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A Suicidal Revolt Leaves Hundreds Dead Including an American

Aired November 28, 2001 - 20:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN WITH CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR. A suicidal revolt leaves hundreds dead, among them, an American, the first known to have die in combat, in Afghanistan.


JOHNNY SPANN, FATHER OF MIKE SPANN: Our family wants the world to know we are very proud of our son, Mike, and we consider him a hero.


ANNOUNCER: Tonight, CNN's Alessio Vinci on the Taliban's tragic final gasp in the north. Hitting the ground in the south, more American troops arrive, to bolster a powerful presence. The whispers coming from Kandahar. CNN's Nic Robertson from the border. Will the Taliban fight, or try to cut a deal?

And the search for Osama bin Laden. Correspondent Brent Sadler on the Afghan militias, hoping to take him, dead or alive.


BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fighters look to the sky, and claim an American surveillance plane is closely watching the Tora Bora area, a mountainous zone where they, along with as many as 2,000 mujahedeen fighters, could soon be sent.



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, HOST: Good morning from Kabul. Hundreds more U.S. Marines are dropped in the Kandahar area. While in the north, the first contingent of U.S. infantry troops from the 10th Mountain Division have entered there to prevent any further Taliban uprising in that area. And what was suspected a few days ago, when U.S. Special Forces and intelligent officials helped quell that uprising have now been confirmed -- a U.S. official has been killed in Mazar-e-Sharif. CNN's David Ensor has that story.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, Mike Spann was a member of the Special Activities Division at the CIA. These are mostly covert operations specialists, many of them former military personnel adept with firearms and adept in dangerous situations.

He was killed at the prison uprising that's been going on in Mazar-e-Sharif, in a hail of gunfire, we understand. He probably died Sunday, but it took until this morning, Wednesday morning, excuse me, Afghanistan time for the U.S. to recover his body. And you could you hear pride in his father's voice as he spoke about him today.


J. SPANN: When he decided to leave the military service to work for the CIA, he told me he did so because he felt that he would be able to make the world a better place for us to live. We recall him saying, "Someone has got to do the things that no one else wants to do." And that is exactly what he was doing in Afghanistan.


ENSOR: What he was doing in Mazar-e-Sharif was collecting intelligence, gathering intelligence from Taliban prisoners in that prison about Taliban intentions and whereabouts.

Interestingly, the president had not spoken to his father by the time his father gave that news conference and has not commented about the case yet. The White House spokesman was at pains to point out this is not the first American death since this war started on September 11 and it will probably not be the last one either -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: David, we had seen incredibly dramatic pictures of the American intelligence officials and others in uniform doing that -- bringing in those air strikes and trying to quell that uprising over the last few days. But what about the U.S. Marines in the south, in Kandahar, what do we know about what they are actually doing on the ground?

ENSOR: Well, the Marines got into Kandahar recently. But before them, there were a large number of CIA personnel in place already and they are working very closely with the Marines. They are together looking out for targets of opportunity for military strikes. For example, few days ago, you will remember, Mohammed Atef was apparently killed, one of the leaders of al Qaeda. That was based on intelligence from the U.S. intelligence community. There will be more of those kinds of strikes coming up. And the CIA will be helping the Marines in the south there to identify friend from foe and try to put an end to the Taliban and al Qaeda -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: David, thank you. And in the meantime, Taliban officials are denying that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban leader, was killed in that attack that the U.S. says was on a leadership compound over the last couple of nights.

In the meantime, back to the situation in Mazar-e-Sharif, another bloody chapter in Mazar's history appears to have been closed. That city has changed hands many times since 1987 and each time, hundreds if not thousands of people were killed. Now, this prison uprising has been put down and Red Cross officials are collecting hundreds of bodies that have been strewn around that fortress, prison complex. CNN's Alessio Vinci has that story.


ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was one of the last shots fired in nearly three days of battle. A Northern Alliance tank crushed the walls of a building trapping inside and possibly killing the last Taliban prisoners held inside the basement, which had been filled with fuel and set on fire.

The death toll of the uprising so high Red Cross officials are still not sure how many bodies they will recover, but they say that it will be hundreds.

