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The leaders of more than a dozen countries attended a meeting in Tehran, Iran, aimed at ending the violence in Syria. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi fired his intelligence chief and other top security officials on Wednesday in response to the killings of 16 soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula. And the murder trial of Bo Xilai’s wife, Gu Kailai, concluded in China behind closed doors. Courtney Kube of NBC News, Tom Gjelten of NPR and Nadia Bilbassy of MBC TV join Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Nadia Bilbassy senior U.S. correspondent for MBC TV -- Middle East Broadcast Centre.
- Tom Gjelten NPR national security correspondent and author of "Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause."
- Courtney Kube national security producer for NBC News.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appointed a new prime minister to replace the man who defected to Jordan earlier this week. Egypt used war planes in Sinai for the first time in decades to strike at Islamist militants and the murder trial of the wife of the deposed Chinese politician ended within hours. Joining me for the international hour of our Friday News Roundup, Courtney Kube of NBC News, Tom Gjelten of NPR and Nadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcasting Television.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd you can join us 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning everybody.
MS. COURTNEY KUBEGood morning.
MR. TOM GJELTENGood morning, Diane.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYGood morning.
REHMCourtney Kube, tell us about this these latest killings of American military troops in Afghanistan.
KUBEWell, we woke up to some terrible news this morning that down in Sangin, which is in southwestern Afghanistan in Helmand province, that four American service members were essentially ambushed. They were leaving a meeting or a shura, a late night meeting, at about 1:00 this morning local time. And they were meeting with an Afghan police commander. So this is an area where there are a lot of these smaller American military units operating.
KUBEAnd these were guys who were assigned to a special operations forces unit and they deal essentially with working with the Afghan local police, setting up sort of security and stability in small villages in that southwestern part of Afghanistan. So they were leaving this meeting about 1:00 this morning and they were essentially ambushed. Three were killed. One was badly wounded and the individual who shot them was wearing an Afghan police uniform, believed to be a commander, Afghan police commander, and got away. They still haven't found him.
REHMYou know, Tom, this brings to something like 34 Americans or coalition service people killed in attacks by Afghan forces.
GJELTENThat's right, Diane. And it follows just another suicide attack this week in which three other soldiers, NATO soldiers and an Afghan civilian were killed and coincidentally it comes out -- these incidents have happened as the UN issued a report. And one of the things that they highlighted -- one of the things the UN highlighted in this report was the behavior of the Afghan local police. They said their -- they described complaints about recruitment, vetting, lack of accountability and this is the big one, infiltration by insurgents.
GJELTENSo what we are seeing here is clear evidence that the Afghan police force which is an institution that we are going to depend on very heavily if there is to be a successful transition in Afghanistan. That police force is riddled with Taliban insurgents.
BILBASSYWell, this shows that the situation is very fragile. The United States and NATO coalition hoping that they will have what they wanted, the exit strategy to leave Afghanistan by 2012. It shows that the situation is very precarious to say the least. Now you have the enemy from within. That basically this whether it is infiltrators from outside or whether actually people cooperate with the Taliban to attack the U.S. forces is very worrisome.
BILBASSYSaying that just to add to what Tom says about this UN survey actually. It says that at one stage the attack on civilians themselves has been decreasing in comparison to the last year. But the funniest thing about this survey is the decrease comes because of the weather. That actually from January 'til April the Taliban has not been doing the military attacks because of the severe weather and the snowing weather condition, etc. that delayed that.
BILBASSYBut what also worrying the fact that although the number of civilians that were being targeted have been going down the number of assassination has gone up and targeted killing. That means when the Taliban wants to cause havoc in the province, they target the governor or they target the chief of police and that's very, very worrying sign.
KUBEAssassinations in Afghanistan have dramatically rose in the last several months and that's one of the other things that the United Nations report showed. I think what's also really concerning about these particular two attacks -- the one today and the one earlier this week -- the one earlier this week in Kunar killed the command sergeant major of the brigade in eastern Afghanistan, in Kunar. And I know, you know, to some of our viewers, our listeners who aren't particularly familiar with the military structure that's the senior enlisted military officer for that brigade in eastern Afghanistan.
KUBEThat's a big deal. They targeted the leadership of that brigade. And what's particularly concerning is that both of these attacks the attackers got very close to the Americans that they killed. In one case it was a suicide vest that the attacker blew up right next to them. He also killed two majors, two officers. And then in the one earlier today it was virtually point blank range that he shot these guys.
REHMSo does this change any thinking about the U.S. and its withdrawal plan? Tom.
