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U.S. Troops Conducting Operations on Ground in Afghanistan; FBI Working Overtime to Track Down Source of Anthrax Cases

Aired October 19, 2001 - 05:00   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: The U.S. raises the stakes in Operation Enduring Freedom. Will ground troops soon begin an assault on Afghanistan?

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Turncoats in Afghanistan's civil war. Why some Taliban fighters are switching sides.

Also...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It causes anxiety for me, so I choose not to watch it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Anthrax and the public's need to know, when it comes to media coverage, some say enough is enough.

HARRIS: Good morning and welcome to "DAYBREAK." It is Friday, October 19, 2001, and from the CNN Center in Atlanta, I am Leon Harris.

PHILLIPS: And I'm Kyra Phillips. Thanks so much for joining us at this early hour.

We begin with the latest developments in America's fight against terrorism.

HARRIS: CNN has learned that some ground forces have been deployed in southern Afghanistan even as the U.S.-led air assaults continue. A senior U.S. official in Washington tells CNN a very limited number of troops are involved in this operation.

PHILLIPS: China is pledging its support in the U.S. war on terrorism. At the APE summit in Shanghai, President Bush says he believes he can work with President Jiang Zemin despite differences on other issues.

HARRIS: And in the Middle East, violence erupted today with an Israeli military incursion in Bethlehem. This development heightens concerns that the intensified fighting there may become a stumbling block in U.S.-Arab coalition building. PHILLIPS: And more clues in the anthrax investigation. A senior law enforcement official tells CNN the spores found in New York, Washington and Florida all came from the same source.

Well, we have confirmation this morning of a new level reached in this war against terrorism. Even as the bombing campaign keeps up against Taliban troops and sites, U.S. troops are now conducting operations on the ground in Afghanistan.

To bring you up to date on this new prong in the U.S.-led attack, let's go right now to the Pentagon and CNN's Jeff Levine -- good morning, Jeff.

JEFF LEVINE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kyra, clearly the war is entering a new phase. We understand a very limited number of U.S. soldiers is on the ground in Afghanistan. They are in the southern part of the country, that deployment taking place a couple of days ago according to a senior U.S. official.

Now, that official says that the situation is consistent with the changing nature of the operation. The goal here is to support the opposition forces, to help them drive out the Taliban troops. No word on how many of our U.S. special forces are engaged in this operation. Suffice it to say this is not a huge surprise. It's been thought all along that special forces would somehow take part in this attack.

We could say that they are engaged in reconnaissance, perhaps, or engaged maybe down the road in some sort of direct attacks. There could also be some new tactics. The "Washington Post" is suggesting that attack drones could be used or perhaps even massive helicopter assaults.

At a Pentagon briefing on Thursday, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld indicated that airplanes alone couldn't do it all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: You know, they're powerful and they know they can do certain things within reasonable degrees of accuracy. And 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEVINE: And in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Rumsfeld made it clear that Osama bin Laden must go.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Many people who do support this campaign against terrorism, even in this region, are afraid that perhaps you might leave the Taliban in place and make them and Osama bin Laden even bigger heroes than they are perceived to be in some quarters of this region right now. What can you say to that?

RUMSFELD: That's not going to happen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEVINE: Now, Rumsfeld made it clear that the United States has no intention of occupying Afghanistan so a huge Desert Storm style operation is probably unlikely. However, with the presence of U.S. troops on the ground, the situation in Afghanistan is sure to escalate -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, Jeff Levine live from the Pentagon, thank you -- Leon.

HARRIS: All right, let's get a little closer to where those troops may be. Let's go now to Islamabad, Pakistan. Our Walter Rodgers standing by there. He's going to join us now with the very latest.

Walter, can you give us any sense of if you've heard or learned, because you've been talking to many military analysts for quite the last few days or so, any idea about why these ground troops may be going in right now?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Leon.

What has been revealed in Washington is confirmation of what we've been hearing here in Pakistan, that, indeed, U.S. troops may have been in there for some time now. The reason, of course, is to test the hostility of the environment. If the United States is going after Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda organization, the United States has to put a small number of troops on the ground to see if the local tribesmen receive them well.

