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America's New War: British and U.S. Special Forces Reported to Be Operating in Afghanistan

Aired September 28, 2001 - 16:05   ET


ANNOUNCER: U.S. special forces like these already have put their training to use somewhere inside of Afghanistan. President Bush is mum about any military action, except to say...


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Make no mistake about it, we're in hot pursuit.


ANNOUNCER: Fighters for Afghanistan's ruling Taliban also are reportedly on the move, after a new diplomatic appeal is shot down.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon. I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington.

Well, as you just saw live here on CNN just a short while ago, President Bush has now left the White House for Camp David, where he will continue overseeing the war on terrorism this weekend.

Let's begin with a look at the latest developments. My colleague Joie Chen joins us from CNN's center in Atlanta. Hello, Joie.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, Judy. Good afternoon.

Here is the latest information that we're getting today. A senior U.S. official tells CNN that somewhere in Afghanistan's rugged, mountainous terrain U.S. and British special forces have conducted operations in the past few days. The Pentagon refuses to comment on any specific military action.

Officials with Afghanistan's ruling Taliban have rejected a new appeal to hand over prime terror suspect Osama bin Laden. A Pakistani delegation made that appeal in Afghanistan today.

Also in Afghanistan, several hundred held on fighters reportedly are massing along the battle line just north of Kabul, word from the Northern Alliance, which has been fighting the Taliban for five years. The Alliance says it is massing its troops in the area in response to the Taliban buildup.

In Britain, prosecutors told a court today that an Algerian pilot, arrested in London last week, instructed the four pilots involved the terror attacks against the United States.

And here in the U.S., law enforcement sources say authorities now believe that the September 11th attacks were conceived, funded and developed in England, Germany and the United Arab Emirates. That's the latest information we're getting now. Now let's go back to Judy in Washington.

WOODRUFF: Well, Joie, the main story we're following, the reports of U.S. special forces conducting operations inside Afghanistan. Those reports first appeared in Pakistani newspapers and this morning in the American newspaper "USA Today."

For more, let's go now to CNN's White House correspondent, Kelly Wallace -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, no surprise. President Bush would not comment about any of the military aspects to this campaign earlier today. The same holds true for his spokesman, Ari Fleischer and also, for the Pentagon. Still, as we've been reporting, a senior U.S. official telling CNN that U.S. and British special forces have conducted operations inside Afghanistan.

Now, this official is steering CNN away from reports that these special forces are trying to hunt down suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden. Instead, the official saying these forces routinely go into a country ahead of any troop deployments to do logistical tasks, such as scout out various locations. Still, though, again, the message from the White House, it won't comment on any operational details. When asked about these reports earlier today, Fleischer saying that aspects of this war on terrorism will be very public, but he also said other aspects will be very private.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As the president said, there are going to be elements to this war that everybody will know about. People will be able to see, know about for themselves, that will be publicly discussed. But it is also the nature of this first war against terrorism, that there may be areas that people did not know about. And I'm just not going to go beyond in discussing anything that is operational.


WALLACE: And as we've been saying all day, a bit of a delicate balancing act for the White House, balancing the public's right to know with the administration's desire, of course, to protect any operational secrets and details.

Also, Judy, we should note, CNN definitely tying to be very sensitive and not release any information that could jeopardize any lives and any ongoing military operations -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Kelly, the president also very busy today on the diplomatic front. Do you want to bring us up to speed on that? WALLACE: Absolutely. He had a very important meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan -- this meeting very important. Jordan, one of the United States' closest Arab allies. This, important, as the president tries to reach out to moderate Arab nations, and he continues to make the case that this is a campaign against terrorism and not a campaign against Islam.

During that meeting, the president speaking to reporters. He had some very tough words for Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia. He said there will be no negotiations, no time for words -- it's time for action. He also seemed to be sending a message to the American people. He said his administration is in -- quote -- "hot pursuit of those responsible for the terrorist attacks."


BUSH: Sometimes people will be able to see what we do on the television screens. Other times the American people won't be able to see what we're doing. But make no mistake about it, we're in hot pursuit. We're going to enforce the doctrine. We're going to be diligent and patient and determined to bring people to justice, and to rout out terrorist activity around the world.


WALLACE: Now, Judy, as you noted at the top, President Bush en route to the presidential retreat at Camp David. He will be conducting another video teleconference with his national security council team tomorrow.

