|OPERATION: END GAME|
December 18, 2001
After a background report, Margaret Warner and military experts provide an analysis of the final, and most dangerous, phase of the war in Afghanistan.
MARGARET WARNER: For more on this next phase of the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan and what it will take, we turn to Ali Jalali, a former Afghan army colonel who fought against the Soviets in the 1980s. He co-authored a book about Mujahaddin tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War, and is now with the Voice of America in Washington. Michael Vickers, a former CIA and Special Forces officer with experience in the region; he's now with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent policy research group. And, retired General Richard Neal, former assistant Marine Corps commandant and former deputy chief of the U.S. Central Command. Centcom is running the campaign in Afghanistan.
Welcome to you all.
Mike Vickers, today we're told no U.S. bombs were actually dropped on Afghanistan but U.S. forces were hunting caves. No doubt this is a new phase, a very new phase.
MICHAEL VICKERS: Well, that's right. The primary focus of this phase is to try to capture or kill or, at least ascertain, the disposition of the al-Qaida senior leadership and the Taliban senior leadership as well as the remnants of the al-Qaida and Taliban forces who escaped either through negotiation or withdrawal.
|New strategy, new risks|
MARGARET WARNER: But it will take a very different use of U.S. Forces, will it not?
MICHAEL VICKERS: It will. Mostly it will involve cooperation with Afghan formerly opposition forces soon-to-be forces of the interim government and then our Special Forces and then surveillance aircraft but much less use of air power -- air power more on a standby or supporting role than a bombing role.
MARGARET WARNER: And Secretary Rumsfeld today called it tough-- how did he put it? -- tough, dirty hard work.
Do you think this will be a more dangerous phase in terms of at least potential loss life on the U.S. side?
MICHAEL VICKERS: Well, it could be. Our casualties have been fairly minimal so far. But any time you're involved in search operations or going cave to cave, there could be substantial risk because it may not have the element of surprise.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Jalali, how difficult do you think this phase is going to be?
ALI JALALI: Well, when the enemy is not visible, the dangers expected from every direction, from every corner, that's what makes that situation dangerous.
However, the key elements in countering that kind of situation is security and intelligence. Security provides the time required for the -- taking measures against a threat and also favorable conditions to counter that threat. Intelligence provides information about the enemy and then to, on the basis of the information one can launch an offensive action against it, so security and intelligence-- that is protection and offensive action.
MARGARET WARNER: General Neal, give us your sense of this new phase.Going into Afghanistan --is it more dangerous and also, give us your view though of whether the U.S. has any choice but to stick in Afghanistan until Mullah Omar and bin Laden are found.
GEN. RICHARD NEAL: Well I think it's a real dangerous phase as the other speakers have mentioned. The biggest problem I see is you have to be patient in these types of operations.
The damage caused by the bombs and then just the nature of the terrain itself and the environment tells me, and I think probably tells General Franks, that this is going to be a slow, laborious process, very dangerous, as mentioned by the other speakers, because of mines, because of the damage done by the bombs, and then by the al-Qaida that are remaining that may be up there hiding out hoping that they'll be bypassed.
MARGARET WARNER: And in terms of whether we have to do this, let me ask it the other way: If, let's say, both bin Laden and Mullah Omar had been already captured, would the imperative be as strong for the United States to continue this?
GEN. RICHARD NEAL: From my vantage point, I believe it still is strong.
I think we want to rid Afghanistan of the al-Qaida network to the best of our ability. I think the Afghan fighters did a tremendous job ably assisted by our air forces.
Now I think probably a lot of them think the job may be wrapped up, but, of course, from the U.S. vantage point and other coalition members there's still a long way to go to rout out the al-Qaida and also to take -- hopefully capture some of these folks to break out the cells that are around the world.
|Plans to hunt Osama bin Laden|
MARGARET WARNER: All right, let's turn first to the hunt for bin Laden and the al-Qaida, Mr. Jalali, beginning with you, you heard the talk about searching cave by cave, that there are hundreds of caves. What do you think it's going to take?
ALI JALALI: Well, patience, I believe.
Also the area where one can expect that the remnants of al-Qaida will still be holed up should be isolated. The supply routes should be cut off.
And then, patience finally will actually pay off and instead of going from one cave to another, only to give that opportunity to the cave dwellers to go to other areas.
I think the areas should be cordoned, and then if there is offensive action needed, then that should be launched when the area is sealed off.
MARGARET WARNER: But, Mike Vickers, the Pentagon is talking about a more, even more active role going into a lot of these caves. Tell us what's involved in doing that.
For instance, do they have to assume that every cave that hasn't been sealed shut might still harbor al-Qaida operatives?
MICHAEL VICKERS: Well, we'll still be in the cave business for some time. If we want to, if we have reason to believe that bin Laden, for example, or other al-Qaida or Taliban leadership has been killed by our air strikes, at some point we may want to remove some of the debris from caves that have been struck by bombs. Now, that's more of an engineering operation, but there still could be a security problem.
