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The American Response: Conditions in Kandahar; Pentagon Confirms Second Round of Airstrikes has Begun; The Objective of Continuous Bombing

Aired October 8, 2001 - 12:01   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Nic, if you are still there, why don't you get back on the phone and see what we can find out about Kandahar. To our viewers, we will give you a roadmap of where we are headed in a moment or so. Let's go to Matthew Chance first. I assume Matthew is on the phone and perhaps can tell us more about what is happening on the ground now. Matthew, I see you. Clearly you are not on the phone. Good afternoon Matthew, are you able to hear me, it is Aaron?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Aaron, I think I can just about hear you. We are having some technical problems here. As you see though, here in northern Afghanistan, darkness has pretty much fallen here. Also, there is a lot of wind in the air. It has kicked up a lot of dust in the air. You can't even see the stars, for instance, from where I am standing, the visibility is very low.

We have heard those reports, those reports that are coming in, that there may have been some kind of renewed attack in Afghanistan. We're not getting any of that confirmed from where we are in northern Afghanistan. In fact, we have a camera on a strategic location on a mountain top overlooking the plain, overlooking at least the approaches to the Afghan capital, Kabul. Just a few moments ago we spoke to the cameraman up there for CNN and he said there has been no movement. It is very quiet so far.

I can tell you that through the course of today there has been a lot of artillery exchanges, heavy machine gun fire between the two sides, the Taliban and the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, with whom we are based here in Northern Afghanistan.

There is political directive that has been issued to the known order from their political leaders not to advance on Taliban positions at this stage -- to bombard them, yes, but not to move at this point away from their strongholds into Taliban controlled territory. They say they are waiting for the lead from the United States on that, Aaron.

BROWN: And one of the reasons that we would be concerned, if that is the right word, about the possibility that a second wave of strikes, is that it was about this time 24 hours ago, that the United States and the Brits unleashed the first wave of attacks. So we are at that part of the evening where things begin to happen. CHANCE: That is right. It was more or less exactly this time. It was maybe half an hour or 30 minutes from now when the first wave of attacks took place. I was listening earlier to General Wesley Clark, former NATO commander, he was saying that they normally choose this time of night to strike against targets that don't have that kind of radar, infrared vision capability that United States forces, have.

He also mentioned the weather there. I mentioned earlier that it is very dusty, a cloud storm virtually underway here in Northern Afghanistan. Visibility is very poor indeed, but NATO officials, Wesley Clark was saying that that is not any kind of problem with the kind of technology that NATO and the United States has at its disposal -- Aaron.

BROWN: I think it is more difficult for us than for the military, for the pilots and certainly for the weapons. Matthew, stand by.

We keep an eye on the scene. This is -- the shot we have is about, if I remember this correctly, 30 or 40 kilometers to the north of Kabul. And the best we can get out of this, I think it is pretty clear to all of you, is if there are explosions we will see them. We will see the tracer fire coming from the anti-aircraft positions if it happens.

And there is not a lot of detail in this and there is not going to be. These are night attacks and the kinds of technology that are available to us, while pretty good, to be honest, imperfect certainly at night.

Nic Robertson, if you are back, I know you have been working the phones to Kandahar, trying to figure out whether, in fact a second wave of attacks has begun. What can you tell us?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, just on the phone literally a few seconds ago with our contacts in Kandahar. They say no explosions at this time. They heard planes going overhead before. Soon after they heard those planes, anti-aircraft gunfire lit up to the sky, they say, over the city of Kandahar, firing at those planes, they believe in the sky.

However, subsequently, that was about 15 minutes ago, they said they have heard no explosions. Yesterday, a little later than this, they were able to report explosions that were pinpointed later to the airport and also sometime later in the night they heard explosions that were a more downtown location.

They do tell us that through today, through the night last night and early this morning, people were getting their families out of Kandahar. Women, children, old people, being taken out of the city, even on donkey carts they tell us. Also, security now, very tight in the city and also those sources telling us what they are being told by the Taliban is that the Taliban has essentially not to try to meet the United States with a conventional force and meet them head-on, but essentially now try and meet them as a guerrilla force.