OLIVER MARTIN, INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS: The aim of the recovery of bodies and their burial, of course, first, it's to provide some dignity to the person dead but more the aim - a major aim is really to try to identify because we're on every single death, but they do have a family.

VINCI: Red Cross officials concede many of the dead will be buried without being identified. The courtyard is littered with bodies and body parts, some beyond recognition. Most of the prisoners were killed on the first day of the revolt as U.S. missiles rained down, other victims perished in a ferocious exchange of fire, which spared just a few.

Northern Alliance General Abdul Rashid Dostum lives in this fortress that was near Konduz at time of the attack, negotiating another Taliban surrender. He returned to take a first-hand look.

"It was a planned attack," he said, "We were informed by different sources that there was group of people who were planning suicide attacks under the pretext of surrendering."

Dostum did not elaborate why security was not increased at the fortress, but said the Taliban surrendered a day early and the compound was not fully prepared for their arrival.

(on-camera): The main battle is over but General Dostum and Red Cross officials say there is still a handful of Taliban prisoners buried underneath the rubble alive and they do represent a threat.

(voice-over): Taliban leaders who negotiated the surrender with General Dostum, also, survey the aftermath. They say they regret the incident, but denied it was a planned attack.

"Most of the captives were foreign fighters," they say, "who acted on their own initiative."

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


AMANPOUR: Now, in the south, confusion still about a possible Taliban surrender at the border town of Spin Boldak. It appears that tribal groups there are arguing about who will take over if the Taliban does surrender. CNN's Nic Robertson is there.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Little of this bustling, border crossing hints at the turmoil in Taliban territory beyond these gates. Above, American jets refuel before passing unhindered into Afghan air space for missions of war.

Down below, however, the diplomacy of war moves slower. Talks between Taliban and tribal leaders for control of Spin Boldak are now stretching into their third day.

(on-camera): The desire here is for the Taliban to hand over control of Spin Boldak quickly. Why the negotiations are taking so long is difficult to assess because some of those involved say there are no disagreements.

(voice-over): But Pakistani officials say two local tribes involved in the negotiations, Noorzai and Acherzi (ph), cannot agree amongst themselves who will get control of the town.

Aquil Shah, from the predominant Noorzai tribe, tells of how when they get control, they will make the town safe.

AQUIL SHAH, NOORZAI TRIBE (through translator): The people will get the power, and then they organize themselves on the basis of local area for peace. Then, they'll tell the world not to bomb us.

ROBERTSON: That the two tribes should disagree at such an early stage of their grip on power worries Spin Boldak tradesmen.

"Thieves will increase. We are shopkeepers," Shohav (ph) says, "everything will be destroyed. Each shop is worth $4,000."

If the problem in Spin Boldak is complicated by just two tribes, consider what problems there may be in negotiating surrenders elsewhere in Afghanistan. Listen to all the different tribes, Aquil Shah says, will want to say in Kandahar's future.

SHAH (through translator): [speaking in native tongue].

ROBERTSON: That's a recipe, Pakistani officials fear, is more likely to cook up chaos than bring calm.

Nic Robertson, CNN, on the Pakistan-Afghan border.


AMANPOUR: Now, as the situation still remains unclear, the Pentagon has just issued a statement saying that as it has been dropping bundles of humanitarian aid over Afghanistan, one of the last drops apparently hit a house and killed a woman and a child inside. We don't know any more details and we don't know the exact location of that drop.

In the meantime, when we come back, the hunt for Osama bin Laden and how local mujahedeen are getting in on the act.


AMANPOUR: Now, one of the features of Afghan wars throughout the years has been the speed with which various fighters change sides, depending on which side is winning. Now, in this case, as Taliban towns have been falling, Taliban members have been switching sides and switching turbans. In Jalalabad, CNN's Brent Sadler reports some of these new mujahedeen are now enlisted in the fight and the hunt for Osama bin Laden.


SADLER (voice-over): Until two weeks ago, the man driving this old Russian-made tank says he fought for the Taliban. Since then, he's switched sides, like countless other former Taliban fighters, many of them now reportedly bearing arms on behalf of a post-Taliban mujahedeen alliance in Jalalabad as well as other Afghan cities.

Babrak (ph) tells me he has no qualms about being a serial turncoat, first as a mujahedeen, killing Russians 16 years ago, later switching to the Taliban, now, reunited with the mujahedeen.

