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America Strikes Back: Military Options

Aired October 7, 2001 - 15:13   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: General Myers, the newly installed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, formerly confirming what we've been reporting to you that this involved both land-based and sea-based Cruise missiles, Tomahawk missiles, 15 land-based aircraft, 25 carrier-based aircraft. Also in the mix is two C-17s, which are being used to drop humanitarian aid where it can be most helpful.

The secretary saying as every administration official has said all along, "This is not an attack on Islam, it is an attack on terrorism."

That is a very brief overview but I'd like to bring in both of our generals here -- both of our military experts because they often hear things in these moments that we do not -- General Shepperd, General Clark.

General Clark, let me start with you since you're closer to me here in Atlanta. What did you hear from the secretary?

CLARK: Well, it was a very straightforward account of what has been done. He doesn't have the details on what the target results are, of course, because those results wouldn't come in for several hours, of course.

We don't know that the -- when the attacks would stop because it's an open-ended attack and we're not sure what the remaining set of targets will be because there are many parts of this operation that are not disclosed.

So he's confirming about what's been reported in the news media. And he's making it very clear that it is a very powerful attack, it's going to be sustained, it's going to have many different aspects -- some of which we're not going to see. And so this is the military part.

But I think the other aspect of what he's trying to say is that the military part is only a part and we're not going to win the war on terrorism strictly by military actions alone. It's what many people have said from the outset -- that this is a much broader effort that involves intelligence and police activities and so forth -- by coalition and cooperation by many countries.

And what we're seeing today and focused on today is just part of the response to the attacks of September 11. BROWN: OK, General, standby. Let me go to General Shepperd. Let me give you the same open-ended question. Did you hear anything in there that the rest of us might have glazed over, not noted, that was a code or anything of the sort?

SHEPPERD: Well, all of us are used to listening not only to what's said but how it is said and what's not said. One thing that was -- that did come up there -- he talked about mainly conventional means -- and this was General Myers. He was not referring to the use of nuclear weapons. What he was talking about was the other things -- the humanitarian and perhaps the Special Operations. He did not -- he was not indicating that perhaps nuclear weapons were involved in this at all.

BROWN: OK, that got our attention. Thank you. General Shepperd, a couple of specific airplane-related questions, if you will. B-52s from Diego Garcia. B-52s are the -- correct me on this and I know you will -- they're about the oldest of the big bombers we have, right? They've been around for a long, long time.

SHEPPERD: Yeah, they're older than some of the pilots that are flying them but they but they have had a lot of work an modernization done on them. They essentially have been converted from nuclear weapons delivery mechanism to conventional weapons and a standoff platform. They are very modern and they are very good and very, very useful airplanes.

BROWN: And they go back -- at least in my recollection I think they go back further than Vietnam but they were heavily used in Vietnam.

SHEPPERD: Very heavily used and on long-range strikes. In Vietnam we operated from Guam, which, by the way, is much closer to Vietnam than Diego Garcia is to Afghanistan. That's about 2,000 miles so these are long flights.

And also they mentioned the B-2 from the United States. Those round trip flights are as much as 24 hours. That's a long way for a bomber cruise, Aaron.

BROWN: And for those of us who can't imagine how that works -- a 24-hour flight -- what, do they put several crews onboard?

SHEPPERD: We would really like to have that capability. Unfortunately in the B-1 you have a little room and in the B-52 you've got some room to do that. In the B-2 you do not. You've got places for two people in there so it's those two people against the long flight. And it is indeed very long and very taxing.

BROWN: So they're expected to stay awake, stay alert and stay in control for a 24-hour flight?

SHEPPERD: Yes, and they train to do that. I remember receiving a Pentagon briefing long ago in which they were zeroing in on the young man that made a round trip flight in a B-52 during the Gulf War saying, "Well, how did you stay awake? Did you take pills?" And he said, "No, sir. We had some Gatorade." These kids are well trained and they practice this all the time.

BROWN: I'll bet they are. It's tough to practice not sleeping. General, standby -- back to General Clark for a second. I want to go back, sir, about an hour -- maybe it's a little less than that. When we heard from Al Jazeera TV in the Middle East the Osama bin Laden statement -- significant to you. I watched you watch that -- significant to you on a couple scores.

CLARK: It was significant. First of all, it was -- looked to me like it was pre-taped. It looked like daylight there. It was a rehearsed statement. It was pre-positioned somewhere -- presumably outside of Afghanistan. It was ready to be used whenever these attacks began. So he was expecting it and he's using the attacks as a springboard to put forth his own campaign to rally in his view the cause of Islam to his side.

