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Taliban Show Off What They Say is American Aircraft Shot Down Over Afghanistan; Pentagon Says Two Weeks of Bombing Have Given U.S. Warplanes Free Reign

Aired October 22, 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.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Disputed damage -- the Taliban show off what they say is another American aircraft shot down over Afghanistan. The U.S. says not so fast.

CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: Casualties of war -- the bodies of two U.S. Army Rangers arrive in Germany. And...

HARRIS: Seeking solace at ground zero, New York plans a memorial for thousands of victims.

Good morning. This is Monday. It is October 22, 2001 and from the CNN Center in Atlanta, I'm Leon Harris.

CALLAWAY: Good morning, everyone. I'm Catherine Callaway and thank you for joining us.

HARRIS: All right, let's begin.

CALLAWAY: Yes, let's begin with the latest developments in America's battle against terrorism.

HARRIS: In southern Afghanistan, the Taliban allowed CNN to come in and take pictures of what they say are parts from a U.S. aircraft that they shot down over the weekend. But they would not take CNN to the crash site, saying it was too dangerous to go there. The Pentagon insists that no U.S. plane has been shot down.

CALLAWAY: And in Washington, a postal worker has been hospitalized with inhalation anthrax. This led to the testing and treating of more than 2,000 Washington postal workers over the weekend. The hospitalized postal worker is in serious but stable condition.

HARRIS: And in northern Afghanistan, U.S. FA-18 fighters attacked Taliban troop positions along a key battle line near Kabul. The attack was apparently coordinated with the Northern Alliance because they gave civilians in the area advanced warning of that strike.

More now on the Taliban claim that they shot down a U.S. helicopter over the weekend. Now, they displayed some aircraft parts to us at Baba Sahib Mountain, which is southwest of Kandahar. And CNN's Nic Robertson has been following this story from Islamabad, Pakistan.

He joins us now live -- hello, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Leon.

Well, our staff in Kandahar say that the Taliban told them late last night that they'd shot down an aircraft. They didn't say whether it was a plane or a helicopter. And they told our staff last night that they would be able to see this aircraft.

Now, in the morning what the Taliban did was bring parts of this aircraft to our staff and our staff were able to film it. And what they say they were able to see and what they had in front of them were four wheels and tires, they say, and other assorted bits of wreckage.

Now, they say that two of these wheels were attached together and they say that they were too heavy for one person to carry. They say that the equipment looked as if it was new, that there was a shock absorber type piece of equipment there, that it was all well greased.

They say that on this equipment they could see markings indicating a U.S. manufacturer of this equipment, but they say that the Taliban, obviously, say to them that this was from a military aircraft. But our staff there say only that they've been able to see these tiny parts of wreckage, and certainly they say they appear to be from an American aircraft, but they are not being allowed to the -- to go to the site where the Taliban say they shot this thing down.

The Taliban say that the area is mined, that it's very close to a compound belonging to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and that they believe that if they take a group of journalists out into this desert area, they say that they could become a target.

So from the perspective of our staff who've been able to see that equipment, they say that it looks like aircraft equipment. It looks like it is of U.S. origin. But, of course, they're not in a position to say whether it's from a military aircraft or exactly what it's from.

Meanwhile, here in Pakistan, the Pakistani government is clamping down on one of the larger Islamic parties here. This party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, J.I. Party, and a big demonstration just outside the capital Islamabad yesterday. Pakistani officials say that at that demonstration, a leader of the J.I. called on soldiers in Pakistan's army to rise against the government. The Pakistani government says it won't stand for that. They say they've arrested some 50 members of this party.

Now, this party is responding to this. The Jamaat-e-Islami says that it will try and organize a march in the city of Lahore some three or four hours drive south of here later today. The police are saying that they are not going to brook any trouble from this organization at this time. Of course, we've heard about rallies being organized by these Islamic parties before. They've been of variable size. But so far the Pakistani government has had no problem controlling them. But this appears, Pakistani government officials telling us they're not going to brook any more riotous and emotive speeches from leaders like as they witnessed yesterday, they say -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well, Nic, I want to get back to this, the idea of a CNN crew being shown that -- what looked like aircraft equipment and also the Pentagon actually admitting that there was a crash but they were saying it was not the result of a shoot down of any kind. It happened, they believe, possibly, because of some dust being kicked up by a helicopter, and they say that happened in Pakistan.

Let me ask you this, if you're aware, are, is it possible that they could be talking here about the same craft, because the Taliban had been saying that the plane or aircraft or whatever it was had gone down in Pakistan territory? Are the two areas that they're talking about in these two different instances the same region, the same area, or what?

