Skip to main content
CNN.com /TRANSCRIPTS
CNN TV
EDITIONS
SERVICES
CNN TV
EDITIONS


CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Bodies Of U.S. Dead Arrive At Ramstein

Aired March 5, 2002 - 10:30   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: We have our eyes and our cameras trained on a plane that is on the tarmac over in Germany, at Ramstein Air Force Base to be specific. We are still sitting by and waiting for the off-loading of the remains of U.S. troops who were killed in Afghanistan in recent days. Our Matthew Chance is there on the tarmac. Let's check in with him. Matthew, any word there about what may be the delay? We've been waiting now for what, perhaps 10-15 minutes now?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, it is not a quick process. It is certainly not a process the U.S. military are going to hurry. Inside that cargo plane, of course, the caskets are being -- have been escorted all the way from Afghanistan by members of the U.S. armed forces.

Doubtless they're preparing themselves for the very brief ceremony that is going to follow the opening of the cargo bay you can see behind me. We're told here, of course, that seven caskets, or what the U.S. military are calling transfer cases are going to be carried off, greeted by an honor guard of cross services -- with representatives from the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Army, and, of course, the U.S. Air Force.

We can see now though -- I'm going to step out of the way a moment -- I think that noise behind me may be if first instance of the cargo bay beginning to open, or maybe I've stepped ahead of myself there. Certainly, what I can tell you here is the situation is very -- very serene. The military personnel are standing at attention in preparation for that cargo bay to open up -- Leon.

HARRIS: Matthew, you've been there for some time -- we are now seeing what looks like an open bay door there, and perhaps that ramp is going to be dropping any moment now. But in the hours that you've been there, have you had a chance to talk with any of the troops off camera and on to get their thoughts on this, and whether or not this has changed their perspective or firmed their resolve at all?

CHANCE: Yeah. I've spoken to a number of the troops here, over the past couple of hours or so. It has only been a couple of hours since I've been here. But, the general feeling I am getting from the people I've spoken to here is of course, the members of the armed forces see this as a major tragedy for them.

It's the heaviest loss of life in a conflict situation since the war in Afghanistan begun -- began, but there is also a renewed sense, I think, from the few people I've spoken to, of determination to carry through this conflict. There's no sense in which, here, certainly amongst the U.S. military personnel I've spoken to, that they're sort of going to let this distract them from their objective -- Leon.

HARRIS: We're now watching the honor guard there walking up to the tail section there of the plane. The beginning, actually, of these ceremonies here that we are going to be seeing, taking place on the ground.

Matthew, can you tell us anything at all about these particular -- this guard here, and it looked as if they're all Army, and they are wearing some sort of sash. Do you know anything about that?

CHANCE: Yeah. They're U.S. Army Chaplains that are going onto the plane, first of all. The actual honor guard, in full, is waiting just -- just to the right-hand side of the aircraft now, as you look at the -- that honor guard is made up of, perhaps, as many as 30 individuals from the U.S. Navy, Air Force, and Army. I'm sure the chaplain -- or chaplains, are conducting the religious rites over the caskets before they are brought off the plane.

HARRIS: Do we still have Barbara Starr with us? Barbara Starr has been at the Pentagon with us throughout this morning. Barbara, can you hear me?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I can, Leon.

HARRIS: You know what I'd like to know, Barbara, is what happens at the Pentagon when these sorts of ceremonies are going -- are transpiring overseas? What goes on there at the Pentagon? Is there any sort of -- some sort of ritual, or any sort of program that the Pentagon follows?

STARR: Well, most Pentagon -- I will tell you that most Pentagon offices have televisions on their desk, and you do find military officers quietly sitting, quietly watching. They have seen this many times before. But this was, again, one of the most serious combat situations that U.S. military forces have been in in many, many years.

There is a -- there is a slight feeling of somberness. The people here, you know, you have to remember, this building was attacked on September 11th. All of this is very personal to the people that work here in the Pentagon each and every day.

Just several hundred feet from where we are standing, the rebuilding of the Pentagon is going on. We're coming up on the six- month anniversary. You see the construction workers move through the building each and every day that work at the reconstruction site, that are putting the building back together. This building is still under a very high threat condition each and every day. There are armed military police in the parking lots. They check IDs constantly, so all of this, for the Pentagon, remains very, very personal.

