BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 11.11.01



==================================================================================== 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 ==================================================================================== ON THE RECORD THE WAR REPORT RECORDED FROM TRANSMISSION: BBC ONE DATE: 11.11.01 ==================================================================================== JOHN HUMPHRYS: Good afternoon. Progress on the battlefield last week and, this week, emergency laws here at home to deal with a terrorist threat. We'll be talking about both ... interviewing the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the European Union's Foreign Affairs Commissioner, Chris Patten. We'll also be reporting on how the Americans view the prospect of sending large numbers of troops into battle in Afghanistan. That's after the news read by Peter Sissons. NEWS HUMPHRYS: For the first few weeks of this programme it was the same old story: plenty of bombing, but no sign of any real military success. Well, that's changed. The Taliban have been kicked out of Mazar-e-Sharif. Does that suggest we're now well on the way to kicking them out of power altogether? Let's get an analysis of the military picture from Peter Snow. Peter. PETER SNOW: And I'm joined as usual by Air Marshal Sir Tim Garden to analyse the situation. Well now the first of the big four Afghan cities, Mazar-e-Sharif, has fallen and the allied coalition now has a huge opportunity. It can make this city its forward base inside Afghanistan for political reconstruction and for humanitarian relief. Moreover, it now has the military momentum to try and push through into central and southern Afghanistan. Here's a closer look at the north of Afghanistan. Only three days ago, the Taliban appeared to be firmly placed in Mazar-e-Sharif with their tanks around the outside facing the Northern Alliance and keeping them back. And there were even reports of the less well armed Northern Alliance charging on horseback against the tanks in the ring around Mazar-e-Sharif. But it was the American B52s' carpet-bombing the Taliban positions particularly to the south of city that finally broke the Taliban's resistance. And within hours the Taliban were streaming out of Mazar to the east here, to the west and way down here to the south and to central Afghanistan. And the Northern Alliance were in, only three years after they were kicked out last by the Taliban. So the battle has now shifted elsewhere. The spotlight is now on the towns of the east of Mazar, Kondoz and Taloqan where the Taliban are still in control. Kondoz is an important crossroads town, Taloqan an important tactical target for the Northern Alliance. Now the front-line is now something like this. A great swathe of territory here now around Mazar-e-Sharif, many provinces said to be in their hands now, the Taliban way out of that area and over here, around Taloqan anyway as of this morning, the Northern Alliance in a position something like that with a small pocket here only of Taliban resistance. The Taliban's strength is now pinned down in this corner up here around Kondoz. The Northern Alliance, now to their north, their east, their south and of course, here to the north of Kabul down here. Now Taloqan, we're told by the Associated Press has fallen according to claims by the Northern Alliance, to the Northern Alliance, so we could actually redraw that line there if we happen to get, got the independent verification that is correct. B52s bombing Taliban positions up here for the last two weeks or so, weakening the Taliban positions around Taloqan. And the Americans now using the so-called Daisy Cutter bomb, a bomb that has lethal effect, it explodes in the air, just above the surface and then has lethal effect on troop concentrations below it. The Northern Alliance may be within hours now of moving from Taloqan to Kondoz if their claims are correct and they have captured Taloqan, and from there of course, they can then move onto the only remaining part of north-east Afghanistan, still in Taliban hands, and that could be where the Taliban now make their last stand in Northern Afghanistan. The fall of Mazar has also encourged the Northern Alliance to advance on Kabul, from their positions just north of the city, here. There, the Bagram airfield and here the Northern Alliance there, and the Americans doing their best again down here to bomb the Taliban positions around the Bagram airbase here and to the north of Kabul. But the Americans have made it clear that any Northern Alliance advance should stop short of taking over Kabul until there's agreement on a new government. Now, Air Marshal, you rightly forecast that Mazar would be the first town to fall, which do you think it going to be the second? AIR MARSHAL SIR TIM GARDEN: Well I think we're already hearing that Taloqan is likely to have fallen. It's in a very vulnerable position there, and I think if you can (thank you), see down along here, there'll be a join-up, which will give the whole of that. We've already had some more reports that at the junction of the road coming down south into Bagram and Kabul, the Northern Alliance have made some headway down there. They're going to have to take out the higher mountains which are surrounded and have Taliban troops, but that'll be a clearing-up operation. So the aim of the game I think at this stage is to make sure that they've got a completely continuous territory down to just south of Bagram airfield. SNOW: Right, so of the bigger towns - we assume that Taloqan may or may not have gone this morning - of the bigger towns, Kondoz or Kabul, Kondoz likelier to go sooner? How long do you think this pocket will last now? GARDEN: I think it's a matter of days. It's going to be done before the real winter is set in in the next week or two and they can then consolidate that, they can use this whole area for bringing in more ammunition, bringing in winter supplies and bringing in humanitarian aid, which is important. There'll be lots more defections as the quality of life improves in the north. SNOW: Okay, so what next? Well the capture of Mazar will allow the allied coalition to make the airport there not only its forward military base, but also a centre for the distribution of relief supplies. Now they can either be flown into the airport in Mazar, or driven across the border from Uzbekistan. Moreover the mainly Anglo/American coalition will soon be broadened by the promised arrival of other European troops, two-thousand from France, many of them are already there, three thousand, nine hundred from Germany and a thousand from Italy. One of the next tasks will be to attempt to build on victory up here by laying the foundations