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CNN'S AMANPOUR

Situation in Afghanistan; Syria Violence

Aired May 25, 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, and this is our special weekend edition of the program, when we bring you some of the interviews we did on the biggest stories of the week.

So tonight, two men standing at the center of international crises, President Abdullah Gul of Turkey is in a race to stop the endless bloodshed in neighboring Syria, even as victims pour into his country and become a whole new set of global refugees.

At the same time, Gul must manage a delicate relationship with Iran, a troubled one with Israel and also gauge how best to fit Turkey into Europe.

But first, Afghanistan, and General John Allen, who's the commander of all U.S. and NATO forces there. His orders are to begin standing his troops down, bringing them back by the end of 2014, even as Taliban terrorism seems to prove that the mission had not yet been accomplished.

I sat down with General Allen at the Pentagon.

(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 sheaves 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 among those NATO troops who will be leading at the end of 2014 are soldiers from Turkey, a country that 100 years ago was known as the sick man of Europe, but no longer. The crumbling Ottoman Empire has been replaced by a thriving secular Islamic republic.

Still, Turkey is surrounded by a sea of trouble in Syria, Greece and Israel. And when we return, I will ask Turkey's president why he also wants to join the European Union just as it seems to be headed towards disunion.

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AMANPOUR: Welcome back. And let's now turn to Turkey, whose foreign policy motto, "No problems with neighbors," is proving to be something of a tough challenge these days, because Turkey is finding itself surrounded by crises.

To the south, Syria's brutal crackdown continues. To the east, there's tension over Iran's nuclear program and it's a standoff that Turkey has helped to mediate. And to the west, Greece, despite E.U. economic turbulence, it's a club that Turkey still wants to join.

I had the opportunity to talk to the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, about all of this while he was in the United States for the NATO summit in Chicago.

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AMANPOUR: President Abdullah Gul, thank you for joining us from a very windy Chicago.

ABDULLAH GUL, PRESIDENT OF TURKEY: Well, thank you very much indeed.

AMANPOUR: Sir, let me ask you about Syria. Your country is trying to help the Syrian opposition. Do you have any hope that President Assad will step down as the reform plan calls?

GUL: We just wish to see people over there happy and prosperous. So we think that six-point Annan plan is a last chance for the orderly transformation of Syria. So that for we wish that this plan should be fully implemented. If it is not then unfortunately the problems will get even worse over there.

AMANPOUR: So it's not actually being implemented right now. Many, many more people are being killed.

GUL: You are right.

AMANPOUR: So my question is how much longer, how many more deaths, how much longer do you think it'll take for Turkey to intervene or to persuade the rest of the world to intervene?

GUL: Well, it's a financial issue. That's why it has been taken in the U.N. Security Council and we have to be altogether and they think we should support the (inaudible) of the people and all of us, we have to stand behind the people's demand.

AMANPOUR: You know, Turkey talked about humanitarian corridors, buffer zones, all of those kinds of things. There's been a lot of talk from Turkey, but no real action in this regard. Are you waiting for something? Do you have to see the United States take the lead? What is it that you need before you can act?

GUL: Well, I think United States is (inaudible) it's the most important. They think they should engage more in this issue and (inaudible) we have to very closely follow the implementation of the Annan plan fully. Therefore, we need more observers. This 300 is not enough. In fact, there should be several thousands over there. That's how we cannot prove each other.

AMANPOUR: Are you trying to persuade Iran to try to talk to President Assad and convince him to step down?

GUL: Well, we are telling them that they should not keep the eyes blind, what's happening in Syria, because every day, many people are being killed and so far, even since the cease-fire is declared, more than 1,500 people lost their lives. So (inaudible) not carry the burden of this. So we are telling them that you should not support that.

AMANPOUR: But are you trying to tell them to persuade Assad to step down or not?

GUL: Well, I think there is no any way that President Assad can lead the country any more.

AMANPOUR: You say that, but he's still in power. So how do you see an end, a resolution to this? And I know you keep saying the Annan plan, but you've just admitted that it's not working. So what is the resolution to this?

