RICE: Right now we're going to go live to Afghanistan with Major General Robert Durbin, commander, Combined Security Transition Command in Afghanistan.
General, thank you for joining me.
GEN. DURBIN: Well, it's a pleasure to be here.
RICE: I appreciate what's happening, sir. There is so much going on around the world right now. Sometimes people forget about what's going on in Afghanistan, and yet this is vitally important to the overall effort, isn't it?
GEN. DURBIN: Completely vital -- vital to our national interests in every respect.
RICE: Can you explain what's happening right now? The stories that we're reading are that there are other forces moving into place to take over for the Americans, and yet we're also hearing that there's an increasing operational capacity by Taliban forces in the country.
GEN. DURBIN: Well, I think what you're seeing is the transition of NATO ISAF to take over part of the country in RC -- what was called Regional Command South -- in the southern part of Afghanistan.
The up-tick in violence that's being reported is actually a sign of progress. We have more capacity based on the development of Afghan national security forces, both their army and their police, which my command is responsible for developing. You combine that with an increase in the amount of international forces that have arrived over the last two to three months, and we are able to provide presence of the government of Afghanistan security forces, supported by the coalition, into locations that heretofore we've never been able to go, and take away the sanctuary that Taliban, common criminals, drug lords, warlords of the past now are resisting.
RICE: General, how difficult is it to make that distinction between somebody who is obviously Taliban -- somebody is the, quote/unquote, "enemy" on one side -- who can then just turn into a civilian on the other at any moment? How do you make that distinction?
GEN. DURBIN: Well, I think the distinction is very difficult to make. The important aspect is that as we gather intelligence and we understand who is or is not an anti-government element or supporter -- that's the distinction that needs to be made. There are enemies of Afghanistan. They are enemies that threaten the legitimacy of the government of Afghanistan. Some are Taliban, some are drug lords. Those who would want to retain the status quo -- the influence that they have over the people and the coercion that they have over the people -- needs to be replaced by legitimate government of Afghanistan security forces, and that's the resistance you're seeing.
RICE: We're talking with Major General Robert Durbin, Commander, Combined Security transition Command in Afghanistan.
General, you mentioned drug lords, and I know that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has talked about this as well. We've talked to others, too, about this, that one of the biggest problems -- one of the biggest challenges -- is dealing with the poppy production. More than ever it's being produced, and it seems more and more difficult to stop it. What's happening now?
GEN. DURBIN: Well, right now the growing season is coming to an end, but ending March, April and May time frame, also through June and early this month. There has been an increased and concerted effort by the government of Afghanistan to conduct enhanced eradication, but eradication in and of itself will not solve the problem. This is a multi-year -- maybe -decade -- challenge to be able to reduce the narco-trafficking in Afghanistan, but it's something that has to be addressed, and is being addressed mainly by the security forces of Afghanistan.
RICE: Are you seeing sufficient support to do this? Because it is a national effort; you mentioned the government of Afghanistan. Are there enough troops on the ground? Is there enough money to not only stop the cultivation of poppies, but also to give some sort of alternative to these farmers so, well, they don't starve?
GEN. DURBIN: Well, the program is multi -- has multi-pillars. The one that I'm focused on has to do with an effective police force that can be supported by the Afghan National Army to be able to conduct eradication and interdiction, and also provide the correct security for any of the farmers who would like to self-eradicate. Then you have the alternative livelihood program that's run by different agencies, that's part of it.
So it's a pretty complex problem, therefore it will take a complex solution, and part of that solution is time.
RICE: General, how do you deal with the Afghan forces themselves on one side, then obviously the Taliban on the other, and then you have these warlords -- these other sort of nongovernmental groups that really run their own almost small fiefdoms. How do you sort of walk that tightrope between all three?
GEN. DURBIN: Well, I think it's -- both the warlords -- if they are not willing to follow the disarmament of the illegally armed group mandate that's out there, then they are a threat to Afghanistan and they need to be dealt with. They could be dealt with kinetically or they can be dealt with non-kinetically to be able to --
RICE: What does that mean, General?
GEN. DURBIN: Well, that means that if they resist, then we will do what's necessary to capture or kill them. And if they wish to cooperate, then we are able to properly disarm those warlords and provide them the alternative livelihood that's appropriate for them. And they will swear their allegiance to the new government of Afghanistan.
RICE: Can you describe the security issue between the Afghan border and the Pakistan border? Some have said it's impossible to really seal this off. Obviously we're still dealing with Osama bin Laden and that issue on where he is or isn't. Has there been a successful effort to actually close that border?
GEN. DURBIN: I think it's a very porous border. It's a very rugged border, very difficult to close. I don't think anyone would tell you militarily it would be viable you could say to seal the border.
And so as a result, one of the most effective activities that has been ongoing and is maturing over the last two years is a concept called tripartite, and it's a mil-to-mil relationship -- military to military -- between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States, soon to be joined by NATO ISAF. What that does is provide cooperation and coordination between military forces on both sides of the border so that you in fact do not have the built-in sanctuary from an activity that's conducted in Pakistan and then moved back into Afghanistan or vice versa. That's the effective way.
RICE: Well, General, I understand you're very busy. If I could ask just one last question, though. Are you optimistic about the success of this mission? And maybe you can articulate what success means.
GEN. DURBIN: First of all, I'm very optimistic for this situation we have in Afghanistan. And I would end by telling you that success is going to be defined by the perception of the people of Afghanistan, not from those of us in the international community. And right now, there's a tremendous amount of hope and there's a tremendous amount of desire by the people of Afghanistan to have a free and prosperous Afghanistan, so there's no doubt in my mind that it will succeed.
RICE: Certainly vitally important. I think that the American people need to continue to focus upon it.
I do want to thank you so much for joining me today, sir.
GEN. DURBIN: Well, thank you very much. It's been my pleasure.
RICE: Thank you.
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