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Pakistan's role in America's longest war in Afghanistan; SpaceX launches world's most powerful rocket

Aired February 7, 2018 - 14:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, failure wrapped up in conspiracy inside an unrequited alliance. The story of America's longest

war in Afghanistan as President Trump ups the ante. Investigative journalist Steve Coll joins me now. He's written the definitive account of

that complex relationship.

Plus, souring success. What the triumphant launch of the world's most powerful rocket means for the future of space travel. My conversation with

tech expert Dana Hull.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

It's gone on now longer than America's Revolutionary War, longer than World War II, longer than Vietnam. America's war in Afghanistan is still raging

more than 16 years after 9/11.

Well, yet another US president commits yet more blood and treasure, maybe we've all been looking at this problem wrong all along.

Investigative reporter and Dean of Columbia University's Journalism School Steve Coll wrote "Ghost Wars", the definitive account of the CIA and Al

Qaeda before 9/11. And now, he's out with a sequel that reviewers are calling a spectacular account, "Directorate S: The C. I. A. and

America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001 to 2016".

And Steve Coll joins me now live from New York. Welcome to the program, Steve.

STEVE COLL, AUTHOR, "DIRECTORATE S": Thanks for having me, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: An incredibly specific title, 2001 to 2016. So, let me first put this to you. Here is what a secret memo said about this war under

George W. Bush. It said America isn't losing in Afghanistan, but we're not winning either and that's not good enough.

That was ten years ago. Is it the same situation ten years later?

COLL: Almost exactly. I would imagine that the advisers to President Trump told him something similar. And I'm afraid the pattern of policy,

prioritizing military action, while at the same time admitting that there's no military solution to the war is also the same as it was during both the

Bush and the Obama administrations.

Yet, there are changes we can talk about. Putting more pressure on Pakistan, trying to signal resolve in the region that we're not going

anywhere, but the essentials of the policy really have been the same across three administrations. And maybe that's why the war has lasted so long.

AMANPOUR: Well, I don't know if these are some of the contradictions that you have written about. You say, from the beginning, the policy has been

riddled with contradictions that all sides are exploiting. How so?

COLL: OK. So, one is the one we just listed, which is that every general who goes over to Afghanistan for the United States or for NATO says in

public, Gen. David Petraeus, for example, said in public, there's no military solution against the Taliban. They're too embedded in

Afghanistan. They enjoy a sanctuary across the border in Pakistan that we are unable to disrupt. They can self-finance with opium trafficking.

Those kinds of guerrilla movements last a very, very long time. So, as Gen. Petraeus said, you can't capture and kill your way out of an

industrial-strength insurgency.

So, there's an admission even from the military leaders that we need another kind of strategy, one that also includes diplomacy negotiations

with the neighbors of Afghanistan - China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan.

We need to maybe talk to the enemy directly as well to try to reduce the violence. And yet, year after year, administration after administration,

what actually happens on the ground is that the war is prioritized.

And so, this year - I mean, last year, 2017, we dropped many more bombs than the year before expecting that that somehow would produce a different

result without active negotiation, without high-level diplomacy.

And, I guess, I'm just skeptical, especially based on the history of so many of these other kinds of counterinsurgency wars and our own experience

in Vietnam, that you will get a different result.

There are many other episodes along the way, this kind of Pentagon papers of tragically blind or entangled decision-making about war in Afghanistan.

I just mentioned one other one. President Obama escalated the war; 100,000 American troops. His advisers sat down in the Situation Room and asked

themselves the basic question, why are we fighting in Afghanistan?

They identified two vital interests. One was Al Qaeda. The other was the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. And yet, in 2009, neither of those

challenges was actually located in Afghanistan.

[14:05:08] They were both in Pakistan. Al Qaeda had migrated there. And, of course, Pakistan's nuclear weapons were there. We were fighting a kind

of -

AMANPOUR: Yes, carry on.

COLL: I was just going to say, we were fighting a kind of indirect war. The rationalization was the fact if Afghanistan fell apart, Al Qaeda would

come back and a deteriorating war might destabilize Pakistan.

Those are plausible concerns. But kind of an indirect way to send young men and women to war.

