John Hockenberry for The Takeaway: President Obama meets today with his entire national security team. The mission is to discuss strategy in Afghanistan, a strategy which is being overhauled, we understand. There are calls from the top U.S. General Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan for more troops. Today's meeting is part of a string of strategy sessions the president is holding. Yesterday he met with Secretary General of NATO and he claimed there was a lot of agreement this.
Recording of President Barack Obama: We both agree that is absolutely critical that we are successful in dismantling, disrupting, destroying the al-Qaeda network and that we are effectively working with the Afghan government to provide the security necessary for that country.
John Hockenberry : President Obama talking about what he calls agreement within NATO on the mission in Afghanistan, but does that agreement extend across the aisle on Capitol Hill. Joining us now is Senator Saxby Chambliss. Member of the Armed Services Committee, the Senate Armed Services Committee, he is a Republican from Georgia. Good morning senator.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss: Good morning, John. How are you today?
John Hockenberry : I'm doing great. Let me just get the elevator pitch from you: What is — in your most succinct terms — the mission as you understand it in Afghanistan?
Sen. Saxby Chambliss: Well the mission is pretty clear. That we need to disrupt the ability of terrorists to have a safe haven for the training, equipping, and directing of groups of terrorists around the world who want to kill and harm Americans, as well as other individuals. And right now, obviously, we know that there are terrorist training camps that are ongoing in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. And let's make no mistake about it, John, Pakistan and Afghanistan are somewhat linked together. But the fact is we need to make sure that there is no ability on the part of the terrorists to have that safe haven for training individuals to send around the world to carry out acts of terrorism.
John Hockenberry : Well certainly al-Qaeda was very successful on 9/11 in the United States in what happened at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon. But would you have expected when this war began in October of 2001, that we would still be fighting eight years later a rag tag band of terrorists who had one hit, hasn't done much since, and is holed up in some caves in Pakistan?
Sen. Saxby Chambliss: The direct answer is no, I don't think any of us did. But what you have to remember is that, first of all, we went into Afghanistan and in October eight years ago and we did pretty good job of cleaning it up. Unfortunately we didn't finish the job back then and we got refocused on Iraq and now we're having to go back and instead of having more of those bad guys already cleaned out there, we're finding that the numbers have grown significantly. And these guys have been fighting, John, for the last 20 to 25 years. It's a little bit different scenario than what we have in Iraq.
John Hockenberry : Well maybe there are some similarities with what happened 20 years ago or more in Afghanistan with the Russians. We've got this arrest of Najibullah Zazi, of course, that the Justice Department is looking into — that he is a terrorist who wanted to target the United States. Is it possible that we’re turning into an occupation in Afghanistan and that we’re creating a climate for insurgents to attack the United States because we are in Afghanistan?
Sen. Saxby Chambliss: I'm not sure that you can say in this point in time that it's an occupation. But let's be realistic too, John, we're going to be there for a long time to come after the military situation has provided security to the Afghan people. And the reason is that Afghanis have a literacy rate of less than 20%. That means at least eight out of ten Afghans don't have the ability to read and write, so how are they going to make a living, how are they going to generate an economy, with a literacy rate like that?
John Hockenberry : Okay Senator, than is that what the 40,000 troops Gen. McChrystal has called for is going to do— teach them to read? I mean what are those troops going to be doing?
Sen. Saxby Chambliss: No, what we've got to do with the 40,000 troops, John, is to provide security and to stop the violence. That's what happened in Iraq and that's what can happen here. Once that happens then you can sort of see the government stabilize— which is a whole other issue with the Afghan government— but once you have security and you stop the violence, or at least lower the level, then you have the ability to see the government stabilize, see the people get confidence, not just in the American troops, but in their own troops, their own government. And in Iraq, you saw an awful lot of support generated by the sons of Iraq and a group of sheiks who came together. And once that happened, then the security process moved along at a very rapid rate.
John Hockenberry : But we went through a very bloody period to get there. There was a service member killed this morning by suicide bomber. You don't call it an occupation, maybe I wouldn't call it an occupation yet, but it's maybe not important what we think. If people in Afghanistan think it's an occupation that becomes an excuse to attack the United States. Are you worried about that?
Sen. Saxby Chambliss: It's not the people of Afghanistan that are attacking NATO and U.S. posts or soldiers. It is truly the Taliban who are doing that, the Afghan people really have no use for the Taliban per se. The problem with the Afghans is that, as we mentioned earlier, we went in eight years ago. We pulled out, we left them hanging dry, and they've got to have confidence that we're not going to do that again, because they know that if we do then the Taliban leadership we'll make sure that those that supported Americans or NATO troops are killed or their family members are killed or whatever. I wouldn't characterize it as an occupation right now, but, frankly, we are going to be there for the long term.
Celeste Headlee for The Takeaway : Senator, quickly, do you think that there's a chance that failing public opinion in the United States is going to jeopardize the mission in Afghanistan?
Sen. Saxby Chambliss: Well, Celeste, this is one of those difficult decisions that a president has to make from time to time. George Bush had a number of scenarios where he was put in this position. That being where public opinion is so strongly against you — and certainly you have to take that into consideration — but at the end of the day, you gotta do the right thing for your country."
John Hockenberry : And we're far from the end of the day, it sounds like in Afghanistan. Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, thanks so much for being with us.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss: Thanks guys, good to be with you.
John Hockenberry : Senator Saxby Chambliss is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee along with the Obama administration they are considering that strategy in Afghanistan.