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Afghan Government Believes Karzai Target of Assassination Attempt

Aired September 5, 2002 - 11:08   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to go live right now, continuing following this breaking story out of Afghanistan today. We are joined now by Ryan Chilcote, who is on videophone from Kandahar with the latest report on this assassination attempt -- Ryan, what is the latest?
RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The latest is that the governor Sherzai, the governor of Kandahar is being treated right now here at Kandahar air base in southeastern Afghanistan. That is the same base that stations -- that is home to approximately 5,000 U.S. troops.

The whereabouts of President Karzai, president of Afghanistan, is still unknown. I am told by U.S. forces that he is safe, and out of harm's way. Obviously, a little bit of pre-history here, the two gentlemen were together outside of the governor's palace here in Kandahar, Afghanistan when we are told an Afghan soldier, a soldier wearing the uniform of the new Afghan government opened fire in the direction of these two men. We do not know whether he was aiming for the governor of Kandahar, or whether he was aiming for the president of Afghanistan.

He then hit -- shot in the neck the governor of Kandahar, that governor, as I said, was rushed here. The president of Afghanistan was surrounded by security, U.S. Special Forces, that normally provide him with security, and whisked off in another direction, in an unknown direction. Back to you.

COOPER: Ryan, do we know -- was this person in the military uniform, do we know if they were in the security detail of Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, or in the security detail of the governor of Kandahar?

CHILCOTE: We do not know for sure, but we can, at this point, speculate that he was in the detail of the governor of Kandahar, because he was an Afghan soldier, and the inner security for the president of Afghanistan is comprised of U.S. Special Forces. Those are, obviously, Americans wearing U.S. uniforms, or perhaps without uniforms. But nonetheless, very different, look very different than the Afghan soldiers that would have been standing outside of the governor's palace providing security there -- back to you.

COOPER: Ryan, the Associated Press reports seeing three bodies outside the house of the governor once the convoy sped away. Do you have any more information on that? CHILCOTE: I spoke with an eyewitness about 20 minutes ago who said he was standing approximately 10 meters or 30 feet away from the governor and president when this incident took place, when the shooting took place. He said that he heard dozens of rounds of shots, but at that time, so many security guards rushed around the two men that it was difficult to make out whether anyone else was killed. Anyone else, I say, because, of course, the gunman, the Afghan soldier, the one wearing the uniform of the new Afghan government was killed immediately after he opened fire on the two men -- back to you.

COOPER: Now, when you say the uniform of the new Afghan government, do you mean the new national Afghan army that is being trained by the United States in Kabul?

CHILCOTE: That would be speculative to say whether he belongs to the new Afghan army that is being trained in Kabul. I don't know whether this soldier received that training. All I know is that he was standing guard outside of the governor's palace. He was wearing an Afghan uniform, meaning that he is part of what the U.S. forces here call the AMF, or Allied Forces of Afghanistan, friendly to the new government in Afghanistan and to U.S. forces. So, he was an official, if you will, soldier of the government of Afghanistan -- back to you.

COOPER: All right. Ryan, thanks very much, obviously, covering this story. We will check back in with you shortly -- Daryn.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right, and actually we have another big development as we continue to cover this story. Ryan is on the ground there in Kandahar. Our Christiane Amanpour is in Kabul and has an important development in terms of news as we follow the story -- Christiane, what do you have?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Daryn, right now, Afghanistan's foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah is giving a briefing, and he has confirmed to reporters that he believes, the Afghan government believes, that Hamid Karzai, the president, was the target of this assassination attempt. He is saying that Karzai is safe and unhurt, that the governor of Kandahar, Sherzai, was slightly wounded, as we have reported, and is undergoing surgery, as we have reported. But apparently now, the government here is saying that the president was the target of this assassination attempt. According to Dr. Abdullah, the foreign minister, an individual he described in Afghan military clothing opened fire. According to Dr. Abdullah, it was one of Hamid Karzai's Afghan bodyguards that returned fire, killed the gunman, but also the bodyguard was killed in the exchange. We are not entirely sure of the full details of how that happened, what we can tell you is that the government here, the foreign minister is now saying that Hamid Karzai was the target of this assassination attempt, and has survived -- back to you, Daryn.

KAGAN: And Christiane, this would be consistent with what you reported before, the huge concern for the safety of the president for Hamid Karzai, and why the U.S. has stepped in, at least to protect him as a individual. AMANPOUR: Basically, the entire future of Afghanistan right now depends on the survival of Hamid Karzai and his government. This is a pro-Western government. This is a government that has pledged itself to combating terrorism, to combating militants here at home, to being Democratic, to being moderate, to trying to bring Afghanistan back into the community of nations. The United States and the international community has invested a huge amount in the setting of this government, in the survival of this government, and also, now, in the very physical protection of Hamid Karzai in the form of a squad, a group of American Special Forces who have been protecting him for several months now.

Now, there was word that these Special Forces were going to be replaced soon by what is known as Diplomatic Security. Again, American security, but the kind of security that generally wears civilian clothes and generally protects diplomats and heads of state. We are not entirely sure whether that change will be made in light of what happened today. But it can't be stressed enough how vitally important Hamid Karzai is in this effort to change the situation in Afghanistan.

Karzai himself has, according to officials here, been the target of various attacks in the past, or at least plots. He has survived all of them, none of them, really, were carried out. But what is very, very sure is that he has been very concerned about the security situation here in Afghanistan. He has been demanding publicly, privately, pleading publicly and privately for an expansion of the security forces, for an expansion of the international peacekeeping forces, to try to bring stability to Afghanistan, and to try to make not just his government secure, but also the whole of this country more secure than it is right now. This will, inevitably be a very worrying development -- back to you, Daryn.

KAGAN: Absolutely, absolutely. And today, being so concerning, the gunman had such close access to the president and also to the governor who he actually was able to shoot because he was wearing this Afghanistan -- his Afghan military uniform. Unclear at this point, I guess, whether he actually was a member of the military, and was part of that group, or whether he was just able to get that uniform.

AMANPOUR: Well, it is very unclear, and one wouldn't like to speculate, but remember the vice president was killed several months ago by members of -- it is presumed members of his own bodyguard, and that is why, shortly after that, the Americans insisted that Hamid Karzai have American Special Forces protecting him, and he accepted that. But this is a very, very unstable situation, one in which, really, the future of this country right now hangs in the balance, and much of the future of this country rests on the shoulders of Karzai, Dr. Abdullah, and all those government ministers who have pledged themselves to the pro-Western, pro-internationalist stance after all of these decades of Afghanistan being insecure, unstable, and in the last decade, a hot bed and a base for terrorism.

KAGAN: All right. And just once again to repeat your lead, the government of Afghanistan officials there now believe that Hamid Karzai was the target of today's assassination attempt? AMANPOUR: That is what Dr. Abdullah, the foreign minister, has told a press briefing here in Kabul in the last few minutes, yes.

KAGAN: All right. Christiane Amanpour reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.





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