The top man in the military is painting a grim picture of the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Speaking of the situation there to CNN’s John King, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said, “Well, I think it is serious and it is deteriorating and I've said that over the last couple of years – that the Taliban insurgency has gotten better, more sophisticated...”
Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker visited a voting site in Afghanistan last week. He spoke to John Roberts on CNN’s “American Morning” Monday.
John Roberts: We’ll get your take on the elections in just a second here, but let me first of all ask you about this proclamation from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the situation there in Afghanistan is deteriorating. According to the New York Times, American military commanders told Richard Holbrooke they didn't have enough troops there to do the job. You were on the ground, had a good look at things, what's your assessment of the situation there militarily?
Bob Corker: I don't think there's any question that things have deteriorated. The fact that we were far more concerned about this election and security surrounding it than we were the election of 2004 to me is a clear indication. And I think no doubt we've had a lot of focus on Iraq, things have deteriorated. And I think the American people – we need to talk directly with them about it. We are engaged in Afghanistan, truly in nation building or state building probably is a more appropriate term. We're building a nation that candidly will not be able to sustain itself financially. And we need to be able to articulate to our troops what true victory is. We need to remember that still our enemy is al Qaeda. There are about 2,000 al Qaeda operatives around the world. About 500 of them reside today in the … areas of Pakistan. And that still is our enemy. And so this is getting particularly complicated, and I think certainly our troops need to understand clearly what victory is in Afghanistan.
Roberts: And senator, do you think more American troops are needed to achieve victory in whatever form that comes?
Corker: Well, I think at the end of the day, much of our victory will depend upon economic gains. It will depend upon weeding out corruption. It will depend upon a political solution, which means we have to have an appropriate partner in Afghanistan. Whoever the winner of this election is ... we have to have security on the ground, that is true. But so much of what we do in Afghanistan is going to depend on the partners that we have there and some political reconciliation.
Roberts: So this election, which has not been determined yet because the results do take a long time to come in. The former foreign minister who is challenging President Karzai is saying widespread voting irregularities occurred. But again, to the point, to the American side of the equation there. Do you believe that we need more troops on the ground in Afghanistan?
Corker: Well, look, the fact is that the Taliban is gaining ground. The fact is that we have wonderful men and women that are making tremendous sacrifice on behalf of our country. We need a policy that certainly is worthy of their commitment. But at the same time, I do know that we are losing security grounds. So there are numbers of things that have to occur simultaneously. I've asked for benchmarks and they've been put in place or will be put in place so that we can measure...
Roberts: But senator, why won't you say this morning whether more troops are needed or not?
Corker: Well, I think what I'd like to say is, as I've always said, I rely upon the military leadership on the ground to say that. My sense is that General McChrystal will ask for more troops, and as I've said in the past, I rely upon them to make those determinations. I do believe that he will be asking for more troops. I asked him the question in person this last week and he was not ready to make that commitment – wanted to see what happened during the elections. But my guess is that in the short-term, we will need more troops on the ground. In the mid-term, though, I think we've got to have – we have to be able to articulate to our troops, to the people back home what we believe victory is. And we've got to have commensurate policies that will make sure that will be the case. And a partner there, a partner that is willing to work with us in that regard.
Roberts: So if the general were to request more troops, is that something you would firmly support?
Corker: If that's what the general – yes, but I want to know what the benchmarks and what an articulation of victory is, simultaneously. I think we owe that to the American people. We owe that to our troops.