Interview with Colin Powell

Interview with Colin Powell

By The Situation Room - May 23, 2012

BLITZER: The former secretary of state, Colin Powell, is warning the world must stay on its guard against al Qaeda. I spoke with him at length about the wars, terror, the presidential race here in the United States and much more, including his brand new book. It's called "It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership." I began by asking General Powell about al Qaeda's presence in Syria and around the world.


BLITZER: All these years after 9/11, are you surprised that al Qaeda, even after the death of Bin Laden, is still out there?

GEN. COLLIN POWELL (RET.), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: You know, this is an organization that franchised itself out a number of years ago. It isn't just Osama Bin Laden leading a single organization. These are people who have a belief in terrorism, who have some connection to Osama Bin Laden, but it's really a franchised operation.

And you can expect in the pop-up wherever they find fertile ground, whether it's in Yemen or in Syria or in other places of the world. So, I think it says to us, be on the alert. Don't think it's over. These folks are still out there, and they'll come after you again if you let them.

Keep up our intelligence work, our law enforcement work, our military activities, keep working with our friends and allies to make sure they're doing everything they can in order to make sure that this threat does not grow.

BLITZER: And in Syria, just to wrap this part of, you agree that the U.S. should not go in militarily either with a no-fly zone or no drive zone or anything along those lines at least for the time being.

POWELL: For the time being, I don't see what will be gained by. And I'm not sure it will be effective. We should not be surprised that Assad is reacting so violently to the protests against them and the demonstrations and the attacks against them. He's defending a regime and defending, frankly, his tribe (ph).

And we still don't know who we'll be supporting on the other side. There's some confusion within the rebel if I can put it that way within the anti-Assad forces. So, I think this is the time to watch very carefully and make sure that we know what we're getting into if we decide to get into anything.

BLITZER: Would you have ever imagined back in 2001 after 9/11 when you were secretary of state that U.S. troops would still be in Afghanistan, and right now, it's still 90,000 U.S. troops are there, as we speak, right now, ten years later, almost 12 years later?

POWELL: I wouldn't have expected that. I would have hoped that we would have been able to stabilize the situation and remove any al Qaeda influence. We've pretty much done that. It's down to just a few numbers, and they can find easier places to work out of than Afghanistan. So, I don't think the al Qaeda presence is (INAUDIBLE)

But I think we may have underestimated the ability of the Taliban to remain a force in being and a continuing threat to the country of Afghanistan. So, we have to do what we can in the next year or two, but ultimately, that Taliban problem is going to have to be solved by the people of Afghanistan and the leadership of Afghanistan, and the many, many Afghan soldiers and police officers that we've been training for years will continue to train.

So, they have to take on the burden, and as you've seen in recent weeks, more and more of the burden is going to them. You're in charge of your country.

At some point, we almost become an impediment to that, but at the same time, we have to be prepared even after 2014 to continue to provide them support, to do some intelligence work, maybe to keep our drones flying, but these are judgments for my replacements to get an answer to, but it isn't going to go away any time soon, but I wouldn't have thought we'd still be there in this strength at this time.

BLITZER: And the U.S. is going to be there, at least, through the end of 2014, another two and a half years, and I'll ask this question because I know among other things you're a Vietnam War veteran. What do you tell the family members of the troops who will be killed between now and the end of 2014 about why they were there?

POWELL: I think we tell them that we are so proud of your servicemen and servicewomen. They're volunteers. They understood the dangers associated with their volunteering. We're going to do everything we can to support them and make sure they come home safely, but war is a dangerous thing.

And there are people who are trying to get at them. And if you lose your loved one, we will mourn and we will do everything we can to make sure that loss was not in vain, but at the end of the day, if that country stabilizes itself, rids itself of corruption, and can become a functioning society that is at peace with others in the region, then I think you can say to the parents, your loss was not in vain.

BLITZER: Listen to this exchange, Gen. Powell, that I had with Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan this week on Mullah Mohammed Omar who was the leader of the Taliban who was totally aligned with Bin Laden and al Qaeda before 9/11 gave him sanctuary in Afghanistan. Listen to this exchange.


BLITZER: Mullah Mohammed Omar who was in total alliance with al Qaeda and Bin Laden before 9/11, if he were to pop up some place and your troops were to find him, let's say, would they arrest him, would they kill him, or would you negotiate a deal with him?

HAMID KARZAI, AFGHAN PRESIDENT: Well, we're talking of peace. We are not talking of arrests or of killing.

BLITZER: Even Mullah Mohammed Omar?

KARZAI: We are talking about peaceful Afghanistan. We are talking for stability and security for Afghanistan. And we would give all those Afghans, let me repeat, all those Afghans, whether Taliban or other groups who are not part of al Qaeda, who are not part of any terrorist network, who are not an enemy to their own country or people their welcome.


BLITZER: Do you have a problem with welcoming Mullah Mohammed Omar back into, potentially, a government in Afghanistan. He's still on the loose?

POWELL: I must say candidly that I'm disappointed in the president's remarks. Look at all the trouble Mullah Omar has created over the last 10 years. Look at all the lives that have been loss as a result of his actions and the people who are working for him. And so, I think it's a little hard to say, yes, we welcome him back in as an Afghan.

I think he has to be brought to account for all the tragedy that has taken place over the last ten years, but ultimately, that's a matter that the Afghan people will have to deal with. I don't think they want to see the day of the Taliban return and certainly not with Mullah Omar in charge.


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