AMANPOUR: Well, here's the thing. And President Trump kind of summed it up with his tweet where, not so long ago, he basically said, "The United

States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit,

thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!"

Is he right? Is he wrong? Or is there an in between there?

COLL: Well, I can understand the frustration that his tweet reflects. It's widespread in the US military and in the US intelligence services.

Lots of soldiers went over to fight in Afghanistan only to be attacked by militants that were coming out of Pakistan. Clearly, supported - or at a

minimum, facilitated by Pakistani security services.

And they watched American comrades die or be wounded on the battlefield by militants who enjoyed support from an ally that we were aiding with our

taxpayer dollars. So, of course, this frustration has been building up for years. And President Trump's tweet expressed it.

However, it's more complicated, of course, than a tweet. Pakistan has also been a partner in counterterrorism. Pakistan arrested major Al Qaeda


They were carrying out a policy, long familiar to the CIA, since we collaborated with them on a similar policy against the Soviets during the

1980s, of trying to push a distinction between good Taliban and bad Taliban, or a distinction between Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban.

Subtleties that matter to Pakistan's sense of its interests in the region, but which tended to befuddle the United States, certainly outside of the

expert community.

So, by the time we realized that ISI had returned to the strategy of the 1980s in Afghanistan that they were really affirmatively willing to see the

Afghan Taliban again as a source of their influence in Afghanistan, the revival of the Taliban as a military movement in Afghanistan was well

underway. And it turns out it was too late for us.

AMANPOUR: Just to follow up again on the threat to - the cutting of some $2 billion in US security aid to Pakistan. I spoke not long ago to their

former foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar, and this is what she said.


HINA RABBANI KHAR, FORMER FOREIGN MINISTER OF PAKISTAN: As somebody who is not a believer in conspiracy theories, I am increasingly starting to

believe that the presence of the United States of America in Afghanistan is not for peace and stability. It is indeed, as George Friedman says in his

book, "The Next 100 Years", to create chaos in this region, so that Russia and China and many other Central Asian republics, together with Iran,

perhaps, can be contained.


AMANPOUR: Steve, I wonder what you think when you hear that? Obviously, a lot of people are beginning to think the worst of the United States and its

aims in that region.

COLL: We've managed to confuse all of our allies. I had to smile a little bit when I heard her say that because there's a whole series of episodes

described in the book where Hamid Karzai comes to the same conclusion.

Every American official he meets, he says why aren't you putting more pressure on Pakistan, why aren't you preventing their intelligence service,

ISI, from undermining my government, why do you send your troops to villages in southern Afghanistan when the real problem is along the border

with Pakistan or over the border in Pakistan.

And eventually, he came to think that the United States must want ISI, must want Pakistan to destabilize Afghanistan in order to justify a long-term

military presence in the region. It was a conspiracy theory. I don't think it has a basis in fact.

Incompetence or confusion in US war aims is probably a better explanation. But you can understand how these thoughts arise, even in sensible people

like Hina Khar.

So, it's a reflection of a long and frustrating war in which our war aims have been confused and inconsistent and we've managed not just to confuse

others, but I think also to confuse ourselves.

AMANPOUR: So, what is the answer? You alluded to some kind of a rational endgame being to draw in all partners and have real diplomacy.

[14:10:00] But you also say that the Americans have never really taken that route on board. Does the United States think the necessary give-and-take

that diplomacy requires is a sign of a failure, is a sign of weakness or what?

COLL: Well, the military has argued that it's too early to head towards negotiations because we have to bomb the enemy into a position where we

have enough leverage over them to force a deal that's acceptable to the majority of Afghans.

And this has been the position of the Pentagon's analysts really going back to the beginning of the Obama administration and it's clearly the case

again today with the Trump administration.

If you listen carefully to the Trump administration's position, they're not saying - as they escalate again with aerial bombing and a few more troops

and pressure on Pakistan, they are not saying we're going to win the war on the battlefield.

They are saying the same thing they were saying before. We need more time to batter the Taliban sufficiently, so that we can have a more favorable


But there's no timeline for that. There's no resourcing of negotiation going on now. And as we know, under President Trump, the State Department

has been kind of demoted as an instrument of American power and is denuded as a bureaucracy and as a diplomatic service.

