In an interview with The Daily Caller Wednesday, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham explained his comments over the weekend on U.S withdrawal from Afghanistan, as well as possible a future political settlement with members of the Taliban.
“I think we can transition, next summer, some areas of Afghanistan to Afghan control,” Graham, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer Sunday. “I’ve seen progress I have not seen before.”
While Graham initially seemed to agree with Schieffer’s retort that “This is a change in position for you,” he further explained to TheDC Wednesday during a phone interview while on the road in South Carolina how he came to this new conclusion.
“I didn’t see where it would be possible to withdraw troops safely. Now I see, based on conditions, I think it is possible now to withdraw troops in those regions without compromising the overall war effort,” Graham explained. “So I’ve seen progress. And my position before was, I didn’t think that would be possible. But now I believe it.”
So what kind of progress did Graham see that brought about this change of heart?
“For one,” said Graham, “the 30,000 more troops are beginning to have an effect. We’re beginning to clear out areas we had not been able to clear out before…The real progress I saw was in the building of the Afghan security force – in numbers and capability.”
The question then becomes how to withdraw U.S. troops in a way that will not leave the country in utter chaos. Does that mean negotiating with the Taliban? Graham’s response, in a word, was “no.”
As TheDC previously reported, two other key players shaping U.S. strategy in Afghanistan – Democratic Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Commander of U.S Force in Afghanistan General David Petraeus – made recent comments about reaching a political settlement with the Taliban, or at least members of the group.
But while Graham agrees political settlements are necessary, in his mind, that does not mean sitting across the table from Taliban leader Mullah Omar and agreeing to some type of quid pro quo. Instead, the U.S. needs to be able to effectively use what Graham called “reintegration and reconciliation programs.”
“Reintegration is when you catch a Taliban fighter — a guy who is not a full-blown jihadist, but probably more involved because of economics,” said Graham. “We are going to try to reintegrate that person…There is nothing unique about this process.”
Such a reintegration program, according to Graham, would include providing education and job skills to young Afghan men who leave the Taliban. The only condition, Graham said, is that “they’d have to commit to support the Afghan government.”
Graham, added however, that “this idea of sitting down with Mullah Omar and dividing Afghanistan is offensive and a nonstarter. And not what we’re trying to do.”
When asked about the recent State Department report of designated terrorist organizations that left out the Taliban, Graham said the radical factions of the Taliban should indeed be added.
“The Pakistan Taliban has been responsible for organizing attacks against the United States,” said Graham. “We need to make sure those groups are on the terrorist list because they mean us harm. They’re trying to push radical Islam.”
So what’s next for the U.S. in the War in Afghanistan? Graham sounded hopeful.
“We have the potential to really deliver the insurgency a very severe blow in the next year,” said Graham. “You just need to be patient.”