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Gen. Jones: Afghan Op Meant To Build Confidence

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And to talk more about the U.S. offensive in Afghanistan, we're joined by the Obama administration's national security advisor, retired Marine General James Jones. Welcome to the program.

General JAMES JONES (Marine, Retired; National Security Advisor): Thank you very much, Melissa.

BLOCK: General Jones, how would you describe the mission that got underway yesterday?

Gen. JONES: This is an operation designed to bring confidence to the people of the region, bring a certain level of security. And hopefully that will be followed by economic development and better governance and rule of law and cooperation with the governor of the region.

BLOCK: All of the things you're talking about, General Jones, would require solid commitment on the Afghan side from both the military and the government. And there has been, as you know, a lot of skepticism about the Afghan's ability to hold up, essentially, their end of the deal. How much do you share in that concern?

Gen. JONES: Well, I do share in that concern. And I also know that the Afghan army and the security forces are not - we don't have the numbers that we hope to have, say, a year from now, but it's also an international responsibility. I think we have 47 countries with us in the region. We have the U.N., we have NATO, the EU.

And this seems to be that we should be able to put things together in such a way that when we establish security, we could very quickly roll in with some economic development and make sure that the people of the region, whether it's at the local, regional or national government level are led by competent people who are not corrupt and who have their interests at heart.

BLOCK: And when you say, we don't have the numbers on the Afghan side, how far off are you from where you would want to be?

Gen. JONES: Well, the size of the Afghan army is about 80,000 now and we're going at the rate of about 2,000 a month. Our goal was about 136,000. They can't be everywhere at once. And so I think what we need to do is to make sure that they are in those places where they need to be. We simply have to have the people of Afghanistan see their Afghan authorities taking control of their own destiny.

BLOCK: I'd like to ask you about that, because our producer Graham Smith has reported that the people in this valley, where he is right now, trust the Afghan police less than they trust the Taliban. How do you overcome that deep suspicion now, borne of many years experience, of local Afghan government officials?

Gen. JONES: Exactly. And that's part of the problem. And that's why we believe there's a - three legs to the stool. The security piece is what we traditionally do very well. But security without economic development, and more importantly, without the local face of the Afghan police and Afghan military to convince the people that they're not only there, but they're going to stay there, is really what we need to concentrate on.

BLOCK: General Jones, I'd like to ask you about troop levels in Afghanistan. You told The Washington Post that your message to commanders there on your recent visit is that troop levels will hold steady and that they need to focus on economic development and governance. And I'm wondering how you square that with what seems to be a different message coming from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen.

He told The Washington Post that the commanding general in Afghanistan is advised that he should tell the administration, here's what I need. There are no intended limits, no preconditions. In his words, ask for what you need. How do those two things get reconciled?

Gen. JONES: Correct. And I've had a conversation with my good friend Admiral Mullen this morning on that and there really isn't any daylight. My message was one to convey that we have a process and we have a strategy. The strategy was formally adopted barely 90 days ago. We are in the middle of ramping up our forces to a total of 68,000, which is 21,000 more. This was what was asked for. And the president agreed to authorize this.

And my message was simply to say that, you know, before we go back and ask for - fill additional forces - that we should make sure that we see how the strategy is being implemented, absent any overwhelming reason that you would have to rush forces into Afghanistan. It seems to me that - and to, more importantly, to the president, that we should get a measure of how we're doing strategically to make sure the entire gamut of the strategy is working.

And it certainly wasn't intended on my part to say that at no time could we ever come back with good reason to make another case. In due time, when we see how the strategy is working, if we need to adjust it, we - you know, they certainly can do what they feel they need to do.

BLOCK: General Jones, thank you very much for talking with us.

Gen. JONES: You're certainly welcome.

BLOCK: That's retired Marine Corp General James Jones. He's the White House national security advisor. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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