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America's New War: Officials Confirm Presence of U.S. and British Special Forces on the Ground in Afghanistan

Aired September 28, 2001 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: It was a story that broke this morning that still leads the news. We now have confirmation from sources that U.S. and British special forces have been on the ground in Afghanistan. This is tricky and sensitive stuff, we are going to be very careful with what we say or show. We begin with our senior White House correspondent John King. John, good evening.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, good evening to you. Quote, "in region and yes in country," those are the words of a senior administration official earlier today speaking to us and confirming, as you noted, that U.S. and British special forces, over the past several days at least we are told, have been conducting operations inside Afghanistan.

Now we pursued this reporting because there were some reports in the region and one here in the United States that special forces troops were actually hunting down Osama bin Laden. Our sources, for obvious reasons, very sensitive to discuss these operations, but one steering us away from that suggestion, saying, quote, "remember, we have an intelligence deficit here." Meaning they wouldn't want to put those forces at risk until they have much better information about the bin Laden organization inside Afghanistan.

So what would these troops be doing? We are told, scouting the terrain, looking for potential targets, landing zones for aircraft and helicopters, maybe as well some supply routes in the event there is a U.S. military operation.

Now, the president was asked about this here earlier today at the White House while he was meeting with the king of Jordan. Mr. Bush, reluctant to get into any details of the military operation, but he did make clear in his view the campaign was well under way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 are in hot pursuit. We are going to enforce the doctrine. We are going to be diligent and patient and determined to bring people to justice and to route out terrorist activity around the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, Mr. Bush left for the Camp David presidential retreat later in the day. He will spend the weekend there, still consulting with his national security team. And while special forces operations, Aaron, are very secret, officials are very reluctant to talk about them, they also say, while secretive, they're quite common, usually used as advance teams before any major and more broad-based military action -- Aaron.

BROWN: John, we are going to talk with Wesley Clark in a minute more about the special forces. Let me ask you about a couple of other things. A lot of time in the White House briefing today was spent talking about aid to laid off workers, what the administration may or may not do. What do you know about that?

KING: A major meeting on that front here at the White House, President Bush meeting with what he calls the domestic consequences team, the team designed to deal with the domestic fallout, especially the economic fallout of all of this. Our sources telling us tonight the president is prepared to embrace a package that includes a payroll tax cut, tax cuts to help struggling businesses because of this, also an extension of unemployment benefits for those directly affected by this crisis.

Right now, if you're unemployed in this country, you get 26 weeks of benefits, a half a year. The president wants to extend that another 13 weeks. Democrats in Congress want to go much further, they want 52 weeks of unemployment benefits, so still some differences to be resolved, but the president committed, we are told, to moving as early as next week on an economic stimulus package.

The administration hopes, again hopes, this does not become a partisan debate, and as part of that effort, the White House reached out tonight to Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, a prominent liberal Democrat, already some conversations with the House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt. Differences remain, though. We will see how that debate unfolds next week in the Congress -- Aaron.

BROWN: But what they want do, it sounds like, is not unlike the way they do foreign summits. They want to know precisely what the deal is before they take it to the floor or to the committees of the House and the Senate?

KING: Absolutely. What they do not want to do right now, Aaron, is show that this country is divided over anything. They believe that would send the wrong signal to anyone overseas, especially if the president asks some countries in difficult positions to join this international coalition. So, to the degree possible, they want to work out the details in advance on this front, the economic stimulus package, and on the airline security package. Some differences that could cause some debate in Congress, but the administration will do all it can to keep those partisan debates especially to a minimum, for obvious reasons -- we are in a time of crisis -- Aaron.

BROWN: John, thank you. Our senior White House correspondent John King with us. As promised, more now those special forces, what they may be doing in Afghanistan, what might happen next, CNN military analyst, retired General Wesley Clark joins us tonight. General Clark, good to see you again.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Nice to see you, Aaron.

BROWN: A couple of times today, just John said it, and earlier someone else on our air said it that this is pretty routine stuff. Routine in a hostile environment?

CLARK: Well, it's routine in terms of our troops are well trained. We know what we're doing. We practice all over the world for this. We've been in environments like this before, and we will go into this environment and we will go through a set -- a sequence of actions. We will be looking at terrain, we will be getting acclimatized, we'll be looking for signs of enemy activity. There will be a number of areas where we've got under observation, and are working with.

But routine is one thing, it's as the German philosopher Clausewitz said, "in war," he said, "everything is simple, but even that which is simple is exceedingly difficult." This is routine, but it's dangerous and it's difficult.

BROWN: Tell me as much as you can about -- are we talking about groups of soldiers about how big? Are we talking a dozen, six? What are we talking about?

