How did the military actions of the 1990s shape your planning? I'm thinking
in particular of Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and the
attacks on Afghanistan by the Clinton administration, as well. This was very
different from those. How did that experience shape what you thought would be
I won't say that they didn't affect the thinking that went on in the minds of
our planners: I will say that those operations were not considered in my mind.
What was considered in my mind is the history of Afghanistan. What we worked
through in our central command was the terrain of Afghanistan; historical
approaches by the mujahedeen in Afghanistan to what they have always referred
to as invading forces; the enemy set as we thought we saw it at that time, the
Taliban; time-distance factors associated with where we had U.S. forces -- air,
naval, and land forces, as well as Special Forces positioned; and the timeframe
we thought we could have those forces in play in Afghanistan. And last -- but
certainly not least -- the fact that whatever we chose to do would be a
decisive operation. Those were the factors I think we looked at.
Being mindful that outside forces in Afghanistan don't have a happy
history, how did that shape your thinking?
It's always been somewhat entertaining to me to see the views of some of the
pundits who have suggested the introduction of large conventional forces in
Afghanistan. I think a great many people are aware, and I know you're aware of
the fact that for some 10 or 11 years of Soviet experience in Afghanistan, they
introduced 625,000 people on the ground, and had 15,000 of them killed and
55,000 of them wounded. So we took that as instructive -- as a way not to do
I think one of the great blessings of this country is that there are a great
many academics and others as well who have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan,
studying Afghanistan and knowing many Afghans. So we literally brought them
forward, and we brought think tanks and a variety of other-- I'll call them
"experts." We brought them here to this command, listened to what they had to
say, and factored their views into our planning.
So if I'm hearing you correctly, you didn't have this sort of plan
"off the shelf."
No, did not, did not. This plan was cut from whole cloth, as I think the
secretary described it then, and described it accurately -- but cut from whole
cloth between Sept. 12 and when it was briefed to the president a week or ten
days later. ...
You'd have probably saw the long report that Bob Woodward did in the
Washington Post. He quotes President Bush as saying, during that initial planning period, that
the military was being asked to think in a way that it hadn't thought in the
past decade or so: essentially, fight a guerrilla war with conventional means.
And that required a change of thinking.
Right. I think the president's observation that this would be an unconventional
war was precisely to the point. I think it was an accurate observation, and I
think in each of the mini-sessions that I've had with the president since we
started this operation, I have seen the same sort of appreciation of the
military operations in Afghanistan.
I think all of us recognized that there are a variety of ways to either apply
force or threaten the application of force. One is cruise missiles. Another is
the introduction of large conventional forces. The Soviets tried it, and didn't
like it. Another approach is an unconventional approach, which seeks to leverage
operational forces, air-to-ground forces, air support, that sort of kinetic
activity by putting people on the ground close enough to observe the targets
one would like to destroy. That approach is certainly unconventional at the
level at which the operation in Afghanistan moved forward.
What do you mean by that last statement, "at the level at--"
I recall other wars in other places where we have had people on the ground --
adjust fire, if you will -- provided by indirect means, either aircraft or
artillery or mortars or whatever. But the scale and the scope of the
introduction of Special Forces in this particular effort, and what they were
able to do by directing the kinetic work by a great many different types of
aero platforms, [is] unprecedented, to my knowledge.
ED. NOTE: For an opposing analysis, read this commentary by Andrew
Bacevich, director of the Center for International Relations at Boston
University and author of American Empire (forthcoming, Harvard
University Press). Bacevich believes that the military operations in
Afghanistan suffered because they were not unconventional enough, mirroring too
closely US military actions taken over the last two decades.
Once you got the plan approved and started gearing up for actually putting
it in place and getting the air campaign, there must have been a number of
things to put in place - like, how do you work with other coalition forces? To
what extent do they get involved? ... How did you, at your level, go about
practically piecing together the coalition? And if a country bought into the
coalition and was involved in Afghanistan, what was the chain of command? Were
they all going through you? Who chose targets, and how did you choose the
Right. Coalition operations [are a] remarkable feat in this case. Beginning on
Sept. 12, having worked our way to a plan which we executed or started to
execute on Oct. 7, by the time we reached the end
of September, we had a coalition here in Tampa of senior national
representatives of some 15 or so nations. By the middle of October, that
coalition had grown to 20 or so. By the end of October, more yet; and as we
stand today, there are 34 national flags with us in this coalition here.