So, I'm not sure that this administration is really motivated to try to fight and talk at the same time. And even during the Obama administration

when fight and talk was the policy, the fight part was resourced much more heavily than the talk part.

AMANPOUR: I just want to ask you whether you agree with what sort of analysts are saying inside Afghanistan now that they believe the recent

unbelievable, almost unprecedented spate of bloodletting - I mean, 100 people killed by an ambulance suicide bomber, dozens killed in a hotel, The

Intercontinental, which is meant to be amongst the most well protected in Kabul that that was Pakistan/Taliban showing, OK, you want to punish us,

we'll show you what we can do.

COLL: It's an understandable hypothesis. I haven't seen the evidence to support it absolutely, but it would be consistent with past patterns.

The Haqqani network, which is the most lethal of the Taliban units, especially the one that strikes Kabul with these kind of mass casualty

attacks the most often and its collaborators in the Pakistani security services in the past, they've gone into Kabul with these kinds of big

attacks to try to send a signal in various ways.

It's sometimes hard to read these signals. Sometimes they're saying negotiate with us. Other times, they're targeting the Indians. In this

case, it would be reasonable to think that they were trying to say, if the United States is going to escalate this war by sanctioning Pakistan, by

dropping more bombs, we can escalate too. So, think twice before you put too much pressure on us.

And again, the problem, of course, the tragedy is, who is suffering? Afghan civilians crowded into these cities because the countryside is less

secure, influenced by the Taliban who have put up with this war for an awfully long time.

It's an amazing they're as resilient and as supportive of the international community as they are. They're still volunteering to put on the uniform

and fight against the Taliban. Supporting them is an honorable cause in my opinion. I just wish we were doing it in a way that that had a clearer

path to the outcome that the Afghan people deserve.

AMANPOUR: And just to get your view on - actually, there has been a lot of success and a lot of movement forward in Afghanistan despite these


Despite the war that goes on, and indeed kind of secret documents from the US and Britain, which have just been published, that the Taliban still

control so much of the territory there, there have still been great strides. I mean, do you agree that there's a real contradiction going on

on the ground there?

COLL: Yes. I mean, the war has been a stalemate in roughly the same pattern going back to 2007. In the book, I described these secret CIA maps

that they started to draw district by district as long ago as 2007 and they'd update them every six months.

They had different colors to indicate where the Afghan government was in control, where the Taliban was in control, where it was contested. And

they would unfurl them in the situation room year after year.

And what was remarkable about the analysis was that, even after we sent 100,000 combat troops, and with NATO allies had 150,000 fighting the

Taliban, trying to roll them back from their part of the map, at the end of that, the map still looked more or less the same.

Now, the Pentagon and the CIA argue over which district should be colored which way. The UN has its own maps. I've seen pretty much all of them.

And they're basically the same. It's a stalemated war.

And the reason is the Taliban doesn't have an Air Force. They can't do anything about our air force. Therefore, they can't really mass in large

groups. It's very difficult for them to take cities.

On the other hand, the Afghan security forces do not seem to be able to push them out of the rural areas and the highways that they control and

where they exercise their greatest influence.

[14:15:02] So, the Trump administration's story is, well, we've changed the rules of combat. We're going to be more aggressive. You can see that

they're dropping more bombs.

But they have maybe one-tenth the number of international troops that were present at the height of the Obama surge. The Afghan security forces are

much larger than they were, but they're nothing like the US Marines and their battlefield abilities.

So, I'm just unpersuaded that this is going to change that map in some profound way.

AMANPOUR: And you talk about the Trump administration military strategy. I mean, I don't have to tell you. The talk Washington, of course, is the

fact that President Trump has made it known that he likes military parades. He loved the Bastille Day parade that he attended as a guest of President

Macron in France last year.

And Secretary Mattis has said that the Pentagon is going to send a plan to the president. What do you make of all of that? Should there be military

parades in Washington? And if so, what kind?

