Episode 24: Afghanistan: The US Pivot, Sharing Danger & The Importance Of Cultural Intelligence Part II

Amb. McCarthy: (00:09) Welcome to part two of The General and the Ambassador Podcast with General John R. Allen and Ambassador Jim Cunningham on their partnership in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013. Gentlemen, our engagement in Afghanistan has also meant the loss of many, many fine soldiers and some of our diplomats. How did you exercise what I would call compassionate leadership in the midst of war and tragedy and what did you learn from each other in those difficult times?

Gen. Allen: (00:39) I lost 561 troops in Afghanistan and 5,400 were wounded. I think about them every day. I'd wait till the end of the day to write the letters to the families. The letters to the children were always the hardest. I went out a number of times on patrols to recover the remains of some of my troops were killed. There's something called a ramp ceremony and I know our ambassadors joined me in this on a number of occasions where we, with all possible dignity, carry the remains up the back ramp of a transport aircraft and place it on the airplane, send it home. it's hard to explain the feeling you have in your stomach because you know that that young man or woman has just given their life for something much bigger than themselves and they gave it without hesitation and you're going to put their remains on an airplane, which is going to fly away in a few minutes and it's going to change the lives of a family at home forever. I'll never forget one evening, an engineer unit in one of the organizations I had, in one of the eastern provinces got hit very hard in an ambush and a young engineer was killed, a number of engineers, Army engineers, were killed. And we were of course sending his remains home. And what I didn't know at the beginning of the ramp ceremony was that his wife was in an adjacent engineer unit in the same command. As we were going through the ceremony on the airplane of the last salute, she broke down and throw herself onto the coffin and was calling his name, ripping the flag, holding onto the coffin, calling his name over and over again. I said to my command afterwards, we don't often see that. Here's this moment of truth, this young family, he's been killed and she's been with him in war, in combat, and this emotion, this outpouring of emotion was something that was singularly significant to me. And so I spent a lot of time at ramp ceremonies. There were some folks who said, I spent too much time at ramp ceremony. Frankly, you can't spend enough time at ramp ceremonies. And the one thing, Jim, I'm maybe taking his thunder on this thing, but the one thing that I was so deeply grateful for was that when we walked up the back ramp of that airplane, the diplomats were always with us too. Because it wasn't just an American military, soldier or whatever the service was that was going home, or in fact the British or the Polish troops or the French troops. They were members of the coalition and they were youngsters who had come from their homes and had given everything to this cause and diplomats and military leaders lined up and paid tribute in equal measure to these youngsters.

Amb. Cunningham: (03:16) It's a very sobering experience, if you haven't been through that sort of thing before, and I had not. I lost several members of my staff during my time there. Some others were wounded in attacks. For an embassy. It's a blow when a member of your team is killed for whatever reason is, as you know, but it's particularly rough in a combat situation, where you know the risks that you run. Anytime many one of us goes into the field, you know that there's a risk, but we have such confidence in our security arrangements and in our military partners who provide security for American diplomats in the field when they were out there together. It's a shock when something goes wrong. I thought it was important to go to the ramp ceremonies for everyone who gave their lives there. They all did it as part of the same effort to achieve something. The civilians and the military lived and worked together as partners. One of the most moving things that I experienced when I was there, we had a young aid worker in a PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team) in Nangarhar province who was killed in a suicide bomb attack. So right after this happened, after we got this guy on his way back home to his family, I went down there as quickly as I could and met with my team members, the civilians, to hear them out, tell them that we cared about them, the survivors, some of them had been wounded as well. But the moving thing was that there was a Navy Commander who was the commander of the local PRT who came up to me afterwards and said, "you know, we're trained for this stuff and we know how to deal with it, but we're really impressed with how your people manage this because we know you're not trained to do this. We admire the courage and dedication of your team, the people who are here with us doing this." And that was I think, a really important comment to make, for which I was always grateful because every day when I got up and I directly or indirectly approved orders for people moving around the country or doing various projects or taking on new roles, I knew that I was also telling you to go out there and risk your life. And they were incredibly glad to do it. They really were. The thing is you believe in, you're doing something that's bigger than yourself. I quietly tried to encourage the view that there are things worth taking risk for. It's a good thing to do that. Again, I think that's something that a lot of our colleagues in the diplomatic corps and the civilian service internalized over the years, and one of the reasons why people keep signing up to go back and do that kind of important work because they think it's better than sitting at a desk someplace typing out a briefing memo to somebody.

Gen. Allen: (05:52) Let me also add that Jim and his predecessors and his successors were right there with us. You know, they shared the risk right alongside us and I think one of the reasons why, as I travel around the world, when people say thank you for your service, I always take the time publicly say, let me just make one qualifying point. There's this organization out there called the Foreign Service, and members of our diplomatic corps and the Foreign Service and that people that work for the State Department are out there every single day at the very outer edge of American influence, in some very, very dangerous places. And they're unarmed, by and large, although they have protection, they are unarmed and they go forth every day, as Jim said, to accomplish the mission of American diplomacy in whatever form it takes that day and their individual courage is hugely admirable. And we in the service also pay tribute to the Foreign Service and our diplomats and those of the State Department who risk themselves every day. Jim alluded to it a moment ago, and I'll make the specific point, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, a whole generation of young officers, young Foreign Service Officers and young intelligence officers, sweating in 130 degrees inside an armored vehicle sitting next to each other, shared the experience of war for years. And I don't think yet, this country has any idea how in 10-15 years when they become very senior leaders and senior diplomats and senior intelligence officers, how that shared moment of danger, that shared common mission is going to be good for America.

Amb. McCarthy: (07:24) Today we have another effort at negotiating a settlement in Afghanistan with the new Special Envoy, Ambassador Khalilzad. How do you assess the prospects for these talks?

Amb. Cunningham: (07:36) They've certainly got a steep hill to climb, but he's the, I think, the right person for the job for a variety of reasons, including his own deep experience of the culture and the language and the people that he's dealing with. There are signs that this might be the beginning of a serious discussion. There's still not an open or a visible road towards an actual negotiation on the details of what a peace settlement would look like, but at least there are what seem to be serious discussions underway. I think one of the challenges for Ambassador Khalilzad will be he's got to find a way to advance American interests, advance or preserve Afghan interests, not through direct discussions but through how he handles his own discussions with the Taliban. There's a great deal of sensitivity in Kabul among people in the government and Afghans themselves about how the Americans are going to handle a situation in which the American President has declared his desire to leave, even as he has adopted a strategy, which I think is the correct strategy, of trying to use multiple levers of American influence to create the conditions for a serious negotiation. That's actually something that we haven't fully tried to do because as we had been conducting this discussion, so much our energy for the last two years that I was in Afghanistan, perhaps even longer than that, so much of our energy was devoted to the withdrawal that there wasn't really a full blown effort to look at the problem from the other direction and say, what do we need to do to get a negotiation to work? That discussion taking place, we might have come to a different set of conclusions about how to handle a military withdrawal. Because once it became clear that President Obama was determined to leave Afghanistan, there was no incentive for the Taliban to have any serious discussion. Indeed, that's what happened, they sat there and they waited and then as soon as most of the American troops were withdrawn at the end of 2014, beginning of 2015, they pushed hard and they pushed into the Afghans who were by then been doing most of the fighting. They pushed hard into them to try to see if they could crack the Afghan security forces and crack the Afghan government at the time, new government, and that was entirely predictable. It was not realistic to think that there could be serious negotiations under those circumstances. Now I think, I hope, that there is a chance and if the administration will display the patience and determination required and bring the influence to bear to use all the power that we and our many partners, don't forget them they all have an interest in this too. We're in Afghanistan with the EU, 50 nations, the UN, the World Bank. That's a lot of actors who can influence a lot of things if their actions have a goal and if they're coordinated. And I think that's the diplomatic task now, is to bring all of our, not just military force, but our diplomatic force to bear to try to create the battlefield, if you were, for negotiations. There are a lot of people working on this right now. The Trump administration has been handicapped by not fulfilling the policy positions in Washington and in the field to have the people and the intellect and the policy sense available to bring to bear to make this happen. This is one of the most complicated problems that you can imagine to try to resolve. It's not going to be resolved like World War II through a military victory and then figuring out what to do afterwards. There isn't going to be a military victory in any of these places that we're now engaged in. And that's the key message that Americans need to understand. And if we fail to do that, I believe that we as a country and our partners will pay a rather significant and painful price for that failure in the years to come.

Amb. Cunningham: (11:20) That was a master's level explanation on making peace in general, but in particular in Afghanistan. So I couldn't do better than what Jim has said except I would add one other thing. He's gone down the list of those who have equities in the outcome. The one country I would add is Pakistan. Look, we've been friends with Pakistan for many, many years. It's been a troubled relationship for, also many years. We're not going to get peace in Afghanistan unless Pakistan is onboard. This administration and the world community is going to have to make the decision about how it will treat Pakistan in this process. Pakistan can be part of the solution or it can create an unending problem for all of us in this regard. And I think we're going to need to think very hard, and I've been an advocate for patience with Pakistan over the years, we're going to have to make the decision at some point if Pakistan isn't helpful in this process, what price it is going to pay. Not just with the US relationship, but the global relationship. I would simply say as I have spoken with my friends from Pakistan, this is your chance to end that war, which by the way, if you do, if you help the West end that war, you've got an active insurgency going on in every one of your provinces. The federally administered tribal areas is an open sore, which continues to disrupt the settled areas and the Punjab. You can get this right and you can help us out on this and be part of the solution or this can go very badly for you, and my hope would be that the Pakistani leadership and the military leadership would see it's now their time to become a factor in the long term outcome that favors everyone's interests.

Amb. McCarthy: (12:53) You've mentioned that for many years, both our diplomats and our military and our other services have worked side by side and there are many lessons learned from our time in Afghanistan and Iraq. Do you sense that these lessons are being incorporated into leadership training today?

Gen. Allen: (13:11) I hope so. I have the opportunity to, the Army has asked me, very kindly, to meet with their young general officers, brigadiers and major generals. It's interesting, almost all of them in the last several years have served for me in Afghanistan or someplace. And I spend a lot of time talking to them about not only their personal obligation, their personal need to continue the process of developing their cultural intelligence and the understanding of the cultures in which we will be serving and for whom we will seek to make a difference in those nations. We've got to understand the basis of those cultures and it starts with that kind of leadership. The strength of our leadership, instruction, and training remains very good within our services. But you know, I would see a unit that would appear in Afghanistan and I could tell in an instant in their performance in the battlespace whether they were actually ready, whether they knew the Afghans, whether they understood the environment in which they were operating. And it's just not possible to overstate how important those kinds of lessons are. We have moved into a period of what is often called in Washington, the moment of great power competition. So we focus on the Chinese and we focus on the Russians. And to an extent, there's certainly something to that. But there is enormous instability in the developing world still. There has been no real diminution of the causal factors that radicalize millions of young people in the world today, and those radicalized populations end up going into the arms of extremists and becoming terrorists or insurgents. So there's no end to the need for us to be intellectually ready to deal with this issue. So yes, we have to be ready to fight at the high end of the conflict spectrum. The chances are very great that we're going to continue to have to be ready for insurgency and terrorism for a long time to come, because in the end, the global community has not really remedied those human causal factors that have disenfranchised so many people around the world.

Amb. Cunningham: (15:10) When I hear now that often repeated phrase, endless war or forever war, what we need is a better and more honest conversation with the American people about what the nature of the problem is that we're dealing with, what the nature of the security threat is. Being tired of dealing with the problem is not a solution. Labeling it, saying, "I'm tired of this endless war," and I'm not making a political point here. This is turning up more and more in newspaper articles and as a shorthand for Afghanistan or Syria or Iraq. Fatigue is not a solution. What fatigue produces is, you stop making the effort to deal with it and you pretend it's not an issue and in a little while it's going to be a much bigger issue. One of the first conversations I had with one of President Obama's senior advisors when I went to Afghanistan was about the withdrawal schedule from Afghanistan, and I said, look, please keep in mind it's a lot easier to withdraw than it is to withdraw and go back when you realize you've got it wrong. We have seen that in Iraq before. We came close to seeing it in Afghanistan and now the specter is being raised again in Syria and Afghanistan. We have to find a way of having a rational conversation about what it is we as a nation, again together with all these partners that we have who want to do this with us, we have a rational conversation about what the nature of the threat is and how to deal with it and that may take generations. I was the ambassador to the UN on 9/11. On 9/12 I brought my staff together and I said, "what happened yesterday is going to change the way that we diplomats to our work for generations. This is a generational issue. It's not something that can be solved in any near term," and I still believe that, in spades. I still believe it. And we have to prepare the American people and what I call the civilized world for a struggle. It's going to last for a long time, whether it's a military struggle or a political struggle, ideological struggle, a cultural struggle, a religious struggle. It's in our laps and if we pretend it's not there, it will bite us in ways that will be very painful. We ought to be having that conversation instead of the wrong conversations about how long are we going to stay at this? I grew up during the cold war. I don't recall people going around and saying, "we're tired of facing down the Soviet Union. We're tired of objecting and struggling against communism around the world," which dominated the first three quarters of my career. People didn't say, "we're tired of this and we're going to go home and let the Soviets and the Chinese have their way, let communism have its way." And a lot of people were killed during the cold in various places and various hot phases. We had an understanding then about what our longterm interest and with a long term role of our country was and had to be. We need to have that same kind of understanding again now.

Gen. Allen: (18:02) Well I can't add to that, but for the listeners, the diplomat was pounding on the table as he was saying that. So those are all exclamation points.

Amb. McCarthy: (18:09) And the other diplomat was nodding vigorously here.

Gen. Allen: (18:11) That's right. That's right.

Amb. McCarthy: (18:12) Well, gentlemen, I want to thank you, first of all for your leadership and your partnership that you have had for many years. And also most of all to thank you for emphasizing your belief that our country needs to continue to be engaged globally for its own protection. Thank you.

Gen. Allen: (18:33) Thank you.

Amb. Cunningham: (18:33) Thank you very much.

Gen. Allen: (18:35) Jim. Great to be with you.

Amb. Cunningham: (18:36) Good to see you.

 

Episode 23: Afghanistan: The US Pivot, Sharing Danger & The Importance Of Cultural Intelligence Part I

Amb. McCarthy: (00:09) Welcome to a conversation in the series The General and the Ambassador. Our discussion focuses on how our senior military leaders work with our senior ambassadors to advance American national security interests. My name is Ambassador Deborah McCarthy and I'm the host of the series. Today our conversation will be about Afghanistan. I warmly welcome our guests, Ambassador James Cunningham and General John R. Allen. Ambassador Cunningham was the Deputy Ambassador, then the Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2011 to 2014. He also served, among other senior assignments, as the US Ambassador to Israel. Currently he is a nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and a private consultant. General Allen was the commander of both US forces and NATO forces in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013. At the end of his military career, he transitioned to be the Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Defense on Middle East Security. Then became special envoy to the global coalition to counter ISIL. He is currently the president of the Brookings Institution. Gentlemen, you worked together during an important transition period in US involvement in Afghanistan. Our military mission changed and on the diplomatic side we had to negotiate with the government to get a new 10 year security agreement. General, if I can start with you, what was your mission going into Afghanistan and what were US and NATO contributions at that time

Gen. Allen: (01:43) Well Ambassador, thank you very much for the opportunity to be here with you and it is a great honor to be with Ambassador Cunningham, Jim Cunningham. I first encountered him when he was the Consul General in Hong Kong.

Amb. McCarthy: (01:53) Oh really?

Gen. Allen: (01:53) When I was a young Brigadier. I would then cross paths with him on another mission I had in Israel when he was the ambassador and then we'd serve again in Afghanistan. And I'll just tell you what a great diplomat he has been and in a world and an a time where our diplomats have made such an important contribution to the interests of the United States and our coalition, Jim was one of the leading diplomats. So it's been a great honor to be with him. Plus, I'm a marine, so I've spent many, many years in embassies and know that community well. The moment that I arrived in Afghanistan, I had the mission, by and large, from President Obama to transition the war, to pivot the war. We had about 150,000 troops, US and coalition forces, a large contingent of special operators, and we had about 300,000 Afghans who were transitioning up to about 350,000, and my mission was to continue to keep the Taliban at bay, defeat al Qaeda, and prevent the overthrow of the Afghan government. But specifically to that mission, I had to return the 33,000 surge troops that President Obama had committed to the war. I needed to begin to transition the NATO and US force from being a main force combat unit to being an advisory command. I needed to push the Afghan forces into the lead for combat operations across the country. And I needed to transition the theater from being a US and NATO led theater of operations to an Afghan theater, which meant I needed to close, I found 835 bases when I arrived, I needed to move from 835 down to about 12. It was a big pivot. The mission largely remained the same, which was keep the Taliban at bay, shift the war to the Afghans and then pivot the war that we had been fighting to an advisory war that put the Afghans in the lead.

Amb. McCarthy: (03:41) And what did that mean for the US embassy, it's responsibilities, what other additional things that you have to take on during this transition?

Amb. Cunningham: (03:50) When I arrived in Afghanistan in the summer of 2011, it was at the peak of what was the military surge. There was supposed to be an accompanying civilian surge also that had been set in train, but it hadn't really peaked yet. It was a source of some unhappiness on the part of some of our military colleagues at the time because they felt the State Department wasn't effectively increasing the civilian presence to match the military surge. Fact is, the State Department isn't equipped to do that and was trying very hard but couldn't. Anyway, when I got there, the military surge was already ending, as John just said, we were already talking about the draw down, so when I got there, my marching orders were to complete the civilian surge and one of the first things I did when I got there, is I went back to Washington and said, we're actually drawing down. There isn't going to be any more civilian surge, we've peaked and now we're going to start drawing down. For us, that was a major change in mindset. Up to that point, the civilian part of the government had been operating on the premise of a nationwide presence. When I got there, we had embassies and civilian personnel all over the country, including at the village level in small teams, married up with military counterparts doing all the kind of efforts that were underway to try to strengthen society, strengthen governance, and all that sort of thing. So very quickly our task became no longer how do we do all the things that we've been doing, it became looking at what do we really need to do, what do we start shedding? And eventually later on in the process it became a very close and intricate discussion between the civilians and the military side over what roles the civilian presence could take on as the military role declined. That was one of the major themes of the time that I was there. And I want to thank John for his complimentary comments about me, but I have to say as ambassador there, I was there for almost three and a half years, I was extremely blessed to have incredibly competent and capable military counterparts to deal with at the head of the US forces there and John's partnership with me was a real revelation in a way. It hadn't been the case in places like Afghanistan and Iraq where the ambassador and senior military commanders got along that well. There's always lots of differences to work out, but John was an incredibly great partner and leader. I've always been grateful for that

Amb. McCarthy: (06:11) And in our presence in Afghanistan, besides our military, we've had for years a huge program of development assistance. Normally that's the work of an embassy, but in Afghanistan our military often carried out some of these projects, especially in areas which were deemed unsafe where USAID could not go into, can you talk a little bit about this?

Amb. Cunningham: (06:33) When I first derived, I went there as the Deputy Ambassador, which is a full level ambassadorial position, and we actually had five ambassadorial level positions in the embassy, it was very large structure. The principal was Ryan Crocker and one of the first things that Ryan and John did, they arrived almost simultaneously, Ryan a little bit later, I think. One of the first things they did is they sent a message down from the top to all the people working for them saying, "no more disagreements in the field. You're going to work together, you're going to cooperate. If you have an issue, bring it to us and we'll resolve it." It takes work and determination to develop cooperation because you have, as I said before, you always have different perspectives about any given issue.

Amb. McCarthy: (07:16) People feel territorial about certain things.

Amb. Cunningham: (07:17) People feel territorial. The military frankly had a lot of the money and a lot of the people. The civilian presence was always relatively smaller, understandably, used to doing work the way that they work. Contractors and government employees and the people in the military either the same, or they hadn't done this kind of stuff before, so they were kind of picking it up and learning it as they went along. But they brought their own mindset to what it is that they were trying to do, and sometimes it didn't always mesh all that well, but they worked hard to make it work. And I have to say that in almost every place that I visited around the country, and when I got there, civilians could still travel widely around the country, I was always impressed by the job that our civilian and our military colleagues were doing together. They brought a mindset to it that, we have a job who brings the best assets and leverage to bear? How can we cooperate and learn from each other? Most of the time it really was rather incredible effort. I always hoped that our young and mid level officers would learn things from that engagement and that kind of cooperation that they would bring to bear later in their careers, because I spent most of my career working with the military in one form or another, but many of my colleagues have not and it's a really valuable experience.

