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There are Signs Terrorists Wanted Weapons of Mass Destruction; Marines in Afghanistan Hunt for Bin Laden

Aired November 27, 2001 - 20:00   ET



The Marines on the ground in Afghanistan, the hunt for bin Laden...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This fight is over for the al Qaeda.


ANNOUNCER: CNN's Nic Robertson will bring us the latest.

Where bin Laden may be hiding and the deadly clues...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An untidy collection of gas masks, rubber gloves, a student textbook shows the chemical formula for sarin, a deadly nerve agent.


ANNOUNCER: CNN's Brent Sadler on the growing signs that terrorists wanted weapons of mass destruction.

A first step toward a new Afghanistan.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You must place the interests of your people first above all other concerns.


ANNOUNCER: Trying to form a government off the battlefield.

Plus, Christiane Amanpour's story of an unlikely guest.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Men old enough to remember rub their eyes in disbelief. Others watch slack-jawed as the Russians come back to Kabul.


ANNOUNCER: The return of the Russians.

Live from Afghanistan -- Christiane Amanpour.

AMANPOUR: Good morning from Kabul.

As more and more U.S. Marines land in and around Kandahar, there are more and more intense U.S. air strikes on the region. Now the U.S. Pentagon is saying that they have struck -- quote -- "a leadership compound." Did they get Mullah Omar?

We ask Jamie McIntyre from the Pentagon.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christiane, Pentagon officials are hopeful that a series of quick reaction air strikes they carried out today may have taken out some senior Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, including perhaps Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader. But this is based on an intelligence report that came in.

Coincidentally, at the same time, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was touring the U.S. central command headquarters in Tampa, Florida. He watched as U.S. Navy planes carrying 2,000 pound satellite-guided bombs were directed against two sites southeast of Kandahar where U.S. intelligence indicated that Mullah Omar might be.

But, now, Pentagon officials are well aware of the difficulty of getting an individual from an air strike and they are not counting on anything at this time. It's perfectly possible, despite the fact of the initial reports that the targets were destroyed, that when they get up tomorrow and read the intelligence reports, it may be that nobody of significance was actually killed.

But at this hour tonight, the U.S. is hoping that at the very least, they've sent a strong signal that there are fewer and fewer places where Mullah Omar and the Taliban/al Qaeda leadership can hide -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Jamie, one of reports says that one of the targets was an Islamic charity. Is that one that was linked to the al Qaeda network? Can you tell us about that?

MCINTYRE: Well, assuming that that, in fact, turns out to be one of the targets, it is in fact believed by U.S. intelligence to be essentially a front for al Qaeda. But at this point from the Pentagon, I haven't been able to confirm that that was one of the targeted sites.

Other U.S. officials have told CNN's David Ensor that they believe that the targets that were referred to today by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Pentagon officials include that target as well. But, again, we'll have to wait probably a day or so to figure out exactly what was hit on the ground and exactly what damage, if any, was really done.

AMANPOUR: Now, the Pentagon is also saying -- I believe I heard -- that the U.S. Marines are not there to launch an attack on Kandahar. What exactly is this beefed-up presence there for?

MCINTYRE: Well, the U.S. hopes that the presence of the Marines, who will probably move closer to Kandahar in the coming days, will be an intimidating signal for the Taliban. But U.S. central commander General Tommy Franks insisted today that he didn't put them there for any direct combat assault on Taliban forces in Kandahar.

Instead, their mission is to provide a forward operating base where the U.S. can continue to disrupt the lives of the Taliban, specifically, cutting off their freedom of movement, setting up roadblocks, checkpoints, interdicting traffic and responding to any intelligence that would indicate where Osama bin Laden or perhaps Mullah Omar or other senior officials might be. So, they might go on those kinds of missions, but what they are not planning to do is join the opposition forces in some sort of direct combat assault to take the city of Kandahar, the last Taliban stronghold.

AMANPOUR: Jamie, thank you. And it does appear though that the pressure is having a noticeable effect on pockets of Taliban power in that area.

