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America Strikes Back: U.S. Military Unsheathes Another Weapon Against Taliban Regime and Al Qaeda

Aired October 16, 2001 - 05:20   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.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: It's about 21 minutes past the hour. Let's get a check now of the latest developments.

Secretary of State Colin Powell is holding talks today with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. A little more than an hour ago at a news conference following the morning session, both men say they hope the Afghan bombing campaign would not last long.

CNN sources in Kandahar report more air strikes are hitting the Taliban's stronghold today. Bombs have been seen falling around the city. The Arab television network Al Jazeera reports five people died in Kandahar when a clinic was hit in overnight air strikes. The U.S. has said civilians are not being targeted.

We're going to move now to Chris Burns. He's with the Northern Alliance just north of Kabul. He's talking about troop movements and also reaction to the Powell-Musharraf news conference -- hi, Chris.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hello, Kyra.

We spent the night just a few short miles from the front line here between here and Kabul. We heard the repeated booms and blasts of the U.S.-led air strikes over Kabul and also against Taliban troop positions north of the capital. We also witnessed much, much closer the red tracer fire, the exchanges of mortar fire and machine gun fire between the two sides along that front. No movement there.

However, of course, there was damage from the air strikes in the major cities, in Kabul and in Kandahar. The Taliban claims, of course, civilian casualties. We cannot yet confirm that there is damage there. They also, the air strikes knocked out power in Kabul overnight.

The fighting, the main fighting here in the north goes on much, much further to the north. It is around Mazari Sharif (ph). That is the strategic northern town that is held by the Taliban. The U.S.-led air strikes softened up the defenses there at the airport and the Northern Alliance says they are between five and seven kilometers -- that's about three to five miles -- from the airport. They say that hundreds of Taliban fighters are giving themselves up, that they have killed 10 Taliban fighters. These claims are, of course, impossible for us to confirm from this end because of the remoteness of the terrain. At the same time, food aid is being distributed to needy Afghans. We watched that happening from near here. That is, of course, in addition to the U.S.-led, the U.S. air drops of now it's more than 250,000, more than a quarter of a million packets of food aid. However, aid officials, international aid officials say that's nowhere nears enough. They need at least 14,000 tons of aid shipped into the north to prevent more hundreds of thousands of people in those remote mountain areas from starving.

As far as reaction to the Musharraf meeting, no immediate public reaction. However, of course, the Northern Alliance is concerned, they say, about Pakistan, what they say Pakistan meddling in the affairs of Afghanistan. However, there is, seems to be common interest among the Northern Alliance, the Pakistanis and others that the exiled king of Afghanistan in putting together some kind of a broad-based coalition in that would replace the Taliban once, if and when the Taliban falls. That could, perhaps, prevent a resumption of that factional fighting that we saw back five years ago -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Chris, you mentioned the word defections. We know that's been happening among some of the soldiers within the Taliban. A question was raised during this news conference with Powell and Musharraf. The question was that they, it was heard that the Taliban's foreign minister had defected. Have you heard anything of this?

BURNS: Well, that's difficult to confirm from here, this being in the north. No reaction yet from the Northern Alliance. Of course, they would be rather gleeful about that. But we have absolutely no reports about that.

The defections the Northern Alliance has been claiming, hundreds, if not thousands, of defections and saying that more are on their way as negotiations proceed with various commanders out in the field, that they say that some areas they have taken without firing a shot just by negotiating the defections. Again, very difficult to confirm independently -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, Chris Burns live in northern Afghanistan, thank you -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well, the U.S. military has unsheathed another weapon in its arsenal against the Taliban regime and al Qaeda.