GJELTENYou know, the logical change in thinking, if you looked at these incidents, would be that the United States would have second thoughts about its plan for turning over responsibilities, security responsibilities to these Afghan forces. That would be -- but the implication of that is that more U.S. forces would have to stay longer and there's no indication by this administration of any willingness to extend or to delay the withdrawal. Now this is happening in the context of a Presidential election and that's a very important factor.
REHMWhat about getting out sooner, Tom? Not going to happen.
GJELTENThe problem with getting out sooner, you know, basically, you know, in this context of these attacks it just looks a lot like admitting defeat.
BILBASSYAnd the only option left really is to reengage again with this ever talked about negotiation with the Taliban, Diane. I think this is important. This is the only way for them to go out, to guarantee some kind of stable condition. At least 'til they leave in 2014.
REHMWhat is the status of these negotiations?
BILBASSYWell, they go warm and cold. I mean at one stage we talked about it in the show they had an office in Qatar and the Qataris and the Saudis were somehow helping the United States at one stage they will say we're not involved directly and in another they would say yes we have our representative in Pakistan being in the meeting, etc. But again, some say that the level of Taliban that they're talking to is not the one that they have to talk to which is the hard core the one that actually who makes the decision. But maybe these people are on the outside -- outsiders who wanted to benefit somehow from some American involvement there.
GJELTENThere's a key person to watch here, Diane. And his name is Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar -- Baradar. He was arrested. He's under arrest. He was arrested in Karachi in 2010 so he's the highest ranking Taliban leader to be captured in this entire 11-year war. He's considered to be second only to Mullah Omar. And there have been on-again, off-again reports about negotiations between the Pakistan and Afghanistan governments for the release of this Taliban leader within the context of some kind of negotiation. Now what happens there is obviously really key.
REHMAnd speaking of Pakistan, do I understand correctly that Pakistan has now issued a statement in support of the regime in Syria?
KUBEI have to admit I hadn't seen that, but there have been -- this week we saw in Tehran -- we saw that Iran, who was not welcome at the Friends of Syria meetings because of the United States not allowing them to attend, they just decided to convene their own meeting -- the Iranian foreign minister. And there were reports that there were as many as 30 nations that attended, although not all of the nations have confirmed that they were, in fact, there. But those nations were all ones who have not spoken out against Assad and who have not spoken -- and come out in favor of him stepping down.
KUBESo it does show -- now granted, some of them were smaller countries like Kazakhstan.
KUBENicaragua. Venezuela. I mean, they're not surprising suspects, but it does indicate that there is still some international community out there who are not calling for Assad to step down yet.
REHMAnd what's the status of Aleppo at this point, Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, Diane, this is a vital battle for both the opposition and for the regime. For them, it is a significant hold. This is the largest city in Syria. We often talked in this show actually how significant for Damascus and Aleppo to fall. And that will hasten the end of the regime. So the fact that they are running battles now. Today, actually, the government forces has retaken certain parts -- the suburb of Aleppo called Salaheddin and it's basically guerilla warfare between the Free Syria Army and the regime.
BILBASSYBut, you know, this is one of the best armed regime in the Arab world. I mean, after Iraq and Egypt, to a certain extent, the Syrian army is like -- have 200,000, you know, troops on the ground, very well-trained. And in comparison to this army, who are running around with, you know, Kalashnikovs, although very lightly armed basically and hence they've been asking and calling for some support from the United States ,who have been helping in what they called non-lethal assistance, which is media training and communication equipment.
REHMWhat do we know about this man whose now been tapped to be the new prime minister after the prime minister fled to Jordan?
GJELTENWe don't know a lot about him. And we don't know what -- more broadly, we don't know what's going on inside that regime. We've now had these significant defections, but there is a kind of a debate within national security circles about what the meaning of these defections might be. On the one hand, you know, sort of from the opposition point of view it would be a sign that the regime is crumbling from within, that there's major dissention, et cetera.
GJELTENBut it could also be an indication that there is infighting within the regime, that there is scape goating going on, that these people who are leaving may have already had problems with other colleagues in the regime and the fact that they are leaving may not necessarily indicate that the opposition is getting stronger, that these guys are going over to the opposition. You know, we haven't seen these people going over and joining the ranks of the opposition, endorsing the opposition. It more seems to be that there is infighting within the regime itself.
REHMI see. Courtney.
KUBEAnd remember that, you know, Prime Minister Hijab who defected to Jordan this week. He's a Sunni Muslim so it could also be just an indication that some of the Sunni elite within the Assad regime are just growing tired of the bloodshed. They're seeing their, you know, their families essentially -- they're seeing their kinsmen, you know, taken down.
