|MILITARY CAMPAIGN UPDATE|
October 18, 2001
Following an update on the latest action in Afghanistan, three military analysts assess the campaign thus far and look ahead to the next phase of the war.
TOM BEARDEN: The U.S. continued its aerial bombardment in and around several urban areas today, including Taliban military facilities in Kabul. Bombs also fell in Kandahar, the Taliban headquarters city, and Jalalabad, the site of several guerrilla training camps. For the first time in the campaign yesterday, the U.S. deployed land-based fighter bombers, Air Force F15-E's. They flew out of bases in the Persian Gulf. The same aircraft have been patrolling the no-fly zones over Iraq.
The military is also reportedly deploying two other specialized aircraft over Afghanistan. One is the RQ-1 predator, an unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicle, a new version that carries tank-destroying missiles. This is its combat debut. The other is the powerful AC-130, a four-engine gunship capable of firing 1,800 armor-piercing rounds per minute. It's designed to pave the way for and accompany Special Forces on the ground. At the Pentagon today, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked about the importance of Special Forces in this conflict.
DONALD RUMSFELD: The only defense against terrorism is offense. You have to simply take the battle to them, because everything, every advantage accrues to the attacker in the case of a terrorist. The choice of when to do it, the choice of what instruments to use and the choice of where to do it, all of those things are advantages of the attacker. That means that we simply must go and find them. How do you do that? You don't do it with conventional capabilities; you do it with unconventional capabilities.
TOM BEARDEN: Over the past week, there have been increasing reports from Afghanistan of civilian casualties. In Kabul today, eyewitnesses reportedly said the bombing killed five civilians overnight. The Taliban says the campaign has resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties.
DONALD RUMSFELD: The numbers the Taliban has been floating out in the media are, we are certain, false in terms of large numbers like that.
TOM BEARDEN: Rumsfeld said civilian casualties can occur in three ways.
DONALD RUMSFELD: One is from the air, which would be coalition forces; another is from the ground, the ground fire, AAA and ground missiles that are going up and have to come down, and may or may not be well directed; and the third is there are people fighting on the ground. There are opposition forces that are competing against al-Qaida and Taliban. So an assumption that a particular event was the result of one of those three, without very good information, it seems to me, is somewhat speculative.
TOM BEARDEN: On the ground, in Northern Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance reportedly battled back and forth with the Taliban over the strategic crossroads city of Mazar-e Sharif.
|A change in targets|
MARGARET WARNER: For an assessment of the military campaign, now in its 12th day, we turn to General Merrill McPeak. He was Air Force chief of staff during the Gulf War, he's now chairman of ECC International Corporation, which produces training and simulation equipment; Michael Vickers, a former Army Green Beret and CIA Officer with experience in the region. He's now director of strategic studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a non-partisan defense policy think tank; and military analyst John Pike. He's founder and director of globalsecurity.org, a nonpartisan research group focusing on emerging security threats.
Welcome to you all. General McPeak, starting with you, the targets certainly seem to have changed since the very early days when air defenses were the primary targets. What's your view of what the focus is now and how that fits into the strategy in Afghanistan?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Well, Margaret, there really are a couple of levels that you need to look at there for military objectives. At the foxhole level, sort of the tactical level, we're trying to bring back bin Laden, either dead or alive, as the president said. We haven't had much success there, and you have to put it into context. Afghanistan is almost exactly the same size as Texas. If you believe the population estimates, there are even more people than in Texas. And if it took us a couple of weeks to find somebody in Texas, it wouldn't surprise us.
So the key here is intelligence. We need to get people in on the ground, eyeballs on the ground to find him, to run him down. And we really have only just started on that problem. So we haven't made much progress on the tactical level to find and bring home bin Laden.
It's a lot easier problem on what you might describe as the operational level. There, our objective is to get the Taliban to turn over bin Laden, or if they won't do that, replace them with a government that will cooperate in that way. And there we've made pretty good progress. As you said, we've taken out for the most part, the fixed targets that are relatively easy, the air defenses, government buildings, airports and so forth. And we're even making some progress on the moving targets, the Taliban forces in the field and so forth.
