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Blair Shows Support for America's Response

Aired October 7, 2001 - 12:59   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.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: We expect to hear from the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, momentarily. First we'll go to Kamal Hyder, of CNN who is in Afghanistan. Kammal, if you can hear me, what are you hearing? What are you seeing?

KAMAL HYDER, JOURNALIST: Basically, we are still a little bit far from the city of Jalalabad, but our man in Jalalabad tells us that some time ago two aircraft were said to be two aircraft dropped bombs in the southern part of Jalalabad City and that anti-aircraft fire was heard from the ground, triple A batteries. The electricity supply is still in place. However, a little while ago we lost Radio Syria, the official Taliban radio service. We do not know whether it has been destroyed or shut them off for security reasons.

BROWN: The person you talked to, Kamal, said that he or she was sure they dropped bombs? Or was he just speaking literally there, or just talking about large explosions?

HYDER: No, they, he said that they heard two aircraft and that the aircraft dropped bombs in the southern part of the city.

BROWN: Ok. What else are you picking up -- anything?

HYDER: No, nothing yet. We're still waiting for more news coming out of Jalalabad.

BROWN: Got it. To General Clark, if I can. Quickly, General, does it make sense that we are hearing reports that bombs have been dropped, or do you think that might not be, in fact, correct?

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK (RET.), FMR. NATO SUPREME COMMANDER: It is possible that bombs were dropped. It's probably a combination of cruise missiles and manned aircraft. In general, we'd like to send the cruise missiles in first to go after the air defense and make sure there's no problem. We'd like to follow that with aircraft that are pretty stealthy so that any radar left doesn't pick them up. It could have been either one.

BROWN: These would be high-flying aircraft. And the object here is to make sure that the U.S. and British forces, we don't know which are involved in which part of this attack at this point, are safe. The higher they are the safer they are -- fair?

CLARK: Exactly. And the aircraft would come in at high altitudes. They've got precision guided munitions. They'll hit right on the target.

BROWN: And again, we might mention something you mentioned just before the president, this is, this being Afghanistan, is not the most sophisticated anti-aircraft system on the planet, far from it?

CLARK: Exactly.

BROWN: Which will make the going a little bit easier. But again, and as the president indicated, the going is not going to be easy. General Clark, we'll get back to you.

The president used the word "patience" many, many times in his brief talk -- a talk of about 8, 9 minutes, 7, 8 minutes, I guess. He said, called on the American people to be patient. This is going to take a while, he said. We start in Afghanistan, but certainly he did not indicate that's where we'll end.

Christiane Amanpour is in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. Christiane, what are you picking up? .

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, just from what you heard from Kammal talking about reports of two aircraft and bombs being dropped south of Jalalabad. We understand and we know that in fact the airport of Jalalabad is in that region. So, that would confirm that airports are being targeted, which most military analysts say are most likely to be targeted early on.

We heard from someone that we contacted by phone in Kandahar saying that they had heard from the airport directly, as I reported a little bit earlier, that the radar system had been hit there, that their command base there had been hit. They said that they don't rely entirely on that, that they're not so centralized in their workings, but that is an important piece of military equipment. And they believe it is down.

We have heard also that electricity in Kandahar is down, also that people when they started hearing this, started to run away. This, in contrast, to what we had been hearing just a few days ago, where Omar, the Taliban spiritual leader had been telling people over the radio that he did not believe the United States would attack and urging people to come back to the cities. And we had heard, in fact, that in some areas people were beginning to filter back to the cities.

Now, we did talk to the Pakistani foreign minister just about an hour ago after he came off a CNN live interview, about timing. He was not prepared or didn't know the exact timing, of course, at that moment the attack was underway. But clearly Pakistan has made the leap of faith and the ideological leap that this is going to happen. More and more we heard from Pakistani officials over the last week that they were convinced there was going to be military action against Afghanistan, that essentially the Taliban had been asked every which way to do what the international community had asked of them.

They had rejected that. They had rejected Pakistani diplomatic initiatives and that the feeling was that the time had come and this was now going to be inevitable. Also, Pakistan making another leap as to the future of Afghanistan, earlier saying it was not prepared to consider the end of a Taliban regime, last week saying that it was indeed looking to the future.

Perhaps Zahir Shah, the old king of Afghanistan would come back to lead some kind of interim broad-based coalition. All of these things essentially have led to everybody in this region believing that this was imminent; it was going to happen. A lot of people thought it was going to happen tonight. And indeed, it appears that this is the case.

Obviously, military analysts saying that this is going to be a precise -- and a period of days over which this is going to take part. Clearly, they're going to take out not just airfields, but military hardware if they can, training camps, Taliban infrastructure, what there is of it, military installations and the like.

So that is what we're hearing now, Aaron.

BROWN: Christiane, I apologize for interrupting.

An important partner for the United States in this is going to be the Northern Alliance. This is the group fighting in opposition to the Taliban. They control a small part of the country, perhaps 10 percent, perhaps a little more depending on who you talk to.

Chris Burns is in that part of Afghanistan -- Chris.

