U.S. Troops Still Under Attack in Afghanistan

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Dec. 17, 2002, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: International peacekeepers [in Afghanistan] have come under attack twice in the last few days. Two American soldiers were injured when terrorists threw a hand grenade into their car in Kabul. If post-combat involves attacks on our soldiers, you have to wonder if our military strategy is working.

Dan Plesch is a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense Studies, and he joins us now.

So, Mr. Plesch, what is it the Americans aren't doing in Afghanistan that they ought to think about doing?

DAN PLESCH, INSTITUTE FOR DEFENSE STUDIES: Well, that's a very good question. I think that one of the things one has to look at is that, if we're delivering cash, we're not delivering enough cash to stop the heroin trade, which is delivering 2,000 tons of heroin… despite the… [presence of] 20,000 troops, U.S. and allied, in the country.

GIBSON: Is it heroin dealers that are attacking the 82nd Airborne and its bases, or is it the Taliban?

PLESCH: If you think about, one wouldn't want to differentiate the two, to start off with.

Secondly, if you want to talk about asymmetric warfare, having 2,000 tons of heroin coming at our cultures and our cities is a very good way of waging that sort of warfare…

I think [TV coverage of military action in Afghanistan] is a very sort of dangerous and seductive form of television, and it takes our minds away, I think, from the real tragedies of the situation and the fact that, in a series of actions, our forces have not been as successful as we hoped they would be.

We can't prevent our bases from being attacked regularly. The number of people that we're losing is steadily increasing again. And I think that, while all the attention has been on Iraq, we need to realize that the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating.

GIBSON: Well, what's going on with Al Qaeda? Are they re-establishing the training camp, and if they are, why can't the American troops that are there and the peacekeeping troops that are there go after those training camps?

PLESCH: Well, I think that's a very, very good question. Afghanistan is, of course, an exceptionally difficult country to operate in.

The easy thing is, as it were, putting your flag up in Kabul and in the cities. That's the easy part. It was easy for the British in the last century, it was easy for the Soviets 20 years ago, and it was easy for us a year ago.

There is no easy solution, but I think the problem we have is that the way in which we've conducted operations — particularly some U.S. forces — has alienated the population, which was initially very sympathetic towards us. There have been a number of very well- documented cases of this, and the very assault-driven approach of the military isn't particularly suitable.

… I have to say from experiences around the world, the British military tries to have a very soft — if you will, hearts-and-mind approach — that in the U.S. is all too often dismissed as some kind of social work… nothing could be further from the truth.

GIBSON: But we've got a contradiction here. If Al Qaeda is setting up its training camps and launching daily attacks against the 82nd Airborne, how does [treading] softly help?

PLESCH: No, no, no… you totally misunderstand.

GIBSON: I'm not misunderstanding. I'm trying to contrast these things.

PLESCH: You go around beating up villages as a reaction to that sort of action, and that, unfortunately, has happened all too often in the cordon-and-search operations that are being conducted in Eastern Afghanistan. That is really playing into the hands of the opposition.

There isn't, I think, a particularly easy answer, and I'm not necessarily offering one. But I think that we are in grave danger of losing sight of the real problems that we're facing in Afghanistan, with all the attention on Iraq, and not understanding that if we get drawn out into further bases in the countryside, as is now being proposed, that we may lose further control.

And I think there is a great illusion that we are in control in Afghanistan, and we really are not.

GIBSON: All right. Dan Plesch, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

PLESCH: My pleasure.

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