October 29, 2001
Assessing the success and failures of the U.S. military campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaida network. Background report
GWEN IFILL: For more on how the military campaign is going, we turn to three who have been watching closely.
General Merrill McPeak was Air Force chief of staff during the Gulf War. He is now chairman of ECC International Corporation, which produces training and simulation equipment. Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters, who retired from the Army in 1998, was emerging threats officer for army intelligence. He is the author of a number of books, including, Fighting for the Future: Will America Triumph? And William Hartung is a fellow at the New School University's World Policy Institute in New York. He's the author of the forthcoming book: The Changing Dynamics of U.S. Defense Policy and Budgeting in the Post-Cold War Era.
Welcome, everybody. Colonel Peters, how would you say the military campaign is going right now.
|A short outcome not expected|
LT. COL. RALPH PETERS: Well, I think the military campaign is going about as well as we could expect. This is a new kind of war. We didn't have a formula. You have to learn as you go. At present, we're still fighting the Bill Clinton approach to warfare. We'll evolve beyond it. We're finding out what air power can and cannot do in this area. And I think it will take time. I think we will definitely get the combinations right. It's really a matter of time, Gwen.
GWEN IFILL: What do you mean when you say the Bill Clinton approach to warfare?
LT. COL. RALPH PETERS: Well, still trying to do as much as you can from a distance, stand off, sterile, low casualties. We're a super power that's still thinking small. Our strength, our wealth, our raw power is our greatest advantage -- not our entertainment media, not our moral force even. Raw power. We have to use it and in time we will.
GWEN IFILL: General McPeak, are we thinking too small?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Well, Gwen, that's a nice question and well posed by Mr. Peters. Limited war is a concept we all talk about without thinking much about what we mean. You can limit wars in a lot of ways. You can limit it by geography, by objectives, by munitions used; but the hardest way to limit is in time. It's not impossible.
The blitzkrieg was an example of a style of fighting in which the attempt was made to limit... in the dimension of time. But it is... it's very hard to do. No one said at the start of the war on terrorism that we're going to do this for three weeks and then declare victory and walk away from it. Especially something like the war on terrorism is going to take a long time.
GWEN IFILL: Are we even where we were supposed to be after three weeks?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: It's hard to judge at this distance, if we are where we're supposed to be on every level, because we have objectives here at several different levels. Tactically we seek to bring bin Laden's head back in a paper bag, and we certainly haven't done that yet.
At the operational level, we seek to change the government, to replace the Taliban with someone. And there, maybe the hardest part is figuring out who we want to replace them with. But the progress there is certainly uneven. At the most important level, which is the strategic level, we seek to deter other countries from harboring terrorists.
There, we achieved our objectives immediately. It is now obvious that attacking the United States is not a no-cost maneuver. So, yet at some level we're exactly where we should be.
|Jumping the gun|
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Hartung, how do you assess if we're where we should be?
WILLIAM D. HARTUNG, World Policy Institute: Well I think we have the whole thing backwards. Secretary Rumsfeld said at the outset there are very few high value targets in Afghanistan.
The Taliban is probably stronger than they were three weeks ago just because of the sort of rally around the flag effect of large scale bombing. We're starting more and more to see civilian casualties which will weaken our position internationally, which will make it difficult for some members of the coalition particularly Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
And I haven't seen any great military benefit of all this. If we really want to do this properly, I think the military tactics should be part of the mix, not the primary mission. I think we have to look harder to international diplomacy to cutting off funds, to leaning on some of our allies like Saudi Arabia who haven't even dealt with some of their own citizens who are helping to foster some of this activity.
I think we have to do more on the home front. Six weeks after September 11 we still don't have any kind of upgrade of our airport security system worth the name.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Hartung, how do you respond to what General McPeak said that critics like you are jumping the gun -- that this wasn't supposed to happen in three weeks.
WILLIAM D. HARTUNG: It depends on which day you hear the administration. It wasn't so long ago they said they thought they could wrap this up before Ramadan meaning they would have some sort of - you know, bin Laden captured, the Taliban falling, large scale defections.
The administration has sort of been speaking out of both sides of its mouth on this -- optimism on some days. Other days they're talking about, you know, a yearlong or years-long effort. So I think part of what we're seeing is that they're really kind of to a large degree making this up as they go along. It's a fine line between tactical flexibility and winging it. I think in some cases they've crossed that line.
GWEN IFILL: Colonel Peters I see you shaking your head. I will allow you to respond. I'm curious about the point about the degree to which civilian casualties begin to undermine the effort.
LT. COL. RALPH PETERS: I think that's a red herring. Gwen, first of all, cowardice is never a good strategy. 5,000 Americans died on September 11th. The Taliban can call me back when the civilian casualties approach 5,000 or for that matter 50,000. We are dealing not with a theoretical construct. We are dealing with evil.
Now that word is thrown around a lot but there is evil in the world. We are dealing with enemies who, if they could, would be glad to kill all of us. Americans still don't understand the depth of hatred in the world. And this frankly is a kill them or they kill us. That is not an exaggeration.
As far as the Taliban being stronger than it was three weeks ago, I think that's just plain wrong. We're deconstructing their ability to wage 20th century war. We'll be able to take them back to the 19th century but they will still have strength of will. Part of the problem is the hard-core killers, the Arab religious mercenaries, bin Laden's foreign legion and the hard-core terrorists have no place else to go. They will fight to the end.
