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America Strikes Back: Northern Alliance and Taliban Face Off Near Bagrham Airport

Aired October 23, 2001 - 06:01   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.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Now let's get the latest developments from the ground in Afghanistan. Our Chris Burns is there in northern Afghanistan as he has been for the last few weeks. He checks in now with the very latest.

Chris, good morning or good afternoon for you. What can you tell us?

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good afternoon. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

HARRIS: Chris, if you can hear me, hold on for just a second. We're having a little problem with getting some glitches there on the satellite telephone. Is he - is he back? Yes, looks like he might - no we're not actually - we're not using videophone. This is national transmission.

BURNS: I hope you can hear me.

HARRIS: There you go Chris. We can see you and we can hear you. Take it away.

BURNS: This is for real. OK. Terrific.

Well you can see over my shoulder there is some black smoke arising from at least one point. Tensions very high here, very close to the frontline where the Northern Alliance and Taliban are facing off near Bagrham airport. And let me give you a bit of a walk-about here because if you pan over this way, that's where the airstrikes are happening.

If you pan over further, Kabul is over in that direction. That's where we see quite a bit of that night scope video that we shoot in the evening and what you see right here also is the road to Kabul. If you keep going straight on that road, that's where you get to the capital. That's where the Northern Alliance is aiming at -- trying to get to.

And you pan a little bit further, and you get to the mountains over here. In those mountainsides, up on the top there, that's where the Taliban are planted. We've got a round of gunfire not far from us in the last half-hour. We're not sure exactly where that came from, but tense -- quite a bit of tension here along this frontline. A lot of exchange of artillery, mortar and gunfire overnight around here, and also not far from here is Characar.

That's a town near the frontline that I did a report on a few days ago. Now they got, according to the Northern Alliance, they got a rocket attack that according to the Northern Alliance killed eight people and wounded 18 -- that is killed seven people and wounded 18. So the tensions remain high. The Taliban are fighting back even though there are U.S. airstrikes in support of the Northern Alliance.

And also to the north the town of Mazar-e-Sharif, the strategic town held by the Taliban. The Northern Alliance is getting some air support from the U.S.-led airstrikes and the Northern Alliance is claiming to be making some gains, but it's very difficult -- they've been held back by counter attacks by the Taliban. The Taliban are fighting back Leon.

HARRIS: Chris, tell us how hot and heavy the fighting over there has been this morning. I understand there was quite a bit of shooting today.

BURNS: Well there actually was -- actually we've got some night scope video if you've got that on hand. But we saw quite a bit of overnight -- some -- in fact other journalists have told us from the field in various parts and crews that we have that they saw quite a bit of fighting even though there was a second round of U.S. airstrikes. But only the second time along that frontline, the Taliban were fighting back with artillery, mortar and machine gun fire.

We heard some of that even from where we are, which is a bit further north from the frontline. We heard the boom of artillery through the night. So it is very tense. The fighting is going on. The Northern Alliance has yet to launch a full offensive toward Kabul. However, they say that they are preparing for an attack, if the U.S.- led airstrikes soften the Taliban positions to that point that they feel comfortable to move ahead.

Leon.

HARRIS: Yes, Chris, I have not asked you this, and I'm just wondering right now after hearing you said that you are actually hearing this. How far away are you from the fighting right now?

BURNS: It's difficult to say. Let's say a few miles. We don't want to give away exactly where we are, but we're a few short miles from that frontline. If you look over my shoulder, that is where Bagrham Airport is and the Bagrham is considered fairly strategic. If the Northern Alliance can get a hold of the entire airport -- they don't have what's across the runway, if they can get a hold of that, that could serve as a very strategic point, perhaps, for U.S. air operations.

That is where some of the fighting is going on. That is what we've seen day after day. There's continuous exchange of mortar, machine gun and artillery fire throughout the day. That is really the bone of contention, the center point, the focal point of the fighting along this frontline is for Bagrham Airport. If the Northern Alliance can consolidate its holdings over that airport, that could be an advantage not only for the Northern Alliance, but also for U.S.-led forces Leon.

HARRIS: OK. We got you. Chris Burns, thank you very much. Be safe and be careful over there. We'll check back with you later on, of course, throughout the day here on CNN.

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