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Interview with Senator Carl Levin

Interview with Senator Carl Levin

By John King, USA - March 15, 2012

KING: Mr. Chairman, President Karzai says he wants NATO troops to leave their outposts and to come back to their bases. If the president of Afghanistan says they should get out of the communities and go back to the bigger bases, should the troops do that?

LEVIN: What I understand President Karzai is saying is that not that all combat troops would out by 2013, but that they'd only be out of certain areas by the end of 2013.

So I don't think this is necessarily a major difference. And we will decide, the president will decide what the pace of the reductions are of our forces after summer of this year, when we're down to about 70,000, whether we're going to continue to reduce troops from the end of this summer to 2014 or whether there's going to be a delay in any further reductions. That's to me the real big issue which is facing the president, not necessarily what President Karzai said today.

KING: But, to what President Karzai said today, the point of a counterinsurgency strategy is to put the troops in the community, to try to rebuild the communities where the Taliban once held them, to try to rebuild trust first with the U.S. troops and then with the Afghan forces who would presumably take over.

If you can't be out in the most troubled communities, what's the point of the mission?

LEVIN: The mission should be, as far as I'm concerned, number- one mission is not that we protect the Afghan people, but that we help train, equip and strengthen the Afghan forces, so that they can protect their own people.

And that is consistent with what President Karzai said, in my judgment.

KING: The point of this mission for 10 years now has been to get Afghanistan to a point that when the troops ultimately leave, al Qaeda does not come back, the Taliban does not come back and allow terrorist camps, the Taliban does not come back and allow its heinous reign in some of these communities.

Are you convinced that that is still necessary? Bin Laden is dead. The president often says al Qaeda is decimated. Many of its top deputies are dead. Do we need to be there at those levels, sir, especially when it's clear a lot of the locals don't want us there, to accomplish that mission?

LEVIN: I don't think we should be there at those levels if you're referring to the 108,000 level. And that's why I very strongly supported the reduction of troops, which we are doing right now. That reduction is under way; 30,000 troops will be removed by the end of this summer, the so-called surge forces.

And then the key issue which the president will have to resolve is whether, after the 30,000 surge force is removed by the end of this summer, whether we will continue to reduce our troops through 2014, when we will be down to no combat troops being there. I hope the president sticks with what he said some months ago, that the reductions will continue at a steady pace after this summer and that he will not feel that he should stop the reductions, as some of our key uniformed military would have him do at the end of this summer.

KING: Well, you get to a point of contention in the debate. You seem in sync with the president, although you have that question for what happens down the road a little bit. I want you to listen to your friend and colleague -- mostly friend and colleague -- Senator John McCain. He was on this program the other night.

He thinks the president has got this one wrong. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: He doesn't have much credibility anymore in the region because initially for a surge, they asked for 40,000. He agreed to only 30,000. They needed the end of another fighting season in order to finish the job in Eastern Afghanistan. The president announced an early withdrawal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So the senator is saying, Senator McCain is saying give the commanders what they want.

You're saying the commanders are out of time, don't give them any more troops?

LEVIN: Some of the military leadership here want to stop reductions at the end of this summer. That's what some of our military leaders want. The president has said we're not going to stop reductions at the end of this summer. We're going to continue at a steady pace.

I hope the president sticks to that position and that we continue to reduce our troops at a steady pace, because that is the way to force the Afghan army and the Afghan security forces to take responsibility for their own security. We have given them the training. They are much larger in terms of numbers. They are better- equipped. They are respected by the Afghan people.

And they should take responsibility for their own country.

KING: Mr. Chairman, appreciate your time tonight.

LEVIN: Sure. 

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John King, USA

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