One Year Later:
Frontline: 'Campaign Against Terror'
With Greg Barker
Monday, Sept. 9, 2002; 11 a.m. ET
On Sept. 11, 2001, America came to a sudden standstill as the nation reeled from the shock of the worst terrorist act in U.S. history. Within hours, however, plans were already underway for a military response like no other: America's first war of the 21st century.
FRONTLINE's "Campaign Against Terror," airing Sunday, Sept. 8, at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings), recounts the behind-the-scenes story of the U.S. and world response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Through interviews with Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, and other key players, the two-hour documentary examines the complex diplomatic maneuvering that led to an international coalition against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The program also chronicles how the White House, Pentagon, and the CIA moved quickly to develop a plan for fighting a new kind of war.
Greg Barker, the show's producer and writer, was online Monday, Sept. 9, to talk about reconstructing the aftermath of the terrorist attacks and the evolution of the world's response.
Barker produced, directed, and wrote “The New Rules of the Game,” a two-hour film that was part of PBS’s "Commanding Heights" series. He also produced a one-hour examination of Saddam Hussein, “The Survival of Saddam,” for FRONTLINE. Additionally, Barker produced, directed, and wrote two one-hour films for the four part PBS series "Red Files," which received the Best Series award from the International Documentary Association in 2000. His documentary credits also include two films for the A&E Network’s Biography series, “Pol Pot” and “Idi Amin.”
Prior to his career in documentary film, Barker was a broadcast journalist in over 40 countries, filing reports from Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland, Rwanda and the Gulf War for Reuters, ITN, CNN, BBC and others. Barker studied International Relations at the London School of Economics.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
washingtonpost.com: Good morning Greg, and welcome. Your program last night featured interviews with everyone close to the action since Sept. 11, from Defense Secretary Colin Powell to Chairman Hamid Karzai. How did you get such incredible access? Was anyone reluctant to talk?
Greg Barker: Thank you. We got access by asking most of these people, and by being persistent, and by saying that we were going to try to give a full and fair account of the war. With a bit of perspective one year later, people wanted to tell their story of how the war went from their perspective.
We did not get an interview with Donald Rumsfeld, and we asked repeatedly. That was a disappointment. Also, Vice President Cheney and President Bush turned us down.
Pleasanton, Calif.: I saw the PBS special "Campaign Against Terror." I would like to know the name of the really cute Washington Post reporter. There was one part where she mentioned "there was no real noose around Tora Bora." What other stories has she reported on?
Greg Barker: It's Susan Glasser, and she's married. She's really good. We interviewed her because we thought her reporting was some of the best reporting on the war. We interviewed her from the top of the Washington Post-Newsweek house in Kabul.
Germantown, Md.: According to recently declassified documents and reported in the Washington Post, New York times, The U.S. and the Pentagon supported Saddam Hussein and financed its war of aggression against Iran, and even had nothing to say when it did use "weapons of mass destruction," poison gas, against both the Kurds and Iranians, yet hypocritically now claim their concern for the dictator they once embraced as an ally? What you say?
Greg Barker: I think there was a period in the 1980s when Iraqi interests and American interests coincided with Iran. There's no question that the U.S. intelligence services did work closely with Iraqi intelligence, and in fact, representatives from the most prominent Kurdish groups were refused access to high-level State Department officials during this period. I'm not going to pass judgment on that, but I think Iraq was hoping for an even closer relationship with the United States at that time, which is why it felt betrayed in the run-up to and during the Gulf War.
Greg Barker: Even during the Gulf War, we knew that as recently as within a year before the Gulf War, the U.S. and Iraq had various high-level contacts. In fact, Sen. Dole led a delegation to see Saddam Hussein within six months of his invasion of Kuwait.
I think the details that are being reported now are new, the history has been known for a long time, and in fact the U.S. and Iraq before the Gulf War had a history of on-and-off cooperation when their objectives/national interests coincided.