CLARK: Anything from three to five, to maybe a dozen or more.

BROWN: How are they getting around?

CLARK: Some of them are walking, some of them may have vehicles, some of them may be in disguise, some of them may be riding in helicopters.

BROWN: So we might be flying helicopters into Afghanistan?

CLARK: We might be.

BROWN: Would you guess that they -- and this is a guess -- would you guess that they went in within days of the attack in New York and Washington?

CLARK: My guess would be, someone in very quickly after that attack.

BROWN: And was there already a plan in place prior to September 11 for what they would do when they got in, or was this put together very quickly?

CLARK: Well, I wouldn't want to go into specifics about plans, but we clearly have a number of contingency plans all through the world, and I think as President Clinton made clear there have always been plans, there have for some time been plans against Osama bin Laden. And so, there were existing plans I'm sure that would help them do a form of basis for what they would need to do now.

BROWN: OK. I said at the beginning, this is tricky stuff, and we want to be careful about what we say and what we show as we go along here. And if we seem to be pushing that line, just say, "I don't want to talk about that." That seems fair to me.

American and British, would you guess they're working together, or are these independent teams on separate missions?

CLARK: Well, I would think that -- we respect, the United States military respects the British forces very, very highly, but generally we work independently within our own areas, and someone is coordinating it, obviously. At some level, people know what the other fellow is doing, but why mix up people of different nationalities in these very dangerous and difficult missions?

BROWN: Are they 20-year-olds, or are they 35-year-olds, would you guess?

CLARK: I'd say the ages vary. These team have got experts probably not that young, probably younger than 35.

BROWN: And do they have language skills when they go in?

CLARK: Some may have language skills.

BROWN: And are they bringing in their own food, are they self- contained units in that way?

CLARK: Yes, the teams will want to be as self-contained as possible.

BROWN: How dangerous is it for them right now?

CLARK: Well, we've got very good field craft. We know what we're doing. Probably we are not trying to make contact with anyone. It's a matter of keeping a very small forward footprint, not making a signature, and watching and listening. And probably as long as we don't make a signature we will probably be relatively safe, but there are hazards.

There are mines in this country, and there are areas where chemical weapons were used by the Soviets many years ago. We don't know exactly all of those areas -- at least I don't, and I don't know that we have that information -- so we do have to be careful and it is dangerous, even if we don't make contact.

BROWN: General Clark, thanks for joining us tonight, Wesley Clark, a military analyst for CNN with us tonight. Thank you.

The president, when talking about the coalition he is building, said he would use both the carrot and the stick to gain partners. Here's the example of the carrot again: The United States agreed to give $50 million in new aid to Pakistan. Pakistan's role is key for many reasons, among them it is the only country left that has formal relations with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The latest now from Islamabad, our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour -- Christiane.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, also, the country which is really the front line state, if there's to be any military campaign, according to officials, and yes, over the last two weeks since this crisis the United States has been doing a lot of things to relieve the pressure on Pakistan. They've been removing some of the sanctions that were imposed because of Pakistan's nuclear tests, they've rescheduled part of Pakistan's debt to the United States, and now we understand that they've given another $50 million, apparently for military aid.

Certainly, the newspaper today is full of this idea about new military aid to Pakistan. Sorry, it's not that easy to show up. But obviously, this is what they want. They had military cooperation quite closely for a long time with the United States, that was cut off over the last several years, and there's also word that the United States will further lift sanctions, sanctions that were imposed when the military general here, General Musharraf, now the president, did enact that coup back in 1999. Musharraf saying that he's committed to democracy, as well as now remaining a very strong ally of the United States. Elections are scheduled for next year.

So that's how the U.S. is trying to help Pakistan right now. Now, how Pakistan is trying to help is diplomatically. They tried to send another mission to the Taliban yesterday, but it came back empty handed. It was a mission that comprised intelligence officials from Pakistan, in fact led by the chief of the intelligence service, as well as a delegation of religious clerics. And they'd gone again to try to tell the Taliban that they face a very serious situation and they have to make very critical choices.

They also tried to get the Taliban to release those eight foreign aid workers who are being held in Kabul and on trial on charges of trying to spread Christianity, among them two Americans. But as I say, they came back empty handed -- Aaron.

BROWN: Christiane, thank you. Christiane Amanpour in Islamabad tonight on the latest there. It's actually already Saturday morning there.

Late tonight, the UN Security Council voted 15 to nothing, adopting a resolution to freeze the financial assets of the suspected terrorists and expand the UN's powers to fight terrorism. The resolution requires all countries to deny safe haven to anyone financing or committing the terrorist act, and criminalizes the financing of such attacks. The measure was introduced on Thursday.

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