for a post-Taliban government in waiting, maybe even establishing its framework here in Mazar. The trouble is, the triumphant Northern Alliance has a dismaying record of internal disunity. To name just three leaders who've been bitterly opposed to each other in the past within the Northern Alliance, Abul Rashid Dostum, the main driving force in the conquest of Mazar-e-Sharif. Now he's an Uzbek and has a fearsome reputation. Any further bloodshed his troops cause in Mazar will make it all the more difficult to begin to build political unity out of this military victory. To the east, the main focus for loyalty there is the Tajik leader, Burhannudin Rabbani. There his troops who are poised to advance on Kabul. They'd have an even bigger challenge in trying to control a population which is largely Pashtun from the south. And the Northern Alliance's other big leader, is Ismail Khan, Commander of a quite different force, over here around Herat although there's now talk of his forces effectively joining up with Dostum's forces and almost having a corridor here right the way across of the north part of Afghanistan. The trouble is that none of these leaders represents the majority Pashtun population of southern and western Afghanistan. And there's been very little sign of any anti-Taliban rebellion down here. Only one tribal leader, Hamid Karzai has managed to have been successful in infiltrating the country and surviving. Now he's somewhere here, north of Kandahar and American helicopters have been supplying him, and dropping food to him, according to Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Karzai for his part, says that they haven't been helping him, he's got no help from the Americans at all. Meanwhile the man the allies are looking for, Osama Bin Laden, somewhere in hiding down here in the south of the country, goodness knows where exactly, says he has access to chemical and nuclear weapons, and he and the Taliban government are reported to be forming suicide teams who will attack with explosives attached to their bodies. None of this can be verified independently now, Air Marshal, do you think first of all that he has got nuclear weapons? GARDEN: I think it most unlikely that he has nuclear weapons. He may have some nuclear material, but he's more likely to use that for terrorist attacks outside Afghanistan rather than in terms of the campaign here... SNOW: ...for last stage survival... GARDEN: ...no... SNOW: ...weapon inside Afghanistan? GARDEN: No. I mean it wouldn't work anyway. Finding him still remains the aim of the exercise and this will be much easier with the whole of the North under control and then looking in the cold weather for where he is. SNOW: Now, what do you think the next stage of it all is going to be? We've got the winter coming up in what, a week or two? GARDEN: Yes. SNOW: Snow's coming down. Do you think the Northern Alliance and indeed the coalition is going to get further than the north of the country in the next couple of weeks before ... GARDEN: ...well I think it's very difficult to say because it may be that all the Taliban supporters will realise they're going to lose and defect, in which case Kabul becomes empty and the Northern Alliance can get in quite easily, but more likely they'll stay and defend there. And what we do need to do is start getting some sort of secure area in the south, so that both sides of the country realise that they can get the humanitarian aid in and isolate the Taliban. SNOW: Fighting their way into the south before winter? GARDEN: No, no. I mean it's.. right down in the south it's fairly under-populated and maybe securing an area with an airfield in order to provide a humanitarian aid base which will allow the people to realise that it's worth their while coming and getting support from the NGOs. SNOW: Meanwhile, Mazar-e-Sharif, now do you see British troops for example going in there? GARDEN: I think we'll see European troops going in there and British troops are already there by all reports and we've got the Germans coming aboard and the French and I think we'll see a great coalition of forces to provide the rule of law. SNOW: Air Marshal, thank you very much. John. HUMPHRYS: Thank you Peter. JOHN HUMPHRYS: So a lot happening on the battlefield but no one suggests this is all going to be over very soon, there may be a long way to go yet, and that means the diplomats have a job to do. President Bush has been in New York this weekend talking to the United Nations, trying to build support for the War in Afghanistan. Other world leaders are there too, our own Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, will be making a speech to the United Nations in a few hours' time. I spoke to him late last night and I asked him about where the war goes from here - might Iraq be the next target? But I began with the story that had just broken last night, the so-called State of Emergency that's going to be introduced tomorrow. I asked Mr Straw, if it was really needed, unless of course there is new evidence of plans to attack us here in Britain. JACK STRAW: There's no state of emergency being announced tomorrow, what is happening was actually announced by David Blunkett a couple of weeks ago when he made his statement about new measures to counter the new terrorist threat and what he announced and will go before Parliament I think next week, is plans to derogate from the Human Rights Act and the European Convention of Human Rights, under the convention itself, so as to permit in very limited circumstances the detention, yes without trial, of certain terrorist suspects who cannot be deported because of another part of the Human Rights Act, namely Article 3 which quite properly requires us to have full respect for human life. So there were circumstances when I was Home Secretary, as there are now as David Blunkett is Home Secretary, when you've got someone who needs to be deported but the country to which they should be deported, for example Afghanistan under the control of the Taliban, is such that if they were deported they would be killed or tortured. But we, ourselves, have to protect our own society in respect of those people and that's why these provisions with limited scope and very considerable safe guards are going to be introduced. HUMPHRYS: You say limited scope, but it's still a potential infringement of our civil liberties isn't it? STRAW: No it's not because the European Convention on Human Rights itself represents a balance between one civil liberty and another, including for example the right to life enshrined in Article 1. And what we are saying is that the right to life is above all the most fundamental of principles, you can't have terrorists who on the one hand, for good reasons cannot be deported to their home