'This Week' Transcript: Panetta

Transcript: Panetta

ByABC News
January 22, 2010, 2:35 PM

June 27, 2010 — -- ABC News "This Week"Jake Tapper interviews CIA Director Leon PanettaSunday, June 27, 2010

TAPPER: Good morning and welcome to "This Week."

This morning of this week, exclusive. CIA Director Leon Panetta. His first network news interview.

Top questions on the threats facing the U.S., and whether the CIA is up to the task.


PANETTA: And what keeps me awake at night--


TAPPER: The latest on Al Qaida, the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Iran, North Korea, global hotspots in an increasingly dangerous world, and the threat of homegrown terrorists.


PANETTA: We are being aggressive at going after this threat.


TAPPER: CIA Director Leon Panetta only on "This Week."

Then, the McChrystal mess.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I welcome debate among my team, but I won't tolerate division.


TAPPER: The change in command in Afghanistan raises new questions about the president's strategy to win the war. That and the rest of the week's politics on our roundtable with George Will, author Robin Wright of the U.S. Institute of Peace, David Sanger of the New York Times, and the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran.

And as always, the Sunday Funnies.


DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST: It took President Obama 45 minutes to make a decision to pick a new Afghanistan commander, 45 minutes. It took him six months to pick a dog for the White House.


TAPPER: Good morning. When the president takes a look at the world, he's confronted with threats literally all over the map. In Afghanistan, U.S. and international forces struggle to make headway against the Taliban. Iran moves ahead with a nuclear program in defiance of international condemnation. North Korea becomes even more unpredictable as it prepares for a new supreme leader. New terror threats from Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia. No one knows these threats better than the president's director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta. He's been in the job for 16 months, and he's here with me this morning, his first network news interview. Mr. Panetta, welcome.

PANETTA: Nice to be with you, Jake.

TAPPER: Now, this was a momentous week, with President Obama relieving General McChrystal of his command. When this was all going down, you were with General Petraeus at a joint CIA-CENTCOM conference. And I want to ask you about the war in Afghanistan, because this has been the deadliest month for NATO forces in Afghanistan, the second deadliest for U.S. troops, with 52 at least killed this month. Are we winning in Afghanistan, and is the Taliban stronger or weaker than when you started on the job?

PANETTA: I think the president said it best of all, that this is a very tough fight that we are engaged in. There are some serious problems here. We're dealing with a tribal society. We're dealing with a country that has problems with governance, problems with corruption, problems with narcotics trafficking, problems with a Taliban insurgency. And yet, the fundamental purpose, the mission that the president has laid out is that we have to go after Al Qaida. We've got to disrupt and dismantle Al Qaida and their militant allies so they never attack this country again.

Are we making progress? We are making progress. It's harder, it's slower than I think anyone anticipated. But at the same time, we are seeing increasing violence, particularly in Kandahar and in Helmand provinces.

Is the strategy the right strategy? We think so, because we're looking at about 100,000 troops being added by the end of August. If you add 50,000 from NATO, you've got 150,000. That's a pretty significant force, combined with the Afghans.

But I think the fundamental key, the key to success or failure is whether the Afghans accept responsibility, are able to deploy an effective army and police force to maintain stability. If they can do that, then I think we're going to be able to achieve the kind of progress and the kind of stability that the president is after.

TAPPER: Have you seen any evidence that they're able to do that?

PANETTA: I think so. I think that what we're seeing even in a place like Marjah, where there's been a lot of attention -- the fact is that if you look at Marjah on the ground, agriculture, commerce is, you know, moving back to some degree of normality. The violence is down from a year ago. There is some progress there.

We're seeing some progress in the fact that there's less deterioration as far as the ability of the Taliban to maintain control. So we're seeing elements of progress, but this is going to be tough. This is not going to be easy, and it is going to demand not only the United States military trying to take on, you know, a difficult Taliban insurgency, but it is going to take the Afghan army and police to be able to accept the responsibility that we pass on to them. That's going to be the key.

TAPPER: It seems as though the Taliban is stronger now than when President Obama took office. Is that fair to say?

PANETTA: I think the Taliban obviously is engaged in greater violence right now. They're doing more on IED's. They're going after our troops. There's no question about that. In some ways, they are stronger, but in some ways, they are weaker as well.

I think the fact that we are disrupting Al Qaida's operations in the tribal areas of the Pakistan, I think the fact that we are targeting Taliban leadership -- you saw what happened yesterday with one of the leaders who was dressed as a woman being taken down -- we are engaged in operations with the military that is going after Taliban leadership. I think all of that has weakened them at the same time.

So in some areas, you know, with regards to some of the directed violence, they seem to be stronger, but the fact is, we are undermining their leadership, and that I think is moving in the right direction.

TAPPER: How many Al Qaida do you think are in Afghanistan?

PANETTA: I think the estimate on the number of Al Qaida is actually relatively small. I think at most, we're looking at maybe 50 to 100, maybe less. It's in that vicinity. There's no question that the main location of Al Qaida is in tribal areas of Pakistan.

TAPPER: Largely lost in the trash talking in the Rolling Stone magazine were some concerns about the war. The chief of operations for General McChrystal told the magazine that the end game in Afghanistan is, quote, "not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win. This is going to end in an argument."