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America Under Attack: Daylight Strikes on Afghanistan

Aired October 9, 2001 - 11:01   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Pakistani police put protest organizers under house arrest today. Also, the U.N. and Pakistan says four of its workers were killed in an attack on Kabul.

CNN's Nic Robertson joins us now from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad with the latest on the attacks on Herat.

Nic, we are trying to get information as quickly as you are. What have you learned about exactly what has been struck?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We don't know at this time what's been struck. What is clear at this stage is that Herat has been under attack this evening within the last half an hour. Planes reported flying overhead, and anti-aircraft fire fired at the planes, and also the impact of detonations around the city.

Sources there do tell us last night at about 3:00-4:00 in the morning Afghan time that the airport the target, because the Taliban have told them they fired antiaircraft guns of planes they said approaching the airport. And the Taliban claim that the airport wasn't hit last night. The bombs landed in the desert. It's not possible this time to get accurate information on where this evening's bombs have fallen.

Sources in Kandahar have been telling a different picture throughout the day. For them, in Kandahar, there's been a series of attacks throughout the day. There were attacks about 24 hours ago, halfway through the night, and then from 6:00 a.m. in the morning 8:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., midway through the day, and sometime just before dusk, they reported planes flying overhead there, anti-aircraft gunfire going up from locations in the city, they say that the detonations they could hear were out toward the west of the city. Again, security there very tight, and they were not able to say exactly what was targeted at that time.

However, in Kabul, both U.N. and Taliban officials say that a U.N. compound was hit. The compound was the home and workplace of some demining teams affiliated with the United Nations. Four workers there were killed. United Nations officials here have called for international military planners to take more care about where they choose to target. The U.N. said that they weren't aware that they should have told their staff to move out of that compound. They said they knew the compound close to radio transmitter, but weren't aware that might endanger the lives of some of their employees. So the U.N. giving quite a stiff warning to military planners to be much more careful in targeting. And today as well the World Food Program, which has been delivering the -- by far the greatest bulk of food into Afghanistan has said it can not find the truck drivers to take food into Afghanistan. Now suspending food supplies into Afghanistan. Those supplies only started just over a week ago, and they say now the drivers too scared of the situation inside Afghanistan to venture in there.

ZAHN: Nic, if you could bring back to what we believe happening right now in Herat. I think earlier you described a particular airport or airfield as a place that has enjoyed both civilian and military use over the years. What else can you tell us about the potential target?

ROBERTSON: It is an extensive airfield. It would be a key airfield for the Taliban. It certainly has been a place where they kept many of their air assets in the past. We've seen some of their MiG-21 fighters on the ground there. We've also seen some of their jet trainer planes for those fighter pilots, and also some of their not only military transport helicopters, but also some of their attack helicopters, which they don't have in large number, but we've seen them based there on the runway. IT is essentially a very small, domestic airfield that was hugely enlarged during the 1980 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. So it stretches over some considerable area. It's the type of airfield that has the sort of hardened military bunkers for fighter jets towards the side of the airfield in some areas. And it is a place where the Taliban have in the past, that we have seen, kept a large amount of their military assets.

ZAHN: Nic Robertson, thank you so much for the update.

A daylight raid on Afghanistan today earlier may have signaled a new confidence for U.S. military.

Let's pick up with CNN's national correspondent Bob Franken who joins us from the Pentagon.

Bob, any new information on these attacks going on in Herat.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as a matter of fact, the daylight raid that you just cited and the comments by Nic just a moment ago point out what the Pentagon is saying, is that the military operation is now -- quote -- "continuous." There is no day one, day two, day three. Nobody looks at his watch and says, OK, it's time to resume the bombing.

The adversaries we can expect here, we're told by sources, that the bombing could grow cure at anytime. The case of Herat notable, as Nic pointed out, that it is home of a major airbase. It is very far to the West in Afghanistan. As a matter of fact, care would have to be taken on the part of the pilots not to stray too far past that, because it's pretty close to border with Iran, which of course could raise a whole other can of worms, but the attacks are continuous, they are going on. I would point out that the secretary of defense and the chief of staff, Richard Myers, are planning a briefing in a couple of hours, where they will probably have some of the answers we're seeking about why the particular attack today.

As for the attack on the building in Kabul in which four U.N. workers were killed, there is an investigation right now at the Pentagon, one being conducted under the auspices of the joint chiefs of staff. But one of the possibilities that's being raised that in fact, that was an intentional target, that the building was used for something besides what the United Nations has described it, that it was more than just some sort of humanitarian effort. That investigation is continuing. You can be certain that those questions will come up during the briefing -- Paula.