COLL: Well, let's acknowledge the Bastille parade is very impressive. But we've had parades in this country, but usually when we've had something to

celebrate. I think the last big one was after the first Gulf War. We certainly had them after the two major wars in the 20th century.

Look, I just saw a press conference that General Mattis gave, while this conversation about the parade was in full bloom in Washington. And the

purpose of the press conference was to talk about the new nuclear posture review.

Probably the most significant departure in nuclear weapons policy in the United States in the last 20 years or so because we're talking about

building small nuclear bombs to counter small Russian bombs. Hugely consequential. And he was explaining why they had reached the conclusion

that we needed new nuclear weapons.

And then, the second question was about the parade. And the third question was about the parade. And it just feels like another Trumpian distraction

from the issues that really matter to our national security.

Steve Coll, author of "Directorate S", thank you so much for joining us this evening.

COLL: Thank you, Christiane. Appreciate it.

AMANPOUR: So, from Earth to space now. Elon Musk changed the game on Tuesday when his company SpaceX launched the world's most powerful rocket,

the Falcon Heavy, nearly flawlessly into orbit.

And here was a jocular Musk right after his groundbreaking success, expressing relief that it did actually go off without a hitch.


ELON MUSK, SPACEX CEO: I had this image of just a giant explosion on the pad with a wheel bouncing down the road, like a Tesla logo landing

somewhere with a thud.


AMANPOUR: Now, obviously, that is not what happened. So, is this the start of a new space race. On day two, let us discuss this new frontier

with Dana Hull, the "Bloomberg News" technology reporter on the SpaceX beat.

Dana, welcome. Welcome from San Francisco.


AMANPOUR: So, you're in the heart of American technology. How significant and is this a major game changer?

HULL: This is a huge moment. If you think about space, it's about moments. Neil Armstrong on the moon, Challenger, Columbia. And Falcon

Heavy yesterday was a moment that was witnessed and watched by millions of people around the world.

I mean, 2.3 million people alone watched on YouTube. Hundreds of thousands of people were watching along the Florida space coast. This was a moment

that really excited people about the possibilities of space.

And it's an excitement that we haven't seen in the United States in quite a while.

AMANPOUR: So, that is actually precisely the point. It's this idea of America, the creative genius of entrepreneurs who use their smarts and

their money and their hopes and their dreams to do things that people say are simply impossible.

Is it more than that? Is this something, this private enterprise, something that can take over what government-funded NASA used to be

expected to do?

HULL: Yes, absolutely. I think when you hear the term space race, that refers to the historical race between the United States and Russia in the

years after Sputnik.

And we're seeing now instead is that private industry on its own with a lot of years spent with research and development and privately-funded dollars

is now really embarking on its own space race where the best technology is going to win.

And what we saw yesterday was SpaceX, which is a private company, launched a vehicle completely on its own without any government funding. And for a

cost that was pretty remarkable considering what they were able to accomplish.

So, Elon Musk said yesterday in his post-launch press conference that his hope is that this will inspire others to join him in kind of pushing the

boundaries of what we can do as a population here on Earth in terms of exploring not just low Earth orbit, but the Moon, Mars and beyond.

[14:20:00] AMANPOUR: Indeed. He did say he hopes that this opens up a whole new realm of possibility. Let's just listen to that little bit of

what he said during his press conference.


MUSK: So, I think it's going to encourage other countries and companies to raise their sights and say, hey, we can do bigger and better, which is

great. We want a new space race. Space races are exciting.


AMANPOUR: So, he's, obviously, energized. And, of course, there was wonderful pictures of all the employees at SpaceX in California cheering

when this happened successfully.

And, of course, the drama of him putting a Tesla into space was something amazing. Is it more than a self-promotional moment or is this the first

step towards, I don't know, colonizing Mar, sending people to the moon in these private rockets?

HULL: Sure. So, SpaceX was founded in 2002 with the goal of making life interplanetary. And that's a quite remarkable, expensive, long-range

endeavor. And in order to do that, SpaceX needs to fund that mission.

So, they make money by providing launch services to customers, including commercial satellite companies, NASA and the US military.

