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America Strikes Back: U.S.-Led Coalition Attacks Taliban

Aired October 8, 2001 - 17:59   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Tomorrow Tom Ridge, the former -- now former governor of Pennsylvania will be sworn in to a Cabinet-level position of homeland defense; this just a few days after some members of Congress were told by officials there's a 100 percent chance of some sort of terrorist reaction to the attack that was launched today.

Jeanne Meserve in Washington is tracking the homeland defense side of the story, and she joins us now -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, we've been talking to officials in cities and states across the country, and almost all tell us that they are on a heightened state of alert, including those here in Washington, D.C.

Here in Washington a joint command and control center has been activated to facilitate communications between the various law enforcement agencies that have some jurisdiction in this town. Among the things they have been monitoring today -- a demonstration that's going on as we speak in front of the White House at Lafayette Park. This is an anti-war demonstration.

D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey does tell us that his department was given no advance notice of today's strikes and that as of this hour there have been no credible threats against the capitol.

No credible threats reported in Philadelphia either. There were three major events going on in the city today -- a couple of parades and an Eagle's game. So a lot of police were already on duty. But when the strikes against Afghanistan occurred they were re-deployed to the city's center to guard high rise and high profile buildings.

A couple of bomb squads were on alert at Veteran's Stadium were likewise moved to the city's center.

Right now Philadelphia police officials are drawing up a plan for the rest of the week which will include placing uniformed police in high visibility locations throughout that city.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley says security has been stepped up in his city around vital infrastructures such as railroads, tunnels, bridges, water supply facilities, industrial sites and also around mosques and synagogues.

The mayor says Baltimore officials have been planning for weeks how they would respond when American military action began. And the mayor said because of that the moves taken today were almost automatic in his words.

In the State of California a spokesman of Governor Gray Davis says state government was advised early on by the FBI that in the event of a U.S. strike state officials should be prepared for retaliation so today patrols around electrical and water facilities were stepped up. And officers of the California Highway Patrol have been put on 12-hour shifts.

Police officials in the City of Los Angeles say they are on a citywide tactical alert. This means police officers on duty stay on duty until they are told otherwise. No word at this point when that will end. A spokesman for Governor Davis does note, however, that there have been no credible threats made anywhere in the State of California.

A few other odds and ends -- in Colorado the National Guard increased security around its own facilities and several governors have received special security briefings from their state officials but not all of them. A spokesman for Colorado's governor, Bill Owens, says there's been no change in his schedule. His is spending the afternoon as planned at the Bronco's game.

Back to you, Aaron.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Jeanne. We'll take a quick look around the country. And I think it's fair to say while there's always going to be concern about a day like today, lots of large groups of people in a number of important cities the fact is the threat, if there is one out there, is not one that necessarily we were going to see today. It's going to be in the days, the weeks, the months -- who knows -- the years ahead.

American life has changed. It changed on September 11. And what happened today further enforces that.

At 10:00 tonight a special report we'll have for you. We'll update all the events of the day. We should by that point have a better idea -- a better idea, though not necessarily a good idea -- of how successful this first wave of attacks has been.

We'll have had some daylight in Afghanistan and we'll be able to do some reporting on that. All of that at 10:00 tonight. We hope you'll join us for that -- Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Aaron, I'll see you then.

BROWN: Yes, you will.

WOODRUFF: We'll be together. You'll be in Atlanta and I'll be here in Washington. Well, it is moving just past 6:00 in the east -- about three minutes after. And we want to give you a quick update on what we do know at this hour about today's U.S.-led military attacks.

United States forces with assistance form the British have hit targets in Taliban-controlled areas across Afghanistan. Air defenses and aircraft near Kabul, Kandahar and Herat are among the areas reportedly damaged.

Pentagon officials say Operation Enduring Freedom includes Cruise missile attacks as well as assault by aircraft. The high tech B-2 bomber has been used to drop precision-guided bombs and B-52 bombers have hit targets with conventional so-called dumb bombs.

Shortly after the operation began British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced Britain's involvement in the mission and the goal to hit Taliban targets not civilians.


TONY BLAIR, PRIME MINISTER OF GREAT BRITAIN: This military plan has been put together mindful of our determination to do all we humanly can to avoid civilian casualties.

I cannot disclose obviously how long this action will last but we will act with reason and resolve.


WOODRUFF: Also today the Arab television network Al Jazeera released this new video of Osama bin Laden. On the tape -- and we don't know when it was taped -- bin Laden said God is giving Americans, quote, "what they deserve."

