Return to Transcripts main page


Presidential Address: The Afghanistan Decision

Aired June 22, 2011 - 19:45   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're only a few minutes away from a pivotal moment for President Obama and for the nation. The commander- in-chief about to outline his plan for withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan. This could be the beginning of the end of America's longest war.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Anderson Cooper in New York.

A senior administration official telling us the president will announce that he's ordering all 30,000 surge troops to leave Afghanistan by the end of September 2012, just before the presidential election.

BLITZER: That will still leave about 70,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the surge troops, as they're called, depart when the president appears in the White House East Room in a few moments. He'll be walking a very careful line, trying to balance national security and American public opinion, as polls show Americans increasingly tired of the war and its very high cost.

Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Brianna Keilar is standing by.

Brianna, set the stage for us.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the headline certainly is the numbers. And we do know ahead of the president's remarks from a senior administration official that the breakdown is like this: 10,000 surge troops home by the end of this year, 2011. And then the remainder, 23,000 more troops, home by the end of summer 2012, no later than September we're told.

And what we should be expecting the president to do is really make his case. And we've been hearing White House officials doing this for days, justifying why this drawdown is OK.

And among the reasons, we're really expecting him to go back to the remarks that he made in December of 2009, announcing these surge troops and try to make his point that he's accomplished the objectives he laid out namely to really put a dent in al Qaeda, which he'll, of course, point to the killing of Osama bin Laden in that. And also as one of his goals said, to curb the momentum of the Taliban, also preparing Afghan security forces and the government to take the lead.

But, Wolf, I think you can't miss the fact that there are still challenges when it comes to Afghan security forces, and also, one of the ways the president said he would accomplish this goal is cooperation with Pakistan, knowing that success in Afghanistan is linked to the relationship with Pakistan, which is arguably in a very difficult situation right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: And as he pointed out in that speech that you referenced, at West Point back in December of 2009, when he took office, from the Bush administration, there were 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Now, there are about 100,000 U.S. troops, another 40,000 NATO troops. He effectively really doubled down in Afghanistan on the counterinsurgency strategy that was initiated to a certain degree by President Bush.

KEILAR: He has said that it was a forgotten war and that while there were so many troops in Iraq, there was slipping success in Afghanistan and it really needed to be addressed where certainly the planning for the 9/11 attacks went. And so, he justified that, adding extra troops, saying that more troops could go in shortly after he was elected, Wolf, and then also with that announcement of surge troops in December of 2009. At the same time announcing that surge, he announced that next month, July, would be the time that he would be bringing them home.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar at the White House, stand by.

Anderson, I'll be anxious to hear if the president in his remarks tonight actually addresses the cost to American taxpayers of maintaining tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

COOPER: Yes. And also, all the wasted money that has gone missing in Afghanistan and been squandered over the years. The president is anticipated to speak in about seven or eight minutes from now. We believe in the East Room of the White House.

The president has been getting plenty of advice and pressure from members of Congress. The war fatigue reaching across party lines.

Joining us is our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

There really is, it seems, even on the Republican side, among some quarters, especially in the Tea Party movement, a growing fatigue with this war that's gone on now for some 10 years.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's absolutely is, among Tea Party-backed Republicans and even among some veteran Republicans I talked to today, who are simply saying that they are hearing from their constituents back home, Anderson, that they've had enough. That it is time to bring the troops home.

But, you definitely I think get a sense that this is kind of a Goldilocks strategy that the president is pushing forward here, that he just thinks he's doing it just right because he does have both Republicans and Democrats here in Congress. It's a growing number, but both of them saying that it is just -- it's not enough. That he needs to bring many more troops home than he's going to say tonight.

On the other hand, you have Republicans and Democrats saying that they believe that he's going too far, and that it is too precipitous, and that he needs to listen to commanders and military officers who, we are told, think this is going too far in terms of the number of troops he's going to announce that he wants to come home.

COOPER: Dana, on Capitol Hill, we've also seen some heated debates just in the last two days or so. Joe Manchin from West Virginia made a statement in which he talked about an accelerated bringing home of troops from Afghanistan. John McCain quickly responded to that, basically saying he was uninformed.

BASH: And it just shows you the split here and again it is not by party. It really depends on the person. There really is a split within both parties on how this is shaking out, when it comes to how many troops should come home.

But you can't underestimate the argument that Joe Manchin was making, which is I heard from many, many Republicans and Democrats, which is the cost, not just in lives, which is obviously important, but in money at a time when Congress is trying to slash funding and they're trying to make as much money as they can count towards things that matter here at home. It's harder for them to justify spending $10 billion a month in Afghanistan.

COOPER: Dana Bash, we'll be talking to you right after the president's speech. And again, that's in about seven minutes or so.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is standing by for us at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

Nick, how does the drawdown impact operations on the ground?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Interesting you ask that, Anderson. I mean, the numbers we're talking about sound --

COOPER: We're obviously having some technical problems with Nick, as you can imagine. Not often easy coming from Afghanistan live.

Joining us now is our Candy Crowley, as well as CNN chief political correspondent.

Candy, what do you see this speech as a result of? I mean, how much of this is the result of election year politics? How much of it is facts on the ground?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Listen, I think every American, reporters included, hope this is about facts on the ground. We can't tell what the political intent is, but we can tell what the political implication is. There always are going to be political implications to any decision a president makes in what is a presidential election cycle.

It will mean by the summer before the November election next year, the extra troops that the president put in the so-called surge, those 33,000, will be out of Afghanistan. You hear a lot from the White House these days and from the president's campaign about the word "trajectory." And they say, well, if unemployment is headed down, if the trajectory is right, then people will feel better about the economy and that will help the president.

