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U.S. Special Forces Attack Hospital in Kandahar

Aired January 27, 2002 - 21:49   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.
CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: We have some breaking news to report to you involving U.S. forces involved in an activity outside of Kandahar in the hospital there in Afghanistan. Let's go right to CNN's Ben Wedeman, who joins us by phone with details -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Catherine, for the last hour or so there's been an assault under way on the Mirvays (ph) Hospital on the western edge of Kandahar. That is a hospital where for practically in the last six weeks six members of al Qaeda have been held up in a ward heavily armed, refusing to give themselves up.

Now the action began this morning, just about an hour ago. The sun is just coming up here. We heard very large explosions in the distance, followed by secondary explosions. And then minutes later, intense automatic machine gun fire coming from the direction of the hospital, and I went outside and discovered that barbed wire barricades have been set up on all roads leading to the hospital, which is only about 250 meters from where I'm standing.

At those barricades, they are manned not only by Afghan forces, but also by U.S. special forces, who would not allow us anywhere near the hospital. Now just recently, we've been hearing not only gunfire coming from the hospital, but what appears to be gunfire from within the hospital wing, where the al Qaeda members are. We saw one member of the special forces very close to where the wards -- the rooms -- where the al Qaeda members are. And, in fact, it's been quiet for the last few minutes, which would indicate that possibly the assault is over -- Catherine.

CALLAWAY: Ben, right before we went on the air with you we did hear a good deal of that gunfire through our connection with you. Any idea how many U.S. troops are involved in this activity?

WEDEMAN: These aren't U.S. special forces, they're usually very small groups, maybe 10 to a dozen. There might be two or three teams, but that's about it. They operate in small groups, not a large cluster of people. But, obviously, these are very well trained and well prepared and well armed men who are going in on this operation. It's not a large group of people, but a deadly one -- Catherine.

CALLAWAY: Ben, I know this has been going on for weeks, the situation there with the al Qaeda members holdup in the wing of that hospital. But, nonetheless, very tense. Have you been to the hospital recently? Well, we obviously lost Ben Wedeman. We'll try to...

WEDEMAN: I'm -- I'm sorry, Catherine, I am back. I am back.

CALLAWAY: Are you back? Can you tell us if you have been to that hospital recently and the situation that was there?

WEDEMAN: Yes, I -- in fact, I was there just the day before yesterday. It has become fairly standard. There was a large cluster of Afghan irregulars who were manning the hospital very near where the al Qaeda members were ensconced. But -- and, in fact, we tried to make some sort of contact with the al Qaeda members, but were warned away because they're very -- they're very heavily armed and they're also not in a very good state of health. Some of them have been wounded. They're very paranoid, and we were told if we got much closer they could shoot at us.

So it's been a very tense standoff for quite sometime now. About two and a half weeks ago, three weeks ago, they had refused all food and water. But it appears that -- we are told, actually, from people near the hospital that sympathetic workers at the hospital have been giving them food and water. But, by in large, it's been a fairly tense standoff for quite a long time -- Catherine.

CALLAWAY: All right. CNN's Ben Wedeman, outside of Kandahar there. And hopefully Ben will be back with us at ten o'clock, when we have a full hour of news for you. Stay with us for that. And LARRY KING WEEKEND will continue in just a moment.

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