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Thomas Keaney Interview - 2002-03-06


MR. BORGIDA:
Joining us now to discuss the U.S.-led military campaign in eastern Afghanistan, Thomas Keaney, of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Mr. Keaney has taught military strategy at the National War College. Thank you so much for joining us today and giving us the benefit of your insight.
You heard the President call this a very dangerous phase of this campaign. Why is it appearing to be a little more difficult than I think even the military officials thought? Now we're adding on a few hundred new troops.

MR. KEANEY:
I think it is obviously because of the casualties but also perhaps those officials, as well as everyone else, might have thought the active part of the war was in fact over. I know there was a good deal of rhetoric that the war still continues, but until there is active fighting people don't really believe it.

MR. BORGIDA:
What is complicating it, too, Mr. Keaney? Weather and altitude have been cited as problems. How difficult does that make this mission?

MR. KEANEY:
Well, weather certainly, and also the altitude that they're flying at. That will give, and continue to give, the helicopters operating at 10,000-12,000 feet or more much more difficulty in maneuvering. That has to complicate measures.

MR. BORGIDA:
The troops that they are facing are well dug in, aren't they? It appears that they perhaps have been waiting for this kind of thing. Tell us a little bit about the level of ability of these troops to withstand the U.S.-led assault and something about them. Who are they? There have been reports that there may be Chechens and others involved.

MR. KEANEY:
That's a good question. I think many people thought, after the initial campaign -- I will call it the initial campaign -- after the Taliban was taken out of power and the government of Karzai was installed, that effectively the active fighting, at least for mop-up operations, had gone along. Now I think what we are seeing is the kinds of threat that the United States and others initially thought they would be facing in the very first aspect of the campaign. In other words, the kind of dangers that the Soviet troops saw in the 1980's, where these people are fighting from prepared positions in the mountains, very difficult to root out.

MR. BORGIDA:
There was some criticism following the Tora Bora assault, that an insufficient job was done in preventing the exit of some of the al-Qaida leaders. And now we are told that a better job is being done, or at least more attention is being paid to that. Is that a critical part of the mission?

MR. KEANEY:
I think it will be. I think that is, first of all, why there is more U.S. forces in the region, or more U.S. forces being engaged. It is because they are not just content to pound the positions on the ground as they were at Tora Bora. Now they are looking to surround them, so that these people just don't escape.

MR. BORGIDA:
The U.S. forces are also working with elements of the Afghan Army, but there are also reports that others in the area may be helping out. To what extent does tribalism, the warlord issue, filter in and make this an even more complicated kind of mission? Are they the kinds of people that the U.S. military can work with and trust in this kind of a mission?

MR. KEANEY:
I think that one of the big sorting-out procedures is figuring out who you can trust and who you can't trust. Often it seems like it has gone by trial and error. It is almost certain that some of these warlords are not looking to destroy al-Qaida and the Taliban as much as they are trying to improve their own position. And where they are trying to move the United States to attack people they call Taliban or al-Qaida, in essence, where the United States troops become more of a force within inter?Afghan politics, that is going to make it even more dangerous for the United States.

MR. BORGIDA:
And in the last 30 seconds or so we have left, your sense of timing? How long do you think this mission will continue? Initially, I think I heard rumors and reports of 72 hours only, but it appears to be going beyond that.

MR. KEANEY:
This particular mission, probably more than 72 hours. This phase of the war, probably much longer than that. Possibly months.

MR. BORGIDA:
Thanks. The views of Thomas Keaney, of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, here in the Washington area. Thanks so much for joining us.

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