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NATO Military Chief; Afghanistan's Landmark Elections; Imagine a World

Aired April 2, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Tonight, a frank conversation and a stark warning from the man leading the West's military response to Russia, General Philip Breedlove, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, warns a massive Russian force poised on the Ukrainian border could move within just 12 hours of an order.

And what's more, they are not just on exercises as Moscow claims. Faced with having to confront this aggression after Crimea's annexation, President Barack Obama in Europe last week tried to reassure nervous NATO allies around Russia invoking the alliance's Golden Rule.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we will do always is uphold our solemn obligation, our Article V duty to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our allies.


AMANPOUR: But those allies want to see more muscle right now and General Breedlove is preparing military options, including sending them ground forces. But Ukraine is not the only crisis on the general's plate. There is also Afghanistan, with presidential elections there just days away, General Breedlove tells me that he's now 100 percent sure that an international force will remain there after 2014.

The leading presidential candidate, Ashraf Ghani, will join me from Kabul to talk about that in a moment. But first, General Breedlove cut short a trip to the United States to return to Europe to deal with the Russia crisis and I spoke to him between meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels.


AMANPOUR: General Philip Breedlove, welcome to the program. Thank you for joining me today. I want to ask you first what is the evidence that you have of what Russian troops are doing at the border.

Have they pulled back at all, as President Putin promised?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE, SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER EUROPE, NATO: Well, yesterday we heard the first indications that there might have been a pullback, and yesterday we did not see any evidence of pulling back and we reported that to the ministers here in the first day of the conference.

Over the evening last night, we have seen one of the units moving. But I would not be able to characterize it right now as moving back or moving back the garrison for sure.

We have seen movement of one of the small elements of this very large force on the Ukrainian border.

AMANPOUR: When you say very large force, how many forces?

BREEDLOVE: Well, many people have estimates. Our estimate the force is about 40,000 strong.

AMANPOUR: 40,000 strong. That is a lot of manpower and materiel there.

What do you think they can do with that and will do with that?

BREEDLOVE: 40,000 doesn't tell the story. This is a combined arms army with all of the pieces necessary should there be a choice to make an incursion into Ukraine, so supported by fixed-wing aircraft, rotary-wing aircraft, all of the logistics required in order to successfully make an incursion if they need it.

AMANPOUR: Do you think they will and, if they do, how long would it take them?

BREEDLOVE: I wouldn't hazard a guess of whether they would go. It's my opinion that they could move within 12 hours of a go. So essentially they could move right away if given the go.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe that they are just training? Are they on exercises?

BREEDLOVE: No, I do not. This force is a force built for an incursion into Ukraine if required.

I really see sort of three opportunities here -- one, for the force to sit at rest through this period of negotiation and possibly all the way through the presidential elections as a coercive force.

The second is the force may be used along the southern part of Ukraine in order to establish a land track to the forces in Crimea. And then it would have the option of carrying on into possibly Odessa or beyond and give them options there.

And clearly the forces that is assembled, if chosen, could be used for a limited incursion into a broader part of Eastern Ukraine.

AMANPOUR: There's also an issue with Moldova and Transnistria, that sort of mostly Russian region.

Have you been able to detect or are you worried about Russia moving in on that region of Moldova?

BREEDLOVE: If the forces along the southern part of the region were to move in to establish this land bridge on your map along the coast down to Crimea, it could easily continue along your map, if you look, to the Port of Odessa, and there -- if you just look, very close by is the Transnistria region, so clearly these are also options that this force could bring to the table.

AMANPOUR: General, I'd like to play a little snippet of what President Obama said in this regard, in the regard to NATO allies and other East European countries that may be at risk right now.


OBAMA: Today, NATO planes patrol the skies over the Balkans and we've reinforced our presence in Poland, and we're prepared to do more. Going forward, every NATO member state must step up and carry its share of the burden.


AMANPOUR: The president says we are prepared to do more. I know that you have AWACS, I know that you've increased air surveillance, but former colleagues of yours have said that it will really only be ground troops in NATO countries on exercises, sharing the burden there, giving a signal, that will deter and send the right signal.

