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Aired November 30, 2001 - 20:00   ET



Closing in on the Taliban, and no deals to let the leaders walk free.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We would want all, each, every single senior Taliban leader.


ANNOUNCER: Tonight, the latest from the Afghan battlefront from CNN's Nic Robertson.

The new neighbors at a military base north of Kabul. CNN's Jim Clancy tonight on the Army's shrouded mission.


JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Whatever the ultimate purpose here, both U.S. and British troops have been seen inside Bagram's battered control tower making ready.


ANNOUNCER: Rebuilding Afghanistan -- CNN's Harris Whitbeck reports on a nation in need of help, top to bottom.


HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Amira (ph) knows a bit about reconstruction. Her chicken coup was destroyed during U.S. bombings of Kabul.


ANNOUNCER: And Christiane Amanpour on a different kind of holy day in Kabul.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The days of fear and sadness are gradually coming to an end. Fridays are being handed back to the people and their hobbies. Pigeon flying is allowed again.


ANNOUNCER: Live from Afghanistan -- Christiane Amanpour.

AMANPOUR: Good morning from Kabul.

And in the last battleground that is the area around Kandahar, anti-Taliban tribal forces say they are trying to press their advantage on several sides around the city. Some say they are trying to negotiate a surrender with the Taliban. But, of course, the United States is rejecting any deal that may lead to an amnesty for Mullah Omar and any high-ranking Taliban or al Qaeda leaders.

CNN's Nic Robertson is in Pakistan where refugees have been heading across the border. And the situation there, in terms of the surrender, is still unclear. Nic, what is latest from sources that you can get to?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, we have been talking to our sources in Kandahar. They tell us in the last three days of incessant and very heavy bombing in the city, over -- indeed, overnight here last night, we can hear planes. We have been hearing planes all night flying over our heads into Afghanistan in the direction of Kandahar.

Our sources in the city there say that the targets have been a target downtown, a main core commander's building, a military target and also on the northern edge of the city of Kandahar, the compound of the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Now earlier in the air campaign, his compound had not been a target. But now we are told it is a target. We are also told by our sources here that the Taliban have arrested three or four more people they accuse of spying for the United States. Talking with our sources here in Pakistan, they tell us that on the eastern edge of the city of Kandahar, there are about 2,000 Pashtun forces, tribal forces, from one tribe, and to the north of the city, about another thousand Pashtun tribal forces from a different tribe. And, of course, to the southwest of the city, we understand there are some many hundreds of United States Marines.

Now, our sources here in Pakistan say that the tribal elements just outside the city of Kandahar had hoped to had been -- hoped by now to have been pressing home their military advantage on the city with greater speed. What are they encountering, we are told, is they have been having negotiations with some of the leading Taliban military forces, we are told, one leading Taliban military commander has in fact been talking with these tribal elements about defecting. That has not happened and so far, these tribal forces have not been able to enter the city.

And that is also what we are hearing from our sources inside the city there who say they have heard no small arms fire, that they say an indication that although there may be many tribal forces outside the city, nobody yet is coming into the city and fighting hand-to-hand on the ground for control of that city -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: And in the smaller but bellwether town of Spin Boldak on the border there, what is the situation? We have been talking about a possible surrender by the Taliban over the last week.

ROBERTSON: Well, the situation appears to have shifted through the week. Earlier in the week we have seen defections of local commanders there. As the weeks have gone on, we have seen new commanders arrive, commanders who appear to have been relocated from other battlefronts of the Taliban battlefronts inside the country.

And what we are hearing, not only from the Taliban now inside Spin Boldak, but also from Pakistani officials who talk with them, is that the Taliban are saying Spin Boldak will not be negotiated. It will not change hands. In fact, rather than earlier in the week, when the situation had appeared to be Spin Boldak would be negotiated and then quickly, speedily moving on to negotiation of Kandahar. It is the other way around now. The message we are being told by Taliban, Pakistani officials is that only when the city of Kandahar falls will then Spin Boldak change hands.

Now of course all these statistics we are getting from inside Afghanistan are very difficult to verify from where we stand. But what we have seen ourselves looking into Spin Boldak are more Taliban around, in the city. And definitely we have seen no more defections in the latter part of this week -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Nic, thank you.

