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United States Begins Day Three of Airstrikes on Afghanistan

Aired October 9, 2001 - 10:35   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's quickly go to Washington, D.C., where my colleague John King stands by with the very latest from the White House.

You have a busy day ahead -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A very busy day here, Paula. Let's start with those pictures you just showed. The White House is very sensitive to the idea that it is not receiving vocal support from leaders in the Arab and Muslim worlds. At the morning meeting with reporters at the White House, Ari Fleischer, the press secretary, quoting from media accounts from the Middle East, to try to make the case to U.S. reporters that the United States is getting the support it wants and needs from Arab leaders. He read one press account quoting the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, saying he supported, quote, "all actions taken by the United States."

He also read accounts from the Saudi foreign minister, in which the Saudi foreign minister said there was, quote, "clear evidence connecting Osama bin Laden to the September 11 attacks on the United States and that it was critical to pursue, quote, "with vigor and tenacity those responsible for terrorism."

This White House is also heaping praise on a man who in the past has been sharply criticized by Bush administration officials, the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, officials here and at the State Department praising Mr. Arafat for ordering his police yesterday to crack down on protests in the Palestinian territories supporting Osama bin Laden, obviously opposing the United States.

More appointments here at the White House today for the president's new Homeland Security team, the operation charged with fighting the war on terrorism here at home.

As we speak, the president is in the final minutes, we are told, of his daily national security briefing, getting an update on the military campaign in Afghanistan. On that front, I spoke with a senior administration official, a short time ago, who said, quote, "The next phase is going to be different than many people seem to expect. We are not clearing the way for occupation as such by the U.S. military. There will be a first wave, then an assessment, and very possibly a pause before further action is taken."

We want to bring in Bob Franken, who is standing by at the Pentagon, for more on the military operation.

Bob, let's start with some interesting target selection.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As we know, the Pentagon has announced that it has gone after what it calls terrorist camps, after military facilities of the Taliban government and the like. But the Pentagon Defense officials here acknowledge that one of the targets was the residential compound of the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, and the justification for that, according to a Defense official, is that that compound contained command and control equipment as it was described -- in other words, the ability to communicate with Taliban forces -- and therefore was, quote, "a legitimate military target."

KING: Bob, here at the White House, they are referring all questions about the reports of the deaths of those four United Nations aid workers over to the Pentagon. Any comment at all from the Pentagon?

FRANKEN: Only that it's been studied. We are told that the Joint Chiefs of Staff are assessing, doing an investigation, trying to determine exactly how it happened. They go to great lengths every chance they get to say that they try very hard to avoid this cold term "collateral damage," that is to say civilian casualties. They acknowledge, privately at least, that this did occur and that the people who were hit were apparently private contractors working for the United Nations on the removal of mines, which is such a major project over there.

But they still don't have an answer over whether it happened, whether they were just in the wrong place, or whether there was just some sort of mistake. If you can imagine, that's going to be quite a discussion during the briefing that is going to occur at 1:00 Eastern, when the secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Myers, appear before reporters again.

KING: Another sensitive question is what role will there be for ground troops in Afghanistan: how big such a deployment might be, how many Americans would be put in harm's way. Is there any sense at all of when we will turn the corner into the next phase of this campaign and just what the role will be for ground troops?

FRANKEN: As a matter of fact, there's a real caution here. There has been some reporting that says that ground troops are on the way, getting ready for the next phase, which might involve ground troops going into the region or being used for security nearby or going in Afghanistan. And we're told be cautious about that. There's a continuous stream of armed forces that are going over to the region and it, of course, would include ground forces. But their mission may not be that clearly defined yet.

KING: Bob Franken, standing by at the Pentagon, thank you very much for that.

As we toss back to Paula, in New York, we should also note the president meets later today here at the White House with the German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder -- an update for both men on the military planning and the international coalition building. We'll bring you more on that later in the day.

For now, back to Paula.

ZAHN: John, what is that relationship ultimately supposed to be like if this campaign continues for many years?

KING: The German government has promised military forces to the operation if requested so by the United States. No such request so far. This has been solely a U.S. and British operation so far and just a U.S. operation in day two of the strikes. But the German government, in addition to promising military cooperation, has been one of the key governments in intelligence, especially on the law enforcement side. Our investigative team has over the past several weeks reported that some of the suspected hijackers passed through Germany from time to time and had associates in Germany.

So the Germans are playing a critical role. They are an outspoken NATO ally on this front. But also it's a critical role behind the scenes in the law enforcement investigation and the continuing effort to track other members of suspected terrorist cells around the world.

