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Clinton: We don't intend to cut and run from Afghanistan

Hillary Clinton talks with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband at the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels.
Hillary Clinton talks with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband at the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels.
  • Secretary of state says transition to total Afghan power will be gradual, responsible
  • She outlines three facets of the Afghan policy: Fighting, training and civilian engagement
  • She says she's skeptical about talks with Taliban leader, but option is "worth exploring"
  • Success for Afghanistan is "broader than a military victory," secretary of state says

Brussels, Belgium (CNN) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rejected suggestions Friday that the Obama administration plans to abruptly cut and run from Afghanistan.

She emphasized that the transition to total Afghan power will be gradual and responsible.

"I want to make clear to the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan that we're looking for a long-term partnership," said Clinton, speaking with CNN's John Roberts in a wide-ranging interview about U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan.

When President Obama announced sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, he said he intended "to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011" in a responsible transition that considers "conditions on the ground."

Questions were raised about whether such a time frame was long enough to get the job done.

Clinton defended the policy, stressing the conditions-based aspect of the plan and stressing that if it is carried out responsibly, security duties could start being transferred gradually to Afghan forces in some locales, and U.S. troops could begin returning home.

Video: Clinton on Afghan power transfer
Video: Additional NATO troops

Attending the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, Clinton said the plan combines a swift show of force and a "sense of urgency." She said Afghan President Hamid Karzai and several NATO foreign ministers agreed with the approach.

"We are going to be looking at all 34 provinces. Some are ... ready to be transitioned, in our opinion, now. [In] others, there's heavy combat going on," she said.

Clinton outlined three facets of the Afghan policy: Fighting, training and civilian engagement.

"There are combat troops, people who are there fighting the Taliban, reversing their momentum. There are trainers of both the security forces, including the army and police. We imagine that their mission will continue. And then there are the all the civilian efforts, which we intend to make a long-term commitment to continuing."

But she said that United States won't de-emphasize its involvement in the region as it and other countries had after the 1980s -- when the United States helped mujahedeen fight the Soviets who controlled Afghanistan at the time.

"Our analysis of what happened in Afghanistan and Pakistan very clearly demonstrates not only that the United States, but the international community, just sort of said, 'OK, the job is done, Soviet Union is gone.' And we walked away, leaving a very difficult and increasingly dangerous presence in both Afghanistan and Pakistan," she said.

The tenacious Taliban and al Qaeda are the entities that the international and Afghan forces are trying to corral in battle. But one tack mentioned recently is diplomacy with the Taliban itself.

Asked about Karzai's comment that he would be willing to hold talks with Taliban leader Mullah Omar, Clinton said she is "skeptical about that" but it's still "worth exploring."

"We have no evidence that Omar is interested in speaking to Karzai or anybody else. If they were willing to speak, that would denote a dramatic 180-degree change from where they've been.

"Remember the U.S. government asked Mullah Omar to give up the [Osama] bin Laden leadership of al Qaeda after we were attacked on 9/11. If they had done so, we would not be in Afghanistan today."

Clinton said there needs to be a "distinction between the potential reintegration of a lot of the people who are part of the Taliban" but aren't hardcore. She said people who would be reintegrated into society from the battlefield would have to renounce al Qaeda and get on board with the post-Taliban Afghan political system.

A major part of the fight in Afghanistan is the battle against militants in neighboring Pakistan, where -- as Clinton says -- "terrorists go back and forth" across a "porous border" for safety.

"We can't let Afghanistan become a failed state, because then, Pakistan would then be under greater pressure than it is today, from insurgents within its own borders.

"And we want to work with Pakistan to be able to root out, capture and kill the al Qaeda leadership and their allies. So this really is a regional strategy. It is integrated to be more effective than what we've seen before."

Asked about reports that the United States is conducting a secret war in Pakistan with drone strikes, Clinton said, "if there is such a secret program, of course, I'm not going to talk about it."

But she said there is "increasingly close cooperation between our two countries -- Pakistan and the United States -- against a common threat and a common enemy" and noted that such ties didn't "exist when President Obama took office."

"There are many elements to a war against terrorists. There is, as we are doing now in Afghanistan, a very direct confrontation. As we see in Pakistan, there is support which the United States and others are providing to the Pakistani military and government. So there are many different tools in the tool box," she said.

In the past, Clinton said, the Pakistani power structure regarded militants in the country as useful, but she said she believes that kind of attitude is ending, illustrated by the Pakistani military's offensives in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan this year.

Asked about talk that Mullah Omar and bin Laden are in and around Pakistan, Clinton said, "We're taking that very seriously. And we've had eight years. They should have never gotten out of Afghanistan in the first place.

"But if I could dial the clock back, I think everybody would see different decisions made. But where we are today is an Afghan-Pakistan awareness that these militants are threatening both, and we're going to see more action, I believe, from the Pakistanis, to confront that."

Clinton also said there have been efforts to halt funding of militants from private sources in the Gulf states.

"We have really good evidence that we've begun to cut off the funding sources. But look, money is fungible, money doesn't necessarily go into a bank and then get cashed. It gets carried in bundles of cash by couriers to al Qaeda in their safe haven. So we know that this is an area that needs more help, but we've gotten some good progress there, too. "

Asked how she defines success for Afghanistan, Clinton says it's "broader than a military victory."

"Success is a stable, secure, and peaceful ... Afghanistan -- able to defend itself and provide a democratic, positive future for their people," she said.

Disarmament of militants and the creation of "one legitimate source of military power" are objectives.

"And that's a long way from being possible in Afghanistan. But those are the kinds of goals that we are working towards."