REHMCourtney Kube of NBC News. Short break here. Your calls throughout the hour. Call us on 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd here is our first email during the International Hour of the Friday News Roundup, this on Syria from Dave who says, "Why is it so many commentators describe the fall of Assad regime as inevitable when the regime is well resourced, backed by Russia, China, now Pakistan?" Tom.
GJELTENThat is a very good question and I would actually underscore that. That's -- in a sense it's kind of a critique of the conventional wisdom about this. The truth is that the rebels withdrawal retreat from Aleppo this week is yet another indication that when it comes to head-to-head fighting between the rebel forces and the regime forces the regime always wins. They're the ones with the fire power. And until that balance changes or until there's more evidence of political collapse in Damascus it's hard to see when the rebel forces might actually triumph over the Assad regime.
REHMAnd here's one from Shamis (sp?) in Durham, N.C. who says, "It's troubling to me you would spend a long segment detailing military casualties and not mention the death of a USAID staffer reported by Financial Press. Reports on nonmilitary casualties are virtually absent from the general interest media." Courtney.
KUBEWell, Shamis makes a good point, but I have to just, you know, respectfully disagree a little bit because I don't think that reports of every military casualty get a lot of attention in this country frankly. But he is absolutely correct. There was a Foreign Service Officer who was assigned to USAID who was killed in that attack in Kunar by a suicide bomber. There was also another Foreign Service Officer who was gravely wounded.
KUBEAnd the USAID officer was, you know, just by his friends, by the reports on him, he was -- he had just re-upped for a second year. He was apparently very committed to his job there and very committed to Kunar in Eastern Afghanistan. So it's a tremendous loss as are the military officers.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about what's going on in Egypt. Why do we know might have been behind the attack on Egyptian soldiers in Sinai?
BILBASSYWell, basically, Diane, they're a extremist Jihadist group. Some describe them as al-Qaida wannabe. Well, basically ran over a post on the border between Egypt and Israel killing 16 Egyptian soldiers. And then they took this heavy tank and drove across the border to Israel. They wanted to carry an attack and they were gunned down by Israel gunship. So this is very, very significant.
BILBASSYFirst of all, in the good old days the Sinai Peninsula has been marginalized. People there are not even considered Egyptian. They refer to them as the Bedouin of the Sinai. They don't have health care, they don't have education. They're miles away from the capitol. It's just a typical case of a forgotten place that eventually somebody else will use them. And this somebody else are the extremist group who now, this being lucrative trade in terms of weapon smuggling from Syria -- from Libya, from other places to across the border.
BILBASSYWhat's been happening actually is also significant because for the first time ever the Egyptian army is regaining control. So they're sending this Apache helicopter to track them down. According to Egyptian media they said they killed 20 terrorists. Now, who -- if it's true, who knows, but it has also a political ramification, which is President Morsi decided this is a good opportunity for me. This is a gross intelligence failure so it's a good opportunity for me to get rid of the intelligence chief and the military police and the head of the presidential -- the republican guards. It's nothing to do with anything but I think it was a good opportunity for him.
BILBASSYSomeone's saying that this is basically his way of trying to tell the military that I'm here and I want to show that I am in control. But others will say also that -- sorry, this is an important point. Some will say that actually the military who plotting against General Murad to get rid of him. And it wasn't actually all the provider act of President Morsi.
GJELTENWell, and he also rid of the governor of the North Sinai region so, yeah, you know, and there have been -- as Nadia says, there've been a lot of questions about how much authority President Morsi really has, particularly with respect to the military. So the actions this week really did underscore that he is able to exercise authority with respect to the security forces.
GJELTENOne other point to keep in mind here, Diane, and that is, as Nadia said, you have these Bedouin tribesmen who constitute whose territory constitutes fertile ground for recruiting by Jihadi groups who can take advantage of their discontent and so forth. But it's not just the Jihads that are taking advantage of that. It's also Palestinian militants who come over from the Gaza Strip. There have been a number of reports that these fighters who were killed by the Egyptian forces this week and who attempted to get into Israel had actually been trained by Palestinian militants. And there might have been some Palestinians among them in that group.
REHMAnd what about the violence going on in Syria? Could there be sort of a spillover to what's happened in the Sinai?