ZAHN: See you a little bit later on this morning. Thanks, John.

As Bob was saying, the pentagon isn't saying a lot about American forces being pressed into service in this war against terrorism. We do know, thought, that the forces from the 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum, New York, have been sent to Uzbekistan.

CNN's Miles O'Brien has details on the history of this unit.

I haven't been able to talk to you all morning, Miles. How are you?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's good to see you, Paula. I missed you. Maybe I will come back and visit sometime.

ZAHN: We have all your snacks waiting for you under the desk.

O'BRIEN: I need some vitamin C. I'll come get that a little later.

ZAHN: Plenty of that for you.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about the 10th Mountain Division. We're going to take you back to November 1939. Two Soviet tank divisions roll into Finland. They were thwarted by lightly armed Finnish soldiers on skis. Gen. George C. Marshall, head of the army at the time, said, Wait a minute, maybe we better think about ski troops for our troops. By 1945, the 10th Mountain Division was fighting in the northern Apennine Mountains. A famous battle there was Riva Ridge; the Germans didn't defend against the Ridge, barely. They had just a battalion there because they presumed it could not be scaled. What did the 10th Mountain Division do? They did just that, and they won that very, very decisive battle.

Let's take you far forward from there. After World War II, the veterans of the 10th Mountain Division went home and set up all the ski resorts that we know in this country, or at least the early ones. The group was disbanded, and then in the mid-'80s, they were brought back to life. In 1992, their humanitarian mission become very public as they flew into south Florida in the wake of Hurricane Andrew, helping with the relief efforts, a quarter of a million people without homes there.

Let's also talk about some of the other missions that the 10th Mountain Division has been involved with since 1985: Mogadishu, Somalia, October of eight years ago, the Blackhawk-downed incident; 18 rangers were killed in that firefight in Mogadishu. It was the 10th Mountain Division which escorted the survivors back to safety, in a rolling firefight through the streets of Mogadishu. So it's not just humanitarian efforts that this group is involved with.

Let's take the map over to the other hemisphere, if you will. Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, 1994, the largest Army airborne operation off an aircraft carrier since the Doolittle Raid, which was the bombing raid over Tokyo in 1942. It occurred in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. troops from the 10th Mountain Division were brought in there to try to secure peace and restore order in Haiti.

Let's bring you up to a closer time: Bosnia, in 1997. The 10th Mountain Division was there helping secure bridges. They have an engineering company which actually helped build bridges as part of that peacekeeping effort there.

Finally, let's bring it to where we are today: Karshi, Uzbekistan. We know 1,000 of the troops are there. And it's perhaps a logical thing.

We are getting word as we speak of an attack in Herat, in Afghanistan.

General, before we talk more about the 10th Mountain Division, Herat has been a key target thus far over the two nights we've been seeing. As we look at some live nightscope images of Kabul, let me show you where Herat is: That's in the northeastern corner of Afghanistan, below Turkmenistan.

This shot is 40 miles north of Kabul, so we want to make sure we're very clear with you what we're showing. The attacks that we have reports of are in Herat.

Gen. Shepperd, the significance of Herat and the targets there thus far. I realize that some of the early targets were near the airfield there, perhaps some oil storage facilities. Part of the effort to do what, at this stage?

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: What we're trying to do is cut the head off the snake, if you will. We're not after yet the fielded forces. That will come next. What we are after is command and control centers, the ability to find out where your troops are and tell them where to go and to talk to them. That's what we're after. We're also after munitions depots, and of course, are still cleaning out air defenses at all these locations, Miles.

O'BRIEN: When you talk about cleaning out air defenses, we are looking at shots north of Kabul. This nightscope camera is stationed in territory controlled by the Northern Alliance.

When you talk about theses air defenses, and the attempt to break them down, that's a somewhat tricky thing to do, because, after all, you have to fly into the air defenses in order to get to them.

SHEPPERD: Yes, it's very tricky. The first thing you do is you take out the early-warning radar, which looks at a broad area and tells you that airplanes are coming. That early-warning radar passes information to the surface-to-air missile sites, which have smaller radar and only look at a segment of the sky. Then once they acquire you on that, they turn on their target-tracking radar and launch a missile. A lot of talk about these being old weapon systems -- that's fine, they're old, unless they're shot at you, and then they're really new, and they really get your attention.

O'BRIEN: It doesn't matter the age when you're on the business end of something like that.


O'BRIEN: Let me ask you this. I do know, from reading about how the Gulf War was fought, the air war, in the early stages, some of the aircraft went up to the borders, if you will, just enough to get those air defenses turned on, to help pinpoint the locations, and then they took a speedy U-turn, only later to be knocked out. Is that a common strategy?

