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General Wesley Clark: The military campaign in Afghanistan

General Wesley Clark is a military analyst for CNN. He was the NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe from July 1997 to May 2000, and was previously the Commander-in-Chief of the United States European Command. Among his military decorations are the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, and the Army Commendation Medal.

CNN: Welcome to General Wesley Clark. It's a pleasure to have you back with us again.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: It's great to be here. I think this is a very important forum for exchanging ideas and answering questions. I look forward to what you have for me today.

CNN: The Pentagon is reporting that 80% of strikes are now aimed at Taliban troop positions. Do we have any indication how successful that has been so far?

CLARK: No, we don't have a real indication of this, and it's unrealistic to expect one. The indicators we would expect to see are people fleeing from the front line positions, and communication signals of distress. But we'll never know the extent of the casualties that might have been inflicted by such strikes.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: General -- why is bombing still going on in Afghanistan. Would it not be more efficient and safe (fewer innocent victims)to continue this war with groundtroops?

CLARK: Not really, because when ground troops are engaged, they use heavy firepower, and unless all of the inhabitants simply flee, their proximity to the fighting will inevitably result in high casualties. Insofar as we can find targets, bombing is easily the most effective way and least casualty-producing means.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Can anything be done about Taliban leaders and forces concealing themselves and equipment in civilian areas?

CLARK: Not really. To some extent, we will strike at forces that we locate in these areas, and the result will be damage to civilian homes. But we will not know the full extent to which items have been concealed inside buildings, unless we put people on the ground and look. The difficulty of dealing with urban areas occupied by military forces is one of the primary limiting factors of air power.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Would you please explain the differences in what they are calling strategic nuclear weapons today versus the old nuclear warheads some of us older people remember all too well.

CLARK: I'm not sure that there are any significant differences. Perhaps I don't understand the context of your question, but today the United States has strategic nuclear warheads on missiles, and carries bombs or has the capacity to carry nuclear bombs in aircraft. Both the missile warheads and the aircraft bombs are considered strategic. The only exception to this would be the small number of aircraft bombs that are allocated to support NATO and forward deployed in Europe.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: General Clark: Tactical nuclear weapons--good idea or bad idea as far as the military is concerned?

CLARK: It's a bad idea. For now, at least, there's no reason to use tactical nuclear weapons, and they carry so much political negative baggage that they will generate animosity against the US all around the world. We would only use nuclear weapons if there were a real requirement to do so in this case, and there isn't.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Do you think the press is being unfair and asking too may detailed questions?

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CLARK: No, I think the press questioning is essential in a democracy. People are curious, and have every right to be. In this war, failure is not an option, and the press is a primary means of holding the government accountable. The only concern would be whether the government spokesmen release information that may compromise ongoing operations, and I've seen no indication of that.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Why do we not just commit all necessary forces into the region and get it over with? We have the manpower and the weapons. They chose this path and we should end it.

CLARK: I agree with your sentiment, but it's difficult to get the forces in and do the job correctly. Remember, what we're trying to do is eliminate the terrorist network. If it flees to another country, and is given protection there, then a yearlong invasion of Afghanistan would be wasted. I am concerned that we not repeat the mistakes of the Russians in Afghanistan. They put in 100,000 troops, kept them there for ten years, had 15,000 killed, and lost. Winning this war requires not only bombs and bullets, but a strategic and diplomatic framework that dries up support for the terrorists worldwide.

This war won't be over any time soon, even if by some lucky break, a bomb should strike Osama bin Laden. There are thousands of terrorists who fervently believe in attacking Americans and will continue to try to do so until their own governments detain them. So we have to balance the energy of the military action in Afghanistan with other efforts, economic, political, intelligence, diplomatic, and law enforcement, in many places around the world to achieve our aim.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Are we making any attempts to systematically seal up the caves [in Afghanistan] to trap them? Some have said that's not a practical solution. Why not?

CLARK: The caves that are being detected are being bombed, in a systematic fashion. Remember, an air campaign is a race of destruction against re-construction and resupply. The evidence indicates that the Taliban are still receiving resupply through Pakistan, and they are no doubt attempting to repair the damages inflicted by the air strikes. We have to be patient with our armed forces. I believe the operation is roughly on track, and doing about the best it can.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How does our armed forces tell the difference between Taliban Afghan forces and Northern Alliance Afghan forces?

CLARK: Only by their location, unless we're in on the ground. And then, once we put U.S. ground troops in, we will have a continuing problem to discriminate our adversaries from the civilian population.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Are we capable of covertly penetrating one-on-one for removal of Taliban echelon?

CLARK: Probably not.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Do we expect to provide heavy military equipment (beyond small arms and anti-tank weapons) to the Northern Alliance?

CLARK: My guess would be that we would ask Russia and other countries to do this. We want to get as many people involved in assisting the Northern Alliance as is practicable.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Is it realistic to say that we will end up in a protracted ground war with the Taliban?

CLARK: Only if we send in troops with a protracted mission. So long as we use Special Forces to call in targets or assist the Northern Alliance, then we're in no danger of protracted ground combat. Once we put a large number, tens of thousands of American fighting men into the battle, it may be harder to accomplish our objectives. But in war, luck always plays a part, and historically, the United States has been lucky.

CNN: General Tommy Franks, who heads the U.S. operations in Afghanistan met with Northern Alliance forces this week. What were the likely goals of this meeting?

CLARK: I can only speculate that he encouraged them to attack as soon as possible. No doubt, they also asked for more air support from the United States.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Are we likely to se a multi-national force on the ground?

CLARK: This is one of the elements of administration policy which hasn't been developed yet. We are only now beginning to hear of Turkish advisors being sent. This is a good step, in my view, and hopefully we'll see more soldiers from many other countries.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: General Clark The terrorist are spreading around the world. Is this really correct strategy against terror?

CLARK: Well, it's hard to know what "this" means, in the question, but I refer you to the answer I gave earlier about a need for a wide range of measures, focused not just on Afghanistan, but other countries. For instance, much of the spread of bitter feelings from which terrorists draw their support is due to the influence of Saudi money, and it will be necessary to work with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other countries directly on these matters.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Will the campaign go after terrorist in Asia and South America?

CLARK: I believe that terrorists in South America and Asia are being watched closely, and I would not be surprised to see them attacked. This is a worldwide effort. These attacks may already be happening, for all we know.

CNN: General Clark, do you have any closing comments for us today?

CLARK: The battle against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban is going about as can be expected. This is a long-term campaign and won't be over in days or weeks or months. American people will have to be patient. We'll have to seek out allies around the world to help us. It can't be won with American bombs and bullets alone.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today, General Wesley Clark.

CLARK: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure to be with you today.

General Wesley Clark joined chat room via telephone from Arkansas. CNN provided a typist. This is an edited transcript of the interview, which took place on Thursday, November 01, 2001.


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