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Americans Blame Trump for Longest Government Shutdown; Interview with Former U.S. Vice President, Al Gore; Trump, The Global Face of Climate Denial; Trump's Transgender Ban in the Military; Interview with Jennifer Peace. Interview with Chief Executive of Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired January 23, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
Thirty-three days without a paycheck for Federal workers. Former Presidential Candidate, Former Vice President Al Gore lived through eight
shutdowns. He joins me from Davos where he's tackling an even bigger crises, climate change.
Also, ahead, President Trump's transgender troop ban proceeds for now, reaction from a trans captain in the U.S. military.
Plus, my conversation with Afghanistan's second in command, Dr Abdullah Abdullah. As President Trump miles pulling U.S. troops out.
And capturing the human cost of war, our Hari Sreenivasan speaks to the Syria correspondent for "The Associated Press," Sarah Ld.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
800,000 Federal workers have now been furloughed or working without pay for 33 days, that's since September 22nd. And polls show Americans a largely
blaming President Trump for the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, sparked by the standoff over funding for the president's desire
for that border wall with Mexico.
Here's what some of them had to say at a food bank in New York.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) as great as this country is in, we should be more intelligent. we should be thinking more intelligently. And the
whole world is looking at us like, you know, like we are kids because this is what kids do.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've had to get some type of help from other families and friends to help me out as well as dull food right here which is helping
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, in an attempt to end the shutdown, the Senate will take two key votes on Thursday on competing proposals, one is backed by Republicans
the other by Democrats, but they're both expected to fail along partisan lines. We'll wait to see.
The former vice president and presidential candidate, Al Gore, lived through his own fair share of government shutdowns and dysfunction in
Washington, but these days as one of the world's most prominent climate change crusaders. He is telling leaders at the World Economic Forum in
Davos that we are running out of time. And I've been speaking to him from there.
In this exclusive interview, he says that President Trump is out of step with his own young Republicans on this issue and he's in danger of being
the world's poster boy for climate denial.
Vice President Al Gore, welcome to the program.
AL GORE, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you for having me, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: So, it is clear that the president of the United States has not arrived at Davos because of the shutdown, which we're covering very
closely. And I just want to ask you from your perspective as a former vice president, congressman, senator, you've worked through many, many
shutdowns. What do you think is going to break this impasse?
GORE: Well, I don't know. I think that -- of course you will hear this through a partisan filter because I -- you know, I used to be a Democratic
officeholder. But I sincerely believe that he needs to open the government up and then begin negotiating on these other matters.
I think there are two things different about this shutdown compared to others that I'm familiar with in history. Number one, President Trump
declared in advance of the shutdown that he would take full credit for it or blame, that it was his shutdown. And he announced that in advance,
everybody heard him do so.
The second thing that's different is, just beforehand, the House and the Senate and large bipartisan majorities passed legislation to keep the
government open that was supported by President Trump and then some right- wing broadcasting types that he's evidently very, very sensitive to criticized him for doing that and he reversed field right away, and that's
why we have a shutdown.
So, the solution comes out of that history. He needs to open up the government and start good faith negotiations.
AMANPOUR: And just quickly, his actual political personal ratings have plummeted over this shutdown. He is clearly being blamed for it by the
population. And we've been covering the absolute pain and suffering that government workers are going through, furloughed, working without pay,
having to do yard sales, you know, even food stamps potentially, you know, not being there, eventually, to help people out.
I mean, in that regard, it is also precedent making.
GORE: Yes, it is. And it's a horrible way to treat these hardworking public employees. It's embarrassing for our country; the embarrassment is
nothing compared to the hardship and difficulty these families are experiencing. So, he needs to reopen the government.
AMANPOUR: You've met President Trump before he was inaugurated, you had a sort of climate meeting with him at the suggestion of his own daughter, an
advisor, Ivanka. Just tell me how did you feel he was going to pursue the issue of climate?
GORE: Well, I continued talking with him during the first half of his first year after he went into the White House. I have -- I'm a little old
fashioned in protecting the confidence of conversations with any president and I got into that habit for eight years when I worked in the White House.
And so, I haven't revealed the substance of those conversations. I'll simply say that I had some hope that he would come to his senses and change
his mind, but I was wrong, he didn't.
AMANPOUR: But at the same time, a strange confluence is sort of happening in the United States because you see poll numbers moving that suggest
majorities in the U.S. now, of all parties, actually believe this to be a very, very significant issue.
For instance, 51 percent say they are extremely or very sure that global warming is happening, that's up from 37 percent just a few years ago in
2015. 72 percent say climate change is an issue that's very, very important to them, that's up from 56 percent in 2015.
So, in that regard, are you optimistic that those people can put enough pressure on politics particularly, politics at the top?
