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America Strikes Back: Coalition Forces Attack Afghan Targets

Aired October 07, 2001 - 15:43   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: It's been about three hours since the attacks began, since the White House spokesman came into the White House briefing room to say "we are beginning another front in our war against terrorism, so freedom can prevail over fear." That was the formal announcement. It came at about 12:30 or so. That is the time the Pentagon now puts on the attacks starting, and I don't say this to quarrel with them, but to our memory, we were reporting a little bit earlier than that, perhaps forty-five minutes earlier than that the sound of explosions in Kabul and Kandahar. But in any case, that is the time that the Pentagon gives as the beginning point.

When it was announced at the football stadium, which is in fact not far from here, where the Atlanta Falcons are playing the Chicago Bears, the crowd started to chant U.S.A., U.S.A. I suspect that was something heard in football stadiums around the country on this Sunday.

We are now beginning to get some world reaction. Leaders from around the world starting to react. We've heard already from the British Prime Minister and his forces are involved in this first wave. We also have some reaction from Shimon Peres, the Israeli Foreign Minister. He talked a short time ago with Larry King for Larry's broadcast tonight.


SHIMON PERES, ISRAEL'S FOREIGN MINISTER: I don't have the slightest doubt that the decision that was taken by the President of the United States is the right one, the just one, and you are going and we are going to win it for the simple reason, not just because you have the technological supremacy, you have the morale supremacy.

Bin Laden does not offer any solution and any hope to no person in the world who is not a Muslim. And to the Muslims who are not fanatic, they too don't have a chance. And, the fanatics who don't kill are not included in his agenda. He offers nothing but killing and hate and murder. He can not win.

On the other hand, the United States and all the free world must win. There is no room for compromise. There is no way to let one or two or three or four crazy people to kill hundreds and thousands of innocent men and women and children.

So, I believe that in that case, it was one of the right and courageous decisions. We would go the farthest possible way to make the world safe.

May I say, you know, that the first prime minister Ben Gurion, of Israel, Ben Gurion, offered to the United States to send Israeli units to Korea. We feel part and parcel of this campaign, and if we should be asked, everything will be considered seriously and positively.


BROWN: That from an interview of Shimon Peres from an interview that he did with Larry King. That entire interview and the rest of Larry King Live tonight at 9:00 Eastern time. Shimon Peres just one of the guests there.

A couple of other international reactions. The French President Jacques Chirac: "The fight against terrorism is a fight that is complex, difficult and then may be played out on several fronts." Chirac goes on to say "the French, all of us" he says "are united."

Reaction from the Canadian prime minister as well, speaking about his country. "We are part of an unprecedented coalition of nations that has come together to fight the threat of terrorism," and indeed the Canadians have offered their forces, some of their forces to be used, although those forces have not been used yet.

The Germans and the French have likewise made offers, but at this point, those have not been taken up.

Jonathan Karl covers Congress for us. He's on the Hill now, and we're starting to get the first wave of reactions from members of the Congress. Jonathan?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, a strong unified statement from the Congressional leadership, that being Republicans and Democrats, a statement that will soon be released. I've got a copy of it. It reads: "we strongly support the operation President Bush ordered our military forces to carry out today. The administration has properly made it clear that today's action and any future action are directed against those who perpetrated the heinous acts on the United States on September 11th, not against Islam or the people of Afghanistan. We stand united with the President, and with our troops and will continue to work together to do what is necessary to bring justice to these terrorists and those who harbor them."

That a joint statement that has been released, put together by the top Democrats, Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt and the top Republicans Dennis Hastert and Trent Lott. As you heard earlier, they were notified ahead of time, personally by the president, last night that military action was about to be commenced. We know that the top Democratic leader on the House, Dick Gephardt, got a call at 7:30 last night. The president connected with the top Democrat in the Senate at about 9:00 last night, Tom Daschle. They both said they'd give him unconditionally their support in this action.

As you know, Aaron, it was about three days, it was exactly three days after the attacks of September 11 that the Congress passed a resolution authorizing the use of all necessary and appropriate force against the terrorists and anybody who aided them, helped them, or harbored them in any way.

So, the Congress already on record some time ago, supporting the President in terms of military action. Now, that statement coming out unified statement, Democrats and Republicans, the entire leadership saying they're behind the President and this military action.

