Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
President Obama Visits Afghanistan; Obama, Karzai to Sign Cooperation Agreement; Interview with Representative Peter King; "Enhanced Interrogation" or Torture?; Interview with Senator John McCain; Interview with Senator Jack Reed; Obama Addresses Troops in Afghanistan
Aired May 1, 2012 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now: breaking news. President Obama's in Afghanistan and he's catching the world off guard with an unannounced surprise visit one year to the day after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. We're standing by to hear from President Obama. He'll be addressing the nation and the world from Afghanistan, talking about the future of U.S. troops and ties between the two countries.
Also with the presidential campaign in full swing, this day and this trip are steep in politics. We'll talk about all of that and more as we follow the breaking news. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Dramatic developments. President Obama's surprise trip to Afghanistan exactly one year after the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in neighboring Pakistan.
Less than an hour or so ago, we got the first word of his arrival at the Bagram Air Base. He is now in Kabul meeting with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, to sign a long-term strategic partnership agreement at a rather precarious time for relations between the two countries.
He will then make a televised speech to the United States, indeed to the entire world, in about three-and-a-half-hours or so from now at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time here in the United States.
Let's go straight to our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar.
Brianna, for this president, indeed for the United States, this is a huge deal right now. Set the scene.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This is a big deal, Wolf.
A trip by the president of the United States to a war zone like Afghanistan is extraordinary. And this is only the third time that President Obama has made this trip. It's been over a year. The last time he was there was in December of 2010.
And, furthermore, at the presidential palace, which is where he is right now for brief remarks, a meeting with President Hamid Karzai and most importantly to sign that strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan to talk about the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014, that's extraordinary.
The last time the president was in Afghanistan in December of 2010, he could not make that trip from Bagram Air Force Base which is about 30 miles or so north of Kabul to the palace because of weather concerns, and certainly security is always a concern as the president choppers from the comfort of the Air Force base.
But this is pretty extraordinary. And if you look at past trips, Wolf, the last one only lasted four hours, and it's very late at night in Afghanistan as the president is doing this.
BLITZER: Yes, this is not going last much longer. I suspect the president will be on his way back to Andrews, the Air Force base outside of Washington, within a few hours or so, a very short trip to thank the troops, to sign this strategic cooperation agreement, and then to address the American people.
There will be politics involved, all of this six months before the U.S. presidential election. Some will say this is a bit risky for the president to be doing all of this right now on this, the first anniversary of bin Laden's death.
KEILAR: Yes. And certainly politics do figure into this.
And this comes on the heels, Wolf, of Republicans criticizing President Obama, saying that he's been spiking the football ahead of this anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden. The Obama campaign released a video that asked the question, essentially, would Mitt Romney have made the same call, not just to take out Osama bin Laden, but also to do it in the way that President Obama did, by sending in a team, instead of doing it with perhaps some sort of drone attack or something like that?
I think it is going to be a while before we see how politics factor into this. It seems right now the Republicans are holding their fire ahead of the president's remarks tonight at 7:30 Eastern, which he will make from Bagram Air Force Base.
I spoke with a spokeswoman for Senator John McCain, who has been very critical of the president, and she just said he is happy that the president is visiting the troops and will be waiting to look at those remarks.
I should tell you, our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, has an exclusive interview she just grabbed with Senator McCain. I think you will be having that a little later in your hour. And I also e-mailed with a senior adviser to Mitt Romney, who basically said they are waiting to see what the president says tonight -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A lot of people are waiting to see what the president says tonight. Brianna, thanks very much
Let's bring in CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. He's in Kabul, the Afghan capital, right now.
Nick, what are you seeing, what are you hearing on the ground?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In truth, very little, indeed.
About 6:00 this evening, there were these rumors, one Afghan TV station saying Obama was already here. That was flatly denied by anyone you could lay your hands on, really, great uncertainty as to whether he was coming at all.
And then I think it's fair to say about an hour-and-a-half, two hours ago, we heard the first helicopters in the skies we had heard all night, this city unusually quiet, frankly, suggesting perhaps that this visit was under way and, as you just said, Wolf, confirmation about an hour ago.
But this comes at an absolutely key time in the entire Afghan- U.S. relationship. It's been a disastrous four months, really, anything from U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of supposed insurgents through to the mistake of burning the Korans, through the massacre of 17 Afghans in Kandahar, through to the collapse it seems of peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban in Qatar.
You can name a long list of disasters, really. And this strategic partnership agreement they're signing tonight is one small bright spot of good news that diplomats and officials here have been very keen to seize upon as a potential channeling for the way forward of this rocky relationship between Washington and Kabul.
