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The politician who authorised the last attempt on the life of Bin Laden 20/9/01
(Former US Defence Secretary):
None of us have ever been through
anything of this magnitude. All the
past coalitions - certainly with the
Persian Gulf War, that was a significant
operation, but it was much different in
terms of its organisation and also in
terms of its goal. What is going to be
required here are a number of
shifting coalitions. Each country that
will be called upon to contribute to
this effort to combat terrorism will
provide something quite different.
Some might be asked and be willing to
provide military assistance, special
forces, people and personnel and
perhaps capabilities. Others will be
asked for overflight rights, basing
rights. Others, and many others, will
be asked for intelligence co-operation.
And so there will be a series of
shifting coalitions depending upon the
local governments, their particular
position with respect to the Arab world
and the Muslim world. And so we have
to take into account their sensitivities
in terms of their existence and what
they can contribute. So, ultimately, the
United States is prepared to act
militarily alone, if necessary. It would
be better if we could have multilateral,
multinational contributions to that effort.
But the United States will look for a
variety of contributions from a variety
And militarily, which countries will be
able to offer most?
I think Great Britain is obviously one
that is prepared to help and is capable of
helping, given its special forces'
capability. This is the type of war that
is not subject to simply mass weaponry
and capability. We have that. But this is
a war that's going to take highly
classified information being shared with
responsible organisations and having a
special forces and covert capability. The
United States has that, certainly Great
Britain also has it.
Are you talking about special forces on
the ground in Afghanistan?
This is not going to be confined to
Afghanistan. At this point we don't have
conclusive proof that Osama Bin Laden
did, indeed, conduct this operation or
orchestrate it. He's a prime suspect. We
have not focused on him solely,
although he is very high on the agenda.
So it could be a number of countries
who support, or give harbour or moral
support or financial support to terrorist
groups. And they, of course, will be
the subject of perhaps a different type
Can you imagine Iraq being a target?
It depends upon what the connection is
to this particular operation. If there is
solid evidence that they participated in
some fashion, then certainly they could
also be added to any list of targets that
would be developed.
You were Defence Secretary at the time
of the last American attack on Osama
bin Laden. That failed. Is your intelligence
any better now?
We failed, but only barely. We had fairly
good intelligence in terms of what was
about to take place in Afghanistan, but
it's very difficult, given the level of
communications available to groups like
al-Qaida and others. They can encrypt
their conversations, telecommunications,
they have the availability of the internet.
So it becomes very difficult to in any way
gather information by technical means
After that failure, did you improve human
We're short in terms of being able to put
people on the ground to get at these
organisations. We have certainly
enhanced our ability to try. But we have
not been successful in actually penetrating
those organisations yet.
That means it will not only be an extremely
difficult war to fight, it will be an
extremely difficult war to start.
It's going to be an extremely difficult
war to fight, indeed. And it's going to
take a good deal of patience on the part
of the American people and our allies
and coalition friends to understand
that this is not going to be a one-strike
proposition. It's going to come in
many forms, financial, economic,
diplomatic isolation, as well as the
potential for military operations. It's
going to take a long period of time to
reach down, dig out the network itself
and rip it up. As underground cables
have to be torn up, the same thing has to
take place with these networks. And it's
not enough to think you can go after
one individual, like Osama bin Laden,
or one organisation. There are many.
They are interlinked and interlocked, and
that's why we need the international
co-operation to go after them.
Do you think it's time the presidential
restriction prohibiting the assassination
of foreign leaders was lifted?
If this is a war that's been declared
against the United States and the
civilised world, the rules of war and
the rules of engagement are quite
different. The political assassination
ban applied to foreign leaders who
were not conducting military operations
against the United States. This is not a
case of assassination. This is a case of
engaging in warfare against those who
are trying to kill you.
When you look back, do you regret
the fact that the CIA trained and
helped bin Laden?
Well, it's easy to look back and have
doubts about past actions. I don't think
we can dwell on that. If it were not
bin Laden himself, there are others.
Again, let's not focus on bin Laden.
Let's focus on the fact that there are
many organisations who are determined
to wreak havoc on the civilised world,
the US being one of the more obvious
targets. But every civilised country is
now subject to the same kind of attack.
We're talking about a war which is going
to go on for years?
Mr Cohen, thank you.