It was not even half an hour after the attacks began in Afghanistan that President Bush went on the air here in the United States telling a national television audience that the attack was underway and, once again, outlining the rationale for it.

CNN's John King is at the White House.

John, and ever since that moment -- it was about 1:00 Eastern time -- the president's been monitoring all this very closely.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He has been, Judy. Inside the White House receiving, we are told, very frequent updates from his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. In the White House Situation Room here instantaneous communication with the Pentagon and the U.S. command and control centers around the world as this military operation unfolds.

In that address to the American people the president made this afternoon that you mentioned he said this military effort would be, quote, "sustained, comprehensive and relentless."

Now this is a picture of the president returning back from Camp David this morning. He went straight to the Oval Office. And when he went into the Oval Office Mr. Bush began calling world leaders around the world to tell them that military strikes were eminent.

Among those he called the Russian president, the president of France, the chancellor of Germany, the close ally -- the Prime Minister of Canada. Mr. Bush looked to a senior aide at one point and he said, quote, "I gave them a fair warning." That a reference to the Taliban. And Mr. Bush made that point again in his address to the American people noting that it was two weeks ago that he made an ultimatum -- turn over Osama bin Laden or suffer the same fate.


GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: More than two weeks ago I gave the Taliban leaders a series of clear and specific demands -- close terrorist training camps, hand over leaders of the Al Qaeda network and return all foreign nationals including American citizens unjustly detained in your country. None of these demands were met, and now the Taliban will pay a price.


KING: CNN is told by senior administration officials the president actually gave the go ahead last night. We're also told he first started calling congressional leaders at 7:30 p.m. last night, said he had given the go ahead for the military to act as soon as it believed it was the right moment to strike.

As a security precaution also we are told Vice President Dick Cheney not on the White House grounds but taken to a separate, secure location -- that because of the continuing fear that there will be some terrorist retaliation here in the United States as a result although White House officials say there are no specific or credible threats.

Earlier today a senior administration official saying -- quote -- "American's need to be on alert. Threats do remain. This is a war" -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: John, when the president said today this action is designed to clear the way for -- in his words -- "sustained, comprehensive and relentless operations to drive them out." How much is the White House saying about just exactly what's going to be involved here?

KING: They're saying very little in detail although they do tell us -- and the Pentagon briefing was a bit more detailed -- that this is Day One of a campaign they believe will take weeks and months. The Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld saying one of the goals was to soften it up -- make it so that U.S. ground troops could go in.

We don't believe that has happened in any significant numbers as yet but White House officials while saying they will not tell us much about the military planning for the days and weeks ahead but they believe this campaign will take months, that it will involve ground troops.

And we know from other sources that the CIA Director, George Tenant, among those making calls to key members of Congress. I spoke to one lawmaker who received such a call who said Mr. Tenant was also quite clear -- this is Day One, the first call of many you will receive. We expect this to be a very long and sustained campaign. WOODRUFF: All right, John King at the White House. And picking up on what John just said about Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld talking about this is softening up the Taliban, if you will. He also said he predicts that it's not going to happen in one strike or a few strikes on the outside -- this is something where we're going to watch them collapse from within. Some pretty graphic words there from the defense secretary.

My colleague, Wolf Blitzer, joining me now here in Washington. And, Wolf, you've been talking to some of our military analysts.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I have Judy. And, in fact, Major General Don Shepperd Retired U.S. Air Force is joining me right now. And, General Shepperd, the defense secretary specifically said the first objective was to destroy -- "remove," in his words -- the threat from air defenses and from the Taliban's aircraft.

What kind of air defenses does the Taliban military actually have or had?

MAJ. GEN. DONALD SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Wolf, this is a classic military operation. If I can go to the telestrator here I'm just going to draw some examples. Around the edge of the country you will find what we call early warning radar. You want to take those early warning radars out so that they cannot see where you are coming from specifically so they can line up their other defense.

Now I'm going to erase those and I'm going to put in, for example, some air bases. There are seven or eight air bases that we're concerned with around the area there. And of all of those air bases there you have airplanes on the air base. You want to get them on the ground if you can -- not let them get airborne. And, if possible, you'd like to do it with out destroying the air base which you may want to use later for humanitarian relief or for the Northern Alliance to operate from.

So it's very tricky. Again, we'd like to get them on the ground.

You can also get them if they take off.

All of these things are protected by another thing, which is missile sites. And I will just put an X at each one of these things. Fixed missile sites -- perhaps two or three at each location. You need to take out the early warning radars, the aircraft -- on the ground if possible or in the air and then also the fixed missile sites so later on you can operate with impunity with your forces or bring in humanitarian relief.