Do you concur with that?

BREEDLOVE: Well, Christiane, let's put it this way. During this ministerial, we were tasked formally to bring to NATO a package of assurances that will be considered by the leadership of NATO. And we owe that, the military leadership owes that by the 15th of this month.

Inside of that package, I believe it's absolutely critical that we present both an air, maritime and land picture, because you're right, this is of great concern.

What is the component of the land piece that brings assurance to our allies? And we'll be developing that over the next several days.

I believe we already we have a very good plan for sustainable air; I think we have a plan that is coming together very nicely for sustainable maritime. And now the tougher discussion will be with our allies about what is that land component that will be the reassurance piece that carries us into this new paradigm.

AMANPOUR: Let me move on to Afghanistan, because that is where NATO is deployed so heavily and where NATO is going to withdraw at the end of this year.

Can you really do that safely, General, do you think, given the violence that we're seeing almost on a daily basis right now?

BREEDLOVE: Let me recategorize what you said.

You said NATO will withdraw at the end of the year. I do not think that is the case. I think you will see a very large ISAF combat mission change to a smaller but continued resolute support, train, advise and assist mission at the end of the year.

NATO's mission doesn't end; NATO's combat mission ends. But our train, advise, assist mission begins.

And this is very important to remember, and the NATO forces will be there to help train the Afghanis for at least another year, to get over some of the requirements which they're making great progress in now and eliminating those shortfalls in their capabilities.

AMANPOUR: So are you giving us some news then?

There is no bilateral agreements between Afghanistan and the U.S.

Are you thinking that it will happen in time to keep that residual force that you're talking about?

BREEDLOVE: I do, Christiane. There's a great commitment here to be able to arrange our forces such that we have the decision space to get to that time where we have an elected president. We have spoken with all of the leading candidates and every one is strongly in support of a BSA and a NATO SOFA and moving on into the resolute support mission.

So I'm a glass well over half full as it relates to these opportunities.

AMANPOUR: So were the political figures in the United States sort of blowing smoke up everybody's skirts, saying that unless we had a decision now and a SOFA signed right now by this deadline, there's no way we could have the margin in order to keep troops and to arrange for troops to stay in Afghanistan?

BREEDLOVE: Christiane, that is not the message that we're giving right now. The message we are giving right now is that we, as the military leadership, and General Dunford as the on-ground military leadership, have planned a drawdown that gives our decision-makers, both U.S. and NATO, that decision space to get through the election period so that we can get to an elected president, sign the required documents, and then move sharply into preparations for and then transition to the resolute support mission.

AMANPOUR: General Philip Breedlove, thank you very much indeed for joining me today.

BREEDLOVE: Thank you, Christiane, for the chance to speak.


AMANPOUR: And what he just said about staying in Afghanistan will be incredibly welcome to the majority of Afghan people. And there is positive news also there on the campaign trail.

For the first time in its history, a woman is running for vice president on a leading candidate's ticket, and that is progress. But let's not also forget that violence has been soaring. According to a U.N. report, Afghan civilian casualties rose 14 percent last year, meaning almost 3,000 killed and over 5,000 injured. And this year alone, brazen Taliban attacks on restaurants, hotels and other public places, among the deadliest since 2001 have taken a devastating toll. With elections this weekend, how will a new Afghan president secure his country's borders and its sidewalks? I'll ask the leading candidate, Ashraf Ghani, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. Before the break, you heard NATO's top military commander say that crucial international forces will in fact remain in Afghanistan after the end of this year, when the bulk of the NATO forces withdraw. And that is good news for the people who want the security they bring.

All the main presidential candidates have vowed to sign onto that agreement, even though outgoing President Hamid Karzai refused point-blank.

Coming up, my interview with the front-runner, Ashraf Ghani. But first, our Anna Coren had exclusive access to Afghanistan's Red Berets, an elite commando unit, the forces who've been trained by the U.S. military to take on the Taliban.


ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Behind mud walls in a dusty Afghan province, a tactical operation is underway.