KUBEWell, there was definitely -- the Sinai -- every since the revolution began in Egypt the Sinai has seen increasing signs of lawlessness. You know, as Nadia and Tom were both saying, there's -- it's this vast area that really has a small population of Bedouin. So it's really a fertile breeding ground for any extremist group who wants to come in there. There's not governance, there's not healthcare, there are very few jobs. It's a perfect opportunity for them. there have been arms -- arms began flowing in from Libya early last year.
KUBEI think it's really interesting just to put Egypt and Syria right next to one another since we've been talking about the both of them. Because there's some arguments that I've been hearing more and more lately about Syria which is that this civil war is at the point now where there's no winner. There's no one side. There's -- it's a double-edge sword for anyone who tries to get involved and it's at an absolute stalemate.
KUBEBut if the International Community had intervened earlier last year when everyone was very focused on Egypt and focused on Libya, perhaps they could have stopped this when the opposition was still in a relatively peaceful point.
REHMTom, you're shaking your head.
GJELTENI'm shaking my head because, you know, we talk about this as a civil war, but as Courtney just said, it's no longer a civil war. I mean, the Saudis are deeply involved in this on behalf of the Syrian -- the so-called free Syrian army. The Iranians are deeply involved. We just had confirmation this week that there is at least one Russian general who is acting as an advisor to the Syrian regime. So the Russians are involved.
GJELTENMeanwhile, we know that al-Qaida -- elements of al-Qaida are involved. This is not just the Sunnis versus the Shiite or the Alawites on one side, you know, with the Sunni. This is now -- this conflict has clearly been internationalized already.
REHMAnd do you expect the regime to stand?
GJELTENI don't see any evidence that that regime is getting ready to collapse. I think the very sad reality is that a lot more bloodshed is in store. It's hard to see what's going to change.
REHMAnd, you know, you keep hearing people say the inevitability, as our earlier email said. I don't see any inevitability.
BILBASSYIt will happen, Diane. This is against history. Half of the country -- I mean, as Courtney said, this is bad. Nobody -- the opposition is not winning and the regime is not winning. I mean, you cannot compare the regime with this ragtag army, but yet they have caused havoc to the country. There are certain parts actually they're in control. And now with the help -- if there is help from the International Community, they can actually create an isolated area or safe havens for the refugees, for others...
REHMBut that's such a big if, Courtney.
REHMSorry -- Nadia.
BILBASSYThat's true, it is a big if. But for the first time yesterday we heard from John Brennan talking about a no-fly zone. Before that, the administration would not talk about that. All they talk about non-lethal assistance. Now Secretary Clinton is going tomorrow to Turkey to coordinate things. It doesn't mean that overnight they're changing their strategy 180 degrees. We know that. But at least there is some signs that things will change.
BILBASSYAnd I will bet that the Syrian regime will collapse. It's not going to collapse next week or next month. It might take many months, but eventually it will go.
REHMDoesn't Syria have its own air force?
KUBEYes, they have a significant air force in fact. And it's also worth -- it's worth noting that -- you know, we've been talking about this on the show for more than a year now -- the opposition is still just about as fractured as it was when this all began. And it's -- there's increasing evidence that there are Al-Qaida fighters coming in from Iraq, coming in from all over the world.
KUBEThey -- and even some of the opposition, the more core opposition who were at the very beginning of this, they're even speaking about -- out against these Al-Qaida fighters and against these extremists and saying no, no, we want to free Syria. We want our people to live free. We don't want to sew violence. We just want freedom. We want the Assad regime to leave.
GJELTENAnd one other point to keep in mind, the longer this goes on and the more that the United States and its allies are perceived by the rebel forces and the opposition as not being on their side and the more that Al-Qaida becomes entrenched in that -- in the ranks of the opposition the post-Assad picture does not look very promising. That could be as bad a situation for U.S. and Western interests as the Assad regime has been.
REHMAll right. So now let's turn to what's happening in China and the trial of Gu Kailai, the wife of a disgraced Communist Party official. She is on trial for having murdered a British businessman by poisoning him when he was drunk. This trial lasted just a few hours. She pled guilty.
KUBEYeah, I mean, according to the official transcripts, because there wasn't -- the only media in there was the official state media of course -- but, yeah, she was -- Gu Kailai is the wife of a former member of the Politburo. And she -- several months ago, she was accused of pouring cyanide into a water glass and giving it to her former business partner...
REHMWho was drunk at the time.
KUBE...who was very drunk and asked for water and she laced it with rat poison. She argues that he had made -- written a threatening email against her son saying that he was going to "destroy her son."
REHMBecause he was helping the son with his schooling in Great Britain.
KUBEExactly. The son is actually a graduate student at Harvard...
