Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS


Live From Afghanistan With Christiane Amanpour

Aired November 26, 2001 - 20:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN WITH CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: The war, phase two. A firefight near the Taliban's final stronghold. We'll have the latest from CNN's Nic Robertson.

Who's been ruling Afghanistan, the Taliban or Osama Bin Laden? CNN's Christiane Amanpour reports tonight on the guest who exercised maximum power.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN SENIOR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Far from the Taliban-controlling Bin Laden, the opposite was true. In recent years, they say, it was Osama Bin Laden's philosophy, his money and his mercenaries that came to heavily influence Mullah Omar and the Taliban hierarchy.


ANNOUNCER: Plus, Afghanistan's feuding warlords. On the eve of peace talks, CNN's Ben Wedeman reports on the doubts about their intentions.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Khoja Munir has heard about the upcoming meeting of Afghan factions in Germany. "If those people wanted peace they could have made it before, " he says, "but they didn't. All this destruction around us, it's their work."



AMANPOUR: Good morning from Kabul.

The war is ratcheted up a notch. The first contingent of U.S. Marines land just outside Kandahar to try to defeat what is now the Taliban's last stand there in their power base at Kandahar and also to pursue the fugitive terrorist Osama Bin Laden and the al Qaeda network.

CNN's Nic Robertson is at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where much of the news from Kandahar is filtering through. Nic, from what you are hearing there, do the Taliban have any notion that now the noose is -- is tightening around them?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely they do, Christiane. We have been talking to Taliban officials, several officials here, including the former ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef. They all conclude and concur that the pressure really is being increased upon them.

In fact, they say not only do the United States have forces now at a desert airstrip south of Kandahar but they say that the United States also has forces on the ground in a key town on the road linking Kandahar to Pakistan, a town called Takteh Pol. This is a strategic town and it cuts the highway, and we do know that traffic on the main road is being diverted around that town.

The Taliban officials we talked to talk about the pressure on them now to negotiate the surrender of Kandahar, a city, the province and the other provinces they control.

However, they also caution that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban leader, is likely to go for the more hardline option and they believe there could yet still be a very bloody fight for the control of Kandahar. Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Well, given that they are saying that they want to surrender but that Mullah Omar holding out, we have also heard reports -- as I'm sure you have -- that many of the so-called al Qaeda people down in that region are resisting a surrender. Is that what you are hearing?

ROBERTSON: What we are hearing at the moment is that the -- this pressure has been applied, that it has only recently been applied, i.e. the forces being on the ground and also tribal forces now being increasingly active against the Taliban in this area. And so far, it has not brought Taliban to the negotiating table.

So it's perhaps a little soon to say that -- -- or to determine yet what kind of stance al Qaeda forces would take, whether or not the Taliban would divide among hard-line and less hard-line elements, though certainly the Taliban officials we have talked to talk of forces up to 20,000 in the Kandahar region.

But as we have already seen across the rest of the country that these large numbers of forces that they may claim to have may not necessarily stand and fight.

The local commander just across the border here, we have talked to recently. He is very well respected by his forces. But even he has given indication that he may not stand and fight, and certainly if he was to lead, the troops under him would likely leave as well.

AMANPOUR: And what about the situation inside Kandahar? What are CNN sources inside Kandahar saying about the level of combat, what Taliban or other people potentially still loyal to the Taliban are doing about it?

ROBERTSON: Well, they talked about gunfire, small artillery exchanges, small machine-gun fire, anti-aircraft gunfire exchanges early in the day Monday.

However, the indications that they say through the rest of the day was that the city remained tense. There is a high degree of uncertainty about what is to come, and a lot of people are really considering at this stage getting out of the city of Kandahar. They do fear that there could be street-to-street fighting. They do fear that their lives could be in danger if they stay in Kandahar.

However, people -- drivers who were driving out of Kandahar yesterday told us that even despite these feelings there was some degree of normality on the streets, that the marketplaces were open and people were still shopping.

But there is, even from our CNN sources there now, a very, high degree of worry about exactly how things are going to play out in the next days.

They all recognize that with that U.S. forces poised not far from Kandahar, with tribal Pashtun leaders now gathering forces outside of Kandahar, that not only is the psychological noose tightening but possibly the militarily -- military noose on Kandahar is tightening and that could mean some very serious fighting if the Taliban don't negotiate a surrender.

AMANPOUR: And have our sources actually seen any evidence of the U.S. Marines on the ground or not?

