tv Great Decisions in Foreign Policy PBS February 1, 2018 12:00am-12:31am PST
(fire engine blaring) - americans are asking, who attacked our country? in afghanistan we see al-qaeda's vision for the world. the united states respects the people of afghanistan, but we condemn the taliban regime. by sponsoring and sheltering and supplying terrorists, the taliban regime is committing murder. they will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate. - [narrator] us troops have been in afghanistan for more than 15 years, making it the longest war in american history. the september 11th attacks prompted washington and nato to send forces to neutralize the al-qaeda terrorist organization and the taliban regime that sheltered them.
the architect of those attacks, osama bin laden, is dead, but the taliban has rebounded. as washington and nato pivot away from afghanistan, the ability of the government and security forces to maintain stability will be tested. afghanistan, next on great decisions. - [announcer] great decisions is produced by the foreign policy association, in association with thomson reuters. funding for great decisions is provided by pricewaterhousecoopers llp. - [narrator] afghanistan sits at the crossroads of the middle east, russia, and south asia. for centuries it has been a focal point of both trade and war.
- afghans are very proud people, and because of our strategic location, we have been resisting the super powers. we have fought ghengis khan, tamerlane, alexander the great, the british, the soviet union. so really the idea of accepting the dominance of another country, is not in the gene of the afghans. - afghanistan has been referred to as the graveyard of empires because it's a very rugged, dry generally, typography. neither the russians, nor the british, nor the americans, have been able to, for a significant period of time, subdue afghanistan. and, it's not that you can't do it, it's what costs are you willing to incur. - [narrator] the costs were too high for the soviet union when various ethnic groups united as the mujahideen to drive them out of afghanistan in the 1980's.
- the mujahideen, during the afghan war, were generally engaged in a war of liberation against the soviet union. it was a war of liberation that was given religious connotations because that idea of jihad against the soviet union, it made the war legitimate, and it also allowed them to tap into resources across the muslim world in form of money and fighters. - the kingdom, along with the united states, and other friends in the area, joined together to try to challenge this expansion of communist influence throughout our part of the world. we worked very closely in helping the then mujahideen against the soviet forces in afghanistan with pakistan as another partner. - [narrator] but after the soviet withdrawal, the taliban rose to power. - the taliban is a primarily pashtun afghan movement,
so it comes from religious students who were disgusted with what had happened in afghanistan after the end of the war with the soviets. there was a big civil war, a lot of warlordism and looting. - they very quickly gain the attention of various elements of the pakistani state and security apparatus. and from 1994, they build upon minor local successes around kandahar, into major successes, which eventually by 1998 it's going to lead to their conquest of about 90% of the country through the help of pakistani support, which itself in part funnels support from the gulf countries and from saudi arabia. - where they had been received with a great deal of support by the population initially, once the very draconian measures that they put in place curtailing particularly women's rights, minority rights, they lost the support of the population.
- [narrator] osama bin laden moved to afghanistan while the taliban were in power, but did not share their goals. - it begins with osama bin laden whose a saudi of yemeni extraction. he later meets ayman al-zawahiri, then together they form this organization called al-qaeda, that's fundamentally about kicking the government of saudi arabia which they consider to be corrupt out, and replacing it by an islamic government that will then rule over the holy places of islam. - they called this group that they formed, this hosting group, al-qaeda, which means in arabic, the base. meaning that this is the base where these people would come and be hosted and then directed on how to help the mujahideen. - he and the taliban had an interesting relationship because on the one hand, the taliban really was trying to prevent him from carrying out targets on the united states,
or american targets, and yet at the same time, they were also sort of, were very reluctant to accept the idea that he was actually conducting attacks on american embassies in africa, the uss cole in yemen, and then finally 9/11. so, but the taliban and al-qaeda had this sort of symbiotic relationship where, taliban provided him sanctuary, he provided them some money, and it worked out very badly for the taliban in the end. - [narrator] the us invaded afghanistan in 2001 to break the al-qaeda terrorist network. - so the united states asked the taliban to turn over
the leadership of al-qaeda, including osama bin laden. unfortunately the taliban initially didn't comply, and then began stalling for time. us patience was very short at the time, so that led to an invasion that fundamentally began about a month after the september 11th attacks. - the taliban made some tentative offers, we don't know if they were serious 'cause they were disregarded to allow osama bin laden to be tried by some independent tribunal, or something like that. the us simply rejected and said no we're gonna bomb you. the goal was not to overthrow the taliban, that came several weeks later. - the taliban had a lot of opportunities to give up osama bin laden and al-qaeda network, they refused to do so. the united states had no other option except to go to war in afghanistan, this was a just war in every way, shape, or form.