As far as Afghanistan is concerned, if they can convince the American people that the war really is winding down, even though they'll have 68,000 troops, twice as many almost as when the president took office, 68,000 troops still remaining in Afghanistan, they believe if folks are convinced come election time a year from November, that the war in Afghanistan is winding down, that the trajectory is good, then that will help him.

But you will hear the White House say over and over again, this has to do with the fact that we have done what the president set out to do with these surge numbers. You don't hear them talk about politics. It doesn't mean it won't affect politics.

COOPER: I want to bring in our David Gergen who's standing by with me as well.

You know, David, it's interesting. Joe Klein had an article saying, you know, this is going to be portrayed as bringing out those surge troops. But at least in the initial troops that are being brought out, it's actually a lot of the troops, sort of, noncombat troops -- troops who were there to build facilities for the surge troops who were coming in.

GERGEN: It appears we'll get confirmation in the speech. These initial troops coming out are support troops.

COOPER: Right.

GERGEN: They're not combat troops.

What General Petraeus had wanted was combat troops to stay not only this fighting season but next fighting season, too. He didn't get that. And he really wanted to reduce -- he wanted to bring out 3,000 to 5,000.

COOPER: So, does that mean in your mind that this is about politics or is this about a change in perspective from the president in terms of, kind of, moving away from counterinsurgency strategy?

GERGEN: I think it's very much the latter. In the West Point speech in 2009, he embraced the counterinsurgency strategy. He's clearly now moving away from that, in what's called counterterrorism, which require fewer troops on the ground.

Importantly, it's also a shift in terms of who won inside the debate of the White House. Last time around, General Petraeus and Bob Gates and Hillary Clinton won. They put the surge in. This time, they appeared to have lost and Joe Biden won. People want to get out faster.

COOPER: Let's go back to Wolf in Washington.

Wolf, we're about two or three minutes away.

BLITZER: Yes, the president of the United States is certainly going to reiterate what he said at that West Point speech about the mission. He's going to go through specifics of what he said then and then said on many of those specifics, there has been enormous progress.

Let me bring in Gloria Borger. But Candy Crowley -- let me bring Candy first.

Candy, very quickly right now, he can't declare mission accomplished though yet.

CROWLEY: No, certainly not in those words. And he can't say that because otherwise he would have to explain why he's going to keep as of next summer 68,000 troops there. No, he can't. He can say the surge has worked. We're on our way. We're on the right trajectory.

BLITZER: This is a moment that a lot of people have been waiting for and none more so than the U.S. military personnel, men and women in Afghanistan and their families back here in the United States.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. We're standing by to go to the White House -- the White House. The president of the United States is going to be delivering what we expect to be about a 10-minute address to the nation on a scheduled drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Gloria Borger is with us as well.

Gloria, as the president prepares for this, the stakes not only for the men and women serving in Afghanistan but for U.S. taxpayers, for the U.S. strategic position in that part of the world, enormous right now.

BORGER: Yes, it is. And I don't think we can say that this decision was made based on any one particular reason. But when you look at the entire environment, you look at the economy, you look at the political pressures, you look at the cost of the war, you look at the debt that we're facing, it's clear that this is a president who gambled on a surge back in December 2009.

And now he's going to come out and say the surge has worked. And from talking to people at the White House, they're going to say this is a president who told you what he was going to do and then he did it and he certainly had a degree of success at it.

BLITZER: They've been working very, very hard on this speech. The president and all his top national security advisers. They've gone through it on multiple occasions over the past few days. The president made that final decision on a troop withdrawal -- an initial troop withdrawal of 10,000 U.S. troops this year and all of the remaining U.S. surge troops by September of next year. The president will be walking into the East Room of the White House. There you see him right now. And he will be addressing the nation indeed. He'll be addressing the world. So let's listen into the president right now.


Nearly 10 years ago, America suffered the worst attack on our shores since Pearl Harbor. This mass murder was planned by Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaida network in Afghanistan and signaled a new threat to our security, one in which the targets were no longer soldiers on a battlefield, but innocent men, women and children going about their daily lives. In the days that followed, our nation was united as we struck at Al Qaida and routed the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Then, our focus shifted. A second war was launched in Iraq, and we spent enormous blood and treasure to support a new government there. By the time I took office, the war in Afghanistan had entered its seventh year, but Al Qaida's leaders had escaped into Pakistan and were plotting new attacks, while the Taliban had regrouped and gone on the offensive. Without a new strategy and decisive action, our military commanders warned that we could face a resurgent Al Qaida and a Taliban taking over large parts of Afghanistan.

For this reason, in one of the most difficult decisions that I've made as president, I ordered an additional 30,000 American troops into Afghanistan. When I announced this surge at West Point, we set clear objectives: to refocus on Al Qaida; to reverse the Taliban's momentum; and train Afghan security forces to defend their own country. I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open- ended and that we would begin to drawdown our forces this July.

Tonight, I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment. Thanks to our extraordinary men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals. As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point.

After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.

We're starting this drawdown from a position of strength. Al Qaida is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11. Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of Al Qaida's leadership. And thanks to our intelligence professionals and special forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that Al Qaida had ever known. This was a victory for all who have served since 9/11.

One soldier summed it up well. "The message," he said, "is we don't forget. You will be held accountable, no matter how long it takes." The information that we recovered from bin Laden's compound shows al Qaeda under enormous strain. Bin Laden expressed concern that al Qaeda has been unable to effectively replace senior terrorists that have been killed, and that al Qaeda has failed in its effort to portray America as a nation at war with Islam -- thereby draining more widespread support. Al Qaeda remains dangerous, and we must be vigilant against attacks. But we have put al Qaeda on a path to defeat, and we will not relent until the job is done.