"Ready," he says, "to help wipe out Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, if ordered into battle."

The possibility that might happen appears to be growing by the day, based on consistent reports that some 40 miles, or 60 kilometers beyond the southward-facing barrels of this old Russian-made armor is where bin Laden himself might be holed up.

Fighters look to the sky and claim an American surveillance plane is closely watching the Tora Bora area, a mountainous zone where they, along with as many as 2,000 mujahedeen fighters, could soon be sent.

(on camera): It may seem a long shot in the high-tech hunt for Osama bin Laden, but these veteran tanks could be used in support of a possible mujahedeen ground assault against the fugitive al Qaeda leader's suspected mountain hideout.

(voice-over): Mujahedeen chiefs here say a battle is unavoidable if hundreds of Arabs who fight for al Qaeda refuse to give in.

Pashtun tribal elders have been reportedly sent to negotiate an al Qaeda surrender in Tora Bora, but it's doubtful they'll succeed.

And if an attack is ordered, claim mujahedeen commanders, they have the firepower to take Tora Bora in days.

Brent Sadler, CNN, Jalalabad.


AMANPOUR: Now, to the peace talks in Bonn. Despite the pessimism of the cynics, progress does appear to be made. We'll have that when we return. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: There was some pessimism, some cynicism before the Afghan factions went to Bonn to hammer out some kind of accord on a broad-based future government for Afghanistan. But the sponsors have called for each side to make the historic compromise necessary for future. And they are saying that right now, the first steps there are positive as CNN's Jim Bittermann reports.


JIM BITTERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A quick, early success, but still a long way to go. Delegates from both the Northern Alliance and a group, which supports the former Afghan king, confirm the two factions now agree that the first step toward government should be a transitional council of between 120 and 200 members.

(on-camera): That council would then pick the members of an interim government to run the country. A joint committee of the delegates at the conference here is currently working on selecting a list of people for the council. They hope to have a full list assembled by the end of the conference here. But there's a hang-up that's yet to be resolved.

(voice-over): Supporters of the former king say the council, which would meet in Kabul, can only go to work if the capital becomes a neutral zone, with security assured by an international force.

MOHAMMED AMIN FARHANG, SUPPORTER OF FORMER KING (Through translator): An acceptable perimeter around Kabul should be demilitarized in order for the government to be able to go in there and function. A U.N. peacekeeping force should come into that region to establish security.

BITTERMAN: But in a news conference earlier, the delegate from the Northern Alliance, which holds Kabul, disagreed.

YUNUS QANOONI, NORTHERN ALLIANCE (through translator): We do not see the necessity for foreign forces to be posted in Afghanistan. We are all witnessing that security is being maintained in the country. In case there is a need to protect a new political structure, we prefer that a security force be composed of various Afghan ethnic groups.

BITTERMAN: For the moment, the security issue has been put aside at the talks, apparently too divisive for now. And other issues have yet to be addressed. The exact role of the former king is not clear. In an apparent rebuff, the Northern Alliance negotiator said the alliance puts its trust not in individuals but institutions.

And just as murky in the mountain top meetings here, is to what extent seats in a council and an interim government will be allocated on the basis of ethnic or tribal background. Still, one insider at the closed talks, I contacted by cell phone, said the delegates remain flexible and hopeful.

Jim Bitterman, CNN, Koenigswinter, Germany.


AMANPOUR: Now, Dr. Abdullah, the foreign minister of the Northern Alliance joins us here and we're going to ask him straightaway -- one of the sticking points apparently appears to be this whole notion of a peacekeeping force.

The Northern Alliance is saying that this is not a starter for them, but the U.N. is saying that they need this kind of security protection for the delivery of humanitarian aid and other assistance. Why do you resist that?

DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, NORTHERN ALLIANCE FOREIGN MINSTER: No, our position has been that our preference would be an Afghan force composed of all ethnic groups, of course, under the union once again. But this is the preference. But if we have to go for a multinational peacekeeping force, we would consider it positively if it is needed, if it is required. In the light of developments, we will consider it positively. There is no rejection for that. So there is a preference otherwise.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me just try to get you to fully clarify this. It's obviously not yet on the table in Bonn, they have called it too sensitive to discuss yet. Are you saying if it comes up, you will be flexible on this issue?

