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CNN'S AMANPOUR

Assad Claims Syria Will Recover; Gen. John Allen Discusses Afghanistan Situation

Aired May 24, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour. Syria will recover from its present crisis. That is this week's declaration by the Syrian president Bashar Assad.

My brief tonight: but how? We have an exclusive interview with the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations, the organization trying to find a solution. And later in the program, dramatically scaled back expectations for peace and success in Afghanistan. I'll speak exclusively with General John Allen, who commands all U.S. and NATO forces there, even as the Taliban ups the ante.

But first to the question, how does Assad plan to have Syria recover after 15 months of terror and death that the state has rained down on what began as a peaceful uprising by Syrians who were just demanding the same kind of democratic right that we see and they see Egyptians exercising today?

How, since Assad himself shows no sign of any kind of political engagement or reform, and how after more than 9,000 deaths according to the United Nations? And now that this dangerous vacuum is being filled by militants and terrorists with their own separate agendas against the Assad regime?

The U.N. has sent in a few hundred unarmed monitors, but for weeks they were trapped in their hotel, and now they're making small inroads, but it's like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon. And just today the U.N. investigative report presents another grim catalog of atrocities. It says they're being committed by all sides, but the vast majority, they say, by the Assad regime.

So how will Syria recover since no country, not the United States, not Europe or neighboring Turkey has shown the slightest will to take tough action to stop the carnage? The U.N. blames this inertia on splits within the Security Council, notably Russia and China, which have vetoed stronger measures against Damascus as well as on a fractured Syrian opposition.

So let me turn right now to the man at the very center of this impasse, the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Mr. Secretary-General, welcome. Thanks for being on the program.

BAN KI-MOON, SECRETARY-GENERAL, UNITED NATIONS: It's a great pleasure to see you again.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.

BAN: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Let me go straight to this investigative report that the U.N. Human Rights Council has put out. It is called now increasing atrocities in Syria. Describe for me where you see those atrocities being committed.

BAN: I read this report on by international independent commission of inquiry. They said that there were many cases of cross-violation of human rights, including arbitrary detention, extrajudiciary killings and tortures. Those are totally unacceptable violation of human rights. The perpetrators must be held accountable by the -- in the name of justice.

I believe that the Human Rights Council of the United Nations will take up this matter very seriously and for the course of actions on this matter, for addressing this issue.

At the same time, United Nations with the deployment of 300 monitors are doing all possible efforts to stop violence.

AMANPOUR: So let me just go back to this. The U.N. doesn't normally come out and say one side is doing more than the other. But in this case, they have said that the opposition is becoming increasingly militarized and there have been atrocities committed, such as tortures. Is that correct?

BAN: That's right.

AMANPOUR: And what has it said, though, about the Assad regime? This report seems to say that the majority of the blame is at the seat of the Assad regime.

BAN: Of course, during the last 15 months, Assad and his regime authorities have been killing many month 9,000. I believe that this number will have increased much more now. And there were huge violation of human rights. This is totally unacceptable, intolerable situation. Too many people of Syria have suffered and they have been too many people have been killed.

AMANPOUR: So you say it's unacceptable, and many ambassadors do as well. But what is the plan B? How to take up this matter, as you said? What will be the absolute solution to stopping this carnage?

BAN: At this time, we don't have any plan B. The joint special envoy Kofi Annan has proposed six peace proposals, among which the complete cessation of violence is number one. Unfortunately, this has not been implemented while with the deployment of monitoring missions, we have seen some dampening effect.

The number of violence has reduced, but we were not able to complete the (inaudible) of violence.

AMANPOUR: So there are not enough, are there?

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: Not enough (inaudible) monitors?

BAN: Of course it's not a matter of a number of monitors. We have almost 300 (inaudible) number of monitors. It will be just a matter of one or two days where we will have a full monitors --

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: This was a picture of the monitors. We'll hear some of them, I think, but we've got some pictures of these monitors in Syria. We've seen some of them either at headquarters or on the street. But what are they actually doing, if they're unarmed and, as you say, there's actually no plan B? So what are these guys tasked with doing?

BAN: They are deployed in seven cities, including Damascus, like Homs, Hama, Idlib, Aleppo. They are patrolling every day wherever possible. They try their best to cease this violence. (Inaudible) strong political will at the level of President Assad and also it requires full cooperation by the opposition forces.

There are so many spoilers at this time which really make the situation very difficult. We have not been able to commence a political dialogue.

