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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Military options: Sir Michael Rose
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The US continues its military build-up in the Persian Gulf, in preparation for a possible attack against Afghanistan.

Afghanistan remains at the top of the list of targets of US retaliation for the devastating attacks against New York and Washington.

The main suspect for those attacks, Osama Bin Laden, is believed to be hiding somewhere in the inaccessible and land-locked country.

But there are doubts as to whether a conventional military attack will be able to destroy Bin Laden or his highly mobile guerrilla units.

Are modern armies effective against such elusive targets? What other options are open to US military planners? What else is on the US hit-list?

General Sir Michael Rose commanded the UK's Special Air Services forces, and led British Army units in Bosnia and he joined us for a live forum on Thursday.


Transcript:


Newshost:

Sir Michael Rose, if I could start with a question which is not just about force but also about diplomacy. Dr. Tompkins in Austria asks: It seems that the entire world expects the coalition to use force. Given the nature of the operation, this is extremely risky. What alternatives could be used? Couldn't the coalition use a carrot, for example, aid into Afghanistan?


Sir Michael Rose:

Whatever response is carried out by America and its allies inevitably it will be a combination of activities at all levels. It will be military - but the military action will only in support of a wider political agenda and of course if that's supported by social and economic programmes, that will make a comprehensive package.


Newshost:

If it does come to military force inside Afghanistan, we are reminded by many of the people who have written to us - and we have had a huge response to the request to talk to you - many people remind us of Britain's problems in Afghanistan in the past and Russia's problems more recently. Carolyne Kershaw in Liverpool, UK asks: Given all of these problems which were politically and strategically problematic in Afghanistan for armies, is there a difference now? Is the kind of limited military action which we are facing, would that get bogged down in the same quagmires that Britain and Russia have got bogged down in Afghanistan in the past?


Sir Michael Rose:

I hope we all read history and learn the lessons from it. Certainly it would be extremely unwise to try and occupy a country like Afghanistan having seen what happened previously. My own view is that very precise, very rapidly carried out actions by men on the ground are possible using the element of surprise and extremely good and timely intelligence.


Newshost:

Craig Weldon, Birmingham UK asks: If we did decide to attack Bin Laden, how can an element of surprise be retained when he is surely expecting reprisal attacks of some sort at the moment?


Sir Michael Rose:

Well inevitably an element of surprise has already been lost but that doesn't mean to say as time goes on he won't be lulled into a false sense of security. He may think he is safe, he may think he is hiding in a place no one will ever be able to find. But of course good intelligence will be able to penetrate his security and hopefully one day - if indeed he was the perpetrator of those terrible attacks in America last week - he will be brought to justice.


Newshost:

Given the fact that this is a very difficult country to operate in and the Taleban seem dependent upon each other for survival, how could military action succeed? It is a very interlocked place.


Sir Michael Rose:

Success is a very wide term. You can have military success in the classic way where you use overwhelming force to impose your will on your enemy. We are not talking about a classic war in Clausewitzian terms - we are much more talking about Chairman Mao's revolutionary war - his people's war. We are talking about attitudes of the community who spawn these sort of terrorists. If we can change the attitudes of the people who support people like Bin Laden, and if you can create an entirely different environment, then not only will you drive a wedge between him and his supporters but you'll start getting intelligence as well.


Newshost:

You mentioned Clausewitz - as I understand it that's massive force and support of your own population at home in order to achieve a substantial victory. That's very much the kind of war that Colin Powell has fought in the past - now the American Secretary of State. Isn't that the kind of war that the Americans tend to plan for rather than the more complicated war that we are talking about in Afghanistan?


Sir Michael Rose:

In the circumstances we faced in Kuwait in 1990 that was exactly the right approach. But Colin Powell is an extremely experienced person, both militarily and politically and he will be looking at the clandestine war - he will be looking at the long drawn out processes that are going to be needed, not only to bring the perpetrators of these attacks to book but also to try and eradicate terrorism globally over a protracted period of time.


