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NATO Secretary General and Spanish Prime Minister Discuss War in Afghanistan

Aired September 22, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, NATO struggling in Afghanistan. Does it have the soldiers or the strategy to defeat the Taliban?

Good evening. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome again to our new program. This week, we continue to focus on Afghanistan. It's part of our mission to bring you more depth and understanding about the stories that matter.

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan is expected to ask for more U.S. and NATO troops, but his recent assessment of the war cites concern about their effectiveness. Figuring out how to finish the job is the challenge facing NATO's new man in charge, the former Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, as CNN's Paula Newton now explains.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Within days of taking over as NATO's secretary general last month, Anders Fogh Rasmussen was on the ground in Afghanistan trying to get a sense of why and how the world's greatest military alliance remains so challenged here.

But some of those answers lie far from the battlefield, with these despairing images. From Britain to Canada to the U.S., and now Italy, the burden is hitting home, with more than 360 NATO soldiers killed this year.

NATO's critics say Rasmussen has only a few months to transform the mission into a winning one.

PADDY ASHDOWN, INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMAT: Absent that -- and if we lose it -- then I think the credibility of NATO is terribly, perhaps even fatally damaged. In that sense, NATO, the only institution with the capacity to project power around the world in support of peace, will cease to have a job.

NEWTON: It's Rasmussen's old job that might make the difference in saving his new one. He was Denmark's prime minister for more than eight years, credibility he can leverage.

JONATHAN EYAL, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: He is able to pick up the phone and speak to leaders, to bang heads together, which is often what is required within the alliance.

NEWTON: But his old job could also be an obstacle. He was Denmark's leader when Danish cartoons so infuriated the Muslim world.

NATO needs to prove itself vital. These TV ads a way to build the alliance's image, and they are matched by new ambitions: to combat cyberterrorism on the 'net, to take on the pirates at sea, and most audacious, Rasmussen wants NATO to share a vision for security with Russia.

WINSTON CHURCHILL, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN: It is a not a movement of parties, but a movement of people.

NEWTON: To do this, Rasmussen could take a look at NATO history and Winston Churchill, who warned that having an alliance against a common enemy, like NATO had against the Soviet Union, is simple, but finding an alliance for peace is the hard part.

Geoff Hoon is a former British defense minister now helping Rasmussen to fashion a new strategic concept for NATO.

GEOFF HOON, FORMER BRITISH DEFENSE SECRETARY: Think about the great conflicts of the 20th century. They were not countries operating in isolation. They were military alliances. That is fundamentally what NATO is about.

NEWTON: But, American diplomats warn, skeptical citizens still must be convinced of NATO's role and worth 60 years after its creation.

Paula Newton, CNN, London.


AMANPOUR: And joining me now is NATO's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. He joins me now in a rare television interview.

Thank you for being here. Huge challenges that Paula Newton laid out, but let's first focus on Afghanistan. Is NATO losing there? Can you defeat the Taliban?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: Failure is not an option. We must prevail. A lot is at stake for the Afghan people and for the international community. We can't allow Afghanistan once again to become a safe haven for terrorists. Therefore, we must succeed.

AMANPOUR: So no rush for the exit?

RASMUSSEN: No rush for the exit, but a transition to Afghan leads. I think this is the way forward, to gradually demonstrate progress on the ground by handing over province by province the lead responsibility for the security to the Afghans themselves.

AMANPOUR: How, first, do you get European, U.S. public opinion, all those countries which have troops in Afghanistan where public opinion is plummeting -- you've said the debate is moving in the wrong direction. How do you shift the debate back to where you want it to be?

RASMUSSEN: By strengthening and reinforcing the narrative of why we are in Afghanistan. Firstly, make sure that people understand that it's about their own security. We are in Afghanistan because we cannot allow Afghanistan once again to become a safe haven for terrorists who could easily spread through Central Asia and further destabilize Pakistan, which is a nuclear power. It could be a very dangerous situation.

And in addition to that, we have to demonstrate clear progress by transition to Afghan leads not only concerning security, but also concerning development of the Afghan society.

AMANPOUR: You've said that we have to do it -- NATO has to do it for the Afghan people, as well. Is that right? Or is it just about security for the West?

