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CNN LIVE AT DAYBREAK

War on Terror; Pakistan's Wild West; Fighting Al Qaeda

Aired March 19, 2004 - 05:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. Welcome to the second half hour of DAYBREAK. It's Friday, March 19. From CNN's Global Headquarters in Atlanta, I'm Carol Costello. Thanks for joining us.
The president and vice president of Taiwan are shot and wounded while campaigning. Both are hospitalized, but their injuries are not life threatening.

In Spain, five suspects are arraigned for the Madrid commuter train bombings and five more suspects are arrested in connection with last week's attack. The death toll has now gone up to 202.

In Iraq, Colin Powell makes a surprise side trip in his Asian tour to visit Baghdad. Secretary of State is meeting with U.S. civilian administrator Paul Bremer and other coalition officials.

In Thailand, medical and engineering troops are shipping out to relieve humanitarian operations in southern Iraq. The Thai government pledged to stick to its promise to be part of the U.S.-led coalition.

In Los Angeles, long-time disk jockey J.J. Jackson has died. Jackson was one of the first music video jocks on MTV. He died of an apparent heart attack. Jackson was 62.

We update our 'Top Stories' every 15 minutes. The next update comes your way at 5:45 Eastern.

Again, our top story, Osama bin Laden's right hand man may be cornered now in Pakistan. The U.S. has a $25 million reward on his head.

Senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre says U.S. officials are being very cautious about the prospects of capturing al-Zawahiri.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After days of fierce fighting, Pakistan's military thinks it might be closing in on Ayman al-Zawahiri but lacking any independent intelligence indicating al-Zawahiri is in the area surrounded by Pakistani troops, the Pentagon is downplaying the idea his capture is imminent or that getting him or Osama bin Laden will break al Qaeda.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: It would be an important step but it would not end the terror. It's not going to end with their capture. MCINTYRE: U.S. officials say the operation in Pakistan's southern Waziristan province is a Pakistani military operation with no U.S. combat troops involved but the U.S. does have a significant troop presence right across the border in Afghanistan, including U.S. Special Forces teams whose specific mission is to hunt down Osama bin Laden and his number two.

And the U.S. is flying unmanned spy planes equipped with night vision thermal cameras along the border searching for al Qaeda fighters who may attempt to escape into Afghanistan. It's all part of a U.S. military spring offense code named Operation Mountain Storm.

With Pakistan forces exerting unprecedented military pressure in the largely ungoverned tribal areas and some tribes helping too, the U.S. is hoping to catch bin Laden or his lieutenants in a pincer move, a classic hammer and anvil strategy but the U.S. is well aware of how difficult it can be to pin down a single individual in the rugged mountain terrain.

GEN. DAVID GRANGE, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: They know the terrain. They know the escape routes and if it's not sealed perfectly, if the discipline of the Pakistani troops is not pursued throughout the night, there's a good chance that someone could get away.

MCINTYRE: In December of 2001, it's believed Osama bin Laden slipped past U.S. troops and local Afghan fighters who thought they had him trapped in Tora Bora, Afghanistan.

(on camera): And the U.S. is taking casualties. In an incident in the Oruzgan Province in central Afghanistan, two U.S. soldiers patrolling with Afghan National Army forces were killed and two others wounded after an exchange of gunfire with enemy fighters.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Arguably no one knows al Qaeda better than journalist Hamid Mir. He wrote the only official biography of Osama bin Laden.

Hamid Mir is with us by phone from Islamabad this morning.

Good morning.

HAMID MIR, JOURNALIST: Good morning.

COSTELLO: Hamid, how likely is it that Ayman al-Zawahiri is hiding out where the fighting is taking place?

MIR: You see right now 7,000 Pakistanis regular (ph) troops are operating in that area against al Qaeda fighters with some choppers and F-7 planes. But still, we have not able to confirm that whether some Arabs are there or not. It is confirmed that some Chechens are fighting against the Pakistani forces with the help of Amiza Drive (ph) and Delt Drive (ph). But the Arabs are the not there (ph). Some people are claiming that Ayman al-Zawahiri was there some weeks back. But they say that Zawahiri is not there at the moment and he escaped the area some days back.