Newshost:

Alex Brown, UK asks: We already know that since last week, Osama Bin Laden's training camps are empty. The terrorists have dispersed themselves into population centres in a classic guerrilla way. So given the fact that Afghanistan's infrastructure is already devastated and assuming that we wish to avoid simply a public relations bombing exercise, what military targets are there? What is there to hit?


Sir Michael Rose:

Well the military targets are the people we are looking for. They are not, in the classic sense, bits of key terrain or commander control centres or indeed the elements which allow - like docks and airfields, roads and bridges - armed forces to move about. The people are the targets and the objectives of our actions and wherever they are we should ultimately be able to discover and take appropriate action.


Newshost:

Julian from London, UK asks: Do you think that invading Afghanistan will turn the anti-Taleban populace there against the West and destroy all hope of extracting Osama Bin Laden?


Sir Michael Rose:

If it is properly done it will have the reverse effect. One of the classic components of counter-revolutionary war is using the people - and there will always be people who are opposed to the ruling power - we see many hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Afghanis living elsewhere in the world because they don't like what's happening in Afghanistan. That is the basis for taking forward an operation manned by Afghanis who are, after all, at the end of the day, the best people to overthrow the Taleban rather than having outside people do it for them. They would of course need enormous support - training, equipping etc. But in many parts of the world in the last century the West won classic revolutionary wars against the Communists using these means and there is no reason why we shouldn't do it against the Taleban and Bin Laden - if indeed they are the guilty parties.


Newshost:

So you would see that the best military option as arming the so-called Northern Alliance - Masoud's forces - rather than sending in our own ground force in a conventional way?


Sir Michael Rose:

Certainly that would be one component. They may be supported by rapid and very precise actions by the Western forces. But they certainly - the Western forces that is - wouldn't be the main component. Intelligence, is the key to the whole thing. If you do have people on the ground - Afghanis in this case - who are prepared to help you, they will find the intelligence you need.


Newshost:

Isn't that just the mistake though that was made in the 1980s when the Muhajadin fought among themselves and different Western countries backed different groups and caused the very bloodshed which led to the Taleban being formed in the first place?


Sir Michael Rose:

Certainly we have got to get our act together in the West but people sign up - as they are doing - to suppressing global terrorism then as you say their actions are going to have to be better co-ordinated and more coherent if we are going to succeed.


Newshost:

Simon Portman, Cambridge, UK asks: Surely the only way to locate Bin Laden will be to insert surveillance teams and keep them there for months. Do you see this as a long drawn out campaign including British or American troops in Afghanistan for a long period?


Sir Michael Rose:

That is one possibility - I don't know how likely that is. There are enormous difficulties associated with that. Another possibility of course is just buying the intelligence.


Newshost:

Derek Wright, Southampton, UK asks: The thought of British Forces being directly under control of the American senior command makes me nervous. What role do you see British Forces taking in this?


Sir Michael Rose:

We had American forces under command in the Gulf War and they were extremely well supported, giving the intelligence they needed and indeed the British didn't have the capability of providing and I have every confidence that the Americans are as experienced as we are in many of these areas will give us the support we need.


Newshost:

There is another issue and that's that we might be being drawn into something. Roger Wood, London, UK asks: Is it feasible to consider that the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon are part of a bigger plan by the terrorists to draw the West in to a war with Islam. Aren't we walking into a trap?


Sir Michael Rose:

Well could indeed be doing that and that should limit the responses we make at the overt level. This war will be fought over a protracted period of time - unseen and unheard by most of the people in the free world. Hopefully the only people who will know what's going on are the perpetrators of these crimes and other people who would consider planning similar type of activities.


Newshost:

You have talked about the role of intelligence - James Meers, London asks: How much of a role will Special Forces, like the SAS, have in international terms here?


Sir Michael Rose:

The classic role of the special forces clearly is fighting a clandestine war - training guerrilla forces to operate effectively - more effectively than they have been doing hitherto etc. and that I think would be a role that could be filled by special forces from whatever countries providing the coalition.


Newshost:

But you might expect Britain to be called on in this?


Sir Michael Rose:

I would expect Britain to play its part in all areas.