AMANPOUR: Well, as you say, first and foremost, strong political will by President Assad, do you see any further likelihood that he is going to engage and make the kind of reforms -- and not just the Security Council but also the Russians have said that he will do?

BAN: When Security Council is united, we can see much difference. Unfortunately, Security Council at the beginning of this crisis were not united and now recently they have shown one voice, a united voice. That is why we were able to deploy these monitors.

And I have spoken yesterday with Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, and we discussed a future course of actions. And as was already announced, he's going to visit Syria soon. The date has not yet been fixed because of this confidentiality. And he will also try to visit some neighboring countries.

AMANPOUR: But let me read this to you, Secretary-General. The Amnesty International has just put out its latest report, and it's basically saying that failure of leadership is rendering the U.N. Security Council irrelevant. I mean, here you are, telling me that there's no plan B. You've admitted that, for a long, long time, the Security Council is divided. What is there to put any pressure to make this stop?

BAN: I'm going to report to the Security Council soon and there will be Security Council discussions next Wednesday. And I'm going to make a report based on the assessment of the situation on the ground. My undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, Mr. Ladsous was on the ground and he returned. And I had got discussions on the assessment of the situation.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that there might be another Security Council vote? The Italian foreign minister said to us that maybe they'll give it another four to five weeks. I mean, I get the impression that the Annan mission is kind of to buy time, because there is no plan B and nobody really knows what to do next.

BAN: We have Annan plan comprising of six point. But it requires the full cooperation from President Assad and also it -- from the opposition forces. And unfortunately and surprisingly, we have seen some elements, (inaudible) elements now (inaudible) walking on the ground --

AMANPOUR: Third (ph) elements, you say? Do you mean like Al Qaeda or -- do you mean like Al Qaeda?

BAN: We do not have any clear evidence whether Al Qaeda was behind but --

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: -- suicide bombs?

BAN: -- considering the scale and sophistication of the terrorist attacks, it seems to be clear that there are certain organization and group, (inaudible) organization and clear (ph) political intent.

AMANPOUR: Let me show you some pictures that we're going to put in our table here. These are pictures inside Lebanon. This is the spillover of what's happening in Syria. This was Shiites in Lebanon, protecting the kidnapping of Shiites in Syria. Do you worry that this is going to spread regionally?

BAN: This is exactly what I said we are entering into a pivotal moment when it comes to situation in Syria. We were very much worried about this kind of a spillover effect. We have seen in Tripoli, Lebanon, already disturbances between -- fighting between the ethnic groups.

We have to prevent this one. That is why the cessation of violence must be realized and immediately commence a political dialogue for political resolution of this issue, reflecting the will of the Syrian people.

AMANPOUR: Well, the last time this kind of thing was stopped was a U.N. resolution that enabled much tougher intervention , for instance, in Libya. Do you have any feeling that this is on the cards at all for Syria?

BAN: I'm going to urge the members of the Security Council as we have seen in the case of Syria and also most recently by united decision to deploy monitoring mission in Syria. The Security Council members, when they are united, they can make a huge impact to maintaining peace and security of the international community.

AMANPOUR: And how personally do you feel, A, about the disunity in the Security Council, the Russian and Chinese vetoes, and the carnage that we see on the television or on the ground every day?

BAN: At this time, China and Russia, they are in full support of Kofi Annan's peace plans.

AMANPOUR: How do you feel about, when you see that carnage?

BAN: It's very sad. The Syrian people have suffered too long. Too many people have been killed. These atrocities must be stopped at any cost. Therefore, the international community must be united in speaking in one voice. The violence must stop by all the sides. This is a very important one. That's the starting point.

That's why United Nations has sent monitoring team. These monitoring teams are coming from more than 40 countries. That much the whole international community are really wanting to see the end of this violence. That's why they are contributing their soldiers under these very difficult and dangerous decisions (ph).

AMANPOUR: Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, thank you very much for joining us.

BAN: Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: And we will be right back after a break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: Welcome back. And now to Afghanistan, where the United States is scaling back both troops and expectations. The man in charge of the war there, General John Allen, has just confirmed specifics of the drawdown, a quarter of American surge troops will be home by the end of September. That's 23,000. But he did say he'll need strong combat forces for the foreseeable future.

And when I sat down with him at the Pentagon, he also took strong exception to the way the situation in Afghanistan going forward is being described in the White House as "Afghan good enough."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: General Allen, thank you very much for joining me.

GEN. JOHN ALLEN, USMC, ISAF COMMANDER: It's a pleasure to be with you this morning.

AMANPOUR: Senator Feinstein and Representative Rodgers, both from their respective intelligence committees, came to Afghanistan. And when they came out, they told us that the Taliban was stronger since the surge.

