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America Strikes Back: Ground Troops Deployed as Airstrikes Abate for Friday Prayers

Aired October 19, 2001 - 06:02   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We have correspondents standing by in three locations to bring you in-depth coverage this hour. We're at the Pentagon in Washington, in northern Afghanistan, and Islamabad, Pakistan.

We begin at the Pentagon where CNN's Brooks Jackson has more on U.S. ground forces being deployed in Afghanistan.

Good morning Brooks.


Well as you have reported already, the war has entered a new phase. Senior official telling CNN that ground forces are operating in Afghanistan. We're told these are special forces and we're told that the -- they're in very limited numbers.

This is nothing like the onset of ground operations, for example, in the Gulf War. Now where are the troops? We're told by the senior U.S. official that they're operating in the southern part of Afghanistan. There is no further information on exactly where and it's a very large country.

"The Washington Post" is reporting this morning that these forces are operating in support of CIA operations, trying to split off Pashtun (ph) ethnics from the Taliban leadership. There is no report at this point that these forces are engaged in actual combat.

What are they doing? We believe that they are operating in part to pinpoint targets for airstrikes. In fact, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said as much yesterday when he told us that airstrikes alone are not enough to do the job.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: You know they're powerful and they know they can do certain things within reasonable degrees of accuracy. We also know they can't do other things. They can't crawl around on the ground and find people.

The -- that being the case, what one has to do is to start out by trying to create an environment in the air that our forces can function in reasonable safety and second, then to develop interaction with the ground so that one can develop targets and get good information that is better than one can get from the air, and coordinate an air ground effort.


JACKSON: Now of course what Secretary Rumsfeld was describing is the very sort of thing that special forces -- U.S. special forces did behind enemy lines during the Gulf War. So we can speculate that that's the sort of thing they're doing there now.

There's a lot we don't know. We don't know which branches of the service are involved -- Army, Marines, Navy. There's no report of any combat actually going on involving U.S. special forces yet, and of course no report of casualties. Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Brooks Jackson, live at the Pentagon. Thank you so much. Leon.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Well let's go right to the scene then. Let's go to northern Afghanistan.

Our Matthew Chance is standing by there as he has been for weeks now and check and see with Matthew whether or not there has been any sighting of any U.S. forces there. Matthew, has there been any sighting?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, no sighting as yet and obviously this is confirmation come through from the Pentagon we've just been listening to that U.S. forces have been deployed on the ground here in Afghanistan.

We certainly haven't seen any of them though and Northern Alliance officials have yet to comment on what role, if any, they'll be playing in fighting alongside or operating alongside those U.S. forces on the ground.

Let me tell you though it's likely to be a very difficult situation these U.S. troops are going to have to deal with here in Afghanistan. I'm just going to step out of the way of the camera for a moment to show you the lay of the land here -- very rugged mountainous terrain, very difficult for ground troops to operate in.

It's extremely hot and dry right now, but in just a few weeks, winter is expected to set in and regularly during those months, the temperatures fall well below zero here. There's a lot of disease in Afghanistan. Malaria is prevalent. It's also very difficult to find clean drinking water and food that doesn't make you sick when you eat it.

Another big problem for forces on the ground, particularly is the fact that much of this country -- as many -- as much as 80 percent, in fact, according to some estimates is strewn with anti-personnel -- anti-personnel land mines. So that means it's extremely difficult to move from place to place even with an intimate knowledge of the landscape here and especially when you're fighting an enemy like the Taliban, who have been fighting in this kind of situation for many years now -- another situation on the ground very well indeed Leon.

HARRIS: Matthew, I'm glad you brought up that land mine issue. We talked about that last week or actually earlier this week with someone from the U.N.. Do you know whether or not the Northern Alliance actually has these areas mapped out at all?

CHANCE: Well I think that the Northern Alliance, as the Taliban have, made great efforts to try and establish where these minefields are. Part of the problem is, of course, the biggest problem, perhaps, is that many of these mine fields were laid randomly. Often, anti- personnel mines scattered from helicopters during the Soviet occupation here in the 1980s.