It will be signed tonight, but let's bear in mind who the signatories are here. We have Barack Obama facing reelection and President Hamid Karzai, who has made it clear he does not want a third term here, and even suggested perhaps that elections may come early, at some point next year, rather than in 2014, because he says he is concerned about the idea of a NATO drawdown of troops coming at the same time as the country looks for a successor to him.
There is no obvious successor. So while this document paints a positive picture of cooperation and a sort of symbolic hand-holding for the decade after NATO leaves it, there are many, many questions here, the least -- the biggest of which, frankly, exactly where does this insurgency fit into all of this?
This document being signed in a city where just over two weeks ago, insurgents laid siege to key institutions for about 18 hours -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And we also know that even inside a supposedly secure area like the Interior Ministry in Kabul, it wasn't that long ago that Afghan security forces took a weapon and shot U.S., U.S. military personnel in the back of the head in a supposedly secure area, suggesting to so many folks around the world, especially here in Washington, Nick, that the United States can't even trust the Afghan police and military for this kind of security.
It raises all sorts of fears, at least to me, that the president of the United States is there right now. Can they really trust the Afghan security forces? What say you? You're on the ground.
WALSH: It's -- it's really undermined that feeling of trust, because it wasn't just these two men, both senior ISAF officials who had many friends here in ISAF H.Q. here who mourn their loss constantly. It was one of many incidents.
There have been nine American personnel killed in the first three months of this year by men in Afghan uniform. I should just point out we are hearing helicopters again in the skies over Kabul at the moment, suggesting perhaps some further transportation. I don't know if that's the president leaving the presidential palace at this point.
But, yes, back to your original point, Wolf, this huge concern about the breakdown in the trust between Afghan soldiers and the Americans supposedly training them to take over security here, these are isolated incidents, ISAF like to say. But they began to become a trend in the first part of this year.
And there are now even reports suggesting that in fact American soldiers are posted to watch over their colleagues as they train Afghans in various facilities around the country. So it has had a long-lasting impact, certainly on the psychology of Americans and NATO troops working here, because, as I say, these isolated incidents, as NATO likes to say, visibly became a trend and, began to undermine the rhetorical confidence that NATO was trying to place in Afghan security forces to take over the job of securing this country as they try to draw down, and also, I think, play on the mind of Americans simply serving here, just not knowing how far they can trust the Afghans they're supposed to be serving alongside with, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, there is a lot of mistrust under way right now. And a lot of folks, I'm sure, are very, very worried.
Stand by, Nick Paton Walsh. He is on the ground in Kabul.
John King is here in Washington with me.
We have been following the breaking news for a while. The president landed about almost 2:00 p.m. Eastern, a little bit more than two hours or so ago. What are you picking up?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You saw the picture.
He gets off Air Force One here, the 747. He gets in a helicopter, flies from Bagram to Kabul. And, Wolf, we have just received word from the TV pool, the small pool of reporters traveling with the president, that Presidents Obama and Karzai have now officially signed that strategic partnership agreement.
They did it in the atrium of the king's residence. That's part of the presidential palace in Kabul. General Allen, the commander in chief of the allied forces, was there, and Ambassador Crocker as well. President Karzai thanked the people of the United States for helping the people of Afghanistan over the past decade.
And President Obama said -- quote -- "I have come to Afghanistan to mark this historic moment for our two nations." He said neither Afghans and Americans asked for this war, but for a decade, we have stood together. He also went on to say there will be difficult days ahead.
Nick Paton Walsh just very succinctly describing the many questions about the security and the political arrangements, but President Obama saying, I'm confident the Afghan people will understand the United States will stand by them. And he said, Wolf -- this is significant -- we will achieve our goal of destroying al Qaeda and we have the capacity to wind down this war and have peace.
Obviously there, the goal -- the continued goal to destroy al Qaeda, but the symbolism of signing this agreement on this day, one year to the day after Osama bin Laden was killed, this is an important policy moment, but let's again not forget the White House, frankly, they love the politics of this, the president of the United States in Afghanistan on this day, signing this agreement, will speak to the nation tonight.
It was in Afghanistan that al Qaeda plotted the 9/11 attacks on the United States. And it was in Afghanistan that the Navy SEALs used a base there to go across the border into Pakistan to take out bin Laden one year ago. So it's an important policy moment and, from the White House perspective, they believe, a big political...
BLITZER: But what does this say to you, John? I know what it says to me, that they have a major, historic signing ceremony in the presidential palace in Kabul, in Afghanistan, the president of the United States, the president of Afghanistan.