And in the Kandahar area, as we had been reporting all week, U.S. Marines have been building up their forward base at a desert airstrip near the city there. They have not had any contact, we are told, with the Taliban. They have not engaged in any battles. But they say they are ready to do so if ordered.

CNN's Walter Rodgers has gone into Kandahar as part of a Pentagon pool of journalists. And he sent this report out.


WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The 15th U.S. Marine Expeditionary Unit has now dug in in force at a desert airstrip in Southern Afghanistan, within striking distance of the Taliban stronghold at Kandahar.

The precise numbers of the Marine force cannot be disclosed, but it is understood to be battalion sized. Since seizing this desolate desert air base November 25, the Marines moved rapidly to reinforce their gains with combat teams already engaging in reconnaissance patrols in southern Afghanistan. One Marine officer said: We are now awaiting further operational orders. Once we receive those, he added, we will accomplish them -- quote -- "with a vengeance."

On November 26, members of the same Marine unit engaged a Taliban military convoy of approximately 15 Soviet-vintage military vehicles, using the Marines' Cobra helicopters to guide U.S. Navy F-14s to the targets. Pockets of Taliban existence reportedly still exist in Southern Afghanistan south of Kabul, but so far, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit has had minimal contact with the enemy.

Another officer said the Taliban have not tried to penetrate the perimeter of this captured airfield since the Marines secure it. In less than a week, the Marines have convincingly deployed a large military force, with impressive light armor and helicopter units all transported from ships standing offshore several hundred miles away. That gives the Marines the capability of projecting more firepower at enemy targets than was previously available to the smaller special operational teams, like the Rangers, who were here first.

Around the perimeter of this air base, which could become the springboard for further assaults against Taliban strongholds, the Marines have dug in what they call their fighting holes and are equipped with TOW anti-tank weapons, mortars, and machine guns, as well as standard issue M-16 rifles. We flew into this desert airstrip, a dry lake bed, under the cover of darkness. It was reminiscent of the way I used to fly into Afghanistan with the Russians in 1986 and '87.

Then the Mujahedeen, and now the Taliban, have very effective Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which took a devastating toll on Soviet fighters bombers and helicopters during the Soviet occupation. The threat to the coalition aircraft still exists, but judging by the American pilots' approach tactics, the Stinger threat is nowhere near as severe as what the Russians faced here.

Another difference between the American and Soviet experiences in Afghanistan: While the Soviet invasion and occupation was originally intended to be open-ended, U.S. Marine officers are making it clear, once their mission is accomplished here, they intend to get out and avoid the mistakes of the other great military powers who waged war here.

Walter Rodgers, with the 15th U.S. Marine Expeditionary force in Southern Afghanistan.


AMANPOUR: Now there are U.S. ground troops in other parts of Afghanistan, including at the Bagram Air Base near Kabul. There have been special forces and other intelligence forces of the United States along with those of Britain at Bagram over the last several months and weeks.

But this week, elements of the 10th Mountain Division came to Bagram and also to Mazar-e Sharif. CNN's Jim Clancy reports from Bagram that they are not inclined to talk to reporters yet, but that the local residents seem quite happy to see them.


CLANCY (voice-over): The U.S. soldiers have taken up positions at the main gate to the former Soviet airfield at Bagram. Well armed and in uniform, they smiled while local militiamen with the Northern Alliance made sure we didn't get any closer. No pictures was apparently the order of the day.

(on camera): No pictures and no conversations either. The three soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division that I was standing only 20 feet away from, refused to say a word about their mission. Now, publicly, that mission is to create a safe environment for the transfer of humanitarian aid by air into Afghanistan. Still, the reality is, that Bagram Air Base could be converted to military flight operations in a matter of days, if not hours.

(voice-over): Whatever the ultimate purpose here, both U.S. and British troops have been seen inside Bagram's battered control tower making ready. With a telephoto lens, we were able to get a view of these U.S. troops guarding the compound and assessing their new living situation.