Los Altos Hills, Calif.: Given that the U.S.-led coalition has provided only about $100 million of the promised $4.5 billion in aid to Afghanistan, what is likely to happen in Afghanistan without this promise being fulfilled?
Greg Barker: Well, we saw an indication of what might happen last week, with the bombs in Kabul and the assassination attempt on President Karzai. The primary responsibility for peace in Afghanistan lies with the Afghanis. They are the ones who have to put their ethnic and factional differences aside. However, after the Soviet withdrawal, the U.S. lost interest in Afghanistan. Afterwards, there was infighting, which ultimately led to the rise of the Taliban. What the Afghan government is hoping for now is a long-term engagement by America and the rest of the world in their country.
Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: Aside from serving as waiters, royal sideboys, security cops, and butlers for Karzai, what else are our highly trained, expensively-maintained, carefully culled Special Forces troops now doing in Afghanistan? Do you suppose the American taxpayer ever thought our Defense department budget would have a line item for supplying servants to foreign HooHahs? And are they destined to remain there forever like our troops in Korea, England, Germany, and Italy? Thanks much.
Greg Barker: In addition to that, they are hunting for remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda. When I was there in May, there were positioned not just near Karzai, but also with various regional governors/warlords around the country to try to maintain stability. I think at the moment the Afghani government wants them there, and I suspect the U.S. military will be there for some time. But I know the Special Forces troops per se are hoping to phase out their operations there. In the case of Karzai, they are hoping to transfer their operations to the security wing of the State Department.
Falls Church, Va.: Besides the U.S., is any other country taking an active role in the war on terror? Are we the only country with troops on the ground there? Where is the U.N. in all of this?
Greg Barker: In Afghanistan now, the peacekeeping force is led by Turkey in Kabul. And I believe Britain still has troops, and several other countries also have troops as peacekeepers in Kabul. In the war against terror, the U.S. was and remains the driving military force. Certainly, Britain is involved. Other than that, members of the coalition, while important diplomatically, are certainly not in the driver's seat when it comes to operating militarily.
In the case of the Philippines, the U.S. had Special Operations troops there training the Filipino army. In the global campaign against terror, we don't know the extent of the involvement of special operations teams from the U.S. and Britain, but also Middle Eastern countries. There may be more going on there than we know about.
Chevy Chase, Md.: Where is Pakistan in the campaign against terror? Early on last year, much was made about Musharraf's unprecedented support and access for the U.S. However, we haven't heard much out of Pakistan lately. Are they still assisting the U.S. And, more importantly, harboring al Qaeda?
Greg Barker: They are still assisting the U.S. U.S. Special Operations troops are active in Pakistan, particularly in the tribal regions along the Afghani border. U.S. aircraft continue to fly over Pakistan on their way to Afghanistan. So that level of cooperation that began a year ago does continue. However, I think the long-term question is how stable is President Musharraf? To join the U.S.-led coalition, he took a big risk domestically. And without question, there are still elements within the Pakistani military and intelligence service who once were the Taliban's primary supporters. Whether one day they will try to de-stabilize Musharraf's government remains an open question.
I think with regard to al Qaeda, I don't know for sure, but many people do believe that senior members of al Qaeda were or still are being protected in Pakistan's tribal regions. Finally, no Pakistani government has ever fully controlled those regions. So the question then is are these people being harbored by the Pakistani government, or by Pakistani people?
washingtonpost.com: To your point about destabilization, it's easy to get the impression that Musharraf and Karzai are constantly in peril. Is there the possibility of assassination hanging over their heads at all times, or are things more stable than we might believe?
Greg Barker: With Musharraf, the fact is Musharraf made a decision to join the coalition almost a year ago. Many people thought he would be assassinated or overthrown then. He's still there. So the odds probably are that he will get through this.
With regards to Karzai, we saw last week that the threat is very real. And he's almost a special case, because without him, there is no other national Afghan figure who can both inspire the confidence of the West -- not only the West; Karzai's well liked in Russia, Pakistan and Iran -- but also symbolize the desire of the Afghani people themselves to bring their decades of civil war to an end.