A lot of land mines also been laid by the various factions of the Mujahideen since the Soviet occupation ended back in 1989. A lot of those land mine fields not mapped at all, not charted. So these fields, that they are randomly, they often catch locals out. It's said that 10 people everyday -- 10 Afghans everyday are either killed or injured by stepping on a land mine or some unexploded ordinance strewn around this landscape.

So it's very difficult to know exactly where these land mines and unexploded weapons are. Leon.

HARRIS: Yes and they further complicate the plight of those refugees who are trying to leave the scene there as well. Matthew Chance, thank you very much. Stay safe. We'll talk with you later.


PHILLIPS: Well from ground operations to the air campaign now. For the latest on the airstrikes in Afghanistan, let's go to CNN senior international correspondent Walter Rodgers monitoring the campaign from across the border in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Hello Walter.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello Kyra. U.S. pilots, Navy pilots, Air Force pilots were busy again last night pounding targets in Afghanistan. Again, the focus seems to be Kandahar, a major Taliban stronghold in southeastern Pakistan.

Still this is Friday here and there has also been some abatement of those bombing strikes. Friday, of course, is the Islamic day of prayer, so there has been a slight easing of the bombing strikes to allow Muslims to attend prayers in their mass (ph) in Afghanistan. Also to give some people in this part of the world a chance to get out of town.

CNN has learned one interesting tidbit. As you know the Taliban had been claiming that the United States attacks on Afghanistan had caused between 600 and 900 casualties. Not so according to some Taliban relief workers who were forced to flee Afghanistan.

They say in the capital city of Kabul alone since the bombing began, there were only 10 civilian casualties. That, of course, is not the story the Taliban wants to put out and we're expecting within an hour a news conference from the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef. He is, of course, already commenting on reports that the U.S. has inserted ground troops into southern Afghanistan.

He says he hasn't seen them and with much bravado, one of Ambassador Zaeef's aides said "bring them on." He said they're not -- the Taliban is not concerned about 12 or 15 U.S. troops the Taliban would like to take on 100,000 troops because they would meet with them with 100,000 Taliban fighters.

That is, of course, bravado, the total Taliban ranks now are probably only 30,000 to 50,000 fighters is spread all over a country as large as Texas and even if they had 100,000, the Taliban does not have the capability of maneuvering that many troops in the field.

Ambassador Zaeef, the Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan was also asked about reports coming out of Afghanistan of massive troop defections at this point.


ABDUL SALAM ZAEEF, TALIBAN AMBASSADOR TO PAKISTAN: No this was not true. This was completely lie and this is a part of the propaganda against Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. No difference -- no -- any problem between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.


RODGERS: Still most people in this part of the world are deducing, with the insertion of even a small number of U.S. ground troops in southern Afghanistan, especially so close to the Taliban center of strength, Kandahar, that the war is definitely entering a new phase.

The only question at this point is has the Taliban been badly dispirited by this U.S. bombing assault or perhaps have the Pashtun tribesmen and the Taliban been energized by it. We should know that in the not too distant future.


PHILLIPS: Walter, a couple of questions for you, I -- with regard to these airstrikes. You were out on the Carl Vinson carrier. This recent wave of airstrikes, how involved was the USS Roosevelt, one of the most recent battle groups to join in on this campaign?

RODGERS: Well the Roosevelt is a newcomer. It is, of course, a nuclear carrier. It's a newcomer to the strikes. The initial strikes for the first 10 days or so were conducted by the USS Carl Vinson that's CVN 11 and the USS Enterprise.

Those pilots did the yeoman duty, as I said the Teddy Roosevelt has been brought into pick up some of the slack. One of the reasons for that would be a normal rotation. The Enterprise has been at sea well over six months now. I was with the Enterprise on NATO maneuvers in the North Sea in June. So presumably the Teddy Roosevelt is coming in to bolster that, but perhaps even to relieve the Enterprise because these pilots are extraordinarily overworked at this point. It's difficult to exaggerate what they go through. They take off. They do five, at least five refuelings to fly from their carriers in the Arabian Sea to get up to the target, drop their bombs and then get back.

Five refuelings is very tense, not to mention the extraordinarily terrifying moments -- a few moments, as it is, over the target.


PHILLIPS: Absolutely. Walter Rodgers, thank you so much.




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