As CNN military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre reports this morning, this big gun's debut in this campaign came on one of the biggest days yet of bombing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The United States pulled out another big gun in its war against the Taliban, an AC130 gun ship, a special operations plane with a powerful side firing gun and a high tech targeting system that rained deadly canon fire on a section of Kandahar. Pentagon sources say on day nine, the pace of bombing more than doubled over recent days, as Navy strike aircraft and Air Force B52 bombers concentrated on killing as many Taliban troops as possible. Pentagon officials stopped at reports that the U.S. planes were avoiding the front lines and Taliban fighters were fleeing to forward positions for safety.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: My comment might be that I suspect that in the period ahead that's not going to be a very safe place to be.

MCINTYRE: The U.S. began psychological warfare as well, dropping leaflets over the weekend that urged Afghans to listen to U.S. broadcasts from a flying radio station and promised that quote ''the partnership of nations is here to help.''

The Pentagon continues to say it's not targeting civilians and disputed Taliban claims that U.S. bombing had killed 200 people in Karam, a village in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

RUMSFELD: We know of certain knowledge that the Taliban leadership and Al Qaeda are accomplished liars, that they go on television and they say things that we know are absolutely not true.

MCINTYRE: The Pentagon speculated if there was any truth to the high death toll, it was a result of secondary explosions that occurred after two caves were hit with penetrating bombs.

RUMSFELD: They were not cooking cookies inside those tunnels. I mean, let's face it, you do not spend that kind of money and dig that far in and store that many weapons and munitions that it would cause that kind of sustained secondary explosions unless you have very serious purposes for doing it.

MCINTYRE (on camera): The entry of the low flying AC130 gun ship is as close as the Pentagon has come to a ground war in Afghanistan. One of the last times an AC130 was used was when the United States was on another manhunt, in 1993, when one of the planes flattened the house of Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed (ph) in Mogadishu. Aideed was never captured.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: Let's get the latest word right now from the Pentagon. Our Frank Buckley is there. He checks in now with the very latest on the military campaign under way -- good morning, Frank.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Leon.

HARRIS: All right, let's talk about this, the campaign as it is right now. We just heard Jamie report about the AC130 now showing up there. But we've also heard reports that perhaps they're running out of targets there in Afghanistan. What are you hearing about that? BUCKLEY: Well, that was one of the first questions that was thrown at the defense secretary at a press briefing on Monday and he immediately began to say that no, we have not run out of targets. He talked about the fact that as more information was developed by the pilots who are flying over the area and more targets are identified, that they're actually adding to the list.

So he was saying that they are, in terms of the target set that they began with, they are still at about the same number and they still have a number of different types of targets that they're going after, surface to air missiles. They still have to take out Stinger missiles, they say. There are still jet aircraft that they are going after and of course troop concentrations that they still want to hit.

HARRIS: All right, what about civilian concentrations? You know, just about 24 hours ago almost exactly we were beginning to report that there may have been civilian casualties in that village of Karam. What's the Pentagon saying about that? Are they disputing the Taliban's reports that there were some 200 civilians killed there? I mean are they saying that never happened or are they just saying that maybe they may have done something there by mistake, or what?

BUCKLEY: Well, you heard in Jamie's report there that the defense secretary at one point called the numbers that the Taliban are talking about, he said that some of the numbers are, in his words, ridiculous. He did, he didn't, however, confirm one way or the other the number of dead in that particular village. He said there's no way for the U.S. military forces to confirm that particular number. He did say, however, that there were some valid military targets that were hit in that area, two caves in particular, they say, were hit by U.S. military forces.

They say that the length of the fire burning afterwards and the secondary explosions could have resulted in some deaths outside of those caves. But he didn't dispute one way or the other the exact number. They say there is no way to confirm the exact number of civilian deaths that took place in that are.

HARRIS: All right. Good deal.

Thanks for now, Frank Buckley at the Pentagon. We'll talk with you in just a few minutes so stay right there.

PHILLIPS: Gunfire erupts between India and Pakistan just before Colin Powell arrives in the region.

HARRIS: And when we come back after a break, why fighting between the two nuclear powers has become the wild card in America's war on terrorism. Stay with us.

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