Springfield, Va.: How long will U.S. troops be in Afghanistan? And I could soon ask how long troops will be in Iraq, as well.
I'm concerned about the U.S. being involved on two such large fronts. During the Clinton administration, the military shrank dramatically. I find it hard to believe that it has grown in the short amount of time Bush II has been in office to be able to handle both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Greg Barker: I think in terms of just keeping troops there, the numbers are actually minimal. We're talking roughly 4,000 inside Afghanistan now, or less. So even if you had to have a similar number or more in Iraq for a war, the impact on U.S. military readiness would not be that dramatic.
When the war in Afghanistan was being planned, one of the reasons that they didn't want to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq at the same time was because both countries fall under the area of operations of the U.S. Central Command. And it was felt that two wars in the same region under the same commanding generals might be too much, too taxing.
Washington, D.C.: On the program's Web site, there is a great table that outlines the parallel military action and diplomatic action in the year since Sept. 11. In your opinion, which track has been more successful, and, which track do you think will ultimately be more beneficial and successful?
washingtonpost.com: Frontline: Fighting on Two Fronts
Greg Barker: One of the things that struck me as we were making the film was how the diplomatic front and the military front were so interconnected. So it's hard to say which is most effective, because they go hand in hand. If the U.S. had chosen a different military strategy, say large numbers of ground troops inside Afghanistan, that would have required a different diplomatic strategy to introduce those troops and supply them. But what struck me is that neither can operate independently of one another.
Arlington, Va.: I heard a report on NPR this morning saying that the second year of peacekeeping in Afghanistan could be much more difficult and much less successful than the first year -- and last week's car bombing and assassination attempt on Karzai back up the case that things are not under control. The commentator looked to both the Soviet Union's and Britain's earlier occupations of Afghanistan, saying they, too, were successful in their first year, but deteriorated quickly after.
I guess my question is, what is the measure of success? What is the endgame?
Greg Barker: The measure of success is whether the Afghan central government can assert its authority throughout the country, and temper the power of the warlords. Only then will it be possible for foreign troops to leave without the risk of another civil war. A stable central government will require money and time.
Shreveport, La.: On Nov. 25, 2001 in the early evening I was sitting off the coast of Pakistan waiting to assault into Afghanistan with the 15 (MEUSOC). That night we conducted the longest amphibious assault in the history of the Marine Corps. I am just wanting to know why that feat is not being touted to the world? It showed that no matter where you are we can set up shop in your back yard and you can do nothing about it. The world must know that no matter where you are we can get to you. We as Americans must show the world that we still carry the biggest stick. We cannot continue to be portrayed as weaklings. I just wanted to get that off my chest.
Greg Barker: That's interesting; I wish we had footage of that. Although the first troops on the ground were from Special Operations units, Marine Corps and the 10th Mountain Division from the Army, other ground forces did play and still are playing central roles in Afghanistan. But during the key weeks of the war they were still Special Operations units that did the balance of the fighting.
Washington, D.C.: You interviewed Karzai for this special. I was wondering what your impression of him was. Do you think he is destined to be merely a martyr or a vital leader who can lead Afghanistan into a new era?
Greg Barker: Everyone we talked to, from U.S. Special Forces who were with Karzai, to the U.S. diplomats, to other Afghani leaders, all say that Karzai is an extraordinary individual, has a unique blend of charm and intelligence and bravery. Personally, I don't think he's destined to be a martyr. The path he's following, and he knows this, places him personally at great risk. But I think he would say there's simply no other path.
Washington, D.C.: You seemed to have been given pretty good access to 5th Special Forces Group personnel -- or was that more difficult than it appeared? Also, why no interviews with USAF combat air controllers, who it seems were almost as essential to this campaign as the Army SF teams?
Greg Barker: We asked the Air Force to interview them, and we did not get access to the Air Force personnel. Yes, they were crucial. All the Special Forces troops we interviewed were from the 5th Special Forces Group, headquartered in Fort Campbell, Ky.