ROBERTSON: Leon, I think anything, any conclusions we try and draw at this stage could be speculation. The two locations are perhaps about 100 to 200 miles apart because we don't know exactly where this helicopter came down in Pakistan, only it came down in Baluchistan. That is a large desert region.

If, again, speculation, if the helicopter, the parts of which may have been put on display today in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, rather, if that helicopter was damaged, if those wheels came off that helicopter inside Afghanistan, it is not inconceivable that that helicopter was able to fly to Pakistan and maybe crashed there.

But it is all speculation. Even at this stage, Leon, we cannot a hundred percent verify that what our staff are being shown really are parts from the military aircraft or helicopter. They say that they can see that they appear to be from a military aircraft and that they appear to have U.S. markings. But they're not in a position to do any real tests to prove that they are from a U.S. warplane or helicopter at this stage -- Leon.

HARRIS: Exactly, Nic. I understand a hundred percent. We only want to talk about what we know for sure. Thank you very much.

Nic Robertson in Islamabad this morning. We will talk with you later on -- Catherine, over to you now.

CALLAWAY: Well, the two U.S. Army Rangers who died in a helicopter crash in Pakistan last Friday have now arrived in Germany. They are at a medical center at Landstuhl, but it's not clear when they'll be flown to the U.S.

The Pentagon has now identified the Rangers. They are Specialist John J. Edmunds. He's 20, from Cheyenne, Wyoming. And PFC Christopher T. Stonesifer. He is 28 from Missoula, Montana. Both were stationed at Fort Bening, Georgia. Well, the Pentagon says that two weeks of relentless bombing have given U.S. warplanes free reign over Afghanistan. Sunday, U.S. FA-18 fighters used that advantage to hit Taliban positions along a key battle line near Kabul, the capital there.

More on this from CNN's Matthew Chance in Northern Afghanistan.

We are obviously having some technical difficulties with Matthew. We're going to try to get back with Matthew in a moment. Right now, let's listen to his report, which he filed from Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Opposition forces waiting at the front lines north of Kabul. There's been mounting frustration here. U.S. led air strikes have left Taliban positions defending the capital intact. A long expected offensive has been held up, hopes dashed of a quick advance. But the mood and the situation is changing fast.

Pointing at the war planes as they screech overhead, opposition fighters watch an unprecedented assault from the skies. Taliban anti- aircraft gunners open fire as two coalition jets make a total of four passes south of the old Soviet Bagram Air base, unleashing powerful bombs each time. There have been isolated U.S. attacks on Taliban troops around here in the past. This was a series of pinpoint strikes on their front lines. The opposition ranks were delighted.

"The air strikes are targeting our enemy at last,'' this Mujahadeen fighter says. "Now, the morale of the Taliban must be low."

From the ruined control tower overlooking the front lines, senior Northern Alliance commanders have gathered in time to watch the strikes. All along, Afghan opposition leaders say they've been coordinating military action with the U.S. More close air support now could degrade Taliban positions enough for the Northern Alliance to advance.

(on camera): Commanders here on the front lines say their forces are at full strength and waiting for the order to push on the capital. Still, there's no sign about when the order will come for them to move on their ultimate military prize.

(voice-over): Still, the prospects for an early advance may now have increased, but much may depend on what U.S.-led military action the coming days will bring.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CALLAWAY: That was CNN's Matthew Chance. And as sometimes happens with our satellite connections, we're having some difficulties with our audio. We hope to have Matthew with us live from Afghanistan, coming up in just a few minutes -- Leon.

HARRIS: Such are the vagaries of live television. We're used to it over here. It goes through -- it happens all the time.

All right, let's go now to the Pentagon to get some more on these Taliban claims that they shot down a U.S. helicopter in Afghanistan.

Checking in this morning is Frank Buckley -- good morning, Frank.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Leon.

We can tell you that Pentagon officials again on Sunday denied the Taliban claims that a helicopter was shot down by the Taliban in Afghanistan. But so far it's too early to get any reaction to this new video that's coming in from Afghanistan that purports to show a helicopter that the Taliban say was, in fact, shot down by Taliban forces.

U.S. military officials do say a U.S. helo crashed, but that was in Pakistan. Two U.S. Army Rangers were killed, but U.S. officials say hostile fire was ruled out as a cause there.

This new video shows a manufacturer's name. It is Loud Engineering. The Web site says that Loud Engineering is a southern California based parts manufacturer that supplies aircraft parts for various civilian and military aircraft. But CNN has no way of verifying the significance of the markings because CNN personnel, as you heard Nic talking just a moment ago, have not been able to tour the alleged crash site. And it's important to point out that U.S. military hardware has been available and used in the area for many years.