GUL: Well, then of course the people of Syria, they will decide for this at the international committee will support them and will stand with them.

AMANPOUR: Let me move on to your relations with Israel, which have been very badly broken over several issues, the raid on the humanitarian ship, the war in Gaza. Is there any hope, any progress for your relations with Israel to get any better?

GUL: Well, you know, it was not our preferences and it was not because of us that the relationship deteriorated. So it's up to Israel. If the Israeli government, they want to correct, they pay some attention on the relationship with Turkey, they have to take some steps, which is known very well by them.

AMANPOUR: What do you want them to do? What will it take?

GUL: Well, as you said, they attacked the internation (ph) humanitarian aid convoy and they killed nine people in -- on the high seas during the two months of April on the coast (ph). So Turkey's legitimate demand is to get the apology and compensation.

AMANPOUR: But let's talk about Iran and the nuclear talks that are happening in Baghdad this week. Do you have any hope that they will be successful and that war will be avoided?

GUL: We are a little bit of sticking fact, because the last meeting was held in Istanbul and it made some progress. There was a good climate at the both sides. They listened to each other and they understand after long time and they decided to go further. And I hope they will take some further step, because there is no alternative than the political solution of this problem.

AMANPOUR: You've been --

GUL: So I -- the both sides, they are well aware of this.

AMANPOUR: And do you think the U.S. and its partners should allow Iran to continue enrichment or what? Or should it do what Israel wants, which says no enrichment, even for peaceful purposes?

GUL: Well, I think it's their right, if it is peaceful and if it is transparent enough then it's their right, of course.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about the elections in Egypt. Many of your leadership have gone to Egypt and many people look at Egypt, look at the military that's in charge there like it used to be in Turkey. What should the democrats in Egypt, those who want democracy, say and do to the military to make sure it's not a continued military power?

GUL: Well, the military is well aware that they cannot continue forever. I went to Egypt. I talk (inaudible) military leadership and they know that it is not their job to run the country.

They are going to hand over the authority to the civilians governments but I think it needs some time because there's the (inaudible) for them and they will have the all election and then there will be authority there. So I think the Egyptian army is ready to hand over the authority when the time is proper.

AMANPOUR: Sounds like a little bit way into the future. But let me quickly ask you finally, Turkey has revived its bid to come back into the European Union or to come into the European Union. Do you really want to join the European Union, when you see the trouble that it has right now?

GUL: Well, yes. We are the part of the European custom union for 16 years. And we are negotiating country with the E.U. and we want to push out (inaudible) and we expect more reasonable understanding from our friends in Europe.

And I -- we can contribute them since you mentioned the economy. (Inaudible) the economic (inaudible) many countries in Europe is not good. We are performed (inaudible). Our cooperation will be helpful.

AMANPOUR: So do you expect that now that President Sarkozy is gone and President Hollande is there that you will have a fairer, warmer hearing?

GUL: I think so. President Hollande is very reasonable and he has a very wide view. I hope the things will move smoothly.

AMANPOUR: President Gul, thank you for joining us from the Windy City, as they call Chicago.

GUL: Yes. Thank you. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: And with all those strategic issues that President Gul just outlined, Turkey is also starting to flex it muscles with museums around the world, to make them return Turkish artifacts. They're engaging in a type of new culture war according to a fascinating article that I posted on my Twitter feed at amanpour.com/twitter. And we'll be right back.

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AMANPOUR: And now, imagine a world where you win a revolution but you might lose your rights. Fifteen months ago, as we've been saying, Egyptian women stood in Tahrir Square with their fathers, their sons, their brothers and their husbands and they became the collective face of the Arab Spring.

Now they stand on lines, separate lines from the men, waiting to cast their vote. But no matter who wins, women will hold just 2 percent of the seats in Egypt's new parliament, the same parliament that's considering lowering the legal age of marriage for girls, from 18 to 13, amid some calls for sharia law in the new constitution.

For the women who stood on the front lines of history, the revolution is far from over and their struggle continues. That's it for tonight's program. Thank you for watching. Log on to amanpour.com and email us at amanpour@cnn.com.

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