Zinni: Don't Delay Decision on Afghan War

Gen. Anthony Zinni, former Commander of CENTCOM, on "Face the Nation," Oct. 4, 2009. CBS

The former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Anthony Zinni, warned that the deliberations over whether to send additional troops to Afghanistan - as many as 40,000, as suggested by General Stanley McChrystal - should not go on too much longer, lest the debate be viewed as indecision or weakness.

On CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday, Zinni said it was positive to have a strategic debate and to take all opinions into account. "But I think we have to be careful how long this goes on," he told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer. "It could be seen not only out there in the region but our allies, even [by] the enemy, as being indecisive, unable to make a decision."

He questioned why the White House is questioning the advice of their commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal who made the request for additional troops.

"We have a general out there who is probably the best qualified we could have that's telling us what we need on the ground to have the security space and the time to get those non-military things done," Zinni said. "I just don't understand why we're questioning that judgment at this point.

"I hope this doesn't go on much longer."

The former commander said he agrees that America's success in Afghanistan is dependent upon an influx of troops. "I don't know much about the politics but I can certainly tell you, to prosecute the military perspective you have the finest lineup in Mullen, and McChrystal on the ground. It is what you need on the ground if you're going to make this kind of strategy work," he said.

Asked if he thought al Qaeda would make Afghanistan a safe haven should the Taliban return to power in the region, Zinni said, "I think they could find themselves with the safe sanctuary inside Afghanistan to work against the Pakistani military in the tribal areas, in the Swat Valley - just like the reverse, when they went into Pakistan to fight our forces there."

He warned that the battle over an Afghan strategy is not just about militants, but also about neighboring India and Pakistan. "We have two nations out there with nuclear weapons, one of which had the Taliban 65 miles from their capital. We have the Taliban and others trying to provoke some sort of conflict between these two nations. We also have a Taliban that is stretching their influence into Central Asia."

In the debate over the U.S. supplying more combat troops versus simply providing forces to train the indigenous military, Zinni (who has trained local militias) said that while it's "wonderful" to have trainers on ground, "Who protects the trainers? Who ensures the roads they're on aren't going to be full of IEDs because you can't control them? If you don't have enough forces on the ground, you give maneuvering space to the enemy, [and] the freedom to attack our outposts that are remote, ineffectively manned. I think you need both. It's not a matter of either/or."
  • Michelle Levi

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