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General Grange: The Taliban retreat from Kabul

Retired U.S. Army Gen. David Grange is a CNN Military Analyst. During his 30 years of service, Grange served as an Army Ranger, Green Beret, aviator and infantryman throughout Vietnam, Korea, Grenada, Russia, Central and South America and the Middle East during the Gulf War. His final position was as commanding general of the First Infantry Division, also known as 'the Big Red One,' in Germany, Bosnia, Macedonia and Kosovo. Grange is now executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation. He joins us from Illinois.

CNN: Good afternoon, General Grange. We are pleased to have you back in Newsroom.

GEN. GRANGE: Hello, I appreciate the opportunity to be on with you again, and I look forward to answering your questions, and at least give you my perspective of what's going on.

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CNN: What can you tell us about events that led up to the N. Alliance takeover of Kabul? What made it so surprisingly easy?

GEN. GRANGE: Well, several things. First of all, the air power provided by the international coalition made it possible for the Northern Alliance to have the gains. It didn't just take the air power. Mazar-e Sharif was the first example of a coordinated combined arms attack, where they also integrated air power. The synergy of that force enabled them to take the Mazar-e Sharif objective. They then continued to use major attacks on the other objectives like Talaqan and Herat.

Then they did some other objectives up in the northern province. Some of the forces up north moved down south to link up with the forces preparing to attack Kabul. Kabul fell very quickly, mainly because the Taliban withdrew. If the Taliban had decided to conduct a determined fight in Kabul, it would pretty much have negated our use of air power because we wouldn't have wanted any collateral damage, and the Northern Alliance would have had a lot of casualties in city fighting. And they may not have achieved the objective. That kind of sets the stage for why Kabul fell.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Why do you think the Taliban abandoned Kabul so quickly?

GEN. GRANGE: Two reasons. One is the momentum of the Northern Alliance success, and the psychological impact of the Taliban. What happens in war quite often is when you affect the moral domain of a force, ie, uncertainty, [low] morale, fear of encirclement or failure, it causes the force to capitulate faster. The other reason is that I think some deals were cut. The unity of command at any of these sites is very fragile, and you have deals cut with the parts that make up the unity. Some were just tired of the Taliban regime, some saw failure around the corner, and didn't want any part of it. Historically, it's the way they've fought for years. Sub units change sides rapidly, depending on how they're challenged, and what's in it for them. That's how it happened.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: General, isn't the Northern Alliance spread a bit thin now that they have advanced so far?

GEN. GRANGE: Great question. I thought the same thing last night. They're moving so fast, and the size of their force isn't that big that you'd be concerned that there would be bypassed pockets of resistance that could then do you harm, attack your flanks and rear areas. You want to keep momentum, but you need enough forces to hold the holes you've punched in the enemy lines. They seemed to know that most of the remnant Taliban units would change sides anyway. I think there will be some resistance in the mountains of the north, but it seems that most have changed sides.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: General- is the fall of Kabul a serious turning point in the war?

GEN. GRANGE: The real seat of government is Kandahar, but Kabul is the traditional seat of government. Psychologically, it was a serious blow. Not only has it affected the morale of the Taliban, but it has affected many of the tribes that were sitting on the fence, deciding what to do. And it had international significance, because many in the region -- other countries or groups -- saw the Northern Alliance when it captured Kabul, as a prominent force to be considered for the future of Afghanistan.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Now that the Alliance controls the northern half of Afghanistan, will the US put troops on the ground to find bin Laden?

GEN. GRANGE: The United States has almost accomplished two of the three objectives. It looks like we have denied the sanctuary of Afghanistan from the al Qaeda terrorist organization. One of the other objectives was to show the world that we have resolve to accomplish going after the terrorist organization. To show the world that other terrorist organizations had better watch out. That's happening. We had an indirect concern, but it wasn't a stated objective, that the next government of Afghanistan would have some sort of multi-ethnic civil administration. We're not sure yet, but it appears that may happen. However, our primary objective of destroying the al-Qaeda infrastructure, killing or bringing some of the leaders to justice, and destroying the support of the terrorist structure, the hardcore Taliban, has not yet been accomplished. If it looks like they're going to the hills. Someone has to go in and get them, or we have to wait until they come out, and then get them. It's to be seen who will do that.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How much power do the Taliban still have? If any?

GEN. GRANGE: I think the hardcore Taliban are still an effective fighting organization. Though it's been crippled, it's still a tough nut to crack. The hardest part of the fight is still to come.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: General: do you think that if the US was too pull back, but be held at the ready, once the Afghanistan situation is dealt with, and allow those states that are on the list as terrorist states to deal with terrorism inside their borders, that they would take that option and run with it?

GEN. GRANGE: First, we need to say war on terrorISTS, or countries that harbor terrorists, not war on terrorism. I say that because it's too general, like war on crime, or war on drugs. It's not specific enough to provide objectives to those who have to accomplish them. The al Qaeda is a defined objective. The idea of terrorism is just too much of an "idea." So, there are countries, and we have to follow up with what's next. It appears we're doing Afghanistan first, and I'm sure we've already started to do some things on the next ones.

To answer that more directly, because of the fact that we don't want regional war, for instance in the Middle East, then for example if we have to go after Saddam Hussein's regime, that would be much easier than going after the Hezbollah, which is supported by Syria, Lebanon and Iran, unless we're prepared to go after Syria, Lebanon and Iran. So that would give them a chance to do something internally, before we start a regional war.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How to see the next phase of the conflict developing in Afghanistan, and how do you think the U.S. will continue its military involvement?

GEN. GRANGE: I think we'll build some kind of strike forces in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, as well as off the carriers. .... to strike only if we have good intelligence to employ American units. We have to be ready to kill or capture the al Qaeda network, so we'll continue to bomb, to keep the pressure on, and as we're doing those things, we'll continue to try to nurture the military international coalition. We'll take a part in some kind of multi-national observer force in Kabul or Kandahar or Harat, or wherever it may be. And then we'll support the Northern Alliance as they move south to consolidate the rest of the country, under this new multi-ethnic civil government.

CNN: Do you have any closing comments for us today?

GEN. GRANGE: As we look at the fight going on now, it's very positive, but again, the hardest elements to be fought are still waiting. We still have not accomplished our mission, and it may be after winter before we do. So, hang in for the long run.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today, General Grange.

GEN. GRANGE: Thank you.

General David Grange (ret.) joined Newsroom via telephone from Chicago. CNN provided a typist. This is an edited transcript of the interview, which took place on Tuesday, November 13, 2001.


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