GORE: Yes, I am. And I'm optimistic overall, Christiane. Although, I have to present caveat. We're running out of time, and the emissions have
started going up again. We're putting 110 million tons of manmade heat trapping global warming pollution into the sky every day as if it's an open
sewer. And the accumulated amount now traps as much extra heat energy in the earth's system every day as would be released 550,000 Hiroshima class
atomic bombs exploding on the earth's surface every 24 hours.
It's a big planet but that's a lot of energy. And what you're seeing in these recent polls with an all-time record high number of Americans in both
political parties saying, "Hey, this is very serious. We got to do something about it," you're seeing not so much the result of advocates like
me and others who are working hard on this as you are seeing the results of the messages sent by Mother Nature every night on the television news is
like a nature right through the Book of Revelations.
Look at the fires in California a few months ago, look at the massive floods, the hurricanes in the Carolinas and Florida and Texas. And even
today, the droughts in India, there are massive downpours. These records are being set. The five hottest years ever measured have been in the last
five years. Eighteen of the 19 hottest years ever measured have been in the last 19 years.
This is really crystal clear. People get it. There are a few people who still think the earth is flat, the moon landing was fake and that this
isn't real, but the vast majority now understand it. And, you know, some of the large carbon polluters have a lot of influence with some
politicians, particularly in the U.S. White House but in some other countries as well. But overall publics are moving rapidly to demand
solutions and the younger generation is demanding a better future.
AMANPOUR: And yet, you know, all that you've said it clearly doesn't impact President Trump still. Even January 20th, I mean, that's just this
past week, he said yet again in response to people complaining about this, "Be careful. Try staying in your house, large parts of the country are
suffering from tremendous amounts of snow and near record setting cold. Amazing how big this system is. It wouldn't be bad to have a little of
that good old-fashioned global warming right now."
So, I mean, he's still not taking it seriously or at least addressing the issue in this hoaxy (ph) and fashion of his.
GORE: Yes. And, of course, there are a lot of Americans who still support him, I respect those Americans, I understand their desire to disrupt things
the way they were going, I get all that. But I honestly think, Christiane, that Donald J. Trump has become the global face of climate denial, and that
in itself is causing a lot of people to say, "Whoa, I don't want to be associated with that. I don't want to be associated with him or those
views." I think that's actually one of the factors that's driving these record poll numbers showing Americans at an all-time high in demanding
solutions for the climate crisis.
AMANPOUR: And, again, you know, you made a huge impact when you did "Inconvenient Truth" and you did what had to be done then, you got all the
stories and it was sort of -- I mean, I'm afraid it was doom and gloom, it was showing the worst impacts of all of this and the deniers as well.
Now, it looks like people are trying to persuade people that they don't need -- you know, they won't lose their quality of life, they need to
understand about solutions. It's almost like a second wave climate care movement going on.
And yet, it takes government action, right. So, we had the first EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, who was really, really, really, really, really
bad on this issue.
AMANPOUR: And now, we've got the second one, Andrew Wheeler.
AMANPOUR: Who, again, just went through some confirmation hearings. Listen to what he said when Bernie Sanders was questioning him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BERNIE SANDERS, U.S. SENATE DEMOCRAT: Do you agree with the scientific community that climate change is a global crisis that must be addressed in
an aggressive way?
ANDREW WHEELER, NOMINEE TO LEAD THE U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: I believe that climate change is a global issue the must be addressed
globally. No one country can --
SANDERS: That wasn't my question, sir. My -- I don't have a lot of time and I'd appreciate if you're answering the questions. Scientific community
has said that climate change is one of the great crises facing our planet. And if there is not unprecedented action to transform our energy system
away from fossil fuel to sustainable energy and energy efficiency there will be irreparable damage in the United States and then virtually every
country on earth. Do you agree with the scientific community?
WHEELER: I would not call it the greatest crisis. No, sir. I consider it a huge issue that has to be addressed globally.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, you know, they're still just not accepting it. But even if they thought it was a huge issue that has to be addressed globally, are
they doing enough to do -- to address their part of the global solution?
GORE: Well, let's be clear. I think I know some of Donald Trump's supporters in the last election who are personally disappointed that he has
not, in fact, drained of the swamp as he promised to do. That meant to some that he was going to take the snakes and alligators out of the swamp
when he's actually been putting more snakes and alligators into the swamp, and not to call Mr. Wheeler a snake or an alligator, but he is a coal
lobbyist who is now been put in charge of regulating the pollution from the cold companies. This revolving door has gotten much worse under Donald
Trump and it is causing grave damage to public policy.
But, you know, here is more of the good news, Christiane. The fastest growing job in the United States of America is solar installer, growing
nine times faster than average job growth. The second fastest growing job is wind turban technician. We now have a sustainability revolution that is
based on new digital technologies, the internet of things, machine learning, the much higher levels of efficiency, it has the magnitude of the
industrial revolution but the speed of the digital revolution. It's creating jobs, it's cleaning up the air and water.
