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MORNINGS WITH PAULA ZAHN

Gen. Don Shepperd Speaks About the Prisoner of War Uprising

Aired November 26, 2001 - 09:42   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.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Now let's turn our attention back to the war. As the Northern Alliance flexes its military muscle, hundreds of Taliban soldiers are surrendering. But as we learned a short time ago, there have been some American casualties during some of the latest action. Five servicemen have been injured, three of them seriously, after a bomb landed too close to their position during action to end a bloody revolt by Taliban prisoners. Eventually those who end up in charge will have to decide what to do with these prisoners.

Miles O'Brien has more on that from Atlanta -- Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, it all began with what appears to be an uprising by prisoners of war. The U.S. called in some air strikes to help put down a revolt by prisoners at this compound near Mazar-e-Sharif. And in the melee, those five servicemen were injured, although we're told none of those injuries are considered life threatening. Precision-guided weapons were called in, but clearly those special operation forces were in very close proximity to those bombs as they were dropped. The net result is that there is continued bombing underway in an effort to quell that prisoner of war uprising.

Let's get a little more insight into the rules of engagement, so to speak, as it relates to prisoners of war. We're joined by General Don Shepperd, retired of the U.S. Air Force.

Good to see you again, sir.

MAJOR GENERAL DON SHEPPERD (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: Morning, Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right, prisoners of war, Geneva Conventions come to mind, different rules of engagement. At what point do they become combatants?

SHEPPERD: Well they become combatants any time they pose a danger to our forces. The general rule of thumb is an American soldier or any soldier under the Geneva Convention can protect himself when they feel threatened. What you are -- what you are not allowed to do is you're not allowed to execute or murder prisoners that are trying to surrender.

As I watched these surrenders going on over the weekend, I could see that they were not being done by trained troops who knew what they were doing. The searches were very sloppy, very cursory and certainly not the way our troops are trained to do it. The Americans were not involved in these, as we have since learned, but it was a -- it was a -- it was not well done from a search standpoint and then bad things happened.

O'BRIEN: All right. As you were talking, there were some close- up pictures of some grenades that were confiscated from some of these Taliban forces or forces allied with the Taliban. We have some reports that some of these prisoners have actually detonated grenades. At least in one case, a suicide bomber killing a police chief, a local police chief. What can the special operations forces of the U.S. do to try to ensure this is done in a safe manner?

SHEPPERD: Well the special operations forces can insert influence by advising them on what to do. The troops that normally capture prisoners are infantry troops. And normally, in the United States military, we then turn them over to the military police who are trained in how to handle prisoners, what to do with them. The DCS, deputy chief of staff in (ph) Intelligence, is responsible for prisoner interrogation. All of them -- all of them protected, of course, by the Geneva Convention. and the JAG, the Judge Advocate General, has the responsibility and prepotency to see that the Geneva Convention is followed throughout our troops. We do not kill. We do not murder. We do interrogate prisoners under the laws of armed conflict.

O'BRIEN: Is there some concern, and General, we don't know precisely how this all got underway there. We're still trying to sort this all out. But is there some concern that perhaps Northern Alliance forces took an opportunity here perhaps to settle some old scores?

SHEPPERD: Well I think it may be a little less complicated than that. It appears that the people surrendering had a plan to either do this and fight to the death. Perhaps they thought they were going to certain death based upon previous Afghan experiences or perhaps it was just a plan that they were going to do this. It was not -- does not appear to be a spontaneous uprising. Then air was called in in General Dostum's compound, the Kala Jangee (ph) compound, about 30 miles to the west of Mazar-e-Sharif to put down the rebellion. So this kind of got out of hand really quick, but it looked like a well -- a well thought out plan by the people surrendering.

O'BRIEN: All right, sort of orchestrated then perhaps.

Major General Don Shepperd, retired of the U.S. Air Force, our military analyst, thanks, as always, for your help understanding all of this.

And just to underscore, the five U.S. soldiers who were injured, not considered life threatening. A couple of them did in fact have to be MediVacced.

We're also working on a report that another U.S. citizen, perhaps with another agency, not with the Pentagon, might have been killed in this attack. Still trying to nail that one down as well -- Paula.

ZAHN: All right, Miles, thank you.

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