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General David Grange: Military update

General David Grange (Ret.) was in the United States Army for 30 years. He was the commanding general of the First Infantry Division, also known as the "Big Red One." During his time of service, Grange was a Ranger and a Green Beret. He is now the chief operating officer and an executive vice president at the Robert McCormick Tribune Foundation in Chicago.

CNN: Welcome once again to Newsroom General Grange.

GRANGE: Good afternoon, General Dave Grange here. It looks like things are going well in our fight. Looks like the number two leader of al Qaeda is dead, and it looks like bin Laden is on the run. There's a lot of speculation on where he may be. The number of anti-Taliban forces have increased, and it looks like they're narrowing down the areas of hardcore resistance, and the international coalition is continuing to put on a lot of pressure with airstrikes and people on the ground to locate and destroy targets. So... what are your questions?

CNN: What are your thoughts about reports that senior al Qaeda official Muhammed Atef has been killed? How significant is this development?

GRANGE: The death of the number two al Qaeda terrorist leader is very significant, and will have a tremendous effect on morale of the al Qaeda and the Taliban. He is the military instructor, and he is one who we understand had played a key role in training the pilots and the other terrorists that hit the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. So, that really hurts the morale of our enemy. Number two, if we're looking for revenge, we got it with that guy.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What type of tactics do you think will have the best success in flushing out al Qaeda?

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GRANGE: The best tactic for flushing them out is a combination of ground and air. Air won't do it alone, and ground won't do it alone, because even though we've narrowed the area, it's still very large. The combination will force the enemy to do things where we have chances to get some targets. Having the people on the ground allows us to interact with indigenous forces on the ground now, and we can get information from them for targeting. In other words, they'll just start ratting on these guys. We just have to continue to keep the pressure on.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How will the U.S. counter the tactics of the guerillas led by Taliban, because the U.S. doesn't have a good record in Vietnam? Also will the U.S. be dragged into another quagmire like Vietnam?

GRANGE: First of all, as for fighting guerillas in Vietnam, the U.S. has a great record. The problem with Vietnam is that we constrained ourselves with the borders. We didn't go into Laos, just a little bit. We're controlling Afghanistan. There's a little sanctuary in Pakistan, maybe, but we'll go in and get them. It's not the same as Vietnam, with a DMZ. The thing we need to be careful of in fighting the guerillas in Afghanistan is to not fight their fight. They'll want to suck us into an inch-by-inch, through the caves fight, and we don't want to do that. We want to go after targets where we know we have a good chance of success, and we'll attack the targets when it's advantageous for us to do it.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: When do you think UN troops will enter Kabul?

GRANGE: I don't know if UN troops will enter Kabul. I think it will be a multi-national force with authorization from the UN. But normally, UN forces, when they put the package together, takes a long time. What I believe will happen is that they'll call in a multi-national force of some sort, made up of Muslim countries, with permission from the UN to do this. The sooner they can put something there, the better.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What do you think of the report that Mullah Omar has ordered the Taliban to leave Khandahar?

GRANGE: If Omar feels that the defense of Kandahar is unattainable, then he'll move out to the mountains, where his forces have a better chance of survival. That all depends on the attitude of the people in Kandahar. In other words, cities are good to defend, but not if the people are against you in the city, the civilians. So, if it looks like he doesn't have the support, then he'll fight a rear guard action, and move out into the mountains.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How are you so sure that this [retreat] is not a trick of al- Qaeda?

GRANGE: I don't think it's a trick. I think they were forced to retreat, but at the end of this operation, they're going to try to fight on ground to their advantage. That is to suck in forces, and they would like it to be American forces, into the mountains and caves where they can fight to their advantage, small-scale hit and run tactics in the mountains. But I believe the retreat is out of necessity, not out of treachery.

CNN: Secretary Rumsfeld says that Special Forces are now participating in ground combat. What can you tell us about these missions?

GRANGE: What I would assume is that they're doing three different types of missions. One, they're calling in airstrikes. That's difficult, because a lot of the forces, Taliban and anti-Taliban, look the same. From the air, it's hard to tell them apart. They have the same equipment, and they dress the same. So, it's important to have Special Forces there to strike the right targets. There's also a language issue. Number two, they're assessing the situation, and reporting it with an American perspective on how well the forces are doing. That's very important for knowing what the next step will be. And number three, is that there's probably some Special Operations raids going on against leaders, any known leaders in any locations, going after those terror cells themselves.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Is it possible to send troops, etc. directly into these caves the Taliban hides in?

GRANGE: Yes, but I would not do it. If I was in charge, for instance, to go into a cave and to get the people in it, I would offer the opportunity for people to surrender, and if they didn't surrender right away, I would put demolitions like fuel-air explosives, and detonate that first before I'd send any of my people in. That's because of the extensive use of booby traps.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: It appears as if al Qaeda and Taliban are now concentration forces in a few areas for a final fight. Can we destroy these forces en mass without high civilian casualties?

GRANGE: We can if they don't do their final fights in cities. If the fights are in cities, there will be civilian casualties. As an example, in Konduz, up north, (I think as of this morning, they're still fighting there, and the forces there are hardcore mercenary forces), if they don't surrender, then some civilians will be killed during the fight. It can't be helped.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What are we doing to make sure bin Laden does not escape into Pakistan or Iran?

GRANGE: First of all, he may have already escaped. A lot of the videos that we see with him around caves may have all been done early on, and he may well be living in a villa right now in Pakistan. It's a very porous border. We didn't have much control in the southern and eastern areas of Afghanistan until after Kabul fell. That may have been the time he slipped through. Right now, American and other international forces, as well as anti-Taliban forces, are watching as many of the routes into Pakistan as possible. I doubt that he went to Iran, because he doesn't get along with Iran very well. He could have also escaped by helicopter, a helicopter hidden in a cave or a warehouse, and one night flown down through the valleys and out of the country. Or he could have gone on the back of a horse, dressed as a woman -- a very tall woman. He's dressed as a woman before.

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

GRANGE: I think everyone should feel pretty good. It looks like we're winning this fight. We have to keep up the pressure. It still might not be completed before winter, and still may last several more months, or into next year. But we're slowly winning, and we have to hang in there, because guerilla wars take time.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today, General David Grange. We look forward to speaking with you again. GRANGE: Thank you.

General David Grange joined the chat room via telephone from Illinois and provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Friday, November 16, 2001 at 1 p.m. EST.


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