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Israeli Hitting Back Hard Today After Suicide Attacks Over Weekend; Are U.S. Forces on Way to Get Bin Laden?

Aired December 4, 2001 - 09:18   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Israeli is hitting back hard today after horrific suicide attacks over the weekend. Israeli warplanes and helicopter gunships raked targets in Gaza and the West Bank today. Many of those targets are symbols of Palestinian sovereignty. Some of the explosions came very close to Yasser Arafat, who was in Ramallah, and that's where we pick up with CNN's Rula Amin.

Rula, what's the latest from there?

RULA AMIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, it's the end of the day here. But the morning started with a missile strike. At this office you can see behind me, you can see part of the damage. The very symbolic meaning of this office is that it's actually very close to Yasser Arafat's headquarters. There's only one wall separating this building from the building where Yasser Arafat was sitting, meeting with his aides.

We spoke to Yasser Arafat inside his offices in an exclusive interview. and he told us this is serious escalation on part of the Israeli government. He accused Mr. Sharon of escalating in order to provoke some kind of a Palestinian response in order to stay away from the peace table. This is what Yasser Arafat had to tell us.


YASSER ARAFAT, PALESTINIAN LEADER: He don't want me to succeed, and for this, he's escalating his military activities against our people, against our towns, against our cities, against our establishments.

AMIN: Succeed in what?

ARAFAT: In what we had decided, in to face these terrorist activities.

AMIN: You're saying he doesn't want you to succeed.

ARAFAT: Yes, because he don't want a peace process to start. What he is insisting, the whole plan, which is -- he had decided and determined (ph).

(END VIDEO CLIP) AMIN: Now, what the Palestinian Authority Officials are saying is that the Israeli government is targeting Palestinian infrastructure in an attempt to undermine the Palestinian authority, to weaken it, and there is a lot of pressure being put on Yasser Arafat, by the United States, by European countries, in order to crackdown on the militants. Israel is calling for such a pressure, and we have heard earlier from the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.


EHUD BARAK, FMR. ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: If his own (UNINTELLIGIBLE) continuation of kind of governing the Palestinian was at stake, he would take the steps in order to put an end to it, and the reason that he doesn't do it, that he doesn't fill the pressure heavy enough, I believe that only when it will become clear to him that the he's about to lose his power, unless he begins seriously to take the terror challenge kind of head on, it's only then that he might consider doing the right things.


AMIN: Now from here, there's a different perspective. Palestinian analyst say this pressure actually weakens Yasser Arafat and hampers his ability to crackdown on Palestinian militants. They also warn, any kind of attempt to get rid of Yasser Arafat will only make Israel face the Extreme militant Hamas and al-jihad -- Paula.

ZAHN: Rula, we have a sampling of some of the editorials that were run this morning, basically really calling on Yasser Arafat to -- well, let me just read them, so you can characterize this. From the "Minneapolis Star Tribune," an editorial. "Today is Arafat's day to act, to boldly take on Hamas, jihad and other extremists groups and win, or pack up his papers and go. "The New York Times" editorial basically saying the same thing, saying time is running out for Mr. Arafat. How widely held of a perception is it that Mr. Arafat's days may be numbered?

AMIN: You know, Paula, when we spoke to Yasser Arafat today, we said, many people are saying this is the moment of truth. He told us he was angry, but he said he is putting 100 percent effort, that he is committed to putting the effort, and he will continue to arrest those people, but he warned, nobody can stop terror attacks or violence 100 percent. He showed examples, when the Israeli were here, they could not stop it. Even the United States, the biggest superpower in the world, could not stop the bin Laden terror attacks. And he told us that only peace, only a peace agreement can bring a halt, a total halt to violence.

He is aware of the pressure that is on him, but he doesn't seem to think that he has a lot of ways to act. He thinks that the international community has to understand his restrictions, and he is calling on the United States and the Europeans to respond to these latest Israeli attacks on Palestinian targets -- Paula.

ZAHN: Rula Amin, thanks for sharing your exclusive interview with us this morning. Appreciate the update. We'll let you grab an umbrella and get out of the rain there. It looks like the rain is picking up.

Secretary of State Colin Powell says it's just a matter of time before Osama bin Laden is located. If he is found in a deep mountain cave, that could test the mettle of America's finest fighting forces.