Their backs are against the wall but casualties, we just have to obviously never be wanton in killing them. But Secretary Rumsfeld was absolutely right: You can't wage sterile warfare. And for the greater good of not only the United States, not only the west but humanity, we must carry this campaign not over three weeks but over three years and, if necessary, 30.
|A low level effort|
GWEN IFILL: General McPeak, as an Air Force man, what do you think of the air campaign so far and do you think it inevitably has to move to something else?
GEN. MERRILL McPEAK: I don't think there's any inevitability about doing anything beyond what we're doing. It's really kind of a low level of effort, low sorties rate. We haven't had any losses, any combat losses that I know about. So there's no reason to think we can't continue this indefinitely.
But remember, Gwen, I recall during our last air campaign into Kosovo, which lasted what? Just over a couple months-- that it was routinely on this program denounced as a failure from about day three on. Now we've got Milosevic in The Hague facing a court. So just because we don't achieve a knockout in the first few seconds of round one doesn't mean that we have to throw up our hands and declare failure.
GWEN IFILL: Should the air war continue even during Ramadan?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Well, I think... Our style of fighting should require that we keep more or less constant pressure on the opposition. Now, we've tried to be as circumspect as possible. We have had some civilian casualties. A lot of bad things happen in war. That's the nature of the beast. But my view is we ought to continue to keep constant 24- hour seven day a week pressure on these guys.
WILLIAM D. HARTUNG: I'd like to respond to that.
GWEN IFILL: Certainly, Mr. Hartung.
WILLIAM D. HARTUNG: It seems to me what Mr. Peters said earlier about if there's 5,000, if there's 50,000 civilian casualties basically is lowering us to the level of the Taliban and al-Qaida. The point is, we have to do what's most effective. If I thought bombing Afghanistan was the most effective way to disrupt the network of al-Qaida, I would say fine.
But the fact of the matter is the more we step up the bombing, the more we use cluster bombs, the more we take actions that are supposed to get at the Taliban, the al-Qaida networks, the more we will be killing civilians. That will be a recruiting poster for bin Laden and groups like his in Saudi Arabia, in Egypt, in Pakistan, and it's not going to achieve our aim.
So it's not a question of who's a coward and who is not. It's a question of fighting this in a smart way. Terrorism cannot be solved simply by military means. If you have a needle in a haystack and you bomb the haystack, you haven't accomplished anything. I think we need a much more subtle strategy, when military force is used and we have clear intelligence and we can take out parts of this network -- not bombard the country and hope for the best.
GWEN IFILL: Do we have, Colonel Peters, do we have that intelligence right now?
LT. COL. RALPH PETERS: We have an intelligence system that is still structured for the Cold War. Our intelligence system has to evolve as the military has to revolve, as the government has to evolve. The greatest recruiting poster or the greatest recruiting tool for the Taliban, for al-Qaida would be our failure.
We must succeed. Now again, no one wants judicious or rather wanton killing of civilians. We must always be judicious. But this is a war. What I hear from Mr. Hartung is the wisdom of the campus where life is very safe and clean and you can have your debates in the faculty lounge. This is real life. Americans have died and more will die.
|The arrogance of Washington|
GWEN IFILL: Let me ask you a question about that. One of the things when we talk about intelligence, when you talk about what happens next is what happens with a post- Taliban government. Now, the conversation has shifted from that because we're not so certain that the Taliban is going anywhere for a while. But with the death of Abdul Haq and the assassination of Ahmed Masood earlier, doesn't that make it a much tougher row to hoe to do what we said he went in there to do?
LT. COL. RALPH PETERS: What we went in there to do was to get bin Laden, Omar, the Taliban, al-Qaida. We have to focus on that. What I do worry about is the arrogance of Washington and the west as well in imagining that we can design a better government for Afghanistan. We don't have the nuanced knowledge or the subtlety.
We don't understand that area of the world. They've got to design their own government. What we need to do is focus on destroying those men and organizations that have killed Americans and want to kill Americans. The rest can come later.
GWEN IFILL: I want to get back to General McPeak in a moment. But first, Mr. Hartung, I want to give you a chance to respond to the ivory tower allegation.
WILLIAM D. HARTUNG: Well, I think if we polled the faculty at most American universities, they would be closer to Mr. Peters' view than mine. The point is what's the most effective approach. And, again, as was mentioned, we don't have a political strategy for Afghanistan. We don't want the Northern Alliance running that country. We don't want the king who hasn't been there in 27 years running the country.
So, you know, if we basically just bomb a country, create chaos, it's going to be just as good an environment for terrorism as it was before. We're not going to have to solve anything. If anything, we should be going back to the United Nations perhaps during a bombing pause and getting more specific authorization for what we're doing over there so it's clear this is a very special case. They killed thousands of civilians. That government deserves to be taken out of power but we have to do it in an effective way and this campaign has not been effective.
GWEN IFILL: I'm going to let General McPeak respond to that briefly. What about the idea of a bombing pause?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Look, Gwen, this operation is going about as you might expect. It's been limited in many ways and especially in time because it's only gone on for three weeks. I do agree that the military dimension's probably the least difficult. The harder jobs are the political and diplomatic jobs, the tasks that have to be done on those fronts. But from a military standpoint, this is going about as you should expect.
GWEN IFILL: Gentlemen, thank you all very much.