In Afghanistan, we've inflicted serious losses on the Taliban and taken a number of its strongholds. Along with our surge, our allies also increased their commitments, which helped stabilize more of the country. Afghan Security Forces have grown by over 100,000 troops, and in some provinces and municipalities we have already begun to transition responsibility for security to the Afghan people. In the face of violence and intimidation, Afghans are fighting and dying for their country, establishing local police forces, opening markets and schools, creating new opportunities for women and girls, and trying to turn the page on decades of war.

Of course, huge challenges remain. This is the beginning -- but not the end -- of our effort to wind down this war. We will have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we have made, while we drawdown our forces and transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government. And next May, in Chicago, we will host a summit with our NATO allies and partners to shape the next phase of this transition.

We do know that peace cannot come to a land that has known so much war without a political settlement. So as we strengthen the Afghan government and Security Forces, America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban. Our position on these talks is clear: they must be led by the Afghan government, and those who want to be a part of a peaceful Afghanistan must break from al Qaeda, abandon violence, and abide by the Afghan Constitution. But, in part because of our military effort, we have reason to believe that progress can be made.

The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply: no safe-haven from which al Qaeda or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland, or our allies. We will not try to make Afghanistan a perfect place. We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely. That is the responsibility of the Afghan government, which must step up its ability to protect its people; and move from an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace. What we can do, and will do, is build a partnership with the Afghan people that endures -- one that ensures that we will be able to continue targeting terrorists and supporting a sovereign Afghan government.

Of course, our efforts must also address terrorist safe-havens in Pakistan. No country is more endangered by the presence of violent extremists, which is why we will continue to press Pakistan to expand its participation in securing a more peaceful future for this war-torn region. We will work with the Pakistani government to root out the cancer of violent extremism, and we will insist that it keep its commitments. For there should be no doubt that so long as I am President, the United States will never tolerate a safe-haven for those who aim to kill us: they cannot elude us, nor escape the justice they deserve.

My fellow Americans, this has been a difficult decade for our country. We have learned anew the profound cost of war -- a cost that has been paid by the nearly 4,500 Americans who have given their lives in Iraq, and the over 1500 who have done so in Afghanistan -- men and women who will not live to enjoy the freedom that they defended. Thousands more have been wounded. Some have lost limbs on the field of battle, and others still battle the demons that have followed them home.

Yet tonight, we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding. Fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm's way. We have ended our combat mission in Iraq, with 100,000 American troops already out of that country. And even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance. These long wars will come to a responsible end.

As they do, we must learn their lessons. Already this decade of war has caused many to question the nature of America's engagement around the world. Some would have America retreat from our responsibility as an anchor of global security, and embrace an isolation that ignores the very real threats that we face. Others would have America overextend ourselves, confronting every evil that can be found abroad.

We must chart a more centered course. Like generations before, we must embrace America's singular role in the course of human events. But we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute. When threatened, we must respond with force. But when that force can be targeted, we need not deploy large armies overseas. When innocents are being slaughtered and global security endangered, we don't have to choose between standing idly by or acting on our own.

Instead, we must rally international action, which we are doing in Libya, where we do not have a single soldier on the ground, but are supporting allies in protecting the Libyan people and giving them the chance to determine their destiny.

In all that we do, we must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power -- it is the principles upon which our union was founded. We are a nation which brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens. We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others. We stand not for empire, but for self-determination. That is why we have a stake in the democratic aspirations that are now washing across the Arab World. We will support those revolutions with fidelity to our ideals, with the power of our example, and with an unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity.

Above all, we are a nation whose strength abroad has been anchored in opportunity for our citizens at home. Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America's greatest resource -- our people. We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industry, while living within our means. We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy. And most of all, after a decade of passionate debate, we must recapture the common purpose that we shared at the beginning of this time of war. For our nation draws strength from our differences, and when our union is strong no hill is too steep and no horizon is beyond our reach.

America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home. In this effort, we draw inspiration from our fellow Americans who have sacrificed so much on our behalf. To our troops, our veterans and their families, I speak for all Americans when I say that we will keep our sacred trust with you, and provide you with the care, and benefits and opportunity that you deserve.

I met some of those patriotic Americans at Fort Campbell. A while back, I spoke to the 101st Airborne that has fought to turn the tide in Afghanistan, and to the team that took out Osama bin Laden. Standing in front of a model of bin Laden's compound, the Navy SEAL who led that effort paid tribute to those who had been lost, brothers and sisters in arms whose names are now written on bases where our troops stand guard overseas, and on headstones in quiet corners of our country where their memory will never be forgotten. This officer -- like so many others I have met with on bases, in Baghdad and Bagram, and at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital -- spoke with humility about how his unit worked together as one -- depending on each other and trusting one another, as a family might do in a time of peril.

That's a lesson worth remembering -- that we are all a part of one American family. Though we have known disagreement and division, we are bound together by the creed that is written into our founding documents, and a conviction that the United States of America is a country that can achieve whatever it sets out to accomplish.

Now, let us finish the work at hand. Let us responsibly end these wars, and reclaim the American Dream that is at the center of our story. With confidence in our cause, with faith in our fellow citizens and with hope in our hearts, let us go about the work of extending the promise of America -- for this generation, and the next. May God bless our troops. And may God bless the United States of America.

BLITZER: A short but upbeat speech by the president of the United States suggesting that things are definitely moving in the right direction in Afghanistan.

We have a lot to digest over the course of this hour. Anderson Cooper is here. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

COOPER: Yes, and we're bringing you reaction to the president's speech here in the United States and also around the world as only CNN can. Nick Paton Walsh is standing by for us in Afghanistan, our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is in London, our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence and our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash are standing by in Washington as well. Let's go back -- let's go to CNN's Nick Paton Walsh at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

Nick, in terms of the impact of this initial -- he's saying 10,000 troops by the end of 2011, a total of 33,000 troops by the summer of 2012. What kind of impact does that have on the ground?