KUBE...now. What's really interesting about this trial is that it's sort of exposing this underbelly of the Communist Party. You know, it's exposing how Gu's family has these tremendous millions and millions of dollars of investments that -- and her extended family and her son. And it opens questions of well, how did they afford to send their son to England and then to Harvard? And so it's sort of exposing this very secretive world of communist China.
GJELTENYou know, another thing that's interesting, Courtney mentioned that this -- that she has this, you know, sort of defense in a sense. That she worried that her son was in danger. She was not allowed to present that in that seven hours. She was not allowed to have her own lawyer. This was a court-appointed lawyer. All the state media reporting on this made clear before the trial even opened that she was guilty. And, you know, 98 percent of cases that are brought by state prosecutors in China result in a conviction.
GJELTENSo not only has this case shed light on sort of the corruption that's underlying the economic system in China. It has also shed light on the extent to which this regime is not an open regime despite all the attention to so called legal reforms and new laws that have been passed. When it comes right down to a very important political case the judicial system in China looks very much like it did decades ago.
REHMTom Gjelten of NPR and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Meanwhile, Nadia, what's happened to her husband? Where is her husband?
BILBASSYWell, there's some reports saying he's somewhere in China but he might be under house arrest or he's just keeping a low profile. Basically, I mean, this battle is really against Bo Xilai. Not just her in particular because he was seen as a rising star within the Communist Party. And he could have been one of these nine men who govern China. But somehow they turned against him and they wanted to sideline him.
BILBASSYNow the fact that actually her trial and his conviction is going to be decided. The Communist Party heads are meeting now in a retreat -- in the summer retreat and his fat might be decided soon. So it depends on how -- if they decided that they're going to convict him for unspecified charges as well that we don't know about, that basically they want him completely out of the picture. If they sentence him to something light we will see. That will give us an indication or a hint. But basically they want to get rid of him. They want to get rid of his wife.
BILBASSYAnd if you think of a murder trial in the Western country, it will take months and years. In China, it takes one day and you know that's going to be the death penalty handed over in the end of that day.
REHMAnd that's what I was going to ask, is the death penalty likely here, Tom?
GJELTENWell, the Chinese authorities are not at all reluctant to impose death penalties on people. They do it in cases -- in corruption cases all the time. Now whether they will do it in this case, I think, is an open question. I mean, her so called defense team is really not even bothering to contest the charges. They know that the deck is stacked against them. So they are putting all their effort into pleas for leniency. They're just trying to save her life.
REHMAll right. Let's talk briefly now about the trade balance between the U.S., Europe and Asia. There seems to be some good news going on for the U.S. right now but the euro zone is in another situation, Tom.
GJELTENWell, that's right, Diane. I mean, it's like is the glass half full or is the glass half empty. We had really good news on the trade deficit, but it seems to be due to a couple of things that really are not necessarily good news for the U.S. economy. One is that the price of oil has come down. And the price of oil has come down in part because of global -- not recession, but global slowdowns. That brings the price of oil down so when the United States has to pay less for imported oil, that automatically brings down the trade deficit. It doesn't mean that U.S. exports are going up. It means that we're just paying less for oil. You know, that's a sort of anomalous situation.
GJELTENThe other thing is that the trade deficit has gone down because the Chinese economy is weak. And so China is not able to buy as much from the United States or from Europe. So they're -- Chinese exports are going down as well. So, you know, from the European point of view the weak Chinese economy is bad news for them and actually even worst news for Europe than it is for the United States. Europe depends more on Chinese purchases and imports than we do.
REHMYou know, it's fascinating because we are no longer separated by an ocean. We are in fact a one-world economy. So the question becomes just how much what's happening in Europe is going to have an impact on this country's elections, Courtney.
KUBEWell, it's hard to say. I mean, you know, it's interesting 'cause it's one of the few things that President Obama and Governor Romney will have no say over in what could make a major impact on the U.S. election. One of the biggest problems that they're facing right now in the euro zone and the EU is this growing unemployment. The unemployment reached a record high in June. It was about 18 million people across the 17 countries. And it's tremendously high in Spain. It's like almost 25 percent. And about half of all Spanish citizens under the age of 25 are unemployed right now.
KUBESo how that impacts the United States in just a very simple way is if in fact Spain is to default, if they are to collapse -- right now it doesn't look like there's any money for a bailout for them -- if they're to collapse then that will impact the United States. You know, exports from the United States to Europe will likely fall. It will hurt American investments overseas of course. So that would then have an impact on the U.S. economy. Growth would likely slow. And that -- I mean, the economy, it's always going to impact an election.