When we started to work with these coalition national representatives, one of
the first things we did was describe the fact that the mission we chose to
undertake would define the coalition -- that the coalition nations would not be
permitted to assist in defining the mission. We've stayed with that since the
very earliest days.
The coalition nations represented here, who placed their forces into Operation
Enduring Freedom, placed their forces -- naval forces, air forces, special
operations forces, ground forces -- under our operational control. They remain
that way today, very, very effective, and managed through some of the best
coordination that I've seen between our own State Department, between this
command, between the office of the secretary of defense, the joint staff
involved in Washington. ...
ED. NOTE: For more on military and other contributions of coalition nations,
see this interactive map.
The war begins with the bombing. Then, at some point, there is the insertion
of Special Forces with the warlords of the Afghan allies. It started up in the
north to begin with. How much confidence did you have in the Afghan allies that
we were working with at that point, before we knew what the hell was going to
I think we were positive about it; a great deal of hope. But there is a
military saying that one should never try to turn hope into a course of action.
Think about Afghanistan for a minute. Recognize that when we started combat
operations on Oct. 7, about 80 percent or so of Afghanistan was under the
control of the Taliban. The standing military forces that opposed the Taliban
were rightly called the Northern Alliance, because the enclaves where these
forces were located -- the ones who turned out to be friendly to us -- were up
in the north along the Central Asian states area. Since about 20 percent of
Afghanistan was controlled by the Northern Alliance, it made perfect sense to
us that this would be a place to see what we could leverage, which opposition
forces we could support, link up with, provide assistance to, gain leverage
with -- in order to accomplish our mission. ...
It's a very difficult mission. But the mission itself was not exceedingly
complex. It had to do with the destruction of the Taliban as a government and
the destruction of terrorist networks inside Afghanistan. So the planning that
we executed worked along about six or eight lines of operation.
I won't go through all of [the lines of operation]. But one of the lines of
operation was support to opposition forces. Another of the lines of operation
was direct action to attack Taliban enclaves, leadership and so forth. Another
of the lines of operation was humanitarian assistance. Factually, there were a
total of nine of these lines of operation. We executed eight of them
simultaneously from the very beginning of the operation. ...
I think it's well documented that we did not choose to work with all opposition
leaders, and factually we still don't [work] with all opposition leaders. When
the operation started, we worked with opposition leaders in the north, the
Northern Alliance. As the operation moved along, our people, our Special
Forces, gained a toehold with some opposition leaders in the south. That's
where we saw Chairman Karzai enter the equation, and that's where we saw
Sherzai, who is now the governor of Kandahar, enter the equation.
So what started in the north with the introduction of Special Forces
subsequently moved into the south as well, when we were able to establish
contact and begin to build relationships with those tribal leaders.
There was a report [by] Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker about the early days --
that a [unmanned] Predator [aircraft] had Mullah Omar in its sights, and there
was some legal problem-- That was the story, at least. I'm sure you're familiar
with it. Was that the case, and it was their decision not to fire?
Actually, it wasn't the case. No one in this campaign has, quote, "had Mullah
Omar in their sights," from day one until now. The processes that we used
initially in this campaign are the same processes that we use now, in terms of
what we call "high-value targets." I think that the article that you made
reference to did the same thing that a great many articles have done; some have
been accurate to the hundredth percentile; others have been less accurate.
When there is paucity of accurate information available during any particular
war fight -- we have seen that in this one, for very good reason -- because as
I think most of us have said, some will be overt; some will be covert. The
timing of all of it will be almost never be divulged. The tactics, techniques,
procedures, approaches -- we haven't talked about those, and we won't. But when
one takes dots and tries to form a mosaic from the dots, in a lot of cases,
you'll find pieces and parts are truth, but seldom find a full story. So that's
the way that I reacted to the article.
