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America Strikes Back: Opposition Forces Hoping Allied Airstrikes Soften Up Taliban Fighters Enough to Capture Strategic Town

Aired October 24, 2001 - 06:30   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: In northern Afghanistan opposition forces are hoping the allied airstrikes soften up the Taliban fighters enough to capture the strategic town of Mazar-e-Sharif. And our Matthew Chance reports this morning the Northern Alliance has their work cut out for them.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (INAUDIBLE) of the Northern Alliance military (INAUDIBLE) engineered at this tank workshop is speeding up their efforts, but position (ph) commanders say the antiquated (ph) equipment must (INAUDIBLE) more dated, so (INAUDIBLE) weapons on the frontlines. (INAUDIBLE)

Outside the yard still with the war (INAUDIBLE) rudiments of sporadic military aid and guns captured in battles past (ph). The work now to salvage as much of this as possible for the coming fight. Commanders here say it's war they're determined to win.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The Taliban have brought our people only grief this general (ph) told us. They harbor terrorists and foreign militants. Drugs become Afghanistan's number one (INAUDIBLE) he says. We aren't indifferent to this. We're saddened. We must fight.

CHANCE: It's the shared enemies with the United States and its allies since placing what battered armor these opposition forces can raise alongside the world's most powerful and technologically advanced military (INAUDIBLE). But no matter how much these old Soviet era (ph) tanks are polished and fixed up, there may never be enough to punch through the frontlines.

The Taliban is simply too well dug in for that, which is why Northern Alliance commanders are watching the latest U.S.-led strikes against the Taliban with such intense interest. Warplanes of the U.S. coalition have been continuing their strikes against the frontlines, but the rough hits of the tanks and the artillery of the Taliban have yet to be silenced. And with no orders yet to advance on Kabul, the outnumbered and outgunned fighters of the Northern Alliance (INAUDIBLE) look to the skies and wait.

Leon, with me now and looking to the skies ourselves in the last few hours, I've seen not a great deal at this stage. You're in this very forward position overlooking the Shimoli planes. The frontline, of course, north of Kabul, of course which Taliban forces face off against the forces of the Northern Alliance. It's also the place that we've been witnessing those U.S.-led airstrikes against Taliban frontline positions for the past three consecutive days.

(INAUDIBLE) mentioning, though, we heard a plane - a jet plane fly overhead a couple of hours ago, but apart from that, it's been very quiet throughout the course of the day. But hopefully it will be a good vantage point to bring you the latest developments as soon as they happen. If anymore airstrikes take place, we should be able to see them very well from this position here.

Now quickly let me just show you what's over here. Over there (INAUDIBLE) that's the road to Kabul itself -- give you a better picture of our location right now. Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, just 45 kilometers from where we're standing right now, but the Taliban frontline just 10 kilometers, about five or six miles down that line there.

And obviously a lot of no-man's land in between or two. Now many of the residents of this area have already left. It's a very volatile area. It has changed hands between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance forces three times in the past five years. It is regularly coming under rocket and artillery attacks, so it is quite a volatile position, but still, as I mentioned, hopefully it gives us a good vantage point on the developments as they unfold over the course of the day.

Leon, back to you.

HARRIS: All right Matthew, quickly, one last question here. For the last three or four days or so, we've been watching that road to Kabul you just showed us there. Between you and Chris Burns, have been showing - pointing it out to us in your live reports, and I can't say that I've seen more than a handful of people actually on that road and using it.

What has the traffic been like on that road? Has it been - has it been heavy? Has it been light? Has it been nonexistent? Has there been civilians? What? Can you give us an idea?

CHANCE: Yes, the traffic is extremely light along this road, not least because it's a very difficult and dangerous road through, which of course there people that do cross this way and back and forth from Kabul. It's not a mine road. It is usable.

The trouble is it does straddle those frontline positions of the Taliban and the Northern Alliance just a few kilometers - say 10 kilometers from where I'm standing right now. They're also - there aren't that many cars in Afghanistan. (INAUDIBLE) you see a lot more people walking on foot. You can see now a car - actually having said that, there is a car about to drive up the road I think.

But there are a lot of people on foot, a lot of horses and carts, as well. People taxi (ph) sort of pull strong taxis (INAUDIBLE) ferry people to and from - to and from the frontline here. So it's very light use, but it's still a key archery in this part of northern Afghanistan.

Leon back to you.

HARRIS: (INAUDIBLE) one of those people there have CNL (ph). All of a sudden we mention the road and everybody goes on into it. Matthew Chance, thank you very much. We'll talk with you later on.


KAGAN: We've covered the battleground, so away from there, there are actually political moves at work hoping to shape a peaceful future for Afghanistan.

Rebecca MacKinnon has more.


REBECCA MACKINNON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In towns and villages around Peshawar, thousands of Afghan refugees are living off friends and relatives or the kindness of strangers. This four-room compound houses four families, large ones. This mother of 10 says the bombing of Jalalabad put her husband, a tailor, out of business. They couldn't feed their children. What kind of Afghanistan would they like to return to?


MACKINNON: He says he wants a government that create proper jobs. Most people can't support their families on what they earn these days he says. He also says most Afghans he knows want the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden.

On Afghanistan's northern front, one opposition group, the Northern Alliance, has been fighting the Taliban. But on Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan, exiled anti Taliban commanders and politicians have so far chosen not to fight. Instead they're building political alliances.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We want to quickly minimize the military action and replace it with a political platform and achieve the same objectives as the military campaign. Our hope is that we should replace the military campaigns with a credible political process.

MACKINNON: Exile Afghan politician Pir Gailant (ph) will convene a meeting of Afghan leaders from inside and outside Afghanistan to agree on their country's future setup. That arrangement will likely include an interim government led by exile King Zahir Shah, who would convene a council of elders that would select a firmanite (ph) government.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will there be any people who were recently with the Taliban (INAUDIBLE) left the Taliban?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Maybe. We have extended the invitation. MACKINNON: In order for a future government of Afghanistan to be successful, organizers of this week's meeting say it must clearly be a product of Afghans, not the United States or other countries. Otherwise, they warn, it will be doomed to failure.

Rebecca MacKinnon, CNN, Peshawar, Pakistan.





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