They say that while the Taliban feel that they are not very astute politically, they are astute militarily and have decided not to try and take the United States forces head-on, but fight a guerrilla campaign from here on -- Aaron.

BROWN: It is interesting that they are saying that. Clearly, as you know, Nic, if you look at the events the last 24 hours, that was an attack that was waged on American and British terms with the most sophisticated kind of weaponry, the airplanes, the cruise missiles, the smart bombs. This is playing to the full strength of the American military side.

On the other side, what the Taliban, the Afghan soldiers, the Taliban soldiers have going for them is knowledge of the terrain. It is kind of a military rope-a-dope. They would like to get the Americans in close so they can wage the war not on the American terms but on their own terms and that sounds exactly like what, at least your sources are telling you.

ROBERTSON: Well, Aaron, it is worth remembering as well that the United States did have people that were training, many of this, sort of veteran fighters, within the Taliban. During the 1980 when through the CIA, through Pakistani intelligence officials, people were coming to this corner of the world to help train these Mujah Hadin fighters to fight off the Soviet occupation.

They also learned a lot about the terrain. We have heard from a former SAS official, Tom Carew, who has provided a lot of insights about how the under cover special forces have worked inside Afghanistan. Many military analysts believe that there will be within the United States files many written records and accounts and details of the type of terrain, type of environment, how to blend in, what people wear, all these sorts of things.

So the United States forces not going in blind but yes, this is what the Taliban do best. This is the type of terrain they fight in best. Analyst also figuring that ammunition dumps, fuel dumps, the types of places to be taken out most quickly because now the Taliban are isolated. They have no supporters, nobody to resupply them militarily. Whatever stockpiles they have, if they are taken out in a speedy fashion at the beginning of the campaign, it is a war of attrition.

Taliban cannot restock and resupply on a scale to sustain a long fight -- Aaron.

BROWN: Nic, thank you. Stand by, Matthew, if you are still on the line, stand by. I do not want to suggest here that the Americans and the British or the allies here are inefficient at fighting on the ground if that is what it comes to, but I want to suggest that clearly that is a more efficient and effective way for the Taliban to fight and if they are going to engage in this sort of shooting match with the Americans. They are trying to figure out a way to do it on their terms. Jamie McIntyre, our military affairs correspondent at the Pentagon -- Jamie, what are you hearing?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I just got a nod from a senior Pentagon official that yes, this was the time, about noon time Eastern time when the next wave of attacks was scheduled to begin. But Pentagon officials have been stressing all along that this is an ongoing operation.

It is not something that is technically stopped during the daytime hours. In particular they are looking during the daytime hours for targets of opportunity, things that might be moving. They have combat aircraft up during the day. And they also have the ability to quickly program cruise missiles.

As for another round of strikes such as we saw last night in Afghanistan, that apparently has begun. The Pentagon official confirming that this is the time the next major wave of action was scheduled to begin -- Aaron.

BROWN: When you talk about the possibility of daylight attacks, where there any that you know of that have been reported?

MCINTYRE: I have not been able to confirm that there were any attacks today. I believe that the plan was to look for targets of opportunity or perhaps places where they needed to restrike based on their assessment of bomb damage. Apparently they don't have all of the imagery back here and analyzed that they hoped to have at this point. They are a little behind on that, but based on 1/3 of the bomb damage assessment being completed, Pentagon officials say that it appears that the goal of being very careful to hit only the targets they intended, they were pretty successful at that.

Of course there is no way for them to know if they had any civilian deaths or so-called "collateral damage." But at this point they do say that it appears that their precision weaponry did hit the targets intended.

BROWN: Jamie, just to help me as much as anyone here, the first wave of attacks, we should remind people, the object here is to take out strategic military sites that could prove dangerous to American pilots. So there is some logic here in the idea that you take nighttime, when the risks are a little less, there are always risks in this, but when the risks are a little less, try and take those targets out and then daylight comes. In a day or two, you start to work on those things that you might have missed when you have better view of it all and it is safer.