- [narrator] washington had the support of its nato allies in afghanistan. - when nato's role in afghanistan began on september 11, 2001, i was the american ambassador to nato at the time. and when we had suffered that catastrophic attack on new york and on washington d.c., i was in nato headquarters in brussels, and the canadian ambassador came to me and said, have you thought about invoking article five of the nato treaty. article five of the nato treaty is the article that is the heart of our commitment to each other in nato. an attack on one of us, is an attack on all of us. i was so overcome, both emotionally and politically, by the response that i received that night. every single one of our nato allies, and at that time we had 18 nato allies, said we will come to your defense. - i want to reiterate yet again today that
the united states of america can rely on the full support of its 18 nato allies in the campaign against international terrorism. - [narrator] washington wants to leave afghanistan more stable than when us and nato forces arrived. - there's been an evolution. in the beginning the strategy in afghanistan was put forward by the bush administration was a very narrow counter terrorism approach. - then we made a monumental mistake which we are still pursuing. we decided that in order to protect our national interests, we had to re-engineer afghan society. and that the only way to protect our national interests over time, and to avoid a resumption of terrorism
against the american homeland emanating from afghanistan, we had to, change fundamentally the character of afghanistan. - the estimate for afghanistan and iraq, if you add all of this, is in the three plus trillion dollars, maybe more. that's if you sort of add everything. that's a real number, i mean that is, that's the cost of running the entire us government in a year. that's 20% of all of the money spent in america in a year. - [narrator] washington seeks to transition responsibility for security to the afghan government. - for all intents and purposes, the president's mission to me was to transition the theater. we had a lot to do. close down the theater, transition nato from a main force, ground force unit, to an advisory force, move the ansf into the lead, and recover the american 33,000 troops. - but the united states has made some big compromises along the way.
its eagerness to try to hand things over to afghanistan, and its lack of success in building a really effective afghan national force, has led it to rely on either warlords who can keep the peace, so called, in certain parts of the country. or it has led the united states to rely on things like, the institution called the afghan local police, which are really just local citizens who are armed. - its central government was always weak, even the best of times, because poor country. now it's even weaker because all the institutions where the capitol would control, the rest of the country were broken down. when we went in in 2001, and then even when i was there, it hardly had an education system, it hardly had a national economic system. it lacks, if you would, a lot of the fundamentals of statehood. - [narrator] the afghan presidential election was a bitter campaign between two ethnic rivals, marked by charges of vote rigging.
- it's a proud day for this proud nation. - [narrator] now they need to work together. - the unity government is facing serious challenges because if all the other problems in afghanistan were not enough, a shotgun marriage between two presidential candidates is not really the best way of creating effective executive. these are not just individuals running in a ticket, they essentially represent large chunks of the country. ethnic groups, tribes, regions of the country, so it creates political instability. - it is important to recognize the gains that have taken place. so even 2014 election for example, where at one level, a political disaster. on the other hand, they ultimately led to the first peaceful transition from one leader in afghanistan to another sort of in afghanistan's history.