SHEPPERD: That is. That's one tactic. What you want is you want to know where the radars are and which ones are on, because when they're on, you can launch a honing anti-radiation missile, called a HARM, from an airborne aircraft, and the idea is it will follow the radar, beam down, and take it out. If the radar beam shuts off, it also has a memory, and although it's not as accurate as riding the radar beam, any time you turn on a radar beam, you are risking yourself as a surface-to-air missile operator.

O'BRIEN: Just to bring our viewers up to date, we have ongoing attacks in and around the area of Herat. You see a picture of Kabul. If there are any attacks there, we will be able to see some flashes of light there on that nightscope image.

Meanwhile, on the Herat attacks, we are just now getting information about those in.

As we've been talking about with Gen. Shepperd here, the focus remains sort of the military infrastructure, if you will. One thing that does come to mind here is that these airfields might be of strategic importance to U.S. forces at some later date. On the one hand, you want to make it difficult for the enemy to use those fields; on the other hand, you don't want to bomb them into oblivion, do you? That's right, Miles. What you want to do, if possible, is keep the airplanes from taking off. You'd like to hit the airplanes on the ground and know what shelters they're in and take those shelters out and destroy the airplane. You don't want to destroy the airfield, because you might want it later on.

Interestingly enough, on these night shots, a couple of things that not apparent to watcher -- if you see a bright flash on the night spot, that is likely a bomb going off from an aircraft, one of the joint direct attack munitions, that type of thing. The little flashes you see are anti-aircraft fire. Every one of those is what we call a tracer. There are usually 7-1 or 5-1 tracer ratios, so for every light you see, there are five other bullets en route. When you see them explode, they are designed to explode so that they don't fall back onto your own soldiers. So there's a lot of fire going up in addition to what you see.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I think a lot of our viewers, who might recall the early days of the air war over Baghdad, remember seeing those images. Much of what we saw where the tracers, correct?

Exactly. It looks like they're just firing wildly into the air. That's not what happens. Although they can't see the airplanes, and that's of the reasons you use night, they are directed to fire into sectors. So they throw up a wall of fire, hoping that you will fly into it, so sometimes they are lucky as well as good.

Gen. Don Sheppard, thank you very much, an impromptu discussion there. We will talk about the 10th Mountain Division at some other juncture. We appreciate your insights, as always. Gen. Sheppard is one of our military analysts.

Let's send it over to Bill.

HEMMER: Miles, thank you.

As you were talking about, that airfield, we do know the reports we're getting after the first night of attacks, that the area of Herat that you guys were mentioning does have an airfield that we were led to believe indeed was hit on that first night. What's being hit right now we don't know.

CNN's Nic Robertson is on the ground in Islamabad, in neighboring Pakistan, and has been talking with people on the ground in Afghanistan.

Nic, what are they saying inside?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bill, our sources in Herat say that Herat is under attack again, that there are aircraft in the sky and anti-aircraft gunfire going off again and bombs falling around the city. They also say that last night, bombs fell around about 3:30 to 4:00 in the morning Afghan time. They saw a lot of anti-aircraft fire was coming up from the airport. The Taliban in the city of Herat say that the planes were unable to bomb the airport and that the bombs fell in the desert close by the airport. Herat does have quite a large airfield. Herat, as we know, is in western Afghanistan, close to the Iranian border. It is a large airfield. It is built on quite a large, flat plain. It is a civilian airfield, but it is also a military airfield and has, in the past, had a significant amount of military hardware on the ground, Not only MiG- 21 fighter planes, but also some of the fighter jet trainer aircraft as well and a number of helicopters.

In our recent experiences of traveling through that airport, we have on several occasions seen quite a large amount of military hardware there on the ground at the airport. It is quite a small and old terminal building, but the actual runway structure itself is very massive and extends over a very, very large area and will have been and may still be a very significant military and air combat asset for the Taliban -- Bill.

HEMMER: Nic, also, based on your experience, are there places near that airport and that runway that you're talking about where military hardware could be hidden perhaps for a day or two at a time?

ROBERTSON: There are several sort of warehouse complexes close to the airport and also a university housing complex. The warehouses are quite large, as warehouses usually are. They are sort of single story and sort of quite adjacent to the runway. There are also sort of the hard types of shelters used at airports for military aircraft, and a number of those dot the perimeter of airfield. But there are also a lot of civilian buildings in that area. There are some about 10 to 12 miles out of town along a very, very straight stretch of road, and along that stretch of road close to the airport it is something of what may have been some type of industrial area at one time -- long since stopped working -- at least that was our analysis driving past it earlier this year.