BROWN: John, in the -- I was thinking of another moment way back there, way back a month ago, shortly after September 11th. I'm not sure if it was September 11th or the 12th but you had virtually the entire Congress out on the steps of the Capitol. Do you expect to see, at least the leadership, publicly today or are they just going to issue this statement? Members are often out of town on the weekend.

KARL: Well, many of the leaders are here in town. Tom Daschle, as a matter of fact, is here in Washington. But, that was an extraordinary moment you're referring to. It was September 11. It was the night of the attacks. If you remember, the entire Congress had been evacuated from the Capitol. They had taken away the congressional leaders, taken them to a secure location away from Washington. They flew back via helicopter. That was their first appearance since they had been taken away via helicopter about 200 or so members of Congress, standing on the steps of the Capitol behind me, singing "God Bless America" and making a joint statement that they were not going to be cowed into not coming back to the Congress by the terrorist action.

This a different situation. Congressional leaders, we are told, will remain, have a low profile on this. They want this statement to get out there. They want it to be very clear that they are united with this President. They do not have any disagreements about this use of force, but don't look for any public show of support beyond this very strong and very united statement today.

BROWN: Clearly a different moment. I don't mean to compare the two. Jonathan, thank you. I know you'll continue your reporting.

Chris Burns is in the northern part of Afghanistan in an area held by the Northern Alliance and has continued his reporting. Chris is back with us now -- Chris.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, yes a very obviously a very coordinated effort between Washington and between the coalition and the Northern Alliance forces.

What we've heard in the past hour are more blasts along the front line; that is, the front line between here and Kabul. Apparently some more exchanges of artillery fire, gun fire between thousands of Taliban forces facing off with thousands of Northern Alliance Forces.

Also, fighting going on in the north. The Northern Alliance claims that they are continuing to advance toward the strategic town of Mazar-e-Sharif that is held by the Taliban. If that does fall, that would consolidate the holdings of the Northern Alliance, which has been fighting to expand beyond what is believed to be about 10 percent of the land area in this Texas-sized country. The Northern Alliance claims some 25 percent of the country, though it's very difficult to confirm that.

Also, in terms of coordination, the Northern Alliance says that the coalition attacks have included attacks on airports in the north, three airports including the one in Mazar-e-Sharif, the one in Kunduz (ph), the one in Takar (ph). Also, an allied air strike against the Taliban base in the province, the western province of Herat, also showing that the Northern Alliance is getting air support to continue it's offensive to try to weaken the Taliban and hopefully, from their standpoint, take Kabul and install a government that would cooperate with Washington and the international community in hunting down suspected terrorist sites.

The humanitarian side is also being coordinated, according to the Northern Alliance. They say that there will be air drops, as the Pentagon just said. They are expecting air drops in the north, very, very remote, mountainous, rugged areas. In fact, the United Nations says that some 400,000 people in areas where the fighting is going on up there face starvation within a week because they are supposed to be running out of food by then.

A couple of days ago, we went up to a camp, a refugee camp up in the north, on a barren mountainside that's going to be waist deep in snow in about a month, so that is also a concern among the Northern Alliance and also among the coalition -- Aaron.

BROWN: Chris, a question here, but before I ask, let me tell you and our viewers, we've got some night scope video that we can roll in here. And I assume this is the attack in Kabul, that we've just gotten a good look at. And while we are looking at that, Chris, give our viewers a sense of who the Northern Alliance is, and in this respect, are they friends of the United States today? Or are they really friends of the United States? If you remember -- I know do you -- if viewers remember the history of Afghanistan, we were supporters of the Taliban for a while, too, and they turned on the United States, so do we know much about the true allegiance of the Northern Alliance? Are they long-term reliable partners?

BURNS: Very good question. The Northern Alliance had been in power until about five years ago in Kabul. The Taliban kicked them out of there. They have managed to hang on with their fingernails up in the northern area there.

They are a diverse group of at least five major factions, mainly Tajik and Uzbek ethnically, but also including some Pashtuns. It is a coalition of various warlords and political leaders that itself has been divided among each other. In fact, while they were in power in Kabul, there had been inter ethnic fighting that leveled Kabul. Of course, Northern Alliance does blame other factions as well for that fighting, factions they say were backed by Pakistan -- a very, very complex, very problematic -- however, the Northern Alliance is seen really at this point as the only hope of posing some kind of military challenge to the Taliban, and that is why Washington continues to support them at this point.