HARRIS: You know, and Barbara, you say and from what we've been hearing, this has been said quite a bit in recent days, that the fighting in which these troops lost their lives was the fiercest that U.S. troops have been in in a decade, perhaps in years, and many would be surprised to hear that when you consider that this is really what we expected to be the last stages of this war in Afghanistan. In fact, many have expected that it would be over by now, because we haven't heard very many reports of any casualties, or very much action happening on the ground there.

STARR: Well, that's right. You know, up until now, there have been some raids by Special Forces. There has been limited ground action. Very limited. Reconnaissance missions, that sort of thing. We have seen...

HARRIS: And lots of long-range and long-distance fighting -- I'm sorry to cut you off, but lots of long-range and long-distance fighting up to this point, and it is almost backwards, it seems, to have almost nothing happen in terms of casualties, and see almost no numbers for months, and then at the last, all of a sudden, see like this.

STARR: That's exactly right, and of course, in Bosnia and Kosovo, the two most recent conflicts before this, those were in the combat phase of those. Those were largely air operations. Bombers, fighters, high altitude, long distance. There were not troops on the ground in combat situations in either of those countries. Afghanistan, the war began back in October. For many, many weeks it was largely an air campaign. This is really the first very dirty ground combat in a long time.

Now, military people will tell you, all of this was expected. They knew they would have to go on the ground. They knew it would get very nasty, they knew it would get very dangerous, and they were very prepared for it. They will tell you that war -- this always happens, you have got to be ready for casualties. This is what happens when you put troops on the ground. I think there is no question about that, but what we are seeing at Ramstein right now, today, is a very sad reminder of the reality.

HARRIS: Well, let's get our Matthew Chance there to describe to us what it is we are seeing at Ramstein -- Matthew.

CHANCE: That's right. I mean, the ceremony is very much getting underway here. You see that black hearse vehicle pulling into position outside the tailgate of the C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft. You can also see that there is a military detail that's lined up outside the tailgates of that aircraft. We're told they're from the U.S. Army's 29th support group providing that military detail here today.

To their right on the right side of the picture, if you can see that in current live shot, that we are putting across to you now, you can see representatives of the -- all the U.S. armed services carrying, of course, the U.S. flag, the flag of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Army. An interesting detail, the tassels, the sort of ribbons coming off that flag in the center of the four, they are indications of the various regiments that are affected here. Now, of course, the Pentagon hasn't disclosed which specific regiments have been involved, which regiments these seven individuals belonged to, although military officials here in Ramstein have confirmed to us that at least the 10th Mountain Division, the 101st Airborne, along with members of the Army Special Forces were, of course, involved in the ongoing fighting in the mountains south of Gardez in Afghanistan.

So, they've also made the point though, of course, that these people may belong to units outside of those three we're mentioning. You can see there -- what I assume will be the pallbearers, the people carrying the caskets, or the transfer cases, off this aircraft now making their way onto the C-17 aircraft. There are members of the U.S. Navy Seals, amongst them there, as well as members of the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force as well -- Leon.

HARRIS: And yes, we do. We see them walking now up the ramp into the tail section there of that C-17. We're also now seeing other -- another detail marching up to the scene there. This is quite a show, actually. You know, I'm not sure whether or not there would be more troops if there were fewer caskets, or whatever, because we have seen this so many times, but you can't help but -- watching something like this, and get a sense of the sobriety, and of the gravity of what's at stake here. It reminds you of what's at stake here. And I've got to think that, that has got to be going through the minds of those who are watching this.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, as we sit here and watch this, and as I sit here and wonder how many more scenes like this we may have to watch in the coming days, and months, and weeks, I'm looking at a report coming in from our David Ensor, our national security correspondent, who is saying that he has been hearing that officials there in Washington think that defeating the Taliban and the al Qaeda that have dug in, in that area just south of Gardez and were responsible for the killing of these American troops we're watched being unloading off this C-17, that eradicating them may take a week to ten days. Is that the kind of thing that you are hearing?

