JIM LEHRER: President Bush has said he wants Osama bin Laden, dead or alive. As the time for military action appears to be closer, what military options does America have to do this? Ray Suarez looks at that.
RAY SUAREZ: And with me are General Merrill McPeak, who was air force chief of staff during the Gulf War. He is now Chairman of the Board of ECC International Corporation, which produces training and simulation equipment.
And Michael Vickers was a Special Forces officer from 1973 to 1983 and a CIA operations officer from 1983 to 1986. He is now director of strategic studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a think tank in Washington.
Well, Michael Vickers, let's start with you. Given where Afghanistan is, its geography and the nature of the enemy, what options do American forces have for working in that part of the world?
MICHAEL VICKERS: Basically it depends on the objective. Can we eliminate terrorism in Afghanistan, both the state that harbors it and the network... A portion of the network that's there, by compelling the current government, the Taliban, or is changing the government required? In that case, ground forces will be likely be required. The choice facing the Bush administration will be whether to rely on the indigenous resistance that's already in place there, the Northern Alliance or conventional ground forces.
RAY SUAREZ: What about the initial phases? We read of carrier battle groups heading to nearby oceans. I mean, the water doesn't get very close to Afghanistan. We hear about efforts to site U.S. forces in neighboring countries. How close do you have to be to mount an operation?
MICHAEL VICKERS: Well, Afghanistan is some distance from traditional bases of operation, but U.S. diplomatic efforts have been very successful in securing a number of bases in neighboring countries ringing Afghanistan. Both from a base perspective and an intelligence perspective the noose is tightening around Afghanistan. As you mentioned about the early phase of the campaign, it's likely to emphasize Special Forces operations supported by air power and not ground operations early on.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, General McPeak, you have a country about the size of Texas, much of it sparsely populated, an irregular force that you're going after. How do you do it?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Well, Ray, as a practitioner, I think there are really... The world has two kinds of targets basically: Fixed targets and moving targets. Now, the fixed are relatively easy and, by the way, that hasn't always been so. But with recent advances in precision weaponry and Stealth aircraft and so on, I think if you tell us where a target is and tell us you want it blown away by sundown-- this is not a trivial problem, but you can rest assured we will get that done. Movers are much more difficult.
There, I agree with Mike, that intelligence is the key. Incidentally bin Laden must look at the world the same way. The World Trade Center is par excellence a fixed target, relatively easy to attack. We are told that the President himself was a target. He was a mover or turned himself into one relatively quickly. So he was missed. By the way, bin Laden has probably got better intelligence on our President's location than we have on bin Laden's location.
So, the key to movers is intelligence, and I mean something like real-time intelligence, not intelligence that's been chewed over inside the beltway at cocktail parties for 24 hours. Now, the problem in Afghanistan is that the fixed targets are not very interesting and even worse attacking them might be counterproductive. Certainly the kind you would want to go after would have to be carefully thought through and very deliberate.
And for movers our intelligence is bad, to say the least. So I do not look for a central role here for combat air power launched from the United States or bases abroad or carrier task forces or wherever. I see a big role for special operations like Mike Vickers. We need to get people on the ground there who can give us real-time information about where bin Laden and others of his network are. Once we've got him located, then we can take effective military action. But the key is knowing where they are in real-time.
RAY SUAREZ: And, Mike Vickers, jumping off of what General McPeak says, how do you stage those people? If you both agree that people... American forces of some sort have to be in there on the ground in order to provide this information, where do you stage them from?
MICHAEL VICKERS: Well,....
RAY SUAREZ: How do we get into the country?
MICHAEL VICKERS: Well, in neighboring countries, for example, countries to the north, Uzbekistan or Tajikistan where they might helicopter in and stay for a couple of weeks doing what's called special reconnaissance or covert reconnaissance looking for dispersed terrorist forces.
Another asset that we will have is persistent surveillance through our unmanned vehicles that can stay aloft for 24 hours or so and provide much more robust coverage than we have now. We can also send in human agents, human intelligence, native Afghans into the... Into these areas. And then finally as I mentioned the resistance itself, the northern alliance is potentially a good source of intelligence.
RAY SUAREZ: You mentioned the northern alliance and you have a couple of times. They have been on the losing end of the Afghan War for some time now. What do you have to do with them if you're a United States policy maker who wants to actually make them an ally in this struggle?