MCINTYRE: Well, one thing that the United States wants establish is what is called air superiority or sometimes air dominance. They want to own the skies over Afghanistan and be able to fly anywhere they want with impunity. And that takes a couple of days to accomplish particularly when the Taliban have shoulder-fired missiles that are very difficult to track down. But that is the first goal.

But the first strikes on the first day also have other goals as well: To try to destabilize the Taliban, give the Northern Alliance a military advantage, and also hit training camps, and also send a psychological message, that the Taliban cannot hide from the United States, and the idea is to keep them on the run, a little bit off balance and not knowing what to expect next. That way it is more difficult for them to plan any sort of response, or for the terrorist organization to plan any sort of retaliations.

BROWN: At this point they could pretty much set their clocks by when these attacks are going to start. They seem to go between 8:00 and 8:30 in Afghanistan. Jamie, stand by. I know you want to some reporting here. We'll Let you do that.

We'll go back to Matthew Chance. Matthew is in an area where the Northern Alliance is operating. The Northern Alliance, I know, as many of you know, is the opposition to the Taliban. In the military planning as we believe it is going to play out, they have a very important role on the ground. Matthew, what can you tell us from your location now?

CHANCE: Well certainly the Northern Alliance has been saying they have been in close contact with U.S. officials over the military side of things here. In fact, I was down in the front lines last night before and after the U.S. and British strikes in Afghanistan, and I can tell you there was a heavy barrage coming from the Northern Alliance side couple of kilometers from we were standing in the hour before the attack.

And then everything went quiet. The American and British attacks occurred in Afghanistan and then about a half an after that the picked up again. So there has been this talk of cooperation from the Northern Alliance with regard to the aspects of the military, the American military involvement in Afghanistan.

But there is also talk that they could possibly share intelligence. You were talking with Nic Robertson about the shortcomings perhaps in America's ability to fight on the ground in Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance say that they can fill any shortcomings that the United States forces have. Remember, they have just as much experience as the Taliban have of fighting in this very rough and rugged mountainous terrain across Afghanistan -- Aaron.

BROWN: OK, Matthew, stand by. I know you will go back to the phones to try and deal with your sources now. Again, we want to tell people the shot that they are looking at on their screen is a camera location about 40 miles to the north of Kabul, the capital, looking back towards the capitol.

We look down fairly often here. We haven't seen anything that we think is tracer fire coming up or explosions on the ground, but Kamal Hyder who is in Taliban-controlled area, we leave it at that -- Kamal, what are you hearing from either literally, what are you hearing on the ground, or what have your people on the phone been telling you?

KAMAL HYDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Basically at this time it is not clear, however Radio Kabul (UNINTELLIGIBLE) went off the air and when we contacted our contact our contact in Kabul, he said that, yes, we are under attack, before we lost contact.

At this time it is not clear, but every time Radio Kabul or Radio (UNINTELLIGIBLE) goes off the air, it is a precautionary measure. But they are under attack and this is exactly what happened yesterday. Radio (UNINTELLIGIBLE) went off the air. Now (UNINTELLIGIBLE) yesterday, if you remember, they immediately shut off the power supply to the city as a precautionary measure and obviously that may be attributed to the loss of radio (UNINTELLIGIBLE) being out.

BROWN: OK, we will just keep working this part of the story from all of you. Let me just take a second to recap for those people who may have come in. It is about 8:30, 8:45 in Kabul, 8:45 in the evening. As you can see we have reports from both Kandahar and Kabul that another night of attacks are under way.

Our military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon has been told by a source there that yes, the second wave or second day of attacks have started. How widespread it is going to be, the specifics of the targets we will undoubtedly learn more about that. We expect to hear from -- we expect a Pentagon briefing this afternoon. Whether it will come off as -- as scheduled, which as I recall is about 1:00, remains to be seen.

Obviously there is action in Afghanistan, and that may delay, to one degree or another, when the Pentagon makes whatever statements it intends to make. But the second wave of attack does appear to be underway in Afghanistan at about exactly the same time it started 24 hours ago.