ZAHN: I know, Bob, you said we are going to get more information in a couple of hours, but you probably heard a Nic Robertson report. He's saying the Taliban officials say that the U.S. and its allies tried to hit that airport in Herat last night, but the bombs fell in the desert. Has anybody at least at this point discounting their take on that?

FRANKEN: No, what they're saying basically is that take with a grain of salt just about anything that you are hearing. This is an airport that is particularly resistant to attack. It has been fortified over the years. And Pentagon planners would clearly believe that it was worthy of more than just a single run.

ZAHN: And, Bob, you suggested that because of the daylight raids, that the U.S. could be into a continuous raid mode. But does the fact that they attempted daylight raids for the first time suggest that the U.S. and Britain have been successful in knocking out some of the anti-aircraft defenses of the Taliban?

FRANKEN: Certainly in Kandahar, they would have that belief. The cover of darkness of course is an important thing to them. They do point out that the facilities that were available, the surface-to- air missiles and the like that were available to Taliban, were not that extensive, not that sophisticated to begin with. As a matter of fact, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld says, one of the problems is they're really running out of targets to bomb, which raises the next question, what will they do next?

And there's a discussion about that. Let me raise one further point, the discussion about whether combat ground troops will get into the picture, and there are really some mixed messages about that. We do know that some are in the area, but we don't know how they are planning to use them.

ZAHN: And that's the mixed message ultimately, how they might be used.

FRANKEN: How they might be used or not used. They may be a pause, many officials say, while they assess what they've done, then of course they could rely on special operations forces, the commandos and special forces, that type of thing, to go out and see what damage has been done, see what kind of insights they can get for instance the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, what kind of reliance they're now going to put on the Northern Alliance. That is the soon to be considered an ally of the United States. All of that has to be assessed, and that process is ongoing.

ZAHN: All right, Bob, thanks so much. We'll be coming back to you often throughout the day.

Let's go back to Bill Hemmer, who continues to stand by in Atlanta.

Hello, again.

HEMMER: Hello again to you.

Another story keeping a close eye on today. Hundreds newspaper workers in Florida getting tested now for anthrax. One of their colleagues has already died, and now a second has been exposed, and authorities are not calling it terrorism. But they say it's cause for concern. The FBI also stepped into that investigation.

Back to West Palm Beach and CNN's Mark Potter, where some folks today indeed they have a bit of jitters.

Mark, good morning to you.


Yes, they're quite concerned. They're awaiting test results. We'll talk about that in a minute. But I want to talk about the investigation itself first. It's ongoing, federal and state, law enforcement and health. Investigators are still trying to nail down exactly what happened here in Palm Beach county. The FBI is now stepping up its investigation. Officials still do not know how one man was killed by anthrax, how a coworker was exposed to the disease, and how a trace element of anthrax was found in the building where they both worked.

The two men identified as 63-year-old Robert Stevens, a photo editor, who died from anthrax last week, and 73-year-old Ernesto Blanco, who worked in the mailroom, at the same building as Stevens. Now he was exposed to the disease, but we are told by doctors that he actually did not contract it.

That building that I'm talking about is in Boca Raton, Florida. It houses a company called American Media Incorporated. You see the building here. It publishes tabloid newspapers, including "The National Enquirer" and "The Sun." That building has now been shutdown. You can see they have sealed it off so that the FBI and CDC investigators can comb through it for more evidence.

Investigators say that indeed they did find a trace element of anthrax on a computer keyboard, a computer used by Robert Stevens. It was at his work space, inside the American Media Building.

Health officials says that the strain that they found matches the organisms found inside the bodies of the two men exposed to disease, and that is considered an important find, because it may narrow it down, the source of that disease. Still to be determined how the anthrax trace got inside the building. How and when, and whether that was done intentionally or accidentally.

Meanwhile, as many as 500 workers and visitors to that building, anyone who visited the building after August 1st is being urged to go to a public health facility in Delray Beach to be tested for possible exposure to anthrax. They are also being given antibiotics as a precaution. Now many of those who are being tested said that they are quite concerned about that. They had to stand in long lines yesterday, in the sun and the rain. And they're quite concerned as you can imagine, and adding to that anxiety, they are going to have to wait at least days, if not longer, to get those test results.

Bill, back to you.

HEMMER: Mark, quickly here, I need a quick answer. Is there any indication, any reports from anywhere that indicate a threat phoned into that building or people working there prior to this?

POTTER: No, we don't know that. We know that the investigators are looking at mail that was delivered to the building, packages, and they're looking at anyone who had access to the building. But there are so many things that they're looking at. Those are just a few.

HEMMER: All right, the mystery continues. Mark, thanks. Mark Potter in Southern Florida with us.




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