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CNN SATURDAY MORNING NEWS

Taliban Reports Firing Antiaircraft Guns at Suspicious Plane Over Kabul

Aired October 6, 2001 - 09:01   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.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Here in a moment we are going to go live to Kathleen Koch at the Pentagon and talk about that antiaircraft from Kabul in a moment. But first, overseas in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, CNN's Nic Robertson with more on this front now -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, eyewitnesses in the city of Kabul say they saw a surface-to-air missile being fired at the aircraft, not, as the Taliban say, some antiaircraft guns. They say it was a surface-to-air missile. They say that they could see the trace of smoke coming up behind the, behind this missile as it went up into the sky.

Now, the Taliban defense ministry, however, they say that, they say that they didn't fire a surface-to-air missile. What Taliban defense ministry also says, however, is that the aircraft that they saw circling above the city did not fire on them or drop any bombs, they just saw it circling. They say it was fired upon from these three antiaircraft gun positions around the city, which the Taliban has quite a number in Kabul for its air defenses. And then they say that the plane took off and flew away from the city, a very clear day over Kabul today, Bill.

HEMMER: Nic Robertson reporting from Islamabad. Nic, thank you.

Now to Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: For a check now on reaction in Washington to this morning's developments, we go to CNN's Kathleen Koch, who's standing by at the Pentagon. Good morning, Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kyra.

At this point the Pentagon will say absolutely nothing about these reports of some sort of aircraft being fired upon over the city of Kabul. The Pentagon obviously not confirming, not denying. It is -- some of the suggestions, some of the options that we are looking here as to what that aircraft may have been, despite the fact that the Taliban is denying it, it could have been a Northern Alliance aircraft. They are known to have aircraft. They obviously operate out of the northern part of Afghanistan and do oppose the Taliban.

Another possibility is that it could have been a U-2 spy plane. However, that is seen as quite unlikely, because those aircraft fly at an altitude of about 70,000 feet, and therefore it would be very, very difficult to see from the ground.

Also, using antiaircraft fire against those particular aircraft would not be very effective, because the antiaircraft fire only reaches an altitude of about 10,000 feet.

However, if it was indeed a surface-to-air missile which was launched, that could potentially threaten a U-2 spy plane.

The most likely scenario, and the one that we have been discussing all morning, is that this is an unmanned aerial vehicle, a UAV, or also called a drone. The United States does operate those over Afghanistan. About two weeks ago, one of them disappeared over northern Afghanistan, though the Pentagon would not confirm that that had been shot down.

U.S. sources do tell CNN that that was a spy plane, a drone, being operated not by the Pentagon but by the CIA.

Now, what the U.S. would be doing with that would be collecting aerial intelligence, aerial imagery in order to track, say, movements of refugees or movements, perhaps, of some of Osama bin Laden's operatives.

There has been some discussion of the use of these drones, since they are unmanned, and therefore if they were hit, that there would be no threat to human life. But using them to draw, specifically draw SAM missile fire in order to isolate the location of these missile batteries, that perhaps in preparation for the beginning of U.S. humanitarian food drops. The U.S. military is considering doing that in order to bolster the U.S.'s position that it has no argument with the Afghan people but only with Osama bin Laden and those who would shelter him -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, Kathleen Koch, thank you so much for the update from Washington.

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