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Transcript: David Petraeus on CNN's "State of the Union"

Related Post: David Petraeus on “Fox News Sunday”

petraeus21JOHN KING: General Petraeus, welcome back to "State of the Union." I want to start with the offensive under way by the Pakistani military in Pakistan. It took a long time for you to convince Pakistan to get about this. And I'm starting at the map so I can pull out and show our viewers the area we're talking about, the Swat district up here, right in here.

Just a basic question for you, sir. This offensive has been under way for quite a bit of time now. How effective is it?

PETRAEUS: Well, let me say, I'm not sure I accept the characterization that you said. This is Pakistan's offensive, and it was galvanized by Taliban action, certainly not by American rhetoric or encouragement.

What has happened in this case is that the actions of the Taliban in breaking the agreement that was reached for Swat, and then moving into other districts of the Northwest Frontier province, these have served as a catalyst, really, for all of Pakistan. And you now see all of the Pakistani political leaders, including opposition figures, you see the Pakistani people and you see the Pakistani military determined to reverse this trend and to deal with the Taliban threat, ultimately, in Swat Valley.

KING: And how effective do you think it is being -- and let me ask in the context of -- this is a military offensive. They are going in there and bombing and pushing them out and attacking them, but I would not say this is out of the Petraeus counterinsurgency playbook. So do you worry at all that these gains will be short-term, not lasting?

PETRAEUS: Well, the true test in counterinsurgency -- and I can tell you that in our dialogue with Pakistani leaders this past week, there is a clear recognition of the concept of counterinsurgency operations, of employing all the tools of government, a whole of government approach. And over the past year, for example, there have been a number of actions that reflect the kind of, if you will, learning and adapting that our own forces have taken -- gone through in recent years as they have carried out operations in Bajaur and Mohmand and so forth. And this will be the challenge, I think, is to bring all of the assets of the government of Pakistan to bear to help their military as it goes in and conducts operations, which inevitably already have displaced citizens, and certainly will displace more of them over time.

KING: When you were here, sir, with Ambassador Holbrooke a few weeks back, both of you spoke openly about the trust deficit between the United States and the Pakistani government and the Pakistani military that has played out in recent years. After the conversations of the past week, how much of that has been repaired and still how much of it do you have?

PETRAEUS: Well, I think the conversations here were quite productive and positive. In fact, I think most participants assessed after the conduct of the trilateral meetings that not just the rhetoric, but even the substance exceeded expectations. So I think they're very helpful. I think they were truly unprecedented in the way that some of the individuals on either side had never even met each other before, and then we had good bilateral conversations with each of the leaders and their delegations as well.

But this is a process. It continues. The trust deficit, if you will, is something that stems back to us dropping Pakistan in the wake of the expulsion of the Soviets from Afghanistan. It lasted for years, and it will take months and years to reestablish the kind of trust and bonds and partnership that are necessary to move forward.

And of course, it's not just the United States. This is the entire world. And it is with a government that has been in office, the first really truly democratically elected Pakistani government in some time, elected just nine, 10 months ago.

KING: When you were here, you said that the United States would not go into Pakistan unless it saw something compelling. This has been a sensitive issue. As the Pakistani military has put pressure on the Taliban, have there been any occasions in the past few weeks where you have had targets of opportunity that have caused U.S. forces to go across the border?

PETRAEUS: No. And I think we have been unequivocal in saying that this is not about us putting combat boots on the ground. This is about us providing assistance, as we do numerous nations around the world. A bit more robust in this case, certainly, but we provide some training assistance, we provide ammunition, we provide spare parts, help with maintenance systems, processes. But a lot of these very similar to the kinds of security assistance programs that we have around the world, albeit this one more robust, and also in the form of the coalition support funds, significantly additional funding.

KING: As this focus now is on the Taliban, give me your assessment of Al Qaida. It has moved, essentially, its headquarters from Afghanistan into Pakistan. With all the focus on the Taliban right now, is this allowing Al Qaida a chance to regroup? And let me ask it in this context. If Al Qaida in Afghanistan was at a 10 in its operational capability on 9/11, how would you rate Al Qaida on that same scale now, as it is based in Pakistan?

PETRAEUS: I don't want to get into that kind of numerical ranking, but I think it's worth going back and looking at the history, of course. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, we expelled the Taliban and Al Qaida and the other elements of the so-called syndicate of extremists that had found sanctuaries and safe havens in Afghanistan. They eventually relocated into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and some of the other areas of the border regions.

But I think it's very important to note that those organizations, Al Qaida in particular, has sustained some very serious losses over the course of the last six to 10 months or so, and there is a considerable concern among those leaders because of the losses that they have sustained.

KING: I want you to listen to something that the Afghanistan president, Hamid Karzai, told our Wolf Blitzer a couple of days ago, when he put the question to him, are there still Al Qaida in your country? Let's listen.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Are you saying there's no Al Qaida in Afghanistan right now?


BLITZER: So who are you fighting against?

KARZAI: That's the thing, that's why we say that the war on terrorism is not in the Afghan villages. That it's in the sanctuaries, it's in the financial support system to them, it's in the training grounds. And it's beyond Afghan borders. That has now been established by the U.S. administration.


KING: No Al Qaida at all in Afghanistan. Is that an exaggeration, General Petraeus, or is that true?

PETRAEUS: No, I would agree with that assessment. Certainly, Al Qaida and its affiliates. Again, remember that this is, as I mentioned earlier, a syndicate of extremist organizations, some of which are truly transnational extremists. In other words, don't just conduct attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and India, but even throughout the rest of the world, as we saw in the U.K. a couple of years ago. They do come in and out of Afghanistan, but the Al Qaida -- precise Al Qaida, if you will -- is not based, per se, in Afghanistan, although its elements and certainly its affiliates -- Baitullah Mehsud's group, commander Nazir Khaqani (ph) network and others, certainly do have enclaves and sanctuaries in certain parts of eastern Afghanistan. And then the Afghan Taliban, of course, has a number of districts in which it has its fighters and its shadow government, if you will, even.

But I think, no, I think that's an accurate assessment, and that the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan -- that very, very mountainous, rugged terrain just east of the Afghan border and in the western part of Pakistan -- is the locus of the leadership of these organizations, although they do, again, go into Afghanistan, certainly, and conduct operations against our troops, and have tried, certainly, to threaten all the way to Kabul at various times.

KING: President Karzai was quite adamant in that interview with Wolf that he wants the air strikes to stop. He believes the air strikes are not taking out terrorist elements, and instead are killing civilians in his country and fomenting anti-American sentiment. Will the air strikes stop?

PETRAEUS: Well, he and I had a good conversation about this yesterday, actually, John. I thought it was important to discuss this with him. I heard that interview. There is no question, and we have all agreed for some time -- and General McKiernan, in fact, put out tactical guidance to this end, as did the Central Command headquarters -- that we have to be very, very sensitive that our tactical actions, our tactical employment in battles and so forth of close air support and other enablers does not undermine our strategic goals and objectives.

And we reaffirmed that in our conversation yesterday. We'll certainly relook this yet again in the wake of this latest incident, although as the joint press release that was put out by Afghan and U.S. authorities in Afghanistan after the initial investigation of the latest situation in Farah province in western Afghanistan affirmed that Taliban bears enormous blame for this latest incident by apparently forcing civilians to stay in houses from which they were engaging our forces with heavy-fire RPGs, and quite effective fire, as the term is used.

KING: General David Petraeus, thank you for your time this morning, sir, and best of luck to you.

PETRAEUS: Good to be with you, John. Thanks.

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