so we need to put it in perspective. - [narrator] the afghan national security forces, known as the ansf, face challenges as well. - when i first took command in the summer of 2011, the ansf was not leading anything. and often they weren't comin' off their bases at all. within the first year they were frequently doing partnered operations with us, where we would be in the field with them. and by the later part of 2012, they were routinely going to the field with only nato advisors and they were conducting multi brigade level operations, and that's not insignificant. - building up security forces in a country is not easy. today we have 352,000 security forces, 200,000 of them the army of the country, and the remaining the police force. the casualty among them is high, but it looks like, as time passes, day by day, they are improving and they are turning into a reliable partner to the international community
to fight terrorism. - [female soldier] good team, thank you. - but as us and nato forces draw down, taliban forces are taking back territory. - the taliban, in fact, are resurgent right now. even when i was the commander there i didn't believe the taliban could defeat the ansf, and i don't believe it now. but this has been a real struggle for the ansf, because in many respects, we're still training them and preparing them as they move into the lead for major combat operations in their own counter insurgency campaign. - the bulk of the security challenges come from the taliban and their supporters in pakistan. the entire leadership of the taliban is in pakistan. leading figures of terrorism like osama bin laden, mullah omar, mullah ahmad mansoor they lived in pakistan, and they died in pakistan. so it goes to show where the heart of terror is. (crowd cheering and yelling)
(rapid machine gun fire) (speaking in foreign language) - [narrator] the taliban, analysts say, may have links to pakistan's spy agency known as the inter-services intelligence, or isi. - i think isi has had a strong relationship with the taliban. the details of that have never been completely clear or proven, but they have the support that they have. - there are some of our leaders that believed that there was a direct linkage. in fact, not just a direct linkage, but operational guidance and maybe even operational support for certain of the taliban. you could see potentially how that could be the case, by watching the taliban operate. i could never tell if there was a direct linkage, but i had to assume that they were getting support from somewhere.
- the taliban is of different parts, and some have some kind of passing relationship with isi. and the idea that the isi can kind of control them, i think, is just absolute nonsense, because the pakistani taliban have killed untold thousands of pakistani's in pakistan. so, the idea that the isi sort of controls the taliban is a cartoon. it's not true. certainly they have relations of some kind. - [narrator] while concerns remain over potential support for militant groups flowing out of pakistan, the us is backing the sharif government's counter insurgency efforts. - this is one of the most bizarre situations in international politics, between the united states and pakistan. where pakistan has, for some time been, what seems to be simultaneously an ally and an enemy. now part of the reason that the united states
has turned a blind eye to the apparent collaboration between elements of pakistani military and the taliban, is that for a long time we needed pakistan's cooperation for logistical purposes to send supplies to our forces in afghanistan. - one of the most difficult strategic issues that we had during the war in afghanistan, and still have, in many respects, is that there are terrorist groups living, working, building support on the soil of pakistan, and attacking into afghanistan, attacking afghan government forces, attacking the united states military, attacking our nato allies. and ultimately the pakistani government bared responsibility for that. - [narrator] those concerns were underlined when osama bin laden was revealed to have been hiding in abbottabad. - i wasn't surprised at all that he was found in pakistan. i think most of us believed that he was in
the federally administered tribal areas, what used to be called the north-west frontier province, today the khyber pakhtunkhwa. i think we all were a bit surprised and taken aback that he was a kilometer from the military academy. - it wasn't surprising that bin laden was found in abbottabad. there is no evidence that anybody in pakistan knew, including the military, knew that bin laden was living in pakistan. there just is no evidence. the night that bin laden was killed, there was a great concern the pakistani military might respond in some way. so the united states was listening to the communications of senior pakistani military officials, and those officials were totally and utterly surprised. - his house was literally down the road from the pakistani equivalent of west point. i mean, you have a person who is probably the most wanted person in the world, and from his window he can see all the top ranking us military commanders, to include general petraeus,
when he visited that academy coming in and leaving. so it's extremely difficult to convince people that the biggest house in abbottabad nobody knew who lived in it. i think it's a big pill to swallow. - [narrator] pakistan's involvement in afghanistan may be driven by broader strategic concerns. - some pakistani strategists believe that they need a compliant government in afghanistan so that they can dominate afghanistan and have a rear area that they can use in the event of a war with india. - they argue that they are worried that india may use afghan soil against them, and they don't want to be sandwiched in between. - long time ago, pakistan decided that afghanistan is strategic territory, and afghanistan ultimately is a threat to pakistan on its own. because if afghanistan ever became a unified state
under pashtun control, then it would basically try to carve out pakistan's pashtun region. - [narrator] al-qaeda is attempting to re-emerge in afghanistan, along with a handful of daesh militants. - in addition to the taliban, we've seen the revival of al-qaeda lately, and also daesh has been struggling to establish a footprint in afghanistan. - al-qaeda's ability to attack the united states is very close to zero right now. they haven't attacked since 9/11. they've tried, but every attempt has fizzled. they are in much worse shape then they were around 9/11. they lost osama bin laden, most of their leaders are dead. - isis have a presence in afghanistan, we had some factions from the taliban, especially in the eastern region, and those people separated themselves from mullah mansoor basically when the taliban was under the leadership of mullah mansoor and they pledged bayah to abu bakr al-baghdadi,
the so-called caliph, of the so-called islamic state. - [narrator] to some the solution to a seemingly intractable conflict is the most provocative, negotiate with the taliban. - some mistakes were made, in part because there wasn't a distinction made between the taliban and al-qaeda. for example, they weren't invited to participate in the bonn conference in november 2001, which is kind of understandable because they were viewed as being responsible in part for giving sanctuary to al-qaeda. on the other hand, if moves had been taken to try incorporate at least some of their constituencies in giving them a stake in the new government, i think we wouldn't be where we are now. - ultimately the taliban have to be part of any solution. they, for good or for ill, they've become one of the main voices representing the pashtun population.
