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America Strikes Back:

Aired October 9, 2001 - 05:00   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We have a developing story for you this morning. You've looking now at some live pictures of a news conference that's set to get under way right now in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Eric Falt is director of the United Nations Information Center, the UNIC, and we're about to hear from him about four U.N. workers that were killed just a few hours ago.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's listen in, Leon.


ERIC FALT, UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION CENTER: The United Nations is always on the front lines of humanitarian and other crisis, and it is our staff who find themselves most at risk in conflict situations. Too many times we share the fate of innocent civilians who are facing a violence they have not called for. Too many times some of our staff and the people who work with them -- NGO workers and contractors -- have lost their lives.

Yesterday in Georgia, you know that a United Nations helicopter, carrying nine passengers and crew, was shot down. Four military observers, two local staff and three Ukrainian flight crew from the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia were on board the helicopter.

One of the military observers, Major Javed Onjume (ph), was from Pakistan. We share the grief of the family of this fallen peacekeeper, and the U.N. family operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan mourns their loss.

Pakistan has lost many sons to U.N. peacekeeping operations, and their memory is not forgotten. We fully appreciate their contribution, which painfully underlines Pakistan's commitment to standing united with the rest of the international community.

Yesterday, we also told you of an attack by uncontrolled elements against three U.N. offices in the city of Quetta. Mr. Kenzo Oshima, the undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, expressed his deep concern a few hours ago over these incidents and called them extremely unfortunate and worrying.

We are thankful to the Pakistani authorities for responding positively to our requests for providing extra security, and we are fully confident they will fulfill their responsibilities. The U.N. resident coordinator for Pakistan, Onder Yucer (ph), has expressed his gratitude to the government in this regard.

The situation is Quetta is reportedly calmer today, and we expect our staff, particularly UNHCR, to resume shortly their all-important task of preparing sites for the refugees who could cross the border.

Before I give the floor to Stephanie for an update on the situation inside Afghanistan, I want to briefly acknowledge the statement of the president of the Security Council, Ambassador Richard Ryan, yesterday, who underlined that every effort should be made to avoid civilian casualties in the military strikes currently being conducted in Afghanistan.

We are told by our general headquarters in New York that the Council members will meet again today to further discuss the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, in particular the situation of refugees and internally-displaced persons, which, indeed, remains our No. 1 priority in the field.

As Secretary General Kofi Annan himself stated yesterday, the people of Afghanistan, who cannot be held responsible for the acts of the Taliban regime, are now in desperate need of aid -- Stephanie.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At 9:00 last night in Kabul, an office of the NGO Afghan Technical Consultants was hit during the bombardment of Kabul. The building was destroyed. Afghan Technical Consultants, which we call ATC, is one of the NGO's working under the umbrella of the United Nation's Mine Action Program for Afghanistan. They work directly with the United Nations.

The office was located in the village of Yakutat (ph), three kilometers east of Kabul. Four staff of ATC were killed. Their names were Saffi Ola (ph), Nasir Ahmed (ph), Nagi Bullah (ph) and Abdul Saborb (ph). All four died on the spot. Pieces of their bodies are still to be recovered from the wreckage.

In addition, four ATC staff sustained minor injuries and were given first aid at local hospitals. Their names are Monawer (ph), Abdul Makim (ph), Abdullah, and Mohamed Shakir (ph). In the building, there were two pickups, two generators, Codan radios, handheld communication sets, workshop equipment, spare parts and other supplies.

The United Nation's coordinator for Afghanistan, Mike Sackett, consoles the families of those killed. Today, the U.N. coordinator for Afghanistan appeals to the international community to protect innocent civilians while military strikes are going on. And I quote: "People need to distinguish between combatants and those innocent civilians who do not bear arms. They also need to be mindful of protecting assets essential for the survival of Afghan civilians. Staff are clearly the most important resource the aid community in Afghanistan has" -- unquote.