Also, Judy, before leaving, he met with some of his domestic advisers. A big focus: some proposals to look at how to provide some assistance for the thousands of workers who are now out of a job. White House saying the president and his aides are working with members of Congress to try to get something together very soon -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Kelly Wallace. And that was probably the newest information that we did get from Ari Fleischer today, the president seriously looking at helping those workers who lost their jobs -- Joie.

CHEN: Judy, meanwhile, looking across the globe, Pakistan's latest attempt to convince the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden has ended in failure. For more on that and the growing stream of refugees attempting to leave Afghanistan, we go to Quetta in Pakistan and check in with CNN's Nic Robertson there -- Nic.

Nic Robertson, can you hear us?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Joie, certainly those delegations that went to Afghanistan today, two delegations -- one representing the Pakistani government, that was headed by the senior- most person inside Pakistan's intelligence agencies -- General Mikmudi's (ph) had very close ties in the past with the Taliban. And from the religious side, religious clerics from Pakistan, who have also had very, very close ties with the Taliban in the past. One Taliban official told me earlier today that they have been in the past very, very influential, but being rebuffed on both accounts, apparently.

Both delegations met with the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. Pakistan officials say they went to tell Mullah Mohammed Omar that he needed to hand over Osama bin Laden, rebuffed on that account. And also, the clerics were putting forward the other message, and that was that Mullah Omar should grant clemency to the 80 international aid workers who are on trial in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, accused of trying to convert Afghans to Christianity. Rebuffed on that account as well.

And Taliban officials telling us that really, from their perspective, it was a day without any progress, and not really holding out any prospect of more progress. In Pakistan, however, United Nations and Pakistani officials growing increasingly concerned about the possibility of the deteriorating humanitarian situation inside Afghanistan.


(voice-over): In the coming weeks, these Afghan refugees may consider themselves lucky -- 50,000 in Jalozai camp inside Pakistan. The conditions are pitiful, but aid handouts are regular and water is available. Most of these refugees came before the current crisis. The United Nations now fears millions of others inside Afghanistan could soon run out of food.

RUPERT COALVILLE SMITH, U.N. HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES: Six, seven million people in an incredibly precarious position. And the aid agencies are only just -- only just keeping their head above water -- very low funding for years now. So you know, the lid was only just being kept on.

ROBERTSON: Humanitarian handouts inside the Taliban's territory are now hampered by a lack of international staff, ordered out by the Taliban two weeks ago. And for the local staff left behind, deteriorating conditions are making it hard to keep distribution going.

SMITH: A lot of them, if they can work at all, are working under really difficult conditions, you know, increasing reports of security breaking down. Certainly, from refugees arriving here, we're getting reports that they're very scared of looting.

ROBERTSON: At Pakistan's borders, all but the most desperate refugees are stopped from crossing. And relief officials, denied permanent facilities at the border, can only estimate the numbers gathering on the other side.

SMITH: We believe there are between 10- and 20,000. It's really a guesstimate.

ROBERTSON: For now, U.N. agencies concentrate on moving food stocks closer to the border and intensifying searches for suitable refugee camps capable of coping with a massive influx. And Pakistani officials, frustrated that the world is only now paying close attention to a refugee problem they've been coping with for decades, is preparing for the worst.

ABBAS SARFRAZ, FRONTIER REGIONS MINISTER: The government of Pakistan will make all possible efforts to host the expected mass influx of Afghans into Pakistan. Let me sound a note of caution. If the donor community does not rise to the occasion, suitably and sufficiently, it may become the sponsor for writing the most pathetic and miserable chapter of human history.

ROBERTSON: Four million refugees fled here from Afghanistan during the 1980s. Half remain inside Pakistan.


What U.N. officials hope to do now is to convince Pakistani authorities to open relief centers right at the border for the most needy. And then if that's successful, the U.N. then hopes that they can convince the Pakistani government to fully open the borders to all the refugees on the other side -- Joie?

CHEN: Nic, what about the refugee situation inside Afghanistan? We know that a lot of people are left without homes there, and you mentioned aid workers still being held by Afghanistan. Other international agencies, I would assume, have at least considered, if not already pulled out forces, even if they had the money. Are there people there to help those refugees?