Now, we do need changes in policy because governments around the world are still subsidizing the burning of dirty fossil fuels at a rate 38 times
larger than the meager encouragements for renewable energy and sustainability technologies, that has to change.
AMANPOUR: I mean, it's really interesting hearing how this is sort of, you know, gallivanting ahead. Can I also ask you on a macroeconomic level what
you make of the president's belief in protectionism, tariffs and essential -- you know, the trade war with China? And I'm asking you because you had
that very, very famous debate with Ross Perot who was contesting the 1992 election and you had a very big debate on the merits of this kind of
So, let's just play and remind people what you said back then in 1993.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GORE: In 1930 when the proposal by Mr. Smoot and Mr. Hawley was to raise tariffs across the board to protect our workers, and I brought some
pictures too. You brought some pictures?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're saying Ross is a protectionist?
GORE: This is a picture of Mr. Smoot and Mr. Hawley, they look like pretty good fellas, they sounded reasonable at the time, a lot of people believed
them. The Congress passed the Smoot-Hawley protection bill, he wants to raise tariffs on Mexico. They raised tariffs and it was one of the
principal causes, many economists say the principal cause, of the Great Depression in this country and around the world.
Now, I framed this so you can put it on your wall if you want to.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, honestly, that was pretty brilliant theatrical there and the substance was very well taken as well.
Are you surprised that we're having the same debate all these years later?
GORE: Well, first of all, this has to be said. Some of the trade practices of China have, in fact, been unfair and the digital piracy of
high technology from the U.S. really has to be stopped. However, that being said, listen to the president's own economic advisers, they're
already saying that this trade war is having a dampening effect on economic progress.
And by the way, where NAFTA is concerned, you know, the immigration from Mexico is now negative, in other words more Mexicans are leaving the U.S.
to go back to Mexico than are coming from Mexico to the U.S. Why? Partly because under NAFTA there was an opportunity to create more jobs there.
The immigrants coming now are coming mainly from Honduras and Guatemala and El Salvador in a region called the dry corridor that is the most vulnerable
region in the world to global warming. And they've gone without a harvest this year, some have gone without a harvest for two years, that is one of
the principal causes for them making that long journey.
So, we should have a sensible trade policy, correct the abuses but let's benefit from good equal and fair trade in both directions. But let's also
do in Central America what we've done in Mexico and that is to work with them to establish more jobs, more economic security so that they are not
driven away from their homes.
AMANPOUR: It is, you know, incredible how all of this is so connected. I just want to ask you one more of sort of daily news question or an
important issue that we're following on this story as well. The Supreme Court, we have witnessed the Supreme Court get a new associate justice,
Brett Kavanaugh, after credible allegations of sexual misconduct by him. We have seen, right now, that the Supreme Court has upheld temporarily, at
least, pending the lower courts the ban on transgender in the military, Trump's ban on transgender in the military.
I mean, from somebody who lost one of the most famous Supreme Court cases in modern times, Bush v Gore, is the Supreme Court somewhere where the
American people can have faith that it is a nonpartisan, nonpolitical, you know, justice is blind?
GORE: Yes. Well, there have been a lot of decisions. And "Citizens United" declared corporations to be people and money to be speech and we've
seen the corruption of our political process with flows of money ever since then get much worse.
But let me say this, Christiane. As I said after the 2000 election and the Supreme Court decision, I will say again today, we cannot allow the
perceptions of the American people of the Supreme Court to be through a partisan lens. Respect for the rule of law is really a bedrock principle.
We can disagree with opinions. I disagree with what they just said on transgender people.
All you have to do is listen to some of these green berets and special forces types who are transgender and all of their colleagues and comrades
in arms are saying, "You know, leave her alone, leave him alone." This is crazy. This is just a principle of fairness and it's like a lot of things.
Once you get to know someone who's gone through that life experience, then all the prejudice fades away.
Vice President Gore, thank you very much for joining us.
GORE: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: So, some really strong warnings there from the former vice president. And on this transgender issue, remember that shortly after his
inauguration in 2017, President Trump tweeted a ban on trans people serving in the military. A Federal court quickly blocked that ban from taking
effect. But the administration has since come back with another version and the Supreme Court, just this week, has allowed it to go into effect
while the case plays out in the lower court.
Captain Jennifer Peace is a transgender woman who joined the U.S. Army when she was 19. She has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and she's joining me
now from Washington.
Captain Peace, welcome to the program.
JENNIFER PEACE, U.S. ARMY: Thank you. Welcome.
AMANPOUR: Well, you know what, you just heard the former vice president, former presidential candidate, Al Gore, give a robust defense of your
rights and talking about, you know, the need for rule of law and impartial justice of the Supreme Court.
So, I guess I just want to ask you your reaction to the decision and to what Al Gore just said.
PEACE: The decision from the Supreme Court is disappointing and it really brings out two major concerns that I have. Even if the ban isn't
implemented yet, what we're going to have are people who are currently serving that are going before boards for a promotion, schools or some sort
of favorable action potentially being denied.