country because their own lives then would at risk but on the other hand who are putting other people's lives at risk in this country and the convention itself, drawn up in 1951 by some very hard headed jurists and statesmen provides exactly for countries like the United Kingdom now facing the kind of terrorist threat we do, to take this action taken within the convention and within the Human Rights Act not outside it. HUMPHRYS: But let's be clear why it's happening now. Not is it because there is a new threat that you have learned about against us? STRAW: Well if you are asking me is there an intelligence which I am going to disclose against in respect of the United Kingdom now, the answer to that is I'm not going to disclose any. And, however, has the terrorist threat heightened for the United Kingdom for virtually every other country in the civilised world since September 11th, the answer to that is of course yes. And you only have to look at the interview by Osama Bin Laden this morning to show that that is the case. Here is this man trying to go through all kinds of alleged theological hoops to justify attacks on anybody who is not in his favour and he declares that there's only one Islamic country, namely Afghanistan, he also says that he has access to biological and chemical weapons which we believe he does and also to nuclear weapons, we're far from certain that he does there but he makes it very clear that he would wish to use all the weapons at his disposal if he got the chance. That's the terrorist threat, that is what we have to deal with. HUMPHRYS: Let's talk about what's happening, what's been happening in Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance clearly a significant victory taking Mazar-e-Sharif but the last time they held that city they behaved absolutely appallingly with terrible brutality, there were massacres and all the rest of it. You can't guarantee that that isn't going to happen again this time can you? STRAW: Well we are conscious of what happened last time and huge effort is being undertaken, particularly by the United States but also by the United Kingdom who are in direct touch through Paul Burn, the Prime Minister's Special Representative, with all the key people in the Northern Alliance to ensure that this indeed does not happen again. The circumstances are really very different from what happened before. This time the whole of the world is watching the Northern Alliance, they know that, they also know that they've only achieved this military success as a result of military assistance by the military coalition, led by the United States in which the United Kingdom is participating and the countries surrounding them, which have traditionally supported the Northern Alliance, particularly Iran and Russia and some of the south central Asian states, they are also and this wasn't the case years ago, profoundly committed to the United Nations' agenda for Afghanistan which is there for there to be a peaceful transition once the military action is over to a broad based representative first of all transitional government and then to a permanent government. HUMPHRYS: Given the assistance that you describe, it's not inconceivable that the Northern Alliance, will sooner or later be able to take Kabul, they would then effectively be in control of the country. Now we've made it perfectly clear, haven't we, that we don't want a Northern Alliance government, we want a broad based government. STRAW: Well, the Northern Alliance is the alliance which has the military capacity on the ground to defeat the Taliban. They need the military assistance of the international coalition led by the United States and which the United Kingdom and others are actively participating, but they are the people who are opposing the Taliban and so they have to be used. But also, I have to say that their representatives, we are in discussion with, are..they are part of the real world, they are not total fanatics like the Taliban. They understand, it's the same point that I would made in respect of Mazar-e-Sharif. They understand acutely that if they want to deliver peace and security to themselves, to their families, to their own ethnic groups, they have to participate actively in a broad based government, that they cannot carry on with the rule which is so dismembered, Afghanistan, which is the winner takes all. But there's this other point, John, the only reason that the winner has been able to take all in the past is because of the partisan support for the Taliban or the Northern Alliance from countries in the region, from Pakistan for the Taliban, from Iran and Russia, for the Northern Alliance. There is now an international consensus between the countries surrounding Afghanistan about the nature of the government in Afghanistan. That it has to be broad based, that it has to be representative and so the circumstances are different, and I am optimistic about the potential political future for Afghanistan once there has been a military defeat of the Taliban. HUMPHRYS: You talk about international consensus but the Russians for instance don't want anything at all to do with the Taliban, don't want any part of them in the government. STRAW: That is not the case. Nobody wishes to see the hardline extremists at the core of the Taliban in any future broad-based government and it's impossible to see circumstances in which that could happen. But when I spoke to Sergei Ivanov, who is the Defence Minister of the Russian Federation only two weeks ago and we discussed this and he said of course there is likely to be a place in any future broad-based government for what he described as the rank and file members of the Taliban. In other words the people who have had to go along with the Taliban, they may have been conscripted into the Taliban army or even into the administration because the only alternative was starvation or a bullet in the back. And so we have to differentiate pretty clearly between as I say between the extremists in the core of the Taliban on the one hand and the Pashtun who happen to have the label of Taliban attached to them at the moment but who would probably, given a free choice, be as pleased to see the back of the Taliban as the rest of us. HUMPHRYS: Ramadan is just about upon us. Some people of course we know want a bombing pause. You've said you had an open mind as to that. Is it more or less likely that there will be a bombing pause now that Mazar-e-Sharif has fallen? STRAW: It's probably less likely because of the military momentum and the need to ensure that this military success is followed up elsewhere and frankly it's in the interests of every single peaceful person in Afghanistan who wants a better future to see this military action not paused but brought to a