ROBERTSON: So far, nothing. So far, the -- all the people they have talked to, people who have been out to Kandahar's international airport -- that's the main terminal, about ten miles outside of Kandahar, people -- drivers who have traveled the main highway from Kandahar, the three-hour drive to the border to where we are, to Chaman in Pakistan, they all say that they haven't seen any U.S. forces so far.

But what we are being told by Taliban officials and by eyewitnesses who reported secondhand -- not directly to us, but have reported to other journalists, other wire agencies -- that they have seen U.S. helicopters on the ground and certainly Taliban officials tell us categorically that they believe there are two locations near Kandahar were there are U.S. troops and U.S. helicopters on the ground.

And they also believe that if the Taliban forces break cover to try and attack these positions, if you will, they believe that they will be attacked from the air by United States and allied air power and that the Taliban officials say that they won't do that.

They won't go for full frontal assault on these location because they know that that would certainly mean that they would be met with a force of power from the air that they would not be able to respond to. Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Nic Robertson, thank you very much. And indeed, an Associated Press reporter reports that he went in under Pentagon rules with the Marine deployment and that they have gone to a base outside the main city, the main airport area, apparently an airstrip that had been built, quote, "by a wealthy Arab to access his hunting area in that region."

Now Satinder Bindra has our story from the northern city of Konduz, where just this weekend the city fell to the Northern Alliance and the people there are reported celebrating.


SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The remnants of a once- feared Taliban army. I was one of the first journalists to enter Konduz, the Taliban's last stronghold in the north. Here, one of the first sights I see, the bodies of Taliban fighters lying in pools of blood by the roadside. Gawkers stop by for a closer look.

We enter Konduz as the Northern Alliance army is just rolling in. Taliban fighters are still retreating. Our cameraman and producer walk into a gun battle. They decide it's too dangerous to stick around. Some civilians didn't survive the fight for Konduz. Kholmurat's friends organize his funeral.

"When the Taliban were retreating, they thought he was their enemy so they shot him, and he died." Northern Alliance soldiers tell us thousands of Taliban troops fled without much of a fight. But still, there are stragglers. When some like Salim are caught, the pent-up anger of these soldiers explodes. Salim loudly proclaims his innocence.

SALIM (through translator): I am from Kabul, and was here to visit my brother, and these people claim I committed a crime.

The last I saw of Salim he was being driven away. Also being wheeled away, but to a hospital almost 10 miles away, these children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I remember when the bomb landed. I got hurt and fell down.

BINDRA: Mohammad Hussein's brother, Sardar, tells me he was injured when U.S. planes first started bombing Konduz. Still, he feels no anger towards the U.S.

SARDAR HUSSEIN (through translator): The Taliban came and hid their tanks near our houses. After that, our area became a military target.

BINDRA: All Sardar hopes for is the U.S. will help him pay some of his huge medical bills. Just down the road, celebrations in the center of town continue. Someone puts up a Northern Alliance flag, but these soldiers stay away from the party. They appear to be edgy.

Northern Alliance soldiers say they are concerned some Taliban fighters could still be hiding inside homes, and they may stage surprise attacks. So as dusk falls, Northern Alliance troops are conducting house-to-house searches.

Senior Alliance commanders here also say they've set up a special commission to ensure there's no law-and-order problem in Konduz. Few people in Konduz are scared of looting and rioting. The worst, they tell me, is now over. Their future, they hope, will not be one in which they'll continue digging graves for innocent people.

Satinder Bindra, CNN, Konduz, northern Afghanistan.


AMANPOUR: Now, where is Osama Bin Laden, the focus of this war and a massive manhunt? Some people believe -- U.S. officials -- that he may be quote, "cave hopping" in the area of Jalalabad. Others, including Northern Alliance officials, believe that he may be restricted to moving around in the area of Kandahar.

He is, in any event, according to all people who feel that they know this situation, in some kind of hard-to-access mountainous caves. And CNN was shown pictures of a recent Bin Laden hideaway in Kandahar.

This was one of Osama Bin Laden's main hideaways in the province of Kandahar, according to a defense ministry official now in Kabul. He says it was printed in an al Qaeda newsletter for Taliban officials.

In this corner, the ancient Islamic title "Leader of the Faithful" is bestowed on Bin Laden's protector, Mullah Omar. In this corner it says, quote, "providing hospitality to Osama Bin Laden is no shame."