If a leader sees that the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense and the Supreme Court all agree that transgender people should not
be allowed to serve, then why would you put them into a school or continue to invest in them when your leadership doesn't think they have the
capability to serve.
More long-term, I am concerned about the future of our military. And the United States should be the most lethal fighting force in the world. And
to do that, we have to draw from everyone who is qualified, capable and willing. I believe I fall into that category and I believe many of my
peers who also happen to be transgender fall into that category.
So, no one's asking for any special treatment just to meet the standard. And if we're not given an opportunity, then we're reducing the pool of
people who can serve in our military, bring in new ideas, be the future of our service.
AMANPOUR: Well, look, let me ask then. Because with this new Supreme Court ruling, does that mean somebody like you automatically is not
serving? Are you furloughed? What's the deal with you and your colleagues?
PEACE: As far as I know, everyone who is currently in the military will continue to serve until something more happens in the lower court. The
Supreme Court action -- and I'm certainly only so educated on policy, but it looks like once a policy is published by the Department of Defense, now
it's able to be will stop new recruits from joining the military and accessions which could prevent people from going from enlisted to officer
or moving within the military.
So, I don't think it's going to have an immediate impact but long-term it will once it's decided in the courts.
AMANPOUR: So, you have been a bit of an activist. I think you met with the previous administration and the previous defense secretary, Ash Carter,
about all of this. And in the Obama administration, the ban on trans was lifted and trans service men and women were allowed to serve. What exactly
is the basis for the Trump administration's ban again?
PEACE: According to the policy and the information that was put out by Secretary Mattis, the main reasons that they're concerned about our medical
cost per, unit readiness and the welfare and the cohesion of units. But I think it's easy to speak to all three of those. The transition cost for
service members is incredibly low. I think it's one-tenth of what the U.S. military currently spends on Viagra medication. So, as a whole, it is
When you talk about readiness, we have trans people who are currently serving in every combat zone that America is in. I have deployed to Iraq,
Afghanistan, Japan, Malaysia, Korea, I've been all around the world while transitioning and it hasn't had any impact. So, one pregnancy from a
female will actually put them out of unit readiness longer than a trans person's entire transition. So, that argument doesn't feel genuine.
The other thing about unit cohesion, I have come out to so many people, peers, senior, subordinates, I commanded a unit, a headquarters element,
while I was openly serving as a trans person. And when the tweets initially came out, I had so many people from my career reaching out,
asking if there was any way they could help, just being so open and supportive. And we've seen that everywhere that we've had trans service
members come out.
I think the problem is that most people only know about trans persons from what they've seen in the media and from stereotypes. And that's why I
think it's so important to do things like this and share stories and come out within your units and your peer group because once they know what trans
person and really see that it's not this uncomfortable concept but it's your friend, your coworkers, your neighbors, they are much more accepting
and open and realize that it's not really a big deal.
AMANPOUR: You know, it's almost like we've seen this movie before in some ways. It was the same with the gay members who were serving for a long,
long time, obviously. They weren't allowed then it was don't ask don't tell and the same excuses, a lot of those were leveled, mostly about unit
cohesion and the disruptive nature and moral and the rest of it. I suppose -- I can't remember whether they challenged their fitness physically and
militarily to serve.
But it's almost that we're going back to the future. I mean, this argument has already been waged and there's no destructive result in the military
from gays serving or from transgender serving.
PEACE: Right. And I think that is a very legitimate concern. Right now, trans people are joining the military, there's 15,000 serving in the
military and multiple service chiefs, including General Milley, have spoken out and said there's been no issues with trans people serving over the last
But if we take a step back in civil rights and nondiscrimination within the military, I think that opens the doors because there was a time when Blacks
couldn't serve, when women couldn't serve, when gays, lesbians, bisexual people couldn't serve and there was a time trans people could not serve.
But we have moved past that, we've said that these people are capable of serving and it's obvious that we are because we've been doing so.
So, to start going back and reducing those right saying, "OK. Trans people can't serve," I don't think it's a huge argument to say, "Well, the more we
look at it, gays and lesbians shouldn't serve. Perhaps women shouldn't be in combat units. Maybe women shouldn't serve." And I think it opens a
door to start reducing rights for more and more Americans who are otherwise qualified and capable to meet the standard of the United States military.
AMANPOUR: So, there's been a documentary, trans military and one of your commanders was actually interviewed. And I'm just going to play a little
soundbite of what they were saying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EISENHOWER, U.S ARMY: If somebody asked me if Captain Peace serving in my unit was a social experiment, my retort would be pretty clear and pretty
quick, I don't experiment with command positions. That position was clear and obvious for me that she was right for the job. Her performance and her
potential were outstanding and frankly, outpaced those of her peers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Well, I mean, that is pretty solid endorsement. Just give me the quick version of your experience in terms of transitioning and did you
learn or did you decide to do that while you already active duty, was it before? How did your story unfold?
