Video | Listen to the Audio
WOODRUFF: And we take a closer look at the future role of the U.S. in Afghanistan with retired Army Lieutenant General
David Barno. He served as a commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. He now teaches at American University.
And Scott Smith, he is director of the Afghanistan and Central Asia Program at the United States Institute of Peace. For over
a decade, he worked for the United Nations, where he focused on Afghanistan.
And we welcome you both to the program.
General Barno, I’m going to begin with you.
What more can you add to what the U.S. military officials are now saying was a mistake in this strike on the hospital in
LT. GEN. DAVID BARNO (RET.), Former Commander, Coalition Forces in Afghanistan: Well, I think we have
seen the story evolve over the last several days, which is totally unsurprising to me.
This incident happened in the middle of the night at about 2:00 in the morning on early Saturday morning. It involved a
U.S. aircraft, an AC-130 Spectre gunship, which typically fly several thousand feet in the air, striking a target that later
turned out to be the Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in Kunduz.
And we have also found out now that there was a special forces team, an American special forces team, on the ground nearby
that was talking to the aircraft. And I think all of this is indicative of fog of war and a big fight for Kunduz that’s
been raging for the last week.
And I’m very, very unsurprised to find out that the situation is continuing to evolve. And I am encouraged to see
there will be at least three investigations that we know of right now to take a look at this. This is not unusual in Afghanistan.
I tragically saw some of these incidents occur when I was the commander there.
And it always is tragic. It’s always disastrous to our efforts in many ways there. And the investigations find new
ways to prevent these from happening, but, inevitably, in these type of wars, especially when we’re in close civilian
areas, we are going to see these kind of accidents occur.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Scott Smith, there’s a lot of outrage over this. Is that appropriate, I mean, given
what the general is explaining here?
SCOTT SMITH, United States Institute of Peace: Appropriate or not, it’s not an unexpected emotion
to come out of it.
I think what the MSF people are saying is that…
JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the Doctors Without Borders.
SCOTT SMITH: Doctors — sorry, the French acronym for Doctors Without Borders.
That there was repeated fire every 15 minutes over an hour after they were calling to say, look it, you’re hitting
a hospital right now. Who knows what the truth is? We will have to see what the investigation comes — investigations
comes out with, what witnesses on the ground say.
But it’s unfortunate. As General Barno said, it’s not uncommon, but it is definitely unfortunate.
JUDY WOODRUFF: General Barno, we noticed that Afghan President Ghani doesn’t seem to be as critical
as typically President Karzai has been in the past of the United States. How do you explain that?
LT. GEN. DAVID BARNO: Well, this is a big change. And I think it’s a welcome one for the United
States and for our NATO allies.
President Karzai over his 12-plus years in office became more and more frustrated with the coalition military presence
and was very, very forceful in his response to these kinds of incidents.
And I think President Ghani, who realizes that President Obama here in the United States is about to make a critical decision
about keeping American forces in Afghanistan or drawing them down to only several hundred, President Ghani is a little bit
more cautious. He’s been more reserved.
And I think he and many of his senior officials have already come out to say this is tragic, but we understand how this
can happen and we look forward to the results of the investigation. His response has been very muted, and I think that’s
been appropriate, given the investigation.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Scott Smith, let’s broaden this out and talk about the — what the Taliban actually
did in there in Kunduz.
How significant that they were able to make their first takeover of a major city in, what, 14, 15 years?
SCOTT SMITH: I think it’s very significant.
First of all, it is first city which has fallen, and Kunduz was also the last city that fell to — the last Taliban-occupied
city that fell to American troops in 2001, so there’s sort of a symbolic dimension to this.
Secondly, the fact that, from what my sources on the ground are saying, the government has not taken it back — they
have taken part of it back, but there’s still fighting, and it’s not just booby traps. But there is actually still
some resistance in the street-to-street fighting.
Third, the Taliban has opened up fighting in other parts of the north. There have been three other provincial capitals
that have also been under attack. So, this is not only about Kunduz. It’s about the wider northern area where, remember,
so far up to now, they haven’t had a very significant toehold.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, General Barno, what is your sense of where things stand then in Afghanistan right
LT. GEN. DAVID BARNO: Well, I would reinforce those points. This is of very deep concern, the fact that
the Taliban are this active and this aggressive now in Northern Afghanistan, which for almost a decade has been the most quiet
part of Afghanistan in terms of insurgent activity.
We have always worried about the southern part of Afghanistan, around Kandahar. We have worried about the east around Jalalabad.
Those have been hotbeds of Taliban activity really since the middle of the last decade. This is a new, very unwelcome phenomenon.
They’re deeply entrenched in the north now. And that should give us great cause for concern.
And it certainly is going to influence President Obama’s decision, in my judgment.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you about that, General Barno. I mean, if the situation is that unstable
and that concerning, is keeping another 5,000 troops going to make a difference, if that’s what the president decides
LT. GEN. DAVID BARNO: I think it will make a big difference.
And I think the fact that, if you were to go down to several hundred, the Afghan security forces, the Afghan army would
lose all of its connection to things like American firepower, American logistics, American trainers and advice. And that’s
crucial to keep them in the battle right now against the Taliban.
If we take that out, I think their ability to continue to go toe to toe with the Taliban will diminish very, very rapidly.
And they have been in this fight. They’re not running away from the Taliban. They’re in the fight in all of these
cities. So, that’s encouraging. But if we take American troops down to just a few that are around the embassy in Kabul,
I think that is going to be put at deep risk.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Scott Smith, it sounds like the U.S. needs to remain there — at least the general
is saying that — to stiffen the spine and provide other support for the Afghan forces.
SCOTT SMITH: And I agree.
Part of it is all of the elements that General Barno mentioned, the financial support, the continuing training support,
airpower, which we have seen has been something which they had last year and has been taken away.
There’s also a big psychological dimension to this. Afghans feel they’re about to be abandoned again by the
West, as they were in 1992. And I think, if this decision is going to be taken, and I think it probably will be taken, to
stay — keep more troops in there longer than originally anticipated, I wish it had been taken earlier, because then
it would have been seen as part of a contribution to our strategic partnership with the Afghans.
Now it looks like it’s in reaction to the loss of Kunduz, and therefore kind of more of a panicked reaction, even
though this discussion has been under way for at least a year.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, so many questions raised about this.
For now, though, we want to thank both of you.
General David Barno, retired general, thank you.
And, Scott Smith, we thank you.
SCOTT SMITH: Thank you.
LT. GEN. DAVID BARNO: Thanks very much.
The post Should
the U.S. keep a significant military presence in Afghanistan? appeared first on PBS