Transcript: Sen. Levin with Voices of Power

Michigan Senator Carl Levin talks about the upcoming troop escalation in Afghanistan.
Interview by Lois Romano
Thursday, December 10, 2009; 5:49 AM

LOIS ROMANO: Welcome, Senate Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Thank you for joining us today.

SENATOR LEVIN: Lois, good to be with you.

MS. ROMANO: President Obama has announced a surge in Afghanistan, an escalation. What is your major concern about the plan as offered?

SENATOR LEVIN: The surge that is needed is a surge of Afghan troops and a surge of Afghan honest government and Afghan economic development. So, I believe that the most important that can happen in terms of Afghan security is for Afghan troops to be added at a much faster pace, to be trained at a much faster pace, to be partnered much more quickly with us because there's a huge advantage to having Afghans hold their own territory after it's cleared of Taliban rather than to have American forces there.

So I would not have added at this time American combat troops. I would have put in any additional trainers that we need for the basic training. We already have more than enough combat troops there in terms of partnering with Afghan units. We have many too few Afghans in the fight. That's the bottom line, and there need to be many more in the fight, both in terms of training but also in terms of acceptance by the Afghan population.

MS. ROMANO: Does the plan account heavily for training or not enough for you?

SENATOR LEVIN: There's not enough Afghan troops to be trained.


SENATOR LEVIN: That we do need more trainers, apparently. And I believe after talking to General McChrystal that there'll be--about 3,000 of those 30,000 will be what we call "trainers," which will be sort of the basic training before they go in the field.

But the real partnering, which is essential, which is the sort of the on-the-job training instead of the basic training, that requires partnering between our units and Afghan units, and there's just too few Afghan units to be partnered with, unlike the Australians and the British, who insist that they have Afghan units training with their units, unit for unit, and that that is their mission, to partner with and train the Afghans. And we have proceeded with ratios that are, in Helmand Province, as little as one American--excuse me, one Afghan for five Americans. That should be reversed, I think.

MS. ROMANO: Afghan President Karzai said this morning that it will be at least five years before they can secure themselves and be self-sufficient and as much as 15 to 20 years. How does that mesh with our 18-month plan?

SENATOR LEVIN: It doesn't mesh with what Secretary Gates has even said, which would be that we'll be there several years. We're not removing all of our troops in July of 2011. We'll begin to reduce the number of American troops, according to the President's decision. But the pace of that reduction and where they will be reduced is going to be "conditions-based." But what Secretary Gates said is that it'll be several years that we'll be there and then he mentioned something like three or four or two, but five is more than what was Secretary Gates' understanding, and so I think there is still a failure on the part of the Afghan government to get the message that the responsibility for their security and their own well-being is in their hands. This is not open-ended, and the whole purpose of that July 2011 date to begin the reductions was to send a very clear, strong message to President Karzai from President Obama that this is not an open-ended commitment.

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