This is how it played out on Sunday about 8:15 local time in Afghanistan, the first wave of attacks began. And that is where we seem to be yet again today as this second day of America striking back goes on.

Don Sheppard, retired Major General in the Air Force is with us. General, playing out according to the plan we talked about last week, it sounds like.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: So far, Aaron, this has been classic air attack at the early stages of a long campaign.

You have seen attacks against the major cities because around those major cities are lucrative military targets, such as air defenses, missile sites, early warning radars, communications and headquarters, munitions supply depots and that type of thing. That is what we are after.

We expect a 3 to 5 day campaign against the initial sets, and during that time we will go back when the weather allows and look to see what damage we did to see if any of the initial targets need to be restruck.

BROWN: I am going to ask you a question but it is not going to sound very military, so you will have to turn the language around. How much of this second-day attack was planned, lets say a week ago or days ago, in any case, and how much was simply a reaction to the intelligence, the satellite imagery and the rest, that they picked up after yesterday? SHEPPERD: My guess is you are looking at 99 percent planned attack. We will watch and if anything happens such as the movement of major forces we will know it and we will be able to hit it. We do that with radar, we do it by listening to communications, we do it by pictures from space and other platforms out there. So most of this is preplanned, however as lucrative targets develop, and you cannot move these days without leaving a signature of some type, we will be in a position to hit it.

BROWN: And you have some sense of the targets, they either have gone after, are going after, or are ought to go after -- fair?

SHEPPERD: I do. I can show you on the telestrator if you'd like, Aaron.

BROWN: Please do.

SHEPPERD: Let me start off first of all with the early warning radars. I am just doing this for example, not putting in particular locations. You will find that a nation such as Afghanistan will have early-warning radars along its borders looking out so that they are able to see airplanes, strikes, if you will, coming in, in this case from the north and the south.

Once you take out those early warning radars, now you want to go against two things: First of all is the airfields which I will just put on here around the major cities. You'll want to go against those airfields and those airfields will be protected by two to three missile sights. So you'll want to take out those missile sites.

The idea behind all of this is to keep airplanes from taking off from the airfields. You want to hit them in their shelters on the ground if you can. You want to close the runways if you have to without destroying the air base in case you may need it later and as a last resort, you want to shoot them down in the air. They have a couple dozen airplanes, not very capable. We don't expect much reaction.

Once you do all of this, what that does is give you a clear air picture. And now you can go back in and you can start to hit the fielded forces out there, the individual tanks, the pieces of artillery, what is left, if you will. The antiaircraft sites and those are the types of things that once you weaken, this Taliban Alliance, then perhaps the Northern Alliance which is located up in this area can move down toward the capital of Kabul and perhaps even down toward Kandahar and eventually takeover. That looks to me like what we are expecting and what we are hearing from the Pentagon -- Aaron.

BROWN: And that is sort of classic military planning 101, isn't it? I mean, you can look at how the Gulf War was prosecuted, you could look and see, obviously a different field of play but the same kind of theory. First you take out the air defenses, the command and control, you damage the air fields, you try and keep the planes on the ground if you don't blow them up and then start to do, I want to say the dirtier work, I don't think any of this is very clean work, but I think you know what I mean, of taking out the ground locations, the troop locations, that sort of thing.

How do they know they haven't already hit one of those sites if they planned this out in advance? How do they know that that first wave yesterday didn't taken it out and then they are simply duplicating what they have already done?

SHEPPERD: Well, basically, what you do is, in these pre- planning, you have what we call an air tasking order and it carefully plans out the whole set of targets that you are after, you then run computer models to see, you assume there will be some failures and then you do what we call BDA or bomb damage assessment from satellites and other platforms and you go back and hit the stuff that you have missed. Sometimes you simplify don't get it or there is a failure of a platform or a weapons system, that type of thing. The key is to go after the fielded forces eventually and weaken those and go after them in other ways, such as cutting off their money and the other things we are doing around the world at the same time, Aaron.