Without official comment, we can only guess what some of them must have been saying. Luxurious accommodations beyond our wildest dreams was one unlikely interpretation, or perhaps a telephone call to Washington to describe the lights and airy views.

Pentagon sources have said 50 U.S. soldiers are now stationed here, but some of the Afghans who also guard the base put that figure closer to 200. Again, no way of verifying that claim. But one thing is clear, Afghans are delighted to welcome the Americans.

"I'm happy", said this soldier and resident. "The Taliban were cruel. They forced us from our homes. Everyone is happy the Americans are here", adding, "it means we're secure."

Bagram, the town, is a ramshackle collection of mud-walled compounds tied together with a maze of narrow, twisting, dirt roads. It was the frontline in a year's long battle between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. Residents say it was overrun by the Taliban three times. Each time, they said, they suffered beatings, killings and abductions.

Many people are returning home to Bagram for the first time in years. Things are beginning to return to normal. At a water well, the hub of village life, the conversations soon turns to those new neighbors, the Americans.

"This used to be a frontline. This man lived here and that man, but we were too poor to leave," said a village elder, saying, "The American presence meant peace and security." And that's what he wants for all of Afghanistan.

Whatever their mission, the U.S. forces seem certain to benefit from the view they helped defeat the Taliban. For many of these Afghans, the arrival of U.S. troops does mean peace. That's probably the best gift any new neighbor could have brought to the people living here.

Jim Clancy, CNN, Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE) AMANPOUR: The war still has a long way to go, we're told, but peace talks, we were also told, were making progress in Bonn. Now they're feared to be deadlocked, and we'll ask a senior official why when we return.


AMANPOUR: Peace talks have been under way in Bonn since Tuesday, and all week reports from there have been optimistic, positive, saying progress is being made. But Thursday, the talks appeared to run into an obstacle. We are told that they stretched way into the early mornings in Bonn, and we're still not sure what the possible outcome will be.

So we are going to check in again with Dr. Abdullah, foreign minister of the Northern Alliance and the biggest faction representative in Bonn. What can you tell us? What is the hurdle, the obstacle? Apparently, President Rabbani of the Northern Alliance is refusing to approve a list of candidates to a new interim solution there.

DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, NORTHERN ALLIANCE FOREIGN MINISTER: There are different opinions in that regard here and there. But I think what is more important for us to -- to conclude the deal, to make an agreement, final agreement, with the other components of the talks in Bonn. And today, we are going to have a meeting of the leadership council here in Kabul to discuss the hurdles which are on the way, and hopefully we will come out with a result where it will -- it will help the talks to come to a conclusion.

AMANPOUR: And what can you tell us about the precise hurdles? We have been told that it's a list of specific positions in any future cabinet or ground council?

ABDULLAH: Yeah, the issue is that here in Afghanistan, President Rabbani believes that the list should be discussed here in Kabul. Now, but -- just -- then there is other views that it could be concluded, it could be agreed upon there in Bonn as well, because we have sent a delegation which is representative of all groups, components of the United Front. I think that hurdle we should be able to overcome.

AMANPOUR: Am I hearing you say that you may be forced to bypass President Rabbani's reservations and go ahead and conclude a deal?

ABDULLAH: Not necessarily the same thing, but to discuss it in details today here in the leadership council and find a way out of it.

AMANPOUR: And bring him to the decision that a decision needs to be made in Bonn.

ABDULLAH: I think everybody has to be -- everybody has to be -- consent about what will come out, and there is a consensus among us that there should be an agreement in that part, and there should be an agreement on the formation of a transitional government, interim government, and later on Loya Jirga and so on and so forth. So on the principles, there are no differences. How to go ahead, how to move ahead, what to be discussed and where, these are the issues that I think we should be able to overcome.

AMANPOUR: What are the key outstanding issues that are still to be discussed in Bonn?

ABDULLAH: I think this is -- this will be the details of the interim government, the members, the number of members, and which party, which group, how should be represented in there -- these are the details which could be discussed.

AMANPOUR: We always heard from the beginning that all factions had come to a consensus that an agreement needed to be made, but the tough bargaining would come when key portfolios were going to be divided out, defense, foreign, interior, whatever key portfolios. Is that part of what's being haggled over?