STARR: Exactly right. When this all started over the weekend, I asked one official how long is this going to go on? He said, we are still going to be talking about this more than a week from now. They are prepared to go on as long as it takes, according to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.

HARRIS: Well, let's listen -- let's listen in, and let the sounds match what it is we are seeing here.

We apologize for that technical glitch for whatever reason -- we now have that picture reestablished.

That is the hearse that has just carried -- it is now carrying the first of these seven American troops we expect to see coming off of this C-17 cargo plane that transported these bodies from Afghanistan to Ramstein Air Base, which is where we are right now, watching this scene unfold. Very somber scene we're watching. Our Matthew Chance is there -- Matthew, if you can give us a sense of the atmosphere there?

CHANCE: Leon, the atmosphere as you might expect is extremely somber. As the caskets carried off the cargo aircraft by the military detail, by the pallbearers, the military personnel standing here to witness this and there are quite a many -- quite a number of observers, perhaps as many as 150 people standing around, behind the cameras here where you can't see from the shots we're putting out to you, everyone standing to attention as the caskets come out, they are salutes the caskets as they go past.

And you can see, obviously, this is something which is a matter of immense gravity for the members of the armed services here. I've spoken to a couple of them, as I mentioned. They said this is a tragedy for them, although, of course, the attitude coming from many of the armed personnel that I have spoken to here is that it is just going to reinforce their determination to press on.

HARRIS: One might guess that this is going to be going on for some time. It has taken quite a bit of time to get the first casket off, and now it appears as though the pallbearers for the second are now approaching the ramp there, leading into the tail section of that C-17. Those look to me to be Air Force uniforms. And as Matthew Chance was reporting, every branch of the service is being represented here.

Let's check in with our Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Barbara, we don't have any identities of the troops that were lost, and that we are going to be seeing coming off of this plane here. Do we know what branches they all come from?

STARR: We don't. Now these two helicopters were both Special Operations Chinook helicopters, the type of helicopters is not official, but these are the type of helicopters that are operated by the Army's 160th Special Operations regiment based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. We don't know exactly which troops were on board. But these helicopters, as I say, are operated by the 160th. This is one of the most elite Special Operations units in the U.S. military. These are the Night Stalkers. They move covertly, they insert troops under enemy fire. They are very experienced. They also conduct combat search-and-rescue at times. They will pull out their men under enemy fire. They operate very heavily armed. They are real experts at what they do. What we don't know, of course, is that morning when all of this happened, what troops they may have been carrying in the back of their helicopters. There were members of the 101st in the area, there were members of the 10th Mountain Division, and we're just waiting to hear the identification of the deceased from the Pentagon.

HARRIS: Barbara, how about the mission itself? Do we know what happened after these two helicopters that were involved in these incidents actually did have to depart the area and perhaps -- except for the one that crashed -- do we know exactly what happened with the mission itself?

STARR: Right. I have to tell you, this has been a very complex series of events. Wanting to emphasize, it is not that the facts have changed, but the Pentagon has been getting bits and pieces of information adding to the sort of tick-tock of events over the last day.

And what we were told this morning is that when the first helicopter went in, it apparently took a round from a rocket-propelled grenade. It lifted off very fast to get out of this area. They went about half a mile down the road and discovered that apparently one of their troopers had fallen out. Their -- the helicopter that was flying with them came along. Got all the people out of that first helicopter. Went back to the initial area where they thought this had happened, dropped those people off. Another two helicopters then came along, one of them came under fire, and it all went very badly from there, firefight on the ground, the casualties ensued.

STARR: This is going to take a while, Trish (ph).

HARRIS: That is quite clear, Barbara. And while we're watching this, and if you're just joining us, folks, what you are seeing here right now is a hearse now carrying the second body off of the C-17 cargo plane that transported the seven from Afghanistan, seven who died on Monday in incidents involving helicopters that were bringing troops to the scene of some of what has been called the heaviest fighting U.S. troops involved in in a decade, there in this arena in eastern Afghanistan. Our Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon. We have our Matthew Chance there on the tarmac at Ramstein Air Base, which is where these pictures you are watching are originating.