CHRIS BURNS. CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Aaron. Joining us actually is the foreign minister for the Northern Alliance, otherwise known as the United Front -- the foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah had been telling a news conference just a few hours ago that he expected an attack by the United States was imminent or soon, very soon.

What is your reaction now initially?

DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, NORTHERN ALLIANCE FOREIGN MINISTER: I was right that it started at 9 o'clock p.m., this evening. And a few cities in Afghanistan -- the Taliban bases, as well as terrorist camps were hit.

BURNS: Can you be more specific about which cities were hit?

ABDULLAH: Yes. Kabul City. First the anti-aircraft weapons were hit.

BURNS: We have confirmation on that.

ABDULLAH: Yes. Kabul Radio and Kabul Airport. Then at the same time, Jalalabad, where three -- at least three of the terrorist camps are located -- were hit. And Kundus in northern Afghanistan where there is a major air base for the ; Farah -- in eastern Afghanistan, Kandahar, which is the birthplace of Mullah Omar and the place where Osama bin Laden has been living for so long in the past few years. And there are a few terrorist camps over there as well. These cities were hit.

BURNS: What sort of coordination is there going on right now between the United States and your forces?

ABDULLAH: We are in constant contact.

BURNS: Can you say anything more than that because we did hear -- about an hour and a half ago, we heard what you described as a rocket attack by your forces on a buildup of Taliban forces not far from here, the front line being about 45 kilometers north -- 50 kilometers north of Kabul. What was going on there exactly?

ABDULLAH: There, there was a build up of Taliban forces, as well as -- as well as some foreign friends of Taliban, Pakistanis and Arabs, where we rocketed and there was artillery fire by our forces.

BURNS: Was that not coordinated, though, with the U.S. air strikes?

ABDULLAH: This mainly -- and this was mainly because of the build up of the Taliban. The latest news which we had from Kabul that said dozens of vehicles, which might include APCs, or Armored Personnel Carriers, were moving towards north of Kabul -- or towards northern outskirts of Kabul. This was the latest just before coming here.

BURNS: How are your forces reacting to that?

ABDULLAH: Our forces are in high alert. We are being reinforced. The front lines as well as the reserves are added.

BURNS: Well, what is the next step after this? It seems that the U.S. is striking at command and control basically. What is the next step for your forces, as well as the U.S. forces?

ABDULLAH: I think for the U.S. forces it will take a few days -- one or two days, to be sure that those bases are destroyed. And of course, we will be in contact about the next move.

BURNS: Are you being told anything about U.S. ground forces being moved in?

ABDULLAH: No, we are not.

BURNS: So essentially, the U.S. is relying on your forces to fight the fight on the ground. How is that going to be pursued now? Is this going to -- will the air strikes now speed up your advance that you'd like to advance towards Kabul?

ABDULLAH: We will coordinate, from now on, our military efforts -- or our military strategy and tactics with the U.S. strikes. So, for example, if major bases which are in front of us between the front line and Kabul are destroyed, our forces can utilize this situation for making advance towards Kabul. This is just an example. This is just an example.

BURNS: Now you've been pursuing an offensive in the north and several positions to take strongholds of the Taliban in the north. Will you now change your strategy because of the air strikes?

ABDULLAH: We will, of course, consider the air strikes. And we will adapt our strategy accordingly.

BURNS: Can you say how soon you might get to Kabul at this point because of the air strikes?

ABDULLAH: It might not be possible at this stage to give a time table. But I am saying that Taliban will not be able to resist in the front lines, not of Kabul, more than a few days.

BURNS: Now there are two airfields -- two airports in question here between here and Kabul. One is Badrham (ph) Airport and the other is Kabul Airport itself. Both had been seen as possible staging points, or activity points, for U.S. military action. Do you see any focus there? Is that what's going to be targeted at this point?

ABDULLAH: We haven't discussed this issue. Badrham Air Base is a strategic air base where the Soviet groups used to use it leaving the deprivation of Afghanistan. And later on it was used by the government in Afghanistan. And it is -- and there are controls. And if we can make advance from the Badhram Air Base, that base will be kept secure for using. That base will become operational. And it will be a big change in the whole war in Afghanistan. And it will also have its impact on the present situation.

BURNS: Once again, on the ground -- what is happening on the ground? As the U.S. is striking from the air, what are your forces doing at this moment?

ABDULLAH: At this moment only our forces on -- are put on high alert and we are watching.

BURNS: I think you told a news conference a few hours ago that the plan was that you would advance after several days of U.S. air strikes once the Taliban positions are weakened. Is that still the strategy?

ABDULLAH: I mentioned this as a scenario and this is still quite possible.

BURNS: Thank you very much. Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the foreign minister for the Northern Alliance, also the United Front.

The Northern Alliance is going to continue pressing ahead. But obviously, they're waiting to see what the result of the air strikes are before they do advance.

Back to you, Aaron.

BROWN: We're all waiting to find out more about that. Matthew Chance is in northern Afghanistan. We have Matthew on the phone.

Matthew, what are you hearing?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, the latest from where we're standing right here -- we're probably the closest that you can get at this stage to these apparent airstrikes on Afghanistan. I'm standing at a very good vantage point, about two kilometers from the front line, just 15 kilometers, a little more than 7, 8 miles from the outskirts of Kabul itself, the Afghan capital.