We have not had Mullah Omar in our sights since we started this. [Since I've]
looked at a great [deal] of the intelligence, and have paid very close
attention to Predator feeds -- which is what I think Mr. Hersh's article was
relying on, or was reporting, if you will -- at any point in time, it's
possible for a half-dozen people to look at these feeds and draw different
conclusions. I have no doubt that, on several occasions, people have reported
having observed some of these feeds and said, "Aha, this is person number one,"
or "This is Mullah Omar," and so forth.
I wouldn't debate at all that there were people who thought they saw Mullah
Omar. I will say that I am quite familiar with the approach we use to
high-value targeting, and I have yet to have Mullah Omar in my sights.
How about bin Laden?
I have yet to have bin Laden in my sights, although I think that all of us
believe that his time will come. ...
What was the strategy behind [the Ranger raid at the end of October], and
was it effective?
Talking the about the raid toward the end of October, Oct. 18, 19, 20, if my memory serves. There were essentially two of them.
... [One of the raids went into] Mullah Omar's compound. Another of the raids
went into what we subsequently called FOB Rhino, Forward Operating Base Rhino.
Rhino was subsequently occupied by a Marine formation, which was the Marine
formation that moved into and assisted in securing Kandahar.
The rationale behind going with a special operations force raid into what at
that time was Objective Rhino was because we needed to understand the
capability of that airfield. We wanted to understand how that airfield was
defended. So that's why that objective was taken.
The objective in downtown Kandahar was for reasons that you probably have
already intuited -- to prove that the coalition forces are in this for the long
haul; that we will go anywhere we choose to go; [in] part, an information
operation, and in part in order to prove that we will place our forces in the
middle of that country and in fact in Mullah Omar's home. So I think the
operation was an absolutely outstanding success both for Operating Base Rhino
and for Omar's compound in downtown Kandahar. It had the desired effect. ...
When team 574 went in with Hamid Karzai and met him, he had a fairly small
band of fighters with him.
[He] was doing political work at the same time as he was fighting. One of
the things we're focusing on is Tarin Kowt, and what happened up there, and
would argue that that was a fairly decisive, little-known battle. Do you want
to talk about that from your perspective, and how important that was?
At both the policy level and at the operational level, we had worked with
Chairman Karzai, both in-country in Afghanistan, and out of country. For some
period of time, [we were] in constant contact with him. When he started to form
tribal elements to the north and northwest of Kandahar, we had our people with
him, and that's where this notion of Tarin Kowt came from.
At that time, we had the sense that Kandahar, being the capital of the Taliban,
was a very, very important place to us. With Karzai's forces up to the north
and the west of Kandahar, and with another man by the name of Sherzai's forces
being introduced from Pakistan up into Afghanistan in the vicinity of Spin
Buldak, Afghanistan, [we had] the sense that this vise would move on Kandahar
and would set conditions for the capital to fall. In fact, that's exactly what
happened. I mentioned earlier support to opposition; at this time, we were
supporting both Karzai in the north and Mr. Sherzai in the south.
[Can you talk about] the Special Forces guys [who were providing that
Special Forces guys are young, capable, smart, dedicated. I'll use the term
"remarkable" -- absolutely remarkable, very, very, brave men. [They were]
introduced in the country of Afghanistan in a great many locations in very
small numbers. It sounds a bit dramatic, but they were inserted in the dead of
night, sort of alone, but unafraid. They took a great deal of capacity with
them -- a capacity to communicate, capacity to be able to identify and engage
targets at a considerable distance from themselves, using air-to-ground forces,
close air support. [It was] remarkable, a remarkable effort. I predict that
people will still be writing about the exploits of some of these young people
well off into the future.
... I talked about support to opposition; it came in many forms. One support to
opposition is the kinetics, this business of bombing and fighting and that.