But certainly, places that equipment could be stored if needed, Bill.

HEMMER: Nic Robertson, on the ground in Islamabad. Come back and tell us what you find out there inside the borders of Afghanistan.

The reports we are getting in the western part are the attacks do continue, specifically the reports, according to Nic, hitting the town of Herat. This follows the first day daytime raids we have seen. Those were conducted after the sun came up earlier today.

What that indicated is not clear at this time, but some military experts will tell you because you're getting daytime raids, it's possible that the U.S. military strikes have been somewhat successful in taking out some of the anti-aircraft fire and surface-to-air missiles that may pose a danger from the ground.

We will continue to watch it, without question, here.


O'BRIEN: Once again, we have been getting in reports confirmation of resumption of attacks on the northwestern city of Herat in Afghanistan. Beyond that, we don't know too much, but we are waiting for the details and we will bring them to you as they become available.

Just as we were getting word of that attack in, we were talking with one of our military analysts Gen. Don Shepperd. We were talking about the role of the 10th Mountain Division. We might as well continue our discussion for a moment because, obviously, as time goes on, this is going to become more and more relevant. We do know there are 1,000 troops on the ground in Uzbekistan. The general's been doing a little bit of research. We've been talking about the kinds of roles they might play. Sure, they have a humanitarian role, but they can do a lot more than that, and they have a lot of tools in their toolbox, if you will. Do you want to give us a sense of that.

SHEPPERD: Yes, they really do, Miles. Basically, think of the Light Mountain Division as a light division. Gen. Shinseki, the chief of staff of the Army, has been talking about making the Army light and relevant. This is part of it. Nine thousand troops at Fort Drum, another 2,000 in Alaska, in three separate brigades. A normal heavy infantry division is 15,000 to 17,000 people. These people have light helicopters, and they have also light vehicles. They basically are highly mobile and taken in by Blackhawk helicopters and then scouted and supported by Kaiwa (ph) helicopters, if you will.

What these people are doing is very important. When Gen. Clark was in the Kosovo war, it was stated ahead of that war that we are not going to use ground troops. Now that is no such restriction, and 1,000 of them are in Uzbekistan, and there are another 9,000 in Fort Drum and 2,000 in Alaska. Many more may come. They may set foot on soil in Afghanistan; they may not.

So we have a whole new element in this war, with the 10th Mountain Division. They are designed to be light and lethal, but quick.

O'BRIEN: That's a good overview.

Excuse me, while I turn my back to you. I'm going to go to the computer. I am going to bring up this computer Web site, the Federation of American Scientists has some information.

First of all, this Kaiwa (ph) helicopter, which if you are familiar with civilian helicopters at all, looks an awful lot like a bell jet ranger. What is the role it plays, Gen. Shepperd?

SHEPPERD: Basically, what it does is it scouts and also supports the troops that are put in. It is armed with .50 caliber machine guns, 2.75 rocket, and also some Hellfire missiles that can be used against vehicles. It's normally not used against a tank, but it's there to support the troops once you put them in.

O'BRIEN: To move along, you were talking also about the Blackhawk, which serves all kinds of roles in the military. It is a heavily armed vehicle -- can be -- it also is able to carry a lot of troops, correct? SHEPPERD: Think of it as an air taxi. Think of it as taking in an Army squad of about 9 soldiers fully equipped with door gunners. The idea is to insert them and take them out, support them when they need medical attention and this type of thing. It's a very versatile helicopter, Miles.

O'BRIEN: The Blackhawk performs a special operations role as well, doesn't it? But that's in a different configuration?

SHEPPERD: It is indeed. The special ops use it for the same thing, though, taking in small squads of people and then supporting them once they get there.

O'BRIEN: Finally, when you're on the ground with this group, you're not talking about heavy armor, you're talking about the Humvee, right?

SHEPPERD: Again, no Bradley Fighting Vehicles, no tanks. This is a quick reaction vehicle. The Humvee that you can buy for $70,000 in Atlanta. Basically, it carries a few troops, two to four troops, but it's the truck of the infantry that gives them high mobility and rapid transportation on the battlefield.

O'BRIEN: Gen. Don Shepperd, as always, we do appreciate your insights on all of this. We will be tracking that as well as the attacks on Herat and will give you the latest on all these fronts as soon as they become available to us.

We will send it back now to New York and Paula Zahn -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks, Miles -- appreciate it.




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