And Barbara, moments ago, you were talking about the mission in which there troops lost their lives, and you began talking about the first helicopter, or one helicopter, at least, that was fired upon, and in which one troop -- the first casualty, we believe, fell out, and was then killed.

Do we know for sure that's the order the Pentagon is saying this happened in, they first lost the one, and then the next chopper incident, that's when the six were lost, is that correct?

STARR: Yes, Leon, that is apparently what happened. According to what we have learned this morning, apparently, you know, another helo came along, it was -- dropped off its own troops, it then came to -- try to rescue the man from the very first helicopter. All of the troops were on the ground when the firefight broke out, and it was several hours before they could finally send in a team to get everybody out of there. And, of course, that second helicopter also came under enemy fire, made what could only be described as a crash landing, and that firefight on the ground is when six of these men lost their lives.

Helicopters are very, very vulnerable to enemy ground fire when they operate very low to the ground and, especially, vulnerable at these points where they are putting troops in, and taking troops out, moving people around. They are very vulnerable. I should mention, also, in the opening hours of this, of course, on Saturday, there were Apache gunships involved.

They took enemy fire as well, although none of them were brought down. And that's really very interesting, because everyone will remember in Kosovo, the Army wanted to us -- excuse me, NATO wanted to use Apache gunships, and the U.S. said no, the Army said no, it was going to be way too risky. There was ground fire threat, and the Apaches were never used in Kosovo. They were used here. They did take some enemy fire. None of them were brought down, however. First use of Apaches in a long time in this type of situation.

HARRIS: Now, see, that strikes me as very unusual, and I'm glad to have you clear that up, because I don't think we have heard any reports of any Apaches coming down, I know we have heard those reports, as you mentioned, of them being fired upon. But, you would think that with the Apaches being armed the way they are, that they would actually be closer to the action than the Chinooks, that are carrying these troops, actually would be, and yet still, we've lost Chinooks and no Apaches.

STARR: You know, it is two different kinds of missions. What the Chinooks were doing up there to a large extent was moving troops around. Again, we talked about the notion, very small pockets of resistance. So you are constantly repositioning your troops, putting people in, taking people out. This is when the Chinook helicopters are their most vulnerable. And it just became very tough going for the troops up there.

HARRIS: That does make sense, that does make sense. Let's check in and see if our Matthew Chance is still able to hear us. He is there, as we said, on the tarmac there at Ramstein Air Base, really just a few meters away from this contingent that we are watching. They're assembled there at the tail section of that C-17. Matthew, are you still there?

CHANCE: Yeah, I'm still here, Leon. That's right, just as you say, 10, 20 meters away from -- 20 yards away from where the actual ceremonies are taking place there as the caskets are unloaded from that C-17 transport plane. It is quite interesting -- remember, there are, as you mentioned, it is going to be quite a long process. There are seven caskets. On board that plane.

Two have already been taken off, and you can notice that -- you can see this in the live shot now, but as this third casket comes down the tail fin -- the tailgate of the plane, it going to be loaded on not to a hearse, not to a limousine, but onto a darkened van. The military authorities here at Ramstein say they simply didn't have enough black hearses to carry the casket from this transport aircraft to the next.

I just wanted to touch on another issue as well, Leon. There was some talk earlier, half an hour ago or so, we were talking about this. There is an eighth person who was killed on Saturday in the fighting in the mountains south of Gardez in Afghanistan. His body, his remains had been in Ramstein here in Germany, but we're told that his remains have already been flown back to the United States. That's -- that serviceman, chief warrant officer, named by the Pentagon as Stanley Harriman. He has already gone back to the States.

HARRIS: Very good. We had been worried -- or wondering about what happened with that particular person. Thank you very much for that, Matthew. Let's listen in. And as we're watching here this scene at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, we've just seen a black van driving off with the third casket to be taken off of this C-17 plane. Our Matthew Chance is there on the tarmac. Matthew just reported moments ago that they're now using black vans, not as any sign of any disrespect, or any indication of lesser rank or anything of the sort, it is just a matter of shortage of facilities.