Additional support to opposition came in terms of providing foodstuffs, in many
cases providing winter clothing. It's been reported that, in some cases, we
provided feed for the horses -- absolutely true. All of this [is] in the
category of support to opposition, dropped in most cases by parachute from
aircraft flying over Afghanistan. Tons and tons and tons of that sort of
Let's talk about Tarin Kowt. From where you sat, how significant was that
battle? Was it a turning point?
Tarin Kowt [was] not a turning point from where I sat. But [it was] very, very
important, obviously, because it had probably been three weeks, maybe a month,
since Kabul had fallen. So the area that we were
working very, very hard on was Kandahar.
Tarin Kowt was a piece of commanding terrain in order to get into Kandahar and
do it the way we wanted to do it. Chairman Karzai was able to rally a number of
tribal elements and build a substantial force up in that area and push the
Taliban out of the way, and killed the Taliban who were up there resisting.
That was very, very important to our being able to get down into Kandahar, very
important, to be sure. [There were] two pieces of it: the first coming out of
Tarin Kowt toward Kandahar, and the other coming from the south and the east
down around Spin Buldak and moving toward Kandahar that way.
Some accounts I've read said that, when the Taliban were defeated there, it
had a big psychological impact.
No doubt in my mind. As the Taliban tried to hold on to Kandahar and position
themselves, mass themselves, the defeat they suffered around Tarin Kowt was a
substantial psychological defeat to them. But I wouldn't want to minimize the
importance of the effort around the Kandahar airport that was undertaken by
Sherzai at about this same timeframe. The combination of the taking of Kandahar
Airport, and the the Taliban losing the fight in the vicinity of Tarin Kowt,
[was] very, very important to securing what had been the Taliban capital up to
What happened in [the friendly fire incident on Dec. 5]?
ED. NOTE: On December 5, 2001, a misdirected U.S. bomb exploded near the
village of Shawali Kowt north of Kandahar, killing 3 U.S. soldiers, and at
least 23 of Karzai's Afghani fighters. Dozens more were wounded.
... The final work [on the investigation of that incident] is not yet done on
that. The sense is that that we put a bomb in the wrong place. It's an
unfortunate thing. It's a sad thing. As you know, it was not the first time
that we had that effect. Actually, I've been amazed at the paucity of
casualties in this operation.
I'm not a fan of what we call "friendly fire" or "blue on blue." We don't want
to have that. But I will say that it does not surprise me a lot when we do
have it. My suspicion is that that it's a friendly fire issue associated with
either a bad target location being sent by a ground team to an aircraft, or in
an aircraft where the munitions are armed and released on a bad set of
coordinates being placed there. I'm not sure that's what caused it, but it's
pretty obvious to all of us that we put a bomb in the wrong place
What was your assessment of the Tora Bora [operation]?
Tora Bora, in my view, was a successful operation. There was much speculation
about who was in Tora Bora -- all of the speculation [was] after the fact.
Looking back, I think that we had a sense that there were enemy formations in
the Tora Bora complex. Historically, in Afghanistan, there are about a
half-dozen places where outsiders, non-Afghanis, aggregate. ...
In early December ... it became obvious that the opposition forces with whom we
were working in the vicinity of Jalalabad and down toward Tora Bora themselves
don't like Al Qaeda at all, didn't like the Taliban at all. [They] had a desire
to take their forces, which were substantial at that time, and move them on a
sweep operation through Tora Bora. [They] put together an operation. We
supported that operation.
I think it was a good operation. Many people have said, "Well, gosh, you know
bin Laden got away." I have yet to see anything that proves bin Laden or
whoever was there. That's not to say they weren't, but I've not seen proof that
they were there. A great many Taliban and Al Qaeda [may have] lost their lives
in Tora Bora. Some have said, "You just ran all of them over into Pakistan." At
that particular time, our work with President Musharraf and with his forces
along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was also another very positive piece of
In my view, the Pakistanis did a whale of a job supporting our operations, and
in fact providing what we would call in military parlance "an amble" along that
border, so that these forces were being policed up as they would try to
exfiltrate from Tora Bora. ...