ABDULLAH: No. This is not. We haven't reached to that point yet.

AMANPOUR: Haven't got there.

ABDULLAH: And we will I think in that part, that will not -- that will not create a problem. But the issue today is how to go ahead with the talks, and what details should be discussed there, and what should be concluded here in Kabul.

AMANPOUR: Now, the Northern Alliance, I believe, in Bonn -- and other factions -- asked for a 10-day -- a 10-day halt in order for them to regroup, regather and be able to continue the talks, a suspension, if you like. That's a non-starter, according to the U.N.

ABDULLAH: In fact, the issue of asking for 10 days and then to continue the talks here in Kabul, or, once again, back in Germany, it was -- it was -- it was on the table. But I think it will be early to say what will come out from the days ahead of us in the Bonn.

AMANPOUR: Now, obviously the international community, the United States, the U.N., and every country there looking and encouraging you, and holding out the promise of a lot of reconstruction aid, pressuring you to do this deal now. Is there any chance that this might all collapse in Bonn, or are you confident that sometime in the not-too- distant future you will come out of there with an agreement?

ABDULLAH: I think we will come out of there with an agreement. We shouldn't let this chance to fail once again. And from the other side, what we expect from the international community is to also understand the problems that we are dealing with it and the problems which we are faced with while fully intending to make these talks success, we have to tackle the problems which are bad and we overcome those problems.

AMANPOUR: And the problems appear to be what exactly? What problems? ABDULLAH: I think it is -- in a brief sentence, it is a transition from war to peace. It is a transition from 23 years of war to peace. Then the international community expects that happen -- happening in matter of one or two or three or four days time.

I think there are issues. If it takes time, we should take our time. We shouldn't waste time. We shouldn't give -- we shouldn't let this chance to fail or we shouldn't make this chance a failure. From the other side, if it takes time, we should...

AMANPOUR: Be given that time?

ABDULLAH: Yes, of course.

AMANPOUR: Dr. Abdullah, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

And Dr. Abdullah said it better than I could: It is a transition from 23 years of war to peace. In Kabul, we have already seen the transition gradually coming to the people here after at least five years of a repressive regime. We'll have that when we come back.


AMANPOUR: For more than 20 years, peace, calm and especially freedom have been total strangers here in Afghanistan. But this Friday, we found people getting reacquainted with them, on what is the traditional day of rest here.


(voice-over): The call comes from the towering minarets of the Pul e Kheshte mosque, Kabul's oldest and best known. In what's said to be a tradition set by the prophet Mohammed, old men comb their beards before entering to pray. The people of Afghanistan are deeply religious, but faith was never compulsory until the Taliban.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They took us by force to the mosque. Now there is no force on us to go to mosque. It is our choice to go or not.

AMANPOUR: And inside, the mullah was saying that people should be treated fairly, their freedoms should be respected, their women should not be beaten. Fridays in Kabul used to be reserved for prayer and play. The city is slowly readjusting. Dr. Wahid Mayar (ph) remembers soccer matches under the Taliban, where fun was strictly prohibited.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were not allowed to clap just after -- when they goaled. They had to say allah agba (ph) -- God is great.

AMANPOUR: After a goal.


AMANPOUR: But worse, this national stadium was where the Taliban would hold public executions. The days of fear and sadness are gradually coming to an end. Fridays are being handed back to the people and their hobbies. Pigeon flying is allowed again.

"The Taliban told us flying birds was a sin", says Said Khaled (ph). "They closed our shops." And they often killed the birds, saying that playing with them was a waste of time that should have been spent in prayer.

The same with this favorite Afghan pastime, only kite-flying drew even harsher punishment because of the betting involved as competitors vied to cut each other's strings.

"We are happy God is kind", says the old man busy carving spools again. "The true god", they say, "the one they have always worshipped."


(on camera): Now everybody here, all eyes are on the possible peaceful future. And we have been told by senior Northern Alliance officials that whatever the outcome here in Kabul, a conclusion will come at the talks in Bonn.

For the domestic viewers it is Greta Van Susteren next. For international viewers, "World Sport". Thank you for watching us.




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