And with that in mind, Matthew, let me ask you this. I don't know if you know the answer to this question. Perhaps Barbara Starr at the Pentagon can answer this for us, but over the years here at CNN, we have covered scenes like this a number of times, and it comes to my mind that we haven't really always been at Ramstein. There are a number of other places in Germany where U.S. troops are stationed. And, perhaps, Rhein Main, comes to mind, and Landstuhl, which is where, I understand, some of the injured troops have actually been transported.

Matthew, do you know why this particular site was chosen at Ramstein and not Rhein Main, or some other site?

CHANCE: Ramstein, my understanding is, is the main U.S. Air Force base in the area. You're absolutely right, Leon. There are a lot of U.S. military facilities, particularly in this part of Germany. The Landstuhl medical facility you mentioned there, and that stems, of course, from the fact that, you know, following the Second World War, this part of Germany was the American sector, the U.S. sector, which was administered by the U.S. armed forces following the end of the Second World War, and what happened is that a lot of bases have remained since then. I simply think that Ramstein was chosen because it's a convenient location. It's the main transport hub for U.S. military here in this part of Germany.

HARRIS: And as we watch now, the next set of pallbearers making their way to the rear of this transport plane to off load the next casket. Let me ask Barbara Starr at the Pentagon about those who actually did survive the attack in which these troops died.

Barbara, do we know what happened to those who were injured, and do we have any firm numbers yet on the number of those who were injured in these incidents that happened on Monday?

STARR: Yes, since this campaign began Friday, there have been about 40 injured. We believe 11 of them occurred in this helicopter incident.

Now, some of those were relatively minor injuries. They were returned to duty. We presume they're still up there in those mountains. But many -- we don't know how many, the balance who had to be medevaced out were some of the injured in this firefight, of course, were medevaced out under enemy gunfire.

As we said a bit earlier, the Air Force called in A-10 close air support attack aircraft to try and suppress some of that enemy fire so they could medevac these men out, but the military has a great tradition, they medevac you out even if enemy gunfire is underway. They don't wait. So many of them are -- we are told, are back at medical facilities in Afghanistan. A lot of the injuries apparently occurred because of the type of weapons the Taliban and the al Qaeda have been using. These small arms, these mortars, these machine guns.

They fire them down from their high positions up in the mountains, and some of the injuries then occurred from flying rock, from flying shrapnel, as these weapons were fired down at the lower altitude positions of the U.S. forces. We are told at the moment they don't believe any of these additional injuries are particularly life threatening, but we're going to have to wait and see, obviously.

HARRIS: Thank you, Barbara. We're joined now by General David Grange, brigadier general, retired, who is our frequent military analyst, who joins us it seems like almost every morning now. He's in his post near Chicago.

General Grange, thank you for taking time to join us again this morning. I want to get your thoughts as we've been watching this ceremony this morning.

GEN. DAVID GRANGE, (RET.) CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it's a sad part of soldiering, obviously, when you have fallen comrades from an operation. It's inevitable. We are never have zero-casualty war. It's just not going to happen, no matter how good we get or what kind of technology we have. And you know, the last -- what really I guess gets to you as a veteran is when you look at the American flag in these situations. And the American flag you see in all different types of manner. You see it flying above buildings. You see it in parades. You see people burn it. But the image that I always have is when you see it draped over a coffin of one of our fallen American citizens who has served the nation. The symbol becomes very powerful to you.

HARRIS: Yes, let's watch and listen as this one is actually carried off and on to the van.

And with that, we've just seen the remains of the fourth of the seven servicemen we believe to be on the transport plane coming from Afghanistan to be transferred the to another plane here in Ramstein airbase, and then flown back to the United States.

General David Grange, let me ask you something that occurred to me from watching this. Have you ever had to preside over this kind of a process before?

GRANGE: Many times, around the world, to include Ramstein Air Force Base. And you notice the military chaplain there. He followed the casket -- each casket off the aircraft. The one thing about our armed forces chaplains by the way they're any denomination. He could be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, it Doesn't matter, he serves that unit and those soldiers. It's a very interesting aspect of our armed forces.

HARRIS: Now while all this is happening then, since you presided over this sort of thing before, what is the Pentagon doing in terms of helping the family deal with this and actually prepare for what's going to happen next?

