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Afghanistan Sees Downtown Explosions, Assassination Attempts

Aired September 5, 2002 - 12:02   ET

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


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: But first, we begin in Afghanistan this hour with more on the chaos in north and the south. The capital city of Kabul, deadly explosions. And in Kandahar, President Hamid Karzai and a governor survive an assassination attempt.
Our Ryan Chilcote is live by videophone from Kandahar with more on this story -- Ryan.

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we understand president of Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai, is now being airlifted from Kandahar to the capital, to Kabul, the city of Kabul, in Afghanistan. That report is coming from the State Department in the United States.

As for the governor of Kandahar, who was injured, who was shot in the neck, in that incident, in that shooting attack earlier today, he is here at the Kandahar Air Base, about 50 meters away from me. We understand that he just came out from a room where he is being treated for that gunshot wound to his neck to smoke a cigarette. So obviously, he is in more or less good shape if he is able to come out and smoke cigarettes.

Back to you.

PHILLIPS: Ryan, any word yet about the shooter? I understand he was in an Afghan military uniform. Does anyone know if indeed this was an Afghan soldier trained by U.S. Special Forces, or is this just someone from al Qaeda that possibly got their hands on an Afghan uniform?

CHILCOTE: Well, Kyra, you hit it right on the head. That's the million dollar question, and right now we do not have an answer to that question. I spoke with an eyewitness about a half hour ago who was standing about 10 meters away from that shooting attack. All that he could say was that this man was wearing an Afghan uniform. That, obviously, does not necessarily mean that he was part of the normal security detail for the governor of Kandahar or, obviously, for the president of Afghanistan.

So it's too early to say if this was indeed an inside job, as that would indicate if he was indeed a part of the army, or whether this was man who donned an Afghan military uniform. That would be simple enough in Afghanistan, to get your hands on a uniform like that to do such an attack.

Back to you -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And we have even seen tactics take place between Palestinians and Israelis.

Ryan Chilcote, live by videophone there in Kandahar. We will continue to check in with you.

Meanwhile, our Jamie McIntyre is working developments on this story from Pentagon. He joins us now live.

Jamie, what have you learned?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kyra, the Pentagon has received some initial, although unconfirmed, reports from the scene confirming that U.S. Special Forces assigned to protect President Hamid Karzai were the ones who opened fire on the suspected assailant, and in fact killed the gunman. There is also an unconfirmed report suggesting that one of those members of the Special Operations forces may have been wounded or injured somehow in the incident or exchange of gunfire. But Pentagon officials are cautioning that these are just very preliminary reports; they are still awaiting a full official report through chain of command from the U.S. commander in Afghanistan about the extent of the U.S. involvement.

But again, a senior official confirming that those American troops that have been guarding Hamid Karzai were the ones that opened fire on the gunman when the shots rang out in Kandahar. It is believed that a member of the U.S. Special Forces actually killed the gunman and that perhaps one U.S. military personnel might have been injured or wounded. And we are awaiting further confirmation.

But again, there is a saying at the Pentagon that first reports are usually wrong, or at least incomplete, and so they are not saying anything officially until they can get a full report from the commander on scene -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Jamie, meanwhile, are officials there at the Pentagon concerned about the, I guess, the lack of facts right now on whether this shooter was indeed an Afghan soldier trained by U.S. Special Forces or someone from al Qaeda getting their hands on an Afghan uniform and firing the first shot?

MCINTYRE: Well, I don't think that they would expect that they would have that level of information right at this moment, although that is something that they are interested to determine, whether or not this was somebody who was in fact trained by the U.S. military, part of that new Afghan army. But it is way too early to know that.

The other thing of perhaps note is that the U.S. military is trying to get out of the job of protecting Hamid Karzai and turn over responsibility for his security to Americans from the State Department security force, but that has not yet happened, that turnover from the U.S. military in order to free up those special operations troops to do other missions.

So at the moment, they are along with Karzai's own guards, providing the bulk of the security for the Afghan president, and they took the action today.

PHILLIPS: Jamie McIntyre, from the Pentagon. Thanks, Jamie.

CNN's Andrea Koppel is following the story from the State Department. She joins us now.

Andrea, what do you know?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kyra, as our viewers may or may not remember, Hamid Karzai is one of seven brothers. He was in Kandahar, in fact, for the wedding of one of his younger brothers. I have spoken to the wife of one of those brothers who is in Kandahar right now, and was on the scene at the time the attack, and he tells his wife the following: that, apparently, this person dressed as a soldier came up and fired five shots -- what they thought, they tried to count -- five shots at the car that Hamid Karzai and the governor of Kandahar were in; that we now know one of the local Kandahar guards fired upon this soldier, was himself injured; and that Special Forces took over after that.

Right now, according to Hamid Karzai's brother, they are trying to get the president out of Kandahar. There are some helicopters there; they may or may not be using those.

But remember, this is a lawless country, and the United States has long been concerned about the security of Hamid Karzai, who was only elected to his position a few months back, for the next two years. That is why they have U.S. Special Forces there to protect him. They didn't feel that the Afghan bodyguards were well trained enough to do the job, and that is why they are going to send over diplomatic security services to take the places of those Special Forces, to maintain a U.S. bodyguard presence around President Karzai at all times, Kyra.

And just remember a few months back, the vice president was killed as well in an assassination attempt. That one, obviously, was successful.

PHILLIPS: Andrea, we have been talk a lot about Hamid Karzai, of course, as the focus of this story -- but Governor Sherzai, what do we know about him? Obviously, a supporter of Karzai.

KOPPEL: Not much. He is a supporter of Karzai and was with him to attend the wedding of Karzai's younger brother. But remember also that Karzai has not traveled out of Kabul -- in fact, very, very rarely because of concerns about his security. Hamid Karzai is himself a Pashtun, and he is also, his Cabinet includes members of all different ethnic groups in Afghanistan.

One of the concerns has been since Karzai took over that some of the warlords who had been powerful before Taliban assumed power, that they had begun to take over various regions. And so, right now, Hamid Karzai is someone who can use all the friends can he get.

PHILLIPS: No doubt. Andrea Koppel, from the State Department. Thanks, Andrea.

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