WALSH: Well, I have to say, I mean, minimal I think by the end of this year. Ten thousand is about 7 percent of the total force here.

But I'm listening to the tone of that speech. A president trying to sound healing talking about the tide of war ending. Now that doesn't really tally with the violence we've been seeing here. May the deadliest month for NATO soldiers since the campaign began. As some reports suggesting violence across the country building year on year, month on month.

This speech very much for a domestic audience. You've got to bear in mind also that he's not talking about bringing a large number of troops home very fast. There is clearly issues here which require two-thirds of that surge to stay on until pretty late in 2012, Anderson. So I think a lot to digest there as we're saying.

COOPER: And in terms of the schedule of fighting, there -- many in the military had wanted really the combat forces to remain as long as they can, certainly before the -- as long as there's not snow on the ground. Traditionally the fighting there ebbs once snow has come on the ground, correct?

WALSH: Absolutely. I mean, 10,000 talked about initially are probably still going to be here until this planting season is over and then we have two-thirds of that surge staying until September next year.

September really, that's when most of the violence begins to slow down. October when the snows set in. November really. So yes, I think the military are getting two new -- two more fighting seasons here in which they can try to build on the gains the outgoing secretary of defense Robert Gates has talked about.

And I think the hope here is that pressure is sustained and they can somehow force the Taliban who frankly at the moment, though, don't really seem to be that keen on serious negotiations force the Taliban to the peace table -- Anderson.

COOPER: Let's go back to Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Wolf, we did hear from the president a number of kind of upbeat phrases saying, we put al Qaeda on a path to defeat. The tide of war is receding. And he did talk about the finances that we've spent $1 million in wars and now it's time to refocus on the United States and do nation building here at home.

BLITZER: Yes, he said the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan over these past 10 years spent more than $1 trillion fighting those wars that he said now -- as you say the direct quote, and I'll read it to our viewers, "America, it's time to focus on nation building here at home."

Let's bring in Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. He's a key member of the Armed Services Committee. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: I suspect you liked what you heard from this president.

GRAHAM: Not particularly.

BLITZER: What didn't you like?

GRAHAM: Well, I liked the idea that we may have an enduring relationship past 2014, where we have American air bases, joint bases, that can make sure the Taliban never come back. But--

BLITZER: Did you hear him say that all U.S. troops would be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014?

GRAHAM: Here's what I think the story is. Petraeus loses, Biden wins. And I respect the vice president, but I think we have undercut a strategy that was working. I think the 10,000 troops leaving this year is going to make this fighting season more difficult. Having all of the surge forces leave by next summer is going to compromise next summer's fighting season.

BLITZER: There will still be 70,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

GRAHAM: But I think we're creating momentum to undercut the counterinsurgency strategy, and we're going to counterterrorism strategy too soon. And here's what I worry. Will our allies follow suit? Will they say America is leaving in large numbers by next summer, will they accelerate their footprint in terms of leaving? Will Republicans say I had a lot of confidence in General Petraeus's plan, but this adjustment in my view makes General Petraeus's original plan harder to achieve, unnecessarily risky, and will they say if we're going to not be successful, let's end it sooner.

BLITZER: Because even White House officials say that there are only between 50 to 75, maybe 100 al Qaeda terrorists in all of Afghanistan right now. Maybe 25,000, if that, Taliban fighters, 100,000 U.S. troops going down to 70,000 by the end of next summer. 40,000 NATO troops. There are 300,000 Afghan troops and police trained by the United States and NATO. How many troops do you need to fight 25,000 Taliban fighters?

GRAHAM: Lindsey Graham is not the best person to tell you that. General Petraeus is. This is the man who I think has earned the respect of all of Americans. If his judgment was overruled in a substantial way, I think that's a huge mistake.

I'm not a military commander. I'm a military lawyer. I know that Senator Obama was dead wrong about Iraq. I know that Senator Biden was dead wrong about Iraq. And what I fear -- and I'm not sure that this is going to become a reality -- is that because of the war weariness of this country, that we have taken a strategy that I had a lot of confidence in and compromised it in a way that I think may have eventually doomed it to fail.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia told me earlier today. And it's relevant especially in the light of what the president said, that it's time to focus on nation building in America as opposed to nation building in Afghanistan. Listen to Manchin.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Let me tell you the numbers that I have heard and I have seen, has been given to me. We spent 443 billion to date. We're on track to spend another 485 billion, Wolf. That's almost $1 trillion. Now, I can tell you, we can ill afford that type of expenditure and basically have a country that doesn't have an economy, that doesn't have an infrastructure, and by all accounts has a corrupt leader. You can't continue down this road and think you're going to get success.


BLITZER: He's saying another half a trillion dollars between now and the end of 2014. Is that money well spent by U.S. taxpayers?

GRAHAM: After the Russians left Afghanistan, the Taliban took over. They took women in soccer stadiums and killed them for sport. They invited bin Laden as the honored guest and we looked the other way. They blew up statues of Buddha figures. And out of that, 20 hijackers were given less than $1 million to kill 3,000 Americans. How much money have we spent since 9/11--

BLITZER: You don't think that Hamid Karzai, the democratically elected president of Afghanistan, and his 300 military and police forces are capable of preventing that scenario from recurring?