I think there have been sympathies toward the Northern Alliance. The United Nations recognized them as the official government there, as well as a number of other countries. The United States stopped recognizing the Northern Alliance because the Taliban had installed its own representative at the Afghan embassy in Washington.

So -- but on other hand also, the worry of inter ethnic fighting, if they do get back to Kabul, has raised concerns among the international community. That's why there has been pressure on the Northern Alliance and other groups to form a broad-based coalition, perhaps including the exiled king of Afghanistan, to bring some kind of stability if the Taliban is toppled, and if there is a government that is installed in Kabul, that is the main concern among the international community -- Aaron.

BROWN: Chris, thanks. We are a long away from there, getting stable Afghanistan, the just -- the country is just at the beginning of an attack, just three hours and 15 minutes or so into it.

Kamal Hyder is reporting to us from an area inside Afghanistan, as we say again we won't be more specific in this case than that. It is not that necessarily the safest part of world right now -- Kamal?

KAMAL HYDER, JOURNALIST: Yes, we just have news that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) airport in Herat was hit. The timing of the attack was possibly the same as Kabul and Kandahar, but news filtering out very slowly because of the lack of communication and infrastructure, but that news being now confirmed from Herat about a huge explosion, possibly from a hit at the airport.

BROWN: And Herat is in the north and in the west, as I recall, correct?

HYDER: It is in the western part of Afghanistan, close to the Iranian border of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Turkmenistan. So, western Afghanistan.

BROWN: All right. We don't quite have it on the map yet, but we'll get it up on the map. It's right about, if my memory is right, right about at the point where the A is on Afghanistan in the map that we showed you.

HYDER: Absolutely.

BROWN: Are you picking up anything else, while we've got you on the phone? We never know precisely when we're going to get to talk to you or not, so we don't want to waste the opportunity. We have got the oil dump, what else can you tell us?

HYDER: Well, of course, the only other confirmation was from Kandahar some time ago, as you're probably aware of. We are trying to keep watch on Jalalabad at this moment to see if there is any news coming out of there. The last information, of course, being that three huge explosions were heard and at least two aircraft was seen above the skies of Jalalabad. That was about 10 -- 10 past 9:00.

BROWN: We will, as best we can, stay in touch. Thank you, again, Kamal reporting that perhaps it's an oil dump or an oil depot. In any case, a large explosion in Herat, which is to the north and the west part of Afghanistan, and about the same time these attacks were going on in Kabul, in Kandahar and in a number of other places. This is absolutely consistent with what the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the secretary of defense said a short time ago, that this first wave of attacks, a very broad-based wave, this is very much what we expected.

There you see Herat, and it is right above the A in Afghanistan, and right up against Iran, which, keep in mind, is over on that western border of Afghanistan. A couple -- OK -- you want to go there now? We will do that.

OK. Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, is about to speak. We've got some other things to get in here too.

MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI, NEW YORK CITY: All New Yorkers, I'm sure, join me in supporting President Bush in the action that he is taking in order to defend the United States, in order to do everything that he can to bring to justice the people who are responsible for the World Trade Center attack, and also to eliminate terrorism and terrorists so that they can't do the kind of horrible thing they did to the World Trade Center ever again.

Our hearts go out to all of the men and women of our military who are carrying out this mission and their families.

Probably New Yorkers, as well as people in Pennsylvania and Washington, having borne the brunt of this attack on America so directly and so personally, understand more than most the pain and the suffering that families go through when they lose people. And our hearts go out to them. And we hope very, very much that none of them have to go through that pain.

BROWN: New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani speaking in New York today. To our ears, it sounds like the mayor is nursing a cold. He has been working, I think it's fair to say literally nonstop since September 11.

One quick note, and then to the White House. Tonight the Emmys were scheduled, the awards for television programs, they have been delayed by the September 11 attack, and now they have been canceled, the first cancellation of the Emmys in 53 years.

They have tried to set a broadcast that was appropriate to the time. We talked with the fellow producing it the other night, and the tried to set it up in a way that was appropriate. And clearly now, the news of the day made them think that it would not be the right thing to do to go ahead with it.

Football games are being played around the country today, but they would have started almost at the time that the attacks did.

Senior White House correspondent John King joins us, and I am guessing, John, this has to do with the vice president.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It has to do with the vice president and the president as well, Aaron. Since you mentioned the vice president first, let's start with him.

