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Early Reports Suggest Northern Alliance has Entered Kandahar

Aired November 29, 2001 - 11:04   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.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Want to bring you more now on what we're getting out of Kabul. The AP reporting, according to a senior Northern Alliance commander, that it says its troops of the Northern Alliance have now moved into the southern Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

Don Shepperd, retired major general, back with us in Washington. General, we were talking about this last hour -- the possibilities of this happening. If, indeed, true, how significant would that be -- the Northern Alliance troops have, indeed, picked up and moved in an offensive manner into that town?

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It would be very significant, Bill. And you may see that they are moving rapidly to consolidate their gains before the Taliban have an opportunity to retreat and reform their efforts down there. In other words, form an organized resistance as they are retreating in somewhat of disorder.

Now, I've learned that you and the media are very much like military intelligence. You get all these reports coming from all sources, and you have to filter out what's true before you report it. And the usual -- the initial reports are usually wrong, although they have some fact in them. So a lot remains to be seen here -- what's really the...

HEMMER: General, if that's true, what would that suggest about the current climate and environment inside that town? Would it suggest that the Taliban is not nearly as fortified as some have been led to believe?

SHEPPERD: It, indeed, would. I doubt very seriously that the Northern Alliance would put forces in there in any small way. And it would mean to me that the area between Kabul and Kandahar -- it's about 350 miles -- that if they are indeed there, they've had to move through that area. There's no other way for them to get in. And it would be very significant, telling me that there's not much resistance between Kabul and Kandahar, if true.

HEMMER: And again, we're kind of riding the edge here of speculation. But as we caution our viewers about that, I want to know about what the U.S. military would prefer right now. If Tommy Franks is listening to this and, indeed, if it's confirmed, would you suggest this would be an open invitation by the U.S. military to go ahead and carry out a bit more of the dirty work on the ground there? SHEPPERD: No. I think General Franks would be very pleased for the Northern Alliance to do all they can to secure their own country, even as far as going after and capturing bin Laden. Now, that's my speculation; I don't know what's going on in the CINC's head. But I think the Northern Alliance and the opposition forces -- the more they can do by themselves, the better off we are.

HEMMER: And General, quickly: There still is the strong possibility that Taliban al Qaeda members have retreated out of that town, holed themselves up in the bunkers or caves outside the region, which would be much more difficult and much more precarious in terms of danger to root them out.

SHEPPERD: Absolutely. We'll be digging these al Qaeda and Taliban out for a long time. In my opinion, months, not days or weeks. There's going to be small pockets with weapons that have been stored, weapons that have been found. This will be a long-time campaign to finish all of this off, Bill.

HEMMER: All right, General, thanks -- talk again. general Shepperd live in D.C.

Want to go overseas now to Kabul, the Afghan capital. Ben Wedeman working the story, with us live, and also keeping a close eye on what's coming out of Bonn, Germany, and the Afghan leaders there who will get together, talk about the future government in Afghanistan.

Ben, hello again to you.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hello, Bill. Regarding these reports about Kandahar, there's no way to confirm them at the moment.

What is worth mentioning is that -- let me put my earpiece on -- is that that is a very long road, as your previous guest mentioned. It's a Very long road down there to Kandahar. And our information has been, until quite recently that that road was not fully under the control of the Northern Alliance, and therefore it would be rather surprising for the Alliance to be able to get its forces all the way down there.

Likewise, unlike the northern part of country, which is predominantly populated by Tajiks, by Uzbeks who are friendly towards -- friendly disposed for the Northern Alliance -- as far as that southern part of the country, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) predominantly Pashtun country, a more hostile area for the Northern Alliance. And therefore we really must approach these rumors, or these reports that the Northern Alliance troops have entered Kandahar with a good deal of caution.

Bill, back to you.

HEMMER: Ben, let's change topics here. What are you hearing out of Bonn, Germany? There was word earlier today that the Northern Alliance has agreed to some sort of U.N. security force on the ground in Afghanistan to help maintain the peace in the coming months. Have you gathered much reaction on that report out of Bonn, Germany?

WEDEMAN: Well, what we're hearing, Bill, it that the Northern Alliance has reversed its position on its original opposition to some sort of multinational peacekeeping force for Kabul and the country as a whole. The main proponents of that position -- that proposal for a multinational force -- had been the group around Mohammed Zahir Shah, the deposed king of Afghanistan. That group had wanted a neutral force -- rather, to make Kabul a neutral territory. At the moment, of course, the capital is fully under the military and political control of the Northern Alliance.

Now, if the Alliance has, as we are hearing from Bonn, reversed its position on the multinational force, it may take away one of the obstacles or road blocks to the formation of a national unity government -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, interesting development, also. Ben Wedeman, thanks, live in Kabul. Come on back, again, Ben, when we get more.

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