Would you agree with that assessment?

ALLEN: I don't think that we're out of agreement on this. I don't think that there's a difference of opinion. I think the difference really is whether the Taliban think they will succeed or not, and we need to persuade them that there is no alternative to peace.

They cannot win this fight kinetically. They cannot win this fight violently. The success for them will be a peaceful outcome, not a violent outcome.

AMANPOUR: But at the moment, there are no talks of any consequence with the Taliban. I mean, a quote I read sort of sums up the shift of power.

Five years ago, the United States was refusing to talk to the Taliban. Now the Taliban is refusing to talk. They see you leaving. Does that not make it more difficult for you to persuade them to come in?

ALLEN: No, I don't think so. I think that the unambiguous international support for Afghanistan has been a very powerful message. You know, that was the message that came out of the NATO summit. We will not abandon Afghanistan. The international community's role here over the long term is good for the region.

So we are not leaving. And the narrative for the Taliban that they can wait us out is a flawed narrative.

AMANPOUR: You say we're not leaving, but we are leaving. The president has said it, 2014 is the date, 2013 is the date when all combat is going to stop, according to the President of the United States. So we are leaving. And they know it.

ALLEN: Well, let me calibrate your question, which I think is important. The president did not say there would be no combat after 2013. What he said is that the ANSF move into the lead for combat operations and we will support them.

AMANPOUR: Right.

ALLEN: The second issue with regard to the forces after this drawdown of the surge, I have told the president, through my chain of command, that I owe him analysis following the successful drawdown of the 23,000 troops on what we think we'll need in 2013.

That analysis will include an analysis of the state of the Taliban, the insurgency, how the Afghan National Security Forces are doing, what we anticipate the operational environment being in 2013 and the result of that analysis, the aggregation of those will be a recommendation from me to him on what I think both the U.S. and the international combat power will be needed in 2013.

AMANPOUR: And that assessment, you anticipate making when and delivering when?

ALLEN: Before the end of the year. My anticipation would be it would be in November or early December.

AMANPOUR: If you had to make that assessment now in the middle of this fighting season, which seemed quite fierce, what would you say?

(CROSSTALK)

ALLEN: Well, I've been clear that we need sufficient combat power to ensure that the ANSF do not fail. I don't anticipate they will, and I think that the conversation is wide open right now.

It's a very important strategic conversation, and it is one that is not predicated around a number. It is one that's predicated around a requirement. And I've got to build that requirement for the president, and clearly express it to him in the analysis of -- that I'll do for him.

AMANPOUR: In that case, how do you assess Afghan good enough? That seems to be the mantra coming out of the White House.

And Afghan good enough, I've got sheafs (sic) of papers, of quotes here. It's such a scaling back of expectations for Afghanistan. The national security advisors said publicly that our goal is to provide a modicum of stability for Afghanistan, a modicum of stability, when years before it was to defeat, it was to prevent, it was to have a real secure Afghanistan. How do you assess that?

ALLEN: Well, I -- you know, first, I don't use the term "Afghan good enough," because we're all sacrificing way too much for something that's "Afghan good enough." I think that term understates or undersells the commitment that we've all made to this.

Afghanistan is an important country in an important region. And the outcome of our investment, this global investment of 50 nations and ISAF and many other nations who've been involved for a long period of time with great generosity is not about being good enough.

It's about creating stability that is enduring in Afghanistan, preventing the Taliban from overthrowing the Afghan government, and in so doing creating a platform yet again where Al Qaeda or similarly motivated groups might be willing to launch attacks upon the United States or the capitals or the population centers of many of our allies.

AMANPOUR: I hear what you say, that we've worked way too hard, we've sacrificed way too much and we had very good goals. So my question then to you is why the surge? Why the surge? Why send more and more people into this if the president was going to pull them out, win or lose? He's already said that the Pentagon didn't get -- the goal was not to defeat the Taliban.

Does that worry you, the fact that all these men and women went into the field for a goal that was, we're coming out, win or lose?

ALLEN: Well, I think the goal was very clear. The goal was to reverse the momentum of the Taliban, and the Taliban in '08 and '09 were building significant momentum. And remember that the Afghan National Security Forces were immature at the time.

AMANPOUR: But you've just said the Taliban are coming back.

ALLEN: Well --

AMANPOUR: So you still have a --

ALLEN: -- the Taliban believe that they are -- they have the capability of winning. But we don't believe that.