This insertion of U.S. troops at this point would seem to suggest that there may have been some defection from the Taliban ranks among the Pashtun tribes, again, paving the way for a more substantial U.S. military incursion which would go after Osama bin Laden in the not too distant future.

One of the important things that the Pentagon disclosed is the location of these insertions. The location is southern Afghanistan. The nearest major city to the insertion would be Kandahar. That has been a Taliban stronghold all along. It has been the focus of U.S. bombing raids. The U.S. is sending a signal by putting in even a small number of special operations forces at this point.

Joining me now is Rifat Hussain, a Pakistani military analyst who's been with us and following this story all along.

Rifat, I'd like to begin by asking you when we are told by the Pentagon that they're inserting a small number of special operation troops, what do we read into the small number? What's their mission? RIFAT HUSSAIN, MILITARY ANALYST: Well, there are several missions. One of the missions is to get some good sense of the lay of the land, see what the local dynamics are and then see how they can operate whereby they can bring about a change in the coalition of forces or alter the balance of forces on the ground. And then I think their deployment could be a precursor to some kind of a larger deployment of the American troops on the ground.

So you're absolutely right that they are there to test the local environment and how well any kind of a large scale deployment of the American troops will be received.

RODGERS: Have there been defections from the Pashtun tribes?

HUSSAIN: I cannot imagine they are going in without, you know, the cooperation of the local people, particularly some of the Pashtun and the Bulush (ph) tribes, who do not have any kind of an ideological affinity to the high command of the Taliban.

RODGERS: So the U.S. commandos are going in in a relatively safe environment. What should the Taliban sitting in Kandahar, sitting in Kabul, read into this?

HUSSAIN: Well, they will have to worry about it because now these special troops have gone into their bastion, into their stronghold and they will be trying to engender some kind of an internal change through a number of activities. And I think one of the basic purposes of these special troops is to make the enemy visible, force them to come out, particularly al Qaeda network, which is really, these are the hiding places of the al Qaeda network and trying to make them more visible so the Americans could attack them through aerial bombs or maybe some special operations.

RODGERS: Short answer, please. How dangerous is the environment the U.S. special forces troops will be operating in?

HUSSAIN: I think it is relative safe for them to operate in this area because, largely because it is sparsely populated and this is ideally suited for the, the terrain is ideally suited for the operations for which the special forces have been trained.

RODGERS: Rifat Hussain, thank you very much.

Leon, we've been talking with Rifat Hussain, a Pakistani military analyst, who's telling us that in point of fact now things are going to get much worse for the Taliban. One interesting thing, Leon, the Iranians, who have a key interest in what happens in Afghanistan, have been saying for more than a few days that U.S. special forces have been operating in Afghanistan all this while -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well, Walter, while those forces may be on the ground now and have been there for a while, the air campaign continues. What's the latest on that?

RODGERS: Well, the bombing campaign continues to be very severe. The attacks on Kandahar have been very, very severe. All this bombing, of course, is producing a tide of Afghan refugees. Thirty- five hundred refugees crossed the border alone, last night alone, 8,000 earlier this week. It's causing a terrible, terrible strain on refugee relief services here.

One of the interesting things CNN has learned is that some Afghan relief workers, native Afghans who crossed that border have told CNN that the Taliban estimates of casualties, civilian casualties, are greatly inflated. These Afghan international relief workers, now in Pakistan, say that in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, all the bombing raids, the U.S. bombing raids, have only produced about 10 civilian casualties -- Leon.

HARRIS: All right, and finally, Walter, it's been a while since we've had a briefing from the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan. I understand he's coming back to Islamabad today. Any idea what he's likely to bring with him to talk about this morning or what?

RODGERS: In about two and a half hours Abdul Salam Zaeef is coming to Islamabad. He's down in Quetta. He is expected to hold a news conference. He's making three points. One of them is that the Taliban is, indeed, holding top level urgent meetings in Kandahar and in southern Afghanistan. The other point he's going to try to make is that the morale of the Taliban remains high despite the U.S. bombing attacks and, of course, when questioned before leaving Quetta about the reports of U.S. military troops being in southern Afghanistan now, he said he'd seen no evidence of that, at least in Kandahar -- Leon.

HARRIS: It sounds like we may have an air campaign versus a P.R. campaign.