Alameda, Calif.: Excellent production. It's always useful to hear from the people who were the boots on the ground and contrast that with the abstractions that passed for information the time.
Can you give us an idea of the ability for journalists to access Tora Bora and Shah-i-kot battlefields today? I am sure it's very dangerous for many reasons, but we read of the smuggling trails which masked the escape, the porous border, the cemetery with elaborate displays, etc. But we haven't seen these. Or, could you suggest where we could see these?
Greg Barker: Journalists today can go up to Tora Bora. It can be dangerous. It's very difficult terrain to get to. But at present there are no official restrictions on where journalists can travel in Afghanistan. Indeed, journalists have gone to these places since the war -- including Susan Glasser.
Oakton, Va.: You are giving Saddam far too much sympathy, far more than he deserves, even with his once so-called "friendly" relationship with the U.S. The fact is, he could have avoided conflict numerous times with this country, first by voluntarily pulling out of Kuwait before the war actually started when he was warned by George Bush, Sr., (which he didn't do). Then he could have actually abided by the agreements he made after Desert Storm (which he didn't do). Then he could have allowed honest inspections, which he didn't. I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. The fact is, he has had too many chances to reform his government, and he has blown them ALL. Now it is time for him to pay the Piper -- and pay the Piper he WILL -- even if we have to do it alone or with the Brits.
Greg Barker: I'm not excusing Saddam Hussein. I agree that he is one of the most duplicitous, brutal world leaders since Joseph Stalin. The fact is, Saddam Hussein has been that since the 1970s, and particularly since 1979, when he took over as Iraq's president. And up until his invasion of Kuwait, the U.S. and other Western countries did maintain contacts with his government. I don't want to speak to whether he should be removed from power or not, but I will say -- and people in the administration know this -- that Iraq is not Afghanistan, and the same military strategy that worked in Afghanistan, and the speed and relative ease of overthrowing the Taliban -- you can't assume that it would be the same in Iraq. Saddam is above all a survivor.
Arlington, Va.: I was just exploring the program's Web site and wanted to encourage everyone to read the Reporter's Notebook account of how you gained access to Hamid Karzai. So interesting and really makes one understand the lengths your crew went to to track down your sources.
washingtonpost.com: Reporter's Notebook
Greg Barker: Thank you. That was written by my associate producer, Christopher Buchanan, who did a great job tracking down Karzai's family in the states, and it eventually led to us interviewing him in Kabul.
Arlington, Va.: I'm sorry to admit that I missed your show, but I still wanted to pose a question. I remember reading accounts of the initial offensive against the Taliban which indicated that most of the Taliban's "troops" were simply allowed to go home. Some admitted to reporters that they would return to battle as soon as they got the call. From what you know of the situation on the ground, is the new government doing anything to monitor, or co-opt, former Taliban supporters?
Greg Barker: There's a long history in Afghanistan of soldiers changing sides, particularly when the side they're on is losing. A lot of the Taliban troops, or people in their regular army, are not necessarily fervent believers in their cause. And when the tide on the battlefield changed, many were allowed to change sides, and in fact, we were told of several instances in which they then fought alongside U.S. Special Operations troops, and fought well. The Special Operations troops found this unnerving, and yet so far as we know, there were no cases where these former Taliban reneged on their promise to support the Northern Alliance. In fact, it happened with Karzai as well.
Arlington, Va.: How vital a win in the "Campaign Against Terror" would the capture of Osama bin Laden be?
Greg Barker: It would be huge, both on a military level and just on a pure emotional level. Certainly, he was in the back of the minds of not only Americans, but also the American forces in Afghanistan, particularly the ones fighting in Tora Bora. But I think if he were captured or confirmed dead, the danger would be that the public might assume that the threat is over. And that is not the case. His organization maintains contacts in countries around the world, and could well strike again, whether or not he is dead or alive.
That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.
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