So here we are making good progress, and quite frankly, the end is not in doubt. This is like driving a nail into a board. We may hit the nail, we may miss it, but the nail's going in the board. So the Taliban's days are numbered, unless they cooperate by giving up bin Laden.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, John Pike, pick up on that, help us analyze what's been going on in the last few days and I think we're going to put up a map so people can follow what you're saying in terms of where the bombing in particular is going on right now.
JOHN PIKE: Well, the major strikes over the last week or so have been in and around the city of Kandahar, which is in the southern part of Afghanistan. This is basically the place of origin of the Taliban. They've been striking a lot of Taliban garrisons around their headquarters. You've also seen a number of strikes of Taliban facilities at Kabul, the capital city, up to the north, the largest population center. Early on, you were seeing a number of strikes at Jalalabad, which is closer to Pakistan, just southeast of Kabul.
MARGARET WARNER: And that's where there are a lot of al-Qaida camps?
JOHN PIKE: That's where a lot of the terrorist training camps, were and it looks like they've hit most of those. What's interesting what you have not been seeing. There were a few initial air strikes over to the west, cities like Herat, where they struck some air defense, some air bases. Those have not been struck recently. There's a lot of resistance, Shi'ite resistance, where you could foresee the Taliban being overthrown over there. Those areas have not been struck. Up to the north where the Northern Alliance is directly engaged, not struck. You have seen some bombing up by Mazar-e-Sharif. I think that has as much to do with cleaning out that area so American helicopters coming in from Afghanistan would not have to fly straight through a Taliban stronghold.
|Diminishing Taliban strongholds|
MARGARET WARNER: So all this is about weakening the Taliban, Mike Vickers. Is it possible...what's your assessment of how successful it is? Is it possible to know?
MICHAEL VICKERS: Well, the Taliban have been diminished. The question is: will they lose their strongholds in the south, in Kandahar and to the east in Jalalabad? We've been waiting for this big Pashtun uprising in the South to go with the north and the west. As John just alluded to, the fall of Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif is really just a matter of time, and those Taliban troops living north of Kabul are living on borrowed time. But that's only part of the country. The real action will be in the south and the east, and that's anyone's guess this point. It's still early in the campaign as General McPeak has said.
MARGARET WARNER: And do you see the bombing campaign aimed at that?
MICHAEL VICKERS: Well, yes, I think Kandahar has really been pounded a lot recently. And the focus has not only increased in intensity. We're flying about four times the number of sorties or so in the last three days than we have in the first week and we're also shifting toward these troop concentrations.
MARGARET WARNER: General McPeak, there have been complaints or assertions of much higher civilian casualties this week than last week, and as we heard, certainly the Pentagon disputes some of those. But would it surprise you that there might be more civilian and other unintended casualties this week? And if so, why?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Well, it's not surprising. We really have two classes of targets here. We're circling back on some of the fixed installations and targets that need to be resurfaced. In other words, our reconnaissance has showed we didn't get the levels of damage we want to get. But to a greater and greater extent, we're shifting the focus to moving targets, troops in the field that are either on the move or can move. And there it's pretty easy to confuse those with, say, just refugees out on the highway.
So it wouldn't be a surprise if we saw a somewhat increased level of collateral damage. It's not going to be a perfect war. A perfect war would be we drop one bomb and hit bin Laden and have no collateral damage. But it's metaphysically difficult to fight even a good war, let alone a perfect, so that's where we are.
|Clearing a path for Special Ops|
MARGARET WARNER: John Pike, go back now to another stated...I don't know...probably a tactic that Don Rumsfeld talks about all the time, which is to help create a situation in which the local opposition forces can move on the Taliban. He keeps saying that, as he did today, that yet the Northern Alliance commanders are complaining, as we just heard on the tape, that the U.S. is holding back. Is the U.S. holding back?
JOHN PIKE: I think there are several things that are going on here. One of the stated objectives is to create the conditions for American special operations to be able to be conducted in Afghanistan. It looks to me like the initial focus is basically clearing the way for U.S. Special Operations. They've moved in an additional aircraft carrier, now they're using land-based Air Force aircraft, the Kitty Hawk loaded up with helicopters for Special Operations.
When you look at the targets that are being struck, it looks like the initial goal is simply to allow American helicopters to go in at night without worrying about ambushed by the Taliban. Later on, you could see air strikes in some of these other areas that they haven't been hitting that could start to redraw the political map of Afghanistan. But the targets that they're hitting thus far don't look like they're intended to support these local rebellions anytime soon. That could change, though.