ABDULLAH: Of course.

AMANPOUR: Who would you imagine taking part in the peacekeeping force such as...

ABDULLAH: We call it multinational force, once again under the U.N. And we don't have any preference as such about the composition of it, but multinational force as whole.

AMANPOUR: So that would be very good news to the U.N. and to the others right now. I mean -- because so far, they've been saying that they're feeling that you don't want this, but you're saying that you may be flexible?

ABDULLAH: Yes, we are flexible in that regard and we have made it clear that we prefer an Afghan force and the U.N. But later on, if it is required that we should go for a multinational force, our response will be positive.

AMANPOUR: And what about the role of king? Again, many times, you've been asked this question and I seem to be getting somewhat different answers each time. Sometimes you say you're willing to consider him in a figurative role and now, at the talks, apparently, that's shifted little bit. What is the position on the future role of the king in the interim period that the U.N. envisions?

ABDULLAH: First of all, as far as the talks are concerned, this issue has not been discussed yet. That issue has not been discussed yet. Then, about the role of the former king of Afghanistan in the future, our position is very clear in that regard. I don't know if I have sent confusing messages myself, but our role is clear. Our position is clear. If he is chosen by a representative body, it will be acceptable for us.

AMANPOUR: But that's in the post-Bonn period, isn't it? Are you talking about long-term? Basically, as you know, the U.N. is thinking of having the king head the initial interim political arrangement. Is that all right for you?

ABDULLAH: No, that's not my understanding of the U.N. position, no.

AMANPOUR: So you're saying that he will be acceptable if he chosen.

ABDULLAH: Yes, of course.

AMANPOUR: And what do you expect to actually concretely come out of Bonn? Everybody's talking about the positive atmosphere, the great first steps.

ABDULLAH: I would say that a framework, a road map based on a timetable. That's what we expect and some details of course.

AMANPOUR: Details on names of who may be involved?

ABDULLAH: Perhaps, yes.

AMANPOUR: And how long do you think the talks there will continue?

ABDULLAH: Another two, three days.

AMANPOUR: They were saying that perhaps later on Thursday, European time, that one of these issues will be resolved, about who might comprise the future body that will look after this country, is that what you think?

ABDULLAH: I am in contact with our delegation and I was advised not to talk about details of discussions. And I go along with it.

AMANPOUR: But you think the talks will be wrapped up in a couple of days?

ABDULLAH: I think so, yes.


ABDULLAH: Yes, this is the understanding from my contacts with all delegations.

AMANPOUR: And then, what do you expect? Will they continue? Will there be another meeting in Afghanistan?

ABDULLAH: Preferably, we expect another meeting very soon in Afghanistan as soon as possible so there is no limitation as far as the timing is concerned. We are ready for that. And the U.N. could arrange for the security arrangements and other requirements -- logistical requirements of it. And we are open for that as soon as possible.

AMANPOUR: And what do you envision that meeting deciding?

ABDULLAH: In that meeting, I think there should be a final agreement about the transitional government. That's -- the final agreement should be made in Afghanistan. That's preferable for us and we expect that we have it.

AMANPOUR: What positions in any new government does the Northern Alliance expect to be able to take up in terms of ministries and portfolios?

ABDULLAH: This is not being discussed yet even among ourselves because this was the first time that after dramatic military events in Afghanistan, which major part of Afghanistan was liberated. We have started negotiations. We are sitting around a table. So it has not been discussed. It will not be a sticking point at any case because what we want to see is a solution, a solution, which is lasting, sustainable and acceptable for everybody.

AMANPOUR: On that note, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

And we'll be right back after a short break.


AMANPOUR: Now, closely watching the peace talks in Bonn, President Bush and the U.N. Secretary General have said that they would like a multinational force to guarantee the security of humanitarian aid. It appeared the Northern Alliance foreign minister made a little bit of news on our programs just a few minutes ago, saying that they would be flexible and they could envision accepting a multinational force under U.N. auspices.

That's our report from Kabul. I'm Christiane Amanpour. Up next is Greta van Susteren for our viewers the United States. Internationally, it's "WORLD SPORTS."




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