GRAHAM: I think General Petraeus had a strategy of transition that made sense to me. I think the president rejected a modest withdrawal in 2011, that he's accelerated withdrawal in 2011 and '12 that could compromise our ability to maintain the gains we have fought so hard. The Afghan security forces are better, but not yet able to sustain the fight without our help. NATO allies are more likely to leave at a faster pace now. Republicans may look at this as a rejection of Petraeus. And at the end of the day, no politician in this country -- as much as I respect Joe Biden and President Obama -- has it right in terms of Afghanistan.

Joe Manchin is a fine fellow. He's never been to Afghanistan. I've been there many times.

BLITZER: Yes, he has. He says he's been there twice.

GRAHAM: OK. I take that back.

BLITZER: He was there in 2006 and 2011.

GRAHAM: Well, let me tell you, I've been there a lot, and I have seen with my own eyes how things have gotten better. And I can tell you that if we don't keep the momentum -- the fight is in the south, it's better. We've got problems in the east. And I worry that this accelerated drawdown that General Petraeus did not recommend may have the consequences of undermining a very successful strategy.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope the president is right.

BLITZER: I just want to point out because White House officials, administration officials--

GRAHAM: I hope I'm wrong.

BLITZER: -- say that within the range of what General Petraeus was OK with, the president came down within that range. Although I suspect that he came down a lot closer to what Biden wanted, as opposed to what General Petraeus wanted. I think you're right on that. But they will say that Petraeus is on board. We'll hear from him. You'll have a chance to hear his testimony, because he's going to be the next CIA director.

GRAHAM: Lindsey Graham -- Lindsey Graham doesn't enjoy war. Lindsey Graham would like everybody to come home as soon as we can, but I never want to go back.

What we leave behind will be our ultimate judge of our national security. I want to leave behind a functioning national security footprint, Afghan troops that can sustain their own security.

I'm afraid we may have compromised two fighting seasons at a time when it wasn't necessary, and time will tell. I hope I'm wrong. I pray I'm wrong.

BLITZER: Thanks for your service. I know you have served in the U.S. Air Force Reserves in Afghanistan as well.

GRAHAM: I have done very little. I have done very little.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Senator Graham, for coming in.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's go back to Anderson -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, I want to bring in our team here. CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen from Washington, chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and here in New York with me our CNN senior political analyst David Gergen.

David, what did you make of the speech? I saw you nodding your head when Lindsey Graham said Joe Biden won, Petraeus lost.

GERGEN: I thought he was right. Even though I disagree with some of the policy decisions I thought it was a very good speech. I thought he summarized very well what he believes. And you know, I thought he was concise and he made his points. He didn't hold back any punches.

COOPER: For those who aren't following so closely, indeed -- work is at the White House, why is this a Joe Biden win and Petraeus loss in your opinion?

GERGEN: Sure. Well, back in 2009 when the president went to West Point and he announced the surge, that was widely interpreted -- and it was understood that Joe Biden had argued for a small surge, not a big surge of 30,000. And General Petraeus and Bob Gates and Secretary Clinton all argued for the larger number. In fact they would even have gone larger. But that was seen as a victory for Petraeus.

COOPER: A larger number which was essential in their opinion for a counterinsurgency program --


COOPER: -- which would allow people not only to move in troops, clear an area but actually hold that area.

GERGEN: Right. Exactly.


GERGEN: The Taliban who had been giving protection to al Qaeda and allowed them sanctuary and brought on 9/11 had the momentum in 2009 and President Obama to his credit I think announced a surge. Now that surge has worked very well. And I think the president deserves a lot of credit for that. It has reversed the momentum.

And then the debate now has been well, everybody wants to wind this down but how rapidly to wind it down. And there was now a divisions within the administration in which Petraeus and Gates and Clinton were arguing let's do this slowly, let's have two more fighting seasons, this season and next year, and Joe Biden, it's been widely reported, was arguing for something faster.

And this is much closer to the Biden position which is the reason why -- it was one thing, what is this fighting season? How long is it?

Joe Klein, you mentioned Joe Klein earlier tonight. And Joe Klein said the fighting season begins in the spring when they finish harvesting the opium and it ends in the fall when they need to be harvesting of the marijuana.

COOPER: Great.

GERGEN: That's the fighting season.

COOPER: Yes. Tells you a lot about Afghanistan.

GERGEN: Yes, sure. COOPER: Peter Bergen, what did you make of the president's speech and what kind of an impact do you think this troop reduction over time will have?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you know, I was looking -- listening to the speech for news -- I mean w all knew it's been widely reported what the drawdown was going to be. So I mean the two bits of news in there that I thought sprang out were one, that the information recovered from the bin Laden compound indicated that al Qaeda was having a lot of problems and recognized that they were having a lot of problems replacing their leadership and that they were really under pressure.

And secondly that they realized that their ability to cast the United States as at war with Islam is something that was an idea, an al Qaeda idea that wasn't getting much purchase around the Muslim world.

And I think the final thing that sort of leapt out at me at the speech, you know, our relations with Pakistan are so, so -- have been so embittered over the last several months and weeks. And I think it was important that the president said that we -- you know, half of the top leaders in al Qaeda have been killed or captured with the help of the Pakistanis which I think is something the Pakistanis will notice and will be grateful for, and I think it was the right thing to say and the accurate thing to say.

In terms of the effect that the drawdown of 33,000 will have with 68,000 left, you know, I'm not a military expert. But I was talking to people at the White House today. They say there are three things essentially that will continue with the 68,000.

First of all, the training of the Afghan National Army, which is our ticket out of there. The very effective special forces operations that have decimated the middle management of the Taliban and have been one of the reasons that they were inclined to negotiate.

And finally something that is not that well known but I think is quite important in Afghanistan is the Afghan local police and -- which is a new program, which is U.S. special forces helping to train essentially tribal militias which has proven to be something the Taliban are very threatened by because these militias are being recruited in the Pashtun heartlands of the Taliban.