Other pictures allegedly show how the mountainous refuge was accessed by this trail and by what looks like a river or irrigation ditch that leads to the carved doorway. From underground, a sky light for ventilation. The official says this is an old print. The hideaway may have been bombed by the U.S. after the 1998 embassy attacks in Africa.

Officials at the security headquarters in Kabul as well as senior Pakistani officials tell CNN that far from the Taliban controlling Osama Bin Laden, the opposite was true. In recent years, they say, it was Osama Bin Laden's philosophy, his money and his mercenaries that came to heavily influence Mullah Omar and the Taliban hierarchy.

As examples, they point to the decisions to blow up the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas as un-Islamic idols, and to put eight foreign aid workers on trial for spreading Christianity.

Security officials in Kabul say not all the mercenaries who came here were linked to al Qaeda. Some were just eager to fight with the Taliban. Many of them are now sitting in prison cells in Kabul.

This man, an Afghan who says he worked for the Taliban, but switched sides when Kabul fell. He said he was a night watchman at the old Darmalan Palace that the Taliban used as a barracks. The foreign mercenaries were housed in this building nearby. "They said they had come here for holy war," he says. "Other than that, the Arabs didn't say much to us." Further up the road, we saw these so-called SCUD caves build into the mountains by the Soviets, and now littered with ammunition, and a ledger full of names of Pakistanis who came to fight and die on a rapidly-shrinking battleground.

AMANPOUR: And when we return, U.S. forces in the north try to put down a prison revolt. We will have that after a break.


AMANPOUR: For the second straight day, anti-Taliban forces in the town of Mazar-e-Sharif have been trying to put down a prison revolt by Taliban and other Arab prisoners who have been in that big fortress.

For the second straight day we have seen dramatic pictures of U.S. special forces and military calling in airstrikes and trying to quell this revolt. One of those airstrikes went astray and six Northern Alliance commanders were killed, we are told, as well as five Americans were injured. CNN's Alessio Vinci has that story.


ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Approaching the compound on foot, I could hear sporadic but intense fighting from inside the fortress. Then the sound of a mortar headed my way.

As I took cover behind a mud wall, a second shell. It was immediately clear some of the Taliban prisoners who revolted the day before were still in position to fight, despite hundreds of Northern Alliance soldiers trying to put down the uprising.

Northern Alliance soldiers say they have lost some 150 fighters, and that between 300 and 400 Taliban prisoners have been killed, most of them after U.S. jets bombed the compound on Sunday.

"We have two of our own soldiers wounded here, and two are dead, this soldier, who just came out of the firefight, told me. "We are going to carry them into town now."

Earlier in the day, U.S. jets mistakenly hit one side of the fortress occupied by Northern Alliance fighters. One of these soldiers says he believed it was friendly fire. Both Northern Alliance and U.S. soldiers were nearby. "When the plane bombed here, we all got disorganized," he says. "The enemy is inside the compound, and we occupy the perimeter outside." Adding, "They bombed themselves."

Another soldier who says he witnessed the airstrike says U.S. military personnel on the ground gave wrong targeting information to the fighter jets. "The coordination was wrong," he says. "They bombed the commanding post and there are injuries, but no dead."

It is now more than 24 hours since the Taliban began the uprising, and despite U.S. bombings, they seem to be holding out well. Northern Alliance soldiers out here are telling us that most of the Taliban fighters are holed up inside a building, but have access to a lot of weapons.

But they have nowhere to escape. And as Northern Alliance troops gear up for a major fight --, or perhaps a final storming of the fortress -- they assure me that in the end all the remaining Taliban inside will be killed.

Alessio Vinci, CNN, Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan.


AMANPOUR: And Northern Alliance commanders are also saying that soon those resisters in that prison, they believe, will run out of ammunition and the situation there will come under control. When come back, peace talks in Germany and what women in Afghanistan are saying about their role.


AMANPOUR: The war isn't yet over in Afghanistan, but the peace process is about to get under way. Delegates from the Afghan capitol and indeed from Afghan exiles have already landed in Bonn, Germany, for talks aimed at hammering out a political settlement for this country and an attempt to make a stable Afghanistan for the first time in more than 20 years. CNN's Ben Wedeman has that report.


WEDEMAN: Khoja Munir has heard about the upcoming meeting of Afghan factions in Germany.