We're not able to see the city from this position. There is a mountain blocking our view. In fact that mountain marks the territory essentially, the end of the territory controlled by the opposition, anti-Taliban, Northern Alliance and territory that the Taliban controls, say the front line is about from here.

Within the last hour or so, within the last half hour, in fact, we have been seeing a couple of quite intense flashes coming from the direction of Kabul. Also a lot of red tracer fire flying high to the sky over Kabul itself. It's actually very quiet right here at the moment.

The forces of the Northern Alliance, as Doctor Abdullah was saying a few moments ago, have been put on a state of high alert. They say they're in defensive positions. Having said that, a couple hours ago, I was in this location again, earlier, and there was a relatively heavy artillery exchange between the forces of the Northern Alliance and what appeared to be cars or some other kind of vehicles driving along the road from Kabul towards this position.

Commanders of the Northern Alliance forces here say they believe that the Taliban has been reinforcing their lines along this sort of line of control between the forces of the Northern Alliance and the Taliban, in anticipation of some kind of move by them. The commanders I spoke to on the ground here have confirmed to us that they have been told to cooperate with the United States, and that they will at some point begin a push on the Afghan capital in Kabul, They are not saying exactly when that will happen -- Aaron.

BROWN: Matthew, stand by. I want to go to the Pentagon quickly, Jamie McIntyre is there. Jamie, you have some developments?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just some more details on what's going on with this ongoing military action. And I should stress it is still going on. It did begin with a volley of cruise missiles from U.S. and British ships in the Arabian Sea.

Great Britain you may or may not know has cruise missile technology they have received from the United States. You heard the president say this was both the United States and British operation. And we have confirmed that British cruise missiles are a part of this initial volley. The initial targets are air defenses. That's the first thing you always take out, including also some terrorist camps, just in case anybody was still left there, and other strategic targets, military targets connected to the Taliban.

This operation is still going on. We're expecting to get a briefing nonetheless, from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and chairman of the joint chiefs, Richard Meyers, within a half hour or so from the Pentagon. They will broadly lay out what this campaign is trying to do. But they will not be providing a lot of specific details because as I said, the action is still going on.

But these are heavy strikes against a large, a wide array of targets as the United States is trying to hit the Taliban hard and show them that they mean business.

BROWN: Just over the last, let's say three, four hours, was it clear from your position at the Pentagon that this was about to happen? Did you see the kind of signs you expected to see?

MCINTYRE: Yes, it was, it seemed pretty obvious that it was going to happen. The big surprise would have been if it hadn't gone, because of some tactical consideration, perhaps weather concerns or some other problem. But all the signs were pointing to it. And reports from the region was that everybody there was expecting it. That means it's probably unlikely, for instance, that there was anybody in any of these terrorist training camps.

But still, sources say, they're on the list of the primary targets, just in the case that somebody didn't get the word, did not know, didn't read the tea leaves, that the strike was coming.

BROWN: Just to review one point that I may have jotted down incorrectly, this initial attack was sea-based cruise missiles, United States and British forces, correct?

MCINTYRE: That's correct. Great Britain has the same cruise missiles the United States has. It has received them from the United States, the only ally that the U.S. has provided cruise missiles to. They have them only on submarines, but the United States has them on a number of ships, including submarines and surface ships. And at least two U.S. ships were involved in firing these cruise missiles.

We know that because we have reporters on some of those ships and some of the aircraft carriers who are currently under an embargo, but they will be filing their material in the coming hours. We'll get a better picture of exactly what went on from the sea as the strike got underway.

BROWN: And just so our viewers don't wonder about this, these would be correspondents who are part of a military pool who are taken out by the military for just this purpose, to report on these when it is safe to do so.

Again, the British prime minister expected to speak. We might take a moment here and step back. Miles O'Brien can give us a graphic look at how this -- very early stages, an hour or so into this -- might have played out -- Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, first of all, let's orient folks to the lay of the land in Afghanistan. If we bring up our weather, weather map, and bring you down here -- a weather map serving another purpose, I should say, in this case -- as we come down to Afghanistan, you see Kandahar and Kabul.

These are the two key sites we have been talking about, where the key targets are, where some of the infrastructure was targeted according to the president, according to Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon. Kabul is the capital of Afghanistan. Kandahar sort of a spiritual center for the Taliban movement. And we do know, based on our sources and information we have been reporting these three weeks or so, that Osama bin Laden and his cells have operations in and around both of these cities.

Kandahar is a place that has been frequented by al Qaeda as well as Kabul. Let's go through with General Clark helping us through here, sort of the tools in the tool box, if you will, as we look at graphics we put together of some of the missiles that we have that are in play. This first one, the 5,000-pound laser guided weapon, General Clark, I believe, this wouldn't be in play in this particular aspect, or stage of the game, correct?

CLARK: Correct.

O'BRIEN: This would have been potentially fired from an F-15, it is laser guided. Let's move along to a Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missile, give you some basic facts: It's got a range of a thousand miles, which, and it can be launched from a ship, or a submarine. And thus could be, that is well within the range of the Arabian Sea to Afghanistan, correct, General Clark?

