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Explosions Rock Afghani Capital

Aired September 11, 2001 - 18:09   ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: We do have some late developments as you see at the bottom of your screen, there are reports from CNN's Nic Robertson in Kabul, Afghanistan, of explosions there. We're going to get some additional information now. CNN's Aaron Brown from his rooftop vantage point in New York.

Oh, actually, this is Nic Robertson now in Kabul. Nic, what can you tell us out there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joie, it's about 2:30 in the morning here in Kabul. We've been hearing explosions around the perimeter of the city. We're in a position here which gives us a view over the whole city. We just had an impact, perhaps a few miles away.

If I listen, you can hear the ripple of explosions around the city. Perhaps you heard there. The fifth explosion -- sixth explosion, I think. Gun bursts and star bursts in the air. Tracer fire is coming up out of the city. I hear aircraft flying above the city of Kabul. Perhaps we've heard half a dozen to 10 detonations on the perimeter of the city, some coming from the area close to the airport. I see on the horizon what could be a fire on the horizon, close, perhaps, to where the airport might be. A flash came up then from the airport. Some ground fire coming up here in Kabul.

A lot of flashing reflecting off clouds towards the horizon here. We thought that might have been a thunderstorm before the detonations we're hearing now, much louder than a thunderstorm. Also, detonations very similar to those caused by large missiles. I've been in Belgrade and I've been in Baghdad and seen cruise missiles arrive in both those cities. The detonations we're hearing in Kabul right now certainly sound like the detonations of loud missiles that are coming in.

We do see tracer fire going up into the air and hear the detonations towards the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of the city. Heavy air detonations we can hear now. It's what sounds like a lot of antiaircraft fire going up, multiple detonations, we can hear in the air. I'll try and be quiet for a moment, see if we can pick up some of those sounds coming in from the perimeter of the city, Joie.

Very quiet at this particular moment. The city still, tracer fire, rockets going up around the airport, tracer fire flying across the city in the direction of the airport. The city at this stage, still very well illuminated. The electricity supply still on in the city, illuminating the city. Detonations coming in from -- toward the airport. Multiple detonations now going off again toward the perimeter of the city in the direction of the airport.

We see one fire on the horizon at this moment. Kabul is surrounded by mountains. The detonations reverberate from those mountains. So it's difficult -- difficult to get an accurate fix on exactly where the impacts are happening.

Certainly -- certainly it would appear that the Afghan defense systems have detected a threat in the air. They are launching what appears to be anti-aircraft defense systems at the moment. Certainly, I can see that fire that was blazing on the horizon. It was a faint yellow; it's now a bright orange blazing. Several other detonations going off around the city, multiple areas. Rockets appear to be taking off from one end of the airport. I can see that perhaps located about 8 or 9 miles away from where we stand, Joie.

CHEN: We want to ask you to keep -- please keep your line up to us. We're having difficulty reaching you on another line, but please keep your line up. We can see the pictures coming to us by the videophone. Again, this is very advanced technology that CNN is using, but you will see some of the digital effects, because it's not quite as clear as your average television signal. And so to our viewers, we apologize for that. But this is certainly the only video that you're going to get from Kabul, Afghanistan at this point, and you're watching it on CNN.

Again, we are hearing from our correspondent Nic Robertson, who's on the scene in Kabul with his team there, and he has reported the sound of tracer fire. He has reported the fire burning there in Kabul, the seat of Afghanistan's power, the seat of its Taliban government.

Again, we are watching the picture coming to us from the videophone, and it's very hard, of course, to see exactly what you're looking at. But you are looking at Kabul. Again, you see some tracer fire there, coming across the scene.

Nic Robertson, can you -- can you hear us?

ROBERTSON: Joie, we're being -- we're being told -- Joie -- Joie, I can -- I can hear you if you can hear me. Certainly, big detonations. There are missiles flying across the city.

We're being told from sources in Kandahar -- that the spiritual capital of Afghanistan 300 miles south of here -- that there is no rocket activity like this south of here in Kandahar. Certainly in Kabul very, very active here at this stage, multiple detonations. It is nighttime here, it is dark. It is difficult to get an accurate fix on exactly what we're seeing and exactly what we're hearing. Certainly, the sounds, what appears to be the sound of large missiles incoming and landing in the city. Certainly a big fire on the horizon of the city at the moment. And certainly anti-aircraft fire coming up from the city and rockets being launched and flying across the horizon of the city.

Rockets perhaps going at the speed of several hundred miles an hour, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a speed that one might expect to see cruise missiles traveling across the horizon, burning with a white glow coming from their tails rather than a yellow glow.

There is fire on the horizon that we can see from here, burning furiously now. Perhaps it would be accurate at this stage to suspect that that was a fuel dump that's been hit by the way that it's burning, flames leaping. And that fuel dump must be perhaps 5 to 8 miles from where I am. Flames leaping up from that fuel dump now, leaping up right into the air.

