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Nic Robertson: Taliban hang on at Spin Boldak

Nic Robertson
Nic Robertson reporting from Spin Boldak, Afghanistan  

(CNN) -- Correspondent Nic Robertson is one of the few journalists allowed into Taliban-controlled territory in the southern region of Afghanistan. He filed this report Monday via videophone from Spin Boldak, a town just across the border from Pakistan.

NIC ROBERTSON: First of all the Taliban have ... given visas to a number of journalists today. It's perhaps the biggest number of visas they've handed out -- possibly as many as 100 visas.

We are in Spin Boldak. This is a town just across the border from Pakistan, inside Afghanistan, and this is as far as the Taliban will allow us to go at this time. Kandahar is about another two-and-a-half, three hours drive from here, down a dirt road. So it's impossible for us to assess what's going on inside that city.

However, the local military commander we talked to here denied reports that the Taliban are in negotiations with tribal leaders to hand over the city. He said this isn't happening. He said that the Taliban are in control of Kandahar and that (Taliban leader) Mullah Omar is ... essentially directing the operations and the areas of the country that the Taliban control.

What we do know ... is that Spin Boldak is clearly under the control of the Taliban. There are plenty of Taliban fighters here. This same military commander told us that the spirits were high at this time. When we told him about the possibility of these Pashtun tribal elements coming into Afghanistan to fight the Taliban -- if the Taliban doesn't hand over power in Kandahar -- he said that was very unlikely. He said that they'd beaten these tribes before and they would beat them again. Certainly his morale -- and, he says, the morale of his men -- is high at this time. But it is impossible for us to say what's going on in Kandahar -- only that in this border town of Spin Boldak, the Taliban do appear still to be very much in control.

CNN: Nic, there is a report back here in the U.S. media that it's possible several thousand Taliban soldiers have crossed into Pakistan. Based on what you have seen, is that a possibility?

ROBERTSON: It is a possibility. There are a large number of Afghan men crossing into Pakistan at the border when we were there today. Just in the hour or so we were at the border, perhaps 100 to 200 men crossed into Pakistan. But, when we asked the Pakistani border officials if any Taliban had crossed, they said no. And as we watched, the men crossing from Afghanistan into Pakistan ... all produced a border document for the Pakistani border guards.

Now, this document is a document given to people who live close to the border who cross regularly between the two countries. So the indication that although a lot of men are coming into Pakistan, they are not necessarily Taliban. But, in with those hundreds of people coming across by the hour, there could easily be Taliban hidden amongst them, and, of course, the borders away from the checkpoints are very wide open. So (there is) the possibility of Taliban fleeing into Pakistan away from the main official border crossings.

CNN: Your answer suggests, quite directly, that despite efforts from the Pakistani government and its military to seal those borders, it has not necessarily been that successful. True statement or not?

ROBERTSON: True statement. At the border we've been at today, there was free flow of people in both directions -- as I say, hundreds of people in each hour, crossing in both directions. So the border's not sealed. Now the Pakistani government has said that it will seal the borders to those without the proper documentation.


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