Intel suggests insurgents are hiding out in the village and these Afghan commandos are keen to hunt down the enemy.

This isn't a real mission, but part of the training once instructed by U.S. official forces, now Afghans are calling the shots.

As the U.S. prepares to withdraw troops by the end of the year, the focus has turned to training, advising and assisting the Afghan security forces. And nowhere is that more effective than at Camp Commando on the outskirts of Kabul, where a seven-year partnership is now producing Afghanistan's elite soldiers.

SAMSOOR EHDIMAN, AFGHAN COMMANDO: Well, when I see the American special force I had got an idea to be a special force of Afghanistan force to help our people and our country.

COREN (voice-over): There are 10.5 thousand Afghan commandos that proudly wear the red beret. Major General Kareem (ph) is their leader. They've run battalions across the country are taking the fight to the insurgency and his U.S. partner, Col. Brian Petit, couldn't be prouder.

COL. BRIAN PETIT, COMMANDER, SOAG CAMP COMMANDO: These guys have done the hard fighting. They have incredible track record of fighting, winning in some of the toughest places. If there's a campaign or a battle in this country that was hard-fought, commandos have had their fingerprints on that.

COREN (voice-over): Regardless of the achievements, this feels heavily reliant on the U.S. to air support, heavy weaponry and intelligence gathering. All under threat after President Karzai refused t sign the bilateral security agreement, allowing an enduring U.S. presence post-2014. That critical decision has been left up to his successor, who voters will elect at the polls on Saturday despite threats of violence by the Taliban.

Well, if they're denying the Afghan commandos have become a force the public can be proud of, they still need America's help. And there's a firm belief within the top brass of both the Afghan and U.S. military that without this partnership, Afghanistan could become a safe haven for terrorists once again.

And while America's longest war has become widely unpopular in the U.S., words of advice to a war-weary country.

PETIT: To the people back home, I would just have them remember what they felt on September 11th, 2001, the attacks on the U.S. emanated out of this country, not from this country, but from international terrorists that found this to be a hospitable place. That could happen again.

COREN (voice-over): And it's these soldiers on the ground that will be fighting to try to make sure that doesn't happen -- Anna Coren, CNN, Kabul.


AMANPOUR: And as we said, it does look like their American and other international advisers will be saying for the foreseeable future. And so security will be the top priority for Afghanistan's next president as the Taliban attempts to scare people away from the polls.

Just today, a suicide bomber struck near the interior ministry in Kabul. It was the latest in a string of attacks which began with last month's deadly assault on the luxury Serena Hotel; nine people were killed.

Previously on this program, we've spoken to two of the main candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Zalmai Rassoul. Tonight, I talk to Ashraf Ghani. He's the former World Bank officials who came back to help Afghanistan's transition to democracy after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. And he's now running for president; his platform is to beef up security and the economy and to take down corruption that he calls a cancer.


AMANPOUR: Dr. Ashraf Ghani, welcome back to the program.

Can I start by asking you about the security situation in your country?

Everybody is being very nervous in Afghanistan at the thought of all international forces leaving at the end of this year. But the NATO top commander, General Breedlove, told me today that he is absolutely sure that whoever is elected, the next president, will agree to have them, will sign the necessary agreements and a residual force will stay.

What is your reaction to that?

ASHRAF GHANI, AFGHAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a pleasure to be with you. I find the agreement to be the instrument to guarantee Afghanistan's sovereignty.

Prior to the signing of this agreement, use of force by international forces is governed by a U.N. Security Council resolution. After this agreement, the Afghan government will have the decision on monopoly of use of force and its use.

We will get our air sovereignty, that these regimes, in a range of attributes that are characteristics of a functioning government.

So because of that, my commitment is to sign the agreement so that the international forces that are needed to support the building, equipping and training of Afghan security forces are in place. And we would be able to accomplish the full goal within 10 years of Afghan forces having the capability to be the only force in the country.

AMANPOUR: Corruption has plagued Afghanistan from time immemorial and particularly in the last many years since the fall of the Taliban. We've been aware of it in the West.