CLARK: Yes, it is.

O'BRIEN: Is this a likely first-use type of weapon in this case?

CLARK: It's precisely what is used, yes.

O'BRIEN: How much punch does a Tomahawk have? When we talk about some of these hardened sites, caves, as the president constantly refers to, how much fire power is within them?

CLARK: It has about a thousand-pound warhead. But it is probably not going to go against a cave. What it will used against is buildings, facilities, something that's above ground.

O'BRIEN: Let's move along. We'll talk about the Joint Standoff Weapon, which is another cruise-based missile. This is an air-to- ground Smart Bomb. This is not, once again, one that would be used in this case for sticking, as far as we know, cruise missiles are all that be being used, correct?

CLARK: Correct, at this stage.

O'BRIEN: As we go down the list to the long-range air-to-ground missile, this is another one that probably isn't in play here. This is a weapon with about a 60 mile range. We go to the AGM-86. This is an air-launched cruise missile. This can be launched from a B-52 or an F-15. As far as we know, were these in play?

CLARK: We don't have any information on that yet. Could have been. O'BRIEN: Generally these pack a little more firepower than those that are launched from the surface ships or from the submarines, correct?

CLARK: That's right. The cruise missiles that are modified from the old air launch cruise missile during the Cold War, have about a 3,000 pound warhead. O'BRIEN: Finally, this J-Dam, was this one that would have been in play in the early stage of the game here? This has got a 15-mile range. I suspect not.

CLARK: It could have been if we used stealth aircraft. We don't know yet whether the stealth aircraft are in there or will be going in.

O'BRIEN: Of course, we do know, in the case of this, we have been reporting the deployment of the B-2 aircraft to Diego Garcia, or potentially in that area. Of course the B-2 with refueling has unlimited range, correct?

CLARK: Unlimited, very likely could use a B-2 here and they would they would have a number of these JDam weapons on them.

O'BRIEN: All right, General Clark, keeping us up to speed and trying to give us the shape and give us some contacts as to what tools might be pulled out of the tool backs by U.S. military at this stage -- Aaron.

BROWN: Thank you both. Major General Donald Shepperd is us with, retired Air Force general has been very helpful to us over the last several days, particularly in kind of explaining a sequence of events, how it might likely play out.

General, it is going according to plan, if I remember our conversation on Friday, correctly?

MAJ. GENERAL DON SHEPPERD (RET.): Yes, Aaron, this is not any mystery to those of us in the military here watching. We are seeing large explosions going off and these are not artillery fire. They are not the things that the Taliban is used to seeing. These could be coming from several forces. They could be coming from the Tomahawk missiles that you and General Clark just discussed, from ships in the area. They can come from airborne bombers that are launching these from standoff.

They can be coming from bombers in the United States, Stealth platforms, both stealth fighters launched in the United States or from the Gulf region. And they could also be attacked by special forces or Northern Alliance forces. So they are just seeing the initial phases of this. It is going to be wide spread.

BROWN: General, talk for a minute about, we heard maybe ten minutes ago from the foreign minister of the Northern Alliance, explain for our viewers here how that group, those soldiers might fit in to this plan.

SHEPPERD: Aaron, these soldiers are very very important to our efforts over there. We want to make sure this is not perceived as America against the Islamic or the Arab world. We want the Northern Alliance to be very active. And I'm sure if we had our druthers, the Northern Alliance would march into and take Kabul.

These people are very much integrated in our plans. We want them to do as much as possible and take credit for it. It just makes sense.

BROWN: We should tell our viewers that all that they are seeing on the big screen where they see what is the attack, for those of who remember the Gulf War and the opening hours of the Gulf War, it is considerably less than that, by the way.

We're not seeing large amounts of tracer fire going up. We're not seeing the huge explosions in the background. In any case, all of this is being covered as well by al Jazeera television, a major television outlet in the Middle East. This is the picture that they have up now. We at CNN have an interesting and exclusive relationship with them, which will, among other things, allow us to have a much better sense of how the Islamic world is getting the news, what people in the Islamic world are hearing.

For example, al Jazeera did put up on its broadcast, the president's statement at 1:00 Eastern time today. So at least people who are able to get al Jazeera, not many of them believe they are in Afghanistan, are able to hear what the American side is.

Christiane Amanpour is in Islamabad. Generals, if both of you could stand by, let me go to Christiane for a bit. Christiane, you have been talking to the Pakistani military side, correct?

AMANPOUR: Yes, we have been talking to Pakistani officials. As I said, they have all been expecting this very, very soon. They expected this, this weekend. We know from our sources inside Afghanistan tonight there were attacks near Kandahar, at the airport in Kandahar, radar station down, confirmed by radio contact with the Taliban at the Kandahar Airport.

The command center that they call there also destroyed according to people we contacted there. Also a reporter that we have near Jalalabad has said they have had confirmation that strikes have taken out, carried out south of Jalalabad, apparently an airport there as well. Clearly, people not expecting Osama bin Laden to be caught by airstrikes. But Rifaat Hussain, who is a defense and strategic analyst here in Pakistan, they're obviously hoping, aren't they, for a shift in the balance of power now, to degrade and send the Taliban ruling militia scattering?

