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Possible Deal on Airport Security; Jalalabad Reportedly Has Fallen to Northern Alliance

Aired November 15, 2001 - 11:33   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: In Washington on Capitol Hill, there is breaking news at this point, possibly a compromise on the airline security measure.

Kate Know is tracking that.

Kate, what's happening?

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bill, five senators and five house members who are key to all of this. They've been negotiating. They just emerged from a meeting a short time ago, saying the words that Americans have been waiting to here. They say that they, the 10 of them, have a deal on airport security and how security should be changed at the nation's airports. That does not mean this is final yet, because of course those 10 members will have to go back it their respective leaders and make sure that everyone is on board with this deal.

They were very quiet about what the details of the deal would be. But I did talk to one member in the room who was able to tell us what we reported here yesterday on CNN was indeed the outlines of what they are looking at.

What they are talking about doing to airline secure sit having federal employees handle airport security, security screening of passengers and baggage at every airport in the nation. However, they would allow, if you will, an opt out for every airport. An airport -- maybe not every airport, but for some amount of airports, they would be able to opt out of that system if they chose to have instead private contractors doing that security screening or indeed local or state law enforcement, for example, state police. Perhaps one airport in the middle after nowhere would want state police to do that work rather than bringing in federal employees.

So that is the general outline, Bill, that federal employees would do the work, but there would be this opt-out provision, a way to get out of that system for individual airports. Very important to know, Bill, that that's a real compromise. You will remember senators and House Democrats wanted it to be all federal employees. Well, Republicans in the House wanted to make sure that there would be some room for private contractors to be involved in some of the work. So this does have the makings of a real compromise. And again, all of the members here on Capitol Hill emphasizing they wanted to get this done this week.

So if it's approved by the leaders, we could have a deal by late this afternoon.

HEMMER: In essence, Kate, what you're saying is, do the deal, get the bill signed and let the airports allow themselves to pull out if they want to do it their own way.

SNOW: That's right. We need to be careful. What's unclear is how they would opt out and whether it would be every airport that could opt out, or perhaps just smaller airports that could opt out. But that's the general principle that they are looking at, saying everything is federal employees, but with this option to do it a different way if a certain airport feels that that way would be better for their particular situation.

HEMMER: What about this idea of Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the Republican senator from Texas was talking about allowing the top 30 airports in the country, essentially the busiest airports, allowing them to have federal screeners? Is that dead in the water?

SNOW: The process is very fluid. And the Negotiations have been going on since early this week, Bill, with all the key players, and the process is evolving. Her idea was on the table on Tuesday. That ideas seems to have faded back in favor of what I just outlined. That seems to be the idea that they have come out with a potential deal.

HEMMER: I know you're on Capitol Hill. Any indication that the administration would go for this.

SNOW: No indication just yet, but I can tell you that White House aides have been very actively involved in all this.

Our Major Garrett reporting this morning that the president was getting a little bit impatient based on sources that he was talking to, impatient about this, wanted the Congress to move on and find a deal. So there was a lot of pressure on them, Bill. We may be seeing the results of that pressure now.

HEMMER: And, Kate, you mention the holiday break. When will Congress officially, at this point anyway, leave town?

SNOW: Well, that's a good question. Nobody knows the answer to that. In fact, House Dennis Hastert indicating yesterday if they had to, they would stay through this weekend and work through the weekend before they would go away for Thanksgiving. Of course a lot of members do want to get home for Thanksgiving, not just the holidays, but to get back to their districts, to be able to hold sessions in their districts next week -- Bill.

All right, Kate Snow again from Capitol Hill.

Kate, thanks, keep us posted on what happens on that. Many thanks.

From overseas, getting word right new, another development at this point. CNN's Matthew Chance who is on the ground in Afghanistan indicating that Jalalabad, that city in the eastern part of Afghanistan. If we have a map, we can show it to you. Apparently, Jalalabad has fallen. Again, there had been reports over the past three or four days that have gone in different directions.

But the word we are getting from our correspondent Matthew Chance on the ground, is that Jalalabad has fallen, and apparently the Northern Alliance has taken control of that Eastern Afghanistan city. That is critical for many perspectives. It is a Taliban stronghold, not quite as intense as Kandahar in the south. Not only is it a Taliban area concentration, but Al Qaeda training camps are also known to have been established in that area, and through the Pentagon they also tell us those camps have been destroyed. That word out about two weeks ago.

But the word we're getting again, CNN's Matthew Chance on the ground, saying Jalalabad has fallen. More from this now at the Pentagon and CNN's Bob Franken who is watching a whole lot thus far today.