ATC is clearly one of the largest agencies involved in the entire Mine Action program in Afghanistan. ATC alone has cleared 32 percent of all mined areas cleared to date. ATC alone has cleared 48 percent of all of the battlefield areas cleared to date. They work in central, southern, eastern and western regions of Afghanistan. ATC does manual mine clearance. The men on the ground with the bayonets digging up mines -- that's what they do. They do explosive ordnance disposal. They do battle area clearance, the mechanical excavation and mine awareness education.

At least 31 ATC teams operate inside Afghanistan. ATC is a very old Mine Action program in the Afghanistan program. It was established as far back as 1989. It started demining operations in early 1990 with a total staff of 35 people. Since then, it's developed into a highly-organized, effective and professional NGO that employs more than 1,165 staff, mainly Afghans.

As you all know, the Mine Action program for Afghanistan again this year faced critical funding shortages. It has received $12.5 million out of the $21 million that's needed.

In regard to the current military operation and air strikes, it is estimated that between 10 percent to 30 percent of munitions dropped will not explode and will become a threat to the civilian population. Later, these, too, will have to be removed and defused.

Other than the deaths of the ATC staff, there has been no independent confirmation of other civilian injuries yet.

Yesterday in Kabul, about 50 percent of the civil servants are said to have turned up for work and offices continued functioning. Medical services, which we reported, had gone up a bit the other day, have again been partially disrupted. About half of the health personnel were on duty on Monday, yesterday.

However, in the women's sections of the hospitals in Kabul, attendance is even lower, with one-quarter to one-third of the women personnel turning up for work.

Attendance at U.N. agencies and NGOs of national staff has continued to drop in the last few days, including yesterday. Some of the personnel are going back to their homes in rural areas. This, of course, is not helping our efforts to move along with our programs.

As I told you last week, there was already a high level of anticipation among the civilian population about possible attacks. It seems now from what little information we have gathered that there is not yet mass panic in Kabul, but that this does not mean that there is also universal calm.

Meanwhile in Kandahar today, three ambulances belonging to the demining NGO, called the Demining Agency for Afghanistan, i.e. DAFA, were taken by the Taliban, as was one pickup truck. This is in addition to the three Mine Action vehicles taken by the Taliban in Kandahar last week. Thank you.

FALT: We'll go to questions in just a minute. First of all, we have an update from Francesco Luna, who speaks for the World Food Program.

FRANCESCO LUNA, WORLD FOOD PROGRAM: OK, just a quick update. Yesterday, my colleague, Khaled Mansour, told you that we have been forced to suspend our shipments from outside to inside Afghanistan after the strikes.

I have, however, the pleasure to announce to you that yesterday evening, the last convoy has arrived in Kabul with eight trucks carrying 220 metric tons of wheat. It has been parked in our offices there and offloaded this morning. And this is probably the last one until we will resume shipments, which of course, we hope will occur very, very soon and as soon as is possible.

We confirm the suspension of our shipments inside of Afghanistan. We have no reports of WFP's staff members injured in these days. We confirm the communications with our offices there are, again, are still very difficult.

The last update is the amount of food in the country. We currently have 9,077.63 metric tons of food in Afghanistan. And that's it for now. Thank you.

FALT: Thank you, Francesco. Una Pasans (ph) speaks for UNHCR, and he will give us the latest on the arrival of supplies and preparation of sites.

UNA PASANS (ph), UNHCR: The border remains closed. There are not -- there are no reports of any large-scale movements, although we have had -- there has been civilians fleeing the cities of Kandahar, Kabul and Jalalabad. But we are not -- it's not clear whether they are finding safety in surrounding villages, or whether they are heading towards the borders.

We continue to stockpile assistance for refugees. We have moved more than 2,000 tents to Pashawar and Quetta today. A Japanese airlift, with tents, blankets, water containers and plastic sheets, arrived in Islamabad this morning. Tomorrow, we expect another airlift from the United Kingdom with tents and communication and telecommunication supplies for our emergency teams in Pakistan. We are not very clear what time it is expected to arrive. We will let you know.