Digging up turnips with his family in the ruins of Kabul, he doubts the self-appointed factional leaders will be able to coax peace from the hard, dry soil of Afghanistan. "If those people wanted peace they could have made it before," he says, "but they didn't. All this destruction around us, it's their work."

Having seen their city mauled by factional infighting leading up to the Taliban takeover in 1996, they don't have much faith in the warlords. Four different groups will take part in the Bonn talks: the Northern Alliance holds the most cards, flush with victory after retaking much of the country from the Taliban. Alliance leaders say they are committed to sharing power.

DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, NORTHERN ALLIANCE FOREIGN MINISTER: Nothing could have happened without our forces liberating those areas. Then, that does not mean a solution, lasting solution. A lasting solution would be to give the people in those areas which are liberated a chance, to give them a voice to express their views, to express their will, and to be a part of the decision-making process.

WEDEMAN: Also taking part will be the so-called Rome Group, affiliated with the former king of Afghanistan, 86-year-old Mohamed Zahir Shah. He has lived in the Italian capital since being deposed in 1973.

Another group will represent the more than two million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. This group is closely aligned with Islamabad. The fourth group is closely affiliated with exiled Iranian-backed warlord Gulbaddin Hikmatyar. The Taliban have not been invited.

Analysts say the people of Afghanistan must be allowed to decide their own future.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we try to impose any kind of Westminster- style democracy on them or try to sort get involved in the internal affairs, we will only create another mess. We will be back to square one again, where Iran will back one faction, Pakistan another faction, the Russians another one, the Americans another one and so on and so forth. And it will become a big mess all over again.

WEDEMAN: The talks in Germany are the first step in a process aimed at setting up a broad-based government representing all of Afghanistan's diverse ethnic groups and political persuasions.

Getting this country's bickering factions to agree on anything will be difficult enough, but the real challenge ahead is to rebuild this shattered country after more than two decades of death and destruction.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Kabul.


AMANPOUR: U.S. officials tell us that they are holding both the threat and the promise of billions of dollars of reconstruction aid, and that will be dependent only once there is a government -- a government that is recognized.

U.S. officials tell us that they believe, on evidence so far, that the parties going to Bonn are prepared to deal seriously. And other officials and sources tell CNN that they believe Iran will not compete with the United States in the political future and settlement for Afghanistan.

Now, the issue of women is key to the future of Afghanistan. Women who have been gradually trying to recoup the rights that they lost under the Taliban and indeed over the last 20 years of civil war here. Only one woman is represented at the Bonn talks.

As CNN's Harris Whitbeck reports, more women feel that they should have a voice.


HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 20-year-old Mina (ph) arrives at Kabul's Institute of Medicine to resume her education. It's been five years since she walked these halls, five years during which the Taliban regime deprived her of an education, deprived her of the right to appear in public without a veil shrouding her face.

She lifted the veil to speak to me, a foreign reporter, two weeks after the Taliban fled the Afghan capital.

Does it feel strange to be walking without the veil?

MINA: Yes, yes, I think some Talibans in front of me and they are beating me. It is very difficult because of that.

WHITBECK: When you become -- when you start studying, you will have to study without the veil.

MINA: Yes, very, I'm very happy.

WHITBECK: But she quickly puts the veil into place when some Afghan men appeared.

What do you feel when you have to do that?

MINA: Well, I think of my...

WHITBECK: ...when you have to put it back on so suddenly?

MINA: It's -- it's very difficult for me. I'm afraid -- I'm afraid for too much because you don't know how much it was difficult for us before.

WHITBECK (on camera): Freedom to dress as they please, to gain an education and to work. Women in Afghanistan are hoping the new government will allow it. But women's rights groups here fear they are not adequately represented at the talks that may very well determine the country's political future.

(voice-over): Two women are part of the Afghan delegation heading to the talks in Bonn, Germany, and the Afghan foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, says women's rights will be on the table.

But Soraya Parlika, who heads a women's rights group, isn't too convinced.

She says, "the women delegates to Bonn were not in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, and do not know firsthand how much women suffered."

WHITBECK: Mina, the medical student, does. And while she has high hopes in the government that will be formed, she is really only counting on herself to achieve the education she so desperately wants.

MINA: I wish to work and now I decided to work from five of morning until ten of night because I stayed at home five years. I want to make it (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

WHITBECK: Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Kabul, Afghanistan.


AMANPOUR: And that's our report from Afghanistan. We will be back at the same time tomorrow, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.




Back to the top