And it's the view of the White House officials involved in this review and decision process that 68,000 soldiers will allow those three important sort of tactics to move forward without much impact on the overall situation.

COOPER: And Gloria, politically, where do you see this -- how do you see this playing out? I mean you can't avoid the political implications of all this.

BORGER: No, you can't. And it's sort of playing out right now in real time, Anderson, because we have statements from -- for example, Nancy Pelosi who is disappointed in the president. I think she -- if the president had come out and said, I'd like to withdrawal all the troops from Afghanistan, clearly she would be happier. But then you have statements from someone like Jon Huntsman, Republican presidential candidate, who also seems to want a swifter withdrawal from Afghanistan.

So you see that whether you're a Republican presidential candidate or a liberal Democrat, you may not be hopeful for this -- with this.

I was listening to Lindsey Graham and I was thinking, you know, he may well be in the minority among his own party because his own party right now is governed by the people who are looking at the deficit, who are looking at the huge debt in this country, and they are like Joe Manchin. They don't want to spend this money and that's -- you know that's on the Republican side.

Another thing strikes me, and this was a little vague. The president talked about our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace through 2014. What does that mean?

The Secretary of Defense Gates issued a statement in support of the president, but talked about how this gives the commanders enough flexibility to bring the surge to a successful conclusion.

Well, what is that flexibility? This has been left kind of vague. We don't know what kind of troops are coming out between 2012 and 2014 and what pace they are going to come out.

COOPER: Back to Wolf in Washington.

BLITZER: All right, Anderson. Thanks. We have a lot more to dissect and digest. A huge step though towards getting U.S. forces to start leaving Afghanistan in significant numbers.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, he's standing by. He'll map out some of the major challenges ahead. He's seen firsthand the problems the Afghan people will face when the American troops leave.



OBAMA: Thanks to our extraordinary men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and many coalition forces, we are meeting our goals.

As a result starting next month, we'll be able to remove 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year and we'll bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer. Fully recovering the surge I announced at west point.


BLITZER: President Obama just a little while ago announcing those marching orders for those 33,000 troops to be out of Afghanistan by the end of September 2012.

But some 70,000 U.S. troops will remain behind in a troubled country struggling to try to police itself. Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence who spent a lot of time in Afghanistan over these years. This is not an easy mission by any means.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: No, Wolf. I mean, let's talk end game. The U.S. has to be able to leave an Afghanistan in which the people can at least tolerate their government and don't think it's rotten to the core.

They also have to have a minimal security force that can at least provide some sort of security to the people. Going to Afghanistan over multiple times over the last few years, I got a sense firsthand of how difficult just those two things will be.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): At one outpost, I saw the Afghan police took plates out of their body armor and use it to cook food on. Some recruits were so hot they couldn't stand up straight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are some who can't wait to get up and work with us.

LAWRENCE (on camera): So the further they get away from their command --


LAWRENCE: The lazier they are. The harder it is to get them going.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sometimes.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): I wonder how much the Afghans can pay for themselves when the U.S. dollars stop flowing.

(on camera): Look at the condition of this building. It's typical for some of the outposts for the Afghan national police out here. Weapons, communication equipment, you name it they're lacking it.

(voice-over): And then there's corruption.

(on camera): The Afghan people will often tell us things that totally contradict what some official is saying. Entire neighborhoods will tell us Afghan officials can't be trusted.

One of the things that really affected me was seeing the impact of the government's corruption. People living in these mud homes on the side of a mountain paid several small fees to get water and electricity. The government gave them neither.

(END VIDEOTAPE) LAWRENCE: Now granted, you know, in the last year and a half or so since the end of 2009, the Afghan national security forces now number nearly 300,000.

They also have started an instructor training program so Afghans can train Afghans. They hope to get about 4,000 of those trainers ready to go by the end of next year.

But Wolf, bottom line, eventually it will cost about $6 billion a year just to sustain the security forces Afghanistan can't pay for that. Somebody is going to have to.

BLITZER: The president in his remarks tonight he stressed what the U.S. has spent so far. He didn't underscore what the U.S. is about to spend and some estimates another half trillion dollars over the next few years in Afghanistan alone.

A lot of American taxpayers will not be happy to hear that. Anderson, this is not only a major military mission, but the president is trying to justify.

But right now given these tough economic times, the financial burden for American taxpayers will weigh very, very heavily on lawmakers here in Washington.

COOPER: It certainly will. The president addressed that tonight. One of the things he said, you know, we spent more than a trillion dollars on war and we have to invest in America's greatest reserve, our people.

It's time, he said, quote, "to focus on nation building here at home." CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is joining us now from London.

Nation building, Nic, is not officially what the U.S. says they're doing in Afghanistan, but really as part of this counterinsurgency strategy. Nation building is what the United States has been doing in Afghanistan for years.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It has. If you look at where surges had the best successes, towns in Kandahar and some of the towns in Helmand, it's because there's been security and that's allowed to provide facilities for the mayor's office and for the provincial governor.

Things that they can't afford to do by themselves and get markets back up and running and provide security for street vendors to be able to come out to those markets. It's all these sorts of things that surge has provided for.

When you take that away and when you take those successes and security away, you are left with an environment that the Afghans cannot in many cases sustain themselves.

Kabul has been mostly a relative safe haven, but last week you have a multiple suicide bombing attempt there. You see where Taliban is already trying to impinge into areas where already good security is provided. Anderson --

COOPER: Nic, you spent a lot of time in Afghanistan. Last time I was there, I was in Helmand Province with the Marines for about a week at a small outpost. Every day they would be going out to villages.

They would, you know, take great risk to go out to villages and meet with some Afghan elders who were basically on the fence about whom to support. They would meet with them for a little while.

