Ten years in Afghanistan: Running the war

Scott Pelley interviews the two men President Obama has charged with running the war in Afghanistan: Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General John Allen. They explain why U.S. soldiers must remain on the ground well beyond 2014

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Ten years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, determined to root out the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11, Scott Pelley travels to the war zone to see where we stand. He interviews the two men now charged with running the war -- Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General John Allen -- about our gains against the Taliban, our troubled relationship with Pakistan, and why U.S. soldiers will remain in Afghanistan well beyond 2014.

The following script is from "Running the War" which aired on Oct. 16, 2011.

Ten years ago tonight, U.S. Special Forces prepared to land in Afghanistan to answer the attack on America. The Taliban fell in just six weeks. And with that swift victory, America began a war that doesn't seem to end. In the last few months U.S. casualties have reached some of their highest levels while America's relationship with a critical ally, Pakistan, has sunk to new lows. Why are we still in Afghanistan? What's the plan? No one knows the answers better than the two men that President Obama has just charged with running the war.

Over the forbidding landscape of central Afghanistan the new American ambassador, Ryan Crocker, is returning, out of retirement, to a diplomatic career shaped by Islamic terrorism.

His partner, Marine Corps General John Allen is a warrior scholar, four stars, three master's degrees. A combat commander who was Dean of Students at the Naval Academy. The pair arrived three months ago, called in by the president, because they're the same team that helped end the insurgency in Iraq.

Scott Pelley: What's your plan to get us out of here?

Gen. John Allen: Well the plan is to - is to win. The plan is to be successful and the United States is gonna be here for some period of time.

That's the message General Allen wanted friends and enemies to hear. The U.S. is scheduled to hand security over to Afghanistan in 2014, the 13th year of the war, but he told us that won't be the end of it.

Pelley: You're talking about U.S. forces being here after 2014?

Allen: Yes, there will be.

Pelley: How many?

Allen: We don't know. That's -- that's to be determined.

Pelley: Some analysts have suggested 20 - 25,000, does that sound about right?

Allen: Too early. It's too early to tell.

Pelley: Are we talking about fighting forces?

Allen: We're talking about forces that will provide an advisory capacity. And we may even have some form of counter-terrorism force here to continue the process of developing the Afghan's counter-terrorism capabilities. But, if necessary, respond ourselves.

Pelley: But what you're saying is that the United States isn't leaving Afghanistan in the foreseeable future?

Allen: Well that's an important message.

A message that might surprise people who remember that a third of our troops are scheduled to be withdrawn next September.

Pelley: And to the enemy that believes that they can wait perhaps in Pakistan until 2014?

Allen: It's a bad narrative. They're wastin' their time.

After the withdrawal in September America will still have almost 70,000 troops here. So far the war has claimed 1,800 American lives and cost half a trillion dollars - it runs about two billion dollars a week. Still, Ambassador Crocker told us there will be no rush to the exits.

Pelley: Is it gonna be an 'uh-oh' moment for the American people...

U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker: I don't think so.

Pelley: ...who are hoping that the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan can be wrapped up?

Crocker: Again I think the American people understand what's at stake here. This is where 9/11 came from.

No diplomat understands like Ryan Crocker, he was there at the beginning - the first time Islamic terrorists struck America in 1983, the U.S. embassy in Lebanon. Crocker, age 33, a junior officer, emerged from the wreckage in a blood-stained shirt. Later he became ambassador to Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, Pakistan and Iraq.

Pelley: When you left as ambassador of Iraq you retired from the Foreign Service and you promised your wife you would never go to a war zone again. What are you doin' here?

Crocker: When the commander-in-chief asks you to serve in a time of war there is only one right answer, you say yes. And I believe that, with the right resources and the right approach we can stabilize this country to the extent that there never again is a 9/11 that comes at us from Afghan soil. I flew into New York that morning.

Robert Anderson and Daniel Ruetenik are the producers.