So he's trying to work to make this a matter of struggle between faiths whereas Secretary Rumsfeld has said very clearly that it is not.

BROWN: Right, and it's hardly surprising that he would do that. The timing may be surprising but there was nothing surprising about either the language he chose or the message he used.

CLARK: No, it's vintage. He's used that language and that type of message many, many times. What is surprising is the way it was positioned and ready to go and shown on the Arab television network Al Jazeera just so soon after the attacks.

BROWN: Maybe both of you gentlemen can weigh in here. Al Jazeera -- and for those of you who may have just joined us, Al Jazeera is a major television outlet in the Middle East that we at CNN do have an -- have agreements with to use their material. They are not always the favorite source of information for the State Department -- the United States State Department.

They have been broadcasting much of what you have been seeing throughout the afternoon across the Middle East. They carried the president's statement at about 1:00 Eastern Time. They carried Tony Blair's statement. They obviously carried the bin Laden statement. I'm not sure if they carried the Rumsfeld press conference but I'm told they did.

So in the Middle East those people with TVs or access to TVs and obviously that's not every home but it might very well be every village -- we've seen that a lot in the world -- are hearing broadly what the world is saying.

Generals, obviously you would have preferred they had not heard bin Laden. You -- this is Al Jazeera TV now in the right hand box on your screen. You might -- obviously you would have preferred they not air the bin Laden statement. I'll give you that. But you must be pleased from a military point of view even in terms of the propaganda campaign -- the information campaign -- that they are carrying broadly the American or the Western side however you want to phrase it. CLARK: I think that is important and it is good to see that the Western side is carried. I think that in these campaigns the truth ultimately rings sound throughout all the world. And people can tell when it's just a propaganda statement. And so although they've heard of Osama bin Laden this will ring increasingly hollow as more and more of the evidence against him comes out and more discussion occurs throughout the world and we see how precise these U.S. strikes have been.

BROWN: And, General Shepperd, anything you want to add to that or...

SHEPPERD: No. I think this is the world of television and it's going to come from all directions with all kinds of information whether we like it or not. It's important for the world and the American people to see and know what we're doing without operational details that put our troops in danger.

The message is, at the same time we are dropping bombs on targets we are dropping food to sustain individuals out there. We want that message to get out and I'm sure it will.

BROWN: And on the subject on making sure none of us says anything that gets our troops in danger, I don't know what Al Jazeera's policy is but I know what ours is -- we are very, very careful on this sort of stuff. We don't deal in real-time movements at all. There are times I know when there seems to be a tension between military planners and reporters but you need to believe us I think on this one that we are very careful. We understand the stakes as we go about the business of trying to report what's going on.

Gentlemen, we'll be hearing more from you. Thank you, both. John King, our Senior White House Correspondent is now on station at the White House. He has been working his sources. John, what have you learned?

JOHN KING, SR. CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, the president is being updated constantly on the ongoing operation. He was with -- he is with his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice.

The situation room here at the White House obviously plugged into all of the incoming feeds -- information from the Pentagon, from U.S. military assets deployed around the world at this moment.

The president also we are told has made a round of phone calls and will make more in the minutes and hours ahead. Already he is in double digits in the number of world leaders he has spoken to.

Once the U.S. strikes were authorized the president spoke to King Abdullah of Jordan; the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister of Canada, Jacques Chirac, the president of France, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president and Gerhard Schroeder, the German chancellor. Also called for the leader of Uzbekistan. Other calls to the region planned we are told in the minutes and hours ahead. This one interesting bit, Aaron -- we are told from sources that the president notified congressional leaders last night.

One, he contacted the House Democratic Leader, Dick Gephardt. Our sources telling us Mr. Gephardt in Baltimore at Camden Yards for Cal Ripken's last game as a member of the Baltimore Orioles.

At 7:30 p.m. Washington time last the president informed Leader Gephardt he had given the Pentagon the OK for this operation -- the go order -- as soon as the military felt it was the right moment to launch.

So the president issuing that order not today but last night. Obviously the strikes playing out today. The president at this moment, as I noted, being updated on all the developments.