And two reports from Pashawar, we have had two of our NGO partners -- offices burned in Hangu and Bagewar (ph) in the northwestern frontier province in the tribal areas. Thank you.

FALT: Thank you. The first question goes to Pakistan journalist (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE). Have you any reports (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from United States whether (UNINTELLGIBLE) ...

HARRIS: We've been listening to this press conference this morning, hosted by United Nation's officials there, and we've been getting some updated information about four U.N. workers who were killed in Kabul, actually just outside of Kabul in a village called Yakutat (ph).

We understand that were a strike there sometime, I believe they said around 9:00 last night. That would be local time there. And they said that in that strike, there were four U.N. officers -- U.N. workers there who were killed on the spot. They were working with a group called the ATC -- the Afghan Technical Consultants -- who are charged with the responsibility of removing mines. They are in the Mine Action Program, and they were busy working with that program, but they have lost their lives.

Let's check in now with our Tom Mintier, who has also been listening in to this press conference -- Tom -- Tom, is he in Islamabad, Pakistan as usual? Tom, good morning.


In addition to losing the four Afghan staff members in Kabul after the bombing raids saying that they were hit about three kilometers east of the city.

On the wider range, currently the World Food Program has suspended shipment of food into Afghanistan because of the danger of air strikes. They say did have an eight-truck convey with 220 tons of wheat that have arrived in Kabul able to make that disbursement only when things clear up a bit. But they say they will no longer be able to send any convoys.

Now, there was concern yesterday in Quetta here in Pakistan after the crowds basically set fire to the UNICEF office -- also attacked a UNHCR office -- that they were unable to send their convoys even to the border, because it was simply too dangerous to move around in the city. So they have now suspended all shipments from Pakistan into Afghanistan, something they have been able to do as the lead up to these air strikes took place, but feel apparently the risk is too high to do now that the air strikes are under way.

We are hearing that there is a continued airlift of supplies coming in to prepare just in case there is a large influx of refugees to the border area. As you heard in the press conference: a flight in from Japan today; one from the United Kingdom tomorrow. So there are still preparations for these large contingents of people moving towards the border that have not materialized, at least not yet.

The borders here in Pakistan remain closed.

Also the Taliban, who have confirmed that the four U.N. deminers were killed in Kabul, and also there have been reports -- some wire service reports that the air force commander for the Taliban was killed overnight in the air strikes. The Taliban say that is not true. He was seen in Kandahar this morning by sources who tell CNN that he is, indeed, still alive -- Leon.

HARRIS: Tom, I've just got one quick question for you. I did note that the World Food Program report included word that the amount of food that they believe they have in Afghanistan right now is about 9,077 metric tons of food. Now, have you heard any word about how long they expect that to last, since they have suspended all of their shipments in?

MINTIER: Well, it's going to be difficult to say how long that will last, and how long they will maintain that supply. As we've seen here in Pakistan, some of the offices have been hit. Also, they were talking about some of the vehicles had been taken over in Kandahar. Three ambulances taken by the Taliban, along with a pickup truck, and three U.N. vehicles were seized.

So we had reports before the air strikes that the Taliban had gone into the U.N. food stores and basically taken over not only their offices and communications equipment, but had taken some food as well. So 9,000 tons is what they know they have. In addition, the United States to dropping bombs on the first night, they dropped rations in areas of Afghanistan that the humanitarian agencies, of course, can't get to now.

So in addition to the weaponry that's being used, the weapon of food is also finding it's way down to the ground; 37, I think, 37,000 food packets were dropped on the first night of bombing, and according to the International Red Cross, a second drop of food was scheduled to occur last night, but still no confirmation from the Pentagon if, indeed, a second air shipment of food packets were dropped -- Leon.

HARRIS: All right, thank you Tom -- Tom Mintier reporting live for us this morning from Islamabad, Pakistan -- thank you very much.




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