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America Strikes Back: Taliban Calls Attacks on Afghanistan Acts of Terrorism

Aired October 8, 2001 - 16:09   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: In Pakistan, the Ambassador to Pakistan, the Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan has talked to reporters, and this is Abdul Salam Zaeef. You may remember him, in fact. He was quite prominent on television over the last week as the principal Taliban spokesman with access to reporters, access to the West, and he was speaking in Pakistan earlier today. If we have that tape, we can hear him.


ABDUL SALAM ZAEEF, TALIBAN'S AMBASSADOR TO PAKISTAN: Welcome to our united community. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Afghanistan is the time of American colonialism and expansionism, attack at once to snatch from the Muslim people, the present Islamic system. These brutal attacks are as horrendous terrorist act as anywhere it is in the world. America will never achieve its political goals by launching horrendous attack on the Muslim people of Afghanistan.

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has always chosen the defense of attacks, defense in the brutal attacks, and the reason to settle problems. But America has always chosen the militaristic approach. However, such (UNINTELLIGIBLE) by American will unify the whole of our nation against the aggressors.

The Afghans will rise again, the new (UNINTELLIGIBLE) will condemn this terrorist action and the nation of Afghanistan.


BROWN: Well, the ambassador -- I knew I'd find the word -- the ambassador -- that was taped by the way. We noted here that he's speaking in English. I mean, the point of that is, this is clearly a message. This is the highest-ranking Taliban official who has access to Western reporters at this point.

The ambassador to Pakistan, the only country left in the world now that has formal diplomatic relations with the Taliban and so, speaking in English clearly the West, making his argument that, and this is just one quote, you heard the rest, "America wants to snatch the Afghan people from the present Islamic system. These brutal attacks are as horrendous as the terrorist acts. Afghanistan will rise against the new colonialists" -- all the code words that you expect to hear, an attack on Muslims, colonialist America, all of the ones you'd expect in a moment like this you heard from Mr. Zaeef, Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan.

We are joined now by Judy Woodruff in Washington. Judy, as I was thinking about the fact that I was about to say good afternoon, it occurred to me that we met this way on television on the 11th of September, a day about as shocking as any of us had experienced. Today is different. Today, we may not have known the time and the place and the moment, but we certainly expected that this day would come when the Americans would strike back.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We surely did, Aaron. And you are harking back to what was almost four week ago, but today you can't say that under any set of arguments that the people who run the Taliban, that the al Qaeda network didn't have fair warning that this was coming. The rhetoric has escalated literally every day over the last week, and more coming out of Washington, not just from the United States, from the Bush administration, but also from the British, from Tony Blair. The rhetoric has gotten increasingly urgent, up to the point yesterday President Bush saying we are running out of time, time is running out.

So I think if there was any doubt on the part of the Taliban -- and I thought it was interesting that their spokesman was saying today that this is -- we just heard the ambassador to Pakistan saying this is an American act of terrorism against Afghanistan. It's as if they turned it all upside down and on its head.

BROWN: Just as recently as last night, the Taliban -- for the last week and a half, the Taliban has looked for one -- I'm going to characterize it as stalling measure after another to try to delay what clearly seemed the inevitable. Yesterday, it was they would try bin Laden in their country. The day before it was they would release the aid workers, the eight Western aid workers if the Americans -- there have been two missions by Pakistani officials, including officials very close to the Taliban in the Pakistani intelligence community to try to get them to cooperate. And clearly, the president and the administration and the British as well came to believe that there was no point in talking anymore. It was just going to be one stalling effort after another. So, on with it they went this afternoon.

WOODRUFF: And Aaron, one thing we do want to continue to keep an eye out for, and I know we are, and that is when the president talks about, when Secretary Rumsfeld talks about global-based operation against terrorism, when you hear the list of countries that are active militarily at this point, they are all the nations of the West -- the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, Germany, France -- the names of the countries that I think we have yet to hear in terms of what their reaction to all this are the Arabic and the Islamic nations of that region.

What is Egypt saying? I haven't heard yet. I'm watching at this point for some sort of a statement from them. What about the Saudis? The Jordanians? And so forth. It will be very interesting to see if the effort by Osama bin Laden and by the Taliban to make this an American war against Islam is having any effect at all.

BROWN: Well, the president said in his statement, it's pretty simple, you are either for fighting terrorists or you are not. There is no neutrality here. Jamie McIntyre is at the Pentagon. Jamie, I gather you heard the Taliban official saying that an American plane had been shot down. Do you have anything on that?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I checked with officials here at the Pentagon and they say they have no reports of any U.S. or British planes being lost or in any trouble. It's something they would have normally known about right away.

Of course, if it were the case, they won't comment on it at all as they mounted a search and rescue mission, but at this point they are telling us that there is no -- they believe there was no credence to the report.

BROWN: And again, that was a report made on Al-Jazeera, a Mideast television station we talked a lot about this afternoon in an interview with this as I recall the deputy defense minister for the Taliban, and at least at this moment the Pentagon says we don't know about it, which is about what you can get from them at this moment, right?

MCINTYRE: Well, it's a little beyond that. They are essentially saying that they have no reports of any planes lost, and they would know it if that were the case.

