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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

America Strikes Back: Taliban Defectors Speak to Journalists

Aired October 19, 2001 - 05:41   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.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: For some time now, the Northern Alliance has reported numerous Taliban defections to its ranks, but we have been unable to verify any of those claims.

Well, now the Northern Alliance is allowing reporters to come in and interview some of these defectors who have changed sides, and our Matthew Chance joins us now from northern Afghanistan to tell us what he has learned from them.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, fighting is continuing across large areas of northern Afghanistan, particularly focused around the strategically-important city of Mazar-e-Sharif. The latest reports that we have from there is that Northern Alliance forces have managed to fight their way to within three kilometers of the outskirts of the city. We can't independently verify those distances.

Northern Alliance commanders, though, saying that there has been a Taliban counteroffensive launched within the last 24 hours or so, and that they have lost some territory. We'll bring you more details on that as soon as they trickle down to us.

No confirmation at this stage, either, about those reports coming out of the Pentagon -- out of Washington that U.S. ground forces have been deployed in Afghanistan. In the past, Northern Alliance commanders have said they have been in daily contact with officials of the United States administration. It's not clear at this stage, though, what kind of intelligence sharing is going on between the Americans and the Northern Alliance troops at this stage.

Now, the last few days, though, has led to renewed reports of mass defections from the ranks of the Taliban to those of the Northern Alliance. Earlier, we were able to meet with one group that says it came across from the Taliban to the forces of the Northern Alliance in the past few weeks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former fighters of the Taliban, now heavily armed defectors to a resurgent opposition. For weeks, the Northern Alliance has claimed mass defections to its ranks. Hundreds are said to have switched sides. These are the first of those calling themselves ex-Taliban fighters we actually met. They number just 10.

Abdel Kayoom (ph) says he fought with the Taliban for three years, and as his new comrades in arms looked on, he told us why he left. "They exploded bombs in America, and they killed the Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Masoud," he says. "We don't have any good memories of the Taliban; they're just terrorists."

It seems the line between the Taliban and associates of Osama bin Laden simply isn't acknowledged here.

Away from the crowds, we sat with a second self-declared defector, Abdul Gefal (ph), another long-serving Taliban fighter. He told us his group came from front lines, north of Kabul. Three hundred Taliban, he said, wanted to switch sides, but he and his nine friends were the only ones that came.

"The Taliban are demoralized and scared," he said. "I can't say how long they will last, but their days are numbered."

Alliance commanders say the more U.S. bombs that fall on Taliban positions, the more defectors they're likely to see.

(on camera): It may seem like an easy way of scoring publicity points at the expense of the Taliban, but attracting defectors is a key military strategy of the Northern Alliance. For an army with limited weapons and ammunition, each defector is one less man to fight.

(voice-over): As yet, these isolated defections fall short of collapse in the Taliban ranks. But this conflict is no stranger to changing alliances and fighters switching sides, and the hope of the opposition is that more of this will turn the tide.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHANCE: Well, already Northern Alliance officials have been speaking of them winning battles, gaining territory without a shot being fired through negotiations, through encouraging defections. They've also said that one day they hope to advance on Kabul, perhaps without a shot being fired, without any kind of resistance, again, through negotiations and defections.

But I can tell you on that front line down there, north of Kabul, the situation is very tense, and that looks like an extremely distant hope.

Matthew Chance, CNN, northern Afghanistan.

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