Walter Rodgers, thank you very much. Stay on top of that story -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well, now we get the latest numbers on anthrax in the United States. One person has died from inhaled anthrax. Five people are infected, one with inhaled anthrax, the other four with skin anthrax. And there are 35 cases of exposure to anthrax.

The FBI is working overtime to track down the source of these anthrax cases.

As CNN's Eileen O'Connor reports, the agency is offering top dollar for information to help crack this investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Federal agents are scouring an area of West Trenton, New Jersey where a mail carrier might have contracted anthrax, looking at her route, searching for suspects, sources say. She's been diagnosed with a skin anthrax infection and another worker at the postal sorting center in Trenton may also have it.

TOM PICKARD, DEPUTY FBI DIRECTOR: We're going where our logical leads take us. We're taking a look at the incident in Miami to see what connections we can get to that. O'CONNOR: They even went back inside to the still quarantined American Media to look for any mail that might be similar to the New York and Washington letters. Law enforcement is also checking what security video exists from various New Jersey postal facilities.

(on camera): Another possible lead, clinics, hospitals and doctor's offices. Whoever is sending these letters may have become infected themselves.

(voice-over): Federal law enforcement is conducting fingerprint and DNA analysis on envelopes sent to NBC and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. Making the letters public, they say, is also helping.

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: And by putting out those two envelopes, we are getting a number of leads.

O'CONNOR: Handwriting analysis, sources say, is proving more difficult as government experts say the writer was sophisticated enough to use the hardest type of writing to analyze, block letters.

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have ruled out neither international terrorism nor domestic terrorism. And we think it may be ill advised to think about the situation in terms of an either/or matrix.

O'CONNOR: The CDC has already confirmed samples from the NBC letter are very similar to strains found in Florida. Sources say they believe the Washington sample is also a match and likely from the same source.

WILLIAM WINKENWERDER, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE DESIGNATE: There was no evidence based on what we know thus far that it was any different from other samples at this time.

O'CONNOR: Still, there are more cases. Officials in Kenya say a letter sent there from Atlanta tested positive for anthrax. A CBS employee who handles anchorman Dan Rather's mail has contracted cutaneous anthrax, but it being treated.

DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS: There's no memory of any mail, anything in the mail that raised any suspicion.

O'CONNOR: One senior law enforcement official admitted the FBI needs a break and to get one it is offering a million dollar reward and...

UNIDENTIFIED TV HOST: You heard him loud and clear, the president has sounded the clarion call.

O'CONNOR: Taking to the air waves using the "America's Most Wanted" program like they did last week, which helped dig up some 1,600 worldwide tips on the 22 most wanted terrorists.

PICKARD: Law enforcement has been called upon -- has called upon the American people for help many times in the past and they have delivered. This time the public's job is a lot tougher. We don't have a name or a face to give them, just the images of the envelopes.

O'CONNOR: Images of envelopes law enforcement is hoping will give them the break they need.

Eileen O'Connor, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: Well, one of the anthrax cases announced yesterday is an employee of CBS News in New York. The woman is an assistant to anchorman Dan Rather and Rather says that he is taking this case very seriously.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RATHER: This is particularly awkward and uncomfortable because it's so serious. And not to put too fine a point on it, but this young woman became a part of a target for an assassin. It doesn't get much more serious than that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani says no contaminated letters have been found at CBS so it's not yet clear how the woman might have contracted the anthrax.

Passengers from Northwest Airlines flight are being told to take antibiotics as a precaution against anthrax. Baggage handlers found a powdery substance in the cargo area of Monday's flight from Detroit to Vermont. Health officials are testing the substance right now, but they still aren't sure what it is.

And in South America, health officials are testing a suspicious letter mailed from the U.S. to Argentina. They want to make sure this letter is not carrying any anthrax. Those test results should be available later today.

PHILLIPS: Former United Nations Chief Weapons Inspector Richard Butler will discuss bioterrorism with CNN's Paula Zahn. That's coming up at 7:30 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN, a little more than two hours from right now.

HARRIS: Now, you've been hearing a lot about Cipro, one of the antibiotics used to treat anthrax. Now you can separate the facts from the fiction. Just go online to cnn.com and click on anthrax in depth. Of course, the AOL keyword there is CNN.

PHILLIPS: President Bush looks to China for support in this war against terrorism.

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