PEACE: So, I made the decision to start transitioning in 2014. The policy hadn't come into place but I was a member of a group called Sparta, which
is an organization of actively serving trans members. And after meeting with people, seeing people who had transitioned I kind of realized that it
was something that I needed to go forward with and do on my own.
So, I began transitioning in 2014 and I was outed to my unit in January of 2015, again, prior to the policy. But I think what had helped me is I had
established a relationship with my commanders and my peers, they relied on me, they valued me. And so, although the policy, at the time, said that I
should be discharged, they were looking for any way to keep me in and keep me as a member of their unit, and that I was as I was serving as an
intelligence advisor to an infantry combat battalion.
So, they certainly had all the reason in the world to say if I wasn't qualified to continue serving that I shouldn't be in that unit that was
preparing to deploy in any moment. But I made it through that and I was able to continue serving. I've gone to a few other units. The man you
just saw speaking there was a Colonel Eisenhower, one of the best commanders I've ever had the opportunity to work for, and he was
I was with him as the policy changed, he couldn't have been more supportive. And I think he was exactly right, the only thing that we
should be discriminating on is performance and potential. And what he also taught me and one of the other reasons I'm continuing to speak out is that
army officers are not just valued for their ability to read regulations, we're supposed to use our own values, morals, ethics and beliefs and stand
up for what we believe is right, and that's the power of an army officer to do. And so that's one of the reasons I continue to this day to speak out.
AMANPOUR: All right. And we will continue following this story. Captain Jennifer Peace, thank you for joining us tonight.
And turning now to Afghanistan where Captain Peace once serviced, it is America's longest war. And this week, a suicide attack killed dozens of
Afghans and a U.S. army sergeant was also killed in combat there. He was the second American killed in action in Afghanistan this year.
Now, this comes as President Trump has raised the prospect of pulling out half of the 14,000 American troops currently in Afghanistan.
Now, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah is joining me from Davos where he's urging the world not to give up on his country.
Welcome to the program. I know it's chilly out there in Davos. Welcome to the program.
You have an opportunity to appeal now to the people, you know, in terms of staying the course in your country. What are you telling them?
ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF AFGHANISTAN: Thank you, Christiane. It is -- it has been 18 years since the International Community has
invested in Afghanistan in blood and treasure led by the United States, at the same time the Afghan people. And the context of security has changed
worldwide especially in our region and a lot has been achieved in the past 18 years.
For example, a few years back, it was 150,000 international troops. Now, it is around 18,000. So this shows the progress. And also if you are
dealing with formidable enemies like the ISIS, al Qaeda, a remnant of al Qaeda which Taliban are now also part of that, those groups, we need to be
patient and we need to stay the course and it is doable.
The South Asia policy which was announced by the -- by President Trump was welcomed in Afghanistan, as well as in the region. And part of it was that
it is foundation-based. Also, I don't think that anybody in the United States would like to see all those sacrifices in vain, being in vain in
While tremendous progress has been made, that does not mean that the security challenges are not there. That does not mean that the context of
relations in the region has not changed. But these are all challenges that we need to face together with the hope for a better situation.
AMANPOUR: OK. So let me just take one by one. You know, obviously, the end of this is going to be some kind of political solution, some kind of
resolution that means the Taliban don't keep attacking the legitimate government forces and people of Afghanistan.
To that end, we hear that a new round of talks between the Taliban and the United States has started. And I was speaking to the former U.S. Defense
Secretary Chuck Hagel who felt that it was necessary to keep troops on the ground, to keep U.S. troops on the ground while these talks are ongoing.
Let me just play for you what he told me and get your reaction to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK HAGEL, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Afghanistan's worse off today than it's ever been. The mistake that Trump has made, in my opinion, is
right when we're trying to work on a diplomatic solution, when we have diplomatic representatives meeting with the Taliban and others, to try to
find a diplomatic solution, then he talks about withdrawing troops, pulling troops out. That's not the time to talk about troop withdrawal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, you know, I assume you agree with that. I mean it's sort of giving up leverage as Chuck Hagel was trying to say. What hopes do you
have for this round of talks with the Taliban? Do you have any hope at all that there can be a political solution?
ABDULLAH: Until you -- before getting to this, I agree with Jack Hagel. He's a good friend. He has been a friend of Afghanistan. And he tried
very hard with his own term as Secretary of Defense.
When it comes to the talks which are underway today, yes, if Taliban think that tomorrow the U.S. troops will withdraw from Afghanistan, why wouldn't
they continue their heinous crimes against the people in a campaign against all of us before they think that they could come back big deal?
So that argument is there. Of course, it is the prerogative of the president of the United States that -- to make a decision about it. From
what we hear about some of the details of the plan which is not as of yet being discussed in Washington in details but the hence about it that it's
not like complete withdrawal, it's not like abrupt and drastic decision.