BLITZER: What kind of aircraft -- war planes -- do they have that potentially could be a threat to the U.S. and the other coalition partners?

SHEPPERD: Not very good. They got old Mig-21s, a couple of dozen of them. They're short of pilots. They're short of spare parts. It's no match for the United States Air Force or the United States Navy. This is not a serious problem but it has to be dealt with.

BLITZER: So presumably the Stinger -- the shoulder-fired surface to air missiles -- those mobile missiles -- that's the greatest threat. It's hard to pinpoint those.

SHEPPERD: That and Triple A or anti-aircraft artillery, which always -- we always worry about the missiles but we have defenses against missiles. Electronic counter measures and also flares. And then we get hit by the anti-aircraft by flying at low altitudes. So all of that's a threat.

BLITZER: So there's still a threat up there. President Bush -- when he spoke out on television to the American public, to people all over the world -- I wanted you to listen to one excerpt of what he said because it indicates that air power alone won't get this job done. Listen to this.

BUSH: Initially the terrorists may burrow deeper into caves and other entrenched hiding places. Our military action is also designed to clear the way for sustained, comprehensive and relentless operations to drive them out and bring them to justice.

BLITZER: That suggests ground troops might be necessary to go into those caves.

SHEPPERD: Yeah, "joint" has been the word for the last few years in the Pentagon. If you don't say "joint" before and after each sentence you don't get financed in the Pentagon. So we're experts at joint operations.

We have bombs that will do things. We can go after terrorists and varied targets in that type of thing. But clearly what we're talking about is getting them out of the caves in other ways. What we want to do is allow the Northern Alliance to take territory and then allow them who know those caves to go into those caves or use other methods to get them out -- not necessarily take them out with bombs and not necessarily go in with our own troops on commando raids.

BLITZER: Speaking about the Northern Alliance -- the opposition forces, the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, was clear that another U.S. objective -- in his words was to go after these so called offensive systems that the Taliban may have that could hamper the progress of what he described as various opposition forces. Those are -- that's ground equipment.

SHEPPERD: Yeah, they have tanks. They have vehicles. They also have artillery and that type of thing. Now we need to go in and get those piece by piece. It requires that you know where they are from either photographs or from coordinates. We have ways to find that out.

But we're going to have to clear the air defenses first. We're going to have to take care of the people with humanitarian aid. And then we're going to have to go against this cave by cave and piece by piece. It's going to be a long time military operation campaign.

BLITZER: They suggest potentially hand to hand combat involving U.S. and perhaps British and other troops.

SHEPPERD: That's always a possibility and we have the people that can do that. Hopefully it won't be necessary. Hopefully we will weaken them so much with the things we do that the Northern Alliance can take over a great deal of these things and it won't be a walk over but it will be much easier than it is here in the beginning.

BLITZER: So much of what the president -- President Bush said, what Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister said, what Donald Rumsfeld said -- focuses on the humanitarian relief operation now underway -- dropping food, medicine, other supplies. That could be a pretty risky operation though.

SHEPPERD: It's a risky operation. First of all, it's important because of the psychological nature of this against the world -- the Islam world.

BLITZER: The political overtones.

SHEPPERD: The political overtones. It's important though that we take care of people no matter where we are and we always have. To do that you have to have the air defenses cleared out so that those airplanes can come in and drop this stuff.

And ideally what you want to do is not drop it forever but you want to drop it but you want to drop it from an emergency standpoint to keep people alive. Then you want to take it in air bases and get it taken in trucks by the humanitarian organizations. But it's very difficult -- dangerous to the aircrews dropping it, dangerous to the people on the ground who can also get hit by it.

BLITZER: Now refugees are fleeing from all over the place in Afghanistan. If you want to show us on the map over here. They're trying to get into Pakistan. They're trying to get into Iran as well. Where are those airdrops likely to be focused mostly?

SHEPPERD: OK, there's a couple of key areas around here. One area is around Quetta right here in Pakistan. Another above the "A" in Jalalabad, which is Peshawar. And basically people are fleeing from Afghanistan into these areas across the border. So what we want to do is get aid into these particular areas here.

And, again, the idea is to drop it from an emergency standpoint, tell the people where it is so they can go get it and then get it to people in trucks so that we can take care of all of these people. It's dangerous and complicated stuff. And we can do it now through the weather. We didn't used to be able to do it through the weather.