BROWN: Are you picking up anything else there?

MCINTYRE: Well, the details are starting to dribble out about what exactly is going on in this rather extensive military strike in Afghanistan. One of the things we have learned earlier and was confirmed by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is that two B-2 stealth bombers, the big bat-wing bombers flew out of Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, where they are based, 17 hours to fly to hit targets in Afghanistan, using satellite-guided precision munitions. And then, they went on to the British base of Diego Garcia in order to rest and then make the return trip back to the United States.

These planes are highly accurate and used for targets where they -- fixed targets. You may recall that in fact it was B-2s that erroneously hit the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia. The case was the case of giving the wrong targeting information. It wasn't that the planes missed.

And also, we learned that B-1 bombers flying out of Diego Garcia. And B-1 is not a stealth bomber, but it is a long-range bomber. It was using what we call dumb bombs or unguided munitions to carpet-bomb some of the suspected terrorist camps. And again, B-1s first saw combat in 1998, in operation Desert Fox, used much the same way, to carpet-bomb Republican guard barracks.

Two aspects of what is going on in this campaign, which is a pretty substantial strike. Among the targets -- I mentioned suspected terrorist camps -- they are also trying to hit all the airplanes that the Taliban have. They have some aging MiG aircraft. Also, they are pitting some of the runways so it's harder for planes to take off. They want to deny them any ability to fly in the sky. They are also targeting command and control centers and other, quote, "centers of gravity."

The idea is to put the Taliban at a military disadvantage to their rivals to the north, the Northern Alliance, and also to keep them on the run makes so that they don't know exactly -- it makes it harder for them to plan any kind of a response or do anything next.

In addition, the U.S. is, of all things, dropping humanitarian aid. C-17s flying from Germany, carrying packets of what's called humanitarian daily rations -- orange bags that are filled with single day's food for one person, 37,000 of them dropped out of C-17s over Afghanistan to feed Afghan refugees and underscore the point that this is not a campaign against the Afghan people, but a war against terrorists and the people who support them.

The operation is continuing, and Pentagon sources here say it may continue on into the daylight hours.

BROWN: And Jamie, if I heard a somewhat taciturn defense secretary this afternoon correctly, I think he also confirmed that they were making a leaflet drop, this would be -- I'm looking for a word -- I want to say propaganda -- in any case, they are dropping information on the Afghan people trying to explain the American position from the American point of view rather than simply relying on the Taliban to do that.

MCINTYRE: And not just the leaflets, but also broadcast from the -- the United States has a flying radio television transmitting plane that's called a Commander Solo, which is capable of direct broadcasting into the country.

And I'm not sure -- there was a report earlier that the United States may also be dropping transistor radios. They did that before in Haiti, just before the invasion in Haiti, and they may be doing that again as well, in order to, you know, you wouldn't expect that too many Afghan refugees would have access to radios to hear broadcasts, so they may be dropping the radios as well. These are like single channel radios that can only receive the broadcast that the United States is sending in the native language.

BROWN: Jamie, hang on. A quick thought on that from General Clark who knows something about both the reasons for and how this comes about.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It does look like a well-coordinated psychological warfare operation here. And, just a footnote to what Jamie is saying is that we had an early report that the official Taliban radio station was off the air. Whether that was due to electricity loss or whether the radio station had been hit, that then opens the way for the Commando Solo or other radio broadcasts to go in and be received by the people of Afghanistan, something very important.

BROWN: And this is a great example of information as a weapon. If you can control the information in or out in one way or another, that's a tremendous psychological advantage for what you're trying to accomplish. CLARK: Exactly. And, if magnifies the impact of the physical strikes and ultimately reduces the cost of the conflict.

BROWN: And again, General Clark, we were talking about this earlier. This has all essentially been put together in a little bit less than a month, a very complicated operation and there's miles and miles and miles to go, as you warned me on Friday in our phone call. This has a long, long way to go, but at least off the start at least, it seems to be going according to a plan that has been laid out to us in some detail about as they planned it. I mean, nothing has gone wrong that we've heard.

CLARK: That's right. It seems to be very effective so far in terms of following the plan.

BROWN: General, thank you -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Aaron, in picking up on what you just said, President Bush in his remarks today describing it as a military action designed to clear the way for a sustained comprehensive and relentless operation to drive them out and bring them to justice, while the military campaign is underway. Very much, efforts continuing on the diplomatic front, and for a little more on that, let's go to our State Department Correspondent, Andrea Koppel.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Judy, Secretary Powell and his deputy, in addition to President Bush have been in touch with key friends and allies around the world as of even before some of the strikes began today, to let them know that they were imminent and with some countries, letting them know that they were underway.

I'm told the message has been to make clear that these are precise and targeted campaigns that are not, looking out actually not to hit any Afghan citizens, as well as to thank various countries for their support.

Secretary Powell and his deputy having spoken with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, the head of Oman, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Bahrain, Japan, Mexico, Argentina, and Ukraine. The calls will be going on throughout the day Judy, because not only was the diplomacy important before the campaign began, but now that it has begun, this is really where the rubber meets the road. It's keeping countries around the world, especially in the Muslim world on board as this campaign continues.