Amb. McCarthy: (08:27) This investment on the governance side, why is this investment so important?

Gen. Allen: (08:32) We were in Afghanistan, not just to fight, we were in Afghanistan to leave something behind which we could point to that created long term political, economic, and social stability. And so the development piece was absolutely essential. Jim is 100% correct. From the very beginning of my command, we worked very, very closely with the State Department and at the far flung locations across the country, we worked very, very hard to ensure that the military activity was synchronized very, very closely with the development activities. And I have to say that in the previous war in Iraq, in al-Anbar, which is where I was, in 2007, what ultimately brought us success, defeating al-Qaeda, and while the troops had done a magnificent job, it was the work of USAID. It was the development work. After we would fight, the development folks were in there instantly, at frankly great peril to themselves. I had enormous respect for them. The stability that was created almost immediately through economic opportunity, with then the companion efforts being undertaken to create local governance all under the watchful eye of marines and soldiers, or in Afghanistan the burgeoning Afghan forces and police. That was really what we were trying to do. The challenge that I had was never on the USAID side or in cooperation with the US embassy, and the challenge that I had was that it was a coalition of 50 countries that I was leading. And so there were many places around Afghanistan where the provincial reconstruction team was entirely from another country, and while they would politely respond to me, they had no obligation to respond to me. Their military command did, but their development agencies in whatever form they took, had no responsibility to come back to me. Now they were all, in the spirit of cooperation, very responsive. And so there were a number of countries in addition to the wonderful work done by USAID out of the embassy in Kabul, where we had very effective outcomes. Down in Kandahar with the British, up north, the German led teams in Mazar-i-Sharif, the Italian efforts in the West, in Herat, actually in and around the vicinity of Kabul, the Turkish work that was done there, and they directly linked the history of the king of Afghanistan to Ataturk, Mustafa Kemal. So they really leveraged many capabilities that we didn't have necessarily, or when we simply couldn't get into a particular location, I would find out what provincial reconstruction team was operating there and try to leverage their capabilities. But development was central to our definition of success.

Amb. McCarthy: (11:12) I visited the PRT that the Lithuanians had, and that they closed out in, I think it was 2014, and they were proud of what they had accomplished, not being a country that had a lot of development assistance, but also because what it meant to be a NATO partner in there with the US.

Gen. Allen: (11:28) They were in Ghor, as I recall, that's not the end of the planet, but if you stand on tall building, you can see the end of the planet from there. And I always was enormously impressed by the Lithuanians and what they did there. I mean there's a term in the Marine Corps, "alone and unafraid." I don't know if they were afraid, but they were sure alone out there, and the work that they did, Lithuania, NATO, America, we have every right to be very proud of what that small group did. They were operating outside the proportion of what they were contributing, so they can be very proud of what they did.

Amb. Cunningham: (11:57) A lot of our smaller partners played similar roles. People often forget, and particularly Americans aren't very well aware of, that this is a huge partnership. Not just with NATO and the United States, but with many other countries who are bringing sometimes small amounts of military forces to bear as part of the coalition, sometimes development assistance, sometimes significant development assistance, like Japan for instance, has been a major contributor to the development effort. It's this kind of international and partnership in coalition that you need to deal with virtually any problem that we're trying to deal with now. What we've achieved in Afghanistan I think is a very good forerunner for how you develop these partnerships and John was instrumental in doing the same thing in dealing with ISIS in one of his roles after he left. One of the things that I deeply regret now is the kind of willful ignorance in some quarters about the value of partnerships in coalition for achieving things that Americans want and need and can't do by themselves.

Gen. Allen: (12:55) Couldn't agree more Jim. That's wonderful.

Amb. McCarthy: (12:57) And they've continued to be with us there over 17 years.

Amb. Cunningham: (13:00) They were the ones who came to us, and won't go too far into this, but when President Obama decided that he was going to try to draw down to a normal embassy, transition away from a combat role, a move that I thought was too rapid a descent, it was our partners who came to us quietly and said, we don't think this is going to work. You need to rethink this. They wanted us to stay and they wanted to be with us. In the kind of work that we do in the military and in the diplomatic world, that's the most important asset that you can have; people want to be your partners in doing difficult stuff. Then there isn't another country in the world that has that kind of attraction.

Gen. Allen: (13:38) As it began to become very apparent that we were coming out pretty quickly, I had many ministers of defense and foreign affairs and prime minister's visit me in my headquarters, and I'll remember one particular visit from a very small country in central Europe who hadn't given, in absolute terms, a lot of troops, but per capita it was a huge contribution. My headquarters was attacked, suicide bombers and long range fires, and I remember as I was watching this attack unfold, lots of the people inside that compound were running in one direction, but all the troops of that small country were all running towards the enemy. Later I would meet the Minister of Defense who was, as Jim said, deeply concerned that this relationship that had been built, that had in so many ways leavened their own forces simply by being in proximity to American forces and NATO forces was going to come to an end and he said, "I would just ask America to remember that we are here not because we have an inherent need to fight the Taliban. We are here because of you. We were for many years the consumers of the peace that America brought that part of the world and now we believe it to be our duty to be with you in this war so that we can be providers of this peace." He said with tears coming down his cheeks. Hopefully that country will join NATO soon since we got the name figured out.

Amb. McCarthy: (15:02) Ah yes, an issue I worked on on my assignment to Greece. Yes.

Gen. Allen: (15:03) Yes, so I'm not going to say the name of the country, but I think everyone can figure it out. But they were magnificent and almost all of them were like that. I don't want to take the interview off the tracks here, but when people wonder about where American influence is best exerted, it's not exerted through our carrier strike groups, it's exerted through our diplomats. It's exerted through coherent foreign policy. It's exerted through our partnerships and our allies and our friendships and multilateral organizations. That's the strength of America, and it's a transformational strength in the world. It's not bilateral and it's not transactional and you can see it on the ground when our diplomats, our intelligence folks, our troops and their troops are all sharing danger together. That's the ultimate example of the strength of American diplomacy.

Amb. McCarthy: (15:48) We were talking earlier about the agreements that had to be negotiated and renegotiated.

Amb. Cunningham: (15:53) The first agreement, the fundamental agreement was something called the Strategic Partnership, which had been set in train but was languishing for a variety of reasons when I got there, and that became a priority for us to get negotiated during the first year that I was there. This Strategic Partnership was a framework agreement that set up the principles that were governing our partnership with the Afghan government. That was seen as the foundation or the cornerstone for what then would be the longterm American, and by extension, international presence in Afghanistan. We worked extremely closely with John and his staff. We had integrated negotiating teams under the authority, the ambassador was the lead negotiator, but our military colleagues, John himself, was involved in the negotiations at the table and the same thing, we handled it the same way in the ensuing phase with what's called the bilateral security agreement, which is the foundation for maintaining an American military presence in Afghanistan. And General Dunford who succeeded John was a full participant in that negotiation as well. This provided several important things. The most important thing I think was not the substantive expertise that our military colleagues brought to the negotiation, which is absolutely crucial, the most important thing is that when we had contentious issues with President Karzai and the Afghan government, they would see that we were united side by side at the table talking about the same issues, working through with them on the same issues, not reading from a set of talking points but problem solving, but seeing that we were united and they were not going to get something that they wanted by by dealing with one or the other of us.

Amb. McCarthy: (17:43) They couldn't play one off against the other.

Gen. Allen: (17:43) That's right. That's right.

Amb. Cunningham: (17:43) I think it's fair to say he wouldn't mind, that president Karzai thought occasionally that that was a good thing to try to. I don't think, I know it was very important for him and his negotiators to realize this fact of life. I might say it also helped us immeasurably in dealing with Washington to see the same thing that the ambassador and the senior military commander were both concerned about the same things and had an understanding between them about how a particular issue should be addressed.

Amb. McCarthy: (18:08) During your time in Afghanistan, you had to deal with a number of difficult incidents including the burning of Qurans at a US military base and a coalition strike against the Taliban, which killed a number of civilians. How did you both work on general public messaging and outreach in Afghanistan? I know you both traveled the country, I understand General that you met with some of the family members in that particular strike?

Gen. Allen: (18:34) I got to know the Afghans very well. I was always with them across the country and I was with their forces in combat, so I got to know them very well and I think they trusted me. The Quran burning was, in my mind, the potential for the end of the campaign. When I got the phone call about 4:00 in the morning to say that about 200 holy Quran had just been burned in the trash pit at Bagram. You'll maybe remember a so-called pastor in Florida had burned one Quran just the year before and the riots in Mazar-i-Sharif had dragged the UN delegation out into the streets and slaughtered them all with butcher knives. So I called my NATO Senior Commander, a classmate from Annapolis, Admiral Jim Stavridas, and the American commander, a dear friend I'd served with for several years, by name of Jim Mattis, and told them this might be the end of the campaign. As big as this is, the streets of Afghanistan could be running red with the blood of our troops by the end of the day, so we need to buckle down and get ready for the fight. I was immediately in touch with the embassy, but it wasn't just a an embassy issue, it was all of the delegations that were there. To make a long story short, in this case, I very, very quickly taped both a video interview and an audio, and I needed to get out ahead of the Taliban message, which would have been, once again, the infidels have demonstrated their disrespect for Islam and Afghanistan and the people. Rather than the Afghans waking up to the message of the Taliban that the infidels had desecrated 200 holy Quran. They woke up to me speaking to them on television and me speaking to them over the radio, telling them first that it was my most sincere apology, that the holy Quran could have been treated this way, that we know better, but that this was an awful accident on our part and that I intended to fully investigate this so it would never happen again. And I think in many ways that quieted things. And I got ahold of President Karzai very quickly and said, "look, we're either going to be together on this or they're going to take you apart, right with me. So we've got to have a constant common message between Afghanistan and my headquarters on this issue." And of course the US embassy and my headquarters very quickly pulled in together along with all the other major embassies. So that was that message. Sadly, we had a number of very tragic air strikes over the time I was the commander there, and civilian casualties were very, very important to me to minimize to the maximum extent. But this particular one, I think it's the one you're talking about, was in a place called Baraki Barak. Baraki Barak, just two years earlier, had been considered the great success in counterinsurgency, where the Afghans were with us fighting the Taliban and they were very much in favor of the central government, et cetera. So long story short, terrible tragedy, very heavy casualties. We'd hit, we'd hit a wedding party and the buildings were full of Taliban, but we didn't realize that the wedding party had come in. We hit them hard, multiple deaths. To me, there was only one way to handle this. And so the governor of Logar, who I knew well, gathered together all the men of the village, and I took off my helmet and my body armor and I surrendered my side arm to one of my body guards, and with my cultural advisor, went in unarmed to confront the men whose wives had just been buried that morning, some of them with their infant children. That's a pretty sobering moment. It's difficult to stand in front of all of those people as the commander of the theater and tell them that you take singular responsibility for the deaths of their families and how deeply, sorry you are for it. But, you know, I fully expected that this could go very badly, but if I walked in there armored up and armed, it would have sent a different message and I needed to go in there completely vulnerable. Later, Hamid Karzai would be very, very complimentary. He believed that that gesture was what perhaps saved that province. And it wasn't a hollow gesture. I knew this could go badly, but I also knew that Afghans being the people of, I think, significant personal virtue and integrity. People believe them to be simple and unsophisticated. That is a huge mistake. I believed that they would sense that what I did was genuine, intended to truly communicate my condolences and my sorrow at what had just happened.

Amb. Cunningham: (22:53) This is an important trait for modern military leadership that John demonstrated, and that his successors demonstrated as well in the time that I was there. Which is being sensitive and receptive. I hadn't served in the Islamic world before when I got to Afghanistan and I didn't quite understand the complexity and the significance of the Quran. This pastor that John referred to not only burned a Quran, but then he kept threatening to do it again and again and again to incite the hatred. Having military leaders who are both sensitive to the implications of things like this that happen, whether in theater of war or not, and then responsive to them is an incredibly important thing that I think our best military leaders have now seen and internalized over the years of exposure to this sort of thing, in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places where we have people stationed trying to deal with some of the most difficult and dangerous situations in the world. I can tell you it doesn't always exist in senior leaders, civilian or military, but it's something that I hope our senior, not just military leaders, but civilian leaders are also learning as we've gone through these difficult times in the last decades.

Amb. Cunningham: (24:06) And as Jim said, you cannot overstate the value in a crisis of a person to person relationship. To be able to walk in and see a Sheik and speak a little Arabic, or walk into see a village strong man, or a village elder, and be able to speak a bit of Dari, as you are leveraging your personal relationship, either to do good for the village or to diffuse a problem. It's something that comes naturally to diplomats and it comes naturally to folks who were eyeball to eyeball on the ground with the people. It's the personal relationships that'll get you through this and you cannot overemphasize being prepared for the culture and the faith and the colonial heritage and the nature of the people with whom you're dealing.

Amb. McCarthy: (24:44) This concludes part one of our podcast with General John R. Allen and Ambassador Jim Cunningham, who are discussing their relationship when serving in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013. Stay tuned for part two where General Allen and Ambassador Cunningham talk about the pain of loss of soldiers and staff, the shared experience of war of a generation of soldiers and diplomats, the prospects for settlement negotiations, and the need for rising leaders to understand local culture.

 

Episode 22: A Lesson in Results: The US Military/Diplomatic Partnership in Qatar with General David Goldfein & Ambassador Susan Ziadeh

Amb. McCarthy: (00:02) Welcome to a conversation in the Academy of Diplomacy podcast series, the General and the Ambassador. Our focus is the partnership between our senior military leaders and our senior diplomats in advancing our national security interests overseas. Our website is the generalandtheambassador.org my name is ambassador Deborah McCarthy and I am the host For this episode. I was able to meet my guests in sunny Florida and we recorded on location. Our conversation today will focus on our military and diplomatic interests in Afghanistan and I'm very pleased to be joined by General Mick Nicholson and ambassador Hugo Llorens. General Nicholson was the commander of both US forces and NATO forces in Afghanistan from 2016 to 2018. Ambassador Llorens was in charge of the U.S. Embassy from 2016 to 2017. Gentlemen, you led our military and diplomatic interests in Afghanistan during the transition between the administration of President Obama and the administration of President Trump and we will focus a large part of our conversation on that transition. But before we get to that, I want to go back a bit. General Nicholson, when we first went into Afghanistan after 9/11 what were our military objectives?

Gen. Nicholson: (01:16) Well, President Bush at that time had demanded that the Taliban turn over Al Qaeda. The Taliban refused. We issued them an ultimatum and then we went in there to then go after the Al Qaeda leadership ourselves and in the process remove the Taliban leaders, and we were successful in that.

Amb. McCarthy: (01:31) And we were joined in that effort, in the beginning, by a number of key countries: the UK, other NATO members. Why do they partner with us and what kind of contributions have they made over the years that we have been there?

Gen. Nicholson: (01:45)                                    Ever since 9/11, our allies have stood by us for this entire war and at one point we were up to 50 coalition members. Today we still have 41 who have been there for 17 years. So, they came because it was a NATO led coalition and NATO invoked Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty and under this provision of the treaty an attack on one member is an attack on all. It was, I believe, the only time the alliance has invoked Article Five and NATO came in strong and supported the United States. And they are still there. For the military commander in Afghanistan, he has a NATO chain of command as well as a U.S. chain of command.

Amb. McCarthy: (02:22) Our diplomatic presence did not grow that quickly, because we had closed our embassy, I believe in 1989. Our marines led a special operation in 2001 to open it again and fly the flag. Hugo when you arrive later in 2012/2013 how big was the embassy and what was its primary mission?

Amb. Llorens: (02:42) By the way, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, as you know, he was the man who put that flag up with our marines.

Amb. McCarthy: (02:51) Who has been on our podcast.

Amb. Llorens: (02:51) He was the Chargé [d'Affaires] for a year. He opened up the embassy. When I was there in 2012 and 2013 a little, we were sort of still in the period of the surge. We were in direct combat. We had a hundred thousand US troops. We had 40-45,000 NATO troops. The budget that we had annually, when you combine our military, diplomatic, economic development, and intelligence programs, totaled about $125 billion. When I was there as the Assistant Chief of Mission, I was one of the ambassadors. I was kind of third on the rank order. So it was a gigantic embassy and it was in the surge, but the tail end. We began the transition under the Obama administration to what would become really an Afghan led fight, as it should be, and our role would be more of support on the security side, still, and on the political and the economic side. It was a very different situation in 2012/2013 from when I returned in 2016/2017

Amb. McCarthy: (03:44) And over the years our objectives and our presence have changed. I mean, on the military side, we still conduct operations against terrorist groups under what is called Operation Freedom Sentinel and the bulk of our troops in those and NATO has shifted from combat to training of Afghan national forces, what is called Operation Nato Resolute Support. So Mick, I want to ask you, we started out in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda, but now there are about 20 terrorist groups in the region. Who are they and what threats do they pose today to the United States and our allies?

Gen. Nicholson: (04:19) We have 21 designated groups in the region out of the total, globally, of, I believe, just over a hundred. So this is the highest concentration of terrorist groups anywhere in the world. Now in some cases, some of these groups have more numbers elsewhere in the world, but in terms of the number of groups, it's the highest concentration anywhere in the world. So the counter terrorism effort that we conduct on the platform in Afghanistan is essential to keeping pressure on these groups to prevent any attacks on our homeland or those of our allies. The primary groups we're focused on are Al Qaeda and ISIS. But they also have affiliates. So ISIS in the Khorasan, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, are affiliates of these core groups that are located there. And the Taliban provide a medium within which some of these other terrorist groups can thrive and survive. And then the reason they're able to do this is because of the large population in the region, in Afghanistan and Pakistan you have close to 300 million people, a largely uneducated and underemployed population. And then you have a population that, because of these conditions, is susceptible to some of the radical forms of teachings that go on in some of the madrassas in the region. So you have a medium within which recruitment is possible, and then you see members switching allegiances between the groups. So one good example is the Taliban and ISIS. So on one level they're fighting each other and they are going against each other. But in many cases, the members of ISIS actually switched allegiance from the Taliban over to ISIS. So you have Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, again, a designated group. Members haved shifted allegiance to ISIS. Some members of the Taliban have shifted allegiance to ISIS. So our presence there and the presence of our allies keeps pressure on the system so that these groups can't grow even larger and then realize their ambition to attack outside of the region. So our presence here is extremely important. I wanted to pick up on something that Hugo mentioned earlier. Our role has shifted over the years from direct combat and during those years of direct combat allowed us to grow the Afghan security forces to a level where they could take over the fight. This process was called ‘transition’. That occurred in the period that Hugo mentioned and now they are the lead and we are advising assisting them.

Amb. McCarthy: (06:35) Could I ask you one other question about ISIS? Because we're so focused in our media on ISIS and its presence in other parts of the world, and less so in Afghanistan. How did they come to be there?

Gen. Nicholson: (06:46) ISIS Main, in Syria, we're all familiar with that, has about eight affiliates around the world and there's actually a formal application process where these groups apply to ISIS Main to create a caliphate or an extension, a province if you will, in their lingo, elsewhere. So in Afghanistan it's called ISIS Khorasan, Khorasan province. This phrase has significance for that geographical part of the world and the ISIS movement. So members of the Pakistani Taliban applied to ISIS to become an ISIS affiliate and they were granted admission after they met certain criteria and then they receive funding and leadership guidance from Syria, from ISIS Main. And this started in about 2015 and so by the time I arrived in early 2016, and the period when Hugo and I were working together, ISIS was growing this new province, Khorasan, and trying to recruit new members inside Afghanistan.

Amb. McCarthy: (07:43) Hugo, can you talk a little bit about the work of our diplomats, especially on the governance, and on the economic and development sides, because it's good for our listeners to hear what the mission was focused on.

