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ABC News Interview with Secretary Gates

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
August 01, 2010

                 AMANPOUR:  Secretary Gates, thank you very much for joining us and welcome to "This Week". 

                GATES:  Thank you. 

                AMANPOUR:  Let's start with WikiLeaks. 

                How can an ordinary soldier sitting at his computer, apparently listening to Lady Gaga or whatever, spew all this stuff out with nobody knowing? 

                GATES:  It's -- it's an -- it's an interesting question, because had -- had he tried to do this or had whoever did this tried to do it at a -- a rear headquarters, overseas or in pretty much anywhere here in the U.S.,  we have controls in place that would have allowed us to detect it.  But one of the changes that has happened as we have fought these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been an effort to put the -- put as much information and intelligence as far forward to the soldiers as we possibly can, so that at a forward operating base, they -- they know what the security risks are to them and they -- and they also have information to help them accomplish their mission. 

                So -- so we put an enormous amount of information out at a -- at the secret level and push it the furthest forward possible.  And so it is this -- it -- it was much easier to do in theater and in Afghanistan or Iraq than it would have been at a rear headquarters or here in the U.S. 

                AMANPOUR:  So do you now have to reassess that -- much less intelligence going to the forward bases? 

                GATES:  I think we have to look at it, although I must say, my bias is that if one or a few members of the military did this, the notion that we would handicap our soldiers on the front lines by denying them information in an effort to try and prevent this from happening -- my bias is against that.  I want those kids out there to have all the information they can have. 

                And so we're going to look at are there ways in which we can mitigate the risk, but without denying the forward soldiers the information. 

                AMANPOUR:  How angry were you -- beyond the fact that classified information is out there -- the substance of it? 

                GATES:  Well, I'm not sure anger is the right word.  I just -- I think mortified, appalled.  And -- and if -- if I'm angry, it is -- it is because I believe that this information puts those in Afghanistan who have helped us at risk.  It puts our soldiers at risk because they can learn a lot -- our adversaries can learn a lot about our techniques, tactics and procedures from the body of these leaked documents.  And so I think that's what puts our soldiers at risk.

                And -- and then, as I say, our sources.  And, you know, growing up in the intelligence business, protecting your sources is sacrosanct.  And -- and there was no sense of responsibility or accountability associated with it. 

                AMANPOUR:  You know, you talk about putting your sources at risk, a Taliban spokesman has told a British news organization that they are, indeed, going to go after any of those names that they find in this treasure trove of documents and they will, as they say, they know how to deal with people.

                Are you worried? 

                I mean Admiral Mullen said that this leak basically has blood on its hands? 

                GATES:  Well, I mean given the Taliban's statement, I think it -- it basically proves the point.  And my attitude on this is that there are two -- two areas of culpability.  One is legal culpability.  And that's up to the Justice Department and others.  That's not my arena.  But there's also a moral culpability.  And that's where I think the verdict is guilty on WikiLeaks.  They have put this out without any regard whatsoever for the consequences.

                 AMANPOUR:  So let me ask you about a couple of things that came out.  One is the possibility that the Taliban may have Stinger missiles. 

                Do they, do you think? 

                GATES:  I don't think so. 

                AMANPOUR:  At all? 

                GATES:  I don't think so. 

                AMANPOUR:  The other is about Pakistan.  Again raising the notion that Pakistan, no matter how much you say they're, you know, moving in your direction, helping with this fight against the Taliban and against al Qaeda, that they still are hedging their bets, that elements in Pakistan continue to hedge their bets or out and out support the Taliban and what they're doing in Afghanistan. 

                How much of a problem is that for you? 

                GATES:  Well, it -- it is a concern, there's no question about it.  But -- but I would say that, again, we walked out on Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1989 and left them basically holding the bag.  And -- and there is always the fear that we will do that again.  And I believe that's the reason there's a certain hedge. 

                But what I see is a change in the strategic calculus in Pakistan.  As they see these groups attacking Pakistan itself, where they are more and more partnering with us and working with us and fighting these insurgents and 140,000 soldiers in Northwestern Pakistan fighting some of the same insurgents we are. 

                AMANPOUR:  Right.  But they're basically fighting the insurgents that are threatening them.  They haven't gone into, for instance, these safe havens which still exist, Northern Waziristan.  And General Jones, the national security adviser, has told "The Washington Post" that these safe havens are a big question mark in terms of our success rate. 

                So unless they do that, cut off those safe havens, will you succeed in Afghanistan? 

                GATES:  Well, I think we can but -- 

                AMANPOUR:  Even if the safe havens -- 

                GATES: -- but we clearly -- 

                AMANPOUR: -- exist? 

                GATES: -- we clearly would like for them to go after the safe havens.  But they have gone after the safe haven -- some of the safe havens, in South Waziristan and Swat and elsewhere, places where, 18 months ago, I wouldn't have believed the Pakistanis would be actively engaged -- and militarily. 

                And so the Pakistanis going after any of these groups, I believe, overall, helps us in what we're trying to accomplish, both with respect to Afghanistan and with respect to al Qaeda. 

                AMANPOUR:  But given the way the war is going right now and given the fact that the Taliban are very wily and very adaptable enemies and they do have a place where they can go across the border and hide, can you afford to wait for the Pakistanis to -- to move on into Northern Waziristan? 

                GATES:  I think that the -- first of all, we are increasing our cooperation with the Pakistanis in terms of working on both sides of the border, in terms of trying to prevent people from crossing that border.  We are increasing our forces in Eastern Afghanistan that will help us do this.  So I think that -- I think we're moving in the right direction here. 

                AMANPOUR:  But you don't have an open-ended period of time.  The president has clearly said that the summer of 2011 is a period of transition.  And many people are interpreting that in all sorts of different ways, as you know. 

