Oct. 14, 2009 — -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is close to formulating a U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, she said today in an exclusive interview with ABC News' "Nightline."
Although she refused to go public with what she believes is the best course of action for the United States in Afghanistan, a somber Clinton said she "will be prepared to offer the president my best advice when he asks for it."
In response to reports that she took a more hawkish position on the war than that of President Obama's other advisers, she said, "I'm not going to comment on where I'm leaning, where anybody else is leaning, I think I owe the president my best advice and I think I'll leave it at that."
Clinton also took pains to defend beleaguered Afghan President Hamid Karzai and took time to clarify his claim in an interview on "Good Morning America" Tuesday that al Qaeda has "no base in Afghanistan, the war against terrorism is not in Afghanistan villages, it is not in the Afghan countryside."
"There's no doubt," Clinton said, that the Taliban in Afghanistan "fund extremists." But, she added, what Karzai "was trying to get at, which is also our analysis, is there are people who are Taliban, who are fighting because they get paid to fight. They have no other way of making a living, you've got a very poor population in general, they get paid more to be in the Taliban than to be a police officer.
"Another is there are all kinds of internal conflicts in Afghanistan between certain tribal groups or ethnic groups who find it opportunistic to ally with the Taliban. They're very conservative, but they're not a direct threat to us."
Part of the problem, Clinton said, was "to sort out who is the real enemy. Our goal is to disrupt, dismantle, defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies. But not every Taliban is al Qaeda."
But she acknowledged that the irregularities in the Afghan elections had made the timing of any decision on sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan more challenging.
Her words diverged sharply from Karzai's take on the controversial elections, which he described as "good and fair and worthy of praise."