MARGARET WARNER: For more on what it will take to find bin Laden, we turn to: John Shroder, a geology and geography professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. In the mid '70s, he directed the National Atlas Project of Afghanistan, which created detailed maps of the country; Retired Colonel Stanley Florer, a former Army Special Forces officer. He retired last year as head of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He's now with the defense consulting firm Whitney, Bradley and Brown.
John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that focuses on emerging security threats. And Barnett Rubin, Director of Studies at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University; he has written widely on Afghanistan, and is advising U.N. and U.S. officials on creating a new post-Taliban government. Welcome, gentlemen.
Let's first look at some of the assumptions the Pentagon seems to be operating under. John Pike, beginning with you, they are, one, believe and say they believe that Osama bin Laden is still in Afghanistan, has not fled and secondly, that he's probably in that part of the country mostly in the south east that... If the Taliban doesn't control it, at least the opposition doesn't....
JOHN PIKE: The Northern Alliance hasn't moved into that area.
MARGARET WARNER: Or any other opposition forces.
JOHN PIKE: Right.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think those are valid assumptions?
JOHN PIKE: Well, those seem to be useful operating assumptions because they give you some idea of where to focus your effort although I think the Pentagon today went out of its way to acknowledge the possibility that he is out of the country or that rather than being -- hiding out in the countryside that maybe he still is in a town. But obviously they have to look somewhere.
I think that the best choices, the areas that they're focusing on: southeastern Afghanistan-a traditional Taliban stronghold-probably out in the country, possibly in some small village, possibly in a camp used during the Afghan war, possibly in any of the hundreds and hundreds of tunnels that were dug by the resistance, including bin Laden, back in the 1980s.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Professor Shroder, turning to you. About these caves and tunnels, we hear the Pentagon talking about them all the time. First of all, describe them for us and I gather there are different types in different parts of the country.
JOHN FORD SHRODER, JR.: Right. There are basically two kinds of caves and tunnels in Afghanistan: The natural ones that are mainly in limestone bedrock. Those are formed by natural underground water processes.
And then there's the human-built kind, and there are two kinds of those. The Karez are the underground tunnels that the Afghans have been digging for several thousand years, actually, where they dig straight down into a gravel bed until they hit groundwater -- underground water - and then they bring the water out horizontally to a place lower down in the valley someplace. So those are called Karez and they're very ancient. And they were used effectively by the Afghan resistance and Mujahadin during the war with the Soviet Union.
But then there's the bunkers, which are especially built by bin Laden and al-Qaida with all their money and all their engineering skills, the bunkers, some of them are in very strong shape. They're underneath hundreds to thousands of feet of bedrock that's crystal and very tough stuff. A bunker buster won't go through that. Some of them resemble our NORAD facilities, which are A-bomb proof underneath Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado for example. So these bunkers have basically whatever they need inside them to survive whatever they think is coming. They're skillful engineers.
MARGARET WARNER: Has bin Laden used all three types of caves at least at some point, or is that known?
JOHN FORD SHRODER, JR.: I don't know that for sure. I know he's built bunkers, that he's built at least two sets of them, and if he's built two, why not more than that? I have no information about whether he's used the natural caves or the Karez, although certainly Taliban fighters... Well, pre-Taliban the Afghan Mujahadin certainly used the Karez fairly effectively against the Soviet Union. So presumably Taliban would be doing the same thing now.
MARGARET WARNER: And where are these...how many of these bunkers do you believe there are and where are they?
JOHN FORD SHRODER, JR.: Well, I know of two. But I can't tell you exactly where they are, although I know exact latitude-longitude coordinates. But one of them is near Jalalabad and another one is somewhere near Kandahar. That's about all I'm supposed to tell you.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And tell us a little bit more about how self-sufficient could bin Laden and his men be inside a bunker like this?
JOHN FORD SHRODER, JR.: Well, if you build a big enough bunker with sophisticated engineering techniques, then you're going to have a place to sleep, a place to deposit wastes, a place to store your food, your munitions, your Toyota Hilux trucks which they love.
MARGARET WARNER: So they're that big? They're that big that they can drive a truck into them?