Amb. Llorens: (07:53) Sure. Look, if you're going to walk into Afghanistan just with bullets, we would have failed a long time ago.

Gen. Nicholson: (07:57) Absolutely.

Amb. Llorens: (07:58) You need to be able to build a context. There was no country there. I mean Afghanistan, when we arrived in 2001, was a completely destroyed, shattered country. You know, the Soviet Union, when they invaded, they waged total war on the Afghan people. It was an unlimited war and they absolutely destroyed the country. And then after that, after the Soviet Union collapsed, then you had the period of the Mujahedeen fighting in the civil war and, again, the destruction was terrible. And then the last man standing was the Taliban. So in 1996, the Taliban rolled into Kabul and took over and it became a dark night for the Afghan people. And it was not until the end of 2001 when we and our NATO allies returned, that there was a chance. This country had been sort of in total darkness for several decades. And I just want to mention that we and our allies, and this is a civilian and military activity. We've been able to help the Afghan people get back on their feet, which is, again, a critical component if we're going to have stability in that region and success, and be able to deal with the threats that Mick was talking about. So, just, I'll give you a very brief example, but take the issue of education. Back in 2001 before we arrived, Afghanistan, they are a country of 28 million people, had 600,000 kids in school, kindergarten through university. There were no women. You know, women were not allowed. They were at home. They weren't allowed to study in the public school system. Today there are eight and a half to nine million young people studying in the education system, kindergarten through university, 40% are women. A revolution in education. Health is another example. I just want to emphasize in 2001 there was no health system in Afghanistan. There were some humanitarian doctors, Doctors Without Borders, running around, some minor UN programs. Today, 60% of Afghans are within a 45 minute walk to a health clinic. And what you will see is just the dramatic decline in infant and maternal mortality rates. That's something that is just very dramatic and it gets to the very basic, in terms of the human condition. So I would mention that. And then the last point I'd mention is telecommunications. You know, Afghanistan, next to North Korea, was the most autarchic, isolated country in the world, under this Taliban medieval system that they created. There were several thousand phones in the country, with very little connectivity. Today, there are 22 million phones in Afghanistan. So when Mick and I would be rolling around, some times in rural areas...

Amb. McCarthy: (10:25) I wanted to ask you how you managed to get out and do this, given the security situation.

Amb. Llorens: (10:29) But let me just make that point, when you'd be out there rolling around in a rural area with your security and all that, you'd see a woman completely covered, and underneath that veil you saw a cell phone. So I'll leave it at that. But I just think the point is—we're doing all of that. On the military side it is about empowering the Afghan people, giving them a chance so that they can make it. And if they can make it, then I think we have a chance for success.

Amb. McCarthy: (10:51) And how did you go about deciding who did what on the development side?

Gen. Nicholson: (10:55) This is an unusual circumstance for a Chief of Mission, where you have a large military organization headed by a four-star general in the country. So overt communication was key and respecting each other's lanes and roles was key. And so a lot of this is guided by US policy. So, we have specific responsibilities to the Department of State, Department of Defense, lead in certain areas. But I would say in almost every area, one of us was a lead and the other was in a supporting role. So there was no area that we weren't mutually interested in, and the key here was achieving unity of effort. And so that in my view all comes down to relationships. And so the relationships between the Ambassador and I were, well that relationship was essential. For a couple of reasons. One, to ensure we had a common vision of how we were going to implement US policy. And then also so I could consult with him on how he implemented NATO policy in the region, and then our approaches to the Afghan government. So it was critical that we were on the same page when dealing with so many different actors. We were constantly consulting as we worked through this.

Amb. McCarthy: (11:55) How did you communicate? How did your teams?

Amb. Llorens: (11:57) I mean, look, these are massive organizations. I mean, the general had a very large command, NATO command, then US command. And we had still, when I was there in 2016/2017, I think it was still the largest embassy in the world. I mean we had a staff of 8,500, representing, you know, 18-19 US government agencies. We had the largest development program in the world. A lot of the funding, for example on infrastructure, a lot of it was DoD money and some of the programs were implemented by USAID. Our development specialists and infrastructure people, they worked hand in glove. I mean, these were massive infrastructure projects, road projects and the like. You know, one of the things that we did, I mean, remember we came in, I came in, you know, Mick worked with three Chiefs of Mission, so credit to him. Three different personalities, three management styles.

Amb. McCarthy: (12:45) He saw all styles and personalities.

Amb. Llorens: (12:45) And by the way, I can tell you that his relationship with the other two ambassadors was superb as well. It's a lot due to his talent and his ability to manage, his integrated and personal skills. But look, we were lucky in the sense that we, I came in at the end of 2016, we were in this period of transition, the tail end of the Obama Administration. And we had an opportunity to consult for several months before the new Trump administration and get, kind of, our signals right on how we were going to message back to Washington, to the new national security team, to president Trump and his team on what would be some of the recommendations. And one of the things that Mick and I agreed in long conversations we had, we're talking about December 2016, January 2017, was that no one was talking about going back to what was. You know, surging, and Bringing back massive amounts of US military and redeploying our diplomats all over the country. That we really had had the transition and it was an Afghan lead. But we believed that we could find a way that would be a cost effective way on the diplomatic and development side, and on the military side, but that could be a lot more effective. And again, no criticism of President Obama. President Obama, he devoted a lot of time to Afghanistan, believe me, and he was quite expert. But we felt that there were some things that we could do that could heighten our effectiveness. And so what I would say is that, in many ways, the first piece that came together in that transition was the fact that the field was together. We had a certain agreement on the elements, on the diplomatic, development, intelligence, and in the military sides. As the new team started to come in and picked our brains, I don't think they found very much light [between them], but I don't know your thoughts on that.

Gen. Nicholson: (14:22) No, no, I agree Hugo. I wanted to address one question you asked Deborah, about how we consult. So we had relationships established at all levels between our two organizations. Then we also, Hugo and I, tried to model this partnership through a high level meeting that we would host on an alternating basis in the embassy or in our headquarters with all the senior leaders of the mission and the senior leaders of the military effort. And this was Hugo's initiative, but it was something we immediately fell in on because it was something we had done before. It worked well and we both participated in these sessions under previous commanders. So that was very important. And then by modeling this close relationship between the two of us, it makes it easier for all of our team to engage in that. And that was extremely important. To the point about the transition, this is really a unique opportunity going forward. We each had our consultations, I was picking, myself, through DoD for example, and Hugo through Department of State. But then we also had a combined cable, which under the Chief of Mission's lead, under Hugo's lead, we actually also had a combined position that we articulated.

Amb. McCarthy: (15:20) I see. Ok.

Gen. Nicholson: (15:21) So in the case of the DoD input, in depth conversations with Secretary Mattis, who came over and asked a series of, sort of, first order questions. Now, he of course is very familiar with Afghanistan, having served here while in uniform and having been the CENTCOM commander. But we, again, we started with a baseline of what should our policy be going forward in order to be successful? What should our objectives be and then how should we go about achieving it? And as Hugo said, this didn't involve another "surge", and people wanted to default to that as the answer. And I think unfortunately, over time what we did see, in dealing with Afghanistan from the military side, was a tendency to deal with troop numbers and timelines as two of the key metrics instead of managing by objective. And so one of the things that Hugo and I tried to articulate back up was let's manage by objective and instead of being on a strict timeline, let's go to what we call a conditions basis. So we established policy objectives and then what are the conditions to achieve to get to those. So a conditions basis was one of the key things. With respect to troop numbers, they do matter because they represent capabilities. And so I felt at that time that we had drawn down too deeply and we were unable to actually perform the things we needed to do to achieve the policy objectives, because the numbers were so restrictive. And so I recommended a modest increase in numbers, but again...

Amb. McCarthy: (16:41) Was this to add towards our CT [counterterrorism] capability, and/or the training, or both?

Gen. Nicholson: (16:45) Both, to some extent. To get into the weeds a little bit, CT is not a purely standalone capability. It's dependent upon certain things we call enablers, which will be air power, intelligence, surveillance, logistics, medical, so forth. These other capabilities don't come from our Special Operations Command exclusively. They come from the services writ large, and these numbers we needed to increase in order to enable us to go after these 21 groups and keep the pressure on the enemy. So there needed to be a modest increase in enablers. And then our level of ambition with respect to advising and assisting the Afghan army was at one level, but our capability was at a lower level. So we needed to increase the number of advisors. And so in the military terms, we needed specialized advising units as well. So the Secretary of Defense directed the acceleration of special advisory units, which were created primarily by the Army, but also the other services contributed as well. The Army's contribution was called the Security Force Assistance Brigade and that was accelerated and fielded as part of the new policy. And then we had tailor made contingents of advisors, from the Marine Corps that went back into Helmand, and from the Air Force that went in to help advise and assist the Afghan Air Force. All of this was necessary to adjust our force structure to the policy that we needed. As you mentioned, all of our recommendations were accepted and incorporated into the new policy. So we're very happy about that. One other thing I want to mention was the role of external enablers of the insurgency. So the Taliban could not exist in Afghanistan if they did not have sanctuary and support from inside Pakistan. So this was one of my primary recommendations from a military perspective was that very seldom in military history do you defeat an insurgency when it enjoys external sanctuary and external support. And therefore we had to address this with Pakistan. And so this was endorsed and implemented.

Amb. McCarthy: (18:41) I know that was part of the new strategy, and we suspended, I understand, our security assistance to Pakistan to send them a big signal.

Gen. Nicholson: (18:48) Correct. And the final point I wanted to make was, another critical part of this was we were driving to a negotiated settlement to the end of the war. And so this reconciliation was one of the key components of the new strategy. And, I want to point out that within six months of implementing the strategy, we had peace offers on the table. One, a formal piece offer by the Afghan government, and then also an open letter to the American people by the Taliban, an outline. Within 10 months, we had the first ceasefire. Within 13 months of the policy being announced, Ambassador Khalilzad was active in the region working reconciliation.

Amb. Llorens: (19:25) One of the things that we tried to do early on, and again, it was exactly messaging back to our respective bureaucracies. But first of all, like I said, it was a very intense discussion between Mick and I but also with our teams. In our case, we prepared a, almost a country team plan, but incorporated, I mean this was for secretary Tillerson. It would be copied to the other senior members of the national security team, but it incorporated the views of the commander, what needed to be done on the security side. So here, in what would be a diplomatic dispatch, it had, reflected very much the military security views of the commander, which I completely concurred with on what needed to be done.

Amb. McCarthy: (20:06) That's an important point because it doesn't always happen. Usually they're separate, they're in silos. So the fact that there were elements of both is extremely important.

Amb. Llorens: (20:12) Correct. So we sent a cable, which was an integrated approach that had all of the components—diplomatic, development, intelligence, military. We passed it on, it went back to State, but we copied the others. But also, for example, the General made sure that he conveyed to the Pentagon that he supported that.

Gen. Nicholson: (20:31) Absolutely. Absolutely.

Amb. Llorens: (20:31) The same thing with some of the documentation, we won't get into the specifics, that the General prepared. I let my bosses know at the State Department that I was 100% in agreement, not only what was in my own report, but what was going back directly through the General's own channels.

Gen. Nicholson: (20:46) And vice versa.

Amb. Llorens: (20:48) And I think that was important because again, there were differences in the bureaucracy. You have people trying to get themselves up to speed. You know, in my case, Secretary Tillerson was someone who really did not have the expertise that a Secretary Mattis or a General McMaster, our National Security Advisor at the time, were people who really knew. And it took him time. By the way, he became quite a student of Afghanistan and became a very constructive player. You know that triumvirate, in terms of going to the President, in terms of what needed to be done in a new strategy. But again, it starts a little bit bureaucratically. You want to make sure that paper that comes in, that there was concurrence. And we had that. So when the team started to get on the ground and started to look at Afghanistan, I want to just emphasize again, they found the field where there was no light, what we were recommending, there were no differences between us.

Gen. Nicholson: (21:36) Exactly.

Amb. Llorens: (21:36) And I think that contributed a lot in facilitating a process, that by the way, was complicated by the fact that president Trump, that our president, our elected president, was a skeptic about Afghanistan and about what we were doing there. We've been fighting this war for 16 years, you know, his skepticism, you know, put his national security team through the paces. But I think it was helpful for the team to find that, hey, you know, the general and the ambassador, they're on the same page on what needs to be done.

Gen. Nicholson: (22:06) Absolutely.

Amb. McCarthy: (22:06) Did you find that you had the right tools to message appropriately about the new strategy?

Gen. Nicholson: (22:13) In August of 2017, President Trump announced the policy and in his speech it was quite clear, and he addressed each of the components of the policy. So I'd say that was critically important that the head of state message the policy. So that was key. And then following up on that, there were other key moments where President Trump, Vice President Pence, the Secretaries of Defense and State, all weighed in with key messages at key times. So at the beginning of January of 2018, when we had not seen movement with respect to Pakistan's reduction of enemy sanctuary and support, the President, in a tweet, called this out and announced the suspension of aid. And then by June the money was reprogrammed elsewhere. Vice President Pence and his visit to the theater did the same thing. So I think these key messages, especially with respect to Pakistan were very important. And then engagement, of course behind the scenes in addition to the public messaging was equally important. And so the engagement by the CENTCOM commander with the chief of the army in Pakistan was key. In this context, the alliance was really important as well. And so one of the things that occurred, during the time that Hugo and I were together, was a massive truck bomb that went off on the 31st of May, 2017. I wanted to bring that up because this bomb was directed by the Haqqani Network. And it was focused on the diplomatic missions in Kabul and their objective was to infiltrate this large truck bomb inside the diplomatic enclave, the Green Zone, and detonate it near some of the missions and this would have had an enormously detrimental effect on the support for the mission. And some very brave Afghan police, who are much maligned in the international media, they do their jobs every single day out there across the country. They stopped this truck. They did not allow it to come into the Green Zone. They sacrificed their lives doing this because then the insurgent detonated his truck bomb at the police checkpoint. It killed and wounded over 600 Afghans and destroyed the German embassy to a large extent and damaged eight other diplomatic missions. And at this moment, we saw many of the other nations get involved with respect to Pakistan. The Germans got involved directly bilaterally with Pakistan, and many of the allies. Then it became very apparent what was going on, and we did see different, you know, the level of diplomatic activity increased in terms of messaging the Pakistanis over the way forward. And then I also wanted to highlight at that moment, under Hugo's leadership, the U.S. Embassy played a key role in helping those other missions at a time when they really needed help, and helped to stabilize the situation so that those missions—only one left the country permanently. The rest all stayed in large measure due to the support and encouragement given by our Chief of Mission.

Amb. Llorens: (24:58) When we were in this period of transition, there was a lot of nervousness within the Afghan government. One of the things on the political side that Mick and I worked on was to tell the Afghan government that, look, there is an opportunity here with the change of administration, but there's also a huge risk if the president of the United States, who is a natural skeptic about Afghanistan, views the government is in disarray, they're more concerned about themselves than actually doing good for the country. We're going to be in real trouble. So I think very early on we were able to leverage the president's skepticism in a way that brought President Ghani and the Chief Executive, closer together. This was an example of, sort of, and by the way, this message was communicated by me as the senior diplomat, but equally by Mick as the senior military officer.

Gen. Nicholson: (25:47) Yeah.

Amb. Llorens: (25:47) So again, this was one case where there's no light between us in terms of what we were telling the Afghans. And by the way, the Afghans know us better than we know them. If they sense any light between us, they will drive up gigantic tanks through us.

Amb. McCarthy: (26:02) I wanted to turn back a little bit to Pakistan. We've suspended assistance. Our NATO partners have exerted a lot of pressure on Pakistan. You know the influence that Pakistan has had because it's a safe haven. Is that sufficient?

Gen. Nicholson: (26:16) This topic is a subject that Ambassador Khalilzad is engaged in right now—frequent consultations with the Pakistanis. Our President and Vice President have clearly conveyed our position on this, and it's part of the new policy. It's encouraging that a new Prime Minister, Imran Khan, and General Bajwa, together, the Chief of Army Staff, are saying all the right things in support of the Afghan peace process. And so I believe that we're pursuing that optimistically, but we also have to do it with a real dose of realism about what the past history has been. To be fair, of course, the Pakistanis have suffered heavily from terrorism.

Amb. McCarthy: (26:48) That's true.

Gen. Nicholson: (26:48) They've lost tens of thousands of their own citizens to terrorism. Many of these terrorist groups are focused on Pakistan, not Afghanistan, so they're waging their own war against these terrorists as well. I think the Pakistanis sometimes feel misunderstood, but at the same time, there are elements within the Pakistani government that have continued to enable the Taliban, and so this has to be addressed. And so our policy clearly does that. So we're hopeful that moving forward towards reconciliation that we'll see Pakistan's involvement in bringing this to a peaceful conclusion

Amb. Llorens: (27:19) Right now, in addition to Pakistan, I think Saudi Arabia is in a position to play a very helpful role. Knowing how important Afghanistan has been to the United States since September 11, you know, how difficult a fight it's been for ourselves and our allies in terms of blood and treasure. It's something that the Saudis have not taken sufficiently into account. So although the Saudis project themselves as this great, one of our principal allies in the Middle East, they are in a position to influence the situation. They're in a position to influence Pakistan and they're in a position to influence the Taliban directly, because I think it's important. My view is that, and I'm not talking about Saudi government money.

Amb. McCarthy: (27:56) Haven't they hosted one round of the talks?

Amb. Llorens: (27:58) They were. They were, they were postponed. And it's important that, you know, in addition to the fact that Pakistan provides this sanctuary for the Taliban and in every sense, whether it's rest and recreation for the Taliban as a basing area, as a place where they can get their munitions. But there's also Saudi money that continues to go, and I'm not saying it's government money, but Saudi money, money from Saudi Arabia, from wealthy Saudis, goes to the Taliban. You know, the Saudis can be an enabler in terms of helping us with Pakistan and with the Taliban. And I know that our diplomatic team is very aware of that and I think that's a critical element.

Gen. Nicholson: (28:35) I wanted to pick up on something Hugo said about our messaging because he's absolutely right. We benefited from President Ghani's view and Chief Executive Abdullah's view that the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States was of primary importance to the country. And this was a vast difference from the latter years of President Karzai. And president Karzai's negative view of the U.S. and the country undermined willingness and political support for support to Afghanistan, and in a very damaging way.

Amb. McCarthy: (29:05) It made it hard to negotiate that new agreement.

Gen. Nicholson: (29:08)Made it very difficult. But with President Ghani, from day one, you know, with the signing of the bilateral security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan and his strong emphasis on the primacy of our relationship, really helped us to advocate on their behalf in terms of knowing that we have a strong partner. We have a willing partner. We have a partner in this fight against terrorist groups. They are bearing the brunt of the sacrifice now. They are willing to fight and die for their country. So all of these things, these very legitimate, genuine sentiments from the Afghan's really helped us to make the case on why this is worth the investment.

Amb. McCarthy: (29:42) And the other actors that play a role on the outside, Russia and Iran?

Gen. Nicholson: (29:47) Iran and Russia, during my time there as commander, played increasing roles. And so as we look back now, beginning in 2016 with Russia's engagement in Syria, what we note is an increase in Russian malign activity in Afghanistan, really beginning about this time. And it is interesting. So I think, on one hand, it correlated with the U.S.'s stated intention to draw down and leave under the Obama administration. So, I think, in fairness, we need to point that out. I think this direction of our policy led to some hedging behaviors by the neighbors, to include Pakistan, but also Russia in an increasing role, and Iran to some extent, to ensure that their interests would be covered if the U.S. And NATO left, and whatever was left behind. There was also the increasing tension post-Crimea and Ukraine between Russia and NATO. And so if they could undermine NATO in Afghanistan, this would serve their larger purpose of discrediting the alliance and introducing friction. Third, I think Russia wanted to reassert its leadership and influence in Central Asia with the Central Asian states. And so we saw an increase there. And then the manner in which they've been engaged there has been typical of this pattern we've seen elsewhere. So the level of activity was just below the threshold of something that would drive a strong reaction by the alliance. So we saw low level engagement with provision of arms. We had weapons brought into my headquarters by governors in the north saying, “this was provided by the Russians to insurgents”. Now the weapon of course is an older weapon. It's fully functioning and in good shape, but there's no way that you can prove that this weapon came from a Russian and was given, other than the assertion of the governor. But we had that kind of evidence. Bribery was going on. Influence operations were going on. There were attempts to create their own parallel diplomatic process to that being led by the Afghan government. So, a desire to host peace talks in Moscow. And, so, we've seen many efforts on multiple levels by Russia to regain influence. Now, it's important to remember, as Hugo pointed out, the massive sense of Russia as the one who brought about all these problems in Afghanistan to begin with. So, their presence there in the seventies and eighties, this sheer damage has created a lot of ill will towards Russia in Afghanistan.

