Jessica: What is the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan?
General Glenn Walters: New York City was attacked, so was the Pentagon and also Shanksville, Pennsylvania; we lost an aircraft there, so… The al-Qaeda who perpetrated those attacks were hosted by the Taliban, which were the people in charge of this country. So our strategy over here is to make sure those attacks cannot happen on the U.S. again.
Jessica: Is al-Qaeda still a threat? And if so, how many are still in Afghanistan?
General Walters: I don’t know. The al-Qaeda I think is, in my opinion, greatly diminished. There’s always a chance. They are always trying to get back in.
Jessica: Experts estimate just fifty members of al-Qaeda remain in Afghanistan. Most attacks on U.S. troops come from the Taliban, the terrorist group that was in control of Afghanistan in 2001 and gave safe haven to al-Qaeda. But even the current number of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan is low. Experts estimate a few thousand.
Since the U.S. invasion, members of both al-Qeada and the Taliban have fled into other countries, like Pakistan. In fact, Special Forces found and killed Osama bin Laden, the head of al-Qeada and mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks in Pakistan.
Did killing Osama bin Laden change anything?
General Walters: It wasn’t a huge change to all of our operations. In other words, the Taliban didn’t throw down all of their weapons and yell surrender. They’re still out there and they’re still fighting. But, symbolically, I thought it was very important for us all because it gave us a sense of accomplishment.
Jessica: But August was the deadliest month of this war — that attacks from the Taliban are increasing. So, why is that happening ten years into the war?
General Walters: We always say attacks are increasing. Here in the Hellman Province, we don’t see that. That might be in some other area in the country. There’s a lot of people who base how they think the war is going on statistics.
Jessica: General Walters says there are other ways to measure the war, such as the number of Afghans helping U.S. troops fight the Taliban.
Do you think we are winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people? We keep on hearing that phrase but…
General Walters: I think we are winning the hearts and minds of a lot of them. But you know, this is a country that has been torn by conflict for so long that you can’t expect, even in our minds, ten years. They want to be proven that they’re going to have security. And you can’t do that in a short period of time. I don’t know what the time period is, I really don’t. But I know it’s not two or three years.
Jessica: The U.S. is planning for a big part of that security to come from the Afghan people. U.S. Marines are training the Afghan national army to one day take over the duties of U.S. troops.
So, we keep hearing that troops will be out of Afghanistan by 2014. So, will the Afghan national army be ready by then?
General Walters: That’s what we’re working for. That’s the task on the table.
Jessica: NATO said that the number of soldiers who are deserting the Afghan national army are increasing this year and that in the first half of this year, 24,000 Afghan soldiers left.
General Walthers: Yep.
Jessica: Isn’t that a problem?
General Walters: Well, yeah it is. I’m not familiar with the report but my sense is less are deserting than they were five years ago. The bottom line is in 2014, are there going to be enough because you go through this process?
Jessica: Because some critics point out that the West is building this army that the Afghan government won’t be able to maintain and support.
General Walters: Yes. And that’s true. And you have to ask the question, ‘how big does their army need to be if insurgency is defeated? How big does it need to be so that they won’t let the radicals back in? You know, a lot of these are time-will-tell kind of questions.
Jessica: Will U.S. troops be here after 2014?
General Walters: I’m not the one to answer that. I know that I think our combat troops will be gone. You know, there could be some training, there could be some assistance. We still have military assistance going on all over the world.
Jessica: One reason many people want troops out of Afghanistan is the price tag. The war is costing Americans about $2 billion every week. Many say the U.S. can no longer afford the fight.
Are budget concerns in the U.S. affecting your operations?
General Walters: No. Over here in my operations, I haven’t lacked for anything, which that tells me that, you know, we still have the priority. If I were back in the states, my answer might be different. But right now, the American people, through the Congress, have funded us to complete our mission.
Jessica: Blue ribbon commission; that found between $30 to 60 billion has either been mismanaged or disappeared. And another investigation found that 360 million has ended up in the hands of the Taliban. So, how can something like that happen?
General Walters: I don’t know. I know that one of the things we have to do over here, or are trying to do, is give a boost to the Afghan economy to help out the Afghan economy. It would be easy to have a flood of Americans or a flood of British, Dutchmen or Belgium, and give them the money to do these projects over here. But that’s not helping the country. We have to get them to do it and in entering business with these Afghan companies, you probably have a little more risk with some of the money not going where it’s suppose to.
Jessica: What will Afghan look like in another ten years?
General Walters: I can tell you what I hope it would look like. It would look like — it’s not going to look like America. I would hope it looks like the Afghan people. They’re back into their farming, they have government that’s responsive to their needs, they’ve got land reform done, they’ve got agricultural products flowing, they’ve put some infrastructure in here, which is what we’ve been trying to do — the roads. So, they can do something to get it to market, gain some momentum in building a more secure Afghanistan.
Jessica: Is that vision worth billions of dollars and American lives?
General Walters: If it keeps America and Americans safe from what happened on 9/11 from ever happening in the future and to give them a sense of security so that they can do the same things that we’re trying to get the Afghan people to do — which is have a happy life, then, yes, it’s worth it in my mind.
Jessica: There hasn’t been an attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. But the ten-year war has cost about 1,800 American lives and half a trillion dollars.