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Amanpour: Discrepancy in number of civilian deaths

Christiane Amanpour in Islamabad, Pakistan
Christiane Amanpour in Islamabad, Pakistan  

(CNN) -- As the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Afghanistan continues, the Taliban have kept up their resolve not to give into demands to turn over Osama bin Laden, wanted in connection with the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, Taliban officials claim there have been about 70 civilian casualties resulting from the bombing campaign, while reports from Afghan employees of an international aid agency in Kabul say 10 civilians have been killed.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour reports from Islamabad, Pakistan, with some perspective on the latest developments.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Perhaps the most important information that I've been able to glean today has been from the only independent sources we've had so far in terms of trying to figure out the number of casualties on the ground.

We spoke to aid workers, Afghans who have just come out of the capital Kabul, and they say -- and their job is to monitor very carefully what's going on, particularly when they get reports of civilian casualties -- they say in the two weeks of U.S. air bombing, they have counted a maximum of 10 civilian casualties. This is directly counter to what the Taliban claim. They say 70 or more. But these aid workers are specifically listing 10 casualties, including four who were killed yesterday, when a bomb, they say, exploded outside an apartment complex there.

On the other front we are also hearing from the Taliban ambassador here in Pakistan (Abdul Salam Zaeef), he's been in Kandahar for a couple of days. We are not sure exactly what was being discussed. There were lots of rumors over the last weeks that perhaps there were some diplomatic initiative under way -- perhaps there was some high-level Taliban official who may defect. But this ambassador laid that to rest, at least publicly.

Earlier, Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef said, "This (report of a high-level Taliban defection) was a complete lie. (It's) part of the propaganda against the Islamic community in Afghanistan."

Now there have been these conflicting reports as to how one of Osama bin Laden's alleged key aides was killed. First of all, a group saying that they had close links with al Qaeda based in London said that the had been killed in U.S. strikes. Then they changed that to say that he is in fact dead, but killed by a hand grenade that maybe he was handling. In any event, the confirmation, apparently by several sources, (is) that this particular person is now dead.

In terms of other information that we've had from other sources in Kabul, they're saying that a majority of Kabul residents welcomed the air campaign and the possibility of a change in government in Afghanistan. But they say now that they are concerned that there has been no public explanation of what kind of political solution is envisioned for the future of Afghanistan, and that is beginning to worry people in Kabul. They're worried about a (political) vacuum.

CNN: There appears to be a division with providing the Northern Alliance with the kind of support that they need to be successful, and potentially move south to Kabul. At the same time, Secretary of State Colin Powell told Pakistanis he well understood their concerns about the Northern Alliance advancing. Is there a contradiction there?

AMANPOUR: Well I think from the Pakistani side, they are absolutely adamant that it not be the Northern Alliance, which is the victor in any kind of shifting of balance of power. And so I think what the United States is telling the Pakistanis is that it won't just be the Northern Alliance, it will be a broad-based alliance, but obviously, as Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday, that (the United States) is prepared to arm and feed the Taliban's foes.

What is really concerning here, is what appears to be a disconnect between the political initiative and the military initiative. And that is beginning to worry people not only on the ground in Afghanistan, also in Pakistan, also amongst the aid community and others whose business it is to monitor what's going on.

CNN: I asked National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice about that this morning and she denied that there was any disconnect.

AMANPOUR: Well, what I think is absolutely obvious is that publicly there has been no announcement or declaration of what the international community has achieved, has not achieved, envisioned, wants, is working on, in terms of a political solution for Afghanistan. There has been no announcement for instance that Zahir Shah (former Afghan King now in exile) will form or lead an interim government. There has been no announcement that such a thing has convened. And this is what is increasingly worrying people who are concerned about this part of the world. And particularly, the information we had today from eyewitnesses in Kabul was fascinating... showing how at first the majority in Kabul welcomed the air campaign, because they believed that it would bring a shift in government. Then they got afraid when they heard interviews from the Northern Alliance saying they were going to storm in. And they were afraid, because they didn't want to go back to the looting and anarchy that previous warlords had done in Afghanistan. And now they are saying, "Where is this new government? What is the announcement? We're hearing nothing about it." So that seems to be the biggest concern right now -- this military campaign appears to be proceeding very fast.


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