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CNN SUNDAY MORNING

War Against Terror Will Involve Amorphous Front Lines

Aired October 7, 2001 - 07:22   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.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: Kamal Hyder reported to us earlier about possible Taliban troop movements within Afghanistan. Miles O'Brien now has some more on that -- Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Jeanne.

You know, we've been talking all along in relationship to this war against terrorism, about the fact that the front lines in this war might be rather amorphous, might occur over all -- many parts of the globe. But what we're about to tell you about is a more traditional buildup along a border.

Let's take a look down, fly down into Afghanistan and give you a sense of what might be happening right now based on our best accounts from the region. First of all, let me show about Uzbekistan, which is right in this area. There is an important swathe of the border there, about 80 miles in length with Afghanistan and that is where, according to our sources, the Taliban is sending some additional troops, some four to -- excuse me, seven to 10,000 troops.

Now, this area right in here is controlled by the group called the Northern Alliance and so that kind of buffers up against it. In the meantime, U.S. troops are reportedly staging in at Uzbekistan, at some airfields, former Soviet airfields in the southeastern portion of that country. So let's take a look at this two-dimensional map, if you will, for just a moment.

Once again, there's that 80-mile swathe, which is so critical. In 1979, the Soviets staged their huge invasion of Afghanistan right from some of these very air bases. That infrastructure pretty much remaining in place. There were reports that in and around this particular air base, Khanabad, reports of unusually high aircraft activity. That coupled with the fact that we have heard that 1,000 members of the 10th Mountain Division are supposedly heading in there. That's an elite Army group that is trained to fight and operated in the high altitudes and this, of course, would qualify, the Hindu Kush (ph) Mountains with elevations well in excess of 10,000 feet. With winter coming in, their expertise would be needed.

So we have Northern Alliance controlled territory here. This is a much more porous border right here, clearly. And the possibility now of some Taliban forces coming up in here on the order of seven to 10,000 troops. Taliban claiming they have between 40 and 60,00 soldiers all together poised to repeal any sort of U.S. attack. Of course, as we've been telling you all along, the likelihood of massive forces coming over this border, very unlikely given the nature of this very unusual fight against terrorism. Sort of a different way at looking at warfare, if you will.

And now while, the 10th Mountain Division, which dates back to World War II and was literally outfitted with skis and fought in the Italian Alps, has a tremendous history and a tremendous capability of working in the mountains, fighting in the mountains. There are also other branches of the service that are doing similar training, including the Marines. Thelma Gutierrez has more on that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Alpha command is stationary, so I'm jumping in the bag.

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a covert world closed to civilians.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seven, four, six, four, eight, one. They're still on the move.

GUTIERREZ: A place where commandos blend into the night, glimpsed only with our night vision lens. It's called the Mountain Warfare Training Center near Bridgeport, California, where 10,000 U.S. Marines practice mountain assault techniques every year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A small reconnaissance. We're trying to check out the area around us.

GUTIERREZ: The military says this is routine training. But this year, the training has special relevance; the rugged terrain here matches some of the challenges of Afghanistan's mountains.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lighthorse, Lighthorse.

GUTIERREZ: The training is designed to stimulate real battle conditions. This is the field command center, a high tech, mobile communications operation where the units' positions are tracked and so are the enemies. No phone calls, no two-way radios are needed here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this corner, we maintain what's called a Via Sent Digital Communications System and load it into the computer, shoot it in a burst of transmission behind our headquarters. And now, all of a sudden, they have a complete picture of operational plan that we want to carry out.

GUTIERREZ: It happens instantaneously. The information is encrypted twice, but technology has its price.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are tremendous tools. They give us tremendous capability. But also like anything, it is susceptible to viruses and also, I have to keep a generator outside running all the time whereas five years ago, doing this, is I didn't have that noise signature and I could do everything without making a lot of noise. GUTIERREZ: The troops stay on the move all night, in the cold, with little sleep. By day, they practice survival on steep hillsides that reach 14,000 feet.

KEVIN DITE, ROYAL MARINE COMMANDO: This mountain range in particular is very, very loose rock. It's all shall, which means every foot you put down doesn't stay where you put it. It'll go about two foot below you.

GUTIERREZ: For the past month, the 42nd Commando group of the British Royal Marines, train alongside the 1st Battalion Six Marine Regiment from North Carolina.

LT. COL. DAVID HOOK, ROYAL MARINE COMMANDER: We don't have the opportunity to train at this sort of altitude in the United Kingdom. But more importantly, it gives us the opportunity to train alongside our U.S. Marine Corps. Brothers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Say again, over.

GUTIERREZ: Together, they demonstrate an assault of a 300-foot cliff.

CAPT. BRAD YOUNG, U.S. MARINE CORPS.: Actually, an indirect approach -- the reason they're coming this route is because it's not definitive and it gives them an ability to slip in the backdoor of an enemy force.

GUTIERREZ: The days of practice pay off. They make it up to the ridge within minutes. Neither or these units, Americans or British, have yet been given deployment orders. They say, with this rugged mountain training, they are ready when the order comes.

Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, in the Sierra Nevada, California.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: So as the Marines and as the other branches of service continue their training in this high altitude, rugged terrain sort of endeavor, let's remind you that this one border, this particular border right at Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, it is only about an 80 mile swathe there, is the focus of a lot of attention. It's unclear what might be happening along this border, Turkmenistan. Tajikistan also may come into play. But for this morning, at least, a lot of activity being focused right there on that 80 mile swathe, which separates Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

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