REHMCourtney Kube of NBC News, Tom Gjelten of NPR. Short break here and your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd we'll open the phones now during our international hour of the Friday News Roundup. First to Zach in Ft. Worth, Tx., good morning to you.
ZACHYes, good morning, Diane, and to your guests. I, after hearing about another one of these, I guess, you know, for lack of a better words, a turkey-shoot, you know, you just massacre four Americans who had their hands out trying to help and they get shot and killed. I just- -- every time I hear that one of these things, my hand comes closer and closer back to my body and I want to do less and less for Afghanistan.
ZACHThey have weak leadership. They don't, you know, you hear talk about them that they're going to support the Taliban and, you know, I just think that our date of 2014 is -- it might be too far away. I am now of the opinion that we need to bring our troops home sooner. If we really wanted to do anything about Afghanistan, we'd have to send hundreds of thousands of troops into Afghanistan and take control of the country and we're not going to do that. We need to get out.
KUBEWell Zach, it's -- I take your point. It's funny, as Tom was saying before, that the U.S. withdrawing, our NATO troops withdrawing, it really would look like a defeat. It would look like a withdrawal, you know, a concession and I look at stories like this and candidly I think it just makes the military want to stay longer. I am being perfectly honest with you.
KUBEIt's not going to happen, you know. 2014 is the end date, but I think they look at this and say, we need to strengthen this Afghan military. We need to strengthen these Afghan local police. We need to make them a more pure organization
GJELTENAnd they need to defeat, and we need to defeat the Taliban.
KUBEExactly and not, you know, I hate to be a pessimist...
REHMIs that going to happen? Is it going to happen?
KUBENo, no, the Taliban will not be defeated by a Western force.
REHMTo Ft. Bragg, N.C., good morning, Nick.
NICKHey, good morning, Diane.
NICKI'm a ten-year special operator with six deployments and plenty of experience in Afghanistan. I'm actually driving over to (word?) to the airport to fly out to Afghanistan right now.
NICKBut I just wanted to bring up a couple of points right now.
NICKAnd the first one is kind of for the education of your listeners and for discussion among the panel. And the first is that the Afghan police are a very local and regional force and subject to local and regional influences and they're quite vulnerable because they have little to no federal top cover so you're going to see an increased kind of infiltration of actual Taliban or, you know, al-Qaida-associated militants into that force organization.
NICKOn the other hand, there's been a kind of a pernicious viewpoint that has metastasized Afghanistan systemically despite the disparate national identity and that's that we're an occupying force. After being there for 11 years now, you've got, you know, an eight-year-old that is now -- has two years in the military and the only thing that he knows is that the United States has been there. So that kind of occupational, it's been cauterized after ten years, that viewpoint has.
REHMNick I want to thank you for your service. I hope you will stay safe and come home safely. Can you comment, Tom?
GJELTENWell, I'd -- first of all, I think we're all humbled by the idea of someone who is on his way to Afghanistan...
GJELTEN...with six deployments already behind him so, you know, I think we all would join in thanking Nick for his service and I'm curious what Nick thinks, you know, if he feels like he's going back to be part of an occupation force. That is hardly, you know, something that is very promising. But I totally defer to Nick on his analysis of what's going on there.
REHMAnd indeed I think Nick had to hang up as he was on his way. Let's go now to Elwood, Ind. Good morning, Charles.
CHARLESHello, Diane, thank you.
CHARLESHow are you?
REHMWe're fine, thank you. Go right ahead, sir.
CHARLESMy comment is I've served in the military and I did several tours of my own and when we go over there, we don't -- the other fellow said the military wanted to stay there. It's more like an occupation. We either need to defeat them or get out.
CHARLESWhen I was there and I served, I didn't want to be there, not as long as we were and I just don't understand why these countries have been fighting for hundreds of years. Why do we feel like we have to go and impose our laws on them?
REHMCharles, tell me -- tell me how long you were there, Charles?
CHARLESI didn't serve Afghanistan. I served in Vietnam.
CHARLESI did three tours in Vietnam.
REHMWell, I certainly thank you for your service there. I mean, that was a tough one to come home from. But the point he's making, you know, these people have been fighting for centuries. Why do we continue to stay? Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, I mean, that's the dilemma always for politicians is -- and I think, to be honest with you, Diane, I don't think the United States will launch another invasion and hence the reluctance in Syria now, sending boots on the ground because once you have 100,000 or 150,000 troops on the ground, you are there to stay. You're not going to say, okay, are we going to defeat these insurgents and we leave? Because you're not going to defeat them.