GRANGE: There's two different conduits for that. One is the military assigns survivor assistance officers that help the family in the transition to a new life with the loss of a family member, and it has to do with monetary issues, funerals, moving the family to another location, the assembly of relatives. They also fly certain family members, close family members, over to Germany or other locations if need be, or they do that in the United States at funeral sites, and then the unit, the unit the soldiers served in, also the chain of command, the commanders, the sergeant majors, they also have relations, obviously, with the soldier families in helping them, you know, handle this grief and the transition.

HARRIS: How in the world can you train yourself or anyone else to prepare, I don't know, their mind to be able to go to someone's house and knock on the door, and tell them something like this? I've seen that scene in movies 100 million times, and to this day, I can't figure out what it would take to -- how in world I actually could muster the nerve to do that. How can you do that sort of thing?

GRANGE: You know, Leon -- that's a good point, because I found that that is harder to do than combat. That's the toughest part of the business, as a military leader, is to do that type of responsibility.

HARRIS: Have you ever had to do that yourself.

GRANGE: Oh, absolutely. Yes, yes. After -- you know not only do you write letters to families, but you know, I recall after Grenada and Desert Storm, Vietnam, the Balkans, Even when we had prisoners captured in Macedonia -- it's just part of the business. It's very, very tough.

HARRIS: Well, as we watch this, general, and you may have heard Barbara Starr reporting earlier this morning about the theater still -- that these troops left behind there in Afghanistan, there south of Gardez, and the wake of this, you know, surprisingly resistant pack of Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, who have obviously chosen to fight to the death here. Have you observed that, perhaps, that this resistance did come as a surprise and that there have been some changes now made in the approach to tackling this in the result and the wake of that realization at all?

GRANGE: Well, it could be that the size of the force, or the extent of the fortifications in certain places may have been more extensive than our people thought originally. But the tactics, techniques, procedures would be the same. They may have to bring in other types of military means to route out the enemy from these locations.

Mountain fighting is tough. People are trained in it, 10th mountain. 101st airborne, they're trained in this kind of fighting, but it's tough; it's not easy, and the defenders obviously have the advantage.

HARRIS: Barbara Starr is standing by at the Pentagon. Barbara, I assume that pretty much patterns with what you have been hearing there.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. These troops are in fact very well trained for this. They are some of the premier conventional and special operations forces. They have the top-of-the- line equipment when they go into combat. The reality is, officials tell us, this happens, it's expected, it's very tragic. The question will be what happens now, I think? Will the military send in reinforcements? Will they send in more troops so they don't get overwhelmed by some of these gunfire positions from the enemy? Will they send more equipment? Will they reposition the U.S. troops, and do more with airstrikes, even though that's not the optimum way to get rid of some of this, before they send ground troops back into some of these frontline positions.

We don't have clear answer to that, but there's lots of hints that we will see more U.S. troops move into this region in the days ahead.

HARRIS: Let's pause for just a moment here as we watch the fifth casket being taken off this plane.

And with that, the van that you see driving off to the right of your screen is taking away now the fifth body of the seven that we expect to see coming off of this C-17 there on the tarmac at Ramstein Air Base. We're talking this morning with General David Grange who's with us in Chicago. We also have our Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, and Matthew Chance who's standing by on the tarmac, just a few yards away from the plane.

Our John King is also at the White House.

And, John, if you're there, if you can hear me, are we going to be hearing anything from the White House this morning about all of this?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Now you did hear, Leon, from the president yesterday, voicing his condolences for these tragic deaths. At the same team, even as the president express condolences, he voiced with equal vigor, perhaps even greater vigor, his resolve to continue the campaign.

There has been, as we had been discussing earlier, a concern at the White House that the American people perhaps viewed the phase of the campaign in Afghanistan as over, because there had been a rather prolonged lull in the fighting. This certainly a tragic event to remind us that the campaign in Afghanistan is still under way and still expanding, and as Barbara has been noting throughout the morning, that the Pentagon voicing its commitment to aggressively go after the remaining pockets of Al Qaeda fighters when it locates them when they match together, and because of the terrain and because of the weather conditions, the risk of that fighting dramatically increased.

