Terror Expert And Obama Advisor Bruce Riedel 'Protecting America's Heartland from Attack'
In a SPIEGEL interview, Bruce Riedel -- a CIA veteran, al-Qaida expert and advisor to US President Barack Obama -- talks about putting the squeeze on the Taliban, destroying al-Qaida's sanctuaries and who he considers to be America's public enemy number one.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Riedel, several Taliban factions have formed a united front in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Is that a cause for concern?
Riedel: We know that they have been meeting at a high level over the course the winter to prepare for their campaign. The Taliban believe that we will give up in a couple of years, but we are prepared to stay as long as necessary.
SPIEGEL: How long is long?
Riedel: No one can predict that. But we think that you can build an Afghan army to the size of 134,000 soldiers by 2011, and if we have to, we will build it larger. It is ten times cheaper to train an Afghan soldier, equip him and take care of him than it is to send an American or German there. Now, we may have to pay for that Afghan army for a long time to come.
SPIEGEL: The Taliban are extending their influence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. What can the US do to break that momentum?
Riedel: They are no doubt on the offensive, but we are doubling the number of American soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan by the end of summer. At the same time, we are going to have hundreds of civilian experts to do reconstruction and development. We are going to work with Pakistan to put pressure on the Taliban from there and put them in a squeeze.
Riedel: A considerable number of the Taliban are not hard-core committed Jihadists. They are in it for the money. If their momentum is broken, we will start to see a change in the cohesion of the Taliban by the end of the year. Those willing to renounce the Jihadists can be assimilated into the new Afghan order.
Riedel: Al-Qaida is trying to destabilize Pakistan and paralyze the government to the point that it becomes a failed state. Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Therefore it is in the interest of the international community that the Taliban not reach their goal. In many ways, Pakistan is the harder part of this problem. After all, the sanctuary for al-Qaida is in Pakistan. The leadership of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, is in Pakistan. That is the more critical territory for them.
SPIEGEL: In this region of the world, does it make sense to distinguish between al-Qaida and the Taliban?
Riedel: Over the last few months, we have seen the connections between these groups getting closer and more intertwined. Now that I have looked at the intelligence, I am even more concerned than I was before. This is a very complicated syndicate of terror organizations that cooperate in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They pose a dangerous threat not just to the United States but also to countries in Europe.
SPIEGEL: In recent weeks, Pakistan suffered several spectacular attacks, such as on the police academy in Lahore. The terrorist groups are evidently extending their radius of operations far beyond the tribal regions.
Riedel: That is right and it is very dangerous. The stronger they get in Punjab province and the main cities, the worse it is for Pakistan. We need to help the Pakistani elected leadership as they meet this challenge. At the same time, there may be opportunity here. As more and more Pakistanis turn away from the Taliban and al-Qaida, you may start to see the kind of backlash that we saw in Saudi Arabia or in Iraq.
SPIEGEL: President Asif Ali Zardari seems to be rather weak.
Riedel: We are very determined that our relationship with Pakistan be with the elected leadership, but we are not hooking our fate to any particular individual. The Bush Administration made this mistake with Pervez Musharraf and we saw what a disaster that was.
SPIEGEL: What do you expect from the Europeans?
Riedel: There is a great deal Europe can do to help. The mayor of Karachi called on me some weeks ago. Karachi has about 12 million people, is one of the world's largest Muslim cities. His needs are almost limitless. In the future, we will emphasize coordination between civilian reconstruction and military missions and extensive regional diplomacy, including Iran, led by special representative Richard Holbrooke. Our goal is to disrupt, dismantle and eventually defeat and destroy the al-Qaida sanctuaries.
SPIEGEL: Who is now considered America's public enemy number one? Osama Bin Laden, Taliban leader Mullah Omar or regional terrorist leaders like Sirayuddin Haqqani and Baitullah Messud?
Riedel: The al-Qaida leadership continues to provide direction to the movement. Mullah Omar is equally important because he is leading the effort to kill as many NATO soldiers as possible. Messud recently threatened to attack Washington. We have learned not to take such threats lightly. All four of them are dangerous.
SPIEGEL: The Taliban controls whole regions in the tribal areas along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. How can they be defeated?
Riedel: The Pakistani military needs training in counter-insurgence capabilities. If you are going to try to defeat insurgents in this very difficult terrain, you need helicopters. The Bush Administration provided Pakistan with about a dozen helicopters. The army needs hundreds. Here again, our European partners can play a role as well.
SPIEGEL: Currently, there are many reports about how closely the Pakistani secret service ISI is intertwined with terror groups. Does the ISI actually supply the Taliban with ammunition, trucks and recruits?
Riedel: These are serious issues. We are raising them with the Pakistanis. The head of the ISI was here in February. We have put these issues on the table and we expect to see a serious response. In our engagement with Pakistan, I think our watchword must be an old one: trust but verify.
SPIEGEL: What does the ISI expect to gain from their influence on these groups?
Riedel: Over the course of the last three decades, the ISI used these relations to have leverage against India and influence in Afghanistan. More and more Pakistanis now recognize that they have created a Frankenstein that threatens the Pakistani state itself. We now need to help them bring this monster under control.
SPIEGEL: The United States also played a role in its creation, back in the eighties when the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, then the number two at the CIA, was involved.
Riedel: Yes but we cannot go back and change history. We have to live with the reality we face today.
SPIEGEL: How are the Taliban financed today?
Riedel: From drug trafficking and private donations from the Gulf region. We have noticed that poppy growing activity diminishes as soon as there is security and development. It also helps to deal with the corruption problems. When President Obama called President Karzai a week ago he made it very clear that we expect Afghans to stand up to the challenge.
SPIEGEL: What should President Karzai do?
Riedel: He needs to root out corrupt governors. Under previous interior ministers the police were often involved in drug trafficking. The new interior minister Mohammed Atif Atmar is a tough guy and impressively reversed the trend.
SPIEGEL: And who should be responsible for the reconstruction of the country?
Riedel: The reconstruction effort needs to be coordinated by the UN. We need to give the UN the resources to do the job. Special Envoy Holbrooke coordinates the recruitment of hundreds of American development experts and agricultural specialists to promote, for example, the planting of wheat.
SPIEGEL: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that most of the billions spent in Afghanistan have been wasted.
Riedel: The same is true of most of the aid we have given to Pakistan. But those times are over.
SPIEGEL: President Bush wanted to give Afghanistan a "flourishing democracy." What about President Obama?
Riedel: The president is acutely conscious that his responsibility is to protect American citizens and to protect American interests, but first and foremost, to protect America's heartland from attack.
Interview conducted by Cordula Meyer