AMANPOUR: So, the Afghan National Security Forces are basically the insurance policy. If NATO is going to withdraw, then there must be indigenous force -

ALLEN: That is correct.

AMANPOUR: -- to take over, that is correct?

ALLEN: That is correct.

AMANPOUR: And you have put a huge amount of training, money, blood, sweat and tears into getting them up and running.

ALLEN: That's correct.

AMANPOUR: And many people say they're doing a lot better than expected.

ALLEN: Yes. They are.

AMANPOUR: You would agree with that?

ALLEN: We would, yes.

AMANPOUR: Then how do you assess the latest news, which is that according to the Strategic Partnership Agreement, these forces are going to be built up, some 350,000 or so, and then they're going to be built down by another 100,000, get rid of them.

And again, not conditions-based. based on, apparently, according to the defense secretary, the amount of funds on the table. What kind of a signal is that, and does that worry you?

ALLEN: We still haven't recruited the full force. We still haven't fielded the full force. That will occur in '13. We'll continue with that plateau for a couple of years. During that period of time, as the commander, I will be required to assess their capabilities every six months.

And the outcome of that assessment will ultimately determine what the final size, state and composition of the ANSF will be as the drawdown ultimately approaches. For now, we have a target. And that's what we're planning for is that target. But if those operational assumptions change dramatically, that target could change.

AMANPOUR: When you say that, I hear you saying what any good military commander would say, that it's going to be conditions-based. But that's not what they're saying at the White House or in the capitals around Europe.

ALLEN: No, I think that one of the outcomes of the NATO summit was a very clear signal by the international community that it is supportive of a long-term support to the Afghan National Security Forces. That's an important outcome.

And the lesson that we learned was in the post-Soviet era in Afghanistan. The force that was left behind by the Soviet era ultimately failed because it was under-resourced. And we learned that as a very hard lesson in a direct-line relationship, it generated what happened on the 11th of September in 2001.

AMANPOUR: Do you have that commitment?

ALLEN: Oh, yes.

AMANPOUR: That the commanders on the ground will be able to make that assessment?

ALLEN: Yes, oh yes. That is a commitment. It's part of the mission that I have now.

AMANPOUR: One of the things we've been reading a lot about recently is Afghan forces, who you have all trained up, some of them attacking NATO forces. How big a problem is that right now?

ALLEN: Well, any attack is a blow, and we are very, very conscious of this. It is a tragedy every time it occurs. We should not be surprised that the Taliban seek to infiltrate the ANSF. But fewer than 50 percent of those attacks are actually infiltration. Some of those are self- radicalized individuals who have elected to manifest that radicalization by attacking their mentors or their advisors.

AMANPOUR: That's a worrying development.

ALLEN: Well, it is, but it's not - we're not surprised by it. We anticipate that in counterinsurgencies, this sort of thing will occur. Now the Afghans have embraced this. They're working very, very hard to reduce the possibility of this occurring in the future. Any one is a tragedy. But they have taken steps with the employment of Afghan counterintelligence entities.

They've taken steps in the vetting of the Afghan troops and police that are coming into the service, a far more thorough vetting to reduce the possibility that radicals or extremists are inducted into the forces or to reduce the possibility that the insurgency can recruit inside the forces.

And it's not well known, but in the last several months since they've really embraced this, they've made over 160 arrests out of the security forces of those who might be plotting or might be considering attacking ISAF forces.

But every one of those is a tragedy. And it's important to say that, even though each one is a tragedy, there are tens of thousands of interactions every single day across Afghanistan between the Afghan troops and ISAF forces. And every one of those is successful. And most of those, every single day continue to deepen and broaden the relationship that we seek to have with them.

AMANPOUR: General Allen, thank you very much indeed.

ALLEN: Thank you, ma'am. It's wonderful to see you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: And as he heads back to Afghanistan, it was fascinating to see in that interview the resolve of soldiers on the ground epitomized by General Allen and the race for the exits led by the White House. We'll be back in a moment.

But first, check out our Facebook page, where you can watch a report about the troubling Taliban effort to take control of rural schools in Afghanistan. That's at amanpour.com/Facebook. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: And finally, as we close tonight, let's not forget that Egyptians, unlike their brothers and sisters in Syria, are exercising their democratic right for the very first time. Egypt's historic election is in its second day with more long lines at those polling booths.

And lots of those purple fingers being waved by proud Egyptian voters. The results won't be known until the weekend and a runoff between the top two finishers is scheduled for mid-June. But it appears that Egypt's experiment with democracy is proceeding.

That's it for tonight's program. Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.

Y mera (ph). We answer.

END