Tuesday, February 27, 2007
'I HEARD A LOUD BOOM'
VP POOL REPORT
Tue Feb 2007 11:19:01 ET
Filed By Mark Silva
White House Correspondent
The vice president left Kabul wearing a black suit and shiny dark cordovan cowboy boots - having just become the highest-level Bush administration official to have spent the night in a war zone - the unscheduled overnighter at Bagram Air Force Base. The vice president spoke on the record with the pool about the attack -- speaking, seated on a desk, in his Airstream, silver-skinned on the outside and leather-seated and wood-paneled on the inside, cabin set up inside the C-17 military cargo transport that had ferried him to Pakistan and Afghanistan and out as well.
He suggested that he never felt threatened, and that no policy of the US ought to be affected by such actions aimed at shaking the stability of the Pakistani govt.
There will be a transcript. The following is from my tape, but I caution that it was loud inside that C-17 - we sat out in the cargo bay with the rest of the administration, military and Service - so I've related the comments from tape and notes I feel most certain about, which is all of the substance of it:
"I was provided quarters overnight," he said of his Bagram stay. "It seems to me it was 10 occlock in the morning. I heard a loud boom... The Secret Service came in and told me there had been an attack on the main gate."
He was moved "for a brief period of time" to one of the base bomb shelters near his quarters, the VP said. "As the situation settled down and they had a better sense of what was going on, I went back to my room."
Asked about Taliban claims of responsibilty, he asked who said that, what did they say. Told that a Taliban was quoted by name as saying Cheney was the target, and asked what this sort of activity says of the overall situation there - and if it might be a way of playing to Taliban tactics of bolstering its own standing among the people, the vice president said, slowly, and calmly: "I think they clearly try to find ways to question the authority of the central government" there. "Striking at the Bagram (base) with a suicide bomber, I suppose, is one way to do that... It shouldn't affect our behavior."
For whatever claims the Taliban spokesman may be making about having targeted the VP with the bombing at the gate at Bagram, the VP and his retinue were a long way from that gate, well inside that massive base. Take that for whatever it's worth.
The first we heard of the attack was the sirens of the base fire trucks leaving from their station, which was pretty close to the hub of the VP's activities there, including the military transport that he had used to fly in and out of Islamabad and Afghanistan - see the special-edition commemorative pool report on "The Spirit of Strom Thurmond."
The VP was preparing to leave Bagram this morning when the attack occurred, and the Service certainly picked up its step on our staging and sweeps as the base went to code red after attack.
On the flight out of Kabul, a senior administration official spoke to the pool insisting upon anonymity but allowing tapes - and there will be a transcript of that as well.
The president wanted the VP to make this trip because of "the continuing threat that exists in this part of the world," the sao said.
"I've seen some press reports that Cheney went in to beat up" on Karzai, the sao said. "That"s not so." The idea of going in and threatening someone "isn't valid."
There have been successes, more al Qaeda killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan than anywhere else.
"That doesn't mean there's no threat. That doesn't mean a rosy scenario. There's a lot of work to be done."
At Cheney's luncheon with Karzai, the Afghan leader told a story of meeting with tribal leaders and trying to get them to cooperate. "The only question they wanted to ask me, was, 'Is the United States with you?" Karzai said, according to this account.
People are concerned about the US commitment to the region, and Democrats in DC talking about withdrawal from Iraq make them concerned - though that debate back home had no bearing on the VP's decision to come here, sao said. "That would have devastating consequences to what we're trying to do" in this part of the world.
Karzai was reportedly "upbeat" - with all the money and troops that the US is committing to Afghanistan, the sao said, "It's all taken as a sign" of commitment.
"They worry about that... If they see weakness on the part of the US... They worry about our commitment."
The proposals of people in the US to withdraw from Iraq have "consequences in this part of the world," the official said. "The al Qaeda strategy is based on the notion that they can break the will of the American people."
Asked about Cheney's suggestions that talk of withdrawal lend comfort to the terrorists, in the context of his comments last week in the Pacific and his remarks about Speaker Pelosi, the official said no, what was meant was, "It would validate the al Qaeda strategy." Not aid and comfort them.
It was an 18-minute flight from Bagram to Kabul, landing there at 12:19 pm, and the VP was there for a little over two hours. See the Kabul pool, but we had been told the VP would meet with Afghan Pres. Hamid Karzai for about an hour - and it seemed to last a little longer, though we were outside holding.
At 2:13 pm local, the armored dust-covered motorcade of the VP left the grounds of the palace and sped through the slalom of cement and sandbag barricades that line the approach, and he boarded the C-17 under partly sunny skies.
....At Least Mr.Cheney had a room to go back to. Mortar attacks are something that soldiers deal with on an everyday basis in Iraq and Afghanistan. I hope that, if not anything, that Mr. Cheney at least get a sense of how dangerous it is out there and think about how to better take care of the ones who have came back injured and mentally traumatized, and of course, better pay ALWAYS helps!
But Seriously, I hope this war will find a good ending soon.