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America Strikes Back: Pakistan Supporting U.S.-Led Airstrikes in Afghanistan

Aired October 23, 2001 - 05:15   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, news today from Pakistan that that country is supporting the U.S.-led air strikes in Afghanistan. But Pakistan's president says it was not an easy decision to make. Some Pakistanis oppose his decision and they're planning more demonstrations to drive home that point.

To tell us more about support or lack of support for U.S. military efforts, let's check in with our Nic Robertson, who is joining us live from Islamabad this morning, or this afternoon, as the case may be for Nic in Pakistan -- hello, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Daryn, well, good afternoon from here. Good morning to you.

The latest from inside Afghanistan, those ongoing military campaigns, we are told that jets flew over the eastern city of Jalalabad today. They didn't bomb the city. But further south in Kandahar, jets did fly over early in the morning and bombs were dropped on the city, we are told.

They hit what we are told was some fuel trucks, some oil tankers. Now, our staff there in Kandahar say that fuel prices are beginning to go up inside Afghanistan now. They've gone up some 30 percent. And they say they are told by Taliban officials there that the Taliban now believe that the United States and the Allied air campaign is beginning to target their fuel resources inside the country. The Taliban believe that the Allied forces are trying to degrade their ability to move around the country.

But here in Pakistan, there were demonstrations planned today in a city where the United States is using a military air field, that is, the city of Jacobabad south of here. About 600 U.S. service personnel are based there at the air base. But the demonstrations that happened today by the Jamaat-e-Islami Party, the JUI Party, were very small. The police say there were only 70 people demonstrating and they arrested all of them.

Now, the JUI, the J.I. Party, rather, say there were some 250 demonstrators and the police only arrested 25 of them. But the bottom line there is that the demonstrators did not get to the air base where the United States service personnel are.

However, this is part of an ongoing clampdown by the Pakistani government on this particular party. The Pakistani government very angry at the leader of the J.I. Party, Kasi Hussein Achmed (ph). They say he made very inflammatory statements at the weekend, inciting Pakistani troops to rise against the government. Now, the Pakistani government says it won't stand for that. General Pervez Musharraf says he believes that he still has a majority support here.


PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PAKISTAN: I know that the vast majority of people have support for me. But my problem arises when the same feelings, fraternal feelings do not exist with the United States as they existed in the '80s when we were fighting a war in Afghanistan together. That feeling is not there and that is causing a bit of confusion in the Pakistani mind. On one side they are with me, with my government. On the other side, the support to the United States action in Afghanistan is being expected out of them.

So I would say they are confused at the moment how to reconcile these two elements.


ROBERTSON: Now, the concerns here among the Pakistani population, this just isn't in the radical elements only. This is in the general population. The pictures they are seeing from Afghanistan are pictures of innocent civilians being hurt. The articles being written in the newspapers here are indicating that the targeting is not just after the al Qaeda organization, but after the Taliban regime, and that is giving some of the residents of Pakistan real cause for concern, as General Musharraf says -- Daryn.

KAGAN: And Nic, what about the concern for the U.S. support for the Northern Alliance?

HARRIS: The Pakistani government has been very clear on that up to now. General Pervez Musharraf has said that he wants to see a broad-based coalition put in place inside Afghanistan. By this he means that he wants to see a Pashtun element. This is the ethnic grouping that the Taliban come from, of course. This is the ethnic grouping that the former exiled king, Zahir Shah, comes from.

Pakistan is still talking, even at this time we learned this morning that their intelligence people in the ISI, the intelligence organization here, still meeting with the Taliban ambassador. Pakistan very keen to see it help shape the political future of Afghanistan. Pakistan willing, it says, to see the Northern Alliance involved in a future administration inside Afghanistan, but it wants to have some element of input on the shape of that new political dispensation that could emerge -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Nic Robertson bringing us the latest from Islamabad.

Nic, thank you -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well, you speak of the concerns in Pakistan, concern number one at the Pentagon is to pound the Taliban as much as possible.

Let's get some more details now about the air strikes under way and some angry words yesterday from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about leaks coming out of the Pentagon.

CNN's Frank Buckley is checking in. He's got the story for us this morning -- hi, Frank.


The Pentagon talking about this increased attention on the Taliban front lines with bombing taking place on the front line positions. The Pentagon hoping that that will actually help the Northern Alliance and other opposition forces to gain ground in Afghanistan. The Pentagon releasing on Monday new gun camera video to help illustrate what they are talking about. They say that the video shows direct hits on Taliban tanks and armored vehicles. So far, however, the attacks have not resulted in significant advances. Officials say the Northern Alliance is so far outnumbered near the northern city of Mazir-i-Sharif, for example. But officials say that they are expecting progress in the days ahead.