satisfactory conclusion and for all of us, as we all, who are concerned about the humanitarian situation, the humanitarian solution for people particularly in the north where it's been most acute, is not to have a bombing pause because that would have allowed the Taliban to continue their hold for example on Mazar-e-Sharif, but to liberate Mazar-e-Sharif as now looks as though it's happening, and then to get convoys, train of trucks down from Uzbekistan into that area so it's actually in everybody's interest to ensure that the military campaign is pursued. HUMPHRYS: And yet President Musharraf of Pakistan for one, says to continue with bombing throughout this period would have definite negative effects on the Islamic world. STRAW: Well, I think it would and it wouldn't is the answer. What President Musharraf has also said is that he wants to see as quick an end to the military action as possible but he knows that military action, as someone who is a General himself has to have a satisfactory or should have a satisfactory military conclusion before it can be ended. I mean we've been through all this John, you know the fact that there is as I'm told no writ in the Koran which suggests that military action can't be taken during Ramadan and of course it's notorious that the Taliban themselves always continued military action during that period. HUMPHRYS: It's clearly a great relief to many people that Mazar-e-Sharif has fallen, but let's remember what the point of this war is and that is to get Bin Laden and his organisation. That is the point of it - we haven't done it yet, and that is the point of it. STRAW: Well, the point of the war was set out for example by me in the objectives which I put before the House of Common, set out in many statements by the Prime Minister and over here in the United States by President Bush and Secretary Colin Powell. It has never been the case that the only target of the war was Osama Bin Laden. It was in addition to that to break up the al-Qaeda terrorist network and to prevent those sheltering such terrorist organisations, in this case the Taliban, from operating, and the reason that the focus has moved from Osama Bin Laden through al-Qaeda into the Taliban is because as President Bush and our Prime Minister has said, al-Qaeda and the Taliban have now become indistinguishable. The key is to break up the terrorists' capacity which exits in Afghanistan. Yes, obviously we would wish to see Osama Bin Laden brought to account, it remains to be seen how quickly that would happen. My guess is however, that in the end he will be handed over or found. HUMPHRYS: But of course you have no idea when? TRAW: Well, I can't speculate and that's the nature of military action John. I'm not a clairvoyant. HUMPHRYS: There's a great deal of talk still in Washington, some say increasing talk, about widening the war perhaps, the next target might be Iraq. Now you have said that that must not happen unless there is clear evidence of Iraq's complicity in terrorism. There is evidence, some say of precisely that, the Czechs themselves have talked about confirming a meeting as having taken place between one of the hijackers and Iraqi intelligence, so there does seem to be some evidence growing. STRAW: Well, what I've said and this has been reflected in statements by our Prime Minister and Secretary Colin Powell in the United States is that the only military action on the agenda at the moment is that in Afghanistan. That so far as any other country is concerned including Iraq you only take military action where there is the clearest possible evidence arguing for it, and military action is the only possible option available to achieving a necessary end. We're not in that circumstance at the moment. However what I have been doing earlier today is continuing negotiations with the Russians about a successor resolution to the existing less than satisfactory resolutions in respect of sanctions against Iraq and what we are seeking to do is to ensure there's a more focussed regime which focuses on weapons of mass destruction and material for that and for conventional weapons for use in Iraq whilst making it simpler and easier to get humanitarian exports and things which have entirely a benign purpose through to Iraq. HUMPHRYS: President Bush has said in the United Nations which is where you are at the moment of course, that any regime that sponsors terrorism is going to have to pay the price - the price for that sponsorship. Now, you talk about sanctions, that isn't going to bring Saddam Hussein down, that isn't paying the price is it? STRAW: Well, John, I didn't read that into this, but none of us like the Saddam Hussein regime and it's been deeply corrosive over the whole of the region. What we want to see is action taken to ensure that the Saddam Hussein regime more effectively or at all meets its obligations under UN Security Council Resolutions, but what President Bush is right to say, and it goes back to the issues we were discussing right at the head of this programme that we have to take action against those countries which are harbouring terrorists because unless we do the civilised world is threatened. That's a point which I shall be making tomorrow, Sunday, in my speech to the General Assembly saying that the United Nations was founded fifty-five years ago in the words of the Charter to ensure that the scourge of war does not engulf successive generations. To that we have to add a second limb to ensure that the scourge of terrorism does not engulf future generations, given the obvious and present danger from terrorism and future danger that is out there. HUMPHRYS: And to remove or to mitigate that future danger, we've got, clearly, we've got to sort out the problems that exist in this world today, and one of those is Palestine and Israel. Now we seem to be much more concerned with getting a resolution of that problem than for instance do the Americans. President Bush seems much less concerned than we do. He won't even meet Mr Arafat. So that seems to be sending the wrong signal and people are concerned about that. STRAW: Well sorry with great respect I don't accept for a moment that there is no sign that President Bush does not agree that the Middle East should be sorted out. He does agree, I know for certain that he agrees and so does Secretary Colin Powell agree profoundly about the dangers from the current Israel Palestinian conflict and the importance of sorting it out. I just make this point about this now celebrated issue of a meeting between the President of the United States and President Arafat of the Palestinian Authority. Because of the position which the President of the United States holds, any meeting between him and any other leader, but in this case particularly leader