It was a low-burning fire before, but it's now really increasing its ferocity, perhaps indicating that it is a fuel dump.

Looking across the rest of the city, that fuel dump perhaps the only big fire we can see at this time from our vantage point here at the Kabul Intercontinental Hotel that overlooks the whole of the city of Kabul that is in a basin surround by mountains. The whole city is laid out in front of us. The dump fire that was coming up from the city seems to have subsided for now. We're not hearing any more detonation at this moment. And as I say, the fire on the horizon really burning furiously at this time. Flames leaping way up in the air at this moment -- Joie.

CHEN: Nic, if you can talk to us about your circumstances. It is 6 o'clock in the evening here in Atlanta. It must be quite late at night there in Kabul.

ROBERTSON: Indeed, 2:30 in the morning here, Joie. We're 8 1/2 hours ahead of East Coast time in the United States. And it was about five hours ago that the foreign minister of Afghanistan, Ahmed, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil briefed journalists. I hear more detonations going off now. And he said that the Taliban had not taken precaution against the -- against the possibility of there being an air attack against Afghanistan because it was not necessary.

The Taliban spiritual leader, Mullah Omar, had also made a statement saying that the felt Osama bin Laden wasn't responsible for what had happened in the United States. He said his country was a peaceful country. He wanted it to be at peace, and he wanted peace in other countries around the world.

Certainly, what we're seeing in Kabul at these early hours of this Wednesday morning is very far from peace. Certainly, multiple explosions happening in and around the city. We were -- there is a front line about 50 miles north of the city where the Taliban are fighting a battle against the Northern Alliance here. We can hear detonations coming from that northern area as well.

But on the perimeter of the city, particularly in the direction of the Kabul airport, which is about 5 to 8 miles from where we are, detonations coming from there. I remember standing on this balcony about four years ago, watching -- watching fighter jets bomb that airport as part of Afghanistan's ongoing civil war. The flash over the airport, us hearing the detonation of the hotel, is about the same duration. So I am using that as an estimate to gauge that those missiles again are falling in the area of the airport.

First, we're seeing the flash, and then we hear the detonation some several seconds afterwards. And they appear to be coming from that airport area. In some cases, several miles away from it.

There is still a lot of flashing we can see in the air reflected off clouds. That could be thunder and lightning. However, there's possibility that those reflections are missiles landing elsewhere: the flashes as they explode and reflecting off the clouds. But it's not a good indication. We certainly don't hear any detonations coming from that particular direction at this time.

The anti-aircraft fire that we were seeing a little while ago is not coming up from the city. The city, apart from the detonations we were hearing a few minutes ago, appears very, very calm. The visibility here is excellent. We can see all the way across the city. It lies on a plane that's surrounded by the mountains here in Kabul.

We have high mountains to the right. These mountains were used by the Mujahadeen as vantage points for shelling the city several years ago during the Mujahadeen infighting in Kabul. The last five years, the Taliban has been in control of this city, had been trying to extend their control over and across Afghanistan. And the foreign minister this evening telling journalists and CNN that he didn't believe that Afghanistan would be attacked. He said, if Afghanistan was attacked, then they would call it, the Taliban would call it, an act of state-sponsored terrorism, Joie.

CHEN: All right. That is CNN's Nic Robertson. Again, please keep the line open to us, Nic Robertson, there in Kabul, Afghanistan for our viewers who are watching this on the air.

Again, this is -- we're getting this from videophone technology. You're seeing this exclusively on CNN. It is a very new technology, and so you could tell from the audio line it is not as clear as our typical TV feed and the visuals obviously are not as clear.

But you are looking at the city of Kabul in Afghanistan. This is the seat of the Taliban government there, not its spiritual center, but its government center in any case.

You are seeing, in just about the last 10 minutes we have been hearing these reports from CNN correspondent Nic Robertson on the ground in Kabul of an explosion. You see on the right side of your screen, about a third of the way over, the flames of fire. They were quite large just a short time ago, seemed to have simmered down. But again, we're just not seeing very much of this because it's the videophone.

Again, Nic Robertson that they had seen tracers going up as well. They have been listening and hearing the possibility of a additional explosions elsewhere. They're trying to follow that, but it's a little bit hard to tell.

Again, it is 2:30 in the morning in Kabul, and Nic Robertson continues to watch there.

Now let's turn to Judy Woodruff for us in Washington -- Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Joie, we are in the studio in Washington, but of course riveted to these pictures that are coming out of Kabul, Afghanistan. With me in the studio watching former United States Defense Secretary William Cohen, and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. Both, I want to ask both of you about what's going on.