They have to do it in the middle of the night. It is after 1:00 a.m. in Kabul. They can't do it in daylight. They can't even have live coverage of an historic event like that. They are going to feed tape in later.
What does that say to you?
KING: It says they have continuing questions about the security. They have continuing questions about the sanctity, if you will, of the Afghan security forces.
There are times when Afghan security forces have turned on their U.S. and NATO counterparts. So there is a level of trust. Are there infiltrators? Are there spies? Can you trust the security arrangement?
So they tend to do these things under the cover of darkness just so no one on the ground gets a heads-up. That's why we have known quietly about this for hours, but you are not allowed to report it until the president is on the ground. The security arrangements, some people would say they are overdone.
But if you have covered the White House, as both of us have, when the president of the United States, when the Secret Service, when the military advisers tell you, trust us, we need you to be careful here, it's best to be careful.
BLITZER: Yes. You're dealing with the security of the president of the United States and the security, all the men and women who accompany him on a very sensitive, delicate, and dangerous trip like this.
BLITZER: John, don't go too far away.
We are going to bring you all of the details of this extraordinary visit to Afghanistan, the breaking news. We're staying on top of it.
Also coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, the CIA calls it enhanced interrogation. Critics call it torture. The man who oversaw the CIA program is here to defend it. He says it led the United States to kill bin Laden exactly one year ago today and saved American lives.
There he is, Jose Rodriguez, the former head of clandestine operations at the CIA. He's standing by live.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news out of Afghanistan.
President Obama is now on the ground in Kabul, Afghanistan, at the presidential palace. He and the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, they have just signed a long-term strategic partnership agreement, spelling out some framework, arrangements for the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan beyond 2014, what the U.S. would be able to do militarily, economically, politically in Afghanistan. A lot of details remain to be worked out. The president will be addressing the American people from Afghanistan at 7:30 p.m. Eastern later tonight.
All of this unfolding in the aftermath, now 10-years plus after 9/11 -- in the wake of 9/11, the CIA began using what we call enhanced interrogation techniques. Critics label them as torture.
Jose Rodriguez oversaw the controversial program as the director of the CIA's national clandestine service. He's written a brand new book just coming out this week titled "Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Action after 9/11 Saved American Lives."
Mr. Rodriguez, thanks for joining us on this historic day, exactly one year after bin Laden was killed. First of all, give us your reaction to the president of the United States signing this long- term partnership agreement with Afghanistan in Kabul just moments ago.
JOSE RODRIGUEZ, FORMER DIR., NATIONAL CLANDESTINE SERVICES: Wolf, I have really no comment to make. I just found out about this as I was coming here. You know, it's -- I think logical consequence after 10 years of war. So I think it's a good thing.
BLITZER: It's a good thing that the president has done this.
When you say you have no comment, I'm just a little confused. You spent more than 30 years in the clandestine service at the CIA. You rose all the way to the top. You were in charged of interrogating all sorts of al Qaeda officials, al Qaeda terrorists, why wouldn't you have a reaction to seeing the president in Afghanistan now.
RODRIGUEZ: Well, I mean, I have a reaction to the effort that went into killing bin Laden and all of the information that was gathered over the years that probably led us to where we are today. But I am surprised as everybody else in America about the trip today, and, you know, we'll have to see what the agreement is.
BLITZER: And we'll wait for the details to come in.
You say that the interrogation that you conducted of at least one, maybe two al Qaeda terrorists, interrogation what we call black sites, secret locations around the world, actually resulted in the killing of bin Laden a year ago. Explain your theory why that happened.
RODRIGUEZ: Yes. As a matter of fact, there is an open piece today in "The Washington Post" in which I say that the takedown of bin Laden was an effort that went on for 10 years, and it really gained momentum after the establishment of the black sites and the capture of some of the high-value targets in charge of al Qaeda over the years. It was not just one. It was the whole clan and many of them ended up in our black sites.
BLITZER: Because, as you know, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, they just issued a report, a document, and they say they have a 6,000-page report that's coming out that says you're flat wrong when you say the enhanced interrogation techniques had anything to do with the information that resulted in that courier who eventually led that Navy SEAL team to that site at Abbottabad in Afghanistan a year ago tonight.
The CIA, their statement says, "Did not first learn of the existence of the UBL courier from detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques."
Tell us why you think that the two chairmen are wrong.
RODRIGUEZ: Well, you know, Wolf, I was in charge of the Qatar terrorist center between 2002 and 2004, and then I was the head of the clandestine service. So I know a little bit about what went on, and I was there when we captured a couple of high-level al Qaeda people who told us about the courier, and the courier was the key to getting bin Laden.