The U.S. presented us military in civilian. They keep assuring us that the engagement with Afghanistan will continue until there is peace. And at the
same time, part of the South Asia policy has been that it is conditioned based. The presence of troops are condition-based.
And there are lots of lawmakers which are in the United States which believe in the same way. And at the same time, nobody wants to give the
troublemakers in and around Afghanistan to hope that they can reverse all their achievements of the past 18 years and turn Afghanistan into another
situation where they -- like prior to September 11 that they hosted Osama bin Laden. And we knew what was the consequence of that for the United
States, for the rest of the world.
So that's the logic. But at the same time, when the president of the United States makes a comment, one cannot take it for granted.
AMANPOUR: So then let me ask you this. I mean, you know, let's hope for your sake that that's what happens that there will be condition-based
action there. But you couldn't -- you've heard also a lot of sort of talk about mercenaries. And President Trump has, you know, said many times that
there's a transactional quality to what he -- you know, the way he's engaging around the world.
And why not have mercenaries, in other words, guns for hire to go to places instead of sending Americans? So I was just speaking to General McChrystal
and also to Sean McFate, a former colonel who's also served in Afghanistan. This is what he told me about Blackwater and Erik Prince and that mercenary
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN MCFATE, FORMER COLONEL: So Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater. His sister is Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education. He is proposing
this plan where all American troops in Afghanistan get replaced by mercenaries. And he thinks that 6500 mercenaries can "fix" Afghanistan.
No, it can't. That's dangerous thinking. And worse than that is if the U.S. continues to do this, then it legitimizes it for the rest of the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So he obviously doesn't think it's a good idea. What do you think and would Afghanistan accept mercenaries, guns for hire, a kind of a
private army instead of the American Armed Forces?
ABDULLAH: I couldn't agree more with the gentleman which commented on this issue. The minute you turn something that we think is part of global
efforts in dealing with terrorism and if a source of peace and stability stabilization of our part of the world which has an impact on the rest of
the world, then main return -- the minute that we turn this into a private enterprise, would you think that the people of Afghanistan would be able to
pay the high price that they continue to pay?
The casualties of our soldiers or people on daily basis is just unacceptable. The fact that they think that they are defending a
legitimate government, legitimate government in values which are our common values, and preventing Afghanistan from going back to the old days when men
and women of the country were treated as subhuman, that is the main motivation.
The fight is between cruelty and civil life between our forces, our people, and those forces which are fighting against us. When it comes to the
negotiations, the negotiations will start when Taliban come to the negotiating table with the Afghan government, with the Afghan side.
The American envoy, Ambassador Khalilzad has been trying very hard. I'm not briefed about his recent visit to Doha. Yesterday, he was in Doha. I
hope that he has made progress. But at the same time, it's very obvious that it's not the people of Afghanistan which are an obstacle towards
peace, it's not the government of Afghanistan, it's not the international partners, it's Taliban who enjoys sanctuaries outside of Afghanistan.
And to their mind, part of the South Asia strategy was also to deal with the sanctuaries which exist now. And it's critical in these sorts of
campaigns, conflicts. It's important to deal with the sanctuaries. It's time to put real pressure on those who are supporting Taliban and continued
to support Taliban. And the illusion that they might serve their national security interests which is an illusion.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Well, we will have to talk more about that another time. I think you're referring to Pakistan. It would be interesting to get your
thoughts on whether they're changing or not. We'll do that another time. Dr. Abdullah, thank you so much for joining us from Davos.
And we turn now to Syria's Civil War where just last week, 19 people including 4 Americans were killed by a suicide bomb which ISIS claimed
responsibility for. It happened just weeks after President Trump declared them defeated and announced that he was going to withdraw American troops
Sarah El Deeb is Syria correspondent for "The Associated Press" and she guided our Hari Sreenivasan through the many conflicts on the ground there
and the human toll of a country that's been cut into pieces.
HARI SREENIVASAN, CONTRIBUTOR: Syria is a place now that has at least four different conflicts going on. But before we get to how those are playing
out, I just want to ask what have you witnessed on the ground? What's life like there for Syrians?
SARAH EL DEEB, SYRIA CORRESPONDENT, ASSOCIATED PRESS: It depends which part of Syria you're in. So there are many -- like you said, there are
many conflicts and there are many stages. So I've been able to access North Syria for the most part where opposition and Kurdish and the U.S. and
Turkish forces are present.
So in that area -- in the northeast, it's a mix of devastation and potentially I think there are areas where there's been a very aggressive
and determined fight against the Islamic state. So cities and entire blocks and event centers as we've seen in Raqqa have been completely
destroyed and that's the devastation that I'm talking about.
There are also areas that have been spared most of the conflict so there are peaceful farmlands, secure areas where people go on about their
business as usual. But then there's the one thing that is inescapable in all of Syria is the displace.