We go now to the Pakistan-Afghan border where Nic Robertson is there. Nic, what is the situation with the Taliban, who have been controlling the city of Spin Boldak down there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, just late in the day on Tuesday, Christiane, a Taliban official -- a Taliban commander from Spin Boldak came across to Pakistan. He told us that he had about 25 or 30 fighters under his command. He said that he had let them go. Some of them, he said, weren't prepared to fight with local Pashtun tribal commanders, who are trying to gain control of Spin Boldak.

He also said that the local Taliban administrator in the town had told him to let them go. He had paid them off and they had gone home. We were also getting indications from Kandahar, travelers traveling from Kandahar to Pakistan, that the Taliban are less in control of the main highway from Kandahar to Pakistan then they have been in recent days. Very few Taliban fighters reported being seen on that route. And major detours from the main highway now in place -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: What do sources inside Kandahar say? I have heard one report saying that although Taliban are positioned with weapons in various part of the city, that some are saying they have been given orders to be prepared to leave quickly if necessary.

ROBERTSON: Very difficult to gauge from this distance. The mood we are being told about in the city is that there is a lot of nervousness, a lot of apprehension about the situation. Interestingly, the commander who defected yesterday told us that until a few days ago, he had, in fact, been stationed in Kandahar, but had been redeployed because of the deteriorating security situation inside the city with his force has been redeployed to the border area, an indication there, perhaps, that the Taliban were already several days ago, dispersing their troops away from a centralized location, the city of Kandahar.

But definitely a lot of apprehension in that city. The Taliban have had a lot of gun positions around the city, a lot of anti- aircraft positions and have tried to hold key heights that overlook the main international Kandahar city airport, perhaps indications they are bringing to spread that force out to diversify any attack on it -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Nic Robertson, thank you very much, indeed.

Now, the U.S. is saying that it is going through many of the locations where various former military bases suspected of being linked to the al Qaeda and also safe houses in Kabul and other areas, to see whether there is evidence of any acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. We are not sure whether they found anything definite, but certainly journalists have been finding a lot of evidence that points to terrorist intent and a deep interest in weapons of mass destruction. CNN's Brent Sadler reports now from Jalalabad.


BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A semblance of order in Jalalabad. Attempts at traffic control in the face of chaos; a veneer of security in a city with visibly less guns and little more hope. Hope, which springs from the Afghan summit in Germany. The political focus in Europe, as well as here, seems to be on nation building involving heavily-armed factions led by war-hardened be commanders.

But the war or terror is still far from over in these eastern provinces; unfinished business for an American B-52 bomber; and plotting for a possible ground attack by mujahedeen commanders on a mountain stronghold called Tora Bora, south of Jalalabad, a highly probable hiding place for Osama bin Laden, says this security chief who wants to kill him with or without a $25 million reward.

I have information, he says, that six or seven days ago Osama was in Tora Bora.

If true, that puts bin Laden some forty miles, or 60 kilometers, from Jalalabad, once an important area for al Qaeda training camps, like here, at Darunta, on the outskirts of the city.

(on camera): Massive bomb craters, the aftermath of U.S. air strikes over a month ago, hundreds of al Qaeda terror recruits were reportedly training here, but they've scattered. According to the new authorities in the area, though, they still pose a threat to security.

(voice-over): This former terror base, I'm told, partly explains why. It holds deadly secrets and is a dangerous place to be. I am taken to what they fear most of all, a non-targeted building, made of brick and wood, containing evidence which seems to support claims al Qaeda was developing, and spreading, chemical weapons know-how. An untidy collection of gas masks, rubber gloves, and toxic substances, haphazardly stored next to an anti-tank mine. A student text book shows the chemical formula for sarin, a deadly nerve agent, a macabre hoard of terror-training manuals.

The camp is destroyed, but the knowledge learned here may still be intact, spread far and wide.

Brent Sadler, CNN, Jalalabad.