Newshost:

Christopher Ingerfield, London, UK asks: Having just managed to return from New York, it is clear to see that the Americans see themselves as being on somewhat of a war footing. With our own armed forces over-stretched at the moment anyway, surely this "new war" cannot mean a mass mobilisation of our combat arms? What do we have to sacrifice in order to engage in Afghanistan?


Sir Michael Rose:

I don't think we do need a mass mobilisation framework and conventional forces. What we need is a mobilisation of the intelligence agencies around the world. We need a mobilisation of the sort of technical methods of attack that could be used in these situations. We are far more likely to see that happening than we are to see call-ups and forces being mobilised in the classic sense. This is not a classic war. This is going to be a clandestine war and it's going to be fought by very different means from those we have seen in the past.


Newshost:

And presumably the military may have some role in the economic component of this as well - in the sense that the Americans are talking about this as an economic war - freezing bank accounts etc.


Sir Michael Rose:

I think the military will have a role, not just on the offensive side but hopefully like all military forces involved in a revolutionary war, they will be helping rebuild the fabric of the country, they will be able to clear mines, they will be able to start agriculture, build water supplies and do all the things which you need if you are going to win the hearts and minds of the people.


Newshost:

Given the scale of it; diplomatic, economic, political as well as military, Zak in Perth, Australia asks: Could it be the fact that this is such a widespread offensive is an acceptance by America that their past foreign policies have somehow contributed to what's happened to them? Do you see a need for America and other countries to reassess their foreign policies in the light of this?


Sir Michael Rose:

I think we are all going to have to reassess our foreign polices. If you are going to try and gain support from the mass of the Arab people - in this case deemed to be necessary - the last thing you want to be seen doing is bombing their brothers or firing rockets into civilian populations by your allies. You're not going to create the necessary conditions for popular support or indeed for the acquisition of intelligence. So we are all going to have to adjust our foreign policies in some way.

Certainly I think we should not fall into the terrorist propaganda trap of saying that the victim is actually the guilty party and the guilty party is the wronged person. That's an old trick which we should not fall for. America was not responsible for these terrible attacks against the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the hijacking of aircraft. It was the criminal terrorists who must be brought to justice.


Newshost:

Do you think that America might need to ameliorate its policies in the Middle East?


Sir Michael Rose:

I am sure they will and if you have noticed there has been a ceasefire brought about and I am sure that didn't happen by chance.


Newshost:

Although it's very much a different kind of alliance from the alliance that they forged to fight the Gulf War isn't it? They are going to need to tread more cleverly with some Arab countries. How would you see that as playing out?


Sir Michael Rose:

I think some of the actions that have been taken - not only by America - but don't forget Britain's involved in the bombing in Iraq as well. Those sort of actions are going to have to be stopped if you are going to allow middle ground Arabs - who of course compose the majority of the Arabs - and a moderate opinion of people to prevail in the Middle East. Otherwise you are playing into the hand of extremists if you go on carrying out these attacks against either Saddam Hussein or indeed into the occupied territories in Palestine.


Newshost:

So Saddam Hussein could, in the short-term, be the beneficiary of this if you think that Britain and America would have to stop those air raids - and there have been air raids since the attacks on the World Trade Center?


Sir Michael Rose:

I think that's something we are going to have to curtail.


Newshost:

Finally, on the last option as it were and I don't think anyone expects it at this stage, Bob Regan in Houston, Texas, USA asks: The American Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, has been quoted as saying that nuclear weapons remain an option. What's your opinion of the likelihood of the actual use of nuclear weapons in any kind of offensive position in Afghanistan? How would Russia and China react if that did happen?


Sir Michael Rose:

If you are a nuclear power and you've been attacked in the way that America has been attacked, you're certainly not going to tell your opponent that you are ruling any options out and I wouldn't want to do it for them.


Newshost:

But you don't see it as a military likelihood? There is no military use of nuclear weapons in Afghanistan is there?


Sir Michael Rose:

I wouldn't have thought so but I am not in full possession of all the facts.

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