- now i do think that there's an opportunity that with the signaling that began coming out of the us, and in our nato allies, that we're gonna continue to remain engaged in afghanistan. that our main message is no longer that we're leaving, it's actually that we're staying, albeit not at the numbers of the past. that i think does create opportunities to now reopen the peace process. - the idea that you can transition to peace, i don't see that anytime soon because i don't see the taliban willing to make peace and since they have sanctuaries you can't get at them. you can't get final defeat, you can't get peace. and given al-qaeda and the islamic state, i think it is foolish to say we just have to walk away, so that's your steady state. - [narrator] as us and nato forces prepare to further scale back their presence in afghanistan, the hope is that history will not be repeated and afghanistan will not be left in chaos.
- tragically, afghanistan has been in the forefront of war against terrorism, which is a global threat. but if you compare afghanistan today to where it was fifteen years ago, we have come a long way. - many argue we've been there for 14, 15 years, how much longer do we have to stay? and i would note that i think that if you look back historically in terms of the us engagement in other countries, there was a recognition in the past that the end level of engagement, there had to be a longer term lens. - south korea was one of the poorest countries in the world at the end of the korean war, and under an american national security umbrella, we still have troops there. it's now one of the richest countries in the world. - [narrator] finding the right mix of us and international support won't be easy. - we are recommending, myself, other commanders, the other ambassadors, the special representatives for afghanistan and pakistan,
as a group, we're recommending that the next president do a detailed analysis of the relationship between the political environment, the economic environment, and the security environment to ensure we have the right mix of capabilities and the right mix of our presence there for the right duration in order to sustain all that we invested in afghanistan during that war. - if we leave now, when we've done so much to help the afghan authorities, when so many of our service members, men and women, have died and been wounded. we've spent so much in terms of treasure, but more importantly in terms of our human commitment and human life, we'll have squandered that enormous investment that the united states and all of our allies have made. so i've certainly supported the idea that the united states should maintain, i think at least 10,000 american troops in afghanistan. - [narrator] the taliban have a saying, you have the watch, but we have the time.
a long term presence in afghanistan may be necessary to convince the taliban that time is not on their side. largest discussion program on global affairs. discussion groups meet in community centers, libraries, places of worship, and homes across the country, to discuss global issues with their community. participants read the eight topic briefing book, meet to discuss each topic, and complete a ballot which shares their views with congress. to start or join a discussion group in your community, visit greatdecisions.org, or call 1-800-477-5836. great decisions is produced by the foreign policy association, in association with thomson reuters.
funding for great decisions is provided by pricewaterhousecoopers llp. - [narrator] next time on great decisions, for decades global politics were dominated by talk of mutually assured destruction between russia and the us. now the nuclear status quo is changing. how can leaders stop countries from acquiring nuclear weapons, keep nuclear materials out of the hands of non-state actors, and protect nuclear facilities from potential terrorist attacks? nuclear security, next time on great decisions.
♪ welcome to "in good shape." coming up this week, toothache -- can traditional household remedies really help? heart pants -- a cutting-edge machine for training the vascular system. and bedbugs. how you get them, how to get rid of them. and here's your host, dr. carsten lekutat. >> the best thing about traveling is bringing home souvenirs. but not everything you bring home makes you happy, like bedbugs. just speaking of these bloody pests make me itchy. i met the german environment agency. welcome. ♪