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Doug Campbell MP, Nicholas Soames MP, and Menzies Campbell MP
Doug Campbell MP, Nicholas Soames MP and Menzies Campbell MP

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

One other great historian from the United States said recently, all wars are popular for the first 30 days, which is roughly where we are now and even Downing Street admits that it's been a bit of a wobbly week as far as the domestic reaction to the war is concerned in the hearts and the minds and so on. With me now are two former defence ministers, Labour's Doug Henderson and the Conservative Nicholas Soames, Nick. And of course the deeply respected Liberal Democrat's Foreign spokesman and everything else, and he's here too, Menzies Campbell. Good morning gentlemen and Nick you've been quoted as saying that in fact while people have been wobbling or whatever this week and thinking maybe we should be doing less, you think we should be doing more militarily?

Yeah I think we really have to press on now and no war survives the plan and I think it is also important to understand that the damage that will have been done to the Taliban is pretty extensive. I mean they are fixed in their positions, we've denied them their ability, their command and control will have been very significantly degraded, their transport very heavily disrupted and we really do need to go after them now and I think the bombing has been very cautious, very regrettable we have to do it at all but I really do think they need to get on with it now with the winter approaching, with Ramadan hard upon us and if they don't I think by the springtime if the Taliban are not in very serious trouble and they've achieved, we've achieved part of our ends anyway, the Taliban will have been handed a serious propaganda victory and that would be bad news.

And there was rumours yesterday, of in fact the Taliban going over to the Northern Alliance but we don't have that authority, that breakthrough hasn't come yet?

No I don't think we have the intelligence to assess that frankly.

Doug, you've been quoted as saying that you thought that far from extending the action that the bombing should have stopped after two days, but we, and yet we're doing more and more at the moment, surely it wouldn't have been enough, would it, in two days, or would it?

Well it depends what the purpose of the bombing is, I accepted that bombing for a couple of days, three days, to degrade Afghan defences was a wise thing to do as part of the first phase of the plan to try to apprehend or eliminate bin Laden and his Al Kaida supporters, but what's happened since then is that the bombing doesn't seem to me to have achieved very much except to alienate a lot of moderate opinion in very important countries like Pakistan. And I think it's now becoming quite damaging and I really don't accept Nick's analysis of what the effect of the bombing has been. I'm not so sure that the Taliban are so weakened from what, from the information that I have and I also question where we're going, even if we do weaken the Taliban to the point where we can begin to try to apprehend or eliminate bin Laden what after that? Will there be no other bin Ladens, what kind of situation will there be in Afghanistan, will it be possible to form another government, how many troops will we need to get involved in that and my fear is that we begin to look as though we're entering the kind of situation in, we had in Vietnam in March 1965 when a thousand marines went in to try to protect the a base which was bombing North Vietnam and we know what happened after that. So I think we've got to be extremely careful that we don't get caught in that kind of situation and that we're specific with our military action, I'm in favour of military action but it must be specific, it must be targeted and I think that means it's got to be based on new intelligence that we don't have at the moment and that means it's going to be a long haul, probably a number of years.

Menzies, between those two points of view where do you recognise yourself?

Well I think Nick is quite right to say that there has to be some military progress, the coalition desperately needs a military and a political success and it looks to me as if Mazar-e-Sharif in the North, that town that is currently under siege from the Northern League is the best opportunity for that and that no doubt explains the fact that the bombing of Taliban lines in and around that area is, is very much increased. It also, of course, has a humanitarian element to it because if you capture that town you capture the airfield and you can use it as a bridge by which to introduce the humanitarian assistance which is going to be absolutely essential. But on the matter of the bombing, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary there is still this enduring myth that if you use air power things will happen quickly and you can use air power without the risk of civilian casualties and the events of the last fortnight or so have demonstrated that these myths, no matter how strongly they may rest in the minds of what you might call lap-top generals of what we used to call Fleet Street, they are myths and when you get into something of this kind you have to recognise that it's for the long haul and there will be bad weeks and good weeks but so long as your objectives are clear then you have to press on.

Does, does carpet bombing, B52s imply less accuracy, less targeting?

Well there is a dispute about whether or not it's carpet bombing in the Vietnam sense, but can I just say about Vietnam, it's not just the recollection of Vietnam that should make people wary of what we do in Afghanistan, it's the experience of the former Soviet Union which suffered very, very badly because of very ill-conceived military approach. Carpet bombing is when you try literally to obliterate everything over an area, as I understand it what is being used is bombing from the air designed to destroy the Taliban positions and to seriously weaken them to an extent that the Northern League will be able to take the town of Mazar-e-Sharif .

So that the phrase carpet bombing may be used inaccurately in all these reports and so on and because it's not the same as Vietnam. What most of all do we need next Nick, apart, obviously from a breakthrough?

Well first of all I do think it's important to understand that the B52s are targeting significant concentrations of Taliban troops, that we do know and to be underneath one of those bombardments is a significant emotional experience, it's not something that any of us would wish to do and I don't think there is a period of time, I mean that's why I think it needs to be stepped up because it is important, that the breakthrough is achieved. But you cannot, Menzies is absolutely right, you cannot do anything by air power alone and the fine judgement that the Americans have to make and I don't think they've yet made it David, I think this is part of the problem, that the kind of instant gratification and the solutions that are demanded by everyone nowadays are not achievable in a complex situation like this and I think this plan is evolving but frankly unless they put troops in on the ground to capitalise on the bombing, really it has all been as to nought and I expect to see significant land forces deployed in the very near future.

I think you're right, when one talks to people involved in this and ask them the question about what's the next stage and so on, I think they're not being evasive, I think they don't know.

I don't think people know.

The great difficulty here is, David, is that if you send in a relatively small number of snatch squad type of troops, special forces, you may be talking of a few hundred on a particular exercise, acting spasmodically, you know one day, maybe miss a day, come back again. If you're not talking about that you're talking about a major incursion opening up a corridor or something like this and I see there are suggestions that there might be an attempt to do that from Uzbekistan. Those troops will be facing up to 50,000 armed Taliban soldiers and probably more now. We would need at least 150,000 or 200,000 troops to combat that and that is the kind of scale that we're talking about. Now I don't know if that would achieve the end, what would, what would the repercussions of that be on opinion in places like Pakistan and in Saudi Arabia. What would British and American domestic public opinion make of that, would it be successful and where would it lead after that, would it lead to a divided Afghanistan, what would be the political situation, these are huge questions and I want to see some thinking about that and I think the public need to know roughly the kind of approach that both the American government and the British government are taking on this.


Well I think Doug's right to talk about public opinion in this country, I think that the, our government has been so concerned to try and maintain the international coalition, sometimes with great difficulty as the Prime Minister found on his very uncomfortable visit to Syria, that it's rather neglected the need to maintain the domestic coalition here in the United Kingdom. There's been insufficient emphasis upon that and one of the ways in which you can maintain that coalition is first of all to restate the objectives on every possible occasion and so far as you can consistent with security, to let people know how it is that you propose to achieve these objectives when there's uncertainty people, public opinion in particular are bound, is bound to believe the worst.

Thank you all very much indeed, we'll see what John Reid has to say about that, appreciate it very much indeed.


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