ROBERTSON: Essentially, no, there are no support structures within Afghanistan. The only support people have there is from within their own family, and essentially that's what they've been drawing on at this time, from what we understand. People that have moved out of the cities have moved into the countryside, into the villages with their relatives. About 85 percent of the population of Afghanistan lives in rural communities, so a lot of people have moved out there.

People who are really, really poor have been unable to leave the cities. It's only those with a little extra money who can actually afford the transportation to travel what can be between three hours and three days's journey to get to the border. They're the only ones that have actually been able to get out of the country so far.

But inside the picture is very, very unclear. There are displacement camps inside Afghanistan, several large displacement camps inside the country, where there are hundreds of thousands of people, literally completely dependent on humanitarian handouts from international organizations. These people driven out of their homes, out of their farms by a drought that's now entering its fourth year. Those people have been streaming out of the mountains now for well over a year, and they are completely dependent on U.N. handouts. And those, perhaps, are the most needy and of course have the least resources to try and find help -- Joie?

CHEN: CNN's Nic Robertson for us, from Quetta in Pakistan. Now to Judy. WOODRUFF: Well, time now to look back here at home. When you talk about the possible use of American ground forces in Afghanistan, it turns out that receives wide support in a new CNN-"TIME" magazine poll. 64 percent polled said they would favor the deployment of U.S. ground troops. Twenty-eight percent said they oppose the idea.

For more on public opinion toward the president and possible U.S. military response, I'm joined by our polling expert, CNN senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Bill, not typical at all for Americans to support military action like this.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Especially using ground troops. It's very unusual. Americans are now endorsing hawkish sentiments that they've rarely endorsed in the past, like putting American lives on the line. Ground troops, you'll remember, were far more controversial in the months preceding the Gulf War, but then, of course, the United States was not attacked. You know, an anti-war professor says, as he did in "The New York Times" this morning, "Something happened on the 11th that demands a response. Times have changed."

What countries can the U.S. count on? Take a look. Seventy percent say Russia. Russia? Yes, Russia. Almost as high as the number who say Great Britain and Western Europe. Americans trust Russia, but not China, or even Saudi Arabia. Most Americans don't think the U.S. can count on Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, two countries that the Bush administration is counting on.

WOODRUFF: Bill, what do the polls show in terms of how much pressure people feel -- they're putting on the president, to do something and do it fast?

SCHNEIDER: I'd say the American public is hawkish, but they're not trigger happy. Three-quarters of Americans endorse President Bush's response as "just right." Only 17 percent say he has not been strong enough.

The American public is really patient. Only a quarter wants the U.S. to strike back in the next few weeks. Most say they're willing to wait at least a couple months. Nor do most Americans expect a quick victory. That message from the administration has really gotten through. Americans expect a long war with many casualties, but ultimately, a U.S. victory. President Bush has won the American public's trust and their support.

But you know, his high approval ratings don't seem to be having any political coattails, because when people are asked how they'd vote for Congress, Democrats are still in the lead. The message is, this is way above politics.

WOODRUFF: Now, what about -- we know the poll also, Bill, among other things, asked people what they think about the president's new proposals for dealing with airline security, making flying safer. SCHNEIDER: Well, the public would like to see even stronger action than the president announced yesterday in Chicago. For instance, the president does not support allowing airline pilots to carry guns, 61 percent of the public does. The president says the federal government will supervise airline security, 77 percent of Americans would like the federal government to take control of airline security.

A conservative activist recently said, "Wars are nasty things. They make governments grow." Well, that's exactly what we're seeing. Most Americans believe that the federal government should be given more power to investigate American citizens in order to combat terrorism. And most people say they are not worried, not worried that the government is likely to abuse that power.

WOODRUFF: It's fascinating. You and I talked about this before in terms of whether these are temporary views, just because of what happened on September the 11th, or are these views that are going to stick around for a long time?

SCHNEIDER: Well, we'll see, but this could be a turnaround in people's view of government, because now government is a matter of life and death.

WOODRUFF: All right. Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

Investigators say they are closing in on a small circle of men with links to Osama bin Laden. Up next, an update on efforts to track the terrorists.


WOODRUFF: Investigators trying to trace the origins of the September 11th terrorist attacks have been looking very closely at three countries. Let's get more on the investigation now from our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena

KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Judy. Investigators -- well, actually, sources tell CNN that authorities believe that the September 11th attacks were funded, developed and conceived in England, Germany and the United Arab Emirates. Investigators are said to be closing in on a small circle of men with links to Al Qaeda, that's Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. Now, those sources say that they're not yet ready to name any one person for indictment, and sources also say none of those men is in custody.