Those who would enlarge the story to indicate that there were some operational
issues -- shouldn't have been done, or could have been done differently --
those who would argue that, don't have a very great appreciation of the factors
of mission and what an enemy force can look like, and what role terrain has to
play in that the timing of an operation. Knowing that, at the end of the day,
this is Afghanistan, and the Afghans wanted to move on this operation, I look
at Tora Bora as a favorable operation.
As we speak now, some few weeks ago, we placed forces back in there to continue
or not continue, but to move through some of the areas we'd been through
before, to be sure we hadn't missed anything, and to be sure that Al Qaeda had
not reintroduced themselves back into that area. So that area remains a concern
to us. But Tora Bora was a good operation.
Was it a feasible option to place a lot of U.S. troops on the ground? Would
it have made sense in Tora Bora, when the Afghans wanted to do it
... The Afghans themselves wanted to get in to Tora Bora. They wanted to do it
very quickly. At that time, our Special Forces troopers were not yet in large
numbers, even with those forces that we were providing support to. So rather
than taking a decision that said, "Let's take a break for some prolonged period
of time and try to introduce large numbers of non-Afghani coalition forces,"
the determination was made. I made it, and I think it was a pretty good
determination -- to provide support to that operation, and to work with the
Pakistanis along the Pakistani border to bring it to conclusion.
[We were] remembering that, sure, at the end of the day, we want to get the
leadership of Al Qaeda, of this terrorist organization. But we also want to be
sure that the network itself has been destroyed, and we want to be sure that we
have not left pockets of Taliban here and there.
One of the objectives we've had from the beginning is to move these people
around and not permit them to sit to plan to think about the next 9/11 or
something else for our country. The Tora Bora operation was a part of that
overall campaign that seeks to dislocate, kill and capture both Taliban, at
that time, and Al Qaeda.
So if I had to do it again, I actually I would do it the same way again. I'm
sure that, at the levels our troops were on the ground, they would make some
different judgments about "I want to be on this hill to block," or "I want to
be on a different hill" -- things that were not obvious to us at that time.
One never wants to say that we don't learn something every time we do an
operation. But I think we would work with the Afghans again to do the
operation, rather than moving in the direction the Soviets had moved -- with
the introduction of large numbers of ground forces at the altitudes where this
was going on. Given the timeframe that would be necessary to introduce
conventional forces, and given the fact that, even with more than 600,000
people on the ground inside Afghanistan, the Soviets were never able to get
that to get it done-- ...
Iran [is] one of the things that-- In the beginning of the campaign, we
heard reports -- accurate or not, I don't know -- that it looked like Iran
might be sort of cooperating. ... Then that went silent, and we had "axis of
evil," and things had changed. From where you sit, what was the evolution of
thinking about what Iran is involved in?
It's a difficult issue. Without being cute, I think many, many people have
described the situation in Iran as schizophrenic. Essentially, there are two
principal government entities inside Iran. If one focuses on what we would hope
at some point will be the voice of moderation in Iran, then one could find
reason to sense some cooperation. So I can understand why we would see early
reporting during the Afghanistan effort -- "Oh, maybe Iran is going to
On the other hand, if one takes a look at the Iranian guard formations inside
Iran, then one finds an absolutely uncooperative sort of an effort going on in
Iran. I can understand why we will see from time to time reports of, "They're
just absolutely not helpful."
We have not seen in Iran a level of help for our efforts in Afghanistan that we
would like to see. I mean, they're certainly not members of this coalition,
having vowed to take down the Taliban and destroy Al Qaeda. In Afghanistan, I
think there is a sense that the Iranians would be well satisfied if they could
have an eastern border with Afghanistan that is normalized and secure. But the
character of the country is a bit schizophrenic. I think it's been reported
that way, and I think that's probably accurate.
Was there a change in practical efforts, or Iranian efforts, on the ground
over those months that--
Not that I saw. Actually, there had been Iranians working inside Afghanistan
for years and years and years. There still are Iranians working inside
Afghanistan. But in terms of things that have given us operational issues and
operational difficulties, we have not been hampered by major efforts coming out
What lessons can we take from this war?