I think people, about a quarter of the population, has been moved around inside Syria. So in every area, whether it was a government-held area or
opposition or whatever, you have -- in this stage, you have a lot of people who have lost their homes and are living in squalid camps, in destroyed
buildings, and they maintain their existence. So life in -- is a war. It's a war zone. So life in a war zone is only going to be very difficult.
SREENIVASAN: We have some estimates of what 400,000 people now have been killed since 2011 in the middle of this war. We've got estimates that
almost half the population either has been internally displaced or has left the country. But what does that do to a society when you have this
happening sort of endlessly?
EL DEEB: I think years on, Syria that was is no longer. I mean Syria was one of the most diverse and they were societies in the Middle East. They
were Christians. They were Muslims. They were Kurds. They. Were Turkmen. It was a very mixed society rarely find in the Middle East. And I think
that that's no longer.
You have, like you said, 400 people estimated to have died but we don't know if that's really the real number. It's very difficult to keep track
of the killing that has taken place. They have -- you have more than a hundred thousand -- an estimated hundred thousand people who are missing.
We don't know where they are. They are either in prison or they are underground dungeon somewhere. We don't know what happened to them. We
have 6 million people that left the country. And like I said, another 6 million that are moving about in different areas that are not their homes.
So you can imagine that this is a country that has been cut into pieces. And I don't know if -- how you can actually put that together if the
conflict is still continuing until now.
SREENIVASAN: When it comes to territory, at this point, has Assad essentially retaken most of the land?
EL DEEB: Sixty percent of the land. I don't know if that's most. I mean that's just above 50 percent of the land. It is definitely better than
what it was three, four years ago.
He has a lot of help from allies. The Russians and Iranians have helped him regain a lot of those territories. And the armed opposition has lost a
lot of allies. I mean I think the Americans at one point were supporting a number of rebels who were fighting against the Syrian government.
The Arab governments were also -- and then -- were also supportive of those armed oppositions. But this has dissipated throughout the years. It's no
longer the case. But he does not have control of the oil resources, for instance, which majority of them are concentrated in the east. There's a
lot of water resources that are in -- also in the eastern and central part of Syria.
And I don't think he has control of the population. I mean there -- like I said, 6 million are living abroad for -- three -- between three or four of
them live in Turkey. Like Turkey has control of about a third of the Syrian population as it is. And then you have six other living in -- on
the move. Many of them in opposition or in the 30-plus percent of Syrian territory.
So he does but there are still areas that are outside of his control. And I think so long as this is the case, there will always be unrest in Syria.
SREENIVASAN: Let's talk about kind of the second frame here which is the Turks versus the Kurds, also fighting for the same piece of land in the
EL DEEB: I wouldn't know if they're fighting for the same piece of -- I wouldn't describe it that way. I think Turkey is concerned about the
growing influence and sovereignty and autonomy of the Kurdish-led forces in Northern Syria. I think it has said that from the beginning and it has
worked to curtail or prevent that.
The Kurds are looking for autonomy. They do appear -- at times in a conflict, they did appear to be the biggest winners of this conflict but I
think that is changing. So I think Turkey has worked to push them out of that area. It is said that it will -- it's seeking to establish a 20-
kilometers safety zone along its border and it wants to push the Kurds out of that area.
SREENIVASAN: Let's also put that in the context of the United States versus the Islamic State. How does that have an effect on that fight
between the Kurds and the Turks?
EL DEEB: I don't think the U.S. has ever openly said it supports the autonomy or the autonomous entity of the Kurdish groups. I think the U.S.
was in there to fight against ISIS and it found a partner in the Kurdish forces and the Kurdish fighters.
But it's also an ally and a NATO member like Turkey. So I think it was always in a difficult situation to keep both happy. Turkey wants the U.S.
to work with Ankara, with Turkey to fight the ISIS in the area. And the U.S. did not find what it was looking for in the Turkey Force or in the
Turkey prepared force to fight ISIS in that area.
So I think it was always a very difficult situation the U.S. was finding itself in. And I feel like we just pushed it down the road. And now we
have to deal with it. How are you going to work with Turkey and still protect those partners that you worked with for four or five years to fight
against the Islamic state?
SREENIVASAN: So what happens to those Kurdish fighters right now? Do they feel betrayed by the United States?
EL DEEB: I mean I think they say that openly. They feel shocked. They feel worried. They feel like they've put in a lot of effort in fighters
and they relied on a partner that is going to leave them in the face of the advancing enemy force.
I think they have not dropped the ball. I think, from what I hear, is that they're still trying to find a way to work with the Americans to find a
solution for their existence in the area. I just find that very -- it's a very complex situation and I don't know the ins and outs of the
negotiations exactly to be able to see how this is going to work out at the end. I don't see how Turkey would accept any form of Kurdish presence
along its border.
SREENIVASAN: Both the president of the United States and the vice president have recently said unequivocally that ISIS is defeated. Yet we
just had a bombing that killed 19 people including 4 Americans. Is that a sign from ISIS that it's not done?
