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Anti-Aircraft Guns Reportedly Being Fired in Kabul

Aired October 6, 2001 - 07:01   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Getting word now, Al-Jazeera television, a CNN affiliate out of the Middle East, they're saying this videotape is an indication of the anti-aircraft fire that I was just describing. Again, no description given on the type of aircraft that was overhead, but again, we're told that the firing from the ground was quite intense, much more intense than at other times.

We're also being told that at times the Taliban antiaircraft guns are filed -- fired, rather, as a practice drill as well. Again, that the word right now over the skies of Kabul at this time. We'll keep an eye on that.

And CNN's Tom Mintier watching it nearby. He is across the border east in Islamabad, Pakistan. Tom, what else can you add on this story now?

TOM MINTIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can add a little bit. The foreign ministry in Kandahar of the Taliban confirms that there was firing by three antiaircraft positions in Kabul at an airplane described by the Taliban as American, not Northern Alliance. They indicated that it is American. We asked them how they knew. They said it was an American aircraft. They said they fired at in from three locations but did not hit it with antiaircraft fire. They also say that this aircraft that was flying over Kabul did not fire on them, did not drop any bombs on them. It was simply flying over.

Now, the Northern Alliance apparently doesn't have a strip that can launch that kind of aircraft. They have mostly fixed-wing and helicopters. So one insider told us that had it been a Northern Alliance plane, they probably would have -- the Taliban would have scrambled a jet and shot it down.

But apparently a high-flying aircraft, well out of the reach of antiaircraft fire. But three batteries in Kabul, according to the Taliban foreign ministry, opened fire on this aircraft without hitting it. Several volleys, as you described earlier, going into the air.

But the foreign ministry indeed confirms that this shooting did take place in the skies over Kabul, but nothing was hit, nothing was dropped from the aircraft. And that's the information we have now, Bill.

HEMMER: Also, Tom, quickly, before we let you go, we're watching this videotape again through Al-Jazeera. It should be pointed out, a couple weeks ago, about 14 days ago, I believe, there were reports that a drone was shot down by Taliban aircraft, antiaircraft, we should point out.

Do you know, Tom, based on your location there and the reports you're getting out of Kabul, has it been common to see with the naked eye aircraft flying over the skies of Afghanistan?

MINTIER: Well, it is not common, because there are not that many aircraft that fly over. I remember the shoot-down you were talking about of the drone. No one claimed responsibility for that. We heard from two different sources from the Taliban embassy at the time, one saying simply that they used a Soviet antiaircraft captured weapon to down this unmanned spy plane, as they called it. But later we learned that the type of aircraft that normally do fly are really vulnerable to antiaircraft fire because they fly fairly low and fairly slow.

But what is being described in Kabul today does not sound like a drone, it doesn't sound like what happened 14 days ago. This sounds like something that was flying very high, maybe a reconnaissance mission. And they located it and simply tried to open fire with the antiaircraft guns.

HEMMER: OK, Tom. Tom Mintier live in Islamabad.

And clearly, at this point there is not a whole lot we do know. But what we are hearing and seeing on the ground through reporters there and the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera as well on the capital city on the ground there in Kabul that, again, intense fighting -- firing, rather, through antiaircraft artillery on the ground. We'll track it throughout the morning.

Now to Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Bill. We're going to check in with Washington and see if we've gotten any reaction or information from there. We're going to go to CNN's senior White House correspondent, John King, who's going to pick it up from here. Hi, John.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Kyra, and good morning, Bill.

We're checking at both the Pentagon and the White House trying to get some comment or reaction to this developing story, none in as yet on this early Saturday morning. We should note, though, we do know from our reporters at the Pentagon and in the region that the Pentagon has deployed a number of its reconnaissance, many of them unmanned drones like the Predator, one that was shot down, believed to be shot down. The United States at least acknowledges it is missing about two weeks ago.

We also know from past military actions it would be very unusual to see a U.S. fighter jet flying alone, a plane flying alone like that, especially as you saw in those pictures, banking at low altitudes, most likely would be some sort of a reconnaissance plane. Again, those pictures taken at quite a distance, though, it's hard to see what type of plane that is.

But we do know from past campaigns, both in Iraq, more than a decade ago, and as the U.S. prepared for the actions it took in Kosovo just a few years back, there was heavy use by the Pentagon of those unmanned spy reconnaissance planes, if you will. They fly in very slowly, they bank in the sky, they're trying to take pictures of movements and encampments and anything below them. One missing from about two weeks ago.

We will ask the Pentagon and the White House, although we should tell you, the Pentagon and the White House both have been very reluctant to discuss any details of any of the military activities. At first the Pentagon did not even acknowledge at all that one of its spy planes was missing about two weeks ago, finally the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, did acknowledge it was missing. They have yet to acknowledge at the Pentagon that it has been shot down, as the Taliban claims -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And John, we're seeing that video. You just saw the video that we ran moments ago. Do you think, because we did bring pictures about that the Pentagon will have to respond? And what do you think about those pictures? Is this something that we definitely should believe in?