COSTELLO: Well we know the tribal spiders are putting up fierce resistance. If al-Zawahiri is not there, who might be?

MIR: You see they have kidnapped some security officers of Pakistan. They have kidnapped some Pakistani soldiers and there are some Chechen fighters with them. So they are resisting because they have no other option because there is lots of U.S. troops movement on the Pakistan borders and they can not slip into Afghanistan. And that's why they have no other option than to resist. That's why General Pervez Musharraf said that the Pakistani security forces are facing a lot of resistance. This is the reason.

COSTELLO: Well President Musharraf is being kind of cagey about this, because he is not exactly saying al-Zawahiri is there, but he thinks so. In the past, he said Osama bin Laden is dead, but we don't know that that's true either. What do we know definitively now?

MIR: Yesterday I interviewed U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and I asked him the same question. He was also not sure about the location of Osama bin Laden. He was not sure that whether Zawahiri is in that area or not.

But definitely Pakistani security forces are fighting with not some dozen al Qaeda fighters but they are fighting against some hundred al Qaeda fighters. They are -- their number is between 300 to 500, and some of them are foreigners, and some tribals, they also have joined them.

And that's why the Pakistani security forces, they are facing a lot of casualties also. Right now more than 30 Pakistani soldiers have been killed by the al Qaeda fighters. And according to my information, 70 (ph) people were killed from the other side. So this is the most bloodiest battle going on in this area after 9/11.

COSTELLO: All right. Hamid Mir, thank you so much, joining us live from Islamabad this morning.

Here's a look at events over the last few days leading up to the possible cornering of Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Earlier this week, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf visited tribal leaders to request their blessing for a special mission.

Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Pakistan on Wednesday and met with Mr. Musharraf yesterday. And before that meeting, Powell announced the U.S. was upgrading ties with Pakistan, making it easier for that country to acquire and stockpile U.S. weaponry.

Later in the day, Mr. Musharraf told CNN's Aaron Brown an operation was under way and Pakistani forces had a high value al Qaeda target in their sights.

Government sources say al Qaeda operatives captured this week provided information suggesting al-Zawahiri is with that group of besieged al Qaeda fighters. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PAKISTAN: But the resistance that is being offered by the people there, we feel that there may be a high value target. I can't say who, but they are giving fierce battle at the moment. They are not coming out in spite of the fact that we pounded them with artillery.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: The Pakistani president is clearly in a very delicate position here.

Our senior international editor Eli Flournoy joins us more on Mr. Musharraf's balancing act.

And it is a balancing act, because he's been -- well, he's been part of assassination attempts twice now, right?

ELI FLOURNOY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL EDITOR: Absolutely. Back in December, two assassination attempts on his life. Musharraf is the man in the middle. He is stuck right in between one side, the pressure from the United States and much of the international community to crack down on al Qaeda, which many believe Zawahiri, possibly Osama bin Laden, other -- quote -- "high value targets" are in this border region where this fight is going on right now.

But it's important to keep in mind that many of his own population, of Musharraf's own Pakistani population, when watching this coverage and seeing how this fight going on, are rooting for the other side, are rooting for the forces that are fighting his own Pakistani forces.

COSTELLO: But why has he decided to go this route? Because, obviously, when he sat down with CNN's Aaron Brown, he wanted to tell Aaron Brown what was going on up in the mountainous regions of Pakistan. He made a point to say what was going on to Aaron Brown.

FLOURNOY: Right. Musharraf has clearly decided which direction he is going to go. He is an ally of the United States. He is taking Pakistan down that road. They are going to fight against al Qaeda, against the remnants of the -- of the Taliban, which, in fact, came out of Pakistan, the support for that -- for that mind set came out of Pakistan. And he has made the decision that that's the direction that he and his country are going to go.

COSTELLO: Well let me ask you a very cynical question then, if he has made his decision to go with the United States, then might what he told Aaron Brown be a public relations move? Might al-Zawahiri not even be hiding up in that cave somewhere?

