BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 21.10.01


And analyses this week's military action.

PETER SNOW: And John I'm joined by Air Marshal Tim Garden to review the situation at the end of a couple of weeks. Well now two weeks after the beginning of Phase One, the air strikes, we're now into Phase Two, troops on the ground. Hercules aircraft have been dropping up to a hundred US Rangers by parachute, down here in the South of Afghanistan and they were attacking an airstrip here, and a command post, near by Kandahar. Only light resistance, but the Americans did suffer their first two people killed down here in Pakistan, when a helicopter crashed, the Taliban say that it didn't crash in Pakistan, that it actually was disabled over Afghanistan, but the Americans say no, it was disabled over Pakistan, it was on standby support to the operation inside Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the air war hasn't stopped in spite of calls for a bombing pause. The air war has, if anything, intensified, with American aircraft pushing their way there into Afghanistan. The Allies claim in the words of Jack Straw the Foreign Secretary - that they've "very very severely degraded the Taliban's strength." Airfields, and other military targets like missile sites all over Afghanistan being severely damaged. The Americans have just released a picture of a barracks in Kabul before an air strike, there you can see the buildings quite clearly there, and after it, just look at this, just look at the damage there caused. I mean the buildings absolutely flattened there by the air strike. Other reports - from aid workers in places like Kabul - suggest that the aircraft are actually missing their military targets and civilians are being hit. The Allies continue to insist that they're not targeting civilians. Tony Blair says the allies have also damaged Osama bin Laden and some of his training camps around the South and West of the country, and Mr Blair's dismissed demands for a let-up in the bombing saying that that would be a sign of weakness. In the first fourteen days of action we've seen the number of strike aircraft used rising dramatically - from, for example, twenty-two on day two to one-hundred on a couple of days in this past week. In the last week the strikes have shifted to targeting Taliban troops, down here we've coloured them green on the whole in the South and West of the country and also trying to pick off their remaining tanks, but the Northern Alliance Troops, we've coloured them yellow up here and they are on the whole not receiving much effective direct support from the Americans, and they say that if only the Americans would do that, then their attacks would be much more effective. Now, Air-Marshall, how far do you think the Alliance have actually got in this campaign after two weeks? AIR MARSHALL TIM GARDEN: I think they've got much further than many of us expected them to be able to do, not only have they destroyed all the air defences, they're now able to operate with total freedom over the air space, you've seen the AC 130's, the big gun ships coming in and attacking targets for quite a long period, and this has meant that they can now put in ground forces for the first time, really quite shortly after starting this operation. SNOW: They're attacking all right, but what effect are they having on the Taliban, any sign of demoralisation, desertions? GARDEN: The attacking on their logistic support, getting rid of all their fuel, their ammunition, means that they cannot operate against the Northern Alliance and the other partisans who are against them. I think also their morale must be decreasing very considerably if you heard the news of Mullah Omar's family losses as a result of the earlier attacks. SNOW: But nevertheless, there's no real sign yet is there of any actual movement on the ground that suggests the Taliban are moving backwards or being beaten. GARDEN: Well there's movement on the ground because there are already American Forces going in on the ground. This is big movement. Yes in terms... SNOW: ...they went in and came out again... GARDEN: Well, they'll continue to do that I think in greater numbers. In terms of the particular towns, Mazar-e-Sharif in the North, and Kabul, they're going to be quite long attrition operations. SNOW: Okay, let's look now what we can expect to happen next. Well we can expect more helicopter bomb attacks, maybe some parachute drops as well from North and from South into Afghanistan over the next few days, perhaps including British Marines as well. Now of course their ultimate aim is to find Osama bin Laden. The Allies are hoping that the promise of cash, or populous enchantment with bin Laden will lead someone to betray him. But until that happens they'll be targeting the people who are sheltering him, the Taliban. There we are, there of course all over the South and West of the country as well as some of those bin Laden training camps. The other thing to watch over the next few days, is what the ground raids do to attempt to enlarge the parts of the country not controlled by the Taliban, but controlled by their rivals, the Northern Alliance. Now they're on the whole up here in the North-East, and that area there, of course we've coloured them yellow here on our map. Now in their attack on Kabul, they're still not making very much progress. But most of the action is in the area of Mazar-e-Sharif, which Tim Garden mentioned a bit earlier. It's only fifty miles from Afghanistan's Northern border, the Taliban control the city itself, and also the area around here to the East, where the airfield is, and the Northern Alliance have been attacking the city from almost all directions, up here, round here and down here, and indeed, even from the South as well. And the trouble is though that their attacks and the American air strikes in support of them have so far failed to dislodge the Taliban. The Taliban are said to have the support of some of bin Laden's own forces, and they claim that one Northern Alliance attack here on the airfield was actually pushed back successfully, indeed the Northern Alliance themselves admit that they had to pull back from the airfield. The Americans are now supplying more close air support to the Northern Alliance on the battlefield. So, Air-Marshall, how much more can we expect now the Allies to get involved in battles like this one on the ground. GARDEN: Well I think what we're seeing now is a campaign which has sealed off the town, they're surrounded totally by the Northern Alliance, their logistic supply has been eliminated, their airfield is not available, and so the pressure is on them all the time and it will eventually be a war of attrition, which I'm afraid the Taliban have no hope of winning, and that will eliminate various people who are in the centre there in Mazer-e-Sharif and it'll also allow the capture of the airfield as perhaps a re-supply place and somewhere where can start expanding the humanitarian aid out off. SNOW: So Mazer-e-Sharif will be a big prize for the Alliance, I mean the other ... GARDEN: ... it's geographically well placed for support from the North. SNOW: And yet we've seen the Taliban effectively pushing back their attack in the last couple of days. GARDEN: This is war. You get progress and you get being pushed. But they have no hope now of being able to survive for a long time given that all the roads are sealed off and the airfield's gone. SNOW: Now one other thing we hear is happening at the moment is that Special Forces, like Britain's SAS and the American Green Beret's and so on, are in there in Afghanistan, in small groups, trying to persuade people, that's the way it's put by defense sources, to join the anti-Taliban forces. Is that militarily credible, how does that work? GARDEN: Well I think it would be slightly hazardous to go and walk up to somebody in the street and say, "would you care to join us?" I think what you'll see is that you've got liaison officers working with the Northern Alliance, both for these sorts of operations and indeed for getting food supply and logistic supply into the Northern Alliance, and then getting the Northern Alliance to do that sort of liaison work with people who may defect to them in the longer term. SNOW: Air Marshall, thank you. John?
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.