RIFAAT HUSSAIN, STRATEGIC ANALYST: Yes, these strikes indicate to me that there is an effort to disable what ever little command and control system the have and then thereby give a chance to the other alliances which yesterday reports indicated they had made substantial gains against the Taliban.

So therefore, it looks like that while the United States will be providing some kind of an air cover and support to the other alliance forces, and they will be making a military push on the ground.

AMANPOUR: And what's the likelihood that the Taliban structure, their military structure, for what it is, will disintegrate?

HUSSAIN: Well, there is all likelihood because if their command and control structures are destroyed, they will have the problem of coordinating it among themselves and the reports yesterday indicated that they had applied about 8,000 of their very special groups along the Uzbekistan border.

To me, it seems quite evident that the Taliban, as far as the ground operations are concerned, will be stretching in different directions, and this will give an opening to the Northern Alliance to make a push towards Kabul.

AMANPOUR: And just to point out Uzbekistan is where the United States has sent ground forces, but also are they hoping that the Taliban, in significant numbers will defect to the alliance?

HUSSAIN: This remains to be seen, but I think there was some indication that once the strikes take place, once, this will then entail the melt down of the Mullah Omar control over the Taliban forces. So I think maybe by tomorrow or day after, if these strikes continue in different intervals, we will get to see some significant movement in terms of a revolt within the Taliban ranks.

AMANPOUR: Rifaat Hussain, thank you very much indeed. And of course, one of the concerns obviously will be for the Pakistani government to see how this plays out now that there has been military action. So far Pakistan, fairly confident that it has its country under control.

Today they put one of the more militant Islamic party leaders under house arrest, trying to get a grip on these demonstrations, anti-American demonstrations they have been calling over the last several weeks. Also we are now hearing more reports from inside Kandahar that lots of people apparently, are fleeing the city of Kandahar. That's the latest from here -- Aaron.

BROWN: Christiane, thank you very much.

We saw a report earlier, as we are talking about the number of soldiers, the possibility of defections, somewhere between 40 an 60,000 soldiers, don't know how accurate that was. It came from a Taliban official, however, and we pass it along. It has been now about a half hour, 35 minutes since the president told the country the attack had begun.

And Major Garrett is at the White House. He joins us now. Good Afternoon.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Aaron. The president's speech, of course, was letting the nation and the world now about the military strikes that had already begun. But there was so much more in the speech that is worthy of added context.

First, the president mentioned that 38 nations had joined and provided ample assistance to the United States, but specifically mentioning Canada, Australia, Germany, and France. The inclusion of Germany very critical. The NATO alliance invoked article five. Germany now on record saying it will provide military assistance to future operations. That is a significant development. Also the president saying that the Taliban had two weeks to meet demands. None of these demands were met, the president said, and now the Taliban will pay a price. Also the word choice, very interesting and crucial, Aaron, as the public digests the president's announcement, describing the campaign as sustained, comprehensive and relentless. That those who are hiding in terrorist camps in Afghanistan will be driven out, and the U.S. will bring them to justice.

Also the president making a very specific reference to those whom he believes are responsible for their terrorist attacks, and their relationship to the Islamic faith: Terrorists and the barbaric criminals who profane a great religion by committing murder in its name. That is how he described those terrorists to the United States and its coalition partners now seek.

Also, as this campaign unfolds, the president sending a very explicit signal to other nations, let me quote him directly, "Every nation has a choice to make. In this conflict there is no neutral ground. If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents, they have become outlaws and murderers themselves," crucial line, Aaron, "they will take that lonely path at their own peril."

Lastly, as other presidents have said at times like this, the president saying, we, the United States, did not ask for this mission, but the president assuring the country we will fulfill it.

BROWN: Major, let me add one item to that, I hope I am adding it, and that I am not simply repeating what you said, he also said as we strike military targets, we will also at the same time, simultaneously, drop food, medicine and supplies to the starving suffering men and women of Afghanistan.

This is a part of a very complicated and very important effort to convince people in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, throughout the Middle East, throughout the Islamic world that this is not a battle against Islam, that this is a battle against terrorists.

This has been the mantra of the White House, of the administration since almost literally a month next Tuesday, that this is not a fight against Islam. And the president made clear that these humanitarian efforts will go on simultaneously to the military action that which got underway a short time ago.

Chris Burns is in Northern Afghanistan and Chris is with us now --Chris.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron this had been foreseen by the foreign minister here, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, earlier in the day. He told a news conference earlier this evening that an attack was imminent. He said it would come soon, very soon.

In fact, earlier in the day the Northern Alliance had closed its airspace to any planes, any helicopters and grounded its own helicopters. They gave no real explanation at first why that was happening. The other thing was, the weather was very still, very sunny, very clear, for the first time in several days. There have been several days of wind and dust storms.

The setting was set really for some kind of airstrike. Also yesterday, we must note that over Kabul, skies of Kabul, there was what was believed to be some kind of a drone plane, a spy plane, reconnaissance plane, that the Taliban had fired on.

