Interview with House Intel Chairman Mike Rogers

Interview with House Intel Chairman Mike Rogers

By The Situation Room - June 23, 2011

BLITZER: Joining us now from Capitol Hill, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Do you support what the president announced last night?

ROGERS: I don't, and I have a lot of concerns about how he's laid out his plan.

You know, the last of the troops of the surge got here January of this year, so this was the first full fighting season. And remember, it's about late April through October is the fighting season for the Taliban in Afghanistan. So this was the first full fighting season that we've had with all of those troop surge -- all of the troops from the surge on the ground.

And I supported the president in this. I thought it was important that we break the momentum of the Taliban, that we try to break their back. I mean, you're never going to eliminate them, but you want them so weak that the Afghan special -- excuse me, the Afghan services, the army and the police, can defend Afghanistan itself when we leave.

And I think this really puts at risk all the gains that we've made and the possibility for the Afghans to really takeover and be able to fight back against what will be a weakened Taliban if we had done the mission correctly.

BLITZER: Because here's what I don't understand. Administration officials say -- and you know this better than I do -- there are really only, what, 50, 75, maybe at tops 100, members of al Qaeda terrorist left in all of Afghanistan? Is that right?

ROGERS: Well, I mean, I think the number fluctuates. They may be talking about leadership types. And that would be probably accurate.

But here's the problem. It's not just -- al Qaeda is one of the main problems of the Taliban being in charge of Afghanistan. And I support the reasons the president sent the troops there. It was not about al Qaeda alone. That was certainly an element, but it was to break the momentum of the Taliban that allows al Qaeda to be in Afghanistan. That's really important.

And it also is the problem on the Pakistani side of the border. So the one leverage we had about keeping some tough talk with the Pakistanis about stepping up to the plate is we had 100,000 troops there really putting the hurt on the Taliban on the Afghan side. And that was important leverage, I thought, and just, I think, a horrible message for our resolve about fixing the problem.

BLITZER: Because the other number that's been thrown out, as far as Taliban fighters in all of Afghanistan, there may only be maybe 25,000 in all of Afghanistan. I don't know if you know a more accurate number. Some say it's only 5,000 or 10,000 or 15,000. I've heard as high as 25,000.

So here's the question. There are 300,000 Afghan troops, police and military, that have been trained over the past 10 years by the United States and the NATO allies. Isn't it time for the Afghan troops to deal with these 25,000 Taliban fighters and let the U.S. and NATO pull out?

ROGERS: Well, I mean, we do want to pull out. And yes, there will come a time when the military is ready.

Here is the interesting thing, Wolf. The military said don't do this right now. There were lots of folks saying don't do this, commanders on the ground, reports that Petraeus said, hey, this is not what I want to do, and if you do it, we're going to have to go into risk assessment and mitigation of risks.

That's not the kind of talk you want when you're trying to beat an enemy. An so I think it's tens of thousands, but here's the problem. And the same they're talking about pulling out, they're also talking about negotiation with the Taliban, which I think is a terrible idea, by the way.

A, they have never lived up to one of their agreements. And B, these are the same people that, when they were in charge, made it illegal for women to be taught how to read. I mean, this is a pretty brutal bunch. And that allowed al Qaeda safe haven.

What we have just done to the enemy is saying, hey, great, guess what? We've lost our resolve, we're going to come home. I've got an election next year, that's really important to me. Finishing this fight is not. We're going to pull out, we're going to try to negotiate with you.

If you're an Afghan village leader in a small town down around Kandahar somewhere, and you know that the footprint is getting smaller for your security, and the Taliban saying don't forget, I'm going to be back real soon, who is your loyalty going to go through? And that's the kind of thing that's really intangible, and once you lose that, it's hard to get it back. BLITZER: Well, can the U.S. -- and you want to cut the spending, you want to reduce the national debt -- between now and the end of 2014 spend another half a trillion dollars, almost $500 billion to maintain this military operation in Afghanistan?

ROGERS: Well, I don't know if you have to go to 2014, but the problem is I know that leaving today won't do it. The military wanted two fighting seasons, this season and next season. By the time you start the second tier of this drawdown, it's right in the middle of the fighting season, which I really don't understand. That militarily makes no sense to me.

So, what we have to do with the economy is not place it all at the foot of Afghanistan. What we need to do is work on our domestic agenda. We need a pro-growth agenda where we make it so that we can create jobs and grow the economy, while we're cutting in other areas. But the one thing I do know is that it costs this country almost a trillion dollars just for one day's terrorist attack that happened on 9/11, and we still pay a price for that.

So what I do know is if you leave it early, and you don't do this job right, we put ourselves at risk again by allowing a safe haven to reestablish itself in Afghanistan. I agreed with the president last year. I think this is more -- this was a product development from his political shop and not the Pentagon. And really, we need this the other way around.

BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

ROGERS: Hey, thanks, Wolf. Appreciate talking to you.


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