                The Taliban is clearly running out the clock -- it's trying to run out the clock. 

                Let me put something up that David Kilcullen, the counter-insurgency expert, a former adviser to General Petraeus, said about the timetable. 

                (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

                DAVID KILCULLEN:  They believe that we had stated a date certain, that we were going to leave in the summer of 2011.  And they immediately went out and spoke to the population and said, the Americans are leaving in 18 months, as it was then.  What are you doing on the 19th month?  Who are you backing?  Because we'll still be there and they won't be. 

                (END VIDEO CLIP) 

                AMANPOUR:  So that question is out there.  So many people are arranging their schedules for 2011 -- the summer of 2011. 

                But my question to you is this, what can General Petraeus do to defeat the Taliban at their own game? 

                What can he do now in Afghanistan to avoid this deadline that they're setting for themselves? 

                GATES:  Well, first of all, I think we need to re-emphasize the message that we are not leaving Afghanistan in July of 2011.  We are beginning a transition process and a thinning of our ranks that will -- and the pace will depend on the conditions on the ground.  The president has been very clear about that.  And if the Taliban are waiting for the nineteenth month, I welcome that, because we will be there in the nineteenth month and we will be there with a lot of troops.  So I think that -- 

                AMANPOUR:  But what is a lot of troops? 

                GATES:  Well, first of all, I think that -- my personal opinion is that -- that drawdowns early on will be of fairly limited numbers.  And as we are successful, we'll probably accelerate.  But, again, it's -- it will depend on the conditions on the ground. 

          AMANPOUR: Is there any way now -- between now and December, between now and next -- next summer, to deliver some high profile, real reconstruction, real sort of progress to them to make everybody know that you're serious and to change the dynamic? 

                GATES:  Well, first of all, I think we're already seeing that.  We're already seeing it in Central Helmand, where security development and governance, economic returning.  We are seeing it in places like Nad Ali.  We're actually seeing it in places like Marjah, that has been slower and tougher than we anticipated, but it's getting better every day.  And we're seeing it in gradually improving security in the area around Kandahar. 

                It's going to take some time.  It's going to be tough.  We're going to take casualties.  We have warned about this for months, that this summer would be very difficult for us.  But I think there are tangible signs that this approach is working, this strategy is working. 

                But the key thing to remember is the full surge isn't even all I Afghanistan yet and will not be until the end of August.  So this surge over the last few months is only beginning to take effect. 

                AMANPOUR:  What I think a lot of people maybe don't get is that the Afghan people still want the American forces there.  In the latest ABC poll, it shows that 68 percent of the Afghan people actually want the American forces still there. 

                Do you think that there has been an opportunity missed or should there be an opportunity seized by yourself, maybe by the president, to go out and speak to the American people more about -- about Afghanistan, about the strategy, about why it's important? 

                GATES:  Well, first of all, I'm here.  And I think the president has been out and has spoken about this.  He talked about it in some detail at the time he nominated General Petraeus, about where we were headed. 

                Probably we can do more.  But Secretary Clinton and I and the president and the vice president and General Jones have all been out and -- and talking about this.  And -- and I think -- you know, frankly, one of the things that I find frustrating is that I think that the president's strategy is really quite clear.  I hear -- I hear all the stories that say what's the strategy, what's the goal here? 

                I think it's quite clear.  It's to -- it's to reverse the momentum of the Taliban, deny them control of populated areas, degrade their capabilities at the same time we're building up the Afghan security forces, so that the Afghan security forces can deny the Taliban and al Qaeda a base from which to attack the United States and the West. 

                AMANPOUR:  All right. 

                GATES:  It's pretty straightforward. 

                AMANPOUR:  OK.  Then let me -- since you brought that up, I want to bring up what Vice President Biden told NBC earlier this week about the strategy and about -- about the aims, because, again, I think the American people and many people are confused about what is the -- what is winning, what is the strategy right now? 

                Let me put that up. 

                (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

                JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We are in Afghanistan for one express purpose -- al Qaeda.  The threat to the United States -- al Qaeda that exists in those mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan.  We are not there to nation-build. 

                (END VIDEO CLIP) 

                AMANPOUR:  Is that it? 

                GATES:  That's good. 

                AMANPOUR:  Is that the war? 

                GATES:  I agree with that.  We are not there to -- to take on a nationwide reconstruction or construction project in Afghanistan.  What we have to do is focus our efforts on those civilian aspects and governance to help us accomplish our se -- our security objective. 

                We are in Afghanistan because we were attacked from Afghanistan, not because we want to try and -- and build a better society in Afghanistan. 

                But doing things to improve governance, to improve development in Afghanistan, to the degree it contributes to our security mission and to the effectiveness of the Afghan government in the security arena, that's what we're going to do. 

                AMANPOUR:  A final question, do you think the way out is to strike a deal with the Taliban? 

                GATES:  I think that the -- I think that the way out is to improve the security situation in Afghanistan to the point -- and to degrade the Taliban to a degree where they are willing to consider reconciliation on the terms of the Afghan government -- detaching themselves from al Qaeda, agreeing that -- to under -- abide by the Afghan constitution, agreeing to put down their weapons.  I think those are the -- those are the conditions that -- that need to -- reconciliation must take -- must be the end game here.  But it must take place on the terms of the Afghan government. 

                AMANPOUR:  And you think that can happen in -- in a year? 

                GATES:  Well, we're not limited to a year.  I think that it can happen in the time frame that we're looking at ahead.  Again, July 2011 is not the end.  It is the beginning of a transition. 

                AMANPOUR:  Secretary Gates, thank you so much for joining us.

                 GATES:  Thanks a lot.

                 AMANPOUR:  Thank you.

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