Experts have mixed views on Afghanistan

September 11, 2009 7:44:36 PM PDT
The United States is reassessing its commitment to the war in Afghanistan that was provoked by the Sept. 11 attacks. Does the U.S. stay, or withdraw? It depends on who you talk to.

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Thomas Henrikson is a senior fellow at Stanford University Hoover Institution. His current research focuses on U.S. foreign policy, national defense and the U.S. military action in Afghanistan.

Across the Bay in Berkeley, Robert Baer is a former CIA agent who spent 20 years in the Middle East and Afghanistan, some of that helping Afghan fighters defeat the Soviet Union.

"We went in to get Bin Laden, he's clearly not there," Baer said.

Baer says the U.S. went in looking for Bin Laden and failing that, the mission has become unclear.

"Are we fighting an ethnic group the Pashtuns, are we fighting a civil war, are we fighting against terrorism? It wasn't the Afghans who attacked us on 9-11," Baer said.

Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Seymour Hersh once described Baer as "perhaps the best on the ground field officer in the Middle East."

That field officer now retired says Afghanistan is unwinnable.

"Really, I mean it's a quagmire, and it is unwinnable. You have everybody who's ever worked in Afghanistan, my colleagues who know more than I do are all saying it's unwinnable, they mean it," Baer said.

Baer says the longer we stay in Afghanistan, the more it will cost us in blood and treasure and the more dangerous for the United States.

"So few issues are but this one is completely clear cut," he said.

Until you talk with Henriksen, who does research and writing on terrorism and insurgencies for the military's Joint Special Operations Command.

"Well I think our goal is not to led al Qaeda come back into Afghanistan have a sanctuary and launch another attack upon United States," Henriksen said.

And if we withdraw now, Henriksen believes that is what will happen.

"If you pull out, you lose all your local intelligence. If you don't have people on the ground listening and trying to find you out things, then you simple have no intelligence you don't know where they are," he said.

Henriksen says we have been successful in killing a number of high placed al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan and Iraq. But he says you have to have people on the ground.

"If we pull ourselves back, we'll be blind," Henriksen said.

And he says if we stay it is going to take a long time to make a difference.

"It takes a while to raise an army from nothing from scratch to train it equip it and to season it so it can stand on its own," he said.

Henriksen says it could take another five years, maybe a decade.

"I'm saying it's going to be very, very difficult, we're going to have to bite down hard a lot of times. It's going to take some casualties and it's going to take some money but the alternatives are so bleak," he said.

Henriksen and Baer do agree on what it will take to beat al Qaeda -- a sustained fight in trouble spots stretching from parts of Africa to the Philippines.

Baer says we don't have the political will for that fight. Henriksen admits it'll be a difficult hurdle.

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