of the Palestinian Authority, is going to take on far greater importance and symbolism than a meeting between President Arafat and any other leader of....in the western world, including our own Prime Minister, because the expectations will be extremely high and therefore I'm sure that what President Bush is thinking about is well, not just do I see President Arafat, but what is going to be the outcome and the consequences of my doing so, because one thing is for certain that to hold such a meeting without there being a clear understanding of the likely outcome will actually not be to advance the peace process but to set it back. But it's worth remembering that when we talk about the Tenet and Mitchell plans, both of those are plans sponsored by the United States and also, and developed by United States officials, George Mitchell and Tenet the Head of the CIA, so it's not true at all that the United States is disinterested in the Middle East. What we're all searching for, what the Prime Minister is searching for is a means by which this extremely difficult conflict which has cost, since the Intifada started last September, so many hundreds of lives on both sides, is frightening civilians and others in Israel and disabling them from going about their lives, is causing the circumstances of the Palestinians in the occupied territories to get worse and worse. That this conflict can be put into a process where we get peace and not warfare from it. HUMPHRYS: But surely you would like to see President Bush putting more pressure on Israel to implement United Nations Resolutions? STRAW: What we want to see is a willingness by both sides in the conflict, on the Palestinian side and on the Israeli side, to start down the road that was set by the Tenet plan and then get into the Mitchell plan and then towards the objectives which were actually set out very crisply and accurately today by President Bush of a situation of circumstances where the state of Israel is allowed to celebrate its existence by the people of Israel and permitted to do so, positively, not negatively, by the Arab States surrounding this, them, and at the same time, there is a viable Palestinian state. Now the words have advanced in recent months I'm pleased to say, and everybody is now fully acknowledging the overwhelming case for there to be a Palestinian state. What hasn't advanced sufficiently, is progress, and it has to be progress on both sides towards that end, but I know, and this has often been the subject of discussion with our Prime Minister and the President, that the United States is devoting a huge amount of effort to working out how to get the parties back together again, but it's because of the tensions and the suspicions, which have grown over the last year, particularly since the Intifada began, that, and for example assassinations of people like Minister Zeevi which set back the process just at the moment when there had been ten days quiet between the seventh of October and the seventeenth of October, that I know that, that it is acutely difficult and I think that, I say President Bush has to think about those difficulties before he sets up such a high profile meeting as has been proposed between himself and President Arafat of the Palestinian Authority. HUMPHRYS: Foreign Secretary, many thanks. STRAW: Thank you very much. HUMPHRYS: I was talking to Mr Straw, as I say late last night. The people of the United States are overwhelmingly in support of the actions ordered by President Bush. Given what happened on September 11th it would be remarkable if it were otherwise. But it's one thing to order an attack from the air. It's another thing to send a massive force of troops into a foreign country, many of whom may never return. America's memory of Vietnam is still vivid. So how much support is there for what may be the next stage in the war - an invasion on the ground? Iain Watson has been in the United States trying to find out. IAIN WATSON: The mood at the Pentagon is tense; there are signs that the tide may be turning in America's favour, with setbacks for the Taliban, but military planners now have to work on the next phase of the war to avenge September the 11th. So far, the American people back the military action, but the politicians will have seen evidence that a significant minority are worried about sending more ground troops to Afghanistan and even former pillars of the US military elite are warning that a US victory isn't pre-ordained. ADMIRAL STANSFIELD TURNER: It's going to a dirty kind of war. We lost one in Vietnam under different climactic circumstances, but very similar fighting circumstances. SENATOR SAM BROWNBACK: We know it's going to be long, we know it's going to be difficult, we know that the possibilities of casualties are high, but we have to win. We cannot lose in this campaign. WATSON: F16 fighter planes patrol the skies over Washington. And it's largely from the air that the US campaign in Afghanistan has been fought too. With a low number of casualties, political sniping had been kept to a minimum but now influential congressmen, themselves potential terrorists targets, want an escalation in military activity. REPRESENTATIVE JOE KNOLLENBERG: I think we have to accept the fact that this will go beyond where we are today and will necessitate not just US ground troops but also ground troops from the various coalition members and it will continue for some time; if anyone were looking for a short war, it's not gonna come. WATSON: So more ground troops if necessary? KNOLLENBERG: If necessary? you bet! WATSON: But for some Americans, the call for more ground troops evokes memories of an apocalyptic era in US history and a former head of the CIA warns the military enthusiasts not to repeat the mistakes of Vietnam TURNER: There's a similarity in that we have people fighting for their homeland who are very dedicated to doing that; the Afghans have done it with you; the Afghans have done it with the Russians; and they will certainly do it with us and there's a danger even these disparate groups inside Afghanistan may coalesce if they think they are being invaded by the Americans SENATOR JOE BROWNBACK: We're going to go ahead and see this through, it may well take a great deal of escalation, in that sense of the parallel to Vietnam of an escalation, but the objective here is very clear and the objective in Vietnam I think got very muddled. WATSON: Even on a pleasant, peaceful autumn day in Washington, Vietnam casts a long shadow. This memorial reminds Americans of the chilling cost of fighting in foreign lands. Fifty-eight thousand people commemorated here, lost their lives. Military experts say that ground troops in Afghanistan wouldn't be on the same scale, perhaps as few as five thousand, certainly