JOHN FORD SHRODER, JR.: Oh, for sure. Some of them are big enough to drive tanks into and tanks are not small vehicles.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. So now we turn to you, Colonel Florer. If you're U.S. Intelligence and the Pentagon and you're trying to find these caves... One, you're trying to find the caves and two, you're trying to find out if they're inhabited. How do you go about it?
COL. HAYWARD S. FLORER (RET.): Well, we have got to focus all of our intelligence capabilities, and they range from airplanes that fly with enormous capability, that can pick up where these folks might be through various means and they're very sophisticated and very good. We have very high-flying platforms. We have very low-flying platforms.
MARGARET WARNER: By platforms you mean planes or satellites?
COL. HAYWARD S. FLORER (RET.): Exactly. So all of these are available, and they have various ways of doing it. So not only obviously can we listen to transmissions if they're doing that sort of thing but there's ways of looking at thermal shadows that would come up or whatever. But all these airplanes have various capabilities, and they can fly at various locations through valleys or above valleys to get at different angles.
But honestly, I don't think that's the problem. The problem is integrating all of the great things that they find. I think the massive amount of information will be the problem.
MARGARET WARNER: And there's also going to be, they hope, human intelligence as well.
COL. HAYWARD S. FLORER (RET.): Precisely. And you have human intelligence that ranges everything from all the folks crossing the border into Pakistan and we probably have people who are trying to pick out the right folks to talk to or the Pakistanis who may or may not be helping us pick out the right ones to talk to. We have got our Special Forces guys who are on the ground, both in the southern part of Afghanistan now and in the northern part, who have great access to defecting Taliban or people who are coming out. So there's great capability there. But it's integrating all of that information to find something credible...
MARGARET WARNER: And in real time.
COL. HAYWARD S. FLORER (RET.): Precisely. That will be the problem.
MARGARET WARNER: More about the intelligence gathering, John Pike.
JOHN PIKE: You would start out with something as simple as, say, the maps that the Soviets developed in the 1980s. You could start out with commercial satellite imagery like the ICONUS imagery we've been working with over the last couple of months. Even with that medium resolution commercial imagery you can very clearly see the areas where they've dug tunnels and hillsides, because all the dirt that they're digging out has to go somewhere. Then with your higher resolution military intelligence satellites you're going to be able to get a much better view of each of those tunnel entrances.
That's the point that you could start and correlate it with the sort of intelligence that you could get from Pakistan or Russia about which units, which organizations have used this or that tunnel complex. At that point, unmanned air vehicles, predators would be able to stay over a particular area for 12, 24 hours at a time see if anybody is moving around, Special Operations aircraft using thermal sensors.
MARGARET WARNER: Describe thermal sensors.
JOHN PIKE: Well, this is basically where you're looking to see whether there is some heat coming out of the tunnel. That may be something as large as a campfire, after all it's getting to be winter. Even terrorists have to stay warm in the winter. It could be something simple as... as simple as the body heat from a number of people in a shallow dugout against a very cold background. These thermal sensors would be able to detect a little plume coming up from the tunnel mouth the same way you're going to have smoke coming out of a chimney.
I agree, the problem is correlating all of this information because some of your imagery intelligence is going to be very reliable. Some of your human intelligence is going to be extraordinarily unreliable.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Barnett Rubin, I go to you on the human intelligence and this $25 million reward. Do you think there are a lot of Afghanis now willing to talk and say what they know or what they've observed?
BARNETT RUBIN: I'm sure there are Afghans who have wanted to get rid of these radical Arabs who have been in their country since at least 1989. I think, however, that bin Laden and his followers know very well that they're not welcome among most of the Afghan population and they will try to conceal their whereabouts from them as well.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think though it's possible for bin Laden and his top lieutenants, and there are quite a number that are still being hunted, to live very long or sustain themselves very long even in one of these caves without the local population knowing, just from what you know about the countryside and the way people live?
BARNETT RUBIN: Well, the areas of the country that you had indicated on the map as the most likely areas for them to be located are actually areas where there is very little local population. Those are areas that are quite mountainous, quite dry, certainly you will have herders going up there at certain parts of the year.