So we heard from the president yesterday, we are not expecting to hear from him directly on this subject today, although almost on a daily basis, whether the president's subject is education or taxes or anything else, he works in a reference to a campaign in Afghanistan and elsewhere, all part of an effort to remind American people on a daily basis that this campaign has very substantial risks. These pictures remind us tragically of those risks, and that this campaign will go on for quite some time.

HARRIS: And as you mentioned, the president has been out trumpeting many of these issues, and I believe today he's going to be wrapping up his talks this week about the -- his education initiative, is that correct? In fact, we expect, I believe, we're going to be hearing from him within about another 40 minutes so.

KING: We will hear from him in the noon hour on education, a teacher training initiative. We will also hear from the president later today when he will be standing side by side with the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Mr. Mubarak at the pentagon at this hour. Egypt one of the major recipients of U.S. economic and security aid.

Obviously, the Middle East crisis yet another problem international for the president to discuss with Mr. Mubarak, but also one of the things the United States is beginning to lay the groundwork for is the potential, emphasis on potential, for expanding the war on terrorism to include, say perhaps, Iraq several months down the road.

So as we watch these pictures today, these dead American servicemen tragically being returned home, it is a reminder that not only in Afghanistan, but also in other theaters as well, there is still great potential for this military campaign and the broader war on terrorism to expand far beyond Afghanistan.

HARRIS: Exactly. And this theater that -- from which these troops have been flown away has seen some of the most intense fighting as Barbara Starr has reported moments ago that U.S. troops have been involved in a decade at least perhaps.

General David Grange, let me ask you about that, because along with that, we're also hearing that these troops, the Al Qaeda and Taliban troops, have been up in this corners, these nooks and crannies, if you will, in these mountains, and many believe that they have been there for months, and that in fact, there are reports that they're actually there with their families in many cases. And this is something that seems to be a new report to us, at least new to us within the last week or so. Why isn't it that we didn't know about that or find out them going to this enclave any earlier?

GRANGE: I think there's been indications that they've been assembling in certain areas, not so much maybe to attack. I know that's what put out. I think they're more warm-weather fighters. In other words, as spring and summer gets here to Afghanistan, I think you will see a lot more offensive operations by our enemy. But what they have been doing, there's been reports of them buying food stocks every week in some of the local villagers that are either afraid to report them, or in cahoots with the enemy, and just tolerate them being there, or support them indirectly from the local populous. So they've been hoarding supplies for a while. HARRIS: And with that let us now watch the plane now unload on to this van the sixth set of remains coming off of that plane.

Now all that remains, if you will, is the last of the seven bodies to be taken off of this C-17, which was flown in from Afghanistan, and is now in the ground in Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.

Let me ask this question to Barbara Starr, and perhaps to you as well, General Grange, if you have a thought on this. One of the thing I've heard over the years is a term that's come from those in the Pentagon, and it's a term used derisively, mission creep. And there's always been concern about the initial mission changing or being broadened to a point in which it's unsustainable. Now we're seeing this widening of this war on terror now to the Philippines, to Yemen, and now talk about perhaps Iraq.

Barbara, have you heard any concerns about that being an issue in this case?

STARR: Leon, there's no concerns, you know, again, publicly expressed by the pentagon, but the problem, of course, is there's of course there are private concerns. The military stretched very thin around the world these days, by its commitment in the Balkans, in the Middle East, in Asia, in the Persian Gulf, complicated by the war on terrorism, and President Bush defined this as a global war on terrorism. So one of the concerns is, where does that end? How do you know success when you achieve it? There's not a lot of answers to that at the moment. The Bush administration is asking for very significant increase in military funding. It's not clear where that money is going to come from.

Congress has a lot of tough questions to ask. You know, for the last several months, it's not been considered very patriotic in Congress to ask many questions about all of this. But there's certainly signs that questions are now starting to be asked by the Democrats. They want to see a strategy, they want to know how the money is going to be spent, and they'd like to know what some of this specific goals are in some of these other countries.

It's going to probably bubble up, I would think, for the next several weeks, couple of months, more and more discussion about where is all of this really going?