MICHAEL VICKERS: Well, they've got about a third of the forces of the Taliban right now. And they're only occupying about 10% of the territory. They have a fairly secure base area. One of the roles for air power, I think, is to really level the playing field. The Northern Alliance are just as good fighters. They have just as much battle experience as the Taliban.
The Taliban have had an edge in aircraft and some heavy equipment. We can take that away from them. It may be hard to find bin Laden but it's not hard to find forces that have been massing. So far the Taliban have been able to wage fairly conventional war against the Northern Alliance. We have the capacity to take that away and then make the... Give the advantage to the Northern Alliance.
RAY SUAREZ: General McPeak, given what you've said about the nature of the enemy and the difference between moving and fixed targets, might it be some time before we can develop... the United States can develop the kind of information you're looking for, before you can use aircraft effectively?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Yes. And I don't regard that as a special disadvantage. Look, we may be embarked on a war here that lasts for generations. You could think of us as being in the opening seconds of round one of a 15-round championship fight. We've already been sucker punched once early in the first round, but what's critical is that when we do get ready to fight we hit the target.
It's much more important, in my judgment, that we score early than we go through the ready-fire-aim process. Here we want to make sure we have got the aim right. In that connection, I would just follow on to something Mike Vickers said. Our intelligence has to be wrapped... for movers, now for moving targets your intelligence has to be wrapped in a very tight loop with the operator, with somebody who can actually pull a trigger. It's really not so hard hitting moving targets.
We've sent airplanes up to hit other airplanes for many years. And airplanes are, of course, the epitome of a moving target. But the pilot in the aircraft has on board the interceptor, the radar and other sensors that give him the intelligence he needs. So I'm less anxious to put more money in exotic overhead technology that gets down linked into NSA, or some place in Washington, mulled over, chewed over, analyzed and then a week later is delivered to somebody who can actually do something about it.
Whatever intelligence we have against movers has to be wrapped very tightly with somebody who has their finger on a trigger. That's why I think the role of Special Forces is going to be very important here.
RAY SUAREZ: Does the nature of Afghanistan itself make this harder -- really a nation of villages rather than big cities, mountains? We're told that Al Qaeda has used caves as supply depots and living space from time to time. Mike Vickers?
MICHAEL VICKERS: Well, yes it does. As you mentioned, it's a country the size of Texas. The Pakistan-Afghan border alone is some 1500 miles. So it's like the U.S.-Mexico border. It's a formidable problem. There are a lot of caves. On the other hand, the locals there know the territory much better than we would. And have certain advantages in that regard.
One key to using indigenous forces will be to bring along... expand the alliance to include the dominant ethnic group, the Pushtons that comprise about 40%. There are a lot of disaffected former Mujahadeen commanders in the South that are very unhappy with Taliban rule that could be exploited there, for example.
RAY SUAREZ: And how important, General McPeak, will the cooperation of the neighbors be, if you're talking about this being the first round of a 15-round fight? There's almost a kind of pressure on the ground to act quickly because of the political sensitivity, isn't there?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Well, I think the pressure to act quickly will be there. And it's a role of political leadership in this country to ignore that pressure and to act deliberately and in a well-planned, thoughtful way.
Look, at the end of the day, what we want here is a fight of the many against the few. As near as I can tell, the only way to make sure we have the many to build this coalition is to do it slowly and deliberately over time, carefully put it together, and almost as important, to make sure that the few are isolated. We have to make sure our attacks are discriminate, well planned and successful.
RAY SUAREZ: Is there a model of American success, General, a place that the United States forces have done this kind of thing, that we can point to in the past?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Remember, we've only been a world power for 100 years or so. We don't have an unspotted record. We chased Poncho Villa in the early part of the 20th century and came back empty handed, another terrorist who was attacking American territories.
So, no, I think we have to put more thought on this. I believe we have a good team in Washington with Colin Powell and Secretary Cheney, Rumsfeld and others to help the President here -- experienced, thoughtful people. But we have to avoid this kind of blood lust reflex reaction that can get us in a, you know us as the few in a fight with the many.
RAY SUAREZ: Mike Vickers, any American models that give us some hope that the skills are there to do what forces might want to do?
MICHAEL VICKERS: As General McPeak has said, and others, this is really a new war. There's not a lot of precedent. We've had some successes with Special Forces operations in the past and some failures. This is really altogether new. But I think we'll bring a range of instruments to bear. It may not be as daunting as the history of Afghanistan would suggest for invading forces.
RAY SUAREZ: Mike Vickers, General Merrill McPeak. Thank you both, gentlemen.