Consistent with the increased security that has been in place since the September 11 attacks, White House officials telling us that Vice President Dick Cheney is not here at the White House grounds taking part in the deliberations of this ongoing military campaign, but has instead for security precautions has been taken to another secure location. The White House not telling us where that is, but we are told he too, like the president, is receiving constant updates on the military campaign and that the vice president, Mr. Cheney, is among the senior administration officials making phone calls. In Mr. Cheney's case, we are told those phone calls to world leaders, leaders around the world not on the president's call list but on the vice president's call list.

A bit more information. Remember these words, quote: "I gave them a fair warning." That is a direct quote from the president of the United States, just after he returned to the White House today from Camp David, Maryland. He walked directly into the Oval Office. Of course, he knew what was about to happen. Already his speech was in the works, the brief address he made to the American people. He turned to senior aides and he said, quote, "I gave them a fair warning."

He went on to say that he never expected the Taliban to deliver, to act on his ultimatum, but the president saying that to aides. Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary just a short time ago describing the president as, quote, "resolute and determined." He also told us on the record that the vice president had been taken to a secure location, and Mr. Fleischer was asked, "what about the continued terrorist threat the administration has talked of here in the United States." He said, quote: "Americans need to be on alert. Threats do remain." Mr. Fleischer said law enforcement officials here in Washington and around the country were doing all they could, but "this is a war."

And again, the president had taken some time this afternoon to have lunch with his senior staff, we are told, in the Roosevelt Room here at the White House, reminding them of the very difficult duty they will have in the days and weeks ahead.

He also is receiving very frequent updates on the military campaign underway from his National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. And, as we reported a short time ago, he is now in double digits, calling key leaders around the world, many of them contacted just before the first of the cruise missiles struck in Afghanistan. The president calling key leaders, among them the Russian president, the president of France, the president of Pakistan, obviously a key ally of the United States in this campaign, many other world leaders as well, including leaders in the very sensitive region of the Middle East -- Aaron.

BROWN: John, any plan for the rest of the day for the president to come out to the cameras to talk to us, to talk to the American people, talk to the world, any plan?

KING: We are told not to expect to see the president again today, that his statement to the American people stands. Obviously the Pentagon then provided more details of the ongoing campaign, but White House officials do say the President understands as this campaign continues, in the days and weeks, and they're making clear months ahead, one of the President's chief obligations is to communicate the goals and to update the American people that we do expect to hear from him. Indeed, we know we will hear from him tomorrow.

There already is a public event to swear in former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge as the new Director of Homeland Security. That, a job that will get a lot of attention anyway, even more so now because we know administration officials have told members of Congress in classified briefings, they believe there is a very high probability of attempts to launch terrorist strikes here in the United States, especially if the United States responded militarily, which of course it now has.

So Governor Ridge takes office tomorrow. We will hear the president at that ceremony. We would expect perhaps additionally as well. But as of now, the White House saying they'll look to hear from the president again today.

BROWN: And not to make a tense situation any more so tense, but as you were talking, I went back to the conversation you and I had on Friday night about the kinds of signals that intelligence and law enforcement sources were picking up and how edgy everybody was about the possibility of some sort of new terrorist attack in the country, in the United States.

KING: That's right. In that reporting, Aaron, we reported much of it was overseas. Most of it was overseas, but law enforcement officials were concerned because suspected member of terrorist cells were doing and saying and moving around much like they believe those responsible for the September 11th attacks were in the days before those attacks, now that they have pieced that together.

But I must say, one of the more remarkable things is at least right here in Washington, we have seen immediately after the September 11th attacks and then on an on and off basis since then, security intensified, then lessened a bit, then intensified again.

When I was rushing in here this afternoon, there was a street hockey game going on on Pennsylvania Avenue. So, they certainly feel secure about the White House complex at this hour, when they are in a high alert mode, they stretch out the security perimeter farther away from the White House. Things relatively normal here around the White House complex, although Ari Fleischer saying a short time ago, some extra security precautions being taken here at the White House, at other key Federal installations and around the country as well.

BROWN: John, thanks. Senior White House correspondent John King. I think it's fair to say the lead in all of that was that the Vice President, Vice President Cheney has been moved out of his office in the White House as a security precaution.

You may go back in your mind to the president's speech before a joint session of Congress, back after the, I think on the Thursday of the week of the attacks on New York and Washington, and the vice president was not, for security reasons, allowed to be in the Capitol that day, as was a member of the President's cabinet, and as I recall Dick Armey one of the ranking Republicans in the House. But in any case, the vice president's been taken to a secure location.