BILBASSYThey're going to be there all the time because eventually they're waiting for you. The problem with Afghanistan is a heart-breaking story because the Afghani people deserve to have a stable country. They deserve to have a transparent government and all that they had is misery and civil war from the Soviet invasion to what happened after 9/11 to now, what's happening in a war-torn country.
BILBASSYSo the dilemma is basically, what do you do? Do you cut your losses and you leave? Just like President Obama says, we're leaving in 2014 and we hope to leave some kind of quasi-stable situation behind and therefore maybe we need to take, to talk to some of these Taliban leaders or just leave the country to its fate and just -- or stay there forever.
KUBEThe attacks that we spoke about earlier on the U.S. troops in eastern and south-eastern Afghanistan really prove that the Taliban is out to ensure that they can prove that they will continue to sow violence and still, and continue to inspire chaos, that they can attack the Afghan civilians at their governance, that the government in and of itself is tenuous, that there is just not a strong hold on that country. And the Taliban is not going to give up. If anything, the attacks this week have proven that.
REHMTo Detroit, Mich. Good morning, Nathaniel.
NATHANIELHi, how are you doing?
NATHANIELI listen to you on Michigan radio.
NATHANIELAnd to the point of Syria, I was reading some blog yesterday and I noticed that there were comparisons to Vietnam with the French where they had -- where the French were under-manned or Vietnam with the Americans where it didn't matter how many troops we had there. And that it's not a civil war in the traditional sense but a guerilla war and that the rebels don't have to win a battle.
NATHANIELThey don't want to fight pitched battles like Washington against the British but they want to bleed the army and they've already done that with over 20,000 soldiers, I read, having left the Syrian army. The Alawite homeland, so to speak, is in the West against the Mediterranean which happens to be where the only Russian naval base in the Mediterranean is located which may explain why they keep supporting Assad.
NATHANIELAnd aside from the military bases surrounding Damascus, which is outside that area, it's not -- it could be tenuous as the army is continually depleted because they can't get that many more soldiers to replace those who are lost through the attrition of the guerilla war.
NATHANIELThe Jordanian king had suggested that at some point Assad will withdraw to the Alawite homeland and really create his own area and maybe, you know, an Alawite stand, for lack of a better word, and at that point the Kurds may then start talking with the Iraqi Kurds and forming their own self-governing area and Syria could break up.
GJELTENWell that's a, you know, that's kind of a -- he takes us step by step through that scenario and it certainly sounds reasonable. You know my only comment is that a civil war and a guerilla war are not mutually exclusive categories. I mean, there have been many civil wars in history where one side has used guerilla tactics. I mean, so that doesn't -- that point sort of is, in a sense, irrelevant.
GJELTENI mean, I think there is a sectarian conflict that's got civil war dimensions in Syria and very well could break up along sectarian lines in exactly the way he says.
BILBASSYIt is a guerilla war because you have a regular army against a rebel group in a sense. But also it is a very much of a civil war because half of the country, with a majority of the people who are Sunnis are rising against a group of people who have been part of the Baath Party, controlling the country for decades and these are the Alawites.
BILBASSYSo, hence, yes, absolutely. I mean, I agree with what he has said. And what we have seen now, and we didn't mention it in the defection, that although we have seen 40 Syrian people defecting between the politicians, the prime minister and the army, but most of them, actually all of them are Sunnis so we're not going to see any Alawites and this is the vital point.
BILBASSYThat what we have seen is the whole country on one side and we've seen collectively the Alawite community with the regime fighting a bitter battle of survival. And maybe King Abdullah of Jordan, who just talked yesterday about President Assad, maybe taking the -- taking to an enclave to fight for the Alawites. I don't know if it's going to materialize.
BILBASSYBut the Kurdish scenario is very likely and hence the Turkish situation is very precarious of why they don't want to interfere or to interfere in Syria.
GJELTENCan I make one little point?
GJELTENDiane, you know, for the last ten years or more, we've had this notion that we're in a battle with radical Islam. And in Syria right now, the forces of radical Islam are actually on the side of Free Syrian Army. The Alawites, that's where Syrian Christians are, so you know, it just is one indication that things are changing in this world.
REHMAnd here's an email, let's see. It's from Chris who says: " Last night on "All Things Considered," there was a report about the Egyptian military attacks in the Sinai. The reporter went there, found no evidence of attacks. Egyptian young men were laughing about the accounts on state news. Why would the Egyptian military say they launched this offence when they didn't?" Courtney?
