Afghanistan's Chief Executive Is Hopefull For U.S. War Strategy
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Here's a summary of the stages of Afghanistan's wars. Soviet troops invaded in 1979. They left a decade later, but civil war soon followed. The Taliban took over in the '90s. Americans arrived in 2001, and President Obama sought for them eventually to leave. Now, Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah tells us he is pleased that President Trump's strategy lifted all deadlines.
ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: The fact that it is not based on a timeframe, it is condition based, that's a very important element of difference.
INSKEEP: Abdullah Abdullah's chief executive position makes him equal to Afghan president Ashraf Ghani. He's in Washington this week to meet with top Trump administration officials. U.S.-supported Afghan troops now lead the fight against the Taliban, but Afghan authorities have stopped providing numbers for how many soldiers or police are in the field and how many casualties they suffer.
Why is that?
ABDULLAH: Sometimes perhaps there is insufficient communication, timely communication, about the number of casualties. Sometimes some of our spokesperson miscommunicate, which we have to take care of it. There is no doubt that one of the main challenges has been high number of casualties amongst security forces. But the reform process has started and has picked up since the formation of the unity government.
INSKEEP: But can you provide us an accurate figure for the number, say, of Afghan troops that are fully trained, fully equipped and in the field and fighting the Taliban?
ABDULLAH: So it's - 320,000 is the total number, but amongst them are the Special Forces where the numbers will be doubled in the coming three years.
INSKEEP: So what is the number now?
ABDULLAH: The number is now 15,000.
INSKEEP: So you're going 15,000.
INSKEEP: And so you'll double that, and those are your most effective, most highly trained forces.
INSKEEP: So is that a sufficient number?
ABDULLAH: That one depends on the situation on the ground. Sometimes they are there for a few months, and later on, when the security is taken care of, they will be demobilized. And that has proven to be one of the effective ways of dealing with certain circumstances.
INSKEEP: Let me ask about the governing arrangement in Afghanistan. Some people in the United States will know that it is an unusual arrangement, that you as chief executive are to share power with the president, Ashraf Ghani. Some people may also have heard that last year you said President Ghani was not fit for the presidency and that he was not consulting you in a proper manner. Have things improved?
ABDULLAH: I will say that the national unity government was formed under certain circumstances, and I think it was the right decision to go for it, and as a result, all those who had voted for two main candidates were represented in the unity government. I wouldn't say that everything works in our country in a very smooth manner. The situation is complicated. Nevertheless, it is a unique experience in our history where two competing sides decide to work together.
INSKEEP: But last year, you said that a period of three months or so had passed where it didn't seem that you'd been able to even meet the president. If you look at the last three months, have you been meeting with him?
ABDULLAH: Absolutely. That situation has been taken care of. Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis and General McMaster - all of them, they visited Afghanistan, and they were witness to a unified position. So that particular situation has been addressed by both of us.
INSKEEP: Would you expect that you will run against President Ghani in the next election?
ABDULLAH: Oh, you want me to make an announcement today (laughter).
INSKEEP: Absolutely. Make some news. It's a news program.
ABDULLAH: Unfortunately, I may disappoint you today. We don't have breaking news. I think at this stage, all focus has to be to make it successful for all of us.
INSKEEP: Should we simply accept that the permanent condition of Afghanistan for the foreseeable future is going to be war?
ABDULLAH: No. I hope that one impact of the current policy would be to force Taliban to come to the negotiating table. There are two ways of looking at the situation. One is to wish things away, which I don't think that it's - it happens in the realities of our world. One is to make your best efforts to find a way out, which I think the current administration is doing that, the U.S. administration, and we - us on the ground - and the Afghans are making our best efforts to put an end to this war.
INSKEEP: Chief Executive Abdullah, thanks very much for the time.
ABDULLAH: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: He is the chief executive of Afghanistan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.