On Sunday, again, before this new video was released and shot in Afghanistan, U.S. military leaders again denied that the Taliban shot down a U.S. helicopter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: There's no truth to that. As Secretary Rumsfeld has said before, the Taliban lie and I think they're looking for some good news for whatever purposes, internal psychological benefits or whatever. But there's no truth to that. We have not lost a helicopter, as they described.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUCKLEY: General Myers also said that two weeks of bombing has resulted in the U.S. having free reign over Afghanistan. That will allow U.S. forces to strike again at a time of their choosing -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well, Frank, while they're trying to formulate those times of their choosing, let me ask you about the challenges that are facing the Pentagon and the coalition right now. That's been talked about quite a bit. The approaching winter and the holy month of Ramadan. What are the -- what's the talk you're hearing there this morning about what's, how those two issues coming up are going to -- and fairly soon, as a matter of fact, are going to be faced?

BUCKLEY: Well, both U.S. and British officials have expressed concern about the coming winter. We can tell you that U.S. military officials here have said that they do have an all weather force and they would be able to withstand the winter. However, Colin Powell, the secretary of state, as late as Sunday did say that any sort of military operation in winter, that the tempo could at least be affected.

As for the approach of the holy month of Ramadan in mid-November, that could pose some political problems potentially for U.S. military forces if they, in fact, attack. But it may be instructive to look back at the past two Fridays, which are holy days for Muslims. Two Fridays ago the U.S. said that it would slow down and not hit preplanned targets on Friday, but, in fact, it would hit targets of opportunity and it did strike on that Friday. You might recall that on that particular Friday a non-U.S. or a non-military target was accidentally hit in Kabul. And, of course, this Ranger action that just took place over the weekend was also launched on a Friday.

U.S. military officials have said they do not want members of the Taliban or al Qaeda networks to think that they can somehow have some refuge behind any religious holidays -- Leon.

HARRIS: Got it.

Frank Buckley at the Pentagon this morning. Thank you -- Catherine.

CALLAWAY: Well, President Bush is back at the White House this morning. He spent the weekend in Shanghai, China at the APEC economic forum.

As CNN's senior White House correspondent John King reports, the president came home with some, but not all, of his goals accomplished.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Still at odds, but politely so, on missile defense and allies in the war on terrorism.

PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA: It is very important for everybody to know if we started fighting terrorism it should be completed, because otherwise terrorists might have an impression that they are not vulnerable.

KING: Mr. Bush made clear he still plans to withdraw from the 1972 Antiballistic Treaty soon if he and President Putin cannot write a new strategic framework that allows a missile shield.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The events of September 11 make it clearer than ever that a cold war ABM treaty, that prevents us from defending our people is outdated and, I believe, dangerous.

KING: President Putin said he is still not convinced, but willing to listen when he comes to the United States next month, especially if any missile defense deal is linked to cuts in strategic nuclear arsenals. PUTIN: And we are prepared to discuss that with our American partners.

KING: Mr. Bush welcomed the Putin endorsement of the strikes on Afghanistan because it went well beyond the backing he received earlier in the day from the 20 member Asia Pacific Summit. The APEC leaders condemned the September 11 attacks on the United States and called terrorism "a profound threat to the peace, prosperity, and security of all people of all faiths of all nations.''

There was summit agreement on finding and freezing the assets of terror groups, improving airline and maritime security, and new border controls to restrict terrorist movements.

BUSH: We're not conducting these operations alone. We've got universal support around the world.

KING: But it was not everything Mr. Bush wanted -- no endorsement of the U.S.-led military campaign, no specific mention of Osama bin Laden or al Qaeda.

Predominantly Muslim Malaysia and Indonesia were most vocal, but not alone, in calling for the military strikes to give way to a political solution. And Indonesia's foreign minister warned of explosive reaction in the Muslim world if the strikes continue into the holy period of Ramadan, just a few weeks away now.

Mr. Bush said he was heading home convinced he had strengthened the international coalition.

(on camera): But the deliberations here were a vivid reminder that while the President has plenty of company when it comes to condemning terrorism, he has far fewer allies if the issue is the use of military force to fight the terrorists.

John King, CNN, Shanghai.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CALLAWAY: It is going to be a busy day in Washington. Thousands of postal workers are lining up for testing there.

HARRIS: That's right. When we come back after a break, the latest on the anthrax scare that just won't go away.

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