AL DEEB: I mean clearly, it's not done. It's there and it's able to carry out attacks in various parts of Syria's, not just numbers. I mean there
are always incidents here and there. In Raqqa also, still -- there are still incidents. Remember, before this horrible incident, there were also
security alerts and attacks, attempted attacks.
I think their authority has diminished definitely. It was at one point in control of this whole section of Syria and blood section of Iraq. But I
don't think we've -- I don't think we can say that the group is finished. I think the group is present among the population.
I think they have a sliver of land still in the middle of Southeast Syria, about 15 kilometers I think that we can identify clearly. But I think they
are still moving around.
We haven't arrested their top leaders. We don't know where they've gone. There are still people that come out from that battle and there is all who
are foreign fighters and families of the foreign fighters that are still moving with the refugee population. So I don't think we can say the group
is over, obviously.
SREENIVASAN: With all this going on there then, what's the most pressing matter in Syria right now?
EL DEEB: Humans are the most pressing matter of Syria, always. You have, like I was saying, people living in quiet conditions all over the place.
You have people under risk of continued violence.
You have Idlib that are festering potential conflict, coming up 3 million people live in that area among extremist groups and other armed groups.
The government is always threatening to have an offensive in that area.
And then you have the people, the Kurdish population that lives in the Northeast of Syria, where would they go if there was a Turkish offensive in
that area? I think Turkey make statements about how it will protect and safeguard their lives and their livelihoods of the Kurds living in that
But I think with all the animosity that has developed over the years, I think those people will probably have to flee somewhere. They are caught
between two impossible situations. There is a sense of security that was developed over the last couple of years with the U.S. presence in the area.
It's not total security. It's still a conflict zone and there are still attacks here and there.
But there was a sense of normalcy that you could see in areas like Manbij for instance. It's a very vibrant commercial town with nine or six soccer
teams that play football, with intrigue between the east and the west. And I think these people, half of them, will have to find another place to live
if there was -- with the looming offensives from either Turkey or from the government or just change event.
I don't think the U.S. has to stay in Syria forever or that that was ever an option. But I think a negotiation for the fate of these people is what
would probably provide some sense of security and stability for people who have lived in conflict for eight years.
SREENIVASAN: So is that the effect really that these 2,000 people, the 2,000 U.S. troops had on the ground there is to give people there in the
region a sense of confidence?
EL DEEB: I don't want to overrate that, the importance of 2,000 troops but I think there -- they were -- there were presence that meant a certain
degree of leverage in a conflict that is so intractable. There was a continued battle against the elements of the ISIS. There's also
intelligence work that was done to prevent the militants from regrouping and reemerging.
And I think the fact that in a place like Manbij where it was under constant threat of a possible offensive, they were very happy that they had
their allies there preventing that from taking place. I think there is -- there needed to be a negotiation. With pulling out, you don't have a card
to negotiate. That's -- I think that's how most people see it.
SREENIVASAN: What are the ripple effects of this war now in the entire region? I mean you've got massive refugee populations in Jordan, in
Turkey, in Lebanon. And it seems to be a destabilizing force of these other countries.
EL DEEB: It's -- it has -- it's a conflict in the center of the Arab Middle East with everyone else around interested in battling it out on that
territory. It definitely is a sore spot in the Middle East right now.
SREENIVASAN: You've been covering the Middle East for a long time. You've been based throughout the region in different places. What's the last
three years been like covering this war for you? You go in and out of Syria which cannot be an easy situation, either from a security perspective
or as a woman going into these zones.
EL DEEB: It was not possible for a long time to access Syria. I think there was a period where most journalists were not able to go to Syria.
When we finally did, it was -- it's not -- absolutely not easy. You have to travel by land. You have to security preparation. You have to go into
areas where they are -- you don't know -- there are no clear frontlines.
Like when when ISIS was in the area and we had to cover the battle for Raqqa, for instance, you don't see where the frontline is. Anything is
possible. They come out from underground. They come out from drones in the air, they drop bombs on you.
So definitely, I would say that covering Syria is one of the most challenging experiences that I had. Security and also humanity, the extent
of the suffering in all parts of Syria is just unimaginable. And it's so - - it's always a challenge to try to convey that these people are tired of hearing about conflicts and wars and displacement. But you cannot stop
telling the story.
This has real effect on real people real. Lives are torn. People are separated. Futures are lost. I think that has been -- and you don't see
an end in sight. And I think that has been one of the most difficult aspects of covering this war.
SREENIVASAN: Sarah Al Deeb of "The Associated Press", thanks so much.
AL DEEB: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And a heartfelt plea for Syria's most vulnerable front journalist Sarah Al Deeb.
But that is it for now. Remember, you can listen to our podcast at any time. See us online at amanpour.com. And you can follow me on Facebook
Thank you for watching. And goodbye from London.