Also, in other parts of this Texas-sized country the Northern Alliance is pressing ahead with its offensive, pinning down thousands of Taliban troops in other parts of country, especially in the North where they are strongest, fighting on two fronts in the last couple days, where the Northern Alliance has claimed to taking one provincial capital and surrounding another, taking at least 100 more Taliban fighters -- capturing 100 more, saying that 60 more have defected.

In fact, the Northern Alliance is claiming that some 1,000 fighters might be defecting in the next few days. So, of course none of those gains can be confirmed independently by us, but the Taliban has yet to refute those reports, so there could be some credibility to those reports, showing that the Northern Alliance is trying to show itself to be a credible ally of the United States, has been promising ever since the September 11 attacks, that it would be willing to work with the United States, not only in toppling the Taliban, but also in going after Osama bin Laden.

They say that they have good intelligence on the ground, good intelligence for the U.S. to strike at the Taliban and also to find Osama bin Laden. These are aspects that apparently Washington has found to be valuable to have a relationship with the Northern Alliance -- Aaron.

BROWN: Although it does make the Pakistanis uncomfortable. Chris, thank you. We'll get back to you shortly. We have word now, out of Afghanistan, a Taliban diplomat, I'm assuming that he is physically in Afghanistan, and this is a quote, "We are ready for Jihad. "

The members of Congress were told the other day, Thursday as I recall, that there was a 100 percent chance that if the United States took action against Afghanistan, that there would be some sort of terrorist response. I don't know if that was hyperbole or based on solid intelligence, but that is what some members of Congress and the Intelligence Committee were told Thursday. Obviously the president alluded to that in his statement as well.

Wolf Blitzer in Washington is with Peter Bergen who perhaps knows as much as anyone, that we know, about Osama bin Laden -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Aaron. Peter you have been looking at Osama bin Laden for the last several years, you have spent some time with him obviously. He couldn't have been surprised by this attack. What do you believe is going through his mind right now, assuming he survived.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: We know that the Trade Center attacks had been in the planning for several years, and he called his mother, reportedly, the day before these actions against the World Trade Center, saying that he was going to be not heard from for a while. So, bin Laden obviously had time to plan this out. if indeed he is still alive, based on the 1998 cruise missile attacks against him, aides of his contacted Arabic and Pakistani journalists shortly after the strikes to say he was still alive. So that is something that we might expect tomorrow, the following days.

BLITZER: If he did manage to survive, would it be his pattern to go out and make a public statement in some way. As you know, al Jazeera television, which is in Khatar, in the Persian Gulf, seems to have good access to the Taliban, even to Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda organization.

BERGEN: Well, we have seen, Wolf, that al Jazeera is a place where bin Laden gives videotapes at critical moments. We saw a tape surface yesterday of that kind. So they are a very good source of information about some of the events that are going on in Afghanistan right now.

BLITZER: The working assumption has always been these last several weeks, that Osama bin Laden is indeed in Afghanistan. Has that been your assumption as well?

BERGEN: There is really no where else for him to go, Wolf. As soon as he leaves Afghanistan he becomes exposed to the forces that are looking for him. And it is also a country he knows very well. He has been fighting there on and off since 1986. It is sort of, in a way, home for him.

My guess is that he is at one of his camps, one of the many camps that I'm sure are being targeted right now. South Central Afghanistan there is a province called Urizgan (ph) , which the Northern Alliance has identified as one of his camps. That is about as far as you can get from any of the borders of Afghanistan. That might be a place where he is. Obviously no one knows exactly where he is, but there are up to a dozen camps identified as being linked to him. Surely those are the targets being targeted right now.

BLITZER: This kind of strike that the U.S. and Britain and some other countries are now engaged in, what does that do to cohesion of al Qaeda as far as you know, based on your research over these years?

BERGEN: If we look at the 1998 cruise missile attacks directed at al Qaeda shortly after the embassy bombings in Africa, that was a much smaller operation, that had no impact on bin Laden's ability to operate because obviously he was then able to go and attack the USS Cole in Yemen and produce these World Trade Center attacks.

So these attacks were are seeing right now are obviously much larger, but these are not people who are easily intimidated by the superpowers, in terms of they fought the Russians. They feel they had a part in defeating them. In fact, one of bin Laden's followers told me they actually enjoy this kind of thing. That may have been bravado, but I think you have got to understand the psychology of the group around him.

These are people who are prepared to die. They are not intimidated in a conventional sense about the possibility of dying.

BLITZER: That doesn't necessarily hold true though as far as the Taliban and its forces are concerned. This could have a disruptive impact on them, couldn't it?

BERGEN: The Taliban, like any movement, is not a monolithic movement -- it is divided into moderates and hard liners. There are also former communists who are part of the movement. It's largely a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ethnic movement. You could imagine a situation where if it is perceived as this alliance attack is inexorably going to be followed by the fall of the Taliban people falling away, as was mentioned earlier by Christiane in Islamabad, where we are hearing reports of people leaving Kandahar.