AMANPOUR: Now with the efforts concentrated on wiping out the Taliban and al Qaeda in the south, in the north that dramatic story of the prison uprising still continues, although it has mostly been put down now, there are hundreds of bodies strewn around a prison complex as Taliban and anti-Taliban forces fought there. And also U.S. and British commandos helped to bring down that rebellion. CNN's Alessio Vinci reports.


ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Northern Alliance forces are using all the firepower they have to crush the rebellion, heavy machine guns, a tank, and even the support of U.S. and British military advisers, who arrived at the huge fortress together early in the morning.

Intense shooting came from all sides. I could hear bullets ricochet just above my head. U.S. military jets bombed the fortress last night. A small number of Taliban continue to fight back, mainly with machine gun fire.

Almost three days of battle have killed hundreds of Taliban. Some of their bodies still lay in a ditch outside the fortress's main gate. We heard reports of a carnage inside.

As we entered the fortress, the battle was still ongoing, and we saw evidence of the fight's intensity. Dozens of bodies in an open field, some of them mutilated, most of them have been there for days.

(on camera): There is a body up here.

(voice-over): Many more littered our way up to the vantage point of Northern Alliance soldiers. I was expecting to see soldiers on edge, keen to bring the uprising to an end. But the fighters we met looked quite relaxed. War here is a way of life.

This soldier used the body of a dead Taliban to rest his heavy machine gun. For now up here, the dead and living share the same space.

(on camera): The heavy fighting has somewhat died down now, but we are still witnessing some sporadic exchange of fire between Northern Alliance soldiers up here, and Taliban prisoners held up in a basement some 50 meters behind me. (voice-over): There is another battle front outside the main gate of the fortress, not to kill Taliban, but to attend to dozens of Northern Alliance wounded. Some had to wait for more than an hour before a car showed up to take them away. And as for the dead, they were left on the ground near working reporters who have already got used to seeing plenty of death all around them.

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


AMANPOUR: Now war has been a way of life here, but the people of Afghanistan are hoping against hope that peace will be in their future, a positive start to peace talks in Bonn. We will have that report when we come back.


AMANPOUR: (AUDIO GAP) shows that there will be huge hurdles to overcome if there is to be a political settlement for this country. But the sponsors of the peace talks in Bonn, Germany are calling for the parties to make a historic compromise for consensus in power sharing.

The U.S. delegate there says that already a positive start has been made. CNN's Jim Bittermann reports.


JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There were warm embraces and nervous good cheer as Afghans, some long departed from their homeland, gathered to begin their national reconciliation. And for the others in the room, the delegation from the Northern Alliance raised the most concern. Had the new rulers of much of the country come to the table to command or cooperate? The answer was immediate.

YUNUS QANOONI, NORTHERN ALLIANCE (through translator): In order to transfer power to the nation, we are totally ready for the country's transitional period through a mechanism which takes its legitimacy from the real representatives of the Afghan people.

BITTERMANN: It was an opening that encouraged the skeptics and reassured the doubtful.

SAYED HAMED GAILANI, DELEGATION LEADER: They at least expressed their commitment that in the past is past, and everyone is looking towards a brighter future and a united future.

BITTERMANN: But it will take more than German hospitality and U.N. encouragement to achieve that. The delegates left for their more private meetings mindful that they have a huge incentive to find agreement.

To rebuild Afghanistan, battered by more than two decades of conflict, the international donors have pledged billions of dollars in aid, if -- if -- there is a broad based government in place for the international community to deal with. Not an easy objective.

BITTERMANN: In a background conversation in a private suite, a senior U.S. official told us that there are any number of sticking points which could develop here, ranging from how to provide security for Afghanistan in coming months, to how to determine who gets what when it comes time to allocate posts in any new government. But few, it appears, want to labor over details now.

AHMAD WALI MASSOUD, NORTHERN ALLIANCE ADVISER: We are hoping that we can get everything done, hopefully this meeting. If not, at least we must and we should get the main points, the principles, we should agree on the major things.

