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Nic Robertson: Taliban report downing aircraft

Nic Robertson reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan
Nic Robertson reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan  

(CNN) -- A Taliban spokesman in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Saturday claimed that Taliban fighters had shot down an unmanned U.S. reconnaissance aircraft over eastern Afghanistan.

U.S. military officials said a Predator, an unarmed U.S. Air Force surveillance drone aircraft, was reported missing Friday while on a mission in Afghanistan. They blamed bad weather for its disappearance. CNN's Kyra Phillips spoke about the incident with CNN correspondent Nic Robertson, who is reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan.

KYRA PHILLIPS: We're now going to go to our Nic Robertson. He's in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and has the latest on the overnight attacks.

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NIC ROBERTSON: Well ... the Taliban today say that they shot down a surveillance aircraft in Lagham Province ... east of the capital, Kabul. They say the aircraft was flying over there, and they shot it down.

The Taliban also today report that in Ghazni Province, southwest of Kabul, that they shot at a helicopter that came to retrieve another helicopter that had crashed on the ground. ...

Now, last night was a very, very windy night by Afghan standards. There were big dust storms in the south of Afghanistan in both these areas, Lagham and Ghazni. It's been very, very dry. There's been a lot of dust kicked up in the air, and certainly that was the situation here in Kandahar and in those regions last night.

We also know that last night there was a lot of interference on the satellite telephone communications coming out of Afghanistan. Our satellite communications here were jammed through most of the night, and that is not something that's normal here. They get jammed very infrequently, and oftentimes the jamming comes at times of bombing in and around the city of Kandahar.

PHILLIPS: Nic, with regard to the people that are around you and where you are right now, what is life like? As they are seeing these jets, what's the level of fear? Are they going into the marketplace? Are they continuing with their daily routine?

ROBERTSON: People here in Kandahar have been encouraged in the last few days to come out into the marketplace again because the level of bombing has been very, very low over the last few days here. However, for people in the city, life is extremely difficult. There is no electricity coming into the city, and also water supplies to the city have essentially been cut off. Water has been pumped into the city using ... electrical pumps. ... Now the electricity is down, water is not coming into the city.

Businessmen here in the city also tell us that they are being affected, that tailors, for example -- nobody is buying the clothing that they're producing. Businessmen that would import goods from outside of the country say that their trade has just effectively stopped at this time.

Traders in the market say they're still doing business -- they're still able to import food, and people are still able to buy it. The price of food has gone up here a little. However, what has also happened is that the local currency, the Afghani, has strengthened. So for those people with money, the effective increase of the cost of food is negligible because the currency has become stronger as the price of food has gone up.

But for those people whose businesses are affected, obviously food is becoming much harder to buy because it is becoming much more expensive for them.

PHILLIPS: And, of course, you've been escorted by the Taliban. You are spending a lot of time with Taliban troops. What are they telling you? How is their morale?

ROBERTSON: Taliban troops are telling us their morale is fine. They say, in fact, that it's very, very good at this time. They say several things on that issue. ...They ... deny rumors that they're forcibly recruiting people into the army. They say they have plenty of volunteers.

We talked with an army commander a couple of days ago, and he even said that he didn't need more volunteers coming from Pakistan. He said that the effect of the aerial bombing campaign on the Taliban, has been to unite the Taliban and bring plenty of volunteer recruits into the Taliban forces. And he said that at this time, he had no problems with the strength of his force.

He did say, when I asked him .... how many of his soldiers had been killed in the aerial bombing campaign, he said only 15 to date. ... They do say that their morale is high, and certainly that's how they appear to deport themselves in front of us.


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