Let me begin with you, Secretary Cohen. Is this something that is likely to be the United States retaliating, which is what I think immediately comes to people's minds?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think we should be very cautious in coming to that judgment, Judy. What we are looking at now is United States gathering information, intelligence. Obviously, there are many plans and contingency plans that we have to deal with, responding to any potential terrorist threat that might be in the offing again. But I think it's very premature to make any judgment on this. This could be part of the civil war that's been raging on for sometime, so I think we have to wait to get more information.

WOODRUFF: What do you mean "part of a civil war"?

COHEN: Well, there has been a civil war raging in Afghanistan for sometime now, and this could be simply the factions still carrying on their fighting in Kabul rather than any kind of an attack being launched by the United States.

WOODRUFF: Are you saying, Mr. Cohen, that it's unlikely that the United States would move this quickly? I'm asking that because just a few minutes ago I was interviewing former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger and he said flat out what the United States needs to do is strike against countries like Afghanistan that are harboring terrorists and not wait to find out exactly who was responsible for today's atrocities?

COHEN: Well, I think we do have to isolate and ostracize those countries like Afghanistan and others who are on the terrorist list who would give safe harbor for terrorists, but I think we have to be a little more judicious rather than simply striking out. We have to get more information, and further strikes might be warranted. But at this point, I think we get all the information, then make a very cold, ice cold decision in terms of what we need to do to protect the American people and make sure that this doesn't happen again. But I think that maybe a bit premature at this point.

WOODRUFF: Senator Hatch, again, we are stressing we have no idea who is behind these attacks in Kabul, the government center of Afghanistan. But if this were the West, if this were the United States, would it be appropriate to retaliate so quickly?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Well, we have some information. You know, about a month ago we had information that there were -- that they were planning some big strikes, people who were affiliated or associated with bin Laden. Then just today, we have intercepted some information where some people who associated with bin Laden basically said that they had hit two targets. So, it looks to me like there is -- there is increasing evidence, even though it's fragmentary and even though it's not positive, that bin Laden is behind all of this. And of course, I first warned the nation in 1996 on "Meet the Press" that we better get a hold of bin Laden, or he is going to kill Americans.

WOODRUFF: We are going to bring back our Nic Robertson there, on the ground there -- or I should say on top of a building there in Kabul. Nic, you're on, go.

ROBERTSON: Well, certainly the fire we were watching on the horizon before -- I made the assumption that it was an oil depot burning, because we're certainly seeing flames, a dull yellow fire turn into a bright orange fire with flames leaping into the sky.

I have been informed by my associates here who work with us in Kabul that it's very likely an ammunition dump that we are looking at. They believe an ammunition dump is located in that area. That of course would account for some of the explosions that we have been hearing here, ammunition detonated and gone off from that location, Judy.

Certainly, it's all quiet here in Kabul right now; certainly no more explosions are being heard around the city, and I believe -- we certainly believe what we are looking at now is an ammunition dump, that fire at that dump now dying down, and we are hearing no more detonations coming from that dump.

Certainly, Kabul is within striking range of some of the long- range missiles that the Northern Alliance has and is capable of launching in this direction, and certainly in the past the Northern Alliance has launched missiles at Kabul, and it's not without the realms of possibility that the Northern Alliance could launch missiles at this time.

The Northern Alliance in the last couple of days has gone through the rather dramatic process of an assassination attempt on its key leader, Ahmed Sham Assud (ph), still unconfirmed whether that leader is alive or dead, and certainly there is a ferocity within the internal fighting going on in Afghanistan at this time. One certainly cannot rule out that any missiles falling on the city tonight could be coming from that Northern Alliance.

WOODRUFF: So Nic Robertson, just to clarify, you are saying it could well be a part of an internal, a civil war, that we see here and not a result of something coming from the West, NATO, the United States?

ROBERTSON: From our vantage point this evening, we can certainly report a large number of explosions around the city, what appears to be an ammunition dump one fire, a lot of return fire coming up from positions in Kabul.

We cannot say from this position at this time exactly where the missiles are coming from detonation in and around city of Kabul. It is possible it's from the Northern Alliance, and of course there is the other possibility that we have been talking about this evening.

WOODRUFF: And Nic, is this typical of the kind of fire that you have been seeing back-and-forth in this war that has been going on in Afghanistan? Is this at all typical? .

ROBERTSON: No. One would definitely have to say it's not typical. The strikes on Kabul have been very infrequent over the last few years, where occasionally the Northern Alliance very aware that it's been blamed in the past for many civilian casualties by launching attacks on Kabul.

So there have been very few direct attacks on the city, and indeed the forces of the Northern Alliance are at such a distance back from the city that the long-range or medium-range missiles are capable of going 30, 40, 50 miles are able to reach the city from that position, and it's certainly not something that happened in the city of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of this type, a sustained, artillery attack or a missile attack of this type in recent years even.

WOODRUFF: All right. Nic Robertson, we want you to stay connected to us. Let's keep this connection alive, but as we are watching -- as we are watching these pictures, let's now go back to New York and to Aaron Brown.



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