when counterinsurgency is working the best, because then there is this comfort level for intelligence information to be shared, and CT can only be most effective with COIN.  And the president seems to be suggesting a different point of view, perhaps. And I'm wondering, first of all, I guess –

CARNEY:  Again, I don't remember that he suggested that.

TAPPER:  — was — is there any –

CARNEY:  I think that his approach has been –

TAPPER:  Is there any –

CARNEY:  — contained — have elements of both within it, and that's the approach he's taken with — in Afghanistan.  He believes that that has shown progress in a very difficult situation in Afghanistan overall, but progress has been made and continues to be made.  And the strategy, we believe, is making progress and working.  But — and then one evidence of its success has been the effectiveness of our efforts to go after and either capture or kill leading terrorists.

TAPPER:  Right.  Did any information for this mission come from COIN efforts?

CARNEY:  Well, I'm not — I'm not going to get into intelligence information and what might have been gathered; as we've talked about, the mosaic of intelligence that led to the successful mission against bin Laden.

*(The quote I was referring to: “What has happened on Sunday, I think, reconfirms that we can focus on Al Qaeda, focus on the threats to our homeland, train Afghans in a way that allows them to stabilize their country,” the president said, “but we don’t need to have a perpetual footprint of the size that we have now.”)

-Jake Tapper

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