Falcon Heavy is now a second launch vehicle in their family of vehicles that will allow them to launch heavier commercial payloads both for

satellite operators and the US military. And they needed to show that it could launch something heavy.

Now, typically, a rocket company could put in a block of concrete or something else to kind of simulate the weight of a heavy-duty satellite.

Musk thought it would be funny to use a car because it's a heavy object.

But it was clearly sort of a tongue-in-cheek moment to reference his other company, which is Tesla. But it really did a phenomenal job. I mean,

people were just blown away to see these images of this car with a mannequin dressed in a space suit kind of hurling towards the outer reaches

of the solar system.

I mean, that's the kind of imagery that really sticks with people and gets them get excited about - just thinking about space, which is not something

that a lot of people really focus on, given all of the issues here on Earth.

AMANPOUR: Indeed. I guess, that's why it's caused so much excitement and everybody's talking about it day two.

How long - how far away do you think the dream is, the dream of going to Mars, of space tourism, of all the things that Musk has said he wants to


HULL: It's hard to put a timeline on it. It's not going to be next year. But I think if you look at SpaceX overall as a company, they've been at

this since 2002 and they've designed rockets from the beginning to be reusable.

So, what was incredible about yesterday's Falcon Heavy launch is that the two side boosters that we saw land in tandem on the landing pad there in

Florida had been previously flown to space before.

So, Elon Musk's whole vision is not just about access to space, but driving down the cost curve to get to space. And the cheaper it is, the higher the

chance of success it will actually get there. And the kind of leaps that they've made as they've been doing this have really sort of stunned the


It wasn't very long ago that people thought that Musk's idea of reusing rockets was crazy. Now, he's reused them several times. Just landed two

of them yesterday.

And as SpaceX moves forward with this other projects, they're working on another vehicle called the BFR, I think I'll see it certainly in my

lifetime. I guess, the time horizon that most people talk about is 10 to 20 years.

AMANPOUR: Well, you talk about the price and we understand it had twice the lift capacity at a quarter of the cost that it might have taken.

But NASA in all its history, people say NASA has been doing what it's been doing and breaking frontiers for the good of science, for the sake of

science. Is Elon Musk and SpaceX in this for science or is it about commercial enterprise and contracts and the like?

HULL: I think they're very much into it for science and the possibility of making it possible for humans to live on other planets. But in order to do

that, they need to fund it. And so, they have a sort of commercial business, which is being a launch provider that helps to fund this larger

mission of getting to Mars.

But SpaceX has always about creating a human settlement on Mars. And it's this really complex engineering challenge to do that. How do you safely

get people to Mars, what do the people do when they get there, how do they find food, how do they find water, how do you find rocket fuel to get back.

I mean, it's a very big undertaking, but it certainly influences everything that SpaceX has done to this point.

And it's not just SpaceX. I mean, we're a raft - go ahead.

AMANPOUR: No, no. Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you. Go ahead.

[14:25:00] HULL: I would just say, what SpaceX has accomplished has inspired a whole new generation of young engineers and aerospace designers

to kind of get into the game.

So, there are a lot of space startups that are looking at other things like asteroid mining and space tourism, printing smaller rocket parts with 3-D

engines. I mean, space is really exploding as an industry and that's a real sea change from the way it used to be, which was basically government

funding with private contractors.

Now, we are seeing all kinds of startups and a lot of venture capital money flowing into the industry as well.

AMANPOUR: Dana, 30 seconds left. The irony that Elon Musk is a South African. He's an immigrant into the United States amid the debate that we

keep having, including today.

HULL: I don't think there's any irony. I guess, the one thing I would point out is that President Donald Trump congratulated Elon last night on

the successful Falcon Heavy launch.

And it is important to note that Musk himself is an immigrant. He came to the United States, made a lot of money with his early involvement in PayPal

and then plowed that money into both Tesla and SpaceX, which are two of the most groundbreaking companies that the United States has today.

So, here in California, many of our most successful tech companies were founded and are led by immigrants. SpaceX is an American company with Musk

at the helm.

AMANPOUR: Dana Hull, thank you so much.

And that is for our program tonight. And remember, you can always listen to our podcast, see us online at and follow me on Facebook and

Twitter. Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.