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Brian Palmer: Air base strategic in new fighting

CNN's Brian Palmer
CNN's Brian Palmer  

(CNN) -- U.S., allied and Afghan forces Tuesday pounded al Qaeda and Taliban fighters hidden in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan's Paktia province as the latest military campaign, dubbed Operation Anaconda, continued.

CNN's Brian Palmer reported on the fighting Tuesday from his post at the Bagram air base near the Afghan capital, Kabul. He spoke with CNN anchor Kyra Phillips.

PALMER: We are at the Bagram air base. There has been some air activity. We're also on an active road. There are demining vehicles. There are military vehicles, so it gets a little busy out here. We heard from the Afghan Defense Ministry that bombing has intensified in Zormat and in the Shahi Kot district.

U.S., Afghan forces press attack on al Qaeda 

As you may recall, Shahi Kot is where this operation began five days ago with B-52s striking al Qaeda and Taliban pockets. Now Bagram air base, which used to be a Soviet air base, is being used -- at least in some parts -- to support this operation in Paktia province.

As I said, the Defense Ministry is telling us that the bombing has intensified in Zormat and in Shahi Kot, and that fighting in Khowst, which is a neighboring area, does indeed continue.

We talked to the Intelligence Ministry, which is a separate ministry. What they say is their sources on the ground are saying that the fighting in Khowst -- that the al Qaeda-Taliban attack in Khowst -- is actually a diversion for a major operation in Gardez or the Gardez area.

[Their sources are] saying that there are about 400 dug-in al Qaeda-Taliban fighters and possibly some locally recruited fighters who sympathize with the Taliban cause. But, again, the Intelligence Ministry [is] saying that these people are completely surrounded by the bombing and the U.S. and coalition and Afghan operation.

So we are trying to confirm those reports. We have those Afghan government sources, but we are trying to get some feedback from the U.S. military. We're also hoping to get onto Bagram air base in a couple of hours so that we can see firsthand what's going on there.

PHILLIPS: Brian, this is the first time we've seen live pictures like this, with these helicopters in the air. Does it look like they are taking off, possibly on a mission, or are they coming in to land on the airstrip? Is that right behind you? Do you know?

PALMER: Kyra, that is indeed correct. The military doesn't tell us about their comings and goings, but from a direction that they were coming, we do know that they were hugging the mountains and coming in to land at Bagram.

We've seen Chinooks. The MH-47 helicopter, which is the same variety of helicopter that was [involved in an incident in which U.S. troops were killed Monday]. We've seen Russian helicopters. We have seen Black Hawk helicopters.

So [it's] a very, very active base. Things seem to pick up in the afternoon here. I don't think I'm betraying any military secrets. This is a public road. This is a public area. So we're just keeping our eyes open, trying to see what is happening.

We are actually in a valley. There are three different mountain ranges here, and it's apparently a strategic location, was a strategic location during the [Afghan] civil war. This is what our Afghan sources tell us -- very strategic area, which is precisely why the Soviets established their air base here and why the Americans have re-established or have set up their presence here as well.




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