HARRIS: You know, on another point, not just from the Democrats perspective here, but General Grange, I heard it said from others who are well outside the realm of politics that perhaps looking at the case of the Philippines, there's a case where you are not necessarily going after army. Many say those are just criminals who happen to be in the hills there in the Philippines, and yet U.S. troops used to go after criminals, and if that could be indication here of some sort a mission creep, if you will? .

GRANGE: Went beyond what its initial purpose is. Philippines, of course, have terrorists that conduct criminal activity. Mission creep would be if you were going to destroy the Al Qaeda, and that same force was stretched to also conduct peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan simultaneously. That's really what mission creep is.

The issue here, is Barbara brought it up, the military very small. And to me, it doesn't matter if you're Democratic or Republican, whatever your party line is. The point is, if that's the mission of the United States and people have agreed to that mission, then it ought to be resourced and supported. The biggest challenge is filling the ranks of people.

HARRIS: Yes, let's go to our John King who is standing by there at the White House. Too bad don't have the shot up there. Moments ago, you saw all six of the black vehicles holding the six sets of remains. Now we're waiting for the seventh. As we wait, John, we're wonder here, will the president be making himself available to greet these remains when they actually do land back in the United States?

KING: We have no indications, Leon, that he will. The president's week is scheduled. We have no indication at all that Mr. Bush would go up to do that. The ceremony, obviously, will be at Dover Air Force Base. That is the scene all too frequently certainly in the views of military families, of when bodies, remains do come back from military campaigns overseas. We have no indication at all that the president himself will go. There is an official welcoming delegation, of course, when there are such ceremonies at Dover Air Force base.

HARRIS: How about, again, I was asking this question earlier, of Barbara at the Pentagon. Do we know whether or not the White House has made an outreach to the families involved in these incidents here?

KING: We have not heard the president directly calling the families. We of course have not heard the names publicly released as yet, as the Pentagon notifies the families themselves. There are private conversations. We know in the past the president, in the case of Mr. Spann, the CIA agent who was killed up in Mazar-e Sharif.

HARRIS: Mike Spann.

KING: Mr. Bush wrote note to his widow, in those cases. There are sometimes private conversations that we do not become aware of for some time, because the president, when he does communicate with these families, as past presidents have as well, wants to keep these communications private, just pass on his condolences, not try to make a public scene about it. Now the widow of Mike Spann did of course come to the State of the Union Address, along with some family members of another U.S. soldier who had been killed in an ambush during some fighting earlier. So at times, you see a public display. At times the president communicates in private. But not all of those communications make their way into the public realm, at least not certainly immediately.

HARRIS: And with that, you see there the door closing on the final set of remains to be taken off of this C-17, carrying this somber and sad cargo from Afghanistan to Ramstein airbase, which is where our Matthew Chance has been standing by at post watching all of this from vantage point of just being a few yards away -- Matthew. CHANCE: Yes, that's right, Leon. It's been a lengthy ceremony. The seven caskets taken ceremoniously off that C-17 transport plane. You can see the pictures of the line of vehicles that assembled, the five vans, along with the two black hearses, the assembled military personnel here and are saluting as that column of vehicles moves off towards the awaiting cargo plane the C-5 Galaxy, which is a much bigger cargo plane, which is due to fly on to the United States to Dover Air Force base in Delaware, which estimated flight time according to military officials here about eight hours. That's when these seven caskets will be back in the United States.

HARRIS: And we are watching that process right now. As we see the two hearses in the head of that column. They're following that official vehicle here with the flashing lights. And we can't see from our vantage point the C-5 cargo plane which Matthew referred, and was off to the distance there. But as we say there, these bodies will soon be on their way back to the United States.

I want to thank General David Grange in Chicago for joining us this morning and helping us in our coverage, and offering his thoughts and background and insight, as well as Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, and Matthew Chance as well, there on the tarmac at Ramstein Air Force Base. As you see, this cortege of U.S. troops who gave their lives, are now making their way to the plane that's going to carry them all the way back home. We'll take a break here shortly. We'll have more for you in just a bit. Please stay with us.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com





 
 
 
 


 Search   

Back to the top