And I remember reading the intelligence in 2004 when we first learned about the courier, and the fact that bin Laden was concentrating and using only one courier to communicate with al Qaeda, was not using the Internet, was not talking on the phone, was not using cell phone, and I thought to myself that this was very significant because he would be a lot harder to get if only he communicated through one courier.
RODRIGUEZ: So I remember it very clearly and reading all about the courier and it was the courier who eventually led us to bin Laden a number of years later.
BLITZER: The courier did, and they say they reviewed 6 million pages of documents and records and interviewed everybody involved. They say the CIA learned of the existence of the courier, his true name and location through means unrelated to the CIA detention and interrogation program.
They say you're flat wrong on this very sensitive issue, and I just want to give you a final word to respond.
RODRIGUEZ: Well, I don't understand it. I think it's baffling to me.
BLITZER: Did they interview you?
RODRIGUEZ: They never interviewed me, but the thousands of intelligence reports that came out of the enhanced interrogation techniques and the debriefing program are part of the record, and I just cannot understand how they came to this conclusion. You know, eventually this whole thing would come out, and I believe that the American people will get a chance to see for themselves the incredible intelligence that was acquired over the years coming from the black sites and from the high-level detainees.
BLITZER: Mr. Rodriguez, we'll continue this conversation maybe on a day that there's not such dramatic breaking news.
Jose Rodriguez, his book is entitled "Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions after 9/11 Saved American Lives" -- thanks very much for joining us on this historic day.
RODRIGUEZ: Thank you for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you.
We're on top of the breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from Afghanistan. We're awaiting the president's speech from the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. He arrived two and a half hours or so ago.
Reaction from the Republicans beginning to pour in. We'll talk to a leading Republican, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Peter King. He's standing by live as well.
Stay with us for more on the breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news out of Afghanistan. President Obama and President Hamid Karzai, they have just signed a long-term strategic cooperation agreement at the presidential palace. We'll eventually get videotape of that signing ceremony and hear what the president had to say.
We do know that the president said based on a report we got from producers on the scene, he says the president -- the president says, "We'll achieve our goal of destroying al Qaeda. We have the capacity to wind down this war and have peace."
Let's talk about what's going on with New York Republican Congressman Peter King. He's the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
First of all, your reaction, Congressman King, to President Obama's surprise visit to Afghanistan for this signing ceremony today?
REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, as president and commander-in-chief, I applaud him being in Afghanistan. I think it's important for the troops to see the president and certainly after all of these years of fighting where the troops have done such heroic work and did such an outstanding job. I think it's important for the president to be there and signing the agreement with President Karzai. I mean, I reserve judgment on the agreement so we get a chance to see it.
But he's our commander-in-chief, he's representing the country. I wish him well. I think it is always very good when the president of the United States can visit a war zone, especially on such a key moment as this.
BLITZER: So, you're not among the Republicans saying he's spiking the football and doing a victory lap on this the first anniversary of bin Laden's death?
KING: I'm reluctant to say anything critical of the president when he's out of the United States. As far as the trip to Afghanistan, that's certainly within his purview as commander-in- chief. I do believe in the last several days, though, where he has I think -- first of all, he did a great job in ordering the killing of bin Laden. I know people in the Situation Room, I know the tough decision he had to make, I give him full credit for that.
I don't think it was right to put out campaign commercials being critical of Governor Romney. That was politicizing an historic event. I can't picture General Eisenhower doing that. I can't picture Harry Truman doing it.
To me, it was a wrong thing to do. And also if we can get into that, you just had Jose Rodriguez on. You can say that he was able to have bin Laden killed because of intelligence obtained in the previous administration.
All of that, though, to me should not be the topic. He's entitled to mention the killing of bin Laden, but to dwell on it the way he's done I think is a mistake.
But having said that, his visit to Afghanistan is perfectly right. I applaud him for doing it.
BLITZER: Who's right and based on everything you know, and you may not have access to all of the intelligence information. But I know you have access to a lot. Jose Rodriguez, the former has of CIA's clandestine services, who says the enhanced interrogation provided the initial tip that eventually resulted in bin Laden's death or Carl Levin and Dianne Feinstein who say he is flat-out wrong?
KING: From al that I know, I agree with Jose Rodriguez. I can tell you the day that bin Laden was killed, I had a former CIA employee call me that day and detailed to me what he believes the information from the courier came from those interrogations. That was long before this debate even began. It was actually the day that bin Laden was killed.
And from talking to people like General Hayden and others, I believe that the enhanced interrogations were extremely important and extremely vital, and I think the president was wrong during the campaign referring to that is torture. I believe it was a necessary evil that had to be done at the time.