KUBEWell, I heard that report as well as a loyal NPR listener and I found it fascinating as well. I spoke with a friend of mine who is a reporter in Egypt about that as well and she said there is increasing disbelief that this attack, that these air strikes actually really happened, that it was, in fact, just a show of force, that it was a PR stunt so that...
REHMTo benefit whom?
KUBEWell, in the end, it benefits the Egyptian military because they look strong against these attackers, but it also makes Mohammed Morsi look strong and this is his first real, national-security challenge.
REHMBut who are the attackers?
KUBEWell, they're these Islamic jihadists, allegedly that were hiding out in the Sinai. That's what the question, is, and the reporter on NPR last night was talking about how they went to this café and everyone was laughing and no one knew of any funerals and as Nadia was saying, it's a small population. It's a very local Bedouin population. If people had been killed there, especially 20 people, the locals would know about it and they would know when the funerals were.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show," Tom?
GJELTENWell, our new Cairo reporter is Leila Fadel and earlier this week, she was talking about the funeral of those Egyptian soldiers who were killed in that attack and how much anger there was at Morsi and at the Egyptian government for having allowed that to happen. So he was under tremendous political pressure in Egypt to show that he was going to respond to this and do something.
GJELTENAnd that's part of the sort of -- that's part of the reason that Courtney is referring to it here, that he needed to show something and whether he actually did something is another point in time.
BILBASSYThere was outrage in Egypt, Diane, over this to the degree that President Morsi himself could not attend the funeral of the soldiers who had been slain because he was worried he's going to be attacked. And actually the prime minister has to flee immediately after because people were pelting him with shoes and they were screaming at him and cursing the Islamists because they think that because Morsi comes from the Muslim Brotherhood that somehow he's in cahoots with the extremists who did the attack in Sinai.
BILBASSYSo for them, it was propaganda. They wanted to show something to the Egyptian people that they're doing something. They said, oh, we're after these militants. We killed 20 of them, but there was absolutely no evidence of that. And if they knew where they were, how come they could not stop the attack before? All of a sudden, they found them after the attack.
REHMWeird. To Kadani in Washington, D.C. good morning you're on the air.
KADANIGood morning, Diane, long-time listener. Diane, if the Syrian issue has been used as a venue for wider agenda, like, let's say contain Iran, is it about humanitarian issue, why would your panel dismiss it as a collection of small mistakes? I'm talking about the conference that was conserved by Iran, thank you very much.
KUBEIt was intended to bring together a bunch of nations that were all like-minded. So they all wanted to allegedly end the violence. In reality, they probably do want to end the violence and the bloodshed in Syria, but with some sort of a diplomatic solution, but they didn't pose any actual solutions.
KUBETheir idea was that Bashar al-Assad should be able to deal with his own problems in his country and that's that. They didn't come to any conclusion. They didn't issue a declaration and most of the attendees were sort of lower-level diplomats. It was the foreign minister of Iran, but many of the other nations were ambassadors so not to totally discount the conference, of course, but it didn't really have an aim and it didn't really have any conclusions.
REHMAnd finally to Charlotte, N.C., good morning, Anthony.
ANTHONYGood morning, Diane, a long-time listener, but I just wanted to talk about the man that came on that was a Vietnam veteran. I've done two tours to Afghanistan and to talk about how this is similar, it's not. If you look at the people while we were over there, the children especially, we're very much wanted over there. We're wanted.
ANTHONYThey don't want -- a lot of the people don't want the regime that was there. They don't want the poverty that they had. I'm a firm believer in what we were doing over there and I'm a firm believer that we should still stay over there and finish out what we have done. I mean, you cannot leave a country after we've invaded in the shambles that it's in right now, especially looking at how the children are.
REHMWell, that is a most eloquent account of one man's feelings and, Anthony, we all appreciate your service and your point of view and I'm sure there are a lot who agree with him. Tom?
GJELTENWell, it just goes to Courtney's point that, you know, the greatest opposition to a quick withdrawal from Afghanistan is in all likelihood going to come from the U.S. military that has invested so much in this fight.
REHMTom Gjelten, he's national security correspondent for NPR, Courtney Kube, national security producer for NBC News, Nadia Bilbassy, senior U.S. correspondent for MBCTV and I want to close by once again being so happy to welcome WESA 90.5 in Pittsburgh to our growing number of affiliates. Have a great weekend everybody, thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Megan Merritt, Lisa Dunn and Rebecca Kaufman. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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