RASMUSSEN: It's both. First and foremost, we are in Afghanistan to ensure that we will not once again be attacked by terrorists rooted in Afghanistan. But, of course, it's also essential in a long-term perspective that we develop Afghanistan in the direction of a stable and peaceful democracy.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe that more troops are required in order to get this job done?

RASMUSSEN: We are currently reviewing the assessments finalized by General McChrystal. And...

AMANPOUR: But do you believe what he says, which is that it takes more people, more troops on the ground?

RASMUSSEN: I trust him. He's a very, very capable commander. And we have to take seriously what he recommends. And in particular, I think we have to beef up our training mission in Afghanistan to ensure that we develop the capacity of the Afghan security forces so that the Afghans can become masters in their own house. And in that respect, we will need more resources, more trainers, more education, and also funding of the Afghan security forces.

AMANPOUR: Now, you were the prime minister of Denmark. You know what it means to be a politician trying to make tough decisions. You said one of your first decisions as prime minister was to send troops to Afghanistan.

RASMUSSEN: Yes, my very first foreign policy and security policy decision was to send special operation forces to Afghanistan, because we consider it a crucial element in our own security that we secure Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: You're going to be meeting with President Obama next week, the official U.S. part of your visit. You're obviously going to be talking about Afghanistan, about General McChrystal's assessment that's also being reviewed by the White House. Will you recommend to him, will you say what you've said just now, that it takes more troops to finish this job?

RASMUSSEN: It takes more trainers and more funds to develop the capacity of the Afghan security forces. And it's my strong conviction that this is the way forward, transition to Afghan lead, so we have to do more now so that we can be able to do less in the future.

AMANPOUR: I want to know why European leaders with troops there, U.S. leaders with troops there have not really been, for want of a better word, selling the severity and the necessity of trying to finish the job properly. There seems to be a vacuum in the public debate led by the leaders. The leaders don't seem to be leading that public debate. Do you think more should be done?

RASMUSSEN: Yes. And I think, honestly speaking, in retrospect, that we have underestimated the challenge, and we -- we should improve communication and really tell that, despite all problems in Afghanistan, we see progress on the ground. We see progress in delivery of a better health services to the Afghans, a better educational system, infrastructure is constructed, we have succeeded in decreasing cultivation of opium, and it's also important to note that, according to opinion polls, the Afghan people want international presence in their country to help them develop a stable democracy.

AMANPOUR: In fact, it was the Afghan defense minister who said that everybody who talks about Afghanistan being the graveyard of empires doesn't actually understand that today your forces, the U.S. forces are viewed more as liberators than as occupiers.

But I want to ask you something. In General McChrystal's report, the assessment of which was -- was recently leaked, he has some pretty sharp things to say about NATO's troops, about their effectiveness. I'm going to read you this paragraph and see what your response to this is.

It says that, "We have operated in a manner that distances us -- physically and psychologically -- from the people who we seek to protect. In addition, we run the risk of strategic defeat by pursuing tactical wins that cause civilian casualties or unnecessary collateral damage. The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily, but we can defeat ourselves."

In other words, the configuration of the international forces seems not to be right. I've been there many times on the ground, and I often see that it's very difficult to get the NATO forces out into the field. It's mostly the U.S. forces out into the field. And there isn't that much counterinsurgency capability or anything on the part of the NATO forces. Why do the NATO forces go with so many caveats?

RASMUSSEN: Well, I agree with General McChrystal. And I had an opportunity to discuss all these things with him some weeks ago. I agree with him, and I think we should focus on a more population-centric strategy to win...

AMANPOUR: What does that mean?

RASMUSSEN: ... to win hearts and minds of the Afghan people. It means that we should focus much more on delivery of basic services to the Afghan people.

AMANPOUR: Because even that, after eight years, is painfully slow. There has been some progress, but it's painfully slow. What is it going to take to get all these people, troops, those in the civilian sector, out into the field and help them and authorize them to do more?

RASMUSSEN: Yes, a new strategy in accordance with what McChrystal has suggested, but also a credible Afghan government. We must hold the Afghan government accountable. We must ensure that they deliver basic services to their people. We must ensure that they step up their fight against corruption, just to mention something.