In fact, according to Transparency International, which has a corruption index, Afghanistan is number three after Somalia and North Korea; in other words, doing very, very badly in terms of corruption.

How would you make any difference to what's been going on so far? How would you do it differently?

GHANI: What it requires is clarity of political will.

We declined -- first of all, between 2002 and 2005, Afghanistan was moving upward on all those indexes, including Transparency International. We declined 100 points and I think we can reverse it. But the full elimination of corruption is a decade-long process, not just a five-year process.

And the main reason is narcotics. Narcotics is not just an Afghan problem, but international problem, so we need to cooperate.

AMANPOUR: You have chosen a very well-known warlord, let's say, General Dostum, who leads the Uzbek minority, as your first vice president.

Now he can probably bring you a lot of votes. But as you know, many have accused him of war crimes and even you yourself once called him a known killer.

Why did you have to choose him?

GHANI: We need to come to a politics of inclusion, not exclusion. We must have people in the system who fought each other; without bringing these elements to genuine reconciliation and peace, we will not move towards stability.

AMANPOUR: When you talk about reconciliation, is there really any hope of reconciling with the Taliban, which continues to play such a destructive force in your country all these years later?

GHANI: The Taliban, those who are ideological and extremist are going to face a choice. Join the centrist mainstream through the political process and be counted or the majority will exclude them.

There are those sections of the Taliban that, if taken up to the guns, because of exclusion, because of use of force, because of corruption, abuse, et cetera, that is a genuine process of reconciliation as we have other major problems.

We have a million internally displaced. We have a million disabled. We have 5 million refugees. We need to put together the political body of Afghanistan with care, attention and determination.

AMANPOUR: After all these months of campaigning, after all these years that you've spent, trying to rebuild Afghanistan, as you contemplate perhaps being the next president, what is your greatest concern?

GHANI: It's not my greatest concern. What it is is my greatest hope, to maintain the momentum that we have generated during this campaign, a genuine political and civil society has come to maturity in Afghanistan.

And I would like to see a region change from embracing conflict and lack of stability in a neighboring country as an opportunity to a region that shifts from rivalry to cooperation. There is no competitive advantage in the game of nations. It is the cooperative advantage that is going to get us to mutual security and mutual prosperity.

AMANPOUR: Dr. Ashraf Ghani, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

GHANI: Pleasure to be with you again.


AMANPOUR: And you can watch the full interview with Ashraf Ghani, as well as the other leading candidates, at online.

Meantime, as Afghanistan and Ukraine engage the attention of NATO, the bloodbath in Syria staggers into its fourth year without any Western intervention; that is, until a certain British playwright who celebrates his 450th birthday this month came onto the scene. Shakespeare in the sand, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where an ancient tragedy gives hope to Syria's tragic generation today; 150,000 of them, including 60,000 children have taken refuge in the Zaatari camp in Jordan. Many have lost their families, orphans of a civil war without end, and exiled to tents and trailers without schools or purpose or even just plain fun.

Now enter Shakespeare, stage left, where a new tent and new opportunities take the stage. One hundred refugee children have been transformed into a troupe of actors and last month they presented their unique version of Shakespeare's epic "King Lear." Young people who had spent countless hours in the sun and cold, fighting the boredom and the temptations of a refugee camp, grasped wooden swords and homemade crowns to bring Shakespeare's tale to life, a tale they know all too well, not from books, but from their own miserable existence.

Bashar al-Assad plays the king in this drama, who recklessly divides his kingdom and comes to regret it. Lear's daughters, who, like the warring factions in their homeland, betray each other for a scrap of land and yet the transformative power of theater is not unique to Syria's refugees.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Not Broadway, there I saw it for myself, during the Bosnian War of the 1990s, when a production of the antiwar musical, "Hair," became a smash hit in the besieged city of Sarajevo. And in that same beleaguered place, the renowned American intellectual Susan Sontag directed a production of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," which perfectly captured a people's longing for hope.

"Nothing will come of nothing," said King Lear. But from the nothingness of war, the theater offers more than escape. It offers a glimpse of a better world.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.