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America Strikes Back: 10th Mountain Division Deployed to Uzbekistan

Aired October 9, 2001 - 06:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: ... Pentagon is saying very little about American forces serving in the war on terrorism.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and they have been that way from the beginning. But we do know that forces from the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, New York have been sent on to Uzbekistan.

And our Miles O'Brien is checking in with us this morning, and he's got some words for us this morning on this unique unit -- good morning, Miles.

LIN: Good morning, Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Carol and Leon.

As a matter of fact, unique is a good word for this unit. There's an interesting history to the 10th Mountain Division. It actually goes back to World War II.

In 1939, when the Soviet Union invaded Finland, they were met by lightly-armed ski -- troops in skis, and they were able to wipe out -- the Finish troops were able to wipe out two tank divisions. It humiliated the Russians.

The U.S. decided it might be a good idea to have ski troops, and so during World War II, on or around 1945 in the Apennine Mountains of Italy, the 10th Mountain Division became 10th Mountain Division became heavily involved, and the famous battle that they fought, which you might recall, is the battle of Riva Ridge. The Germans didn't even defend against this ridge very much. They only had about a battalion there, because they assumed it could not be scaled. The 10th Mountain Division did, in fact, scale it and trounced the Germans in that famous battle. So that takes you to World War II.

After World War II, what happened to the 10th Mountain Division: eventually it got disbanded. Many of the veterans, as it turns out, became instrumental in popularizing skiing in the United States.

Anyway, back in 1985, they reactivated the 10th Mountain Division, moved it to Fort Drum in New York up by the Canadian border, and this group, with its lightly-armed presence, also plays a role in humanitarian efforts. In south Florida in 1992 in the wake of Hurricane Andrew, they were helpful in getting food to evacuated people -- a quarter of a million people without homes and rebuilding south Florida.

Another presence for the 10th Mountain Division in the course of history: Mogadishu, Somalia, 1992 through 1994. They were there, and when that terrible firefight happened involving the U.S. Army Rangers -- 18 of them killed in that two-day firefight after that Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade -- they were very instrumental in evacuating the surviving Rangers and getting them to safety.

Let's move it along and give you another sense of the kinds of missions that the 10th Mountain Division gets involved in. Port-Au- Prince, Haiti in September of '94, the Division's First Brigade landed at Port-Au-Prince on 54 helicopters, about 2,000 soldiers -- the largest Army air assault off of an aircraft carrier since the famous Doolittle Raid of World War II, when bombers took off of aircraft carriers and bombed Tokyo in the wake of the December '41 attack on Pearl Harbor.

Finally, Bosnia in '97, an engineer company with the 10th Mountain Division was involved there helping secure bridges, and in general, secure the peace in Bosnia.

Now, to give you a sense of why this group is now in Uzbekistan, we'll take you back to fairly recent history. Take a look at this Web image we found this morning, and this comes from a military site called DefenseLink.mil, and these images were shot in 1998 during an exercise in Uzbekistan. Those are members of the 10th Mountain Division training in Uzbekistan. Several hundred of them were there for this training involving the Uzbeks and other members of the South Central Asia and that sphere of influence that was formerly dominated by the Soviet Union. Those military exercises obviously on the Pentagon's mind as it made the decision to send in those 10th Mountain Division troops.

So the combination of history here -- this is a group that trains in the mountains, understand how to fight in the mountains, how to maneuver in the mountains. And also the fact that this is a group with a history of humanitarian efforts, which is what the country of Uzbekistan would prefer U.S. troops are doing at this juncture, and makes them the likely candidate as being in the vanguard in this mission on the ground in and around Afghanistan -- Carol and Leon.

LIN: All right.

HARRIS: All right. Thanks, Miles.

LIN: Thanks, Miles.

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