Leon Harris is standing by in Atlanta with more on how soldiers are trained for such treacherous mountain warfare.

Leon, at the same time, we know that Osama bin Laden has the message no one should come near Tora Bora.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: You know what, are we surprised to hear him actually issue that sort of a message? He can be assured that there are quite a few Marines out there and some Army folks from the U.S. special-ops, who are not going to be paying any attention at all to that message, believe you me.

Now we're going to be joined right now in the studio in Atlanta by someone knows quite a bit about mountain warfare, because this man actually started, as I understand it, you started the school in Vermont that trains Army folks to actually conduct mountain warfare. We're talking about Colonel Gary Varney who's joining us here in Atlanta.

Is that correct? You're the one who started the school, is that correct?

COL. GARY VARNEY, U.S. ARMY RANGER: I was assistant commandant of the school when it started.

HARRIS: Well you're the Deputy chief of staff right now.

VARNEY: Right.

HARRIS: And the troops that came through your school have learned everything there is to know about mountain warfare. Do you know if you have any who are over right now in the Afghanistan theater?

VARNEY: I couldn't tell you individual names, but given the soldiers that we've trained, I'm positive some of our soldiers are there. That's definitely part of the Army's training philosophy. At the mountain warfare school in Vermont we trained the trainers, over the years, thousands of them. You know, and they're spread out across the Rangers, the special forces, the light infantry organizations and I'm sure they're in country.

HARRIS: All right, well give us an idea of the type of training the troops go through when they go to your mountain warfare school?

As a matter of fact, you brought some videotape with us.

If we can roll that tape, Julie. Do you have that tape handy?

Show us -- give folks an idea of some of the conditions that troops will go through in training. VARNEY: That's a typical mountain scene right there. That's cold, deep snow. You know, it's not like training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Soldiers working in the mountain polar operations need special training. That's why the Army came to us, and that's why we created the mountain warfare school in Vermont.

HARRIS: In Vermont, because Vermont is as close as we can possibly get to the kind of terrain and the kind of snow that you deal with in places like Afghanistan?

VARNEY: Well, the mountains are higher in Afghanistan, but New England has got some the worst weather in the world. Every weather system that comes across the United States goes out through New England. As you know, Mount Washington in New Hampshire has the highest wind velocity recorded on the face of the Earth. If you train mountain soldiers in Vermont, accomplish their mission, they can accomplish their mission anywhere.

HARRIS: All right, give us an idea. You brought in with us some of the gear that these troops will be using to deal with some of those weather conditions. Walks us through it.

VARNEY: Well, you know, soldiers -- very important, which is generally across the table here. You've got to protect the soldier from the elements. You know, the cold, the snow, the wind, the rain. Between the Gortex outer layer, protection from the wind. And you know, Gortex breathes, so that perspiration will pass out through. That's very important, because that perspiration keeps your polyprophalane (ph) undergarments dry.

HARRIS: Layers again being the secret here.

VARNEY: You got it.

HARRIS: The same thing mom always told us.

VARNEY: Mom always -- very, very important, keep the underlayers dry. Gortex is great for that. So we protect the soldiers elements. The other key thing is mobility. As you noted by the clip, when there is snow on the ground, soldiers mobility can slow down if he's not specifically trained. At the school, we train soldiers on snowshoes and skis, and because we've got the ski here, the ski we train on and is available through the military system is a fantastic ski. It releases so that soldier can do cross-country movement. If he's up there taking the tackle, advantage of the high ground, we can lock it down and ski downhill.

HARRIS: Speaking of that, finally, one we want to ask you something else. You were talking about navigating, getting around, trying to figure out where the high ground is and the right spot in the high ground. That's a bit more difficult than just doing it on a flat-terrain surface.

VARNEY: No doubt about that. Flat terrain, soldier counts his paces, his number of steps.

HARRIS: Just using a compass.

VARNEY: Compass and steps. When you're on skis, it's how to count your steps for your lateral distance. So we teach a very unique course called altimeter navigation, and when the soldier learns to figure out exactly where he is on that line of advance by comparing the altimeter to the contoural lines on the map, very precise, and also very helpful for weather prediction.

HARRIS: Obviously you know what you're doing, and the troops over there know what they're doing. We sure do appreciate your time.

Colonel Gary Varney, appreciate. Thanks very much.




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