MR. BORGIDA: Joining me live in our studio now to discuss the U.S. troop presence beyond Afghanistan is Michael Vickers, Director of Strategic Studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Mr. Vickers is an expert in military strategy and operations, having served in the U.S. Special Forces and lectured at prominent U.S. universities. Mr. Vickers, thanks for joining us on this topic.
MR. VICKERS: My pleasure.
MR. BORGIDA: A lot of people are wondering if the Philippine troop commitment won't bring to mind the "V" word, Vietnam, in the history of many Americans. Is it an involvement that we might not be able to extricate ourselves from, or do you think it's worth it at this point to go after these Muslim rebels?
MR. VICKERS: Well, the Muslim rebels, particularly Abu Sayyaf, really number only in the hundreds. And I think it is more of a training and advisory mission that will last months, as Admiral Blair, the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific, has said, not years, and it will mostly be an advisory effort.
MR. BORGIDA: But do you think that the commitment of some 600, and more, troops is sufficient to do the job, or is it just going to keep us there for a prolonged period of time, with very little to expect?
MR. VICKERS: About 160 of those 650 or 660 are Special Forces. And they will be deployed at the battalion level to train and advise in the Southern Provinces. But others will be doing an exercise, and that ought to be sufficient for the dual aims of the exercise, and then training and advising against Abu Sayyaf.
MR. BORGIDA: Let's turn our attention for a moment to the other countries to whom President Bush referred the other night in his State of the Union Address as the "axis of evil," Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Certainly we don't have troops there, but there was a very negative response to the President's mentioning of those countries by a number of countries. What is your reaction to mentioning those countries in that context? Is it a warning to Americans that we might be there at some point, or was there another purpose to it?
MR. VICKERS: I think the President was trying to make clear the links of these countries being state sponsors of terrorism in the past in some cases and in the present in others, and also as pursuing active weapons of mass destruction programs, and that is what they have in common. North Korea also has been a supplier of missile technology to Iran. But they don't have a formal axis among them. Iran and Iraq of course are longstanding enemies.
MR. BORGIDA: There are other countries in Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and in the region, that we know are countries of some concern. If one was to jump out at you when you were being asked, which country are you most concerned about in the months and perhaps years ahead, would you be able to give a singular answer on that?
MR. VICKERS: I think Southeast Asia is an important region for expanding the global conflict against al Qaeda. There were recently arrests, of course, in Singapore for bombing plots, arrests in Malaysia. Some of those in Singapore had ties to Islamic insurgent groups in the Philippines. And so a regional approach is necessary.
MR. BORGIDA: Finally, in the last minute or so we have, world attention is focusing on Osama bin Laden to some extent. President Bush has talked about this. You're an expert in these sorts of things and military strategy. Is Osama bin Laden going to be meeting the hands of U.S. justice at some point in the months ahead, or do you think he has successfully vanished to some degree?
MR. VICKERS: Well, he may be dead already. It is unusual for them to be quiet for so long. There was a lot of activity between October and early December, and then it has been quiet for almost two months now. There are reports he may be in Iran, or other al Qaeda leaders may be. We just don't know at this point.
MR. BORGIDA: We will have to leave it at that. The views of Michael Vickers, the Director of Strategic Studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Thank you, Mr. Vickers, for joining us today.
MR. VICKERS: My pleasure.
MR. BORGIDA: We appreciate it.