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America Strikes Back: Bagrham Airport Now Targeted by Airstrikes

Aired October 23, 2001 - 06:45   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.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Just a brief while ago, we were showing you some live pictures near the Bagrham Airport in Afghanistan that, as we understand, it is currently the subject of U.S. airstrikes.

We have our Nic Robertson standing by -- or is it Chris Burns? Chris Burns standing by near this airport.

Now, just to watch the picture on your screen, it might not mean a lot. We realize it looks hazy, and you can see a field on the bottom. But we're going to bring Chris in to explain exactly what we think is taking place there right now -- Chris.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, a lot of action going on despite that haze. There are U.S. war jets streaking overhead as we speak. Not sure if you can pick that up, but there are rapid fire explosions in the last 20 to 30 minutes. You can see more smoke rising from points where there are bright red and orange flashes in the last few minutes. And just at least 20 or so -- 20 or 30 explosions in the last 15 minutes alone.

Those airstrikes are the third day of airstrikes along this very key front between here and Kabul. Kabul is about 25 miles to the south of here. This front line is about five miles at the most from here, and we're watching where these airstrikes have been going on, not only today, but in the last two other days.

The hope among the Northern Alliance is that with repeated airstrikes like these, they can soften up those Taliban positions and move ahead toward the capital. However, the Taliban have been fighting back fiercely. There have been fierce exchanges overnight of machine gun, mortar and artillery fire booming in the night. So the Taliban have been fighting back fiercely despite these airstrikes.

Also in the north, around Mazar-e-Sharif, the strategic northern town the Taliban are holding on desperately to, the Northern Alliance have been trying to advance but facing counterattack. U.S.-led airstrikes even overnight have been trying to soften up those Taliban positions. So far, the commanders say that they still need more of these airstrikes to move ahead -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Chris, as I understand it, even if these airstrikes are able to soften up the Taliban position, it's not going to be a clear shot for the Northern Alliance to just march on through to Kabul. The area -- the territory between the Bagrham Airport and Kabul is very dangerous.

BURNS: Absolutely. If you can see some of the outline of that mountain range there, that of the Sofed mountains are as high as 10,000 feet high -- extremely rugged terrain. Taliban -- hardened Taliban fighters are dug in those mountains -- extremely hazardous. That is where U.S.-led airstrikes have also been raiding in recent days, trying to soften them up as well.

A very, very hazardous route to take toward Kabul that the Northern Alliance is, so far, reluctant to advance on until there are more U.S.-led airstrikes. They say that the airstrikes are nice, but they are not enough yet. They are waiting to see more. If today is any indication, if this keeps up day by day, perhaps they will get their wish -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Chris, can you also give us an idea -- and it is hard for us to see -- I mean, you mentioned the mountains. I don't think most people at home can even see the outline of those mountains. What exactly is being bombed? What is in that area near the Bagrham Airport?

BURNS: If it's anything like what it was in the last couple of days, there are troop positions, tank positions, artillery positions. The Taliban outnumber and outgun the Northern Alliance, and this is what these airstrikes is aimed at is leveling the playing field, as it were, trying to make it more of an even match, so the Northern Alliance can try to advance. However, they are undergunned, undertrained in some ways and undermanned. And that is the problem with the Northern Alliance.

Will they be able to advance toward Kabul? Will they be able to advance toward Mazar-e-Sharif and other cities? That is the best test now to see whether U.S. airstrikes can actually be effective in advancing that and putting more pressure on the Taliban -- the Taliban regime to step down -- Daryn.

KAGAN: And just -- and finally, Chris, as Americans continue their instant geography lesson with Afghanistan, give us an idea of whether Bagrham is in relation to Kabul.

BURNS: Oh, I'm sorry, Daryn. I missed that, because of some static -- pardon me.

KAGAN: That's OK. I'll just repeat the question. I was saying as Americans continue their instant geography lesson, give us an idea of where the Bagrham Airport is and where that is in relation to Kabul and the significance of it.

BURNS: Absolutely. Why don't we do that? In fact, we could. Do you got the camera ready there, Gerald (ph)? What we're going to do -- we'll give it to you right now, because I don't hear any jets. When we start hearing jets again, we'll shoot back over this way.

This is Bagrham Airport here. That is where the fighting has been going on. That is that front line there. The Bagrham Airport is seen as strategic, not only to the Northern Alliance, but perhaps also to U.S. forces, who perhaps could use that air base -- a former Soviet air base for their operations.

If you look a little bit further to the right here, you'll see perhaps a bit of that Sofed mountain range. Right at the foot of those mountains is really where that front line is, and if you keep on going, you'll get eventually to the road to Kabul. That is the road to Kabul, about 25 miles south of here is where the city is. That's what they're trying to fight toward.

And if you keep on going a little bit further to the right, you'll see a mountain range over there, and perhaps some of the fighters here, who are watching the airstrikes as well. Those -- on the tops of those mountains are where the Taliban fighters are also dug in. They have been lobbing mortars periodically on villages around here, including Charikar town, which I did a report on a few days ago about a city living on the doorstep of this front line. And, in fact, overnight, the Northern Alliance says that some of those mortars actually were dropped into Charikar and killed 7 people and wounded 18.

So it is a very, very tense area. This point here, in fact, is surrounded on three sides by the Taliban, and the Northern Alliance is, again, hoping that if those airstrikes are effective along that front line over my shoulder, that they'll be able to advance on toward Kabul -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Just real quickly, Chris. I mean, you say it's tense, but I can't help but notice the guys over your right shoulder just sitting on someone's roof watching the action like it's a spectator sport.

BURNS: That's what's kind of surprising about this conflict. Now, these are people, who have lived with war for more than two decades, and nobody flinches when you hear gunfire, unless it's very, very close. It was around about an hour ago that it passed by very closely and people hit the deck.

But aside from that, there is kind of a -- it's sort of a background noise, if I may say so, and people don't flinch at that. They are used to this kind of conflict. There's war everywhere around you. You see the wreckage of war. You see trashed Soviet tanks around you. You see houses with bullet holes in them. It's all part of the surroundings and the environment quite sadly -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Chris Burns in northern Afghanistan -- thanks for putting it into perspective and letting us know the latest of the pictures we're seeing on those airstrikes -- thank you very much.

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