They would talk about reconstruction projects that they could get going in their village and they would leave and then we would hear reports that the Taliban came back later that day or there was an IED attack later that day in that area.

How much do you think the Taliban is just waiting out the U.S. like they did with the Soviets and how many people are still on the fence in Afghanistan about whether or not they should side with the Karzai government, with the U.S. or with the Taliban?

ROBERTSON: For sure the Taliban are playing a long game. I mean, they always said you've got watches, but we've got the time. It sounds kind of funny, but it's not.

They are prepared to wait out U.S. forces and other NATO forces leaving the country. What they'll be doing is looking at where the drawdown happens and where they can take advantage of that.

If you look at what the Taliban have done during the surge, the surge has really pushed a lot of troops and focused on key provinces and sort of important cities and important highways on the south of the country, Kandahar, Helmand, those places.

But where the surge hasn't been as strong in the east or at all in the north, that's where we have seen the Taliban been able to make their stronger gains.

So they'll look at the situation and where they can have an easier fight and manipulate the population and the population does sit on the fence because they're not going to put their necks on the line.

If they think the Taliban will come along and cut them off for siding with either the Afghan government or all coalition forces and it's not just strains and differences with the Taliban.

Plenty of people in the country don't like the central government for a variety of reasons. The Taliban will play of against that as well, Anderson.

COOPER: Nic Robertson from London. Nic, thanks very much. Wolf, the president also obviously also talked a lot about praising the efforts made by U.S. troops over the years in Afghanistan.

A praise which is important because when you spend time there you go out with Marines or with the Army and military and the conditions they are operating under in Afghanistan are extraordinarily difficult. The heat, the landscape and the climate is an extraordinary effort they are putting in.

BLITZER: They doing amazing, amazing work under awful circumstances. Anderson, one other point I just want to bring out, the president did reach out and I thought it was fascinating tonight directly to the Taliban when he said the United States is supporting initiatives that reconcile the afghan people including the Taliban.

He didn't put a condition on bringing the Taliban into these negotiations. He said they have to abide by the Afghan constitution. Now, a lot of experts have pointed out the Taliban will never abide by the Afghan constitution, which calls for equal rights for women.

We know where the Taliban stands on the whole issue of women and a lot of critics already suggesting that these indirect talks if you will that U.S. has had with the Taliban are going to be fruitless.

And the U.S. is engaging in some wishful thinking if they think they can turn the Taliban around and bring them into serious discussions, negotiations, just one point.

Stand by, everyone. Members of Congress were divided before the president's speech tonight. We're going to get some reaction up on Capitol Hill to his troop withdrawal plan and highlight some of the areas to watch in Afghanistan as this drawdown unfolds.



OBAMA: The information that we recovered from bin Laden's compound shows al Qaeda under enormous strain. Bin Laden expressed concern that al Qaeda had been unable to effectively replace senior terrorists that have been killed and that al Qaeda has failed in its effort to portray America as a nation at war with Islam thereby draining more widespread support.


COOPER: President Obama just a few moments ago warning -- during his speech announcing that he's ordering the 33,000 U.S. surge forces to leave Afghanistan by the summer of 2012.

CNN senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is standing on Capitol Hill with new reactions just coming in to the president's speech. What you've been hearing, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We've been hearing, first of all, from so many of the president's fellow Democrats. Maybe not surprising, but they are saying that this simply did not go far enough.

Democrat after Democrat saying that they really think that more troops can come home at a quicker fashion. This is from Senate Armed Services Chairman Democrat Karl Levin. He said the president's decision represents a positive development although in my view the conditions on the ground justify an even larger drawdown of U.S. troops this year than the president announced tonight. I will continue to advocate for an accelerated drawdown in the months ahead.

Now, Democratic Party is split on that we should be clear. The Republican Party is split as well on whether or not this is the right way to go. We heard Lindsay Graham with Wolf Blitzer a short while ago saying that this is simply too much too fast and the president didn't listen to commanders on the ground.

Other Republicans think this is not enough. So that's why the House speaker, Anderson, tried to kind of split the baby if you will in his statement. I'll read you part of what he said.

He said, it's important that we retain the flexibility necessary to reconsider troop levels and respond to changes in the security environment should circumstances on the ground warrant. It's my hope that the president will continue to listen to our commanders on the ground.

That gives you a sense of the reaction up here. It's very, very different within each party and it's really, really fascinating that this is happening given the fact that we are talking to members of Congress in both parties and many of them say they don't agree on anything.

Many of them were saying the exact same thing in terms of their view of how things are going in Afghanistan.

COOPER: Dana Bash, appreciate it. Wolf, it was interesting also to hear the president talk about we must chart a more centered course in the future.

He talked a lot about kind not the U.S. going it alone. He cited the operation in Libya as one example of trying to marshal international opposition to enemies rather than having United States just fighting on their own sort of I'm not sure an Obama doctrine, but certainly some of his prerequisites for getting involved militarily and overseas.

it sounds consistent is an emerging Obama doctrine over the last couple years or so. Anderson, U.S. military commanders are getting what they described as two more fighting seasons under the troop withdrawal plan that the president just outlined a little while ago.

Let's bring back our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence. He's joined by a retired U.S. Army four-star General George Joulwan and a former NATO Supreme Allied commander in Europe.

Chris, I want you to pick his brain and get a real sense on how this is going to work.

LAWRENCE: No surprise that the military asked to keep more troops there longer. General, as we look at this map and you look at where they are still fighting the Taliban influence, we know that the military wanted to keep only withdrawal 5,000 this year and keep the bulk of the surge through the end of next year. Given what the president laid out, how upset should the military be?