Also on Monday, as you mentioned, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld expressed concern about leaks to newspapers regarding U.S. special forces on the ground in Afghanistan. A front page headline in the "Washington Post" on Friday said special forces were opening their ground campaign in Afghanistan, the article appearing, as, indeed, the ground operation was getting under way.

The defense secretary said whomever leaked the information could have jeopardized the lives of soldiers.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think that the release by a person in the government who had access to classified information to the effect that the United States of America was planning and was about to engage in a special operation in Afghanistan clearly was, A, a violation of federal criminal law, and second, it was something that was totally in disregard for the lives of the people involved in that operation.


BUCKLEY: The Secretary said he doesn't intend to go after whoever committed these leaks. He said he doesn't plan to investigate that and he added that he hopes that whomever conducted these leaks isn't found by one of the soldiers who had to parachute into Afghanistan -- Leon.

HARRIS: Frank, did the Secretary have anything to say about the issue of Ramadan? That topic has been circulating throughout the press in recent days because it's coming up fairly soon. It is a holy month in the Islamic calendar and there's been some concern about what would happen with the Arab coalition if there were military strikes under way during that month. BUCKLEY: Well, that has, indeed, been a concern. The defense secretary asked about that specifically today. He said that the U.S. needs to be sensitive to those concerns. But he also said that it's important to root out terrorists sooner rather than later. And he also talked about the history of Muslims themselves. He said they have in the past not been inhibited by holy periods.

But still, it hasn't been determined yet exactly how the U.S. will proceed. Again, the defense secretary saying that there should be some sensitivity involved -- Leon.

HARRIS: Understood. Understood. One final question this morning. And we're also, we're trying to read the tea leaves here because we can't get folks to leak to us the way some people think, according to the newspapers here. But what are you hearing there about this change in tactics now? Going after the Taliban, they've been doing that specifically and strategically now for the last couple of days, and that does represent something of a change. What are you hearing about that?

BUCKLEY: Well, it represents a change to the extent that they are no longer going after fixed targets, or they are changing some of their focus. They're still going after some fixed targets, but they are increasing their targeting of some of these Taliban troop positions.

What we are also being told, however, General Myers, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said you can't really think of this particular conflict in terms of phases. He used the word asymmetric in describing what he described as the enemy, that the enemy is thinking asymmetrically and that the U.S. will respond accordingly using all forms of the national power to respond.

He used as an example the Persian Gulf War. He said in that conflict that the U.S. and coalition partners softened up the targets for several days, several weeks of an air campaign. That was followed up by a ground campaign. He said that's not the case here.

Yes, they are right now focusing on Taliban troop positions, but that doesn't necessarily mean that at later times they won't go back to hitting fixed targets with airplanes and using other parts of the U.S. government, other agencies, to go after what they consider to be the enemy -- Leon.

HARRIS: All right, thank you very much.

Frank Buckley at the Pentagon this morning. We'll talk to you later on -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Let's go ahead and check in in Afghanistan. It's been quiet in Kandahar for the past couple of days. That, though, ended this morning as U.S.-led air strikes pounded the city. Fighter jets were also seen in the skies over Kabul.

As CNN's Chris Burns reports from northern Afghanistan, members of the Northern Alliance believe that these air strikes will put them one step closer to their goal.


CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S. war jets strike at Taliban forces dug in along the front line north of Kabul -- a series of explosions while the Taliban unleash anti-aircraft fire at the jets. But the planes streak over the Shomali Plain in singles and in pairs unscathed.

Northern Alliance commanders say the bombs are aimed at troop concentrations and artillery. Alliance troops climb on roofs to watch what's still an unfamiliar sight here. Some stand guard from the wrecked control tower of Bagram Air Base. The front line lies just across the runway. They've fought a stalemated conflict here for years, so the first U.S. air strike here Sunday was a badly needed boost.

"If someone throws a rock at the Taliban, let alone a bomb, we would be happy,'' says Mashuk (ph).

Eighteen-year-old Mahmoud (ph) has served here on the front line for two years. "We think Arabs, Punjabis and terrorists have invaded Afghanistan, our homeland,'' he says. "We're happy that they've been bombed.''

(on camera): If the initial U.S. strike was seen as a morale boost for Northern Alliance troops, it's also seen as long overdue. The hope among Northern Alliance commanders is there will be many more to come to open the way to Kabul.

(voice-over): Alliance commander Baba Jan (ph) looks encouraged after expressing frustration in the past that U.S.-led raids were avoiding the Kabul front. But he says it will take a lot more to soften up Taliban defenses.

"If these attacks and bombardments are stronger, that will facilitate our advance toward Kabul,'' he says.

How much more the air strikes chip away at Taliban defenses will show how much Washington wants the Northern Alliance to advance toward the capital and step up pressure on the Taliban in order to replace the regime before winter.

Chris Burns, CNN, Bagram, Afghanistan.





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