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Troops in Afghanistan Pause to Remember

Aired September 11, 2002 - 05:21   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: We want to talk about Afghanistan now. Coalition forces taking part in Operation Champion Strike have captured a suspected al Qaeda financier. The money man and another suspected al Qaeda member were among nine people detained after two searches. The troops also recovered 150 AK-47 rifles, 200 explosive booby traps, a mortar, hand grenades, rocket launchers and rockets. An Afghan woman was found hiding an AK-47 and a 30 round magazine underneath her clothes. All of those people in custody right now.
And we want to continue to move on to the place where many of the terrorists trained, Afghanistan. It's where thousands of U.S. servicemen and women are still stationed. And they will pause to remember that terrible day that eventually brought them to that country.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour is at Bagram Air Base with this side of the story -- Christiane.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, indeed, this is where the more than 7,000 U.S. military personnel will remember what happened on September 11. And what you just reported about Operation Champion Strike with those attacks against the al Qaeda and Taliban remnants shows you that this Afghanistan was the hotbed and what spawned the terrorism that took place in the United States in last September.

And so where they will have, in about three hours from now, a remembrance ceremony. The flag behind me was earlier today lowered to half staff. Then they will come out. They will have a formation of all the military personnel here. They will have prayers. The commander of U.S. forces here will make a short address. They will read out an address or a message, rather, from President Bush and then they will, again, raise the flag and then bring it fully down and remove the flag and the ceremony will be over.

Earlier today in Kabul at the U.S. Embassy, a small piece of the World Trade Center building, which had been buried there several months ago, today a plaque was unveiled commemorating that small piece and marking it. And the inscription on that says, "Here lies the remains of the World Trade Center and those who perished. We serve the cause they cannot."

So that solemn memorial service at the U.S. Embassy. Afghan officials also plan to hold a small memorial service in downtown Kabul this afternoon. And, of course, as you know, the Afghan president and other senior ministers are in the United States to take part in memorial services for the victims of September 11 there. We've been speaking to many of the U.S. personnel who are here at this base and we've been talking to some of them who are New Yorkers, some of them who were in the region when September 11 happened, and many of them say that they believe that their mission here is right, it is just, it is in order to make sure that this kind of terrorism is not able to breed here in Afghanistan again. And they feel that they are doing their bit to make sure that never happens again.

We talked to one senior officer here today who told us that of all the missions the U.S. has conducted in the last 20 years, in his opinion, if this one is a success, perhaps it will bear the greatest fruit for the United States and the rest of the world.

So that's the feelings here. The missions still continue. The war isn't over. The objectives haven't been fully met, but the memorial services will take place and we'll be here to cover them for you -- Carol.

COSTELLO: You know, Christiane, I was just going to ask you about that. There must be some sense of frustration for the troops there that members of the Taliban and al Qaeda still managed to regroup and set off massive explosions that we've seen in the last several weeks.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's just keep it in perspective. There was one massive explosion in Kabul last week. It was big. It killed and wounded scores of people. But it was the biggest and deadliest since the Taliban was removed last year. There have been other small incidents like that in Kabul and certainly there are these constant challenges, as the U.S. forces here puts it, to their authority and to the stability in various parts of the country.

But for the most part, what they do tell us, that it is still dangerous. There are still hostile forces. They do believe that the, obviously the big structure, the structure and the infrastructure of al Qaeda and Taliban, has basically been smashed. Although some small elements are still here and others may be infiltrating back and regrouping, they're still continuing the mission. They hope they'll be able to smash it fully. But they know it's going to take a long time.

COSTELLO: And just one last question before you go. Do the troops there feel support from the American people still as strongly as they did when this thing began?

AMANPOUR: Well, I think so, yes. From what we've talked to people, absolutely. They're getting a lot of support. You know, there's a lot of coverage of their activities and they know that this is something that they have to do. And remember, this is not just some mission in a vacuum. This is a mission that is in direct response to a direct attack for the first time since WWII on the territory of the United States. So the morale is especially high in this mission.

And when we talk to many of the servicemen and women here they also say, having looked around and having seen Afghanistan, how they hope that it's not just a military mission, but this place will be rebuilt, the people will be able to have a decent life, to make really doubly and triply sure that once the military mission is over, this place is not allowed and not able to descend again into a chaotic hothouse, a breeding ground for terrorism.

COSTELLO: All right, Christiane Amanpour reporting live from the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, thank you for that report.




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