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America Strikes Back: Generals Discsuss War Camapign on Afghanistan

Aired October 8, 2001 - 16:43   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I believe we have our military analyst, Gen. Don Shepperd available now here in Washington.

Am I right? There you are.

And also, Gen. Wesley Clark.

To both of you, a question about this whole notion or concept of carpet bombing. For many of us, this has a fairly -- it conjures up a fairly crude image of just dropping bombs across a wide area without regard to what's down there.

Gen. Clark, to you first. What would be the purpose of carpet bombing, and is it possible to be sensitive to civilian casualties when you're doing that?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I'm confident that these bombs wouldn't be dropped in areas where there were any civilians. This approach would be appropriate where, for example, there's a training facility outside of a town, and you have a number of buildings, maybe some physical training activities, some ranges, maybe some ammunition dumps, and rather than trying to pinpoint with a single bomb each one, you might want to run a string of bombs very precisely over the area.

Another time that we use this technique is, let's say we're going after an airfield. What we discovered in the Kosovo campaign was, that if you bomb an airfield very precisely with a bomb and it strikes a runway, it makes a hole. The next day a bulldozer comes out, fills in the hole and the runway's in use.

But, if you run a B-52 over that same airfield and it drops a pattern of about 50 bombs, it creates so much destruction on the ground, that it's very difficult to put the airfield back in use anytime soon.

So, these would be the times, and this bombing is precise. It's not scattering bombs, and it's certainly not directed against civilians.

WOODRUFF: And Gen. Shepperd, just to pick up on that point about civilians. We did hear the former Pakistan Ambassador of the United States tell Christiane just a few minutes ago that the reaction in that part of the world will be in large part, will have a great deal to do, he suggested, with the number of civilian casualties. Clearly civilians will be part of this, won't they?

GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, unfortunately in every conflict, we have had innocent civilians killed in one way or another. But the term "carpet bomb" is not something that we need to conjure up images of World War II.

Gen. Clark described very accurately what we use area targets for. We use dump bombs. These are not laser-guided bombs, but regular bombs that are not guided, to drop on area targets, such as training camps that may cover several acres.

We also run, for area attack, a computer model to see what the collateral might be. We hope in no cases will civilians be involved, but I can assure you as we have been assured, that in no case will the United States attack innocent civilians intentionally.

WOODRUFF: All right, Gen. Shepperd, Gen. Clark, I have another question for you all about targets in Afghanistan. But right now, let's go back to Aaron for something -- Aaron.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, this just fits into the conversation awfully well. Al Jazeera has just been talking or is currently talking to someone from the Foreign Ministry, the Taliban Foreign Ministry, who was discussing the kinds of casualties that they have been taking, they the Taliban have been taking.

We'll listen in, see if they're still talking about it. If not, we'll get back to you guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Yes, I can hear you.

I think there's an attack, and may God help us in shooting down another plane. This attack came after a period of silence. Yes, it's been renewed now, and maybe as you see through the camera, the attack has been renewed. Are they planes or missiles?

We were with Mr. (inaudible) from the Taliban foreign ministry.

BROWN: Part of an interview with a member of the Foreign Ministry, the Taliban Foreign Ministry, being conducted by Al Jazeera. Earlier he discussed, the minister discussed the casualties they had been taken, that are being taken obviously. There is no way at this point for us to verify any of this, but it's interesting to hear what they are saying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): That we shot down a plane in (inaudible) province.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): What is the type of the plane?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The details are not ready, and when they are ready, we shall supply them to you that we shot the plane. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Do you have an idea about the nature of the casualties?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The information always ready, they're available to me. No need to worry, there are certain targets and (inaudible) and they have been hurt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): In Kabul, the news agency says that the airfield -

BROWN: Again, this is an interview being done by Al Jazeera in the Middle East, of a minister in the Foreign Ministry of the Taliban, and he is renewing a claim that they shot down a Western plane. It doesn't say whether it's a U.S. or British plane, both apparently involved.

The Pentagon about an hour or so ago, said it had no knowledge that it had lost any planes in this first wave of attacks on Afghanistan. And, as Jamie McIntyre pointed out at the time, the Pentagon would not say that a plane was down, in fact, because as soon as a plane goes down, rescue operations are put into play. They don't want to do anything to jeopardize that most sensitive, most critical operation, pulling a pilot out of hostile territory.

Judy, you had more with Gen.s Clark and Shepperd.

WOODRUFF: I do, but before I do, I just want to make what I thought was a very interesting point, picking up from the newscaster there with Al Jazeera. He asked the Taliban official in essence, based on what we heard Osama bin Laden say in that tape, expressing pleasure, satisfaction with the attacks in the United States on September 11th. He turned to the Taliban official and said "well, is this in effect confirming that Osama bin Laden and his network are responsible for what happened?"