AMANPOUR: And do you believe that you will have a credible Afghan government to deal with?

RASMUSSEN: I think so. Now it's for the Afghan authorities to conclude the electoral process, but we need a rapid conclusion of this electoral process, and we need a credible government, and we need a government which is prepared to govern in an inclusive way. We need a reconciliation process in Afghanistan, provided that it is Afghan-led, that the government can negotiate on the basis of strength, and that all parties involved will respect the Afghan constitution.

AMANPOUR: I want to ask you this. There is a very, very small percentage of Afghans -- somewhere in the region of 6 percent to 8 percent -- who support the Taliban. The rest support the idea of progress and -- and -- and their government.

But the Taliban, according to many people -- or, rather, the Afghan people are losing their patience with NATO, they're losing their faith in NATO, and they are confused about NATO and U.S. resolve to stay the course. What can you do to convince the Afghan people that you are who they should be betting on, and not the Taliban?

RASMUSSEN: Yes, two things. Firstly, to make sure they understand that we will stay committed. And I have repeatedly said that we will stay as long as it takes to finish the job. They can count on us.

Secondly, they need improvement of basic services. They need to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And this is the reason why I focus on the transition to Afghan lead in a credible way.

AMANPOUR: Secretary General, thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

We have lots more on this story on our Web site,, and you can also vote in our poll there, our unscientific survey. Can the Taliban be defeated?

In a moment, we'll have an exclusive interview about Afghanistan, continuing this discussion with Spain's prime minister, and why he's sending more troops.



JOSE LUIS RODRIGUEZ ZAPATERO, PRIME MINISTER, SPAIN (through translator): I think Spain's participation in war has been a total error. That was not the way to intervene in war. I think it's an error.


AMANPOUR: And that was 2004, and he may have called Iraq an error, but the Spanish leader is committed to Afghanistan. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero joins me now for an exclusive interview.

Welcome. What makes Afghanistan worth fighting for, where Iraq, you said, was not?

JOSE LUIS RODRIGUEZ ZAPATERO, PRIME MINISTER, SPAIN (through translator): In Iraq, it was a cause for a military intervention which wasn't real, wasn't true. Iraq, there was a decision of the international community, and Iraq, there wasn't an international legality, whereas Afghanistan has a clear cause, the support against the Taliban movement, who promoted the Islamic movement.

Afghanistan united the international community. And Afghanistan had the green light of the United Nations. So these are two situations that are completely different.

AMANPOUR: Are you concerned that NATO is losing in Afghanistan? Do you think NATO is losing?

ZAPATERO (through translator): Well, I think that we need to have a bit of a perspective here, because now it's true that we've had a few difficult weeks and months, but this has also coincided with the electoral process. We've had better times.

I think that NATO has sufficient capacity to achieve security and peace in Afghanistan. But NATO is not the only element that has to win in Afghanistan. It's diplomacy, politics, development, cooperation. They all have to win in Afghanistan in order to give an extremely poor condition, a very difficult country, prospectus for the future.

AMANPOUR: You said you think NATO has enough resources. You have seen, presumably, the assessment that has been leaked, drawn up by General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and ISAF commander on the ground, basically saying that it would require more forces in order for the Taliban to be defeated and success. Do you agree with that?

ZAPATERO (through translator): Yes. There is a need to strengthen security and the number of troops. Spain agreed this week in the parliament -- it's going to be discussed. An agreement will be reached on the (inaudible) 220 soldiers (ph). We'll also send troops (ph) to strengthen police forces, to strengthen the training of the Afghan police forces.

There might be a need to increase the presence of troops. But what is important is that, to the military actions, political actions also take place. Politics, policy and cooperation, we need a larger strategy. And I'm not referring only to Afghanistan. I'm referring to a much larger strategy in the international order.

Now, if we progress in the peace process, in the Middle East -- I have great hopes of President Obama to carry out this task -- then, I think that we'll see stable, secure and democratic Afghanistan. If we manage to achieve peace in the Middle East, in many parts of the world where Islamic radicalism has expanded, we will see how we recover stability in those regions.

