February 25, 2004 | Broadcast

The Investigative Project

WALID PHARES: Good morning.

MEIER: Colonel, let me start with you. Lay the groundwork for us. What’s the U.S. military’s strategy?

KEN ALLARD: Well, we’ve got three experts, no waiting. The U.S. military strategy here is one that we have been following ever since the start of the war on terror. That is, basically what you have to try and do is to control the ground as best you can and simply go after these networks where and when you find them. That is a very tall order particularly if you are fighting in a place like Afghanistan that even, or Pakistan, right next door, that simply is not controlled very well by any of the two governments that are there. So we are going to come in there and controlling the ground, you are dealing with a problem that goes at least as far back as when the British controlled that area, let alone the Russians just in the last 20 years.

MEIER: We’ll have some help. Troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan play into this plan and Walid, I want to ask you, how will they be asked to play a different role than they did back in 2002?

PHARES: In 2002, there was no Afghani army. There were militias and they were absorbing the victory. Two years later after being trained by the U.S. army and also with incentives from the government, think we have a better armed-force in Afghanistan. On the Pakistani side, I am not sure because there are political problems and Musharraf has been the target of assassination attempts, so it’s more critical on the Pakistani side.

MEIER:  Steve, what do you expect Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda–what do you think they are doing with this knowledge that this offensive is going to take place?

STEVEN EMERSON:  I seem to be the odd man out here because I find it sort of strange that the U.S. government together with Afghanistan and Pakistan are announcing this offensive. First of all, it’s like we’ve been saying for two and a half years now. We’re going to get serious. I don’t know what we have been doing up until now, and number two, why would we announce something like this unless there is obviously some type of Machiavellian-type of deception? But my feeling is this is something that is designed for political purposes to raise morale and by the governments to curry favor with the United States. I am not so sure this at all helps in the capture of Osama bin Laden.

MEIER: Well Colonel, let me ask you about that. Is this bragging on the part of the U.S. military? Or is there a renewed sense of urgency that they have something, that they could actually capture him? It’s just a matter of time before he’s caught and this is coming from the U.S. military. How much time and how much intelligence is based on that opinion?

ALLARD:  Well, I am very much of the Steve Emerson school on this one. I got to tell you, I much prefer to do the operation and then start bragging about it after you caught the guy because the last thing in the world that you want to do, you know that flying squirrel you had on? That is not the kind of thing that you want Osama bin Laden to do. You want to wait until you have him captured and trapped and then make the announcement, hey, isn’t this wonderful, and very frankly, we have not had the time and so far we have not yet had the intelligence to go after this guy on his own turf and get him where it counts.

MEIER:  Steve, let me ask you. I want you to listen to something that the CIA Director said about the nature of al Qaeda: “How do you defeat such an enemy once and for all? Can it be done?” Well, and he said, you know, he said this very specifically when he was testifying before Congress.  How does that comment come out– and they talked with al Qaeda in terms of the capability to strike on U.S. ground again with the same type of force and catastrophic outcome that it did on September 11. Those are very strong words. Do you think those organizations are listening? And is he accurate in that statement?

PHARES:  Well there’s some accuracy here because two thirds of the capabilities that existed on 9/11 are no more, do not exist. But let me tell you one thing. With the last third, al Qaeda can still strike against us. Remember, the Nazis at the end of the regime were still able to strike England. We have to end the war before stating that al Qaeda has been defeated.

MEIER:  All right. Now I want to ask you guys in one-word answers: do you believe the military when they say that we are only a matter of months away from capturing Osama bin laden? Walid, I will start with you.

PHARES:  Well, that’s the question I didn’t want to answer but I will answer anyway, because it depends on how Osama bin laden will react to this offensive.

MEIER:  So your one-word answer is?

PHARES:  Maybe….

MEIER:  Maybe. Very keen. Colonel?

EMERSON:  Good politician.

MEIER: Colonel, what’s your answer?

ALLARD:  I’m sorry, but I can’t improve on maybe. It is exactly that problematic.

MEIER: Steve, am I getting a maybe out of you?

EMERSON:  I am going to stick my neck out.  I don’t think we will get him in months. Two maybes and a no.

MEIER:  Steve, Ken, Walid, thank you all for your time. I appreciate it.