May 27th, 2014

Deputy Nat’l Sec Advisor Blinken on cost of keeping troops in Afghanistan: “In the vicinity of about $20 billion”

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer spoke with Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken about the costs of keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and the White House outing CIA official by mistake. The interview aired on CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, 5:00-6:30 p.m. E.T.

A full transcript is available after the jump.

Transcript from interview:


WOLF BLITZER, HOST:  The U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan down to fewer than 10,000 troops next year will still have a surprising price tag.

And the president’s deputy National Security Agency, Tony Blinken, is joining us from the White House.

Tony, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER:  The president made an historic announcement today in the Rose Garden.  A couple of technical questions that you can answer for our viewers.

First of all, those nearly 10,000 troops will remain in Afghanistan next year.  I assume they will have complete immunity from Afghan prosecution.  That was the big issue that forced the U.S. to pull out all U.S. troops from Iraq.

BLINKEN:  They’ll only remain if they have immunity.  And what is required to do that is for the next Afghan president to sign this infamous bilateral security agreement.

Both of the leading candidates for president have said that they would sign it promptly upon taking office.  And that’s what we expect.  And that’s one of the reasons the president made the statement he did today.

BLITZER:  How much is it going to cost American taxpayers to keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan next year?

BLINKEN:  Well, you’re looking at a — in the tens of billions of dollars.  We’re looking at probably in the vicinity of about $20 billion, when you factor everything in.

BLITZER:  Twenty billion dollars.  And that includes, in addition to 9,800 U.S. troops, NATO forces as well as private contractors, many of whom will be Americans.

Do you have any idea how many private contractors will be needed to support those 9,800 U.S. troops?

BLINKEN:  You know, you’re looking at several thousand private contractors.  But we’re also looking at significant support from our NATO allies and other partners who have been engaged in Afghanistan from the start and who will remain engaged.  There will probably be in the vicinity of another 4,000 or so NATO and partner troops alongside our own in 2015.

But keep in mind, Wolf, we’ll be at 9,800 troops at the beginning of 2015, as the president said.  We’ll be down to about half of that by the end of the year.  And then by the end of 2016, we’ll be into a normalized position where we have our embassy and a small number of troops necessary to protect the embassy.

BLITZER:  We’re getting some indication that maybe as many as 1,000 American troops would be stationed in and around the U.S. Embassy even after 2016.

Is that right?

BLINKEN:  The numbers are not yet set.  But here’s what would happen.  There would be a certain number of troops required to secure the embassy.  And we’re talking probably in the hundreds.  You also have, in any embassy, where we have a defense relationship with the host country, some troops who are working on military contracts.  The country buys equipment from the United States.  You have experts who help them acquire the equipment and learn how to use it.

So between those two functions and also some continuing advising of the Afghans, including their ministries, the defense ministry, the other security ministries, you’ll have some folks there to do that.

BLITZER:  Tell our viewers why it’s in their interests, American citizens, to spend tens of billions of dollars to stay in Afghanistan next year and the year after, especially because the Afghans themselves, they have more than 350,000 of their own domestic police and security forces.

BLINKEN:  Wolf, we want to complete the job that we started.  And we’ve been on a very clear trajectory under this president to end the war responsibly.  And that means as we draw down our troops, building up the Afghans to the point where they can take full responsibility for their own security and their own future.  And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing.

During it as the president announced today, that is, going from where we are now, which is about 32,000 troops, down to 10,000 and then down to about half of that and finally down to a very small presence to secure the embassy is a trajectory that makes sense.

It will allow the Afghans to continue to assume responsibility for their future and do it in a way that, again, get our folks out and builds them up.

BLITZER:  I’m going to play for you two comments that the president made, one in 2012, one in 2013, about his objectives in Afghanistan.

Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We are bringing our troops home from Afghanistan.  And I’ve set a timetable.  We will have them all out of there by 2014.

This drawdown will continue and by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.


BLITZER:  So on the first point, in 2012, when he said all U.S. troops will be out by the end of 2014, that’s not necessarily happening, if you think 9,800 U.S. troops, they’re still going to stay there.

BLINKEN:  First of all, Wolf, let’s put this in perspective.  When the president took office, there were about 170,000 Americans in harm’s way between Afghanistan and Iraq.  By the end of this year, we’ll be down to 10,000 or so, the ones who will remain in Afghanistan.

Second, the president was very clear today, the combat mission in Afghanistan ends this year.  And so the Americans who will remain in Afghanistan in 2015 will not be out patrolling the streets or in the mountains or in the valleys, they will be there to support the Afghan military to help train them and advise them.  And they’ll be there in small numbers to deal with the remaining terrorism threat, the remnants of al Qaeda.

That’s what they’ll be doing.  That advances our security and it also helps Afghanistan.

BLITZER:  You saw the statement that John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte put out.  I’ll put it up on the screen.  “The president’s decision to set an arbitrary date for the full withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is a monumental mistake and a triumph of politics over strategy.  This is a short-sighted decision that will make it harder to end the war in Afghanistan responsibly.”

Your reaction?

BLINKEN:  Wolf, we respectfully disagree.

First, it’s very important to let the Afghans know what they need to do going forward so that they can work on their responsibilities and step up to the plate.  That’s worked very effectively.  When we told them we’d be ending combat operations at the end of this year, they stepped up and the Afghan security forces are more effective for that.

So we needed to give them a clear trajectory, a clear understanding of what we’d be doing, when we’d be doing it.

Second, since our combat mission is over at the end of this year, it makes no sense to keep 10,000 or more American troops in Afghanistan.

To do what?

Third, military was fully supportive of this trajectory down.

And, finally, we can’t be in — in an endless war posture.  This is about ending these wars responsibly and then redirecting some of those resources to deal with some of the new threats that we face in different parts of the world in different ways.

BLITZER:  In Afghanistan, how much damage was done by the inadvertent naming of the CIA station chief over the weekend in Kabul?

BLINKEN:  Wolf, it shouldn’t have happened.  We’re trying to understand why it happened.  In fact, the chief of staff, Denis McDonough, asked the White House counsel to look into it, to figure out what happened and to make sure it won’t happen again.

BLITZER:  Will that individual, that station chief, have to leave Afghanistan now because his identity is well known?

BLINKEN:  Wolf, you’ll understand that I can’t comment on the details, but you can rest assured that the security of this person is foremost in our minds and will be taken care of.

BLITZER:  And do you — can you tell us who made the mistake, where the blunder occurred?

BLINKEN:  I can’t.  And that’s exactly why the chief of staff, Denis McDonough, asked our White House counsel, Neil Eggleston, to look into this, to figure out what happened, and, again, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

BLITZER:  Tony Blinken, the president’s deputy national security adviser, thanks for joining us.

BLINKEN:  Thanks a lot, Wolf.

BLITZER:  Valerie Plame, the CIA officer outed by the Bush administration, calls this latest incident “astonishing.” She’ll be my guest tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Valerie Plame.


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