no more than forty-five thousand. But perhaps symbolism matters more than statistics. Ever since Vietnam there's been a psychological resistance to committing large numbers of troops to fight in far off lands of which the American public know little. But September 11th saw a direct attack on United States itself; and the headlines from US opinion polls suggest that the American public are willing to contemplate losses to win the war against terrorism. But on closer examination, if there's to be a protracted conflict in Afghanistan, then support could fall away UNNAMED WOMAN: I know people are really concerned and I certainly am because I have a twenty-four year old son and you know if the draft came back or anything I'd hate to see him go off to war even though I know we have to defend our country. UNNAMED MAN: The only thing I'm worried about is long term, that the American people won't stand strong. UNNAMED WOMAN: We didn't ask for this, it was forced on us and we have to do what we have to do, and yes, I think the American public is going to stand firm. WATSON: The most recent in-depth opinion poll on American attitudes to the war was published by the Gallup organisation just a few days ago. The headlines proclaim that eighty-six per cent of the American people support the military action in Afghanistan, a figure largely unchanged since September 11th, but when the public were asked whether they supported large numbers of ground troop going into Afghanistan that figure falls to sixty-six per cent. And there have been similar findings in other polls. FRANK NEWPORT Generally speaking the fewer Americans that are involved to achieve objectives the better. Special forces are highly trained people, small numbers that sounds more appealing than massive numbers of ground troops that are involved. I saw one question recently large numbers of ground troops with many casualties and deaths. I mean when you say that it sounds ominous and you certainly have a per cent of Americans who pull back from support. WATSON: Americans have never been bashful about displaying the stars and stripes; but since September 11th patriotic fervour has apparently blossomed. But specific polling on casualties suggest that a significant minority of people are more concerned about the potential loss of further American lives than some politicians may wish to believe. In the Gallup poll, forty-one per cent or four out of every ten Americans said the war should stop if casualties were too high. Asked to define what is too high twenty-four per cent of this group said a hundred deaths would be too high, while a further twenty-seven per cent said a thousand deaths would be too many for them. BROWNBACK: The absolute worst thing that can happen to the American people and to the civilised world is for us to quit and go home and not see this through. That's the worst scenario because then you've emboldened terrorists everywhere around the world that now the United States, the civilised world, can be cowed by some casualties, by threats, by terroristic threats. NEWPORT: What would actually happen if there are a thousand casualties I think is hard to project, because it really depends on how those casualties came about and if it looked like that in the course of sustaining those deaths, the US was really achieving objectives, if those deaths were sustained and there was no progress I think Americans will react in other ways. So I think we have to really wait and see how the public's going to react. My overall take on the data is that there's strong support but not a blank cheque WATSON: The last of the autumn leaves are about to fall in Arlington, Virginia. Here at the national cemetery, two-hundred-thousand Americans who had distinguished military careers are laid to rest. Even before the Afghan campaign, there were plans to accommodate sixteen-thousand more. Current polls suggest a majority of Americans would be willing to see further sacrifices to achieve the objectives of the war on terrorism, but about a third doubt these will ever be realised. The latest Gallup poll reveals that thirty-one per cent, almost one in three Americans, are either not too confident or not at all confident that Bin Laden will be captured or killed; while thirty-six per cent were not confident the US will destroy all terrorist operations in Afghanistan. UNNAMED WOMAN: I have a big concern about sending ground troops in, I guess any of us old enough to remember Vietnam feel like they don't want to see that kind of history repeat itself; it looks like an awfully difficult place to send ground troops in and be successful, so I guess I have some real big concerns that way. UNNAMED MAN: A sense of direction; a sense of mission; and we want the information to let us know we have are achieving that mission; if they do that then I feel that the casualties will be justified - it is war, and that's what happens. WATSON: Two months to the day since the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center and the American public are getting anxious for success. Bin Laden hasn't been found and the al-Qaeda terrorist network hasn't been eliminated. The question facing military planners and their political masters at the Pentagon is whether more ground troops in Afghanistan could bring the war there to a swifter conclusion; but some experts say their indecisiveness in this issue isn't based on worries about public opinion; instead, it exposes serious strategic errors in the conduct of the campaign. Larry Korb is a director of an influential think- tank, but was previously Ronald Reagan's Assistant Defence Secretary, so he's not a natural critic of republican administrations. Nonetheless, he thinks this one has got it wrong. LARRY KORB: There's no doubt about the fact that they started the military action before they had their political strategy worked out; they were not clear whether in fact they wanted the Taliban just to give up Bin Laden, whether they wanted to destroy the Taliban government and then what would come after, who would be in the government, what of the various ethnic groups would be represented? WATSON: These US troops are working alongside the Northern Alliance. So far, American involvement, apart from air support, has been limited to small numbers of special forces. By taking the town of Mazar-e-Sharif, the Northern Alliance has eased some of the political pressure to deploy more US troops; but simultaneously, they've made it militarily possible by providing a gateway inside Afghanistan. But even some supporters of more ground troops say the US administration must do the political groundwork first. ANTHONY CORDESMAN: If you do not have the people with you, sending lots of ground troops into a city and even smashing it flat, not only