MARGARET WARNER: So you think that the Special Ops phase would come before that, before they tried to clear the way for all these groups to come on?
JOHN PIKE: The Special Operations is something that's basically within the control of the American military. Creating a successor regime to the Taliban is something that's obviously not in America's control and obviously is moving on a much slower train.
MARGARET WARNER: That they'd just as soon have down the road. Pick up on that, Mike Vickers, about Special Ops. Reporters keep going at Don Rumsfeld, "Do you already have them on the ground? When are they going to go on the ground?" What's your sense of that?
MICHAEL VICKERS: Well, one of the goals of the air campaign right now is to get the Taliban and al-Qaida leadership to move and, therefore, become more vulnerable to air strikes, but also, to keep them off balance, as Secretary Rumsfeld has said, and that's really a potential role for Special Forces, to route them out where they are and potentially attack them on the ground. We have to see if we move to that phase, but as John just alluded to, that function may also be performed by the opposition forces, and the problem right now is the political strategy is lagging the military strategy.
MARGARET WARNER: But do you think, for instance... I mean there are a lot of questions about Don Rumsfeld, again, in his briefs frequently talks about the kind of intelligence is that U.S. Is getting about potential targets on the ground and that's one reason there are more targets and they're able to go back and go to different targets. Is it possible, do you think that there are already Special Forces on the ground helping to pinpoint these targets? Or do you think it's all coming from the local forces?
MICHAEL VICKERS: Well, I think it could be a combination. One of the early roles that Special Forces play in a conflict is what's called special reconnaissance, or reconnaissance behind enemy lines. You go in for a short period, observe things and then come out. And they may very well be doing some of that. There also would most likely be liaison work with some of the opposition groups, particularly in the north, to set conditions, again, for ground action later.
MARGARET WARNER: But then, back to you, John Pike, again, when we're talking about Special Ops, I mean what is that going to look like? Is that a lot of people? Is that just a few?
JOHN PIKE: No, it's not going to look like anything. That's the part of the war -
MARGARET WARNER: We're not going to see it.
JOHN PIKE: That's the part of the war that's that will not be televised. And I think it's difficult to imagine that the U.S. doesn't already have Special Operations Forces on the ground. If you look at all of the reporters that have managed to get into Afghanistan, it's hard to imagine that the Army and other units are not there already. Part of what they're going to be doing is going to be intelligence collection, I think by trying to capture for interrogation, al-Qaida recruits Taliban people, because that's going to be your best way of getting information about how al-Qaida is organized, about how the Taliban is organized and basically try to work their way up the food chain, not simply by killing all of the al-Qaida, but by capturing them, so that you can plan the next operation. I think you're beginning to see some hints of that already in what the Secretary of Defense said today.
|Air support for Special Ops|
MARGARET WARNER: General McPeak, pick up on that in terms of what kind of air support works with Special Ops. John Pike said earlier he thought one of these new aircraft that's been brought in, this AC-130, is designed to really help Special Ops. How does that work?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Well, that's true. The AC-130 gunship is part of the Special Operations Force. It's not part of the conventional U.S. Air Force. It works with the SOF all the time, with the Green Berets, with the Navy Seals. They know how to do that very well. They really...
MARGARET WARNER: What does it do, though? What does it do?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Well, they're flying artillery, Margaret. They have 105-millimeter Howitzer cannons out one door and a couple of other smaller caliber guns, very accurate. The avionics, quite advanced here. They have very good first-shot accuracies against any kind of point target on the ground. And so they know how to support Special Forces, and it wouldn't be surprising to see them in there now, I agree with John Pike, probably we have forces on the ground already, and the AC-130 would be the close-air support.
MARGARET WARNER: And Mike Vickers, do you think...people keep using the terms almost interchangeably Special Ops and ground troops, but that's very different, isn't it? I mean do you think we're going to see U.S. ground troops in the way we've gotten used to this thinking of U.S. Ground troops?
MICHAEL VICKERS: No, I don't think so. I think the forces that will perform the role of ground troops will actually be Afghan, if the political strategy works. And it needs to work not only in the north and west, but also in the south and east and in the Pashtun areas of the Taliban stronghold. But that would be the preferred mode, to use Special Forces, air power and Afghan opposition.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, gentlemen, all three, thank you very much.