But again, bottom line is that bin Laden is dead. I think it was the combined efforts of the Bush and Obama administrations, which is the way foreign policy should be run, especially on key issues like this. And the fact that the president's campaign has tried to politicize it in the last several day, I just think it's wrong.
BLITZER: As chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, do you believe for all practical purposes al Qaeda's operation, global operations for all practical purposes are effectively dead?
KING: No, I don't. I think the al Qaeda central has been dramatically weakened. But now we have offshoots in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda in the Maghreb, al Qaeda in Iraq, we have to be very concerned, the Boko Haram, also al Shabaab.
So, in many ways, even though I doubt al Qaeda could ever carry out another 9/11-type attack, they can still in some ways be more lethal because they're under the radar screen. They've metastasized. They've morphed. And we also have to be very concerned about the homegrown terrorists in our own country that are being recruited over the Internet.
So as we saw with the attack on Times Square, with the attempted attack on Times Square, the attempted attack on the New York City subway system, that al Qaeda or its offshoots are still capable of carrying out an attack. We've scored tremendous success over the last 10 years. Al Qaeda is also adopting. I think we're ahead of them. We have to stay ahead of them. And we can't let our guard down.
BLITZER: We're getting new pictures. Stand by for a second. I want to show viewers these pictures.
Take a look at this. This is the president of the United States and the president of Afghanistan shortly after they signed their strategic cooperation agreement at the presidential palace in Afghanistan. You see it right there. And here are the two leaders walking out of the presidential palace, the U.S. flag and the Afghan flag.
Here's a blunt question for you, Congressman King -- can the U.S. really trust Hamid Karzai to deliver? Because he's been so erratic especially in recent years.
KING: He certainly is an inconsistent ally. I'm not here to argue for Karzai, but I do believe we need to use whatever leverage we have with Karzai and whatever influence we have with the Afghan government no matter who is there.
It's not because he's a friend of ours and not because we trust him. We have to show that it's in his interest and ours. It's in Afghanistan's interest and ours to make this work. This is not based on love. It's not based on friendship. It's based on the harsh reality of life.
The fact that neither Karzai nor the U.S. wants the Taliban to come back. If the Taliban comes back then we have to worry about al Qaeda coming back in and that will bring back the terrible days prior to September 11th.
Where all the people of Afghanistan were suffering and it was used as a base of operations to carry out attacks against the United States. To me this is strictly mutual interest, very hot/cold interest that we have and Karzai in Afghanistan have.
BLITZER: Congressman King, thanks very much for joining us on this important day. Congressman Peter King of New York is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
The president, by the way, at that signing ceremony with Hamid Karzai said there will be difficult days ahead. Afghan people will take control of their future. I am confident Afghan people will understand that the United States will stand by them.
The breaking news coverage, the president of the United States in Afghanistan getting ready to address the American people from Afghanistan. Our coverage will continue in a moment including much more on the death of Bin Laden and the race for the White House.
Mitt Romney marking the one-year anniversary himself, plus President Obama's surprise visit to Afghanistan. New pictures and new information coming in. We expect the tape of the president's signing ceremony with Hamid Karzai to arrive shortly. We'll, of course, have that for you.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news out of Afghanistan right now. The president of the United States has just signed a long-term, strategic cooperation agreement with Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan.
We are waiting for the videotape to come in. We will have it for you shortly. Meanwhile, some Republicans have accused the president of spiking the football, celebrating, when it comes to Bin Laden on this, the one-year anniversary of his death.
Now one prominent critic is speaking out about his trip as well. Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash. She's up on Capitol Hill.
Dana, you had a chance to speak exclusively with Senator John McCain just moments ago. What did he say?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he had been very, very critical, Wolf, of the political ad that the president's campaign put out boasting about getting Osama Bin Laden and also hitting Mitt Romney on that issue.
But on this particular trip, John McCain was anything, but critical.
BASH: What do you think about the president's surprise, secretive trip to Afghanistan?
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I think it's a good thing. I think it's always good when the president goes to where young men and women are in harm's way.
And I think that many of us who have been involved in Afghanistan are very supportive of the strategic partnership agreement, which I'm sure he'll be talking about, and we think the agreement is good. We obviously would like to know the details.
BASH: Now Senator, you have been very outspoken, very critical of what the president did recently, politically with an ad boasting about getting Osama Bin Laden and hitting Mitt Romney for it. Do you think that this trip is also part of his political campaign?
MCCAIN: No, I can't accuse the president of that. A lot of people both here and in Congress including Senator Lindsay Graham and Senator Lieberman worked on this strategic partnership agreement and it's important that we send a message to friends and enemies alike that the United States has a long-term commitment to Afghanistan.
