BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 04.11.01


About the latest military developments.

PETER SNOW: And I'm joined by Air Marshal Sir Tim Garden again. Now there's still a sense this weekend, after four weeks of this war, that the allies are holding back a bit, biding their time, waiting for more intelligence information and not giving way to pressure from public opinion or from their impatient allies on the ground. But they have stepped things up in two important areas. B52 bombers have been dropping bombs in support of the Northern Alliance by making attacks on the Taliban front-lines and areas up in North and North-East of the country, not intensively enough to satisfy their allies on the ground and not yet enough to make the Taliban withdraw or desert. More detail on those raids in a moment. The other shift of emphasis is on the ground. We don't know where it happened but one American helicopter crashed in Afghanistan, apparently the weather was bad, somewhere in the middle of the country during an operation by special forces. They sent in another helicopter to rescue the crew and a strike aircraft to destroy the downed helicopter. Now the Taliban say they shot down two helicopters; the Americans deny it. But whatever the truth is, we now have clear evidence of American forces exposed to risk on the ground in Afghanistan. And we know for sure that American Special Forces are somewhere up here in the North and North-East of the country accompanying the forces of the Northern Alliance in their fight with the Taliban - and the Pentagon says it would like to increase the number of these men three or four-fold over the next few weeks. The trouble is, even with the help they're getting so far, the Northern Alliance still haven't scored any major successes. Now, we've no way of knowing, but one other operation which special forces - perhaps even that crashed helicopter - may have been involved in, is taking place somewhere here in the middle of Afghanistan in Oruzgan province. This is where another important anti-Taliban southerner, Hamid Karzai is said to be trying to organise resistance to the Taliban. The Taliban say they've already captured some of his supporters and are pursuing him hard, but Karzai's brother in Pakistan says he's heard from Karzai that he's perfectly safe. Some heartening news for the allied coalition this week has been that Turkey will be sending ninety troops, Special Forces, to aid the Northern Alliance and the Czech Republic will be sending some three hundred troops, half of them experts in chemical warfare. And the Pentagon has announced that it's going to deploy this curious unmanned aircraft, it's called the Global Hawk, over Afghanistan. It can detect very small objects and the weakest of radio signals over a very wide area. Now Air Marshal, what good can an aircraft like Global Hawk be with the winter coming on? AIR MARSHAL SIR TIM GARDEN: Well it's a very new aircraft with all the latest technology and still in the development phase. It can stay above the country for thirty-six hours at a time and as the winter comes on, the detection of infra-red contrast is so much better and what we will see is signs of where human habitation is in caves, under the snow, and things like that. SNOW: So the winter won't defeat the intelligence operation? GARDEN: No, the winter will actually make it easier in many ways, to see tracks when you do the photographs and to see where people are living. SNOW: Now in this morning's press, there's a huge amount of speculation that we could be about to see a huge invasion, or attack at least, on Mazar-e-Sharif from the north here, on perhaps the northern parts of Afghanistan, a huge allied component perhaps, but using the Northern Alliance. Do you think that's credible and possible? GARDEN: No I think what we're seeing is that Mazar-e- Sharif is the target for now, but there aren't huge allied forces there and if you remember in the Gulf War, it took about five months to assemble a large allied force and I think the time-scales are not going to be that different these days. SNOW: What about the Northern Alliance. Could they take Mazar-e-Sharif? GARDEN: If they have sufficient help from the US Air Forces, yes. SNOW: Okay. Well the Americans say they are now into Phase Three of their air campaign in Afghanistan. First, they hit the Taliban's air defences, that was Phase One, the radars and so on, then they went for air-strips and command posts all over country. In Phase Three, they say that eighty per cent of their effort is directed to bombing the Taliban's front-line troops up here, where they're facing the Northern Alliance. Early in this last week, up here in Tajikistan, General Tommy Franks, who's the American Commander in the area, met the Northern Alliance's Commander, General Mohamed Fahim and he agreed to give the Northern Alliance much more overt support. Now here's a closer look at the battleground up in the north, where the Northern Alliance say they urgently need help if they're to take Mazar-e-Sharif and the capital, Kabul. Two other important towns, Kondoz and Taloqan - hold key positions on the major roads in the north of the country. And the Northern Alliance, very roughly, control the area within this dotted line, a large circle south of Mazar-e-Sharif, a bit of country up here, and the area around Taloqan and north east of Kabul, like that, we can put the Northern Alliance tanks and soldiers, we've coloured them yellow here on our map and there they are, that's their position there and they're putting particular pressure on Taloqan as well as threatening Mazar and Kabul. The Americans now have Special Forces accompanying the Northern Alliance, of course the Americans would like to increase the number of those forces, they are advising them, sending back targeting information to the American Air Force and they're dropping ammunition and other weapons supplies by parachute and helicopter to the Northern Alliance already. They say they'd like to do more on the ground, but in one place where they tried to reinforce the Northern Alliance, the Pentagon tell us they ran into ground fire that was too heavy. This last week, we've seen them send the B52s to bomb Taliban positions in three areas in particular. First, here at Dara-i-Suf, south of Mazar-e- Sharif. Now each B52 drops a devastating load of bombs the Americans call them long sticks of bombs, it's more generally described as carpet-bombing and it may have had some effect in this area here. The Northern Alliance claim that they've gained ground in the last day or two, although thought they suffered some earlier reverses, but this can't be verified independently. Now up here around Taloqan, also the B52s carpet bombing Taliban positions in the hills around the city of Taloqan, denying the Northern Alliance access to Taloqan. The airfield of Bagram also down there, just north of Kabul, there's also B52 operations there and again, it's the Americans bombing the Taliban positions around the airfield of Bagram. Bagram being on the frontline between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban protecting Kabul. But this has not resulted yet in the Northern Alliance gaining any ground here and claims that they've won hundreds of deserters from the Taliban here and elsewhere have not been verified by anybody else. So are the Americans doing enough to help the people they say they're committed to helping? Well the air effort is less intense than it was in the Gulf War ten years ago. That's partly accounted for by the fact of course that the carrier- based strike aircraft have to travel much further here than they had to in Iraq. Then there were thousands of sorties a day, now there are less than a hundred. And in the Gulf War, B52s were staging a hundred raids or more, with five-hundred, six-hundred raids a day. Now they're flying about ten raids a day. Now Air Marshal, couldn't these air operations be stepped up much more heavily. GARDEN: Well part of it is the number of targets you've got and it's very difficult from the Gulf War where you had formal armoured formations to attack. These attacks which are not carpet bombing, they are just sticks of bombs coming from B52s, really are devastating to those that are underneath. They are not as precise as precision weapons, but the psychological effect is enormous and the reports out of the Gulf War at the end of it, from Iraqi prisoners of war, show that continual bombardment by B52s, really did sap their will to fight and I think, over a period of time, the loss of sleep, the feeling of danger, really does undermine the morale, it also boosts of course the morale of the Northern Alliance. SNOW: So give us a quick idea what we could expect in the next few weeks. You don't think we'd expect a huge land invasion, but you think we can expect much more activity by the Northern Alliance? GARDEN: Yes, I mean, I think those zones that you were showing earlier can be joined up so that the north becomes an area that the Northern Alliance controls, if Bagram airfield can be secured in a way that it's not overlooked by the Taliban, that really is the north of the country ready to start building through the winter in order to look at Kabul, perhaps in the spring. SNOW: Air Marshal Sir Tim Garden, thank you very much. Back to 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.