Amb. Llorens: (32:13) The work that we did, the whole national security team, at the end of the day, we really were able to get a very integrated strategy that was premised on the region. You know, you couldn't isolate the Afghan problems. It's integral to the South Central Asia region. So it's very important to know that that policy was not just an Afghan policy. It was a Central South Asian policy and it involved our approaches vis-à-vis, certainly Pakistan as the pivotal country there, but also with regards to our relationship with India, as we deal with Afghanistan. The problem of Iran, we have all sorts of difficulties with Iran, but Iran is a country that can have a lot of impact on Afghanistan and, of course, all the neighboring countries, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, an approach towards those countries. So I think it's very important that president Trump's approach really emphasized Afghanistan within the regional context. The president's policy had a regional component, a more robust military component, and then maybe the final thing I would like to mention in our areas, making sure that those social gains that I mentioned at the outset, the education gains, the health gains, were not reversed. One of the things that I think we achieved in the time, and by the way this, we did it together, changing completely the policy orientation on the economic side. The primary economic policy of the Afghan government, and in the period that we came in again, how to leverage a more private sector economic approach that create conditions for sustainable growth. So it's all integrated. And then finally, the corruption piece. We also worked on it on the civilian side, helping the country, the government, create a more meritocratic civil service, trying to control better oversight on the procurement process.

Gen. Nicholson: (33:58) On the corruption side, we looked at two of the areas where we saw the largest amount of corruption in the security sector, within the area of pay to personnel. So there's a problem of ghost soldiers. So there was a name and an identity for a person who didn't exist or wasn't in the ranks and the pay was still flowing to the government and then somebody was pocketing the pay for that individual. So that was one area where we had a lot of corruption. Then the second was in the area of fuel corruption. Where in a desire to turn over contracts to be administered by the Afghans, we had turned over the fuel contracts, which were significant contracts, hundreds of millions of dollars on an annual basis. And there was an immense amount of corruption going on inside the bidding process that was being run by the Afghans. So President Ghani was very committed to fixing this so he created a national procurement commission, and he pulled it up to his level. And while some were critical of this as a massive exercise in micromanagement, it was actually necessary to get after the corruption in a big way. So he drove the number of contracts from hundreds and hundreds of smaller contracts, where corruption could occur in an unsupervised manner, to a smaller number of larger contracts that were controlled at the national level. And so this process continues to this day for national procurement. He and Chief Executive Abdullah sit on it every week, with our representatives and representatives from the embassy.

Amb. McCarthy: (35:21) How did they get rid of the ghost soldiers?

Gen. Nicholson: (35:22) Okay. So in that case, we went through a process of biometrically enrolling all the soldiers. So verifying that for every soldier who has a bank account, there's a biometric identity associated with that soldier. This was a massive undertaking because the number of troops in the Afghan Army and Police total about 330,000. What we had identified was a gap between the biometric identities and the total number we were paying. So beginning in January 2017 we made the unilateral decision, I informed President Ghani we were suspending pay for anybody for whom we could not identify that they actually exist. We recouped tens of millions of dollars in pay, and then coupled with bringing the fuel contracts back under U.S. contracting command control, so we control the bidding process. We also protected hundreds of millions of dollars from potential corruption in the fuel bidding process. So the biometric enrollment of every soldier and every policeman went on through the period that Hugo and I worked together. This enabled us to have a much more accurate picture of how many soldiers they actually had. The money that we saved on the pay accounts we invested in the creation of additional special forces units. We found that these units had the best accountability and the best performance on the battlefield. So we made a decision to double the number of special forces units, commandos, and special police, and to increase the size of the Afghan Air Force. So by driving down the corruption in these other areas, we were able to help fund the growth in these other areas.

Amb. McCarthy: (36:58) Since the strategy was launched, there've been two offers for peace, two cease fires. We have a new envoy for Afghanistan, Ambassador Khalilzad, who's working on a negotiated settlement. How do you assess the prospects for these talks?

Gen. Nicholson: (37:12) I personally think we're at a period of what we call fighting and talking. So as is characteristic of many of the final stages of any war, as you get closer to the negotiation, each side is trying to increase your leverage at the bargaining table. And so I think what we're saying with the Taliban attacks, and to be clear about the Taliban attacks, they're not gaining new ground. What they're trying to do is inflict casualties and grab headlines, and they're getting headlines. They're getting headlines. To be honest, I think the media tends to accentuate these and not track as closely the successes that the Afghan security forces are having against the Taliban. But this in part is because we've made a deliberate decision not to talk about body counts. The history of using body counts as a metric of success is not a good one and so we deliberately don't do this, but what we do see in the media, of course, there's an overemphasis on body counts, friendly reports, and because we don't talk about enemy body counts, there's no counter narrative to that. I believe what we're seeing, my personal opinion, is the enemy is trying to improve their leverage at the bargaining table by conducting high profile attacks that inflict casualties but don't fundamentally change the situation on the ground. But they're designed to get at the will of the coalition and the will of the Afghan people. Now, what you've seen is a resiliency in the Afghan government in the face of this and what you don't hear about, what isn't reported, are the nightly attacks and frequent attacks that are being done by the Afghan military against the Taliban. What's encouraging to see is there is an international consensus building in support of peace, so, the Russians, although it hasn't been in a helpful way, are actually trying to promote a peace process in their own way. The allies are behind this. The U.S. Led effort under Ambassador Khalilzad is trying to move us to what will be, eventually, an Afghan peace process.

Amb. Llorens: (39:02) One of the fundamental shifts in approach between the Obama administration and the Trump administration was this idea of moving away from a time-spaced approach and again, the flaw there was, ultimately the Taliban could just wait us out. They basically say once they're out the door, then we'll take care of business. And the message being that we will stay as long as it takes, we and our allies, to achieve our objective of a political solution, a reconciliation in Afghanistan. The Taliban understand war. They understand violence. If you're going to have success, if you're going to force them to the table, you sort of need to increase the level of violence on them. You don't press buttons in Afghanistan and things happen, it will take time, but I think we have begun a process, which, I believe, really provides an opportunity for Afghans, who are the ultimate dealmakers.

Gen. Nicholson: (39:51) Right.

Amb. Llorens: (39:52) To sit down at the table and come up with something that genuinely works for Afghanistan, but protects our interests.

Amb. McCarthy: (39:58) Well, the President has said, let's begin to pull back some of our forces in Afghanistan; although it's not an easy process, it takes time. What kind of signals does that send?

Gen. Nicholson: (40:08) I understand no orders were issued.

Amb. McCarthy: (40:10) No orders were issued.

Gen. Nicholson: (40:10) It was discussed in some public messaging that occurred, but there were no orders issued, and again, that's under consideration by the department, working with the White House. I think that the important thing here is the peace process led by Ambassador Zal [Zalmay Khalilzad] is progressing. And as Hugo said, key at this moment is demonstrating our commitment to the peace process going forward. The Afghans want to own this war. They are a willing partner, they just need our help. And so as we look at, from the height of our commitment in Afghanistan, hundreds of billions of dollars, a hundred thousand US troops, we're now down to 15,000 US troops. And can that number come down a little? Perhaps. And perhaps as part of a negotiated settlement, that number would come down. One of the seductive arguments here is to look at the cost of your current commitment, which we can quantify quite specifically, but what we don't know as a cost of failure. So if we were to leave arbitrarily from Afghanistan and there was another attack on the U.S., which we assess, military and intelligence officials, would occur, then what would that cost be to the United States? So comparing the cost of staying to get this to a negotiated settlement versus the cost of failure is an important conversation.

Amb. McCarthy: (41:24) What key lessons should we take away about the need for each side, our diplomatic side, our military side, to get out of it's foxhole so to speak, to get the mission done?

Amb. Llorens: (41:34) When I was asked by Secretary Kerry whether I would come to Afghanistan, I was going to retire out of Sydney, Australia. I had a great tour, that was the real golden handshake for me.

Amb. McCarthy: (41:46) I know you liked that one, I remember that.

Amb. Llorens: (41:46) I had a great time over there. I immediately accepted. To me Afghanistan was so important. I wanted to just focus completely on, and I wanted to have the ability to be as honest as I could be with our senior leadership back in Washington. And Mick is, again, one of our most brilliant military commanders. But one of the things that made it easy to work with him—he's a man of true conviction and principal. So, he was more interested in getting the job done for America than his own career. There are many elements as to why we have such a good relationship, but ultimately he was not going to compromise on being honest with his leaders on what he felt needed to be done. And I think his conviction provided a tremendous amount of leadership and I was kind of a bit of a free agent. So I think that was a key part of our relationship.

Gen. Nicholson: (42:30) What we ask the general and the ambassador to do in Afghanistan is really achieve kind of unity of effort between the two of them. And when I think about the training and education of military leaders to prepare you for this, it's not really a part of our training and education to be quite honest.

Amb. McCarthy: (42:45) It's not really part of ours. We have some.

Gen. Nicholson: (42:45) We are trained to become great tactical leaders on the battlefield, and that's where we should be focused. But then, when you get put in a position like this, that's kind of uncharted territory. What I have learned coming out of that, number one, it comes down to relationships—establishing and leveraging functional, authentic relationships. And so the qualities necessary in a military leader to do their part in this relationship are not the qualities you see on a normal list of military virtues. You know, we talk about physical courage, physical fitness, and certainly we need all of those qualities. But you also need a quality of humility that you don't understand everything that your diplomatic teammate understands, that the Chief of Mission understands after a career in the diplomatic arena. Patience, you know, that outcomes require time. So whether you're working with allies, whether you're working with Afghans, requires patience. Stamina, to be honest, you know, years and years and years of working on these problems, and this is what its going to take to get to the point. So these qualities are essential and need to be developed, and I think in our own training and education of our military leaders coming up, we also recognize there are no more purely military solutions to these problems in the world. The military is but one part of a solution. We're not going to kill our way to victory here. You are going to be part of a whole, and therefore the military leaders have got to understand how they fit into that whole, what their role is, and how they can create an environment where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Amb. McCarthy: (44:18) And our diplomatic leaders, to be effective negotiators, often need the presence and the support of our military, because if the negotiations fail, we have other solutions.

Amb. Llorens: (44:31) Again, the Afghans know us very well and they're very savvy. And If they would pick up any differences, the most subtle, that we might have our policy issues and that would make it more complicated for either of us to do our jobs. So, what we tried to do is we did a weekly lunch, for an hour, and you know that was a human lunch too. I mean we talked about family because it was about our relationship as two people who were in a very stressful environment, and you know, we kind of needed each other as people.

Gen. Nicholson: (45:01) Absolutely

Amb. Llorens: (45:01) So we established a very deep friendship. There was a lot of trust there. I had total trust. We could disagree on something, believe it. We didn't agree on everything, but I wasn't going to find out about it from someone else. I was going to find out from Mick. And the other thing is, our ability to have these monthly meetings where we, as Mick said, we would pick a subject. One of the, either the command or the embassy would have lead, and then they would present and then we would have a discussion for an hour and a half. First of all, it showed all of our people the kind of relationship Mick and I had, how close we were. But then it would allow them to, sort of, interact together. As we got further on, I didn't need to talk to Mick everyday.

Gen. Nicholson: (45:39) Yea, we just knew.

Amb. Llorens: (45:40) And that made it a lot easier., It wasn't like I have to devote a lot of time, sort of like we hit orbit, we knew what we were thinking. I mean if there's a question, then we would call, but we didn't need to speak every day.

Amb. McCarthy: (45:50) Well gentlemen, I commend you on the teamwork that you achieved and I know the teamwork is going to continue as you go into new incarnations and it's been a true pleasure to do this. Not only in warmer climes, not in Washington, but also, in the case of Hugo, with someone who entered the diplomatic service with me, at the tender age of, very young. And we don't need to communicate to know and understand each other either. But thank you for participating in our series, The General and the Ambassador and may your teamwork continue.

Gen. Nicholson: (46:22) Thank you, Deborah.

Amb. Llorens: (46:22) Thank you very much. It was great.

 

Episode 21: Afghanistan - The Transition From The Obama To The Trump Administration. Conversation With General John (Mick) Nicholson And Ambassador Hugo Llorens

Amb. McCarthy: (00:02) Welcome to a conversation in the Academy of Diplomacy podcast series, the General and the Ambassador. Our focus is the partnership between our senior military leaders and our senior diplomats in advancing our national security interests overseas. Our website is the generalandtheambassador.org my name is ambassador Deborah McCarthy and I am the host For this episode. I was able to meet my guests in sunny Florida and we recorded on location. Our conversation today will focus on our military and diplomatic interests in Afghanistan and I'm very pleased to be joined by General Mick Nicholson and ambassador Hugo Llorens. General Nicholson was the commander of both US forces and NATO forces in Afghanistan from 2016 to 2018. Ambassador Llorens was in charge of the U.S. Embassy from 2016 to 2017. Gentlemen, you led our military and diplomatic interests in Afghanistan during the transition between the administration of President Obama and the administration of President Trump and we will focus a large part of our conversation on that transition. But before we get to that, I want to go back a bit. General Nicholson, when we first went into Afghanistan after 9/11 what were our military objectives?

Gen. Nicholson: (01:16) Well, President Bush at that time had demanded that the Taliban turn over Al Qaeda. The Taliban refused. We issued them an ultimatum and then we went in there to then go after the Al Qaeda leadership ourselves and in the process remove the Taliban leaders, and we were successful in that.

Amb. McCarthy: (01:31) And we were joined in that effort, in the beginning, by a number of key countries: the UK, other NATO members. Why do they partner with us and what kind of contributions have they made over the years that we have been there?

Gen. Nicholson: (01:45)                                    Ever since 9/11, our allies have stood by us for this entire war and at one point we were up to 50 coalition members. Today we still have 41 who have been there for 17 years. So, they came because it was a NATO led coalition and NATO invoked Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty and under this provision of the treaty an attack on one member is an attack on all. It was, I believe, the only time the alliance has invoked Article Five and NATO came in strong and supported the United States. And they are still there. For the military commander in Afghanistan, he has a NATO chain of command as well as a U.S. chain of command.

Amb. McCarthy: (02:22) Our diplomatic presence did not grow that quickly, because we had closed our embassy, I believe in 1989. Our marines led a special operation in 2001 to open it again and fly the flag. Hugo when you arrive later in 2012/2013 how big was the embassy and what was its primary mission?

Amb. Llorens: (02:42) By the way, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, as you know, he was the man who put that flag up with our marines.

Amb. McCarthy: (02:51) Who has been on our podcast.

Amb. Llorens: (02:51) He was the Chargé [d'Affaires] for a year. He opened up the embassy. When I was there in 2012 and 2013 a little, we were sort of still in the period of the surge. We were in direct combat. We had a hundred thousand US troops. We had 40-45,000 NATO troops. The budget that we had annually, when you combine our military, diplomatic, economic development, and intelligence programs, totaled about $125 billion. When I was there as the Assistant Chief of Mission, I was one of the ambassadors. I was kind of third on the rank order. So it was a gigantic embassy and it was in the surge, but the tail end. We began the transition under the Obama administration to what would become really an Afghan led fight, as it should be, and our role would be more of support on the security side, still, and on the political and the economic side. It was a very different situation in 2012/2013 from when I returned in 2016/2017

Amb. McCarthy: (03:44) And over the years our objectives and our presence have changed. I mean, on the military side, we still conduct operations against terrorist groups under what is called Operation Freedom Sentinel and the bulk of our troops in those and NATO has shifted from combat to training of Afghan national forces, what is called Operation Nato Resolute Support. So Mick, I want to ask you, we started out in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda, but now there are about 20 terrorist groups in the region. Who are they and what threats do they pose today to the United States and our allies?

Gen. Nicholson: (04:19) We have 21 designated groups in the region out of the total, globally, of, I believe, just over a hundred. So this is the highest concentration of terrorist groups anywhere in the world. Now in some cases, some of these groups have more numbers elsewhere in the world, but in terms of the number of groups, it's the highest concentration anywhere in the world. So the counter terrorism effort that we conduct on the platform in Afghanistan is essential to keeping pressure on these groups to prevent any attacks on our homeland or those of our allies. The primary groups we're focused on are Al Qaeda and ISIS. But they also have affiliates. So ISIS in the Khorasan, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, are affiliates of these core groups that are located there. And the Taliban provide a medium within which some of these other terrorist groups can thrive and survive. And then the reason they're able to do this is because of the large population in the region, in Afghanistan and Pakistan you have close to 300 million people, a largely uneducated and underemployed population. And then you have a population that, because of these conditions, is susceptible to some of the radical forms of teachings that go on in some of the madrassas in the region. So you have a medium within which recruitment is possible, and then you see members switching allegiances between the groups. So one good example is the Taliban and ISIS. So on one level they're fighting each other and they are going against each other. But in many cases, the members of ISIS actually switched allegiance from the Taliban over to ISIS. So you have Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, again, a designated group. Members haved shifted allegiance to ISIS. Some members of the Taliban have shifted allegiance to ISIS. So our presence there and the presence of our allies keeps pressure on the system so that these groups can't grow even larger and then realize their ambition to attack outside of the region. So our presence here is extremely important. I wanted to pick up on something that Hugo mentioned earlier. Our role has shifted over the years from direct combat and during those years of direct combat allowed us to grow the Afghan security forces to a level where they could take over the fight. This process was called ‘transition’. That occurred in the period that Hugo mentioned and now they are the lead and we are advising assisting them.

Amb. McCarthy: (06:35) Could I ask you one other question about ISIS? Because we're so focused in our media on ISIS and its presence in other parts of the world, and less so in Afghanistan. How did they come to be there?

Gen. Nicholson: (06:46) ISIS Main, in Syria, we're all familiar with that, has about eight affiliates around the world and there's actually a formal application process where these groups apply to ISIS Main to create a caliphate or an extension, a province if you will, in their lingo, elsewhere. So in Afghanistan it's called ISIS Khorasan, Khorasan province. This phrase has significance for that geographical part of the world and the ISIS movement. So members of the Pakistani Taliban applied to ISIS to become an ISIS affiliate and they were granted admission after they met certain criteria and then they receive funding and leadership guidance from Syria, from ISIS Main. And this started in about 2015 and so by the time I arrived in early 2016, and the period when Hugo and I were working together, ISIS was growing this new province, Khorasan, and trying to recruit new members inside Afghanistan.

Amb. McCarthy: (07:43) Hugo, can you talk a little bit about the work of our diplomats, especially on the governance, and on the economic and development sides, because it's good for our listeners to hear what the mission was focused on.

Amb. Llorens: (07:53) Sure. Look, if you're going to walk into Afghanistan just with bullets, we would have failed a long time ago.

Gen. Nicholson: (07:57) Absolutely.