... Some enduring lessons I think we've learned out of Afghanistan is that
every country that we, the United States of America, ever engage in warfare,
will not be Afghanistan. We will not go from one Afghanistan to another
Afghanistan for the same reasons I talked a minute ago -- the operational
considerations, variables of terrain, time and all that. There is also a set of
strategic considerations -- form of governance, for example. In one of these
countries, their leadership [might be] supportive of our efforts, but has no
capacity to control the internal factors in his own country. Well, if so, then
that means that that country won't be just like Afghanistan.
If you come then from that strategic level view, and you consider what
operational lessons have we learned, I think one of the key ones we've learned
has to do with balance. I think that the military capacity we have in this
country is incredible -- probably the best military capacity any country has
ever had in history -- the best air forces, the best naval forces, the best
land forces, the best special operations forces.
What happens as you look from one country or one situation to the next, the way
one balances how much land force, how much air force, how much naval force will
change. What we learned in Afghanistan was that Afghanistan didn't look like
Iraq 11 years ago. In any other piece of geography that we're likely to go
into, we will learn that every lesson will not apply. But we have picked up
some enduring lessons.
One of the enduring lessons is that precision munitions have a future. We have
learned that precision munitions go precisely where they're targeted to go.
We've learned that the introduction of human beings in the equation, who can
cause the precision munitions to go precisely where they should go, pays a huge
dividend. That's this business of the joint team, between our tremendous air
power and our tremendous special operating forces power.
So we've learned that sort of thing. We have learned the need to be flexible or
to have flexible forces, agile forces, who can move quickly, secure themselves
when they arrive in a location, assess the needs of a given mission and move to
that mission. We have learned of the importance of being able to work with
local populations. We have learned that in Afghanistan, and it'll apply, I
predict, anywhere we conduct military operations in the future.
So I think those are some of the enduring lessons. We've learned that the
business of unmanned aerial platforms is very, very powerful. We have relearned
the importance of non-stop, 100 percent secure communications, all the time.
I think each of the services -- not through me, but each of the services
involved in this operation in Afghanistan -- has learned its own lesson. The
Air Force has formed some opinions about directions they may want to move in
the future; the Army, the same; the naval forces the same. Some of the naval
activity that we've seen in the operation in Afghanistan [were] unbelievable --
the use of an aircraft carrier, the Kitty Hawk, as a staging platform
for special operating forces, fully supported by the United States Navy. [That
was a] very, very powerful factor, very important to us at that point in time.
As you know, Afghanistan is a landlocked country. So one says, "Where would we
stage our forces to be able to move into Afghanistan?" Would we want to impose
on President Musharraf, at a time critical in the history of his own country,
by putting large formations in his country? It turns out to be a much better
effort to be able to use some of our own carrier capability and stage some of
our forces from there.
So the ability, as I call it, " to plug and play," the ability [to put in and
use] these kinds of forces -- air, land, naval and so forth, and coalition
forces also - is very, very powerful. ...
We always want to be able to do to accomplish the mission given us by the
president of the United States. We want to do that at the least possible loss
of American life ... I'll say it this way: I couldn't be more pleased with the
proficiency, the effectiveness, the dedication and the results produced by the
young people who have been involved in this operation since last October.
What was the hardest moment for you, personally?
I think any time we lose people, it's a hard moment. We have lost people in
this fight, and we'll lose more; there's little doubt in my mind, because much
remains to be done. We'll lose them to accidents. We'll lose them to fights
with hostile forces. Any time that happens, it's an unpleasant experience. So I
can't really nail one thing down and say [it was] the most unpleasant
experience for me.
I will say that the most pleasant experience for me has been an enduring
experience, and that is that we are well served by the relationships that exist
between military and other governmental organizations, [at] the policy level,
and the various departments of our own government. Completely aside from the
much-reported frictions and all of this, I don't think we could ask for better
decision making. I don't think we could ask for better cooperation than we have
seen in this effort. So for me, that's been a very positive thing.
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