doesn't bring you victory, the real casualties and costs begin after you have won - because that kind of victory isn't simply pyrrhic; it tends to be a military mire. WATSON: Bi-partisan support for the war against terrorism remains strong here in Washington - publicly at least. But behind the scenes there is a growing sense of unease. To say anything openly is politically risky and could even be deemed unpatriotic. But as one senator told me 'publicly, we support the President - privately, I'm worried we will make the same mistakes as the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan.' So there are some concerns here that America could be facing a war without end. This memorial commemorates a world war two battle against the Japanese, which was won at a high cost in human lives. With some success now in Afghanistan, politicians here in Washington aren't proclaiming any doubts they may have about the conduct of the current conflict; but former high ranking military officials are expressing fears about a lack of an exit strategy. TURNER: One concern one has to have in these situations is that once you start a military machine rolling, it's apt to keep rolling, that is, they will say one more new type of bombing, one more new type of commando raid, will do the job, and each time you get one step further down the track. KORB: This is not something that you want to spend years doing - I mean the Soviets were there for ten years and they had some successes early on, but after a while it began catching up with them, because what will happen is that the Taliban, if you are able to drive them out of Kandahar and Kabul, will go to the mountains for a while, so if you come in with a government that doesn't have support of all of the factions, they will come out again. WATSON: Polls show the Americans are ready for the long haul in the war on terrorism, but they are less keen on a protracted conflict in Afghanistan itself. In a Gallup poll published at the start of this month, of those Americans supporting ground troops, forty per cent said they'd back their deployment for an indefinite period, but almost as many, thirty-seven per cent, supported only the limited deployment of troops for a few days or a few weeks. No previous US president has enjoyed such sustained popularity as George W Bush; but a decision on whether, or for how long, to send in more ground troops may determine how history judges him. KORB: If it doesn't look like there's much progress, I think there's going to be a reaction against the Bush administration politically, and in the elections we have in the Fall of two-thousand-and-two I think you could see some real losses at the polls for the republican party. NEWPORT: Anything can happen, anything can change, and if at some point Americans begin to believe that not so much maybe that we're, the US is not reaching its objectives but that the leadership is beginning to be weak, I think the ratings would come back down. CORDESMAN: These polls, when you particularly you get these extraordinarily high peaks, they are necessarily volatile. No-one should take them seriously and no one should try to sustain them; if you did, you would basically be trying to fight a war to influence public opinion at such distorted levels that you virtually could not fight. WATSON: A short distance from Washington, at Arlington cemetery, this solemn ceremony in honour of America's war dead is performed. President Bush knows that the majority of the people in the United States will accept further casualties in Afghanistan, so long as they see progress in the war against terrorism. But with some unease already present amongst a significant minority of Americans, fear of growing discontent may lead to politicians to constrain the military's room for manouvre. HUMPHRYS: Iain Watson reporting there. JOHN HUMPHRYS: Tony Blair said right at the beginning that Britain would be standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States. And so we have. But what about our European allies? There's a feeling in many Continental countries that they've been sidelined and that the European Union has been allowed almost no say in what goes on. Many of its members thought it would be different. After all, don't we have a common Foreign and Security policy? Well the European Union's Foreign Affairs Commissioner is Chris Patten. He's also in New York for that United Nations meeting and I suggested to him there that the EU has been shown to be pretty irrelevant. CHRIS PATTEN: No, I don't believe that's true, but I also think that it's, it's crazy to start talking about institutional battles between the European Union and member states when what ordinary people want, is to see us acting effectively, both to protect their security at home and to make the world a safer place, and I think we've got the balance about right. The European Union does some things supra- nationally, but it also ensures that member states make their contribution where they've got particular strengths, as Britain has, as France has, as others have, sometimes supra-nationally, sometimes you're behaving as a nation state and I think that that means that sometimes we're doing it as Europe and sometimes we're doing it as Europeans. HUMPHRYS: But if a Common, Foreign and Security policy means anything, wouldn't you, as the European Union's External Affairs Commissioner have a much bigger role in co-ordinating the EU's response? PATTEN: I don't think that's true, and you're actually using the wrong word I think. We do have a common foreign policy. What we don't have, and I don't think we'll have as long as I'm alive or you are, is a single foreign policy. We have found ways in which we can work together more effectively so I think we've been much more coherent, much more co-ordinated this time than we were with the Gulf crisis ten years ago. I think we've managed to do things much better in the Balkans than we did in the mid-nineties. But while we're doing some things better in common, there are at the same time fifteen member states, fifteen foreign ministers, fifteen foreign ministries, each with their own preoccupations and each with their own particular strengths and what we have to do, is to play both sides of the street, both to do things, together where we can make the aggregate of Europe's member states work more effectively and to do things, and to do things singly. HUMPHRYS: So in this particular case it's doing things singly as opposed to working together more effectively? PATTEN: No, it's not! I'm certainly not saying we can't act effectively. I'm saying we are working more effectively, but that foreign and security policy goes right to the heart of what it means to be a nation state. The European Commission has nothing to do with