BITTERMANN (voice-over): With peace and aid at stake, the conference on this mountain top above the river Rhine presents, in more ways than one, what a U.N. Spokesman called a golden opportunity. And after a day of talks here there was every reason to believe the Afghans may be preparing to seize it.

Jim Bittermann, CNN, Koenigswinter, Germany.


AMANPOUR: Now the Afghan women are looking very, very closely to the conference in Bonn. U.N. figures said that 70 percent of Afghan teachers and 50 percent of government workers were women before the Taliban took over.

We are joined now by Soraya Perdika, one of the former professional women in Afghanistan. She used to head the Afghan Red Crescent and is not trying to move politics along for the Afghan women. She doesn't speak English, so our translator Kanishka (ph) is going to help.

Soraya, what do you hope, what do the Afghan women hope comes out of the Bonn conference? .

SORAYA PERDIKA, AFGHAN WOMEN'S LEADER (through translator): As an Afghan woman, I acknowledge and highly appreciate that the leaders who have gathered in Bonn, should leave their conflicts aside and they should decide for a new solution, and the only solution is that Mohammed Zahir Shah should rule Afghanistan again. And she says as an Afghan woman, I acknowledge that -- that Zahir Shah is the only one who can be trusted and who can be ruling Afghanistan in the future.

AMANPOUR: Do you think Afghan women will get their rights back in a -- under Zahir Shah or under any new government? The right to work the right to be educated?

PERDIKA (through translator): I hope that the Afghan women can have their own power, that they had before, before the Taliban regime. And I hope that the Afghan women are brave and they can, of course, have their participation in the government. We had some brave Afghan women, as I mentioned here, and I'm sure that the Afghan women can have a good rule and I hope they should have a good part in the new government. AMANPOUR: And are you satisfied with the women representation in Bonn today?

PERDIKA (through translator): I hope that the woman in Bonn can represent the -- the Afghan woman, that they were in ten years quite away from the politics and I hope they can do something in Bonn.

AMANPOUR: Thank you very much, Sorya. Thank you very much for being with us. And when we come back, we'll have a report on the Russians, they're coming back to Afghanistan.


AMANPOUR: In '79, Soviet forces rolled into Afghanistan heralding the end, or one chapter at least, in the end of cold war, but the beginning of misery for the Afghan people. The people remember it here with incredible bitterness. But now the Russians are coming back under a completely different guise.


(voice-over): An Afghan speaking Russian. We learned it when the Soviet troops were here, he says. But be didn't expect to be using it again, and 22 years after the Soviet invasion, Afghans didn't expect to see this again.

Men old enough to remember, rub their eyes in disbelief. Others watch slack-jawed as the Russians come back to Kabul.

"I fought against them in the Pansjhir Valley until our victory," says Mohammed Nasir (ph). Now they have come to help us, and that's good -- otherwise we're ready.

Memories are long, suspicions run deep, but these are not Russian soldiers, they've come from Moscow's Ministry of Emergencies to set up a field hospital for the people of Kabul. As more people gather for a closer look, Afghan soldiers try to keep them far away. Traffic police smile and try to clear the road.

It's a new day for Afghanistan and the mood is full of good humor. A crowd tells us they want their country rebuilt. They want peace and they want jobs. And if the Russians want to help, that's fine they say, some of the younger ones are even indignant when we ask about the trauma of the Soviet years -- the million or so Afghan dead.

"Madame, they have come back to help us," says Sayed Alam (ph), who told us that as a child, he spied against the Soviets for the Mujahedeen.

For Russians, too, a new day. The page turning on the trauma of losing a guerrilla war and their empire. Now the Russians are re- opening their embassy in Kabul and bringing in humanitarian assistance.

How do you expect the Afghan people to accept you after the 10- year war? VLADIMIR IVANENIKO, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Ask the people.


When we were inside the city, there were a lot of smiles, very good guys.

AMANPOUR: And a good time to be a Russian in Afghanistan.


And that's our report from Kabul. We will be back at same time tomorrow 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Now Greta Van Susteren is next for our domestic viewers. And the news continues on CNN worldwide.




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