Measuring Success In The Fight Against The Taliban In Afghanistan: Today’s Q’s for O’s WH – 6/21/2011

Jun 21, 2011 3:35pm

SCIUTTO:  You mentioned that the terrorist threat — you don't mention the Taliban's capability.  Is there are a pivot here –

 CARNEY:  You know, I knew there was — (inaudible) – just make clear that in the — among the goals — and I get this right nine times out of 10 — but the objectives that the president laid out in December of '09 were:  one, disrupt, dismantle, ultimately defeat al-Qaida; two, reverse the momentum that the Taliban had had leading up to that; and then to stabilize Afghanistan in order to give the Afghan government the breathing room it needs to build up the Afghan National Security Forces and to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a haven for al-Qaida and terrorists who have the United States as their – as their goal.

      Now, it is important to note that defeating the Taliban is not the objective here.  Reversing the momentum of the Taliban is an objective. And we have had significant success in achieving that objective.

      The fact of the matter is that any solution — any end to the violence or hostilities in Afghanistan, in whatever time period, will require some sort of reconciliation between Afghans, and that includes the Afghan Taliban.  We've talked about this.  We've talked about it as recently yesterday (sic), that we support the initiatives led by the Karzai government to explore reconciliation possibilities.

      SCIUTTO:  Now, but if you look at the Taliban — if you look at the total number of security incidents, and you compare them season by season, which is the way the military say — says is the right way to do it, you compare October 2010 to March 2011 to the same period '09 to '10:  incidents up.  You compare last year May to September to the previous year incidents –

      CARNEY:  But you know that the primary reason for that, or a primary reason — and I don't want to sound like I'm a military analyst — but we have more boots on the ground, we have more soldiers engaging, because we surged troops by 30,000-plus –

      SCIUTTO:  No question.  And the military will –

      CARNEY:  So that, obviously, we've been taking the fight to the Taliban, as well as going after members of al-Qaida.  And that has been why we've had the success we've had and the progress we've made.

      SCIUTTO:  No question.  And the military will say that, because of increased activity.  But I'm just curious, what indicators, hard indicators, is the president looking at to indicate that the Taliban has lost the momentum?  If these numbers –

      CARNEY:  The — again, I think that the engagements reflect the fact that we have been more aggressive in engaging the Taliban and in securing territory, and in the success we've had in the south in particular.  The progress that we've made in achieving the goal of breaking the Taliban momentum has, I think, been articulated by members of the military, including the commanding general there.  So obviously, we are keenly aware of the fact that this progress is not a done deal, that the — that the mission is not fully achieved.  And that's why the mission continues.

     And that's why the president supported the process outlined by NATO in Lisbon, that the full transfer of security lead would not occur until 2014, that this was a gradual process, as the Afghan national security forces become more sophisticated, become more capable and more numerous, that that transfer could continue to take place.

      SCIUTTO:  Just — because you mentioned reconciliation, you're aware of recent stumbles.  Have U.S. officials or their intermediaries heard anything from reputable Taliban leaders, ones that they believe speak for the Taliban, that they are interested in reconciliation?

      CARNEY:  Well, I don't — I don't have — am not able to speak with specificity about meetings.  I think it's important to point out that the — that this is an Afghan-led process, because this is not reconciliation between U.S. forces or U.S. personnel and the Taliban.  It's a reconciliation between Afghans, between the Afghan government, representative of the people and the Afghan Taliban.  And that process is being led by the Karzai government — not pretending that it's an easy process, but it is an important one that we do support.

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