BROWN: We know as you mentioned, they don't have lot of airplanes to throw out there. May be a dozen, maybe two dozen, they are kind of old. That obviously is not a huge threat. How sophisticated is this early-warning radar? Because, I think, I mean, as I sit here, if you are not concerned about the airplanes getting involved in dog fights, what you are concerned about is being shot down from the ground. Some sort of surface-to-air missiles, or Stinger missiles, something like that. How sophisticated are their air defenses, excluding the airplanes?

SHEPPERD: Well, you should have been a airman. You know a lot about this stuff. Very clearly, they are not a sophisticated military, on the other hand, we have to take this stuff out no matter where it is. Because even though the missiles are old, the SA-2's and the SA-3's, old Soviet missiles, they are very dangerous to airplanes flying at high altitudes.

In addition, once you take them out and the early warning radar, they cue them to look at a particular direction. Then you still have the shoulder-fired missiles left and the thing that always brings more airplanes down than anything else is AAA, or the anti-aircraft artillery. The individual pieces that get the low-flying airplanes. So it is a dangerous dangerous business and whether they are sophisticated or not, they can get you and we want to prevent that.

They are not as sophisticated as the Iraqis, but they are still very dangerous and this military power of the Taliban is one of their centers of gravity and we are trying to take it out and weaken it. So the Northern Alliance can operate.

BROWN: And just a small point here, before I let you get back to getting on the phone and figuring out what is going on here a little more. You talked about low-flying aircraft and the danger of anti- aircraft fire from the ground. It is my impression, you will correct me if I make a mistake, that what we have sent and what the United States has sent in so far are high-flying aircraft just to avoid this kind of problem. SHEPPERD: Two types of aircraft. High-flying aircraft and also stealthy aircraft that can avoid the radar. Now, there is no such thing as an invisible airplane. When you get close to a radar, you show up, but the stealth does not show up till the last minute and so we have sent it mainly high-flying airplanes with precision-guided munitions.

We don't want to operate at low altitude, we spent billions of dollars to be able to operate out of the AAA anti-aircraft environment so that we can zoom in with visual devices to see things on the ground, cued by off-board sensors. The whole idea is sensor to shooter for the future. You want to have a sensor find out where it is, you want to display it in the cockpit, you want the cockpit to able to put a weapon on it. That is what we spent billions of dollars doing in our military forces, Aaron.

BROWN: You make it sound almost automatic. Is it that automatic or is there still the human element of finding the target, pulling the trigger, all of that?

SHEPPERD: We wished it was automatic, these people are operating in very dangerous situations where they are being shot at with both missiles and anti-aircraft fire. Sometimes they get hit just by a lucky shot. There is a lot of human element and human effort involved in this type of thing that requires years and years of training. Costs about $7 million to produce a combat-ready fighter pilot that goes out and operates on his own, whether it is Air Force or whether it is Navy out there.

These people are well trained, they got terrific equipment. They are so much better and so much more capable than us old guys that fought the wars long ago. But there is still no magic to it. It is still the human in the loop that makes it all happen -- that's our young American kids out there.

BROWN: Don -- General, I apologize. General Shepperd, thanks. We will be back with you again. It does appear the second wave of attacks is under way. White House correspondent Major Garrett joins us now. Major, what are you picking up at the White House?

MAJOR GARRETT, WHITE HOUSE CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, senior administration officials tell CNN that in fact the second day of coordinated U.S.-United Kingdom attacks is under way. The president was notified of that this morning. It is worth pointing out the president does not give a second order, it was a standing order he issued to the military on Saturday. The target lists, we don't have any specifics on that, but clearly, they were reviewed after the first day of missions. The second day now under way.

Also, one other very interesting development, Aaron. Senior administration official telling CNN that the United States and the United Kingdom have filed a letter today with the United Nations Security Council. In that letter, the two countries state that only does it believe it is carrying out all the military activities under the authorization of existing U.N. Security Council resolutions, but that both nations reserve the right to hit targets outside of Afghanistan.