FLOURNOY: That's -- it's always possible. We don't -- we just don't know for sure, but it's a very, very delicate game. I mean if that -- if that in fact is true and it's just a -- it was just a PR ploy, it's so public. It's so -- I mean to do it in the Aaron Brown interview and to come out, you know, worldwide television like that, that is what is giving us such strong indications that in fact it is somebody serious there. Because you know the downside of having it turn out that it -- that it was nothing, that maybe, as Hamid Mir was just explaining, perhaps it's just the tribal fighters who in fact are fighting against Pakistani forces because they are trapped out there and people who have maybe kidnapped some Pakistani forces.

COSTELLO: Well, and the other interesting thing that happened earlier today, Eli, is at midnight the Pakistani Foreign Minister came out and gave al-Zawahiri this ultimatum that if he didn't come out something dire would happen. But as far as we know, the fighting hasn't become more fierce or has it?

FLOURNOY: Well the fighting is still ongoing, as far as we know. It has been -- it has been intense. As far as we know, it is still going intense as there is air support, helicopters, ground forces, as many as several thousand Pakistani forces involved with this. So it's -- you know, it appears that the fight is still going on with intensity.

But as you said, we heard earlier from the Minister of Information of Pakistan earlier tonight, I mean he all but said that it was Zawahiri. He was very careful, though, not to say definitively that it was -- that it was Zawahiri. But he again, like Musharraf, said it's definitely a high value target. He spoke openly about the fact that these were al Qaeda fighters that were -- that were fighting in...

COSTELLO: Not just tribal fighters?

FLOURNOY: In fact, not tribal fighters, but al Qaeda fighters in the -- in the region that were fighting against him. And he was -- and he was very careful to point out that he didn't think the ultimatum would make any difference because their pattern is that they fight to the death because they have nothing to lose. So his impression was the way that this is going to play out is that they are going to fight to the death, and then we'll collect the bodies and see who it is.

COSTELLO: All right, Eli, we'll -- of course we'll keep following this. Eli Flournoy, thank you very much.

Let's head to the Forecast Center now and check in with Chad because I see all that white stuff behind you.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, that is snow on the last full day of winter.

COSTELLO: How apropos.

MYERS: Yes. However, it finally moves out tomorrow. At least it's not snowing on the first day of spring.

(WEATHER REPORT)

COSTELLO: Pakistani forces launch a major al Qaeda assault in the Afghan mountains. We'll dig deep and get a taste of the terrain where Ayman al-Zawahiri may be holed up. We're going to take you live to Kabul.

This is DAYBREAK for a Friday.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: It is now 5:46 Eastern Time. Time to take a quick look at the 'Top Stories.'

An assassination attempt in Taiwan today, both the president and vice president were shot while campaigning for this weekend's presidential election. Senior officials say their injuries are not life threatening. If you look closely, though, you can see a bullet hole in the window of the car carrying the president and vice president as they rode by in a parade.

In other news, after a visit to Pakistan, Secretary of State Powell made an unannounced stop in Baghdad today as the U.S. marks the first anniversary of the war. These are new pictures just in to CNN of Powell's arrival. He is expected to meet with Mr. Bremer later today -- later this morning, actually.

And U.S. troops are going to Kosovo as part of a NATO peacekeeping force to stop deadly ethnic violence that has killed at least 31 people.

We update our 'Top Stories' every 15 minutes. The next update comes your way at 6:00 Eastern.

The Pentagon is watching as the events unfold in Pakistan. U.S. forces are providing reconnaissance and support for the Pakistani operation.

CNN's Barbara Starr shows us what Pakistani forces are up against.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): This remote corner of Pakistan known as the federally administered tribal areas may now be the last stand for al Qaeda's top leaders. The current fighting is in the southern tip known as Waziristan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a part of Pakistan that the government has not felt the ability to control for a long time. It is like the wild west of the United States in the 19th Century.

STARR: The tribal area sits along the border with Afghanistan. Pashtun tribesmen live in primitive conditions, accepting no control by Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, maintaining a strong religious code and offering shelter to al Qaeda.

The tribal areas were established by the British who ruled the region before Pakistan was partitioned from India in 1947. At one point, the British had 80,000 troops in Waziristan and still couldn't maintain control. PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM EXPERT: What's really different right now is that the Pakistani army for the very first time in its history is going into regions that it never really had a presence in.

