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Gen. Dempsey's Interview on Starting Point With Soledad O'Brien (CNN)


By General Martin E. Dempsey
Washington, D.C. — CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Joining me now is General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Good morning, sir. Thank you for being here.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Good morning.

ROMANS: What would you like to say today to all of the families who have lost someone serving this country?

DEMPSEY: Thankfully very few families in America have had the experience of being handed a folded flag because of a loss of a loved one in combat and I want to make sure that we remind ourselves that today is about them.

This is a day where we memorialize our dead. I drive to work every day past Arlington Cemetery and there's 260,000 small American flags planted at each of these grave sites today. So I just want to make sure they know that we will never forget.

ROMANS: You know, look at Afghanistan, almost 2,000 U.S. troops have died in this war in particular. How do you define success there?

DEMPSEY: Well, success in Afghanistan will be when the Afghan Security Forces are capable of maintaining stability inside of their own country and that the central government of Afghanistan is able to provide governance. That's always been the definition of success both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

ROMANS: How close are we?

DEMPSEY: Well, Lisbon 2010, NATO took a decision, established objectives to be delivered by December of '14, and I think we're moving positively toward those objectives.

ROMANS: General John Allen, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan told CNN last week that 23,000 of 88,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan will be home by the end of this September. Do you know when the remaining 65,000 are going to leave?

DEMPSEY: We don't know yet and John Allen will be given the opportunity following this year's fighting season, which roughly runs between now and the early fall. He'll have to determine what the security situation is at that time before making his recommendation.

ROMANS: Senator John McCain was asked yesterday about the negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban over the release of that captured U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl. McCain says he believes the withdrawal scheduled poses a threat. I want you to listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: I think that the negotiations that have gone on have failed to a large degree because the Taliban believe that the United States is leaving anyway. And so if they just hang on, then they will be able to prevail, so they have not seriously negotiated. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Do you think those fears are valid, sir?

DEMPSEY: Well, I think they're somewhat valid because I think there are multiple faces of the Taliban. I think there are Taliban who are reconcilable. I think there are probably Taliban who will never reconcile.

I will say that a strategic partnership agreement that we entered into with Afghanistan should give pause to the Taliban that they just can't simply wait us out.

ROMANS: You know, the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta spoke yesterday to ABC News about the current state of the Taliban.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DEFENSE SECRETARY PANETTA: We still have a fight on our hands. We're still dealing with the Taliban although they've been weakened. They are resilient. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Still resilient. How prepared are Afghan Security Forces right now to deal with the threat of the Taliban?

DEMPSEY: Well, they are performing well. You know, we talk about our losses, but they're losing approximately 100 to 125 Afghan soldiers a month. So their losses actually exceed ours so they're out in the fight. They've got capability gaps, notably, air defense forces, logistics, some communications, but we think we can close most if not all of the gaps between now and the end of '14.

ROMANS: I want to ask you about Syria. There were 108 killed in a massacre in Syria on Friday. About half of them, sir, were under the age of 10.

Senator John McCain is also pushing the U.S. to take military action. We went into Libya. Is military action something we should consider for Syria?

DEMPSEY: Well, I think as you know my job is to provide the commander in chief with options and I think the military option should be considered.

And I think that, but my preference of course always as the senior military leader would be that the international community can find ways of increasing the pressure on Assad to do the right thing and step aside.

But of course, we always have to provide military options and they should be considered.

ROMANS: You know, a range of diplomatic forceful diplomacy until you get to those range of options military options, but when you see 108 people massacred like that.

And just such a deteriorating situation there, the U.S. has a moral authority doesn't it to help see this gets resolved?

DEMPSEY: Well, I'll let others speak for the moral authority. My moral authority is to ensure that my forces remain ready, postured, and provide the options I described.

ROMANS: General Martin Dempsey, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman. Thank you so much and thank you for being here this Memorial Day.

DEMPSEY: Thank you.