armies. What we are doing I think, is where, Europe should do things better together - in the trade, the development assistance, the political co-operation field - we're acting, so for example, we're providing in Europe, the most humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. We're providing about three-hundred million of which a-hundred million comes from the European Commission. We've just been in Pakistan, negotiating better access for Pakistan textiles to European markets, talking about a-hundred million assistance package for Pakistan, signing a trade and co-operation agreement with them. We're in Iran, I was there recently talking to them about, signing a, or negotiating a contractual agreement with them. We're providing more assistance than anybody to the Palestinian territories so that there is a viable negotiating partner for Israel in Palestine. Those are the sort of things we're doing, making a practical difference, working together successfully while at the same time President Chirac, Mr Blair and others, work as, as Europeans, but as also heads of government or heads of state in their countries. HUMPHRYS: Yeah but there are plenty of small countries that are not happy, I mean what about that dinner at Number Ten that Mr Blair called last week and the idea was that the French and the Germans would go and then the Italians and the Spanish sort of invited themselves and the Belgians said, well, we must be here as well, because we're holding the Presidency of the European Union. An awful lot of people across the European Union were very cross about it all. PATTEN: Well, it was clearly a very successful dinner party. Every, a lot of people wanted to go, but I don't think honestly that it makes very much sense to have an argument about, who Mr Blair invited to dinner. What matters is that Europe, large, middle-sized and small member states should be acting effectively together to freeze the assets of terrorist organisations, to deal with money laundering, to deal with airline security, to work together internationally, as I was describing a moment or two ago, together to make more of a difference. I don't think many people would have very much sympathy for us, if we were now to get into an argument about who did what on what pillar, which particular legal provision of which particular treaty, we were, we were working by, whether or not these things were done by the spirit of Jean Monet, or by the spirit of Charles de Gaulle! I think we just have to make a difference and I think everybody recognises that today, nation states can't do everything themselves. They do need to do some things more effectively together, but that doesn't mean that the nation state is obliterated. It isn't, and it never will be. HUMPHRYS: But I mean that's the whole point, isn't it? Do things more effectively together. You can't do that unless you really do have a common foreign and security policy. PATTEN: I think the European Union is playing a larger role than it did, not because it's vainglorious, but because we are aware of the gap between our economic and our political clout in the world and we do think it helps when we're able to exercise our political weight more sensibly and more influentially. We're the largest provider of development assistance in the world by a street. We're the most important, with the United States, we're the most important trading block so, what we're doing in Doha, in the WTO talks, is absolutely decisive. We do think that as the most effective example of a multilateral institution, we have a particularly important contribution to make, as the present debate about the fight against terrorism moves into, onto other agendas. Agendas, for example, touching on the dark side of globalisation, about the relationship between poverty and environmental degradation and violence. Those are all the areas where I think Europe will be able to do more, does do more, as we are in Marrakech at the moment, in the negotiations on the Kyoto protocol. HUMPHRYS: But there is a strong feeling in many European countries that you should develop your common foreign and security policy by giving more power to the institutions for example, by introducing majority voting on foreign and security policy at the next inter-governmental conference in two-thousand-and-four. There is a strong feeling that ought to happen. PATTEN: They wanted to go further, where it's sensible to make it go further. I think there's much less dogmatism or ideological fervour in the debate about how we could work together than there is, if I may so, in your questions! I think we have actually got our act together far better, over the last year and as I said earlier, just compare where we are now in the Balkans with where we were five years ago, just compare where we were on the Middle East five years ago and where we are now, just compare, for example, how Europe was all over the place in the early stages of the Gulf War campaign, at the beginning of the nineties, so this is better, it's more coherent, but it's not a single state. It's fifteen member states working more effectively together. HUMPHRYS: So you think the policy as it is is working fine and there's no need to make it any stronger? PATTEN: I think that the common foreign and security policy is getting stronger and will get stronger still, but what I do not believe in, and what will not happen, we will not have a single foreign and security policy, at least, not while I've, well not while I'm alive, I don't think. HUMPHRYS: But there just to go back to the overall attitude to what is happening. The way in which Britain and the United States obviously seem to be dominating this whole thing. We heard the Belgian Foreign Minister saying just the other day, and I'll quote him, he said "Blair's statements have left a bitter taste in the mouth" and he accused Mr. Blair of over-reacting, so many of the EU's member states are not happy. PATTEN: I don't believe that's true. Mr Blair has, I think shown commendable initiative, in helping to mobilise the international campaign against terrorism, and I think other European leaders have been almost equally active - President Chirac, Chancellor Schr´┐Żder and so on. Each member state can contribute, differently to what is a coherent strategy being pursued by them all, but I don't think it makes very much sense just because one European leader or another is on the phone more frequently to President Bush, to get jealous about it. HUMPHRYS: Chris Patten, many thanks. PATTEN: Thanks very much indeed. HUMPHRYS: And that's it for this week. Next week we shall be back in our old guise as On The Record. Don't forget about our Website, until next Sunday, good afternoon. 21 FoLdEd
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.