Afghan Ops: Major Attack on Terrorism, Fight Not Over
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 2004 Afghanistan was the "head of the snake" of global terrorist activity, a petri dish that bred extremists committed to terrorizing free people around the world and that's why continued success there is so critical to the global war on terror.
That's the synopsis of a senior Army officer who's remained focused on Afghanistan for the past three years in a variety of roles: as a commander who fought in Afghanistan and in two top Pentagon jobs dealing with operations and policy in that country.
"Afghanistan was the safe haven of terrorists," the official told the American Forces Press Service on background today, on the eve of the third anniversary of Operational Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
"Terrorists had unfettered access. They had free reign. They could communicate and they could plan under a veil of security provided by the Taliban," he said. "They had resources available to them, and their recruits could pass through without problem into that country.
"What other country in the world could you do that in?" the official asked.
He said he got a firsthand look at the far-reaching nature of the problem in Afghanistan when he deployed there early in the war.
"When I got to Afghanistan, I saw the extent and the depth of the terrorist training camps that were there, the absolute free movement terrorists had throughout that country, and the stockpiles of arms, ammunition, explosives and other materials that were on the ground," he said. "It was truly a terrorist training ground."
Three years since U.S. and coalition forces began combat operations against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, he said much has changed. Gone, for example, are terrorist training camps like Tarnak Farms, an al Qaeda terrorist camp now used by the coalition.
"Those no longer exists in Afghanistan," he said. "There is no free movement for terrorists in Afghanistan. There is no ability to coordinate, to plan, to finance, to train, to rehearse. That capability no longer exists in Afghanistan for terrorists."
But while encouraged by continuing progress in Afghanistan, the official was quick to point out that terrorists there still retain capabilities that threaten the country.
The officer said he expects Taliban elements remaining in Afghanistan to continue doing "everything they possibly can" to disrupt Afghanistan's Oct. 9 presidential elections, much as they worked to disrupt the voter registration process throughout the country.
Terrorists are desperate to derail the process, he said, "because it demonstrates a freedom that these people have never seen before" and a major shift away from the repressions they endured under Taliban rule.
"Is Afghanistan still a dangerous place?" he said. "You bet. Are there elements that are still going to try to disrupt this election process? Absolutely."
And just as terrorist elements continue to operate in Afghanistan, the official said others, trained there before Operation Enduring Freedom, have taken their training to other parts of the world. "The global war on terror is going to go on," he said. "A lot of people were trained in Afghanistan before we did something there to stop it. They're still out there with training and leadership."
That, he said, is why it's critical that the coalition stay the course in Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan is important because it was our first real offensive attack using our forces against terrorists, and terrorism there no longer exists the way it did," he said. "But just because they're now disbanded and have been depleted doesn't mean that they are without capabilities.
"That's why we have to keep up the momentum. We cannot allow Afghanistan to fall back."