And, to that end, a senior State Department official tells me that Secretary Powell will be traveling to Pakistan and India later this week. Secretary Powell was already due to be traveling to China next week for the Asian Pacific Economic Conference, which is where President Bush is supposed to be, but now apparently adding two countries to that list, India and Pakistan, before he heads there.

In addition, Judy, Secretary Powell and others in this building have been trying to notify American Embassies around the world to tell American citizens to be on alert, above and beyond what they had been until today, now that these attacks have begun.

An additional worldwide caution has been issued, and in fact, if any Americans are thinking of traveling or are overseas right now, they're told to monitor the local news, to maintain contact with the nearest American Embassy or Consulate and to limit their movement in their respective location.

This is something obviously now that the military campaign is underway, that Americans should exercise an abundance of caution, not only traveling overseas but also here in the United States. Judy?

WOODRUFF: And Andrea, this is not because of any specific new information or new threat? It's just being cautious, is that right?

KOPPEL: Absolutely. There have been -- we're told there have been a number of threats that have been issued, but they have not been specific threats, and as of now, they are not credible.

So, even before the September 11th attacks, there had been a heightened state of alert at American Embassies and consulates around the world. Since the attacks, the threats continue but they are not specific and right now, not credible. Judy.

WOODRUFF: And Andrea, just very quickly, how much do you know about administration efforts to get some of these moderate Arab states to speak up in support of what's going on?

KOPPEL: Well, of course the State Department, the Bush Administration would love to hear those public comments, but once senior Administration official I spoke with said that they would be happy, the U.S. would be satisfied as long as there are no negative comments that are made.

So, clearly they would welcome any expressions of support from whether it be Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia or others in the Arab world, but right now they are -- the U.S. is understanding that their governments as well have to walk a fine line with public opinion in their own countries, and just so long as they don't see any comments that are critical of U.S. action, they'll be happy for now.

WOODRUFF: So for now, silence is perhaps in some instances the best that they can hope for.

KOPPEL: Exactly.

WOODRUFF: All right. Andrea Koppel at the State Department. You've been hearing Aaron and our correspondents describe the ongoing effort to keep, not just our allies informed, but also other key figures in the American Government, the Unites States Congress.

Let's go back to the White House to our Chief White House Correspondent John King on that point -- John.

KING: Well Judy, we know the President first notified Congressional leaders last night. That is significant. It was last night that the President gave the Pentagon the go ahead to act when it believed the moment was right for these strikes.

But we also know, we are told by sources here at the White House and on Capitol Hill, Administration officials, among them the CIA Director George Tenet, calling key members of Congress and informing them. Now all know the military action has begun, of course informing them of what little the Administration says it knows so far on what the Pentagon would call BDA, Battle Damage Assessment.

I spoke to one lawmaker just a few minutes ago who had received a call from Mr. Tenet. He said that Mr. Tenet told him this would be a "long sustained action" and that this was Day One, so expect a lot more phone calls like this one, informing him of ongoing U.S. military operations.

And in that conversation, the lawmaker said he was told that no complete battle damage assessment, of course, would be ready for a day or two, at least not until daybreak strikes in Afghanistan, but that he was told people are relatively optimistic. They're hearing good things so far from the region in reports back to the Pentagon and up the command chain.

Here at the White House, we are told Judy, the President receiving constant updates. He is calling around the world to world leaders as well. It was he who, Andrea just reported asked Secretary Powell to visit the very key countries in the region of India and Pakistan, remember a great deal of tension between those two nations in the past several years.

The United States wants to make sure no other diplomatic fires to put out, if you will, as the ongoing military campaign continues. And again, here at the White House privately, they are saying this is Day One. Expect this for days and weeks and months ahead -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: John, I think I know at least part of your answer to this question, but the President has had pretty consistent support so far from members of Congress. Why do they think it's so important to continue to stay in close touch?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, one of the things the president has promised from day one is to cooperate and coordinate with the Congress, and he has been heartened. Remember this is a crisis that challenges the President, not only as Commander- in-Chief, but the U.S. economy has slipped into recession.

It may have been on its way into recession, or perhaps technically in recession before September 11th, but the President has an urgent challenge here at home, dealing with the economic consequences of these terrorist strikes.

And on that front, we are told every single day, the President can not be more impressed or happy with the cooperation he has received, not only from the Republicans in Congress, his fellow Republicans, but from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and the House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt.

There have been some disagreements. There's been some fights over issues like airport security, over just what should be in the stimulus package, but those have been remarkably polite debates, and the President has said he can not be more happy with that cooperation.

He feels a responsibility to keep key members of Congress, especially the Armed Services and the Intelligence Committees closely informed of any U.S. military action and remember, as Jon Karl noted just a short time ago, the president also welcomed it was just days after the strikes when Congress did pass the resolution authorizing the President to use all necessary and appropriate force.

So, this part of the routine, this day anything but routine, but these conversations are of the routine consultation between the Administration and key members of Congress, when U.S. troops are put in harms way overseas.

WOODRUFF: All right. John King at the White House.




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