BASH: So this is not spiking the football in the end zone, as he said.
MCCAIN: No, I don't view it as that, and I wish the president would explain more often to the American people why Afghanistan -- it's important that Afghanistan not return to a base for attacks on the United States of America.
(END VIDEOTAPE) BASH: And, Wolf, that is one of the main reasons why John McCain and probably other Republicans are not criticizing the president because of the fact that they were criticizing him for not speaking enough about Afghanistan except for the "State of Union Address."
He has not given a major address on Afghanistan since June of 2011, that's almost a year ago. And John McCain, of course, is somebody who steeped in military history and of course, generally reference for the concept of commander in chief speaking to the troops.
Another reason why he says this is a good thing and of course, he is somebody who has said that he does not believe that the president's policy of pulling the troops out by 2014 is good, which is why he says the agreement that says the U.S. commitment will be longer than that.
BLITZER: Yes, good point. Dana, thanks very much. Senator McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Arms Services Committee.
Jack Reed is a key Democratic member of the Senate Arms Services Committee. He is in Afghanistan right now. He is joining us on the phone from Kabul.
Senator Reed, thanks very much for joining us. I take it you've known for a while that the president was going to be showing up for the signing ceremony with Hamid Karzai, that's why you're there right now, is that right?
SENATOR JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND (via telephone): No, Wolf. We are here to visit military personnel in Afghanistan and we found out this afternoon the president would be coming in and we were fortunate enough to be invited to the signing for the long-term relationship agreement. We are here to see the troops and talk to the commanders.
BLITZER: Is there a firm agreement as to how many U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014, Senator Reed?
REED: No, there's not. The military command is here, General Allen and his colleagues are going periodically report to the president about the threat, the capability of the Afghan forces and about the contribution of not just U.S. forces, but the NATO forces. And they'll advise the president on what the Afghan forces will be and that's going to be done as the situation develops over the next several years.
BLITZER: And there's no agreement on how much U.S. aid, economic and military aid will be provided to the Afghans after 2014, is that right?
REED: That will probably be discussed in more detail in Chicago because NATO as well as other non-NATO, but this strategic framework is the basis for discussion and the assistance -- in Afghanistan for the next several years in order to continue to not only confirm the terrorists and insurgency --
BLITZER: Take us inside. You were at the signing ceremony that was just completed, is that right?
BLITZER: So take us inside the presidential palace in the Afghan capital right now, first of all, security. How secure -- how dangerous is it right now for the president of the United States and some top senators and you're on a congressional delegation there?
REED: Well, the security precautions were, as you would expect, very rigorous. Just a few weeks ago there was an operation within Kabul, but this was a very carefully planned security operation.
It was quite evident by the personnel, by the cooperation between Afghan forces as well as U.S. security forces and, you know, I think this is something that the president was right to come here and is right now on his way to Bagram to thank the troops. Every day they face more dangers.
BLITZER: All right, Senator, stand by for a moment because we're just getting in the video now from the presidential palace in Afghanistan. They're going to be showing us the actual signing ceremony of the president of the United States.
This is the raw video coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. There you see Senator Carl Levin standing there together with David Plouffe, and Senator Reed. We are looking at you talking to the David Plouffe, the president's senior adviser, Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Arms Services Committee, some Afghan officials there as well.
We are getting ready for this signing ceremony. It occurred a little while ago, but only now the videotape is being fed in and we can see some of the pictures coming in. You can see some of the dignitaries arriving right now, and taking a closer look.
There's Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan on the left. There's General Allen, the White House chief of staff, Jack Lou, you can see him over there in the glasses and the darker hair.
They're getting ready to be seated and Jack Reed to the left and Carl Levin and others and some of the Afghan officials who will witness this historic signing ceremony, and as I've been pointing out, this is basically a framework agreement for some 10 years, but a lot of the details have to be resolved. How much U.S. economic and military assistance will continue to flow to Afghanistan after 2014?
How many U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014? What will be the role of those U.S. troops? Will they simply be engaged in training? A lot of these questions remain to be resolved.
Senator Reed, you're still on the phone with us, and I assume you can't see what we're showing our viewers, but these were some of the pictures of the president walking in with Hamid Karzai.
They're going to be speaking and right now they're going to be doing the signing ceremony. I take it, Senator Reed, they signed the agreement first and then they spoke. Is that what happened?
REED: No, they spoke first. President Karzai led off and then President Obama and then they signed the documents.
BLITZER: All right, let's listen to Hamid Karzai. Senator Reed, here's Hamid Karzai, the president actually -- looks like that videotape just froze. Here's Hamid Karzai, the president.