Amb. Llorens: (07:58) You need to be able to build a context. There was no country there. I mean Afghanistan, when we arrived in 2001, was a completely destroyed, shattered country. You know, the Soviet Union, when they invaded, they waged total war on the Afghan people. It was an unlimited war and they absolutely destroyed the country. And then after that, after the Soviet Union collapsed, then you had the period of the Mujahedeen fighting in the civil war and, again, the destruction was terrible. And then the last man standing was the Taliban. So in 1996, the Taliban rolled into Kabul and took over and it became a dark night for the Afghan people. And it was not until the end of 2001 when we and our NATO allies returned, that there was a chance. This country had been sort of in total darkness for several decades. And I just want to mention that we and our allies, and this is a civilian and military activity. We've been able to help the Afghan people get back on their feet, which is, again, a critical component if we're going to have stability in that region and success, and be able to deal with the threats that Mick was talking about. So, just, I'll give you a very brief example, but take the issue of education. Back in 2001 before we arrived, Afghanistan, they are a country of 28 million people, had 600,000 kids in school, kindergarten through university. There were no women. You know, women were not allowed. They were at home. They weren't allowed to study in the public school system. Today there are eight and a half to nine million young people studying in the education system, kindergarten through university, 40% are women. A revolution in education. Health is another example. I just want to emphasize in 2001 there was no health system in Afghanistan. There were some humanitarian doctors, Doctors Without Borders, running around, some minor UN programs. Today, 60% of Afghans are within a 45 minute walk to a health clinic. And what you will see is just the dramatic decline in infant and maternal mortality rates. That's something that is just very dramatic and it gets to the very basic, in terms of the human condition. So I would mention that. And then the last point I'd mention is telecommunications. You know, Afghanistan, next to North Korea, was the most autarchic, isolated country in the world, under this Taliban medieval system that they created. There were several thousand phones in the country, with very little connectivity. Today, there are 22 million phones in Afghanistan. So when Mick and I would be rolling around, some times in rural areas...

Amb. McCarthy: (10:25) I wanted to ask you how you managed to get out and do this, given the security situation.

Amb. Llorens: (10:29) But let me just make that point, when you'd be out there rolling around in a rural area with your security and all that, you'd see a woman completely covered, and underneath that veil you saw a cell phone. So I'll leave it at that. But I just think the point is—we're doing all of that. On the military side it is about empowering the Afghan people, giving them a chance so that they can make it. And if they can make it, then I think we have a chance for success.

Amb. McCarthy: (10:51) And how did you go about deciding who did what on the development side?

Gen. Nicholson: (10:55) This is an unusual circumstance for a Chief of Mission, where you have a large military organization headed by a four-star general in the country. So overt communication was key and respecting each other's lanes and roles was key. And so a lot of this is guided by US policy. So, we have specific responsibilities to the Department of State, Department of Defense, lead in certain areas. But I would say in almost every area, one of us was a lead and the other was in a supporting role. So there was no area that we weren't mutually interested in, and the key here was achieving unity of effort. And so that in my view all comes down to relationships. And so the relationships between the Ambassador and I were, well that relationship was essential. For a couple of reasons. One, to ensure we had a common vision of how we were going to implement US policy. And then also so I could consult with him on how he implemented NATO policy in the region, and then our approaches to the Afghan government. So it was critical that we were on the same page when dealing with so many different actors. We were constantly consulting as we worked through this.

Amb. McCarthy: (11:55) How did you communicate? How did your teams?

Amb. Llorens: (11:57) I mean, look, these are massive organizations. I mean, the general had a very large command, NATO command, then US command. And we had still, when I was there in 2016/2017, I think it was still the largest embassy in the world. I mean we had a staff of 8,500, representing, you know, 18-19 US government agencies. We had the largest development program in the world. A lot of the funding, for example on infrastructure, a lot of it was DoD money and some of the programs were implemented by USAID. Our development specialists and infrastructure people, they worked hand in glove. I mean, these were massive infrastructure projects, road projects and the like. You know, one of the things that we did, I mean, remember we came in, I came in, you know, Mick worked with three Chiefs of Mission, so credit to him. Three different personalities, three management styles.

Amb. McCarthy: (12:45) He saw all styles and personalities.

Amb. Llorens: (12:45) And by the way, I can tell you that his relationship with the other two ambassadors was superb as well. It's a lot due to his talent and his ability to manage, his integrated and personal skills. But look, we were lucky in the sense that we, I came in at the end of 2016, we were in this period of transition, the tail end of the Obama Administration. And we had an opportunity to consult for several months before the new Trump administration and get, kind of, our signals right on how we were going to message back to Washington, to the new national security team, to president Trump and his team on what would be some of the recommendations. And one of the things that Mick and I agreed in long conversations we had, we're talking about December 2016, January 2017, was that no one was talking about going back to what was. You know, surging, and Bringing back massive amounts of US military and redeploying our diplomats all over the country. That we really had had the transition and it was an Afghan lead. But we believed that we could find a way that would be a cost effective way on the diplomatic and development side, and on the military side, but that could be a lot more effective. And again, no criticism of President Obama. President Obama, he devoted a lot of time to Afghanistan, believe me, and he was quite expert. But we felt that there were some things that we could do that could heighten our effectiveness. And so what I would say is that, in many ways, the first piece that came together in that transition was the fact that the field was together. We had a certain agreement on the elements, on the diplomatic, development, intelligence, and in the military sides. As the new team started to come in and picked our brains, I don't think they found very much light [between them], but I don't know your thoughts on that.

Gen. Nicholson: (14:22) No, no, I agree Hugo. I wanted to address one question you asked Deborah, about how we consult. So we had relationships established at all levels between our two organizations. Then we also, Hugo and I, tried to model this partnership through a high level meeting that we would host on an alternating basis in the embassy or in our headquarters with all the senior leaders of the mission and the senior leaders of the military effort. And this was Hugo's initiative, but it was something we immediately fell in on because it was something we had done before. It worked well and we both participated in these sessions under previous commanders. So that was very important. And then by modeling this close relationship between the two of us, it makes it easier for all of our team to engage in that. And that was extremely important. To the point about the transition, this is really a unique opportunity going forward. We each had our consultations, I was picking, myself, through DoD for example, and Hugo through Department of State. But then we also had a combined cable, which under the Chief of Mission's lead, under Hugo's lead, we actually also had a combined position that we articulated.

Amb. McCarthy: (15:20) I see. Ok.

Gen. Nicholson: (15:21) So in the case of the DoD input, in depth conversations with Secretary Mattis, who came over and asked a series of, sort of, first order questions. Now, he of course is very familiar with Afghanistan, having served here while in uniform and having been the CENTCOM commander. But we, again, we started with a baseline of what should our policy be going forward in order to be successful? What should our objectives be and then how should we go about achieving it? And as Hugo said, this didn't involve another "surge", and people wanted to default to that as the answer. And I think unfortunately, over time what we did see, in dealing with Afghanistan from the military side, was a tendency to deal with troop numbers and timelines as two of the key metrics instead of managing by objective. And so one of the things that Hugo and I tried to articulate back up was let's manage by objective and instead of being on a strict timeline, let's go to what we call a conditions basis. So we established policy objectives and then what are the conditions to achieve to get to those. So a conditions basis was one of the key things. With respect to troop numbers, they do matter because they represent capabilities. And so I felt at that time that we had drawn down too deeply and we were unable to actually perform the things we needed to do to achieve the policy objectives, because the numbers were so restrictive. And so I recommended a modest increase in numbers, but again...

Amb. McCarthy: (16:41) Was this to add towards our CT [counterterrorism] capability, and/or the training, or both?

Gen. Nicholson: (16:45) Both, to some extent. To get into the weeds a little bit, CT is not a purely standalone capability. It's dependent upon certain things we call enablers, which will be air power, intelligence, surveillance, logistics, medical, so forth. These other capabilities don't come from our Special Operations Command exclusively. They come from the services writ large, and these numbers we needed to increase in order to enable us to go after these 21 groups and keep the pressure on the enemy. So there needed to be a modest increase in enablers. And then our level of ambition with respect to advising and assisting the Afghan army was at one level, but our capability was at a lower level. So we needed to increase the number of advisors. And so in the military terms, we needed specialized advising units as well. So the Secretary of Defense directed the acceleration of special advisory units, which were created primarily by the Army, but also the other services contributed as well. The Army's contribution was called the Security Force Assistance Brigade and that was accelerated and fielded as part of the new policy. And then we had tailor made contingents of advisors, from the Marine Corps that went back into Helmand, and from the Air Force that went in to help advise and assist the Afghan Air Force. All of this was necessary to adjust our force structure to the policy that we needed. As you mentioned, all of our recommendations were accepted and incorporated into the new policy. So we're very happy about that. One other thing I want to mention was the role of external enablers of the insurgency. So the Taliban could not exist in Afghanistan if they did not have sanctuary and support from inside Pakistan. So this was one of my primary recommendations from a military perspective was that very seldom in military history do you defeat an insurgency when it enjoys external sanctuary and external support. And therefore we had to address this with Pakistan. And so this was endorsed and implemented.

Amb. McCarthy: (18:41) I know that was part of the new strategy, and we suspended, I understand, our security assistance to Pakistan to send them a big signal.

Gen. Nicholson: (18:48) Correct. And the final point I wanted to make was, another critical part of this was we were driving to a negotiated settlement to the end of the war. And so this reconciliation was one of the key components of the new strategy. And, I want to point out that within six months of implementing the strategy, we had peace offers on the table. One, a formal piece offer by the Afghan government, and then also an open letter to the American people by the Taliban, an outline. Within 10 months, we had the first ceasefire. Within 13 months of the policy being announced, Ambassador Khalilzad was active in the region working reconciliation.

Amb. Llorens: (19:25) One of the things that we tried to do early on, and again, it was exactly messaging back to our respective bureaucracies. But first of all, like I said, it was a very intense discussion between Mick and I but also with our teams. In our case, we prepared a, almost a country team plan, but incorporated, I mean this was for secretary Tillerson. It would be copied to the other senior members of the national security team, but it incorporated the views of the commander, what needed to be done on the security side. So here, in what would be a diplomatic dispatch, it had, reflected very much the military security views of the commander, which I completely concurred with on what needed to be done.

Amb. McCarthy: (20:06) That's an important point because it doesn't always happen. Usually they're separate, they're in silos. So the fact that there were elements of both is extremely important.

Amb. Llorens: (20:12) Correct. So we sent a cable, which was an integrated approach that had all of the components—diplomatic, development, intelligence, military. We passed it on, it went back to State, but we copied the others. But also, for example, the General made sure that he conveyed to the Pentagon that he supported that.

Gen. Nicholson: (20:31) Absolutely. Absolutely.

Amb. Llorens: (20:31) The same thing with some of the documentation, we won't get into the specifics, that the General prepared. I let my bosses know at the State Department that I was 100% in agreement, not only what was in my own report, but what was going back directly through the General's own channels.

Gen. Nicholson: (20:46) And vice versa.

Amb. Llorens: (20:48) And I think that was important because again, there were differences in the bureaucracy. You have people trying to get themselves up to speed. You know, in my case, Secretary Tillerson was someone who really did not have the expertise that a Secretary Mattis or a General McMaster, our National Security Advisor at the time, were people who really knew. And it took him time. By the way, he became quite a student of Afghanistan and became a very constructive player. You know that triumvirate, in terms of going to the President, in terms of what needed to be done in a new strategy. But again, it starts a little bit bureaucratically. You want to make sure that paper that comes in, that there was concurrence. And we had that. So when the team started to get on the ground and started to look at Afghanistan, I want to just emphasize again, they found the field where there was no light, what we were recommending, there were no differences between us.

Gen. Nicholson: (21:36) Exactly.

Amb. Llorens: (21:36) And I think that contributed a lot in facilitating a process, that by the way, was complicated by the fact that president Trump, that our president, our elected president, was a skeptic about Afghanistan and about what we were doing there. We've been fighting this war for 16 years, you know, his skepticism, you know, put his national security team through the paces. But I think it was helpful for the team to find that, hey, you know, the general and the ambassador, they're on the same page on what needs to be done.

Gen. Nicholson: (22:06) Absolutely.

Amb. McCarthy: (22:06) Did you find that you had the right tools to message appropriately about the new strategy?

Gen. Nicholson: (22:13) In August of 2017, President Trump announced the policy and in his speech it was quite clear, and he addressed each of the components of the policy. So I'd say that was critically important that the head of state message the policy. So that was key. And then following up on that, there were other key moments where President Trump, Vice President Pence, the Secretaries of Defense and State, all weighed in with key messages at key times. So at the beginning of January of 2018, when we had not seen movement with respect to Pakistan's reduction of enemy sanctuary and support, the President, in a tweet, called this out and announced the suspension of aid. And then by June the money was reprogrammed elsewhere. Vice President Pence and his visit to the theater did the same thing. So I think these key messages, especially with respect to Pakistan were very important. And then engagement, of course behind the scenes in addition to the public messaging was equally important. And so the engagement by the CENTCOM commander with the chief of the army in Pakistan was key. In this context, the alliance was really important as well. And so one of the things that occurred, during the time that Hugo and I were together, was a massive truck bomb that went off on the 31st of May, 2017. I wanted to bring that up because this bomb was directed by the Haqqani Network. And it was focused on the diplomatic missions in Kabul and their objective was to infiltrate this large truck bomb inside the diplomatic enclave, the Green Zone, and detonate it near some of the missions and this would have had an enormously detrimental effect on the support for the mission. And some very brave Afghan police, who are much maligned in the international media, they do their jobs every single day out there across the country. They stopped this truck. They did not allow it to come into the Green Zone. They sacrificed their lives doing this because then the insurgent detonated his truck bomb at the police checkpoint. It killed and wounded over 600 Afghans and destroyed the German embassy to a large extent and damaged eight other diplomatic missions. And at this moment, we saw many of the other nations get involved with respect to Pakistan. The Germans got involved directly bilaterally with Pakistan, and many of the allies. Then it became very apparent what was going on, and we did see different, you know, the level of diplomatic activity increased in terms of messaging the Pakistanis over the way forward. And then I also wanted to highlight at that moment, under Hugo's leadership, the U.S. Embassy played a key role in helping those other missions at a time when they really needed help, and helped to stabilize the situation so that those missions—only one left the country permanently. The rest all stayed in large measure due to the support and encouragement given by our Chief of Mission.

Amb. Llorens: (24:58) When we were in this period of transition, there was a lot of nervousness within the Afghan government. One of the things on the political side that Mick and I worked on was to tell the Afghan government that, look, there is an opportunity here with the change of administration, but there's also a huge risk if the president of the United States, who is a natural skeptic about Afghanistan, views the government is in disarray, they're more concerned about themselves than actually doing good for the country. We're going to be in real trouble. So I think very early on we were able to leverage the president's skepticism in a way that brought President Ghani and the Chief Executive, closer together. This was an example of, sort of, and by the way, this message was communicated by me as the senior diplomat, but equally by Mick as the senior military officer.

Gen. Nicholson: (25:47) Yeah.

Amb. Llorens: (25:47) So again, this was one case where there's no light between us in terms of what we were telling the Afghans. And by the way, the Afghans know us better than we know them. If they sense any light between us, they will drive up gigantic tanks through us.

Amb. McCarthy: (26:02) I wanted to turn back a little bit to Pakistan. We've suspended assistance. Our NATO partners have exerted a lot of pressure on Pakistan. You know the influence that Pakistan has had because it's a safe haven. Is that sufficient?

Gen. Nicholson: (26:16) This topic is a subject that Ambassador Khalilzad is engaged in right now—frequent consultations with the Pakistanis. Our President and Vice President have clearly conveyed our position on this, and it's part of the new policy. It's encouraging that a new Prime Minister, Imran Khan, and General Bajwa, together, the Chief of Army Staff, are saying all the right things in support of the Afghan peace process. And so I believe that we're pursuing that optimistically, but we also have to do it with a real dose of realism about what the past history has been. To be fair, of course, the Pakistanis have suffered heavily from terrorism.

Amb. McCarthy: (26:48) That's true.

Gen. Nicholson: (26:48) They've lost tens of thousands of their own citizens to terrorism. Many of these terrorist groups are focused on Pakistan, not Afghanistan, so they're waging their own war against these terrorists as well. I think the Pakistanis sometimes feel misunderstood, but at the same time, there are elements within the Pakistani government that have continued to enable the Taliban, and so this has to be addressed. And so our policy clearly does that. So we're hopeful that moving forward towards reconciliation that we'll see Pakistan's involvement in bringing this to a peaceful conclusion

Amb. Llorens: (27:19) Right now, in addition to Pakistan, I think Saudi Arabia is in a position to play a very helpful role. Knowing how important Afghanistan has been to the United States since September 11, you know, how difficult a fight it's been for ourselves and our allies in terms of blood and treasure. It's something that the Saudis have not taken sufficiently into account. So although the Saudis project themselves as this great, one of our principal allies in the Middle East, they are in a position to influence the situation. They're in a position to influence Pakistan and they're in a position to influence the Taliban directly, because I think it's important. My view is that, and I'm not talking about Saudi government money.

Amb. McCarthy: (27:56) Haven't they hosted one round of the talks?

Amb. Llorens: (27:58) They were. They were, they were postponed. And it's important that, you know, in addition to the fact that Pakistan provides this sanctuary for the Taliban and in every sense, whether it's rest and recreation for the Taliban as a basing area, as a place where they can get their munitions. But there's also Saudi money that continues to go, and I'm not saying it's government money, but Saudi money, money from Saudi Arabia, from wealthy Saudis, goes to the Taliban. You know, the Saudis can be an enabler in terms of helping us with Pakistan and with the Taliban. And I know that our diplomatic team is very aware of that and I think that's a critical element.

Gen. Nicholson: (28:35) I wanted to pick up on something Hugo said about our messaging because he's absolutely right. We benefited from President Ghani's view and Chief Executive Abdullah's view that the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States was of primary importance to the country. And this was a vast difference from the latter years of President Karzai. And president Karzai's negative view of the U.S. and the country undermined willingness and political support for support to Afghanistan, and in a very damaging way.

Amb. McCarthy: (29:05) It made it hard to negotiate that new agreement.

Gen. Nicholson: (29:08)Made it very difficult. But with President Ghani, from day one, you know, with the signing of the bilateral security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan and his strong emphasis on the primacy of our relationship, really helped us to advocate on their behalf in terms of knowing that we have a strong partner. We have a willing partner. We have a partner in this fight against terrorist groups. They are bearing the brunt of the sacrifice now. They are willing to fight and die for their country. So all of these things, these very legitimate, genuine sentiments from the Afghan's really helped us to make the case on why this is worth the investment.

Amb. McCarthy: (29:42) And the other actors that play a role on the outside, Russia and Iran?

Gen. Nicholson: (29:47) Iran and Russia, during my time there as commander, played increasing roles. And so as we look back now, beginning in 2016 with Russia's engagement in Syria, what we note is an increase in Russian malign activity in Afghanistan, really beginning about this time. And it is interesting. So I think, on one hand, it correlated with the U.S.'s stated intention to draw down and leave under the Obama administration. So, I think, in fairness, we need to point that out. I think this direction of our policy led to some hedging behaviors by the neighbors, to include Pakistan, but also Russia in an increasing role, and Iran to some extent, to ensure that their interests would be covered if the U.S. And NATO left, and whatever was left behind. There was also the increasing tension post-Crimea and Ukraine between Russia and NATO. And so if they could undermine NATO in Afghanistan, this would serve their larger purpose of discrediting the alliance and introducing friction. Third, I think Russia wanted to reassert its leadership and influence in Central Asia with the Central Asian states. And so we saw an increase there. And then the manner in which they've been engaged there has been typical of this pattern we've seen elsewhere. So the level of activity was just below the threshold of something that would drive a strong reaction by the alliance. So we saw low level engagement with provision of arms. We had weapons brought into my headquarters by governors in the north saying, “this was provided by the Russians to insurgents”. Now the weapon of course is an older weapon. It's fully functioning and in good shape, but there's no way that you can prove that this weapon came from a Russian and was given, other than the assertion of the governor. But we had that kind of evidence. Bribery was going on. Influence operations were going on. There were attempts to create their own parallel diplomatic process to that being led by the Afghan government. So, a desire to host peace talks in Moscow. And, so, we've seen many efforts on multiple levels by Russia to regain influence. Now, it's important to remember, as Hugo pointed out, the massive sense of Russia as the one who brought about all these problems in Afghanistan to begin with. So, their presence there in the seventies and eighties, this sheer damage has created a lot of ill will towards Russia in Afghanistan.

