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America's New War: Afghan Refugees Stream to Pakistan

Aired September 26, 2001 - 14:02   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.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: There is a flood of refugees trying to get out of Afghanistan and into Pakistan. Some are, in fact, getting there, others are being held at or near the border. We go to Pakistan to begin this hour. CNN's Nic Robertson is there. Nic, good evening to you.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Aaron. The United Nation refugee officials really stepping up their effort here in Pakistan to make preparations for what they believe could be a million refuse coming this way.

What they would like to do is set up relief check points at the border to process refugees coming across. They have launched an appeal for some $250 million they say they will need for food and other supplies. They figure that they probably will require some 18,000 tents, perhaps another 700 personnel to deal with all those refugees coming across the border.

They don't have an accurate fix exactly on what's happening inside Afghanistan. They are not allowed to go there. And many of the local staff have also left. But in the Afghanistan capital today demonstrations turned violent.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Venting their apparent anger at the United States, demonstrators tried tearing down the symbol of American presence in their country. According to local reporters, thousands gathered in what they describe as the biggest anti-American rally since the September 11 terror attacks. Although the embassy has been empty for almost 13 years, many youngsters and men in black turbans -- the kind traditionally worn by Taliban fighters -- stormed the now-defunct compound, setting fire to old cars inside.

It's not clear if the demonstration was spontaneous or organized for Western eyes, but it's the first visible sign of anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan. In recent days, there's been an increase in anti-American rhetoric on the Taliban's national radio broadcasts as the country's leadership prepares its people for the possibility of war. The broadcasts predict a coming conflict, what they define as a war on Islam, not on terrorism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The Americans are fighting so they can live and enjoy the material things in this life. But we are fighting so we can die in the cause of God.

ROBERTSON: Preparing for such a battle, Taliban officials have threatened to have 300,000 fighters ready for combat. But that's a figure questioned by Pakistani officials, who say the Taliban have only 12-15,000 fighters. However a well-placed international military analyst inside Afghanistan recently told CNN the figure was closer to 30-40,000.

Many fighters, like these seen training close to the front line a month ago, are not Taliban members, but their tribal elders are allies of the Taliban, and they'll fight on the Taliban side. The Taliban say they owe their military firepower not only to the many tribal alliances they have, but also to weapons left behind by the Soviet Army when it withdrew at the end of a 10-year occupation in 1989.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): On their way out, they left a lot of weapons like this one. This is one of the weapons the Soviets left behind. The people of Afghanistan own a lot of these weapons.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: However many weapons they have, more important is the number of fighters they can call upon. And that will depend on how many of their tribal allies will stick with them through a prolonged conflict -- Aaron.

BROWN: Nic, I want to ask you a question and I am not sure you are going to know the answer to this. There was a scene in your package there of tanks coming down the street in a military parade. Is that -- is that something that happened in the last day or so or is that something from the file? Do you know?

ROBERTSON: The Taliban did -- the Taliban did organize a rally, if you will, in Kabul in the last couple of months, a celebration of their victory. In fact, today and tomorrow are the days the Taliban would normally have been celebrating what this year would be their fifth anniversary of taking over of Kabul and cementing control on Afghanistan.

But that was a show of power recently this year, I understand, where the taliban put out most of the weaponry they had available locally.

BROWN: I just want to make sure I understand and that viewers understand what is happening there today, the demonstrations, the burning of the abandoned American embassy all happening today.

How are you getting information out of Kabul, now?

ROBERTSON: We do it through the official government ministers there. They can be reached by satellite telephone and occasionally by local telephone lines. We also have a few local staff inside Afghanistan who can check with the same officials and also report to us the mood on the streets, what people tell them to get more human reaction. We also have other people placed out in more remote regions who are able to gauge the feeling outside of the cities, the feeling inside some of the villages -- Aaron.

BROWN: And just one more point on the refugees, is this -- is this a crisis that we're likely to see explode in the next couple of days, or ii it something that will buildup for the next week or perhaps months even?

ROBERTSON: U.N. officials really expect this could be something that could develop in the coming weeks rather than days. Many Afghans would not be able to get the transport to drive to the border quickly. If they decided to come, they would have to walk. That would obviously slow their progress down. Kandahar, the nearest big city for example, three hours drive away. That would be several days' walk.

But U.N. officials believe people won't start leaving until their humanitarian conditions become intolerable, food prices go up, food becomes too short, these type of things. For that to develop that would take a few weeks.

BROWN: Nic Robertson in Pakistan keeping track of events on both sides of the border there.

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