Surveying the Spread of the War on Terror

Gen. George Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, has referred to the U.S. efforts to thwart terrorism as "The Long War." In fact, the war could last for generations.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

As busy as the U.S. military may be in Iraq and Afghanistan, those are not the only places where troops are occupied. In the minds of American military planners those wars are part of a much broader strategy. It's a strategy to influence some of the world's most hazardous places, and that effort is one subject of some recent reporting by NPR senior news analysts Ted Koppel. He recently sent a camera crew to record American trainers working with forces in Ethiopia.

(Soundbite of documentary "Our Children's Children's War")

Unidentified Group: (Unintelligible).

TED KOPPEL: These men doing their morning exercises are commandos from the Ethiopian National Defense Force.

Unidentified man: We're able to help them promote peace and stability around their own region, which in turn will help us in the States.

INSKEEP: That's one scene from a documentary called "Our Children's Children's War." And not long after that camera crew captured those Ethiopian troops, they moved into the news. NPR's Ted Koppel is with us now.

And Ted, this is a story that was outlined over the holidays, people may have caught different pieces of it, but let's try to pull it all together here. Why were U.S. forces in Ethiopia late last year?

KOPPEL: Well, they've been in Ethiopia - I mean, interestingly enough, the ones who were doing the training there are members of the Guam National Guard. I think there have also been Special Operations forces in there with the Ethiopians. But the interesting thing is that just a few weeks after that video was shot, Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia with U.S. Special Operations forces on the ground and backed by U.S. aircraft overhead.

INSKEEP: So the U.S. military had been working with the Ethiopian military perhaps all along with the idea that they might have use for an ally in that region?

KOPPEL: Let me put it this way. What's going on on what the military refers to - they always have to have an acronym, as you know, and their acronym is HOA, for Horn of Africa. And that covers Ethiopia, Somalia, also Djibouti. In Djibouti, in - picturesquely enough - an old foreign legion post called Camp Lemonier there are 1,700 Americans: military, diplomats, USAID, intelligence people.

And the object here is capturing human terrain. In the old days, in Vietnam, we used to call it winning the hearts and minds. They dig wells. They set up health clinics. They help build schools. All with an eye to winning affection for the United States, but also gaining entre(ph) to intelligence, and then, if and when the occasion calls for it, being able to work with local troops.

INSKEEP: And one military officer in your documentary calls it waging peace, but at the same time there was this incident where it became waging war. Would you remind us what was happening in Somalia that made it of interest to the United States and to its neighbor, Ethiopia?

KOPPEL: Well, some fundamentalist Islamists had effectively taken over control of Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. And the great concern was that if they set up an Islamist government in Somalia, that would become an operational center for al-Qaida. And as we now know, what we did do in point of fact is to encourage the Ethiopians to move in, and the Ethiopian army is still there.

INSKEEP: Let's play another piece of tape from your documentary "Our Children's Children's War." This is General John Abizaid, longtime expert on the Middle East, Arabic speaker, at the time you spoke with him, the head of U.S. Central Command.

(Soundbite of documentary "Our Children's Children's War")

General JOHN ABIZAID (U.S. Army): The best way to win the war is to train troops that are indigenous forces, that are capable forces. And I think ultimately you need to get away from these very, very large number of occupation forces in the region. But of course you can't do that until stabilize both Iraq and Afghanistan.

INSKEEP: Ted Koppel, General Abizaid seems to - he doesn't say that it was a mistake to have such a big military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he doesn't say he's eager to do that anywhere else.

KOPPEL: No, he comes about, as close to a saying that he thinks it was a mistake as a serving a four-star general can do. And he comes right out and says look, the model for the future should be anything but that. The model for the future, when I asked him what part of this war on terrorism should be conducted by the military, he says about 20 percent. The other 80 percent: economic, diplomatic, intelligence, police, and heavy emphasis - media.

INSKEEP: You know, this approach has a lot of things that seem appealing about it - seems cheaper, risks fewer American lives, gets other people to do the fighting for you. But haven't you covered a lot of wars where the U.S. tried this in the past and it didn't work out so well?

Mr. KOPPEL: Well, sometimes it did, sometimes it didn't. You remember the Contras in Central America. Did it work? Did it not work? I mean, the fact of the matter is that now we no longer worry about global communism as we did for about 50 years. And in many respects this - General Abizaid calls it the long war - and this long war is not dissimilar in that sense from the Cold War, which of course lasted 50 years.

INSKEEP: Ted Koppel's new program is called "Our Children's Children's War" and it's on the Discovery Channel beginning on Sunday. Ted, thanks very much.

Mr. KOPPEL: Thank you.

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