OTR Interviews

Behind the United States' secret release of Taliban fighters

Is America's bid to strengthen its hand in peace talks doomed to fail?

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," May 7, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: What do you think of this? For the last 10 years we have been trying to capture and kill the Taliban. So why are they setting alleged terrorists free? A new report shows the United States is secretly releasing high level Taliban fighters from a military prison in Afghanistan. Major General Bob Scales joins us. Nice to see you, general. So tell me, why are we releasing these people?

BOB SCALES, U.S. ARMY MAJOR GENERAL (RET.): First of all, it's not done very often. It's done by command authority. It's not capricious. But when you are fighting the Taliban, which is a small number of dedicated terrorists, there is great number of hangers-on. These are elders and province chiefs. And every once in a while it's the appropriate thing to do to clear a road, to open up a province, to lessen tension in a province to let a fighter in a prison go.

VAN SUSTEREN: These are being described as high level insurgents. I suppose that could be in the translation. Is it possible these are high level people with the command on the ground?

SCALES: I would say they are high level people in the province. They are not Al Qaeda, for instance, and not hardcore Taliban. They are probably hangers on, guys that have committed -- taken Americans under fire because they are affiliated with the Taliban. Very few of them are key and essential targets.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are they murderers? Have they killed our soldiers?

SCALES: Could be, I don't know.

VAN SUSTEREN: If you killed someone on streets you go to prison for life. I realize war is different.

SCALES: You have to think of the context of the local commander. If a lieutenant colonel wants to open a road and --

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you mean by open the road?

SCALES: Every time he goes down this road he gets ambushed and he is getting tired of it. So he goes to the village chief and he says you are in charge of the road. It's your territory. I want you to back off. He says, OK, I'll do it, but you have to let Mohammed go. It's toss-up. You get more Americans killed by continuing to be ambushed on the road, or do you accede to the needs of the tribal chief and let a prisoner go? It's a command decision, oftentimes it's a tough decision, but this is an unusual war, and sometimes you have to make compromises on the ground.

VAN SUSTEREN: Apparently the exchange is a promise you don't commit violence again, which is like, they got their fingers crossed behind their backs. That's the first thought I have.

SCALES: It's interesting. I asked someone that today. They said, you know what, as a rule there is a code of honor within these tribes. If the tribal chief says I gave my word to the Americans if you're released you won't go back to being a terrorists, overwhelming they don't necessary do what we want them to do, but they do what the tribal chief wants them to do. It's very strange.

VAN SUSTEREN: The Taliban is horrible to women, stoning them to death, burying them up to their neck and stoning them. And they promise not to kill our troops. But we promised -- I was in the room when a promise was made by the secretary of state we weren't going to abandon these women. So there is that element of it.

SCALES: As you know, I was in Afghanistan a while ago. I spent 16 days there out in the bush and I saw one female. But this has been going on for thousands of years.

VAN SUSTEREN: We promised them. Is this different?

SCALES: It's unfortunate we promised. When you start reducing forces, when we get to 2013, 2014, it's entirely possible that the old tribal habits will come back and great progress that we've made in getting young women educated and getting jobs, that may go by the wayside sadly.

VAN SUSTEREN: So we may be abandoning the women we promised to help?

SCALES: I wouldn't say abandoning them, but I would say as American force levels decline and as American presence declines you are going to see a lessening of emphasis inside of Afghanistan --

VAN SUSTEREN: So basically it's tough luck, women. We're out of here.

SCALES: Greta, when we are gone in 2014, Afghanistan has been around for 2,300 years. My fear they will go back to type.

VAN SUSTEREN: General, nice to see you.

SCALES: Thank you, Greta.