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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

America Strikes Back: The Human Toll of Afghanistan's War

Aired October 12, 2001 - 05:27   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: And now, a closer look at life on the front lines in Afghanistan, and even beyond. President Bush has said the United States is not waging war on the Afghan people. But to see the impact of the war, we begin in northern Afghanistan with CNN's Chris Burns reporting on the victims of the fighting between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance -- Chris.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Carol. The fighting that has been going along the front line here between here and the capital Kabul has been at a very low level over the last few weeks. However, it has taken its casualties. It has taken its toll and the Red Cross and other agencies are busy caring for these people -- both on this side and, of course, also on the other side, on the Taliban side. But up to now the Red Cross says at least in the north here, things are manageable for now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNS (voice-over): Fifteen-year-old Kasigul (ph) was at home when the roof caved in on her house and her life. One of the Taliban's few MIG fighters dropped a bomb on her neighborhood in Bagram near the front line, officials say. The shrapnel ripped through her abdomen. "I was sweeping the floors when the bomb destroyed my house," she says. "It killed my father and two brothers. My mother and my other brother survived."

She shares her hospital room with two other young women injured in the attack. In the men's ward in this hospital an hour from the front line are Northern Alliance soldiers. Karoudeen (ph) was hit in the groin four days ago, but he's recovering. "I was in a trench and a Taliban mortar landed near me," he said.

The human cost of war is mounting here.

FEROZ, HOSPITAL DIRECTOR: Especially mine explosion like a leg type cut our lower limb, our upper limb, and bullet injuries, shelling.

BURNS: While casualties are still relatively low so far, that could change if U.S.-led air strikes against Taliban positions clear the way for a Northern Alliance offensive. Officials are preparing for the worst, but how ready are they? The International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, has been supplying hospitals on both the Taliban and Northern Alliance side. But the stocks are limited. (on camera): This is the hospital's only operating room, equipped by the ICRC. But officials admit it's not enough. They're racing to renovate two more, anticipating a wave of war casualties.

(voice-over): The two other surgery wards are far from ready. But officials insist they should be operational in the next two weeks. How well aid workers can cope depends on how bloody the fighting is, how fast the refugee population grows and how much winter cuts off humanitarian supply lines.

PIERRE-ANDRE JUNOD, ICRC: We are extremely worried about what may happen. I mean it's -- and of course with the uncertainty of a possible shifting of front lines, with the strikes.

BURNS: Factors for which the Red Cross and other relief agencies are pre-positioning supplies in and around Afghanistan and hoping they can avoid disaster.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNS: A couple of updates from the battlefront. One is overnight -- apart from the air strikes that were targeting in and around Jalalabad, Kandahar and Kabul -- there was also some bombing north of Kabul in the very rugged mountain range between here and there where there are Taliban positions. The Northern Alliance says that air strikes did pinpoint troop concentrations in those areas.

In northeastern Afghanistan, in Talikan (ph) province, the Northern Alliance says it is planning attacks in that area. It's trying to seize a key supply line ahead of the winter so it will have some way to supply itself during the winter months -- Carol.

LIN: Chris, any of the doctors or any of the troops you spoke to talk about reports of civilian casualties?

BURNS: It's very, very sketchy as far as the number of civilian casualties on both sides, really, very, very difficult to verify. And, of course, on this side, because there hasn't been an offensive, they haven't really launched a concerted effort along this front line north of Kabul to go after the Taliban.

It has been fairly stable. There have been a trickle, just a handful of casualties. But, of course, each one is dramatic, as we just saw. And, of course, on the other side, anyone's guess really how many people have been hurt and killed -- Carol.

LIN: All right, yes, we're getting conflicting reports certainly from the ruling Taliban as well as the U.S. government. All right, thank you very much.

Chris Burns reporting live from northern Afghanistan.

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