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American Soldier Killed in Afghanistan; Suicide Bomber Kills 18-Month-Old, Injures 22 Others in Jerusalem

Aired March 2, 2002 - 13:31   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.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon, I'm Fredricka Whitfield from CNN Headquarters in Atlanta. We have two breaking news stories we're following for you, one in eastern Afghanistan, the other in the Middle East.

First, let me tell you about what's happening in eastern Afghanistan. CNN has learned from Pentagon sources that one American has been killed and several others injured during a military strike in eastern Afghanistan near Gardez.

There all day today there has been a build up of U.S. ground troops on the ground joining Afghan fighters in an attempt to drive out al Qaeda and Taliban forces who are believed to be regrouping. This operation is believed to be the largest U.S. led ground operation since December.

Now, on to the Middle East where Israeli police blame a suicide bomber for the death of an 18-month-old baby, and injuries to 22 people. The explosion took place a short time ago in an orthodox neighborhood of Central Jerusalem. CNN's Jerrold Kessel joins us now with the latest on that. Hi there, Jerrold. What's the latest?

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fredricka, and it was a question of prayers being replaced by pandemonium in the central Jerusalem neighborhood, because the powerful blast rocked the crowded street in that orthodox religious neighborhood, just as people were emerging from the synagogue at the end of the prayers for the Jewish Sabbath.

And the latest casualty figures, to update you on that, is that at least two people are confirmed dead and perhaps as many as five dead in this latest attack. Among them, as you reported, an 18-month- old baby girl, and 36 people have been taken so far to hospital for treatment, and a number of them are reported from Jerusalem hospitals to be in critical condition.

Well, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) neighborhood where this explosion took place is an ultra-orthodox neighborhood, and it lies along, very close to the seam, that unmarked seam in the city between the mainly Jewish neighborhoods and the mainly Palestinian-Arab neighborhoods across the seam, and that's one of the reasons why it's relatively easy for would-be assailants to get to drive a car in or to walk in to the Jewish neighborhoods across that seam, and that has been a site of several such terror attacks over the past year, right in this very same neighborhood.

The initial assumption has been because of the car that was on fire, was that this was a booby-trapped car that exploded. But soon police were revising their estimate, and they believe now that this was another Palestinian suicide bombing of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the center of Jerusalem. Several such attacks in recent months.

This latest attack comes as Palestinians continue to express outrage over Israel's incursion, the Israeli military's incursion into two Palestinian refugee camps on the West Bank, an incursion which is continuing, although the Israeli troops have withdrawn to the perimeter of one of those camps and have uncovered a lot of weapons in those camps they say. But in that operation over the last three days, has caused the deaths of more than 20 Palestinians and two Israeli soldiers killed in that operation.

But now, the action and the counter-strike it seems by Palestinians here in Jerusalem, and at least two people confirmed dead, possibly as many as five dead and over 30 wounded in another that seems to be suicide bombing. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks, Jerrold. As you continue to keep tabs on that, our Jonathan Aiken is at the Pentagon in Washington keeping tabs on another breaking story, that taking place in eastern Afghanistan where we reported just moments ago, according to Pentagon sources, that one U.S. soldier has been killed and several others injured. Jonathan, what more do we know?

JONATHAN AIKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We know very little in terms of specific details, Fredricka, but the U.S. Central Command working out of MacDill Air Force

In Tampa, Florida, that's the group that heads up the U.S. operation, they have confirmed that at least one U.S. service member and two Afghan forces have been killed.

In a release that was issued to us just a few moments ago, an unspecified number of U.S. and Afghan forces have been injured, saying that U.S. coalition and Afghan forces have, in fact, sustained casualties. Now, the specifics of this in terms of exactly who, what, when and where we're not being told that yet. We're told that information will be coming out a little bit later this afternoon. We'll have to wait for Central Command to pass that along to us.

But I can tell you that all of this is taking place under the umbrella of what's being described as the largest military operation in Afghanistan, engaged by the U.S. so far this year, and it's one that began last night Eastern time, with heavy bombardment from B-52 bombers and also fighter aircraft.

And they're focusing their attention, I think we have a map that we can show people where this is taking place, they're focusing their attention in the eastern part of Afghanistan, not Tora Bora, not some of the other places that you've heard of, but hundreds of kilometers south of there in a place called Gardez in Pachtia (ph) province. This is an area where the U.S. is saying that both al Qaeda and Taliban forces have been gathering over the past several weeks and possibly regrouping for another assault on coalition forces, perhaps even U.S. forces.

We are told that maybe about 500, 600 Afghan fighters, led by a forward operations unit of the United States were to engage some of these fighters and reports that we have heard, coming from the scenes of these Afghan fighters, is that they were outnumbered, that the al Qaeda and Taliban held the high ground and that they were fighting fiercely with mortar fire and machine gun fire.

The U.S. is supposed to be sending elements of the 101st Airborne, coming out of Kandahar, also some Special Operations forces coming out of eastern Afghanistan, said to be on the ground soon and may, indeed, take part in these operations. But so far, what we know that we can confirm, at least one serviceman has been killed, two Afghan forces have been killed, an unspecified number of U.S. and Afghan forces injured. When we get more information, we'll pass it along.

WHITFIELD: And, Jonathan, I know the information is trickling in but our own Brian Palmer had reported earlier, you mentioned that it was believed the Taliban and al Qaeda forces have outnumbered the U.S. and Afghan forces over in eastern Afghanistan. From Kabul, Brian Palmer said he believes that the numbers are in the thousands, in terms of being outnumbered.

AIKEN: That's the number, right. That's the number that Brian had been reported that he had been hearing from Afghan fighters.

WHITFIELD: Yes.

AIKEN: And some of the information we've received, and it's much the same information, coming from the Afghan side is that they were heavily outnumbered, more troops there than they expected to be fighting against, more heavily armed than they anticipated. And as we had heard, they were on the high ground in what is a snowy mountainous area, and that they were defending that high ground fiercely with mortar and machine gun fire.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks very much, Jonathan Aiken, from the Pentagon.

AIKEN: Sure.

WHITFIELD: Of course, we'll be checking in with you again in about 30 minutes. We'll give you a chance to do even more reporting on this, as well as we'll be checking in with Jerrold Kessel out of Jerusalem on that suicide bombing that took place just about an hour ago. And, of course, we're going to return now to our regularly scheduled programs, and we'll see you at the bottom, at the top of the hour with more news.

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