The letter does not in any way indicate that the United States- United Kingdom will hit targets outside of Afghanistan, but clearly reserves the right, as the United States and United Kingdom understand it, under the United Nations Security Council resolutions, the most recent of which was passed the day after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Virginia -- Aaron.

BROWN: That is a fascinating little piece of information that we need to, I think all of us need to try and unravel a little bit in the afternoon as it goes along. We expect, we expect a briefing out of the Pentagon very shortly perhaps, I thought 1:00, perhaps a little earlier than that, now. Again, the scene you are looking at is from North of Kabul looking back.

As we have been watching it, we have not seen signs of either anti-aircraft fire coming from the ground to planes in the sky or anything dropping down, any explosions. It is a little hard to tell. Again, it is about 40 miles away, 40 kilometers away to the North but keep an eye on that. Nic Robertson is in Pakistan, he has been talking to sources in primarily in Kandahar, or at least was. Nic joins us now as we put little pieces of this puzzle together, as the second day of attacks now is under way -- Nic.

ROBERTSON: Aaron, think maybe I can put just one other tiny-tiny element together in this puzzle. And that is our sources in Kandahar say that they heard these aircraft come overhead, they heard the anti- aircraft gunfire go off from the city and then they say that they could hear this anti-aircraft gunfire go off way into the distance, as if these plane were being -- or these objects in the sky were being chased across the horizon that somewhere in the distance they could hear more anti-aircraft guns picking up the target and trying to hit it.

Interesting, as well, the sources tell us from people they have been talking to inside the Taliban hierarchy that the Taliban has now told its soldiers that even if their command and control communications goes down, that they are all to stay in their positions and to essentially work on what are called mission tasks that they know what they have to do.

For example, defend a particular front line, and they have all been instructed that even if they don't get resupplied from the rear, even if food is not coming up, then they have to go out and forage in local houses. Something, I am told, they are used to doing, used to finding food from fields, food from people's houses and sustain themselves in that way and they have been told, essentially, that even if they don't get resupplied from behind, even if they don't get new command instruction on what to do, they are there to hold their lines.

And that was something that the Taliban ambassador was saying here in Pakistan today. He said that on the Northern -- on the front lines against the Northern Alliance, just North of Kabul, he said that they hadn't lost any ground and that they had been holding their positions there, Aaron. BROWN: Well, it is early in all this, Nic, hang on. I want to go to General Wesley Clark, if I can. General, you have been listening to all of this. All make sense to you? Does it all lay out in a kind of thoughtful, cohesive way to the military ear?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It does. This is very very routine in terms of going after targets in an air campaign, because the way it begins is that we take the most dangerous, the most significant targets that can be moved, if they get too much advanced warning, we take them first.

But typically an adversary will have some radars turned off, he will have moved some missile sites that we don't find at the last minute, and we are watching and we then we have alternate locations for these in many cases and we go after them again the second night. Sometimes when you are using the precision guided munitions, you only want to hit one aim point in a specific set of targets and go back if you didn't do sufficient damage, hit another aim point.

So there are many reasons for going back in. This is a pattern, and this will probably continue several nights beyond this.

BROWN: What is impact, General, on the ground to a unit that has been told, you may lose command and control here, you are not going to hear from us, you may not get resupplied, you are pretty much on your own out there, do what we told you to do. But we won't be talking to you or helping you out very much.

CLARK: It is obviously not very good for their moral, and the question is how good is their discipline? And if the discipline is very good and they have a lot of confidence in their leadership, then they will hang together.

But we know that this Taliban force is a hodge-podge. It is composed of different groups under different tribal loyalties with different sects, and chances are that they will lose some of the force when this happens.

BROWN: In saying that, I assume you don't want to say that some units may be less effective than others, less disciplined than others. In many cases these are experienced fighters that have been through this drill before.

CLARK: They have, but they have not been under the kind of sustained pressure from the air. And as we saw in Desert Storm, sustained pressure from the air can make really make troops go crazy and that is what is going to happen here over a period of days I would think.

BROWN: They may have thought they were terrific soldiers but they are learning a different kind of war. General Clark, I need you to stand by too for a little bit.




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