Bob, good morning.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Bill.

As far as Jalalabad is concerned, it's too quick of course for the Pentagon to know. It takes quite a while because of the very slow movement of information from some of the battlefields, so no word on Jalalabad.

As a matter of fact, they are not able here in the United States -- government sources can't agree on the results of two bombing runs, one in Kabul, and one in Kandahar, where two buildings that are known to be headquarters for Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership were bombed. They don't know exactly who it was who was inside those buildings, who was killed.

Here at the Pentagon, they are saying leaders of both the Taliban and Al Qaeda were killed, but they are not willing to say that senior leaders were killed. Other government sources say that in fact senior leaders of both have been killed in both attacks.

What everybody seems to agree on, is that it is highly unlikely that Osama bin Laden was among those who had been among those who had been killed.

Now, as far as the military operations by the United States, there is a decided shift now, notwithstanding those bombing runs. The new emphasis on the ground and special operations forces. They are beginning to show up in Kabul, in a variety of other places in the country. They're setting up roadblocks, that type of thing that. That seems to be the new emphasis for the U.S. And we got a glimpse of that when we heard today from the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff General Richard Myers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEN. RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: We've got small units in the south doing reconnaissance and interdiction, trying to sort out good guys from the bad guys, and destroying the bad guys' military capability, and them for that matter.


FRANKEN: And of course as far as the United States and the coalition is concerned, the number one bad guy is Osama bin Laden. One of the things that the special operations troops are doing is searching. They are searching as if they were a police search looking for a fugitive, for Osama bin Laden, Taliban leaders and the like also; also trying to set up for the possibility that the Taliban troops will fade into the hills and try and run guerrilla operations. They want to try and have counter-insurgency efforts, and that is a made-to-order assignment for the U.S. special operations troops and the commando units.

So look for emphasis, Bill, on the ground for U.S. forces as the aerial campaign slows down just a bit -- Bill.

HEMMER: Bob, thank you. Indeed we will watch out for that. Bob Franken at the Pentagon.

Overseas quickly to Kabul and CNN's Matthew Chance, who now joins us again. The news we mentioned a few moments ago, Matthew reporting that Jalalabad has fallen. Is that indeed the case, Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that certainly is what the officials at the Northern Alliance are telling us here in the Afghan capital, Kabul. They say that the city of Jalalabad, to the east of where I'm standing now, the city that lies in between the Afghan capital, Kabul, and the Pakistani border, at least the closest part of the Pakistani border, has now fallen to officials of the -- to forces of the Northern Alliance, of course striking another blow against the Taliban and further reducing territory the Taliban militia have under their control. Northern Alliances forces saying they have the vast majority, more than 80 percent of the territory of Afghanistan fully under their control -- Bill.

HEMMER: Matthew, this area has gone back and forth. Tell us the significance, if indeed Jalalabad is firmly in the hands of the Northern Alliance, not only its relationship with Pakistan, but also that key road, key supply road from Kabul eastward into Western Pakistan.

CHANCE: That's right, a key supply road, in fact, an ancient one. It's called the grand trunk road that runs from Peshawar, the city in Pakistan, over the border of course to Jalalabad and onward to Kabul. So it's one of the main communication and supply routes, not just from Pakistan to Afghanistan, but across that part of Asia. So it's a main transit route for a lot of traffic, a lot of goods have passed by historically. They could do so again now, of course, as well.

So it's very significant in the sense that it reduces, if it is indeed true, it reduces the amount of territory the Taliban still have under their control. It reduces their strongholds to some pockets up in the north, around the town of Konduz, and around their main stronghold in the southwest of the country of Kandahar. So very significant developments there. It also pushes the Taliban forces right up against Pakistan border. Really they've got nowhere to go except to their province, to Kandahar, to the southwest of there, Bill.

HEMMER: Matthew, quickly, here I know you are watching Jalalabad. Have you heard much from Konduz as well in the north? We heard intense fighting, a heavy concentration of pro-Taliban troops. Any word from that interest from that part of Afghanistan?

CHANCE: Well, Northern Alliance officials say they are indeed planning to get rid of the rest of the Taliban forces there. They're saying they are planning a big offensive to try and take Konduz. That offensive, our understanding here in Kabul, though, it hasn't started yet. We are also getting reports from Kandahar as well. There is fighting around Kandahar, that last stronghold, and nothing further yet, though, Bill.

HEMMER: OK, Matthew Chance, live in Kabul there again.

The headline from Matthew, Jalalabad according to the Northern Alliance has indeed fallen into the hands of the Northern Alliance, with the Taliban moving out.




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