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Pentagon Cannot Yet Confirm Northern Alliance Claims of Entering Mazar-e-Sharif

Aired November 9, 2001 - 11:01   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.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Northern Alliance commanders now saying that they have entered the town of Mazar-i-Sharif in the north. We have talked about this town, its strategic importance for weeks now.

Bob Franken at the Pentagon. Any confirmation on the claims we're getting out of Afghanistan?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As a matter of fact, no. They very candidly admit that they are not able to quickly get that kind of confirmation.

There have been discussions over the last several days by various Pentagon briefers that their intelligence on the ground is not what they would like it to be, so they can't confirm, in the words of one Pentagon official, "it's a good idea that we don't talk until the smoke clears."

However, they do say it would be welcome. And it would be welcome of course for two reasons. As you've been discussing, Bill, it would be welcome because Mazar-i-Sharif has such a strategic location. Strategic is what I was trying to say. It really is the link between Uzbekistan and the supply routes which could go all the way down to Kabul. And of course that would have obvious military implications and advantages for the Northern Alliance opposition forces when the time came, but also would open the way for the delivery of humanitarian deliveries, which are so important right now with winter setting in and starvation being a big fear in Afghanistan.

But there is another reason that kind of news, if it turns out to be true, would be so welcome for Pentagon officials. They have been getting a lot of pointed questions of late to show evidence -- discernible evidence -- that the military campaign by the United States thus far had had some result. And of course, if they could say that the bombing, the intense bombing against Taliban positions had softened them to the point where the Northern Alliance was able to successfully advance, that would be the kind of discernible evidence -- you can bet -- that the administration would seize on and say that this campaign, which is now just a month old, was beginning to show some signs of success.

But thus far, no confirmation except for them to say clearly this would be -- quote -- "welcome news" to the administration and, of course, the defense officials.

HEMMER: Bob, as you well know, the reason why we're stressing the word "claim" in this case is because we have had reports over the past few weeks that turned out not to be true. Is there an indication from the Pentagon and leading officials there as to whether not that communication has been stepped up or improved in any way to make sure that we steer clear of these false reports?

FRANKEN: The Pentagon has always been leery about basing its actual conclusions on intelligence that does not come from its own trusted sources. Now one of the things that's happened of course is that special operations troops, numbering in the dozens, have gone into Afghanistan including some in that area. They're used to direct bombing runs, et cetera, but officials point out that they're are only one spot. They're not really able -- any of the individuals -- to give an overall view. So the Pentagon is quite careful about claiming success.

They also point out that this is a constant -- quote -- "ebb and flow." It's -- quote -- "fluid." These are officials -- these are quotes from officials here. What they're trying to say is there might be an advance here, then there is a retreat. So this might not be sealed yet. This might not be permanent. But they also say that since they've introduced U.S. ground forces to direct the bombing, they have been much more successful.

We've been reporting for several days that the intensity of the bombing against Taliban positions across the country have -- has gone up day after day after day, and they have really pounded Taliban positions in the Mazar-e-Sharif area. And, if in fact, this does prove to be true, you can bet, that what they're going to say is that it was the result of an effective bombing campaign, which softened the Taliban forces and made it easier for the Northern Alliance to advance.

HEMMER: Quickly here. Do we have an indication, firm or not, of the number of Taliban troops that may have, at one time, occupied that town or also how fortified they may have been?

FRANKEN: I don't think they have indication at the Pentagon for the same reason that they aren't able to declare victory there, because the intelligence has been a little bit shaky. But they are clear -- they're clear in their statements that they believe the bombing of Taliban positions is going to have an effect and of course this would be proof that it is -- by the way one other thing, Bill.

You always ask this, so I'll tell you. At 12:30 Eastern, there will be a briefing by Admiral Stufflebeem and the Assistant Secretary of Defense Victoria Clarke. Perhaps they will have more to say then.

HEMMER: Got it. Topic A may be this indeed. Bob thanks. Bob Franken at the Pentagon.

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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Northern Alliance commanders now saying that they have entered the town of Bob Franken at the Pentagon. Any confirmation on the claims we're getting out of Afghanistan?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As a matter of fact, no. They very candidly admit that they are not able to quickly get that kind of confirmation.

There have been discussions over the last several days by various Pentagon briefers that their intelligence on the ground is not what they would like it to be, so they can't confirm, in the words of one Pentagon official, "it's a good idea that we don't talk until the smoke clears." Mazar-i-Sharif in the north. We have talked about this town, its strategic importance for weeks now. >


 
 
 
 


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