Amb. Llorens: (32:13) The work that we did, the whole national security team, at the end of the day, we really were able to get a very integrated strategy that was premised on the region. You know, you couldn't isolate the Afghan problems. It's integral to the South Central Asia region. So it's very important to know that that policy was not just an Afghan policy. It was a Central South Asian policy and it involved our approaches vis-à-vis, certainly Pakistan as the pivotal country there, but also with regards to our relationship with India, as we deal with Afghanistan. The problem of Iran, we have all sorts of difficulties with Iran, but Iran is a country that can have a lot of impact on Afghanistan and, of course, all the neighboring countries, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, an approach towards those countries. So I think it's very important that president Trump's approach really emphasized Afghanistan within the regional context. The president's policy had a regional component, a more robust military component, and then maybe the final thing I would like to mention in our areas, making sure that those social gains that I mentioned at the outset, the education gains, the health gains, were not reversed. One of the things that I think we achieved in the time, and by the way this, we did it together, changing completely the policy orientation on the economic side. The primary economic policy of the Afghan government, and in the period that we came in again, how to leverage a more private sector economic approach that create conditions for sustainable growth. So it's all integrated. And then finally, the corruption piece. We also worked on it on the civilian side, helping the country, the government, create a more meritocratic civil service, trying to control better oversight on the procurement process.

Gen. Nicholson: (33:58) On the corruption side, we looked at two of the areas where we saw the largest amount of corruption in the security sector, within the area of pay to personnel. So there's a problem of ghost soldiers. So there was a name and an identity for a person who didn't exist or wasn't in the ranks and the pay was still flowing to the government and then somebody was pocketing the pay for that individual. So that was one area where we had a lot of corruption. Then the second was in the area of fuel corruption. Where in a desire to turn over contracts to be administered by the Afghans, we had turned over the fuel contracts, which were significant contracts, hundreds of millions of dollars on an annual basis. And there was an immense amount of corruption going on inside the bidding process that was being run by the Afghans. So President Ghani was very committed to fixing this so he created a national procurement commission, and he pulled it up to his level. And while some were critical of this as a massive exercise in micromanagement, it was actually necessary to get after the corruption in a big way. So he drove the number of contracts from hundreds and hundreds of smaller contracts, where corruption could occur in an unsupervised manner, to a smaller number of larger contracts that were controlled at the national level. And so this process continues to this day for national procurement. He and Chief Executive Abdullah sit on it every week, with our representatives and representatives from the embassy.

Amb. McCarthy: (35:21) How did they get rid of the ghost soldiers?

Gen. Nicholson: (35:22) Okay. So in that case, we went through a process of biometrically enrolling all the soldiers. So verifying that for every soldier who has a bank account, there's a biometric identity associated with that soldier. This was a massive undertaking because the number of troops in the Afghan Army and Police total about 330,000. What we had identified was a gap between the biometric identities and the total number we were paying. So beginning in January 2017 we made the unilateral decision, I informed President Ghani we were suspending pay for anybody for whom we could not identify that they actually exist. We recouped tens of millions of dollars in pay, and then coupled with bringing the fuel contracts back under U.S. contracting command control, so we control the bidding process. We also protected hundreds of millions of dollars from potential corruption in the fuel bidding process. So the biometric enrollment of every soldier and every policeman went on through the period that Hugo and I worked together. This enabled us to have a much more accurate picture of how many soldiers they actually had. The money that we saved on the pay accounts we invested in the creation of additional special forces units. We found that these units had the best accountability and the best performance on the battlefield. So we made a decision to double the number of special forces units, commandos, and special police, and to increase the size of the Afghan Air Force. So by driving down the corruption in these other areas, we were able to help fund the growth in these other areas.

Amb. McCarthy: (36:58) Since the strategy was launched, there've been two offers for peace, two cease fires. We have a new envoy for Afghanistan, Ambassador Khalilzad, who's working on a negotiated settlement. How do you assess the prospects for these talks?

Gen. Nicholson: (37:12) I personally think we're at a period of what we call fighting and talking. So as is characteristic of many of the final stages of any war, as you get closer to the negotiation, each side is trying to increase your leverage at the bargaining table. And so I think what we're saying with the Taliban attacks, and to be clear about the Taliban attacks, they're not gaining new ground. What they're trying to do is inflict casualties and grab headlines, and they're getting headlines. They're getting headlines. To be honest, I think the media tends to accentuate these and not track as closely the successes that the Afghan security forces are having against the Taliban. But this in part is because we've made a deliberate decision not to talk about body counts. The history of using body counts as a metric of success is not a good one and so we deliberately don't do this, but what we do see in the media, of course, there's an overemphasis on body counts, friendly reports, and because we don't talk about enemy body counts, there's no counter narrative to that. I believe what we're seeing, my personal opinion, is the enemy is trying to improve their leverage at the bargaining table by conducting high profile attacks that inflict casualties but don't fundamentally change the situation on the ground. But they're designed to get at the will of the coalition and the will of the Afghan people. Now, what you've seen is a resiliency in the Afghan government in the face of this and what you don't hear about, what isn't reported, are the nightly attacks and frequent attacks that are being done by the Afghan military against the Taliban. What's encouraging to see is there is an international consensus building in support of peace, so, the Russians, although it hasn't been in a helpful way, are actually trying to promote a peace process in their own way. The allies are behind this. The U.S. Led effort under Ambassador Khalilzad is trying to move us to what will be, eventually, an Afghan peace process.

Amb. Llorens: (39:02) One of the fundamental shifts in approach between the Obama administration and the Trump administration was this idea of moving away from a time-spaced approach and again, the flaw there was, ultimately the Taliban could just wait us out. They basically say once they're out the door, then we'll take care of business. And the message being that we will stay as long as it takes, we and our allies, to achieve our objective of a political solution, a reconciliation in Afghanistan. The Taliban understand war. They understand violence. If you're going to have success, if you're going to force them to the table, you sort of need to increase the level of violence on them. You don't press buttons in Afghanistan and things happen, it will take time, but I think we have begun a process, which, I believe, really provides an opportunity for Afghans, who are the ultimate dealmakers.

Gen. Nicholson: (39:51) Right.

Amb. Llorens: (39:52) To sit down at the table and come up with something that genuinely works for Afghanistan, but protects our interests.

Amb. McCarthy: (39:58) Well, the President has said, let's begin to pull back some of our forces in Afghanistan; although it's not an easy process, it takes time. What kind of signals does that send?

Gen. Nicholson: (40:08) I understand no orders were issued.

Amb. McCarthy: (40:10) No orders were issued.

Gen. Nicholson: (40:10) It was discussed in some public messaging that occurred, but there were no orders issued, and again, that's under consideration by the department, working with the White House. I think that the important thing here is the peace process led by Ambassador Zal [Zalmay Khalilzad] is progressing. And as Hugo said, key at this moment is demonstrating our commitment to the peace process going forward. The Afghans want to own this war. They are a willing partner, they just need our help. And so as we look at, from the height of our commitment in Afghanistan, hundreds of billions of dollars, a hundred thousand US troops, we're now down to 15,000 US troops. And can that number come down a little? Perhaps. And perhaps as part of a negotiated settlement, that number would come down. One of the seductive arguments here is to look at the cost of your current commitment, which we can quantify quite specifically, but what we don't know as a cost of failure. So if we were to leave arbitrarily from Afghanistan and there was another attack on the U.S., which we assess, military and intelligence officials, would occur, then what would that cost be to the United States? So comparing the cost of staying to get this to a negotiated settlement versus the cost of failure is an important conversation.

Amb. McCarthy: (41:24) What key lessons should we take away about the need for each side, our diplomatic side, our military side, to get out of it's foxhole so to speak, to get the mission done?

Amb. Llorens: (41:34) When I was asked by Secretary Kerry whether I would come to Afghanistan, I was going to retire out of Sydney, Australia. I had a great tour, that was the real golden handshake for me.

Amb. McCarthy: (41:46) I know you liked that one, I remember that.

Amb. Llorens: (41:46) I had a great time over there. I immediately accepted. To me Afghanistan was so important. I wanted to just focus completely on, and I wanted to have the ability to be as honest as I could be with our senior leadership back in Washington. And Mick is, again, one of our most brilliant military commanders. But one of the things that made it easy to work with him—he's a man of true conviction and principal. So, he was more interested in getting the job done for America than his own career. There are many elements as to why we have such a good relationship, but ultimately he was not going to compromise on being honest with his leaders on what he felt needed to be done. And I think his conviction provided a tremendous amount of leadership and I was kind of a bit of a free agent. So I think that was a key part of our relationship.

Gen. Nicholson: (42:30) What we ask the general and the ambassador to do in Afghanistan is really achieve kind of unity of effort between the two of them. And when I think about the training and education of military leaders to prepare you for this, it's not really a part of our training and education to be quite honest.

Amb. McCarthy: (42:45) It's not really part of ours. We have some.

Gen. Nicholson: (42:45) We are trained to become great tactical leaders on the battlefield, and that's where we should be focused. But then, when you get put in a position like this, that's kind of uncharted territory. What I have learned coming out of that, number one, it comes down to relationships—establishing and leveraging functional, authentic relationships. And so the qualities necessary in a military leader to do their part in this relationship are not the qualities you see on a normal list of military virtues. You know, we talk about physical courage, physical fitness, and certainly we need all of those qualities. But you also need a quality of humility that you don't understand everything that your diplomatic teammate understands, that the Chief of Mission understands after a career in the diplomatic arena. Patience, you know, that outcomes require time. So whether you're working with allies, whether you're working with Afghans, requires patience. Stamina, to be honest, you know, years and years and years of working on these problems, and this is what its going to take to get to the point. So these qualities are essential and need to be developed, and I think in our own training and education of our military leaders coming up, we also recognize there are no more purely military solutions to these problems in the world. The military is but one part of a solution. We're not going to kill our way to victory here. You are going to be part of a whole, and therefore the military leaders have got to understand how they fit into that whole, what their role is, and how they can create an environment where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Amb. McCarthy: (44:18) And our diplomatic leaders, to be effective negotiators, often need the presence and the support of our military, because if the negotiations fail, we have other solutions.

Amb. Llorens: (44:31) Again, the Afghans know us very well and they're very savvy. And If they would pick up any differences, the most subtle, that we might have our policy issues and that would make it more complicated for either of us to do our jobs. So, what we tried to do is we did a weekly lunch, for an hour, and you know that was a human lunch too. I mean we talked about family because it was about our relationship as two people who were in a very stressful environment, and you know, we kind of needed each other as people.

Gen. Nicholson: (45:01) Absolutely

Amb. Llorens: (45:01) So we established a very deep friendship. There was a lot of trust there. I had total trust. We could disagree on something, believe it. We didn't agree on everything, but I wasn't going to find out about it from someone else. I was going to find out from Mick. And the other thing is, our ability to have these monthly meetings where we, as Mick said, we would pick a subject. One of the, either the command or the embassy would have lead, and then they would present and then we would have a discussion for an hour and a half. First of all, it showed all of our people the kind of relationship Mick and I had, how close we were. But then it would allow them to, sort of, interact together. As we got further on, I didn't need to talk to Mick everyday.

Gen. Nicholson: (45:39) Yea, we just knew.

Amb. Llorens: (45:40) And that made it a lot easier., It wasn't like I have to devote a lot of time, sort of like we hit orbit, we knew what we were thinking. I mean if there's a question, then we would call, but we didn't need to speak every day.

Amb. McCarthy: (45:50) Well gentlemen, I commend you on the teamwork that you achieved and I know the teamwork is going to continue as you go into new incarnations and it's been a true pleasure to do this. Not only in warmer climes, not in Washington, but also, in the case of Hugo, with someone who entered the diplomatic service with me, at the tender age of, very young. And we don't need to communicate to know and understand each other either. But thank you for participating in our series, The General and the Ambassador and may your teamwork continue.

Gen. Nicholson: (46:22) Thank you, Deborah.

Amb. Llorens: (46:22) Thank you very much. It was great.

 

Episode 2: SOUTHCOM And US Diplomacy In Venezuela And Colombia

Amb. McCarthy: (00:20) Today we have admiral James Stavridis and Ambassador William Brownfield. When Jim Stavridis was the commander of US Southern Command, Bill Brownfield was the US ambassador to Venezuela, then the U.S. Ambassador to Colombia. They forged a strong partnership in tackling the drug war in Colombia, including an extraordinary hostage rescue of three Americans. They also faced the machinations and subversive activities of president Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, including his government's complicity in the drug flow to the United States. I know them well, having worked with both of them during my time as senior advisor and special coordinator for Venezuela. Jim Stavridis served in the U.S. Navy for 37 years. After being commander at SouthCom, he became the 16th supreme allied commander at NATO. Today he is the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Bill Brownfield served in our diplomatic service for 39 years and was Ambassador three times following his assignment in Colombia. He served as Assistant Secretary for Narcotics and Law Enforcement, managing a multibillion dollar portfolio to protect the United States by fighting drug trafficking and international crime. Gentlemen, our aim today is to talk mainly about your joint work in Colombia. Bill, let me start with you. What are our national security interests in Colombia and what were your major responsibilities as ambassador?

Amb. Brownfield:(01:46) I would suggest that our national security interests in Colombia today are exactly what they were when we started to develop Plan Colombia in 1999 and the year 2000. First, Columbia was at that time, and still is, the world's largest producer of cocaine. And we had a drug and transnational organized crime related interest. Second, at that time, one of the world's largest guerilla organizations, the FARC ,and a much smaller version, the ELN, represented not just a threat to Columbia, but a terrorism threat, to the United States and the Western Hemisphere. And third, and finally, Colombia was at that time, I suppose our third or fourth largest economic partner, in the western hemisphere. Those interests in 2000: drugs, terrorism, economy, and trade probably still represent our interest in Columbia today.

Amb. McCarthy: (02:57) Jim, what were your responsibilities as SOUTHCOM commander in the face of the cocaine flow out of Colombia and other countries nearby. And how did you partner with Bill and his team in stemming it?

Adm. Stavridis: (03:09) Let me start by just saying what a pleasure it is to have a chance to be in a conversation with two terrific ambassadors and especially a dear friend, Bill Brownfield. I treasure our work together in Colombia. In terms of the drug challenges that we faced there, I always say we ought to think about how to reverse engineer that drug flow so you can kill it most effectively and, and there are sort of three parts to it. There's the production side, the supply side, and of course that's where Bill Brownfield and his team were central to working with our Colombian partners to knock down the supply side. Then there is a demand side in the United States. We had to recognize that it's our market that drives this entire process. And of course here you have domestic political activities: medical treatment, education are incredibly important. I had very little to do with either supply or demand. As SOUTHCOM, my particular piece of this puzzle was transit—w hat happened in the middle. And that of course included flows not only from Colombia but from the entire Andean Ridge as well as through Central America, which becomes an immense field of collateral damage in the face of all this. Through Haiti, and other Caribbean islands face this. And all of that transit zone was a joint law enforcement and military responsibility. Law enforcement has the authority, Drug Enforcement Administration of course, but the military has the logistic muscle—the sensors, the surveillance, the ships. The Joint Interagency Task Force South in Key West was the center of all that, Deborah, and that was my principal command, focused on that transit zone.

Amb. McCarthy: (05:07) The U.S. invested billions of dollars over many years into Colombia under Plan Colombia. Was this investment worth it and how did it advance our interests?

Amb. Brownfield: (05:17) Shall the diplomat start? By the way, there's no way that the Dean Admiral is going to get away by saying nice things about me without having to hear the same thing coming back at him. Deborah, for what it's worth, I have probably worked over the last 20 years with perhaps twenty different combatant commanders. We are today speaking to and with the best of all those that I worked with, so take that you academic, you. Back to the question from the good doctor McCarthy. May I offer the following statement, and either one of you could then challenge me on this as well as anyone who wishes to listen to this podcast. Plan Colombia has been around from January of 2000 until now, January of 2018. That's 18 years. We have put somewhere in the vicinity of 11 billion of the US taxpayers' dollars into this effort. By any, and I literally mean any measurable standard, Colombia today is a better country and a better place than it was in January of 2000. Meanwhile, over the last 18 years, Colombia has become the closest friend and closest ally of the United States of America in all of Latin America. I am proud of my personal association and of the government of the United States commitment to this project, for the last 18 years.

Adm. Stavridis: (07:04) Extremely well said. Let me add, because life is kind of compared to what, I'll give you two comparisons. One picks up a thread of what Ambassador Brownfield just said. When I was at SouthCom from 2006 to 2009, and people would ask me, what's Colombia like? I would say, well, you should read this book, by a Canadian diplomat. It's called the saddest country. It's a very, very appropriately written description of Colombia in 2004, 2005, and 2006. As I was arriving there, it was rape, torture, murder, drug cartels dominating the government. It could not have been worse. It was in many ways the saddest country. Today, just this last weekend, I opened up the New York Times list of 20 hotspots to go to around the world, the best places to vacation. Two of them are in Colombia. Cartagena and of course Bogota. And by the way, I would say Medellin, which used to be an absolute center of the drug cartels was recently awarded the most innovative city in the world by the United Nations. That comparison that, that Bill outlined and I tried to fill in a little bit on, is really a remarkable one. Here's the other comparison, and this is a sad one for the United States of America. While we were putting $11 billion, and by the way, we never had more than 600 soldiers actually stationed in Colombia. In that same period of time, what else were we doing around the world? Well, we were in Iraq and Afghanistan. We had 250,000 soldiers deployed. We had tens of thousands grievously wounded. We had 10,000 killed in action. We spent arguably $2 to $3 trillion. Both of those countries, I would argue, are worse off than they were. So, the point Bill is making about the success story here is so powerful and we ought to be studying it. And I hope those who are listening to this podcast to understand and learn and be educated will spend more time learning about Colombia. Let me conclude by giving you kind of a middle case, that we don't talk a lot about in international diplomacy, that I think is not quite as successful as Colombia, but getting in that direction, and that's the Balkans. If you look back on the Balkans 20 years ago and you see, 8,000 men and boys killed over a few days in Srebrenica, so you see a region on fire, hundreds of thousands killed, millions pushed across borders. It looked somewhat like Colombia. Today, flash forward, Slovenia, Croatia, Albania are members of NATO. The European Union is engaged deeply. These economies are working. When people want to solve a problem, they don't reach for a hunting rifle, they reach for a telephone. We can do this as diplomats. We can do it when we do it with development, diplomacy and defense working together. I think that's the lesson of Colombia, the lesson of the Balkans, and part of the missteps in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

Amb. McCarthy: (10:22) What I'd like to do now is turn to a major win that both of you worked on, and it was a very tough situation, which was the rescue of US citizens Mark Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Tom Howes. These were three Northrop Grumman contractors who were working to find illegal fields of coca in Colombia. Their plane crashed landed in the jungle after the engine failed and they were captured by the FARC. I remember when this happened as I was Deputy Assistant Secretary in the INL [International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs] bureau and we sent our SAR [Search and Rescue] team to see if we could rescue them, but it was too late. They were already in the hands of the FARC. The FARC executed the American pilot and the other Colombian passengers. These three men remained hostages for more than five years and were finally rescued in 2008. So that, just to give the context and background. How did you both work together on this issue in your time, respectively, under each of your commands?

Amb. Brownfield: (11:18) Debra, you are correct to note that, at the end of the day, and we're going to talk about a successful operation, we should never forget that for two families it came too late. The Tommy Janis family and the Luis Alcides family, both of whom were in fact executed by the FARC, shortly after the plane crashed. In an incredibly heroic landing by the pilot, Tommy Janis put the aircraft down, with no power whatsoever, in a jungle clearing that was about the size of a football field. With no power, no ability to brake, and no controls other than what the wind gave him. He also had the misfortune of landing right on top of a FARC operational unit, which was on top of these guys within five minutes of their crash landing. And, as you correctly note, the INL section in Colombia had a rescue mission on site, and think about this, a crash landing in the middle of the jungle, they had a rescue mission on site within 30 minutes, without even knowing for sure where these guys were. But that was 20 minutes too late because of the misfortune. How do the combatant commander and I, work this particular problem set? First a reminder, if necessary to the Dean Admiral, we had begun doing this in a fairly intense way about six or seven months before the actual rescue operation, and this is not widely known, but we did in fact get pretty good intelligence at the end of the year 2007, beginning of the year 2008 and we tried to work an operation, by which, jointly with both U.S. and Colombian input, we would be able to locate the hostages, our three plus any others that were part of the group and find a way to get them out. I mention this because this is fairly important, from my perspective, in terms of the relationship that the Admiral and I had at that time. I am not a military expert. And there came a point sometime around February where I lost my tactical patience and I was ready to really push the button to goose up the Colombians to make something happen. Instead of doing that, I called the commander of the United States Southern Command and he said to me, more or less in the most gentle way possible, "settle down bozo these things take their time. I suspect we'll have an answer within the next couple of hours." And even furthermore, he said, "don't get your hopes up that we're actually going to find them there." And what happened in February of 2008? I had my answer within the next couple of hours. And sure enough, they were not there. That is how a military man diplomatically deals with an anxious ambassador, who in turn learns the lesson in February of 2008, which he's then able to apply much more aggressively in June and July of 2008. Listen to what the military guy tells you on military matters.