KING: Well, the Pentagon will have to respond to our questions. Just what they will say, we will find out in the minutes ahead, I am sure. Very reluctant to discuss any operational details. The pictures taken at such a distance, very difficult to tell what type of an aircraft it is. But you do see there the wingspan, it's a relatively thin plane. It looks from a distance like some of those unmanned reconnaissance planes that we have seen used again in Iraq and more -- much more recently in the campaign over Kosovo.

Again, at this distance, though, it would be just speculation to say that. We do know the United States has deployed some to the region, and in fact the Pentagon has been rushing to buy and send even more into the region because of the fact that these are -- those planes, if this is one of those, are unmanned. It's a relatively safe mission. They're very expensive, of course.

But again, if you saw fighter jets or anything like that, they almost always fly in teams. So to see this one plane flying at very slow speed, if you will, that we can even see it at all and have a camera fixed on it at this, this is not a combat jet streaking through the sky, this is a plane taking a very deliberate course over the city of Kabul.

Again, we're checking with the White House and the Pentagon. Hopefully more details in the minutes and hours ahead, although they are very reluctant to discuss any specifics of this operation.

PHILLIPS: Yes, John, you make a good point about the fighter jets. Those air wings do work within groups.

John King, thank you so much. We'll continue checking with you in Washington -- Bill. HEMMER: All right, Kyra.

Want to go to the ground now in eastern Afghanistan. Kamal Hyder works with us here at CNN, now reporting with us by telephone there. And Kamal, what have you seen or heard based on your location there in Afghanistan regarding what we've been talking about here?

KAMAL HYDER, JOURNALIST: Well, I haven't seen anything. We're at a considerable distance, at least four hours' drive away from Kabul. So it's very difficult for us to see what's going on in Kabul. But according to the information coming from the Taliban foreign ministry sources, they are saying that there is an unidentified aircraft circling over Kabul, and that this does not belong either to the Taliban or to the opposition.

And they say they are trying to shoot this down. Obviously the purpose probably would be to -- if it is a reconnaissance aircraft -- to probe air defenses around Kabul and do necessary reconnaissance.

HEMMER: Kamal, from your location, and you've been there for many weeks, have you seen other aircraft that would probably be seen with the naked eye from the ground in your location or other parts of Afghanistan?

HYDER: So far, there hasn't been much activity over the skies in the area we are. The closest city to us is Jalalabad, which has a major air base, and so far we have no reports from Jalalabad indicating that anything is going on there, or if they have had any visual sights of unidentified aircraft.

HEMMER: Kamal, it's been a couple days since we have spoken. What have you observed on the ground in terms of possible military movements by the Taliban or al Qaeda?

HYDER: Well, al Qaeda's movements are guarded, very guarded secret, so it's very difficult to observe their movements. They normally are on front lines, or they stay very elusive and aloof from the main Taliban that you see around the cities. Here in the cities in eastern Afghanistan, as well as reports reaching us from the south in Kabul, there is heightened patrolling by Taliban forces.

They have prepared basically for an air strike, and they have, they say, taken away key assets which would be prime targets, like ammunition dumps. They have taken care of the few aircraft, Russian aircraft such as the Suhorez (ph) U-22s and the MIG-21s. They have dispersed those.

So they have taken evasive steps. Obviously they may not be able to hide them, but they have dispersed them. That's the information we have, and the information that we see on the ground.

HEMMER: Also, Kamal, quickly, while we have you here, what are you observing in terms of refugees in your area?

HYDER: Well, whatever movement has to take place has already taken place. Many people who fled the cities to the sanctuary of Afghanistan's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) found life very difficult there, and decided to go home instead. I think more and more people are beginning to understand that the war is not going to be directed against Afghanistan's civilian population, and they're now willing to take their chances by going back to the cities.

Many families we spoke to here told us that they've brought their children back home, and the men are not living alone any more. So they are basically trickling back. And the refugee crisis at the moment is going to worsen only if war breaks out, or a civil war breaks out, or if there's a heavy bombing campaign with high collateral damage. That's the time when people will move.

HEMMER: You make a -- bring up a rather interesting point. Go back to it, if you could. How are the Afghan people getting that word, or is this just their own assumption at this time, to return to their homes and cities?

HYDER: Well, you see, you must understand that Afghanistan, number one, is going through a severe drought. It's also in its 23rd year of war. And when these people, the city folks, when they suddenly go to the villages and they're confronted with scorpions and snakes and primitive living conditions, they can only endure for a certain time. And when the attack doesn't come in, because everybody thinks the attack is tonight or tomorrow night, people feel that there is a sense of -- false sense of security, and they cannot bear to live in the rural areas of Afghanistan.

And they then decide to go back to the cities and say they're willing to take their chances there.

HEMMER: Fascinating report. Kamal Hyder with CNN, a journalist on the ground in eastern Afghanistan, thanks, Kamal. We'll talk a bit later today.




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