AMANPOUR: Prime Minister, many people think that. On the other hand, that is a long-term process, as we've seen. And the general on the ground in charge of this war says that, if there are not more troops, within 12 months, it will be very, very difficult to reverse the success and the gains made by the Taliban insurgency. Is this a matter of urgency for you, for Spain?

ZAPATERO (through translator): Well, yes. Now we're going to send more troops. It's true that recently many other countries have (inaudible) troops, but I'm sure that NATO will assess the exact needs that we have in the immediate future. But I insist, we can send more troops, but if there's not also a corresponding political, strategic action, global, certainly it will cost us a lot more to finally have an Afghanistan that is -- a situation of stability.

AMANPOUR: Can I ask you about troops? Obviously, Spain has sent them in the region of 1,200. But Spain has an army roughly the size of the British army, and yet the British send 10 times more troops than Spain has sent. Why this disparity? Why have you not sent more? Because more are required, and more are required not just to be in headquarters, but to be out and about in the population.

ZAPATERO (through translator): We have given a number of soldiers around the world in U.N. missions, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and other countries, but it possibly corresponds (ph) to what we represent as a country in the international context and within the United Nations. Traditionally, we've been one of the countries that has participated in most the U.N. peace missions, participated, and so I think that we have achieved a reasonable level of participation regarding our size (inaudible) to our size as a country.

And we're one of the countries that have (inaudible) most cooperation right now in those countries that are subject to conflicts, to wars, that require a lot of help. So that's why Spain not only sends soldiers, not only do we offer security by repelling attacks in Afghanistan, we're also doing a lot of work building bridges, building roads. We've built a hospital. We've sent drinkable water to 20,000 inhabitants.

So we're offering development. If there's not security, there's no development. And logically, that development requires security.

AMANPOUR: And what will you say -- you're -- you're going to have your bilateral meeting with President Obama on October 13th in Washington. What will you tell him about Afghanistan? Will you recommend that there should be more troops there to do all the things that you've just said, including the political track?

ZAPATERO (through translator): Well, the truth is that I'm going to insist a lot more on the political side of things and everything that affects the strategic vision that we should have in the international order, especially -- with special reference to the Middle East. President Obama knows, as well as NATO knows, that Spain is committed to Afghanistan, that we're going to continue being committed, now we've increased the number of troops there. Financial efforts, economic efforts are there, as well.

But on the 13th of October with President Obama, what I'm going to do is I'm going to try to speak a lot more about the horizon we have, the political strategy that we should have in all this -- this area to fight against radical Islamism.

We need to isolate radicals. We need to create a great alliance with moderate Islam, with the enormous majority of Arabic countries. So I've promoted together with the Turkish government the Alliance of Civilization as a great center to promote and to expand the culture of understanding, try to isolate radical elements that way, because whether we like it or not, behind a large part of the conflicts that we're facing nowadays, there's a disencounter (ph) of cultures and civilizations.

AMANPOUR: Indirectly, the attacks in Madrid of March 2002, I believe it was, led to your election. Do you think Spain is safe now from that kind of terrorism?

ZAPATERO (through translator): No one is safe from that type of terrorism. It was 2004, and it was three days before the election. It's true, the first elections I won. I received the confidence again from Spanish citizens in March of 2008. So no one's free of this craziness that this represents, putting a bomb or having a suicide attack. All the international community is responsible of committing itself in the fight against terrorism.

But all of the international community, as well, needs to be intelligent enough to know that we need to extend it a culture of understanding, of respect to civilizations of different religions, and we need to isolate as much as possible all radical movements that are fanatics that just lead to terrorism.

AMANPOUR: Prime Minister, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us. Appreciate you being here.

ZAPATERO (through translator): No, the pleasure is mine, being here in this interview with you. Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.

And our discussion on Afghanistan doesn't end here. Today, we're launching our online collaboration with Debategraph. That breaks down the issues and stories into visual maps and lets you join the argument. So go to our Facebook page at for details.

Thank you for watching. We'll be back tomorrow with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. We'll be looking at the struggle for peace in the Middle East. And we'll talk to the key Middle East players, as well. For all of us here, goodbye from New York.