All right, he's speaking in Pashtun right now. My Pashtun is not that good. I don't think Senator Jack Reed's Pashtun is very good. John King is watching all of these unfold as well.
Senator Reed, you were there and this is videotape feeding in right now. Did he speak for long in Pashtun or did he eventually get to English?
REED: His entire speech was in his language and then the president spoke in English. There were translation services for us in the audience, headphones. Their speeches were short.
Both presidents were quite complimentary and recognized the sacrifices of the citizens of both Afghanistan and the United States in this common struggle.
And they were very short speeches and the documents aside and exchanged and signed by the other president to each other and the president was en route to visit American soldiers in Bagram Air Base.
BLITZER: Did you have a chance during the course of your visit to Afghanistan to meet with the Afghan president? Because I've got to tell you, Senator Reed, I know you quite well.
You and I spent time together in Iraq back in 2005. You're very passionate on these issues as you should be, a former U.S. Army ranger. Did he explain some of the rather bizarre anti-American statements he's made in recent months to you?
REED: We met for about an hour, President Karzai, both Senator Levin and I, we made very, very clear, you know, that we were in a common effort, that we recognized the sacrifices of the military forces and people of Afghanistan.
And that we suggested or just spoke and wanted to make sure he understood how important what he said was and how much it resonated in the United States and recognition to our sacrifices have to be made.
My listening to him this evening he was -- he did, in fact, recognize the sacrifices of the American personnel and diplomatic personnel in this effort.
And we also spoke about the issues of border security and what he could do and his country could do to help strengthen their borders and also the capacity of his government to meet out corruption and provide better services to his population.
It was a very frank and candid exchange and it's about an hour- long meeting.
BLITZER: Stand by for a moment. I want to update viewers. Senator Jack Reed is in Kabul. He was at the signing ceremony between President Obama and President Hamid Karzai.
This is videotape feeding in. President Karzai speaking in Pashtun unfortunately, we don't have a translation of what he is saying. We will be hearing from President Obama. He'll speak in English so we'll hear that momentarily. John King is watching all of this unfold.
The problem with President Karzai, John, and I covered him for a long time. He has a tendency to say one thing to the visitors like Senator Jack Reed and President Obama in English stuff that the U.S. likes to hear, but when he's speaking to his own folks back in Afghanistan, it's oftentimes very, very different and occasionally very bitterly anti-American.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not only to his own people at home, but local politics he has to play and sometimes the United States understands that after the horrific killing and I understand some of that language.
But Wolf, I don't know if Senator Reed is still with us, he appeared with the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and said some things that most U.S. officials have found quite troubling.
He has been the president now for 10-1/2 years. First the interim president, the acting president and now the elected president and you go back to the Bush administration, the days after 9/11, they said some days he's on and he says the right things and he starts to do the right things and other days he's ranting anti-American and forgive me, but the corruption record speaks for itself.
The delays and the length of time, the length of money and the length of training to get the Afghan forces up to speed, speaks for itself, the lack of infrastructure, economic process speaks for itself. Not saying for a moment that these aren't extraordinarily difficult challenges for President Karzai, but there's a lot of frustration.
BLITZER: I'm sure you're frustrated, Senator Reed. Senator Reed is joining us on the phone from Kabul as we await the remarks from the president of the United States at this signing ceremony.
Give us your thoughts of what John and I just pointed out to our viewers in the United States and around world that there are often times two very different Hamid Karzais out there.
REED: Well, we may, again, in our discussion today with the president we made it very clear that his comments resonate far beyond Afghanistan and that there has to be acknowledgement of significant sacrifices that not only we have made.
But our NATO allies and scores of other countries around the world, his comments this evening were in his native language, and they were complimentary and very positive, and that's what with I think people are hearing tonight.
BLITZER: Here's the president, Senator Reed. He's about to speak. I want our viewers to hear President Obama.
(BEGIN LIVE FEED)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Leaders of the Afghan government and the society who are here and most importantly to the Afghan people, thank you so much for welcoming me here today especially in the beautiful surroundings.
I, too, want to thank Ambassador Ryan Crocker and National Security adviser and their times for their extraordinary work that brought about this day. I've come to Afghanistan to mark a historic moment for our two nations and to do so on Afghan soil.
I am here to affirm the bonds between our countries, to thank American and Afghans who sacrificed so much over these last 10 years and to look forward to a future peace and security and greater prosperity for our nations.
Neither Americans nor the Afghan people asked for this war, yet for a decade we stood together to drive al Qaeda from its camps, to battle insurgency and to give the people of Afghanistan the possibility to live in peace and in dignity.