An important point, Wolf, is that any battle in Afghanistan has never really been won by a conventional battle between forces. Usually it is about payoffs. It is about who seems to be winning, people changing sides. If indeed it is seen as a United States-led coalition as (UNINTELLIGIBLE) inexorably going to take over, there will be a melting away, which is not to say there isn't a hard-core Mullah Omar, who themselves fought the Russians.

Many of these people were themselves injured in the war against the Russians. Mullah Omar himself lost an eye in the struggle against the Russians. So, the hard-core around Omar, I don't see them as being easily intimidated. On the other hand, clearly the coalition forces have gone after a number of sites associated with the Taliban and some of the movements leadership may not be with us as we speak.

BLITZER: How important is it now to for the U.S. and Britain and the other coalition partners to follow up with humanitarian aid, airdrops if you will, to the Afghan refugees, who are fleeing, to show that this is not an attack against the people of Afghanistan, it is an attack against specific target?

BERGEN: It is vital, Wolf. The Afghans feel that America abandoned them after the war against the Soviet Union. The embassy there was closed in 1989. That kind of aid will be very helpful in the oncoming days.

BLITZER: Peter Bergen, CNN terrorism expert and authority on Osama bin Laden. Thanks so much. Back to you, Aaron.

BROWN: Wolf, thank you very much. We can tell you that President Bush called the Russian president, President Putin this morning, Sunday, to inform him that these attacks were going on. We know many of you might just be joining us now on this Sunday afternoon.

American forces have launched attacks against as many by our count here, as six, possibly seven different locations in Afghanistan, including the capital, Kabul, including Khandahar, which is the spiritual center. It is somewhat more than that, in fact, where the Taliban are, the top Taliban officials tend to stay in Kandahar. A number of other sites there, using predominantly, we believe, cruise missiles, fired from British and American ships at sea, and we know that they have taken out a command airport, command center in Kandahar. Electricity has been off for the last couple of hours in Kabul. The picture you were seeing in the big screen there, that is Kabul, it is obviously, we looked down at it a fair amount. We don't see a lot of activity in it. But that is the scene there right now.

Jamie McIntyre is at the Pentagon. Jamie we are going to be hearing from you a lot. Tell us what you are picking up incrementally as we go along.

MCINTYRE: We are just in the early stages of this camp -- the early stages of the first day of this campaign. It did begin with a volley of cruise missiles both from U.S. ships in the Arabian Sea, and at least one British submarine, armed with U.S. cruise missiles that the United States has provided as part of the close alliance they have with Great Britain. So it is a U.S.-British strike.

We know that aircraft from strike aircraft, from aircraft carriers in that region are also scheduled to take part in this ongoing operation which I should stress is still going on at the moment. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers, are expected to here in this briefing room within at least 15 minutes to a half hour from now.

We are told that they will lay out broad outlines of what is going on today, but won't give many specifics, because the operation is still going on. A wide range of targets, in this operation, according to Pentagon sources, that has to always begin with neutralizing air defense sites, surface to air missiles and command- and-control centers. You heard Christiane Amanpour report that one of the command centers had, in fact, been hit in Afghanistan.

We have very little specifics other than the fact that among the things that would be targeted would be some training camps where there might still have been some of bin Laden's al Qaeda network, although it is hard to believe they would still be there given the amount of foreshadowing of this event that went on, and also other military targets to destabilize the Taliban, the ruling Taliban regime.

But we are in the very beginning of this. Details are quite sketchy, and we are expecting to get more details as the day goes on.

BROWN: And just, Jamie, to reinforce a point you made at the beginning, Mr. Rumsfeld will outline, perhaps in broad strokes, but the administration has made it very, very clear that they are not going to supply much detail in this, that any detail we are able to get is going to be our own reporting, not necessarily coming from them.

MCINTYRE: Well, there has been some degree of cooperation worked out between the Pentagon and news media after the news media complained that the Pentagon was being too restrictive, and not allowing coverage. In fact, the Pentagon has allowed American news organizations, to put reporters on some of the ships involved, under strict embargo, that their material not be released until after the operation is over.

But we will begin in the hours and days ahead hearing of the those firsthand accounts as well. So we will get a fair amount of detail, but the point they want to stress at the Pentagon is that this is not a one-day event. This is a campaign that is more akin to winning the Cold War, something that is going to have not a lot of spectacular battles, but a lot of continuous pressure from a lot of nations, particularly on the law enforcement and intelligence front. And the war against terrorism is going to be waged on many, many fronts. This is just a day one.

BROWN: Jamie, I need to interrupt you. The British prime minister about to speak.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I want to pay tribute if I might, right at the outset, to Britain's armed forces. There is no greater strength for a British prime minister and the British nation at a time like this than to know that the forces we are calling upon are amongst at the very best in the world.

They and their families are, of course, carrying an immense burden at this moment and will be feeling deep anxiety, as will the British people. But we can take pride in their courage, their sense of duty and the esteem with which they are held throughout the world.

No country lightly commits forces to military action and the inevitable risks involved, but we made it clear following the attacks upon the United States on September 11 that we would take part in action once it was clear who was responsible.

