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America Strikes Back: Pentagon Admits Stray Bombs Have Hit Civilian Areas

Aired October 24, 2001 - 05:25   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: U.S. warplanes have been pounding Taliban targets in the northern and southern parts of Afghanistan and the Taliban have insisted that there have been hundreds of civilian casualties. Well, now the Pentagon admits that stray bombs have hit civilian areas and CNN Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre has more on that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Pentagon continues to pound Taliban forces from the air. This truck convoy carrying fuel an example of the ability of U.S. pilots to hit moving targets when they spot them. Pentagon videos show direct hits on a Taliban command post and a tank near Mazar-e-Sharif, where the U.S. is trying to help the Northern Alliance take the town from the Taliban's 5th Corps.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN STUFFLEBEEM, JOINT STAFF DEPUTY OPERATIONS DIRECTOR: We know that that's having an effect and an impact on the corps. Whether or not that is having a direct impact into the Northern Alliance movement is not yet clear, certainly not to me.

MCINTYRE: The Pentagon is also owning up to a couple of mistakes. Sunday, a U.S. Navy F-14 dropped two 500 pound bombs on a residential area northwest of Kabul near a village where the Taliban claimed more than 20 civilian deaths. The same day an F-18 missed a vehicle storage building on a military compound near Herat. The Pentagon didn't release any pictures, but says the 1,000 pound bomb hit within 300 feet of a senior citizen's home in the compound, which may have been used as a hospital.

VICTORIA CLARKE, PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: As we always say, we regret any loss of civilian life. U.S. forces are intentionally striking only military and terrorist targets. We take great care in our targeting process to avoid civilian casualties.

MCINTYRE: The Pentagon also said a landing gear displayed by the Taliban did come from last week's commando raid, sheared off when a low flying MH-47 helicopter hit something as it carried troops out of Afghanistan at top speed. It landed safely.

In response to the nonstop attacks, Pentagon officials say the Taliban are beginning to disperse and show signs they may soon hide weapons and troops near mosques or civilian buildings, especially in urban areas, where the U.S. says it won't bomb.

STUFFLEBEEM: There is not an intention to open or widen attacks into cities. We will find other ways, as the chairman has said, using the full spectrum capability of our military, to get at those who might cowardly decide to hide in residential neighborhoods.

MCINTYRE (on camera): The clear implication is that the Pentagon is planning more commando style raids to deny the Taliban safe harbor even in their traditional urban strongholds and that the United States is willing to pay the almost certain price of urban combat -- higher casualties.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to let you know that CNN is unable to independently verify the Taliban claims that dozens and perhaps hundreds of civilians have been killed in air strikes. Our Afghan staff members went to a hospital in Kandahar and they did see several bodies and wounded people. but our people were only allowed to go into areas designated by the Taliban.

Our Nic Robertson is following the developments from neighboring Pakistan and he joins us from Islamabad -- Nic, hello.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Daryn.

We are and have been able last night to get the first information about military casualties inside Afghanistan. A militant Islamic Kashmiri freedom fighting group, Harkat al-Mujahedeen, that has close ties with the Taliban and is normally to be found fighting in that disputed region between Pakistan and India, the region of Kashmir, they say that last night in a bombing raid on Kabul, 22 of their members who were in a house in Kabul were killed.

Now, this group is a group in the past that have been believed to be responsible for kidnapping six tourists in the Kashmir region in 1995 and again in 1999 this group was believed to have been responsible for hijacking an Indian Airlines aircraft. But they say their fighters had gone to Afghanistan in support of the Taliban. Twenty-two of them were in a house in Kabul. That house was hit by a bomb and they all died.

Now, our staff in Kandahar late Tuesday were told about the bombing of a village 62 kilometers northwest of Kandahar. They say they tried to get there but were unable to get there before nightfall. But what they were able to do was to go to the hospital in Kandahar and film some bodies.

What they say they saw were burned bodies, bodies that had large parts of the bodies missing. They say they saw an injured man in the hospital. A doctor there told them that the injured man had gunshot wounds in his back.

They say, our staff there say that survivors from the village and relatives of the dead told them that what happened was this village was bombed. They say that they could hear AC-130 gunships overnight. They say that helicopters were heard and also that there was a lot of small arms machine gun fire through the night.

Now, the survivors told our staff that 93 people had been killed and 20 injured. Now, our staff weren't able to count that many bodies or even close to that in the hospital. But certainly they say that they were shown bodies of what appeared to be civilians, injured civilians and people, relatives of the dead and wounded from that village who said that there was some form of substantial attack on that village -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Nic, we have word that tribal leaders plan to meet today in Peshawar. What exactly are they discussing? What's on the table? And do we expect anything productive to come out of those meetings?

ROBERTSON: The meetings are expected to last several days. It's going to be tribal leaders. It's going to be Afghan political leaders who have been in exile for some time, some of them loyal to the exiled king. There are also going to be religious leaders. And what they're hoping to do is build a sort of political consensus among these groups.

Now, a lot of them will be Pashtuns. That's the same ethnic group that the Taliban come from. That's the largest ethnic group inside Pakistan, the group that -- inside Afghanistan, rather. That's the group that the Pakistan government would like to see very well represented in any new political dispensation inside Afghanistan.

But this group will be meeting to build a consensus, try and decide how they can be involved in any new government inside Afghanistan. That's a new government after the Taliban are removed -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Nic Robertson in Islamabad. Nic, thank you.

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