The wages of war have been great for both our nations, but today with the signing of this strategic partnership agreement we look forward to a future of peace. Together, we've made much progress.
We reached an agreement to transition detention facilities to Afghan control and to put Afghans in the lead on special operations. Today, we are agreeing to -- to be long-term partners in combating terrorism and training Afghan security forces and strengthening democratic institutions and supporting development and protecting human rights of all Afghans.
With this agreement, the Afghan people in the world should know that Afghanistan has a friend and a partner in the United States. Mr. President, there will be difficult days ahead, but as we move forward with our transition I am confident that Afghan forces will grow stronger.
The Afghan people will take control of their future, and the disagreement I am confident that the Afghan people will understand that the United States will stand by them, and they will know that the United States can achieve our goal of destroying al Qaeda and denying a safe haven.
But at the same time we have the capacity to wind down this war and issuer in a new era of peace in Afghanistan. Mr. President, I'm reminded of all who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan including members of your own family.
I pay tribute to those Afghans who have lost their lives alongside our men and women and sacrificed for their country. Our hearts are heavy as we remember so many who have died in this war.
I am grateful that this agreement pays tribute to the sacrifices made by the American people in Afghanistan. As I've said before, the United States has not come here to claim resources or to claim territory. We came with a very clear mission.
We came to destroy al Qaeda and we have enormous respect for Afghan sovereignty and the dignity of the Afghan people. Together, we are now committed to replacing war with peace and pursuing a more hopeful future as equal partners.
We are committed to seeking a future of justice, peace, security and opportunity, and I am confident that although our challenges are not yet behind us, the future before us. Thank you so much.
(END LIVE FEED)
BLITZER: All right, so there it is. The president speaking, the president of the United States and the president of Afghanistan, now they are signing this document and this strategic partnership agreement as it's called.
They signed it a little while ago. This is videotape that is just feeding in from Afghanistan. I should alert our viewers, the president now is out of Kabul. He's out of the presidential palace.
He's back at the Bagram Air Base. He's going to be meeting with U.S. troops. He's going to be speaking with U.S. troops. We'll have live coverage of that, we hope, coming in within the next half hour or so.
And then at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, about two and a half hours or so from now he'll be speaking to the American people, indeed, around the world live from Afghanistan.
John King was just watching all of this unfold. John, it's a dramatic development, and historic development that we are all watching very closely, but there are so many unanswered questions.
KING: The biggest one is what exactly will be the next step of this relationship? You heard the president say Afghanistan has a long-term partner in the United States. You heard him say his goal here is to tell the American people that after a decade, a little more than a decade in Afghanistan he is winding down this war.
But we know, Wolf, this extends the partnership for another 10 years. Most combat troops the president says will come out in 2014 and the number we don't know and it's a big number of concern for the American people.
What are we talking about and what will the agreement be? As the president says he's ending the war and how many U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan for a second decade and it is the decade-long war that has most Americans exhausted, 72 percent of pollsters opposed this. BLITZER: David Frum is watching all of this, a former speechwriter for President Bush and now a CNN contributor. What do you think about all this, David?
DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think the president is going to tonight, try to give the American people who were very skeptical of this war a road map, a promise that this thing is going to wrap itself up.
I think one of the things on this anniversary of Bin Laden's killing for which we're all grateful that we need to bear in mind is Bin Laden was sheltered by important people in Pakistan.
That seems undeniable and the reason the United States has not been able to act more effectively on Pakistan is precisely this enormous commitment to Afghanistan has made us very dependent on Pakistan.
The longer the United States is in Afghanistan in such force, the more dependent the United States remains on Pakistan who's leader shielded.
BLITZER: Now, they'll shake hands and exchange these documents and a diplomatic procedure. Paul Begala is watching all of this unfold. There's a small group there at the presidential palace watching this historic document exchange hands. Paul, what do you think?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think David Frum makes a good point. I do not see this as political at all as John King points out that the war is very, very unpopular with the American people.
They are weary of this war. They don't even support the president's timeline of 2014. We'll see how many troops he expects to lead there in 2024. So the president, I don't think his critics have, and he's being political here because frankly the position he's taken in Afghanistan has been one that's not been overly popular with the American people.
The American people are a war-weary people right now and it will be difficult enough to leave troops there until 2014 and there will be a great deal of skepticism to find out how many troops will be there until 2024.
BLITZER: That's a long time and a lot of people will be wondering what's going on? I want everybody to stand by. We have a lot more coming up including the president of the United States and he'll be speaking to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. We'll have live coverage. Much more of the breaking news right after this.