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Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd: Omar's disappearance poses problems

CNN Military Analyst Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd
CNN Military Analyst Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd  

As opposition forces take control of the last Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, questions remain about both the location and the future of its supreme leader Mullah Omar. Freedom for the Taliban leader is something the U.S. strongly opposes. Anchor Paula Zahn and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd, CNN's Military analyst, talked about the fate of Omar, and whether a Taliban surrender of Kandahar can be trusted.

ANCHOR PAULA ZAHN: My question to you: As you know, the reporting about Omar's status is murky this morning. But there is a strong suggestion he has, in fact, fled. How much of a problem does that pose for the United States?

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD: Well, it poses a big problem, Paula. We want Mullah Omar. We want all the al Qaeda. We want the upper Taliban leadership.

We need to find these people to bring this to some level of success in the eyes of the American public. And of course, we want them for justice reasons, as well.

There's plenty of places for Mullah Omar to hide. The Oruzgan province north of Kandahar is full of caves. And the Maruf area southeast of Kandahar (is) full of caves.

... We'll be looking for him with all of our sensors out there, and we're going to pursue him wherever he goes. It's a difficult problem, though, with him missing.

ZAHN: But you also have to add in the mix the very complicated political structure here. You now have a newly installed member (Hamid Karzai) of this interim government.

At first he sent signals that perhaps amnesty would be accepted if this guy came forward and said he really didn't mean to do anything that happened on September 11. And then, that same leader came back yesterday and said he potentially could arrest them.

What is the quandary the U.S. is in at the moment, as this new leader of this interim government sends mixed signals?

SHEPPERD: Well, remember, this is very early in the surrender. Hamid Karzai is charged with the responsibility for taking back his country, his provinces, his city. And he doesn't want the city, Kandahar, destroyed.

So it's very early in this process. Lots of pronouncements come out early and then are changed later on.

One thing has been very clear from the secretary of defense. Secretary Rumsfeld has said unequivocally that the United States does not want any deal that permits Omar to go free, any kind of amnesty within Afghanistan or elsewhere.

So we're going to have to work this out. And again, it's the very early hours of this turnover, both in Kandahar and, of course, to the interim government.

There's going to be weeks of things to be worked out as the whole country is cleaned up and, of course, the remaining al Qaeda and whoever is in the Tora Bora area is smoked out of their caves.

ZAHN: Do you trust this surrender of Kandahar?

SHEPPERD: Absolutely not. ... As we saw in Mazar-e Sharif, bad things can happen, even when it looks like things are going good.

We, as a United States and coalition must be very, very careful as we approach these prisoners, as we interrogate them, as we get information. We should not trust any of this. We should be very dubious of anything that happens and very cautious.

You never know when somebody, either an individual, a group or a huge plan comes together with some massive finish here. So we need to be very, very careful and not trust them.

ZAHN: Already you have this Uzbek warlord, Rashid Dostum, saying he will not support the interim government. How concerned are you about the viability of this new government?

SHEPPERD: Well, I tell you, again we say that war is easy. Peace is what's difficult.

Again, it's the early hours here, too. Rashid Dostum, from the Northern Alliance ... has made many statements over the year. His statements are that he's boycotting the interim government. Now, who knows how long he will boycott it?

But it's very clear that Hamid Karzai, as the head of the interim government, has a giant challenge to bring all of these former tribal leaders -- warlords -- together, re-establish trust and confidence, and establish the rule of law, with the help of a interim government and with the help of forces going to be brought in for peacekeeping in that area.

It's a huge challenge. You're trying to change the way of operating of a group of people from various ethnic and tribal and religious factions that have operated this way for centuries. It's a huge challenge.

ZAHN: Can the U.S. and its allies prevent a civil war, if the interim government starts to crumble?

SHEPPERD: That's very difficult to say. But ... the interim government is going to get huge, huge help from the international community, as long as it is clear that they are willing to pursue the normalization of the Afghan countryside. As long as they want to re-establish their economy, they're going to get a tremendous help from the international community.

So I feel confident that they are going to be able to work this out. But it's going to be very, very difficult and a huge challenge.


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