GENERAL GEORGE JOULWAN (RETIRED), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: First of all, in this situation a commander never really gets everything he wants and we need to understand that. That happened throughout history. The general gives his input.

The decision makes a decision. I know David Petraeus. He will get on with the job at hand with troops he has and will explain what the risk will be to all of that, but he'll get on with it.

I think that he has time now. He has two seasons. He has until the summer of 2012 and then to 2014. I think there's time to get the job done.

LAWRENCE: As we look at the map, up here the Taliban influence is fairly minimal. They make attacks. But the military looks at this as distractions. Here is where they are concentrated along here.

In Helmand, Kandahar, places I've been over the past several years where surge troops push the Taliban out of those population centers. What's going to happen now with the surge troops they've got left?

JOULWAN: Depends on how you take what's left of the surge until next year and then the 70,000 that are there and then the key is going to be the Afghan forces. They have to get up and get ready to defend their own country. I think this is an opportunity to do it.

LAWRENCE: As we look here to the east where you have some remnants of al Qaeda right along the border with Pakistan down here along the border with Kyrgyzstan and insurgent stronghold. We know that the military wanted to reallocate some forces where they've been undermanned. Is that still possible with this timetable?

JOULWAN: It depends on the priority that Petraeus comes up with. I think it is. What we really want is access to be able to strike al Qaeda into Pakistan and that's going to take coordination with Pakistan, but I think we have that access and we need to be able to use it.

So I really think it's the wider strategic picture that General Petraeus is going to look at and I think he has adequate troops to do it. Afghans are key here. They have to get up for time we have remaining with U.S. forces there and get ready to fight.

LAWRENCE: All right. Thank you very much, General. As he said, the key is, Wolf, going to be keeping the bases to launch attacks over the border in Pakistan.

BLITZER: All right, Chris. Thanks very much. General Joulwan, thanks to you as well.

So how is the president's speech playing among the Republican contenders for the White House? We'll take a much closer look at that. That's coming up.

Also, the high cost of the war in Afghanistan and political toll potentially it could take on President Obama's re-election campaign.



OBAMA: After a decade of passionate debate, we must recapture the common purpose that we shared at the beginning of this time of war. For our nation draws strength from our differences and when our union is strong, no hill is too steep. No horizon is beyond our reach. America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.


BLITZER: Let's discuss with our chief political correspondent Candy Crowley. She's the anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" and our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

Can we dismiss -- I know White House officials insist the political season has had no role whatsoever in the president's decision making process, but Gloria everyone knows that the president is getting better for a re-election campaign.

BORGER: Wolf, when are the troops coming back? Would that be before the election? Of course, politics plays into this.

But the problem with the politics of this, Wolf, is that it is all over the place, number one, as Dana Bash was pointing out and number two, it's all within the context of the huge economic pressures that this president is facing.

So when he said it's time to do some nation building in our own country, that's a political statement I think that everybody would agree with. I have to look back to Barack Obama in 2008. The Barack Obama in 2008 was telling George W. Bush that he was fighting the wrong war.

He was fighting the war in Iraq and that in fact we had to put resources into the war in Afghanistan. When you look at this in terms of Barack Obama himself, this is a real pivot for him.

He did the counterinsurgency strategy and added 30,000 troops and he claims some degree of success. He would say great success. And now he's retrenching and adhering to his own pragmatic as we would call it Obama doctrine.

BLITZER: And Candy, let's not lose sight of the financial cost of this war to American taxpayers. We're talking about hundreds of billions of dollars over the next few years.

CROWLEY: Right. In the meantime back here there's talk of changes in Medicare and changes in Social Security and just never looks good when you are telling people that you are going to get fewer government services or that their local government can't do as much as it used to do as much as it used to do.

And meanwhile you're building townships and bridges and fighting a war in Afghanistan that is hugely costly. That plays a part. In terms of strict politics of it, I think far more pervasive for the president is not where his Democratic base is or where the Republicans are, but the very solid majority that wants this war to end sooner rather than later.

You can't sustain a war as we all know without public support and this war has lost public support. That certainly drives it. It remains to be seen because even if you get to the end of next summer or September and you brought home surge troops, you still have double the number of troops in Afghanistan than were there when the president first took office. He's going to get a lot of flak for that over the coming months.

BLITZER: There were 32,000, Gloria, when he took office, 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan on January 20th, 2009, and even after the surge troops leave there will be close to 70,000 U.S. troops there. You are getting some initial reaction from some of the Republican presidential candidates, Gloria. What are they saying?

BORGER: Well, Jon Huntsman, for example, seems to be calling for a swifter withdrawal. Mitt Romney tonight went after the president on timetables saying he's never really liked timetables. This shouldn't be an economic decision. It shouldn't be a political decision. He looks forward to what the commanders on the ground say when they testify before Congress.

BLITZER: As Candy as much as economy and jobs will be issue number one in the presidential election in the United States, it's related to Afghanistan when you talk about hundreds of billions of dollars that could be spent here opposed to there.

CROWLEY: Completely. It's a good argument. It's an argument the American people seems to make common sense. If we don't have any money, why are we spending all this money over in Afghanistan, but you don't want a situation where you get to September or October of next year and Afghanistan falls apart.

That's the problem. If you take those troops out in September, there certainly is a risk and certainly some of the commanders on the ground were saying give us those two full fighting seasons as they say.

Give us until the end of next year with as many of those surge troops as you can because what you don't want to see is president of the United States going into the final months of a campaign next year is all of a sudden looking at Afghanistan and American people say we were there for 10 years and the Taliban is back and the place has fallen apart. That's not good either.

BLITZER: There will be 70,000 U.S. troops left to deal with this. Thanks very much. That's our coverage this hour. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts right now.