Sources also say that a man using the name "Mustapha Ahmed" is of particular interest to investigators. Now, whether he is thought to be a ringleader is unclear at this point. One of the hijackers, Mohamed Atta, sent a package to the U.A.E. to Ahmed a week before the terrorist attacks, and investigators believe that it contained cash left over from the operation.

Investigators continue to say that Atta, who they believe piloted the plane into the north tower of the World Trade Center, was a key player in carrying out the plot here in the United States. But he and the other hijackers have been described as -- quote -- "mere foot soldiers." Unlike other terrorist operations, intelligence sources say that they're almost 100 percent certain that no high-level person was ever in the United States to help lead the attacks. Government sources say that this is a change in tactic and makes it harder for U.S. law enforcement to do its job.

Now, as for the man who appeared in British court today, his name, Lotfi Raissi, sources tell CNN that he is thought to be a mid- level player and by no means a mastermind of any plans. A British prosecutor says that Raissi, an Algerian pilot, instructed the four pilots involved in the terror attacks here in the United States. He remains in custody for one more week and will face another hearing on October 5th. Raissi is wanted in the United States for using a false social security to obtain a pilot's license.

Judy, that's what we've got for today. It just keeps pouring in.

WOODRUFF: It certainly does, and one other very interesting piece of information today is the Justice Department, the attorney general, releasing to the press a copy of this letter, document, that was found now, apparently in the possession of three of the suspected hijackers.

ARENA: That's right, and we finally have some specifics on that. It's a handwritten document, written in Arabic, that was sort of a rules of engagement type document. It was found in the luggage of Mohamed Atta. He was the one who was on American flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center.

It was also -- a second one was found in a vehicle that was recovered at the Dulles Airport, that was a vehicle connected to another alleged hijacker, Nawaf Alhamzi. And there was a third copy that was found at the crash site in Pennsylvania. The attorney general had this to say about the connection there.


JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: These three documents, this letter, is clear evidence linking the hijackers on the three separate flights on September 11th. The letter is written in Arabic and contains instructions to the hijackers, as well as Islamic prayers. It is a disturbing and shocking view into the mindset of these terrorists.


ARENA: Now, we did receive a copy of that letter. It is in Arabic, we are busy translating it. And, Judy, hopefully can have some highlights from that as soon as possible.

WOODRUFF: All right, Kelli Arena, thank you very much.

Well, we're have all heard the expression President Bush did use at one point since September 11th. He said the terrorists are trying to hijack Islam itself. Mr. Bush's remarks came in a speech to Congress after the attacks, and they were influenced by the writings of a Cleveland law professor. Professor David Forte is an expert on Islamic extremism. He served as chief counsel to former U.N. ambassador, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and he has testified many times at Congressional hearings on religious persecution. David Forte joins us now.

Professor Forte, how did your writing, first of all, get into the hands of the president?

DAVID FORTE, PROFESSOR, CLEVELAND STATE UNIVERSITY: Well, apparently a number of people who knew my writings in Washington, and who understood the policy of the president sent them to various departments in the executive branch, hoping that they could be of some help. After all, this was the president's policy right from the beginning.

Very soon after the attacks, he visited the mosque in Washington and attempted to distinguish what he understood was the traditional practice of Islam from some extremist, who seemed to be violating every element of morality that Islam had preached in the past. That seemed to correspond to some of my research, and therefore I was glad to validate what was originally the president's policy to begin with.

WOODRUFF: Professor, help us make a distinction between Islam as it is practiced by millions of people around the world, and the brand of Islam that was practiced by these terrorists. And we just heard a little bit of that about the document in the possession of some of the suspected hijackers, reminding them to read the Koran, to pray and so forth.

What is the dividing line between the two?

FORTE: The dividing line seems to be that the extremists want to visit their tyranny, not only on the West, but on Islam itself. They have a view that most of Islam is not practicing the faith that these extremists believe that they should practices. And therefore, as much as the West seems to be their victims...

WOODRUFF: Professor Forte, I'm going to have to interrupt you for just a moment. My apologies. I want to go to Secretary of State Colin Powell.




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