BLITZER: But as many U.S. officials are insisting -- politically very, very critical to the entire operation. General Don Shepperd, our CNN Military Analyst, thanks for joining us. Back to you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Wolf. We did hear General Shepperd say it's his hope as a military man that this effort -- at least the initial part -- is over quickly so we can get on or so that the United States can get on to the next phase. In fact, when the country of Pakistan issued a statement today after these attacks began the government said, "We also hope that the operations will end soon and a concerted international effort will be undertaken to promote national reconciliation." Already looking ahead.

Our correspondent Christiane Amanpour is on the ground in Pakistan in Islamabad. Christiane, first of all, what are you learning there about the success so far of these U.S.-led attacks?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, impossible to give any analysis of the results of what's happened so far. Just to reiterate that we have had phone contact with eyewitnesses on the ground -- both sources inside the Taliban and our own people there about what they have seen and what has been hit.

We've talked about the towns that we've been able to see or at least get eyewitness reports from -- Kabul, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat. And all of those appear to have been attacked on the outskirts of the towns towards what eyewitnesses have described as airfields. We've heard about radar stations at least in one place. Kandahar having been destroyed -- a command center there. Also potentially other air fields or strategic concerns on those air fields in Herat, maybe Jalalabad and maybe even a terrorist training camp near Jalalabad -- we have heard as well as the reports from Kabul.

We have heard also from Taliban officials via the Al Jazeera Arab television network in which they've admitted that there have been certain strategic targets hit. They say they have had no casualties and they say that there's so far nothing to worry about according to Taliban officials.

They also claim to have shot down a plane but there's no independent confirmation of that.

Here in Pakistan the cabinet has been meeting. There have been very isolated, small demonstrations not far from here in the capitol, Islamabad. Also at Peshawar, which is just across the border from Jalalabad on the Pakistani side of the border and also in Lahore -- another big city here in Pakistan.

Small demonstrations -- a little bit noisy but quickly fizzled out. A very large police presence. In this case probably more police than demonstrators.

The key will be to be watching tomorrow for what happens. Some of these groups have called for demonstrations tomorrow. Already the Pakistani government has put under house arrest one of the most antagonistic of the Islamic hard-line political leaders who had been calling demonstrations over the last several weeks.

So that's what we're going to be looking for tomorrow.

Now in terms of reaction, we have heard a lot of reaction from the United States' Western allies. We've heard nothing yet officially from Arab states who are allies with the United States. I spoke about a half an hour ago with a key leader of one of the main Arab states who said that he understood the United States had to do what it had to do and predicted that Arab allies would not come -- would pretty much support what was going on but would be very mindful in case there are any casualties amongst the civilians. And this, of course, is going to be the key point in which to gauge public opinion and support for this action here in the Middle East at least -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And Christiane, that tracks what former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was saying just a few moments ago that the Arab support among the moderate Arab states is much more likely to be in private than in public.

Christiane, the statement from the Pakistan government when the strikes got underway -- they hope the operation will end soon. Why is it in their interest to see this move quickly?

AMANPOUR: Well, because anything that happens in Afghanistan inevitably effects -- or has the potential to effect Pakistan. Long border, long history of relations between the two countries, very significant Pashtun minority. The Pashtuns are the people in Afghanistan who make up the Taliban. And there is this sympathy, if you like, along the border area -- the Northwest Frontier Provinces they're called. And here there's always been concern about what they call the vocal minority -- the ability to destabilize the situation.

We have to when we say that put it in context that they have tried these opposition groups. So far for the last four weeks during the build up they have not been able to bring out the crowds that they have called for on the streets. The government feels that it has things under control but clearly you just never know as these things proceed. So clearly they do want it to end quickly.

Obviously they want that also from a humanitarian point of view. They made very clear that they wanted this to go according to clearly defined targets within the U.N. Security Council Resolution's military targets -- targets that directly targeted terrorism not against Afghan infrastructure on the civilian side.

And they added that they regretted that the Taliban had paid no heed to Pakistan's entreaties to make the right decisions and try to avoid military action. They added that obviously the Taliban had failed to do so and now military action was underway -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Christiane Amanpour reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan. And we should say it is now 3:20 in the morning in Islamabad. Christiane has been reporting steadily from there for the last almost six hours since these strikes got underway.

And I just should say we keep asking our correspondents, "What's the reaction?" We've asked Christiane this question again but it was 9:00 at night when the strikes began. It's 3:00 in the morning there now. It's very difficult at this time of the day and the night or rather the night -- the morning -- to gauge what the public reaction is. But, of course, we'll get a better idea of that in just a few hours. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT



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