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Larry Goodson: The tunnels of Afghanistan

Larry Goodson  

(CNN) -- Larry Goodson is a professor of international studies at Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts, and author of "Afghanistan's Endless War," a book about the 20-plus years of conflict that have ravaged the country. Goodson spoke Tuesday with CNN anchor Bill Hemmer on the search for suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

HEMMER: We're going to start in the south in Kandahar. We know there's an extensive network there. As we move to the north and to the east, we are going come into the area known as Tora Bora, which is about 35 miles outside of Jalalabad. We also know there's an extensive network there as well.

The irony here, professor, is that the United States, through the CIA, helped build a lot of the cave networks -- and now it's the U.S. military that indeed may try and destroy these.

GOODSON: Well, that's true. A number of these cave complexes, such as the big one at Jawar, were built during the Soviet phase of the Afghan war in the 1980s with the help of U.S. and the Pakistani intelligence services.

The Pentagon says the Marines are outside of Kandahar where they will base the hunt for Osama bin Laden. CNN's Jamie Mcintyre reports (November 27)

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Also, you've got caves that are kind of constructed out of the Afghan underground aqueduct system, known as the "carduz" or the "canat" system, that has been in place there for some centuries -- a mechanism whereby water is transported underground so that it doesn't evaporate. And a lot of those, especially in the Kandahar area, have been turned into hiding places and cave complexes as well.

HEMMER: The Soviets said that some of the caves were built with "the finest in NATO engineering." Based on what you know about the U.S. military, does the U.S. military have the arsenal to destroy the most extensive and elaborate networks?

GOODSON: Not from the air. A lot of the caves are hidden in sort of very narrow valleys, in places where even smart bombs can't be easily directed. And even if they are, they would only hit at or right around the tunnel entrance. Many of these carry on for hundreds of feet underground, and there's a lot of hidden rooms and so on.

So, what the Soviets had to do was basically explode devices within the caves or within the tunnel complexes, and then send in special operations units to see what was inside. And I suspect that we'll see that sort of operation.

In fact, I think we've already had those sorts of operations under way, although not in the headlines, not in the camera's glare, by special operations units on the ground in Afghanistan.

HEMMER: You said Osama bin Laden may have brought in construction engineers from Saudi Arabia ... who helped build some of the latest caves that we're seeing right now. Given that fact and given that reality, how extensive is U.S. military's knowledge of the various underground networks?

GOODSON: Well, he definitely brought in construction equipment and construction engineers to help him build his above-the-ground complex or complexes, especially in the Jalalabad area. I was merely speculating that perhaps they also assisted in the underground work as well.

I think our knowledge is fairly extensive about the type of caves, and also about certain of the complexes that we helped to build. But no one really knows all of the caves in Afghanistan. This is, probably with the exception maybe of Nepal, the most rugged country in the world. And the mountains there are pockmarked with cave and tunnel complexes.

For example, there has a lot of discussion about bin Laden hiding in the Tora Bora complex near Jalalabad. I have thought for a long time that he would more likely be hiding in Oruzgan or the rugged area to the northeast of Kandahar, still in Taliban-controlled territory but extremely remote.

HEMMER: Why do you believe that?

GOODSON: He has complexes there he has used in the past, when we wanted to target him for past attacks such as the embassy attacks in east Africa, or the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. He's gone there before, and it's extremely remote. It's less well known and harder to find than the complexes around Jalalabad, where most of the people in Jalalabad are fully aware of these complexes and where they are.

HEMMER: It's my understanding that from some of these cave networks, Osama bin Laden could operate completely underground, moving from network to network, without ever going above ground. Is that true?

GOODSON: Absolutely -- especially those constructed out of the aqueduct system I talked about earlier, since that is meant to be a sort of underground river designed to move water from one place to another. These go on for thousands and thousands of feet. So it would be quite possible.


• Bentley College

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