Adm. Stavridis: (15:03) I will tell you from the minute I got to the command in 2006, rescuing the hostages was in fact, and in practice, our top priority. And we developed plans constantly. We worked intel hard. We really worked with, I think the heroes of this thing, are first and foremost the Colombians, who were the ones who rescued them. Secondly, were the U.S. Intelligence Community, and I don't want to broach into classified here, but just simply to say that, extraordinary work, from everything from overhead sensors to on the ground HumInt. This was really an all team effort by the Intel Community. And we in the military looked at our role as providing the muscle, the logistics, the protection the, in the end, the special forces that potentially could go in there and do that. My lead was Brigadier General Charlie Cleveland, who the ambassador will remember well. A fluent Spanish speaker, deeply experienced in the region, Green Beret, one star commander of Special Operations Command South. And I remember around the time that Bill is describing, Charlie came to me and he said, "Admiral, if we're ever going to find these guys, we need to stop fishing and start hunting." And what he meant was, we needed to be much more aggressive in acting on the intelligence we were getting, both from the Colombians and the Intel Community. Again, without verging into highly classified material, we ended up at one point with a significant military, U.S. military operation that did in fact come very, very close. And it was the absolute best special operators in the Armed Forces of the United States. And I'll stop there. That did not succeed. But it was very, very close. We built on that, and here, this is where I really credit the Ambassador and the embassy. As the Colombians developed their plan, Jaque, and came to us asking for some support kinds of things we could do and we were able to provide those. But the plan itself was brilliant. It was a marvelous ruse. It had an almost Trojan Horse like quality to it. It was superbly executed, again, by the Colombians. There was U.S. military support. But, at the end of the day, as I assess that operation, I give most credit by far to the Colombian military. Next to the U.S. Intelligence Community. Next to our embassy for the liaison that pulled all this together. And then, I would say SOUTHCOM had an important role, but certainly not a definitive role. I'll close by saying one thing I thought we did very well, that's an important part of any of this kind of mission is, we were in charge of the repatriation. And, so when we got ahold of Keith, Mark and Tom, we flew them to San Antonio with Major General Keith Huber. And this a very sophisticated process. The U.S. Army runs it, that has psychological elements to it, family elements to it, media control, intelligence debriefing, all of it. Just fabulous work. There, I think I would say U.S. Southern Command working through US Army South did a pretty good job. And then, just I'll close, and there's a smile on my face, for the podcasters who can only hear my voice, like Bill I will say it was among the happiest moments of my life when they were rescued. And then we brought them to Miami, to U.S. Southern Command, and we did a big barbecue at the headquarters there, and 2000 people got to go up and shake their hand. And they were so humble and thankful and kept telling us that we were the heroes, which we were not. First and foremost, they were the heroes who survived that experience and came out so intact. It was a good example of how the interagency and the international community can solve tactical problems. Just as we were discussing solving the strategic challenges of Colombia moments ago.

Amb. McCarthy: (19:41) I'm sure our audience can hear in both your voices how much this meant, this whole operation meant, and what it took to pull it off.

Amb. Brownfield: (19:49) Before we move off of this, Deb, I have to get out one more positive comment. The Jaque operation was in fact a deception operation. The Colombian Army then inserted a helicopter at that location filled with internationalists, all of whom, of course, were members of the Colombian Armed Forces. And as we worked our way through this, for two weeks before the operation occurred, I have to acknowledge, I got a little bit nervous. I had asked my people to get in there and talk to the people who were supposed to be playing these roles. One was supposed to sound like an Australian, one was supposed to sound like a Brazilian, one was supposed to sound like a Lebanese guy. And I said, for God's sake, tell me if you think they can pull these off. I mean, you know, Spanish speaking Lebanese. They came back and said, yeah, yeah, we think we could do it. At that point I was about 50% there, but still only 50%. At one point, about three or four days before the operation and before we had the go ahead from the government of the United States of America to green light this operation, I called the commander of the U.S. Southern Command and I said, you know, I'm not sure I'm ready to say yes to this. I'm giving this at best a 50% chance of success. And his response, he said, "Hell, I think it's probably less than 50% likely to succeed. I put it at somewhere around 20%." But he said, "You're only looking at half of the problem set. I assess." He said, "the likelihood of harm to the hostages at being very close to zero because if it does not succeed, it is because the FARC has actually figured this out or they haven't fallen for it and the hostages will be 50 miles away by the time this helicopter and the rescue mission drops on the FARC location." When you put it that way, two days later when he and I were sitting in my crummy stinking little secure conference room, were called upon by the National Security Council, the Vice President, the Secretaries of Defense and State, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, they were all there sitting around the table. And at that point they said near the end, to both the Ambassador, me, and the commander of SOUTHCOM Admiral Stavridis, they said, "Okay, Ambassador, Admiral, what is your recommendation?" And at that point, based upon,, literally the conversation that I had had with Admiral Stavridis, about two days before, I said, "I believe we should give the Colombians a green light." As did Admiral Stavridis. It did work and everything came out in the best possible outcome we could have hoped for.

Amb. McCarthy: (22:56) That goes to show that, again, on these these major challenges overseas it takes a group, it takes an interagency, it takes that strong relationship that you both had. So I wanted to move on to some other issues. Bill, you spent six years leading our counter narcotic efforts at the Department of State. Few people know that the Department of State has such a major program and that it is run by a diplomat. Can you explain what the program is and, in your view, what is this current drug and criminal threat to the United States?

Amb. Brownfield: (23:31) The issue of drugs, which is what started INL, 40 some odd years ago. The situation, kind of, that we were dealing with was as follows. U.S. Law enforcement does not have the authority, or for that matter the resources, to do foreign assistance and training overseas. The United States Armed Forces, which has both the the resources and, to a very considerable extent the expertise, nevertheless is expected to focus its efforts on dealing with the military, foreign militaries overseas. So sometime in the mid 1970s, the then president and congress in their wisdom said, we need someone that can fit into this gap. That was us. By the early years of this decade, we have a heroin crisis as well as an opioid crisis. Over the last three or four years, the same trafficking organizations have discovered that certain products that are chemically made, with names like Fentanyl and Carfentanil, are 20 to 50 times as powerful as heroin, and actually cheaper to produce and easier to smuggle. And that is the nature of the crisis, and I do not use that word loosely or lightly, that we are confronting today in the United States.

Amb. McCarthy: (25:01) Jim, you have, in particular, been looking and focusing on Venezuela, a country where Bill also served as ambassador.

Amb. Brownfield: (25:09) I loved it. It was great fun.

Amb. McCarthy: (25:10) We will actually get to that part of how much you loved it when I was on the other end of the phone. You wrote an article, last September if I recall, "It's Time to Plan for Civil War in Venezuela". What in your view, can the U.S. do using our civilian and military assets to address this challenge, that is, Venezuela.

Adm. Stavridis: (25:29) The original title of that article was "The Last Days of Venezuela" and I sadly feel as though the trend lines are very, very dangerous. I would assess right now that there's a one in three chance of significant, complete breakdown of civil society and a full blown civil war. The good news is, I think there's still a two thirds chance that this can be resolved in a more peaceful fashion. I think it was Santayana, the philosopher, who said that history always repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce. And I think Hugo Chavez was the tragedy. He almost single handedly destroyed the opportunities for Venezuela. He didn't destroy the political process, it was already badly damaged. But he destroyed Venezuela's future in a lot of ways. The salient question is, in the face of this continuing meltdown in this society, what can we do? What should we do? And I absolutely defer to two career diplomats, and particularly a former ambassador to Venezuela, but here's my pitch. The United States has to avoid becoming the lightning rod that allows Maduro to mobilize his cadres. That means our criticism, our leadership need to be subdued somewhat, and filtered as much as possible through our allies in the region. This is where Ambassador Brownfield's comments earlier about was what we did in Columbia overall worth it? Oh my gosh, can you imagine facing this Venezuelan crisis if right next door, were a continuing shattered Columbia, such as we knew a decade ago. Working with Colombia, working with Brazil, working through the OAS, I think the international component of this is crucial. Secondly, we need better intelligence. We need to understand better what's going on in Venezuela. I continue to be frustrated and I still have the highest level of security clearance. I've briefed regularly on this. We're still not really seeing what's going on to the degree or the depth that we could or should. Thirdly, we should understand, as you mentioned, how this is intertwined with the drug trade. I think there's leverage against Maduro there, in the international sense and in the interagency sense as well in the United States. And then fourth, and finally we ought to hope for the best, but plan for the worst. And that means, what can we be thinking about? What should we be prepared to do? In the case of a huge outflow of refugees. In the case of a full blown civil war. Are we prepared to open up the big migrant, humanitarian camp we have at Guantanamo Bay, for example. Guantanamo Bay, well known as a prison, it has space for tens of thousands of displaced individuals from natural disasters or from a situation like this.

Amb. Brownfield: (28:39) We know because it's done that in the past with Haitians and Cubans.

Amb. McCarthy: (28:42) Correct.

Adm. Stavridis: (28:42) Exactly, Bill. So I think those are four things we ought to be concentrating on in Venezuela. But I really do want to ask the ambassador to comment across the spectrum here. I've been looking forward to this podcast, frankly, to hear his views on Venezuela.

Amb. Brownfield: (28:57) When I was in Venezuela, 2004 to 2007, I kind of divided into four categories what I thought was the kind of, the U.S. approach to dealing with Venezuela. Now this is very close in, I was sitting in Caracas and dealing with the problems day to day. First, at that time, I would have said, stay focused on the two remaining national interests that we had in Venezuela at that time. One was drugs and the fact that an increasing amount of Colombian cocaine was transiting Venezuela on the way to the U.S. And the second was oil. Venezuela was then, much more so than today, an essential oil partner. I believe, by the way, both of those fundamental interests have dropped dramatically in terms of impact on the U.S.. In fact, we have written them off on drugs. We could write them off on oil. And my guess is it would cause a two-day blip in the U.S. oil market, and then it would stabilize. The second thing that I thought we were doing, was to support a democratic opposition. Now we had to do it, as Jim says, indirectly is best, don't give them a target. The third objective was to penetrate the Chavista base. Which, in my day, meant get into the barrios, get into the poorer communities where there was a tremendous amount of support for Mr. Chavez. And deliver a message, which is that the U.S. Is not that different from Venezuela. And we used baseball, we used baseball as the connector. And we said, look, we're not that different from you. We're not the devil. But give them some sense that they are in fact being supported by us. I believe that is still a role that we must play, but today, it is less U.S.-only as more of the international community comes to see their interest in supporting us. That was the fourth objective. As I said to the opposition frequently during my last year in Venezuela, the future opposition may well come out of the Chavismo movement. When this house of cards begins to come down, it is likely to be somebody who is in the Chavez, now Maduro camp, who will be in some position of leadership. I find myself in almost complete agreement with Admiral Stavridis. Our challenge is to figure how to encourage without becoming ourselves part of the issue. It is how to prepare for an inevitable collapse. It is going to happen. We've read this book before. It's the story of the Soviet Union. We know how it ends. This is a nation that is gradually, in fact not so gradually, evolving into malnutrition and undernourishment, has a medical system that can no longer deliver healthcare to its people, and a complete collapse of law and order on the streets. The idea of holding out humanitarian assistance both drives a bit of a wedge between the government and its people and finally gives us a hook that the larger international community can tie to. That from my perspective, is the way to proceed.

Amb. McCarthy: (32:36) Well certainly the refugee crisis and potential, I mean, some have already fled, we know, into Colombia and other places, others are taking boats to leave, you know, for a number of reasons.

Adm. Stavridis: (32:45) Let me just put a number on that. There are three million. Three million refugees outside the country right now. This is not trivial. And, just to underline Bill's point, we have seen this movie before. We've seen sort of two versions of it. One is the Orange Revolution. The Eastern European revolutions where it kind of has a modestly happy ending. Unfortunately, the other ending we've seen, the other movie we've seen, is Syria, where a population rose up against the dictator, and you know, frankly, Assad is going to win this round. Just like Milosevic, won a round. Where did Milosevic end up? He died in a jail cell in the Hague. Assad will too. But at the moment, there's another version of the movie out there. So I think we've got to be prepared, as the Ambassador said, on both sides of that coin.

Amb. McCarthy: (33:38) I wanted to move on to get a little bit into your stories individually. So let me start with you, Jim. What made you choose to join our military?

Adm. Stavridis: (33:50) I grew up in the military. My father was a career officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, and so I grew up moving from military base to military base. I always say, however, that I got very interested in diplomacy because when I was eight years old, he was assigned as the Assistant Naval Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece. So I spent three years, very formative years, kind of 9, 10, 11, 12. That's when particularly a little boy starts looking around, and I in all seriousness thought about the foreign service. At the end of the day, I ended up going to Annapolis, and then the Navy, recognizing that I was pretty good at launching Tomahawk missiles but I couldn't launch ideas, sent me to the Fletcher School where I did my PhD. And so I do have this sort of diplomacy bit of DNA in me and, and some of my closest, closest friends and colleagues like the two sitting here on this podcast are members of the foreign service. I enjoyed 37 years in the military, but in a strange parallel universe, I would be Bill Brownfield.

Amb. McCarthy: (34:58) So Dr. Brownfield, Dr. McCarthy would like to ask you, Dr., what made you choose to be a diplomat?

Amb. Brownfield: (35:06) I too, I'm not sure you know this by the way, Dr. Stavridis, I am also an Army brat in my case. My father, who grew up on a ranch in west Texas, but in 1939 entered the United States Army and remained in the United States army until 1969 when he returned to west Texas. I reached that point in my career at about age 22 or 23, where I had zero concept of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I spent a year first drilling and then working on the production in oil wells in West Texas before I finally entered law school at the premier law school, in fact, the premiere university in all of the United States of America, the University of Texas at Austin. Please mention that to your daughter, Admiral Stavridis. In the first year of law school. That's exactly right. That's exactly right, hook em' smarty pants. Hook em'. Now as happens, as anyone can attest, the first year of law school is absolutely miserable. And near the end of my first semester, I saw on the bulletin board that notice that attracts anyone's attention, and it said Foreign Service Exam and down at the bottom it made it quite clear, it was free. To my mild surprise, to the absolute unbelievable surprise of my family, I passed. Did I want to practice law? Which at that point I had gotten around to thinking, this could be fun. Did I want to go into the foreign service? I said, oh heck, if I enter the foreign service and I don't like it, I can come back in a couple of years and go into the law. If on the other hand, I do the law and I try to come back to the foreign service in two or three years, I have to start the process all over again. I entered the foreign service and 39 years later, I do not regret it.

Amb. McCarthy: (37:14) My final question is, what recommendations would each of you make today to young diplomats and young military officers on the importance of the relationship between our diplomats and our military to advance American interests overseas? Jim?

Adm. Stavridis: (37:32) I would say first of all that people come up to me a lot as a former military person and say thank you for your service. And that means a lot to me. I always say back to them politely, there are a lot of ways to serve this country, including diplomats, AID workers, Peace Corps volunteers, Teach for America, policemen, firemen, school teachers, particularly very underpaid ones in rural counties and inner cities, nurses working in clinics. There are so many ways to serve this country. So my first comment would be. “be proud of your service”. You're part of something so fundamental to the country. And then secondly, I would say you ought to take special pride in that relationship between our diplomats and our military personnel. We are part of the same family. We take risk. We make enormous personal sacrifice. We are not paid enormous sums of money. We take on the most important of work for the nation and that by doing it together, we are so vastly greater than the sum of our individual efforts. That has been my experience and I would try and share that message with every young diplomat or every young military officer.

Amb. Brownfield: (38:53) I mean, I'd just reinforce that. In fact, I'm going to do it by quoting one of Jim Stavridis' predecessors. His name was George Joulwan. He had this little motto. It was, wait for it. "One team, one fight". It encapsulates what would be my advice to both younger military officers and younger foreign service officers. And that is, don't forget, we actually are all part of the same basic effort and one side either is not going to succeed without the other or success is going to be much more complicated. Talk, talk, talk, don't be two separate camps, whether you're in an embassy, a specified geographic command, or in Washington. When I was a student at the National War College here in Washington at Fort McNair, there were 160 of us. We had to talk to one another. And what we discovered as the year went on was, while in many ways we were describing the same thing with different words, we understood what was important to the other in terms of advancing their career. And of course we developed relationships that then stood the test of time for the next two decades. We actually are part of the same team.

Adm. Stavridis: (40:24) Can I just underline one point Bill made? When I left SouthCom and got to EUCOM to be the NATO commander, I said, well, what's our motto here? And they said, well, we really haven't had a motto of since General Joulwon left, you know, 20 years ago. And I said to the command, come up with a motto, one that really sums up everything we do at this combatant command. And what they came back with, they came up with Bill Brownfield (laughter). No, they came up with "stronger together". And that became, and still is, the motto of US European Command. And I think that kind of captures it all for me anyway. I think we've been stronger together on this podcast. Thank you so much. It's great to see both your smiling faces again after a year or so.

Amb. McCarthy: (41:17) Thank you, Jim. Thank you, Bill. This was a lot of fun.

 

Episode 1: US Military & Diplomatic Leadership In Iraq

Amb. McCarthy: (00:06) We're here today for the launch of a new series by the Academy of Diplomacy. It is called The General and the Ambassador: A Conversation. Our aim is simple to explain how our top military commanders work hand in glove overseas with our top ambassadors in some of the toughest areas of the world or on some of the toughest challenges our country faces. My name is Ambassador Deborah McCarthy and I will be the moderator. Today we have General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. They served together in Iraq in 2007 and 2008. General Petraeus was the Commanding General of Multinational Forces, Iraq, overseeing all coalition forces. Ambassador Crocker was the US ambassador to Iraq. Both have had distinguished careers and each served our country for 37 years. Both achieved four star status. So I wanted to start today by just asking a key question. Tell me Ambassador how this relationship evolved.

Amb. Crocker: (01:06) When we were approached separately in the fall of 2006, it was the very worst of times in Iraq. Just, it was an industrial strength, civil war so well before we ever got to Baghdad, Dave and I were on secure phones. I was in Pakistan, he was at Fort Leavenworth, kind of going through how we were going to approach this and a concept that Dave put forward that was absolutely golden, a joint political military strategic assessment team to look at the campaign plan of our predecessors and to make recommendations for a new campaign plan. And that, that kluged us up right from the beginning.

Amb. McCarthy: (01:55) You started the relationship basically back here before being out together.

Gen. Petraeus (02:00) That's right. And really what, if you, if you really ask conceptually what it is it that we tried to do it was to be joined at the hip in all of the important activities that went on in Iraq. We even used to run together. In fact, once a week on a Sunday morning, Ryan would be flown over in a helicopter to where we actually spent the night. We had this complex on of Saddam's old palace complexes around a manmade lake near Baghdad international airport. And so he'd come over and we would run five, six miles together and try to solve the worlds or at least Iraq's problems during the course of a run. We had co-located offices. We actually shared the same waiting room. We developed this, a truly integrated civil military campaign plan. By the way, the individual who ran that assessment that Ryan just talked about was HR McMaster. Now the National Security Advisor of the United States. We partnered in everything that we did from the weekly video conferences with President Bush and the national security team and meetings with congressional delegations, to our weekly meetings with the Iraqi Prime Minister and the weekly Iraqi National Security Council meeting. So everything that mattered, we tried to do together.