And, I noticed there was a long pause in the Taliban official and then he went on to make a very brief non answer, and I think this was in a segment that we aired maybe about an hour ago from that same interview.

Yes, back to the generals. I do have another question. Gen. Don Shepperd, Gen. Wesley Clark joining us. Gen. Clark, it's been stressed to us, and we heard again today from Secretary Rumsfeld there are few, what he calls high quality targets in Afghanistan. If that's the case, why is it necessary to come at them with this enormous array of firepower on the part of the United States and Great Britain?

CLARK: Well, for a couple of reasons Judy. First, because if we bring a mass of firepower in early, we have a better chance of catching the targets in a less prepared posture, and we get more psychological impact.

Secondly, even though there are not really high quality targets, that is to say they're not going to be decisive perhaps against the Taliban, they could change the correlation of forces on the ground, giving the Northern Alliance significant advantages. These may not be the targets that we would like to plan a major war against in a conventional kind of war, but they may be very significant targets on the ground when the Northern Alliance is confronting the Taliban in its planned offensive.

WOODRUFF: And Gen. Shepperd, just to be even more specific about what the Taliban forces have. I mean, we're talking about just a very small number of military aircraft, isn't that right? Maybe a dozen or less?

SHEPPERD: As far as aircraft goes, you're probably right, as far as airplanes in commission. But Judy, there's a big difference between high quality targets and important targets.

In the beginning of any military operation, we must gain air superiority, which means we have to take down their radars and also their communication mechanisms. So, we're after things that are important from a military standpoint.

Every military force needs to eat. They need to move, and they need to be resupplied with ammunition, food, and gasoline petroleum. All of those things become important military targets.

We're not after the standard things that we think of, such as dams, bridges, huge power plants, refineries as we saw in the Gulf War. But, these are very important targets that we must take out in the early hours to weaken the Taliban as Gen. Clark expressed.

WOODRUFF: Gen. Clark, as we're going after this variety of targets, some of them, we talked about this a moment ago, clearly getting closer to civilian population. At what point does the United States, does any power coming in like this, attacking like this run the risk of overkill, if you will?

CLARK: Well, we're always going to be very, very cautious about any target that might harm innocent civilians. In fact, I'm sure these targets have been engineered carefully, what we call targeteering. We've looked at what weapon has to be used, what the approach to the target has to be, so if the bomb somehow goes off course, if it misses in some way, it will do the minimum amount of damage. We're going to use the smallest weapon possible. We're going to do everything possible to minimize the risk to any civilians who might be anywhere near any of these targets.

Accidents can happen, but we're going to do everything we can to minimize the chance of an accident happening here.

Now, with respect to the issue of civilian casualties of course, we know very well that this is an extremely sensitive issue. It's something the U.S. military's been aware of for some time. We've worked very hard to prevent it, and of course, our adversary in this case knows that it's a sensitive issue also.

We may go back two and a half years to the operation Allied Force in Kosovo. We saw on the very first night of the operation precisely the same claims made by Slobodan Milosevic and his generals against the allied air attack.

In fact, in that operation, you may recall they had actually collected all of the people in all of the hospitals in Belgrade, and then brought them together in one location and tried to take the news media in to show them that these were the people injured in the air attack. Of course, they weren't.

The other thing we saw in that operation again, was the claim that they had shot down a number of allied aircraft. Of course, they hadn't. And so, this is the kind of thing that we can expect coming from the Taliban side at this time.

In fact, given their poor communications and the dispersion of the attacks, it's highly unlikely that they know exactly what has been struck or what the casualties even are among Taliban military personnel at this point. It will take some time for them to sort that out.

WOODRUFF: And just picking up on that point Gen. Shepperd again, and I know you all have talked about this before, but we are dealing, the United States is dealing with people who, they may be out in the open to some extent, but we also know that they are hold up.

I mean, the president, President Bush, keeps talking about how they're hiding in caves. They're hold up somewhere. How do these forces that we're hearing described by the Defense Secretary and others and what you all are talking about, how do they get at the kind of target and people that we are dealing with here?

SHEPPERD: Well Judy, it's a case of we watch for signs. We've been watching for a long time now a suite of what we call sensors. Every time a person moves these days, every time they talk, every time they do anything, it leaves a trail, either a paper trail, an electronic trail or a visual trail.

We watch all of those and we develop patterns. Now we have weapons that will go about just about everything that they have, but we have to be very careful when we use those weapons, that they give the results that we're after.

So, we've got the ability to find these people but it's going to take a long period of time and we're going to be very, very careful about how we do it.

WOODRUFF: And of course, as President Bush himself and Secretary Rumsfeld again stressed today, this is a long sustained campaign. All right, Gen. Shepperd, Gen. Clark, we've been talking to the two of you all afternoon, and we'll continue to be talking to you on into the evening.




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