But remember that Afghanistan is in many regions an extremely sparsely populated country.That means, of course, on the other hand, that in order to obtain water and supplies the people inside the caves will have to come out from time to time. So it's inevitable that, you know, their whereabouts will be given away one way or the other eventually but it could take some time.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, flip it around. Do you think there are also people, Afghanis, who would still protect him, would still shelter bin Laden and the al-Qaida, would help them get supplies they need without tipping anybody off?
BARNETT RUBIN: Well I think that there are Afghans who would do a lot of things for money because it's a desperately poor country. I assume that bin Laden doesn't go to the market himself to buy bread. So he'll have intermediaries, trusted intermediaries of one sort. But I think there are very, very few Afghans at this point, including very few Taliban, judging by the way the situation is developing in Kunduz and elsewhere, who really care to risk their lives or anything else for the sake of these Arabs inside their country whom they now appear to perceive more as invaders than as guests.
MARGARET WARNER: Professor Shroder, a quick question to you about the reward. I gather from a piece I read today in the newspaper that you've actually had some of these bounty hunters contact you because you're known as an expert on caves, Afghan caves, with what information about caves they suspect? Tell us about that.
JOHN FORD SHRODER, JR.: Well, somebody has been walking around in Afghanistan taking photographs of places where bin Laden, where they felt bin Laden was or had been, sending those photographs to somebody over the Web, over the Internet, and the pictures arrive in my office and surprise me.
So I think that there are bounty hunters out there, whether Pakistani or Afghan I do not know. But clearly these people are trying to get rid of bin Laden and trying to get him out of their country. So it was a real surprise to me to receive such pictures, and I knew they were real.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Colonel, we're almost out of time and I haven't left enough time to talk about once he's been located, then what? So then what? Let's say U.S. Intelligence thinks in real time, okay, we think he's in this cave. Then what happens?
COL. HAYWARD S. FLORER (RET.): Well, they'll do a really detailed analysis of that location. If they can get it with a bomb, they will, I think they will try to do that. But there's also a lot of political decision-making going on. Do they want to go after him and get him alive? If so, you don't want to bomb it. You want to go in and get him.
In that case, what's the risk analysis? Do we want to send U.S. forces in there with all the risk that it takes with one of these very probably highly defended and certainly booby-trapped locations. Would we ask some of the reward people, like you're talking about, if they want to get the reward, fine, guys go get him and just bring him out. That is possible.
MARGARET WARNER: As the president would say, 'dead or alive'.
COL. HAYWARD S. FLORER (RET.): Exactly. I don't think we can predict. I think that's the kind of decisions that operational commanders are going to make on the spot based on the intelligence and the guidance they get.
MARGARET WARNER: What would you add to that, John Pike?
JOHN PIKE: I think it's entirely possible that we're going to wind up killing him and not even knowing it. It's clear that there are a lot of these tunnels that are being targeted with precision munitions. We've already had one senior al-Qaida commander killed. Clearly there are a lot more where he came from. I think that it's quite possible that we're going to kill him, buried in a tunnel, may never know it until eventually al-Qaida says, 'Hey, where is Osama?'
MARGARET WARNER: Could there also be a scenario, Colonel Florer... I mean when we hear about the Pentagon bombing caves, which they're already doing, are they trying to take out the cave - we heard the professor say it's pretty hard to take some of these out - or just seal them up?
COL. HAYWARD S. FLORER (RET.): That's absolutely possible. If we know enough about that cave complex and we can seal it off beginning and end and we have pretty good confidence of that, I think that's a great operational solution.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Professor, I gather though that some of these caves have more than one entrance.
JOHN FORD SHRODER, JR.: Well, I think so. I know one bunker that has two entrances, although they're rather close together. But I presume that these are, well, I know these people are good engineers and the bunkers could be well developed and a real problem. But again with Afghans willing to go in and kill him for the reward money, $25 million will help a lot of poor Afghans a lot. And they are willing to die for that, and although it's a problem in a way, as a family might send one of its sons in as a combat guy to go in there and kill him if they knew where he was...
MARGARET WARNER: All right, gentlemen.
JOHN FORD SHRODER, JR.: ...for the money, for the reward.
MARGARET WARNER: Thank you all four very much.