Amb. Crocker: (03:22) I remember, one of those runs, I guess it may have been before congressional testimony where we kind of pinged back and forth on how we might shape our statements, what questions we needed to get ready for and so forth, and I would say one thing on that testimony, it was like 20, 21 hours over two days, just awful.

Gen. Petraeus: (03:44) It was excruciating.

Amb. Crocker: (03:45) You know, there was never a moment I can recall where both of us started to answer the question at the same time. We instinctively knew whose question it was. We didn't need to look at each other. Although toward the end I was getting a little twitchy, you wrote on a piece of paper, "calm" in big block letters and you shoved that out in front of this. Yeah, it was a special time.

Gen. Petraeus: (04:20) It was, and I do remember at the end of all of it, we were going over to do the PBS News Hour together, and we arrived a few minutes early and we asked the security guys to step out of the vehicle, we were in an SUV, and we both turned to each other and simultaneously said, "I am never doing this again". We had become the joint face of the surge in Iraq, and so why don't we go back and testify together? But knowing that that meant that each of us had to do two additional hearings, because Ryan had to do the Armed Services committees and I had to do the Foreign Relations committee, something we would not have done had we not been doing this jointly. But we thought this made a lot of sense and I think the results validated that particular move on our part.

Amb. Crocker: (05:12) Yeah. It's, you would not like to make that a standard practice where the ambassador and the general have to take a break from actually prosecuting the campaign to come back and explain it to Congress.

Gen. Petraeus: (05:25) The campaign was going really quite well.

Amb. McCarthy: (05:27) Well, you definitely did set a precedent in that joint testimony and you're setting a precedent now and starting our podcast series, and those worked on that campaign plan were obviously both from our civilian and our military sides.

Amb. Crocker: (05:40) Right down the line. There was a military co-chairman and a civilian co chairman. HR McMaster for Dave, and then I had David Pierce one of our finest Arabists. That's a point that Dave makes on being just absolutely in lock step, that was in part to get the substance right with our Iraqi counterparts, but it was also a signal to our own folks, because at that time, rather few foreign service officers had a deep connection or understanding of the military and vice versa. And there was, you know, there was at least tacit resistance.

Gen. Petraeus: (06:20) We had to make a few examples early on, where we demonstrated that we were, as we used to say, 'a bit exercised', over the actions of individuals on either side of this normal fence, if you will, between military and civilian. But we really tried to break down that wall and again, to integrate everything that we did. One of the really significant initiatives that we pursued was reconciliation. So you couldn't, we recognized very early on we couldn't kill or capture our way out of an industrial strength insurgency. You had to certainly do that with the senior leaders who were irreconcilable, but with the rest of them and with populations writ large, the Sunni Arab community, we needed to bring as many of them in from the cold as we possibly could. And so we in fact formed a cell, a team, and once again it had a British two-star [general] as I recall, and again, a US ambassador.

Amb. Crocker: (07:23) Well, let me ask you, I believe you once said that you and Ambassador Crocker played good cop bad cop, or bad cop worse cop. How did this work?

Gen. Petraeus: (07:34) Well, we would sometimes figure out who is going to play which role. There's a lot of acting that goes on in this kind of endeavor. The Iraqis can be pretty emotional. We realized that on occasion we needed to show that we had significant emotions just as they did, and were on frequent display from them. And so on the way over to meetings with the Prime Minister together with a very trusted advisor and interpreter Saadi Othman, we would say, okay, you know, this is going to be, and I, if I was going to be the bad cop, I would remind Saadi. I'd say, "let it go on unless you think I'm no longer acting". Because occasionally, these are such significant issues, you start out acting and you get really seriously exercised and wound up. And so if that was the case, then he was supposed to pluck my sleeve and remind me that I'm supposed to be acting not, not truly venting

Amb. McCarthy: (08:31) Diplomats are actrors as well, so tell me about the good cop, bad cop routine.

Amb. Crocker: (08:37) it was just as Dave described it. Sometimes we would even switch seats depending who had the lead on a particular issue. And it did get a little tense sometimes. Remember the, who was the butcher of Baghdad? Mehdi Garawi. Horrendous crimes against humanity, and yet there he was still on active duty, and we were seeking to persuade the Prime Minister that this is really not a great thing for a country, ours, that is spending billions of dollars and lives to help him lead his country forward. And the louder you yelled, actually, the better it worked. And again with the Iraqis, just like to our own folks, the point we were making, among others, in doing it together was "don't think you can divide us, don't think you can play one of us off against the other". If they had sensed that, they would have done it in a heartbeat.

Gen. Petraeus: (09:41) Yeah. They'd drive a wedge between you in a heartbeat, which is why we always tried to do these important tasks together. Now obviously there are some that are strictly military and there are some that are strictly, if you will, diplomatic: development, intelligence, what have you. But again, we always tried to have everything as integrated as we could, all the way from daily activities that we carried out together to oversee the implementation of this civil military campaign plan, to a quarterly review that we used to do as a review of the civil military campaign plan, and it was a very painful endeavor.

Amb. McCarthy: (10:19) You ran the military side, General, and Ambassador, you ran the nonmilitary side, diplomatic side, lots of negotiations. What was the most unique thing that you did do?

Gen. Petraeus: (10:30) Well I think, again, just to start with, to have a civil military campaign plan, which to be fair, we should give credit to our predecessors. I think they were the first to do this. And what we did was refine it, make the changes that reflected the changes in the overall strategy, you know as I've often mentioned the surge that mattered most was actually not the surge of forces, as important as having those additional forces was to accelerate the implementation of the plan. The surge that mattered most was the surge of ideas. It was the change in what we were doing, from consolidating on big bases to once again living with the people because that's the only way that you can secure them. If you have an integrated plan where, again, it's military and civilian together, and it's not just diplomats, but also development experts, intelligence and engineers and all the rest of this, then you are doing it all together. But this is not, this is not the tradition. In fact, in Afghanistan we couldn't quite do this because it was a NATO operation, even though certainly the American military and diplomatic contributions were the biggest.

Amb. Crocker: (11:35) Although there, I worked very closely with John Allen, who I'd known for some years. We would sit down together and talk through the NATO diplomatic piece. Who did he need to talk to about what, what issues were coming up to him. So, you know, even there, I'll tell you something else about John Allen, he was a time we were there, he was a one-star marine.

Gen. Petraeus: (12:03) Yes in the surge.

Amb. Crocker: (12:03) Out in Multinational Force West. He really was the national treasure in terms of relations with the Sunni tribes. And, you know, I would call him directly, but it was that kind of atmosphere, who's got the best line on this? Who's knowledge is, do we need to tap into? John chopped his entire G-9 shop, the civil military relations to the PRT commander, a State Department officer. He just said, "look, your natural habitat is the area the PRT is working", so I don't know if that's ever been replicated, "they belong to the PRT, the leader, a state officer, for everything except discipline".

Gen. Petraeus: (12:55) And we're very comfortable with this.

Amb. Crocker: (12:57) I'll give you another example that I think is very important here: security. The standard presidential letter to a new ambassador says, "your primary responsibility is the safety of your people". You know, I saw that draft and I said, "if that's my primary responsibility in a war zone, you're going to need another ambassador". So they took that out, and that allowed us to do some kind of interesting things. Whoever had the assets to make an important move, those were the assets that would be used. So that allowed my people to ride in military convoys without all the other stuff that DS [Diplomatic Security] would normally require.

Gen. Petraeus: (13:45) If force protection really is the number one priority, we probably shouldn't be here.

Amb. Crocker: (13:50) Exactly.

Gen. Petraeus: (13:50) It can't be the number one priority. The number one priority, while certainly seeing to the best extent you can, the protection of your own people in carrying out their missions, but the number one mission is actually security of the Iraqi people. And that was the essence of the campaign, again, and you can't do that unless you live with them. And that is inherently dangerous. The key is security and that's the fundamental military task. And the foundation for all else, and once security has been established, you solidify it by all of the other actions, many of which are indeed within the province of the ambassador.

Amb. Crocker: (14:27) Yeah, my first week there, late March 2007, I went out to Dora, that had really been hammered, both by Shia militias and by al Qaeda. That was just at the time that you were sending surge forces into Dora, boy, and not a minute too soon. You know, there was not a single healthcare provider in that whole area. If they wanted to get to a hospital, they would have had to cross a bridge with a Shia militia checkpoint on it that would have killed them. But as our troops went in, you could almost hear the civilian population with a sigh of relief that, you know, the Americans are here.

Gen. Petraeus: (15:11) I told Congress in my confirmation hearing that it was going to get harder before it got easier because we had to go into the neighborhoods. And when you go into neighborhoods, there are going to be people that are going to fight back.

Amb. McCarthy: (15:24) So on this, the administration and where the funds were directed, how did you work together?

Gen. Petraeus: (15:30) Jointly.

Amb. McCarthy: (15:30) That's key.

Amb. Crocker: (15:31) This didn't happen with you. It did with Ray Odierno, who succeeded Dave. Toward late 2008, it was getting real quiet in Iraq. You know, violence countrywide was down to almost zero, so the focus really became reconstruction and that was a priority for the commanders out there. It was the only rough meeting I had with Ray. It was because he wanted AID officers down to the battalion level if he could get them, because they had the money, they had the mission, they didn't have the background to know how you run development. And I didn't have enough AID officers to do that. I just didn't.

Amb. McCarthy: (16:21) I wanted to turn to another topic, which is Iran. I mean you worked together and testified on the threats from Iran. Ambassador Crocker, your first posting was Iran, one of the few that served in Iran. Can you explain to our audience a little bit what Iran was doing and how you worked together in addressing that threat?

Amb. Crocker: (16:43) So when I got off that helicopter in Baghdad on a warm March night in 2007 to take up my duties there, I felt I had stepped back in time a full quarter of a century. I had been in Beirut as political counselor in the early eighties. What the Syrians and Iranians were doing jointly in Lebanon was pretty effective. They blew up the embassy, April 1983. They blew up the marine barracks, and we left. So the lesson those two countries absorbed was: cause them pain and they will leave. And that's exactly what they were doing in Iraq at that time, so it was pretty clear to both of us that we were definitely going to have to find ways to get in their faces.

Gen. Petraeus: (17:32) Revolutionary Guards, Quds Force, essentially, of Iran, was essentially funding, training, equipping and directing Shia militia forces who were active in Iraq, and killed hundreds of our soldiers, especially through the provision of what were called Explosively Formed Projectiles, EFP's. In fact, Ryan has used this phrase on a number of occasions, that Iran then and now, has always wanted to Lebanonize Iraq and also Syria.

Amb. Crocker: (18:03) The Iranians are dug deep into Iraq now. Our absence was filled by their presence. You know, know your adversary, Qasem Soleimani, a long time Quds Force commander. He commissioned in the Iranian Army in the summer of 1980, as a second lieutenant. A couple of months after that Saddam Hussein invaded Iran. Qasem Soleimani spent the whole eight year war in action, seven of those years on the front. Nobody in this country really remembers the Iran Iraq War and nobody in Iran or Iraq will ever forget it. And as I look at what Soleimani is doing in Iraq, what he is aiming at is a situation in which the country is permanently disabled. Some say that we have common interests with Iran in Iraq on the issue of the Islamic state. No, we don't.

Gen. Petraeus: (19:07) What I am confident of is that having had five or 10,000 troops on the ground when the Islamic state invaded western and northern Iraq would have enabled us to respond much more rapidly.

Amb. Crocker: (19:20) That's exactly what you did. That's exactly what you did in April, 2008.

Gen. Petraeus: (19:25) Yes.

Amb. Crocker: (19:27) Prime Minister Maliki launched an offensive against the Sadr militias. He, he gave us what, 24 hours notice?

Gen. Petraeus: (19:35) There was a degree of impulsiveness in this particular decision and we had to scramble.

Amb. Crocker: (19:40) Well, but you did. And doing just the things that Dave described hypothetically, he did in actual reality, and saved the day for the Prime Minister. And then on the political level, the way we tried to reinforce that is, I worked with the non Shia leaders, the Arab Sunni's and the Kurds, to be sure that they came out with strong statements of support for Maliki. And you had a moment there when you could see the country pulling together.

Gen. Petraeus: (20:09) It was an extraordinary moment, because right prior to that moment, in the month or two prior, the leadership of Iraq was turning against the Prime Minister.

Amb. Crocker: (20:18) To be honest here, We had our moments too with the prime minister.

Amb. McCarthy: (20:24) Did you do bad cop, good cop?

Gen. Petraeus: (20:25) Well, we were, we were about to say somebody should walk the plank, but it never quite got there.

Amb. Crocker: (20:30) Exactly, which would have been neither of us, but again, President Bush, as we were spooling this out in a VTC [Video Teleconference], basically told us both to go sit under a tree somewhere until this notion passed. And he, and he was right.

Gen. Petraeus: (20:47) He was, he was amazingly calm and composed and really a force of enormous strength during this whole period. Again, we start these weekly video conferences with the President of the United States and his national security team, and they immediately went out to us. It was not how people around the table, how do you think it's going out in Baghdad? It went directly to the Ambassador and to me, and we would say how it was going to Baghdad, in Iraq.

Amb. Crocker: (21:16) And these, these small things count if you're out there in the smoke, and the dust. He did it first thing in the morning, Washington time. So that...

Gen. Petraeus: (21:25) Start of the week, Monday morning.

Amb. Crocker: (21:27) So that, whatever was decided that we needed to implement, we would still have time that day. And it's, you know, taking care of your troops, and I always thought the Commander in Chief did that very, very well.

Gen. Petraeus: (21:45) Well, he really took ownership of the war in Iraq, and involved the whole government.

Amb. Crocker: (21:49) Well, one thing he did was of course to name a Deputy National Security Advisor whose only role was running the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns, Doug Lute.

Gen. Petraeus: (22:01) The War Czar.

Amb. Crocker: (22:04) I talked to Doug every single morning, every single morning, to kind of give him the latest, and then he and Steve Hadley as boss would go in and brief the president, but it was having that connection that was, was just vital.

Amb. McCarthy: (22:19) What made you become a soldier and what made you become a diplomat?

Gen. Petraeus: (22:24) I grew up seven miles from West Point. Half of the customers on my newspaper route as a kid were either at West Point at the time, or retired military, or had some, were West Point graduates. And I think a lot in life is that you want to be like Mike, if you will, and to me, Mike was West Point cadets and it was products of the US Military Academy. I had enormous admiration for them and that's ultimately what led me to go to West Point, which then led to a military career.

Amb. Crocker: (22:59) It was a little more circuitous for me. My father was a career Air Force officer and I loved the life. I loved moving every couple of years. So I knew there was a Foreign Service from my time abroad. One summer I hitchhiked from Amsterdam to Calcutta, tried without success to catch handouts from embassies along the way. But at least I knew there were embassies. So I, the fall of my senior year, I took the foreign service exam. I was talking to Marine recruiters.

Amb. McCarthy: (23:31) Oh, so you also spoke to Marine recruiters?

Amb. Crocker: (23:31) Oh yeah, I was going to show my dad. I was going to be in a state of rebellion, that I was taking a stance against him. I wouldn't join the air force, I'd join the Marines. So I had lots of options out there: Peace Corps, grad school in France. The Foreign Service came through.

Amb. McCarthy: (23:53) And what would you say to young officers starting out in, you know, in either side about the need to have a relationship, as their careers progress, between each other?

Gen. Petraeus: (24:04) It's the greatest of privileges to serve one's country, whether in the military or in the State Department or a number of other, in the intelligence community or wherever. Beyond that though, the point would be that we can never succeed without the other. Almost all of the kinds of endeavors in which we're engaged right now, the so-called irregular warfare, requires people to work together, military and civilian; military, State Department, intelligence community, development workers, and on and on, depending on what the tasks are.

Amb. Crocker: (24:43) You know, the end of the Cold War dropped us into a very messy, complicated political, military world. So I would give you an example from my own past. I was ambassador to Kuwait, 1994 to 1997. October 1994 over the Columbus Day weekend, the intel community was picking up indicators of a multi-division move, by Saddam, heading straight south. And all the indicators were that this was not a training exercise. They were not organized or equipped consistent with that, that he was going to come in and test a new American, relatively new American president. So I didn't spend a lot of time on the phone to the Secretary of State at that point. I burned up the lines talking to the commander of Central Command, then Binnie Peay a four star army general who led the 101st hundred before David did. But you know, one of the things he said, he sent out his, one of his deputies a two-star, and told me over the phone, "whatever happens, don't let him get decisively engaged north of Kuwait City". So I hung up and said, well, that's interesting, General Peay wishes me to communicate that order to a two-star in a war zone. Saddam chose his time well. There was no carrier battle group in the Gulf when he moved. Scott Redd was then the commander of the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain. We were huddling, you know, what assets have you got that you could move north? Well, he had a short deck carrier, for amphibious operations, just VTOL [Vertical Take Off and Landing] aircraft and helicopters. But, if you had it in the right place, it kind of looked like a carrier. So he, he sent that up far enough out that you couldn't tell exactly how long it was or wasn't, but close enough in to be visible from shore. And it helped steady the Kuwaitis down. But again, the connections that an ambassador in these kinds of places has to have, may largely, will largely be on the military side.

Gen. Petraeus: (27:03) You know, when I was the commander of Central Command, after commanding the surge in Iraq, we used to bring together all of the ambassadors in the region together with all of our component commanders, the commanders of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine, special operations elements under Central Command. Again, just to again, facilitate this kind of relationship development, relationship maintenance, and then comparing of notes from one side to the other. And these were very, very valuable. We had very close relationships with all the ambassadors throughout the area of responsibility. And there was never any question who the Chief of Mission was. That was always the President's representative, the ambassador, but we worked very hard to provide help to them in a whole variety of different ways.

Amb. Crocker: (27:56) I view an aircraft carrier as a hundred thousand tons of diplomacy.

Gen. Petraeus: (28:02) You know, there's this old saying that diplomacy without force or the threat of force is like baseball without a bat, and there's a lot to that.

Amb. Crocker: (28:12) That's why with Scott Redd, well, we didn't have a hundred-thousand tonner, but we had something, and you go with what you got. What exactly is it that diplomats and ambassadors do? Well, you know, we negotiate. What kind of stuff? Well, in the case of Kuwait, we negotiated, I negotiated with the Minister of Defense for the construction of an entirely new prepositioned site, south of Kuwait City. Because if there was a quick strike out of Iraq, you could lose your prepositioned brigade set before you could fall in on it. So you had to have some, some ground behind you. They agreed to pay the whole freight. They still do. They pay our costs for the aircraft we base in Kuwait.

Gen. Petraeus: (28:59) I think they pay food, water and fuel, for everything.

Amb. Crocker: (29:02) Everything. And at a later point I was the lead negotiator with the Qataris for the facility in Al Udeid. We decided we would ask for everything, everything we could think, figuring they would whittle it down by 20% and we would still have an extremely good deal. The Foreign Minister walked into the room with our 200 pages, and his staff had been through it, he had just one question, "is this everything?" And I have been kicking myself ever since for [not] saying, "Well, there is one more thing. We would like you to pay the operating costs for Fort Hood forever."

Gen. Petraeus: (29:37) They actually gave us a check for $100 million, just to build the forward headquarters of US Central Command at this airbase, Al Udeid Airbase, outside Doha in Qatar. And that's after already having built all kinds of other facilities in an airfield that is so vast you could, we used to joke, that you could run out of gas just taxiing around it. So again, some of these host nations can be extraordinarily supportive and helpful. Of course, in return, we are in many respects, the defense policy for a number of the countries in that region.

Amb. McCarthy: (30:11) Well, gentlemen, thank you. Thank you very much from The General and the Ambassador: a Conversation, this has been a great conversation and I really appreciate your time.

Gen. Petraeus: (30:20) It has been a pleasure to be with you, and even more so to be reunited with my diplomatic partner from the surge, Ryan Crocker.

Amb. Crocker: (30:27) It is indeed, let's go out and do it all over again.