STARR: In recent months, Musharraf sent his forces through the region, facing heavy resistance, trying to force tribal elders to give up any al Qaeda or Taliban, offering money for those who cooperate, destroying the houses of those who do not.

(on camera): These tribal areas have always operated on their own. Pakistani laws do not apply. Taxes are not collected. Smuggling is rampant. So when the current fighting is over, it's not clear if any of that will change.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: One thing al Qaeda fighters have to their advantage is the treacherous mountain terrain along the Afghan-Pakistani border. They are dug in deep in that region.

Ryan Chilcote joins us live from Kabul in Afghanistan with more on the difficulties that U.S. troops face.

Describe the terrain there for us -- Ryan.

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a very difficult terrain. And first of all, the western side of the border where Afghanistan is, that region is called Patica (ph). And it is considered to be a very hostile environment. In fact, non- governmental aid organizations don't even go there because they consider it to be too dangerous. There is just too many former Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in that area.

The other problem, of course, is that many of the residents right along the border area, particularly on the Afghan side where I am in Afghanistan, they are really sympathetic, quite frankly, to al Qaeda and Taliban. They do not identify themselves with the federal government. So on the Afghan side, the people there identify them more -- themselves more with the tribes on the eastern side of the borders than they do with the federal government.

COSTELLO: Yes, I'm sure it's the same on the Pakistan side.

CHILCOTE: Then -- you know then it's -- but -- yes, exactly. And you know the terrain itself is just brutal. There is cave complexes. It's very rocky area. A lot of pine trees. It's not an easy place to find someone if you are -- if you are looking for them.

The whole plan for the U.S. military basically is, the hope at least, is that the Pakistani paramilitaries will keep the pressure up on -- the Pakistani military will keep the pressure on the Taliban and al Qaeda. And if they don't apprehend them or kill them, then the U.S. military is hoping they will at least flush them out of there and push them over the border into Afghanistan. That's where the U.S. would be waiting, along with troops from the Afghan National Army, to ambush them. But you know, like I said, a very difficult place to find people.

COSTELLO: I wanted to ask you more about these mud fortresses, because that was kind of intriguing to me. People had turned their homes into sort of fortresses made of mud. Can you expound on that?

CHILCOTE: Well you know it's actually standard here. I think that the whole concept of a compound was probably originated here in eastern part of Afghanistan and western Pakistan. Basically, as opposed to using bricks, they use mud and they build a compound wall around their home and everything takes place for that family inside of those walls. So they might even have a small farming area there. But that's certainly where the family would eat and live.

And it makes for a fortress if you look at it from the outside. And some of these buildings, and I have been to Tatica, actually have towers on, you know, each corner and have, you know, gun turrets and stuff. So they are really designed, you know, each family, because this is such rugged territory and I think the people so very individualistic is to really defend themselves from outside attackers.

COSTELLO: Interesting. Ryan Chilcote, thank you very much for providing us some fascinating information this morning.

DAYBREAK will be back with much more. You stay right there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: And welcome back to DAYBREAK.

And, Chad, we're going to take a look at the "Front Pages" of papers across the country. And we thought it was interesting how different papers portrayed what happened in Baghdad, you know, when terrorists blew up that hotel there.

This is from "The Times-Picayune" out of Louisiana, New Orleans. As you can see, it has the accident or the bombsite on the front pages.

To "The Kansas City Star" now, much more personal picture. You can see that a worker is in the foreground there looking at the damage left behind.

"Chicago Tribune," that's an emotional shot.

MYERS: What was the -- what was the real death toll? They reduced it to seven last I knew.

COSTELLO: Yes.

MYERS: But did they -- did they raise it again?

COSTELLO: No, that's the latest number, seven, which is a good thing that they have downgraded, although tragic that seven people had to die. This is from "The Virginian-Pilot." This was -- this was what we thought was the most intriguing picture. It's just the lighting in that picture is so eerie. You can see the smoke still pouring from the hotel.

And this from "The Star Ledger" in Newark, New Jersey, and you can see the giant crater left behind because of that 1,000-pound bomb. Just amazing.

So, some food for thought this morning.

You know you should talk about the storm one more time before we hit our 6:00 hour.

(WEATHER REPORT)

COSTELLO: The next hour of CNN DAYBREAK starts right after this break. You stay right there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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