There is no doubt in my mind, nor in the mind of anyone who has been through all the available evidence, including intelligence material, that these attacks were carried out by the Al Qaeda network masterminded by Osama bin Laden.

Equally, it is clear that his network is harbored and supported by the Taliban regime inside Afghanistan.

It is now almost a month since the atrocity occurred. It is more than two weeks since an ultimatum was delivered to the Taliban to yield up terrorists or face the consequences. It is clear beyond doubt that they will not do this. They were given the choice of siding with justice or siding with terror, and they chose to side with terror.

There are three parts, all equal important, to the operation in which we're engaged: military, diplomatic and humanitarian.

The military action we are taking will be targeted against places we know to be involved in the Al Qaeda network of terror, or against the military apparatus of the Taliban. This military plan has been put together mindful of our determination to do all we humanly can to avoid civilian casualties.

I cannot disclose, obviously, how long this action will last. But we will act with reason and resolve.

We have set the objectives to eradicate Osama bin Laden's network of terror and to take action against the Taliban regime that is sponsoring him.

As to the precise British involvement, I can confirm that last Wednesday the United States government made a specific request that a number of U.K. military assets be used in the operation which has now begun, and I gave authority for these assets to be deployed.

They include the base at Diego Garcia, reconnaissance and other aircraft, and missile-firing submarines. The missile-firing submarines are in use tonight.

The air assets will be available for use in the coming days.

The United States are obviously providing the bulk of the force required in leading this operation, but this an international effort. As well as the U.K., France, Germany, Australia and Canada have also committed themselves to take part in it.

On the diplomatic and political front, from the time I've been prime minister, I cannot recall a situation that has commanded so quickly such a powerful coalition of support, and not just from those countries directly involved in military action but for many others in all parts of the world.

That coalition has, I believe, strengthened, not weakened, in the 26 days since the atrocity occurred. And this is in no small measure due to the statesmanship of President Bush, to whom I pay tribute tonight.

The world understands that whilst, of course, there are dangers in acting, the dangers of inaction are far, far greater -- the threat of further such outrages, the threat to our economies, the threat to the stability of the world.

On the humanitarian front, we are assembling a coalition of support for refugees in and outside Afghanistan, which is as vital as the military coalition.

Even before September 11, 4 million Afghans were on the move. There are 2 million refugees in Pakistan, and 1.5 million in Iran. We have to act, for humanitarian reasons, to alleviate the appalling suffering of the Afghan people and to deliver stability so that people from that region stay in that region. Britain, of course, is heavily involved in that humanitarian effort.

So we are taking action, therefore, on all those three fronts: military, diplomatic and humanitarian.

I also want to say very directly for the British people why this matters so much directly to Britain.

First, let us not forget that the attacks of September 11 represented the worst terrorist outrage against British citizens in our history. The murder of British citizens, whether it happens overseas or not, is an attack upon Britain.

But even if no British citizen had died, it would it be right to act. This atrocity was an attack on us all -- on people of all faiths and people of none.

We know the Al Qaeda network threatened Europe including Britain, and indeed any nation throughout the world that does not share their fanatical views. So we have a direct interest in acting in our own self-defense to protect British lives.

It was also an attack not just on lives but on livelihoods. We can see since the 11th of September how economic confidence has suffered with all that means for British jobs and British industry. Our prosperity and standard of living, therefore, require to us deal with this terrorist threat.

We act also because the Al Qaeda network and the Taliban regime are funded in large part on the drugs trade. Ninety percent of all the heroin sold on British streets originates from Afghanistan.

Stopping that trade is, again, directly in our interest.

I wish to say finally, as I've said many times before, that this is not a war with Islam. It angers me, as it angers the vast majority of Muslims, to hear bin Laden and his associates described as Islamic terrorists. They are terrorists, pure and simple.

Islam is a peaceful and tolerant religion. And the acts of these people are wholly contrary to the teachings of the Koran.

These are difficult and testing times, therefore, for all of us. People are bound to be concerned about what the terrorists may seek to do in response.

I should say there is, at present, no specific, credible threat to the U.K. that we know of, and that we have in place tried-and- tested contingency plans which are the best possible response to any further attempts at terror.

This, of course, is a moment of the utmost gravity for the world. None of the leaders involved in this action want war. None of our nations want it. We are a peaceful people. But we know that sometimes, to safeguard peace, we have to fight. Britain has learnt that lesson many times before in our history.

We only do it if the cause is just. But this cause is just. The murder of almost 7,000 innocent people in America was an attack on our freedom, our way of life, an attack on civilized values the world over.

We waited so that those responsible could be yielded up by those shielding them. That offer was refused. We have now no choice. So we will act. And our determination in acting is total. We will not let up or rest until our objectives are met in full.

Thank you. BROWN: British Prime Minister Tony Blair explaining to his people, to the British people, and to the world, why the British government made a decision to get involved in the attacks which started this afternoon. The prime minister particularly, in the last week, his words have been the sharpest to the Taliban.

He has been involved in the diplomacy, particularly dealing with the Pakistanis over the last week, in an effort to secure that part of the coalition. He has, as the president indicated the other day, been a very good friend to Mr. Bush through it all.

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