The Afghan forces, our coalition partners, may actually search the wide area and do the cordon, sort of the strategic operational approach that Colonel Jalali talked about.
But for very, very senior or al-Qaida or Taliban leaders, bin Laden, for example, or Mullah Omar, we may want to capture him. And that may require a more surgical approach.
We've done some cave operations already using snipers and then very highly trained special operations troops that are trained in hostage rescue that can go into these caves, using special equipment, and it's much like building clearing in a hostage rescue.
They go from, in this case, cave cavern to cave cavern and use special weapons that... bullets that don't ricochet off and in very small teams. And they can do this quite successfully.
|Cooperating with the Pakistani military|
MARGARET WARNER: Then of course, General Neal, the other possibility, strong possibility, is that bin Laden has already escaped to Pakistan.
Does the U.S. have to basically rely on the Pakistanis to apprehend him or what role can the U.S. Military take? I noticed today that Secretary Rumsfeld did not want to answer the question about whether U.S. Forces were already on the ground in Pakistan.
GEN. RICHARD NEAL: Well, I'm sure what we're going to do, Margaret, is share intelligence with the Pakistanis as much as possible.
Also we'll bring to bear any resources that may complement their forces. I'm sure President Musharraf wants to, would like to do it himself using his own forces, but he's also intelligent enough to probably ask us for some assistance particularly in the way of intelligence. And I think really that's what's going to happen in the cave business.
I think we're going to try and get as much intelligence out of those that we have captured in talking to folks that may have some information as to folks that might have seen them exit out of the area and then using our technology to our best advantage in those specially trained forces that Mike talked about.
I think you take all of those three ingredients and we might be very effective in searching these caves and trying to find these folks.
MARGARET WARNER: But, Colonel Jalali, if in fact it's the Pakistan scenario,don't both al-Qaida and Taliban have many sympathizers in Pakistan? I mean how realistic is it for the U.S. to think that if they fled to Pakistan that the U.S. will actually get them?
ALI JALALI: I think people with a high profile like Osama bin Laden cannot stay in hiding for a long time.
Many other al-Qaida members might actually get support from sympathizers in Pakistan, and among the tribal, in the tribal areas and among the extremists parties in Pakistan. Therefore, that is what one has to worry about.
I think the Pakistani government needs a lot support from the coalition forces and the United States to counter the, first of all, the emergence of al-Qaida in Pakistan or similar organizations, anti-western, anti-American organizations in Pakistan.
But I think Pakistan needs assistance from the United States and the international community.
|Routing out the Taliban|
MARGARET WARNER: General Neal, the other task of course is trying to find Mullah Omar and wrap up a lot of the Taliban.
The belief is a lot of the Taliban leadership just -- whether it was part of a deal or whatever -- just has melted away into the population.
How important is it to rout out all the Taliban, and what are going to be the special challenges there?
GEN. RICHARD NEAL: I think it's really important because what we want to do is help this newly established government when it takes place in the next week or so, help them get on the right foot towards reestablishing a fully constituted government in Afghanistan.
The humanitarian relief effort, the rebuilding of infrastructure has been destroyed or non-existant over the last ten years, I think that's critically important.
So going after these Taliban that may have blended into the community, and, yes, this is going to make the task much more difficult, I think it's critically important that we aid and assist the Afghans in bringing a sense of stability and structure to the countryside.
MARGARET WARNER: Mike Vickers, how does the U.S. though get around the problem and how much of a problem is it that many of our Afghan allies are now saying as far as they're concerned their fight is over -- they've got other fish to fry now?
MICHAEL VICKERS: Well, this new phase also has, as a key objective, shoring up the new interim government, as General Neal mentioned, and part of that is really to try to create a professional Afghan force and to create the incentives to do that.
That's really government-to-government security cooperation that we'll be entering into it.
And of course they want to stabilize their country and make the aid flows and the reconstruction more feasible so they have fairly good incentive to do this.
MARGARET WARNER: So you're saying you think the United States still would have leverage to get their assistance in, our objectives-- tracking down the Taliban or al-Qaida -- in return for all this?
MICHAEL VICKERS: I think so both in the area of security cooperation assistance we can give but also in the reconstruction that Afghanistan very badly needs.
MARGARET WARNER: And Colonel Jalali, how do you see it?
ALI JALALI: Well, I agree with Mike. I think one has to rely mostly on the new interim government and support the interim government to get the capacity to deal with the situation, the security situation in the country.
Or maybe as a divergence of interest locally but at the central government level, I think there is convergence of interests between the United States and the Afghan government.
MARGARET WARNER: But when you say "divergence of interest locally," are you referring to the fact that there are still Taliban sympathizers and maybe even among local commanders?
ALI JALALI: Maybe that's one reason, but on the other hand the local militias, local warlords, they do not have the capacity to go after, you know, the Taliban everywhere.
So therefore they probably will think about their own small area but the interim government has to think about the entire country.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you all three very much. We have to leave it there.