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Target: Terrorism - Colonel. Bob Stewart Talks About Weapons Used in Afghanistan's Civil War

Aired October 5, 2001 - 05:38   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: Afghanistan's been at war for 23 years. First came a decade of fighting the Soviets and then came the current civil war that's underway. And with all that in mind, you have to wonder if troops and military supplies have long been defeated there.

Let's get some answers now from Colonel Bob Stewart, the former British U.N. Commander.

Thanks for joining us, Colonel.

We just heard Matthew Chance...

COLONEL BOB STEWART, FORMER BRITISH U.N. COMMANDER: Morning.

CALLAWAY: ... talking about the weapons that the Northern Alliance -- these Soviet-era weapons. Let's talk a little bit about what the Taliban -- type of weapons at the Taliban. Is it the same type of thing that we're seeing with the Northern Alliance these older Soviet-era weapons?

STEWART: Absolutely. The most important weapon the Taliban have is their assault rifle, the Kalashnikof, because that's the traditional weapon for fighters that fight alone, and the Taliban strength comes from the fact of their resilience and their determination as individual fighters. They've got equipment, like say, you know perhaps 100 T-55, T-62 Soviet-era tanks but that equipment is very old, it's not very well maintained. The strength of the Taliban is their fighting spirit and that's why we've got to actually try and destroy that.

CALLAWAY: It isn't -- probably the biggest problem other than their strength would be the terrain there in Afghanistan, very difficult and the higher altitudes.

STEWART: Well, it's very difficult, particularly for soldiers that fly in to fight at higher altitudes, and we're thinking about British and American forces possibly going in by helicopter, I would think. And then -- so therefore they will be acclimatizing now in those high altitudes somewhere so that they can fight because you don't want to give away any advantage you can so you try and acclimatize your soldiers before you fly in. They're acclimatized for the cold. They're acclimatized for the high altitude. That's what I suspect they will be doing right now.

CALLAWAY: Tell us about the type of weapons that could be used in that type of terrain. You're talking about altitudes over 15 -- over 15,000 in some areas but obviously helicopters are -- do not -- do not function properly, do not operate well in that high of an altitude.

STEWART: Yes, but they do function and there are ways around it. Most certainly the only way of dealing with the Taliban, very unfortunately, if you actually bring it into a military conflict is to get in close with them. And it's going to be very difficult to destroy the Taliban just by using precision guided munitions or Tomahawk cruise missiles. Unfortunately, if you really want to get them, you've actually got to take the risks of putting soldiers on the ground, albeit briefly, in raids. Now that is something that obviously the military planners are looking at very carefully. And that is the reason why it's taken so long because, quite honestly, no one wants to take more casualties than is necessary so the targeting has got to be precise and neither do we want to actually kill innocent civilians.

CALLAWAY: The Northern Alliance reaching ever closer as we've just heard from that report to taking Kabul. Do you think that will happen?

STEWART: Well that would be a very good solution, wouldn't it? Maybe history will take care of it in a way. If the Northern Alliance actually do move out of their defensive positions, which they've been in for a long time, and you heard the nearest they were was 400 meters. May I point out that the battle range of a Kalashnikof is 300 meters. So in other words, we're talking they're quite well apart, even at the closest point, because normally these front lines can be up, you know, one, two, three miles apart and they have artillery exchanges, which is the way the fighting normally takes place.

So it would be very good indeed if the Northern Alliance were to actually get out of their defensive positions and attack and get through to Kabul. That might present us with an easier option in so far as if we get Kabul taken, perhaps we could air land troops and actually then control and find the Taliban that way. It will be less risky perhaps.

CALLAWAY: But, Colonel, do you think that the U.S. should be working with the Northern Alliance? Shouldn't we be careful about what weapons are given to the Northern Alliance?

STEWART: Absolutely. In this part of the world if we look back at the history of our involvement, we should remember that when you dine with the devil you use a long spoon. It is very, very interesting to think that Northern Alliance apparently when they were in charge invited Mr. bin Laden to come and stay there. So I mean it is very difficult. But in order to get this great evil of Mr. bin Laden and his associates, we've actually got to make some comprises and it is essential that we do have support from people who know what they're doing, who are locals on the ground. And that doesn't just include the Northern Alliance but it includes the government of Pakistan and their armed forces and it also includes the Russian Republics or the ex-Russian Republics to the north and Russia.

CALLAWAY: And, Colonel, I hate to interrupt you, we're running out of time, but quickly, just yes or no, do you think that the U.S. will find Osama bin Laden?

STEWART: Yes, very soon, but who can say when. Mr. bin Laden has a limited life expectancy.

CALLAWAY: All right, Colonel Bob Stewart, former British U.N. commander. Thank you for joining us, Colonel.

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