I just want to add before taking your questions you were just asking the military guests about Al Jazeera Television. Remember that network is based in Qatar. The Omar of Qatar here at the White House and at the State Department just the other day. One of the stern messages from the United States was, "If you are going to cover from inside Afghanistan and put that message on the air you'd better well put the message of the United States on your airwaves as well."

BROWN: Well, they have done that much whether they would have otherwise or not we can't know but they certainly have today. I'm going to obviously -- because I always do -- ask you about mood in the place but let me ask you specifically, do you know if the president has talked to his father yet?

KING: We do not know that and this White House very sensitive about relaying conversations between the current President Bush and the former President Bush. We do know they spoke obviously immediately right after the terrorist strikes of September 11th. It is normal procedure for this president to reach out to his father among others at times of crisis and big decisions. So there's no question such a conversation will take place.

The White House always tells us that those are private conversations -- very reluctant to get into the details. But certainly we would expect that conversation if it did not happen over the weekend as the president was authorizing this military action but it certainly will happen time and time again in the minutes, hours and days ahead.

BROWN: Though the White House has long been sensitive to this, there was a moment on the first Friday after the attacks at the National Cathedral -- I'm sure you remember this, John -- where President George Herbert Walker Bush reached over and grabbed the arm of his son across the former First Lady. It was a very tender and telling moment but other than that they really don't like to -- the senior Mr. Bush doesn't like to upstage his son at all.

The mood in the White House?

KING: The mood -- it's a crisis mood. Aides are very slow to return phone calls because they are in urgent staff meetings. They are told to tell us as little as possible about ongoing military operations. Most of the senior staff here admits it knows very little about the specifics of the ongoing operations or the plans for the days ahead. And we should make clear they say weeks and months ahead -- as Defense Secretary Rumsfeld made clear just a few moments ago.

Here at the White House they say their guidance is this is Move One in what will be a very long military campaign. The generals know better than correspondents like myself -- the military trying to soften up -- knock out communications, knock out command and control but Secretary Rumsfeld making clear.

And the White House -- the president himself in a much more vague statement earlier in the day making clear to the American people this is just the beginning -- an attempt to make sure that when you have ground support in there -- and that's a when, not an if -- that there are situations on the ground that they will be as safe as possible.

BROWN: John, stand by, if you will. Al Jazeera Television, which we've been talking about a lot, is now interviewing the Defense -- Deputy Defense Minister of the Taliban, who has claimed to have shot down an American jet. We'll listen in a bit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know -- I'm not hearing -- the conversation is from the -- I hope that the technicians will address this problem.

BROWN: I can appreciate the problem they're having. They've lost contact again. The deputy defense minister for the Taliban is claiming to have shot down a plane. Is that an American plane? Is that a British plane? Is that even true? We don't know.

In fact, General Myers I think it was in the briefing -- it may have been the defense secretary -- but in my memory it is General Myers -- said that they have no reports of any lost American or British aircraft. And so that is just one of the things that gets reported from time to time.

Let's see if they -- Al Jazeera -- have fixed this problem and we'll get a translation on this interview with the Deputy Defense Minister of the Taliban as it goes on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They have a double standards. They don't say to the Israelis anything to the Israelis about what they are doing in Palestine, or the Russians what they're doing, or the Indians doing in Kashmir. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

Now there are elements of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in this condition.

QUESTION (through translator): Are there any coordination -- military coordination -- between the two at the moment?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I personally -- I don't think it's something big. QUESTION (through translator): With regard to Taliban government, are there any other preparations? Are you prepared to -- are there any specific plans for each area, whether it be at Kandahar or other place?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): As I said before, and I repeat that military secrets are very difficult to talk about, and we don't tell anybody what secrets do we have.

QUESTION (through translator): A short while ago, we broadcast a videotape for Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahari and the spokesman for (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and they all have confirmed their full support for the attacks, without bearing responsibility for them. Do you think this represents maybe proof that you were requiring for bin Laden's role in these attacks?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Our position is clear. We are against terrorism and what has been said about us is not true.

QUESTION (through translator): The American defense minister mentioned secret operations against Afghanistan. Do you have an idea about the nature of these secret operations?

BROWN: And this is an interview with the deputy defense minister of the Taliban regime, being interviewed by Al-Jazeera Television. We didn't hear, to be honest, we didn't a lot there. There was a familiar restatement of the basic grievance and a, not quite to our ear, full denial that al Qaeda and the Taliban have a military relationship. I heard him saying not very much, but we're asking people in London here to be doing real time translations, and I don't want to put too much on that yet.




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