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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN WITH NIC ROBERTSON

Aired December 5, 2001 - 20:00   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.
ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN WITH NIC ROBERTSON.

Three American soldiers and five allied soldiers killed when a B- 52 bomber misses its target. The latest on the accident; human error or mechanical?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAR ADM. JOHN STUFFLEBEEM, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: These are human made, human designed systems and therefore they are going to have flaws.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: The latest from CNN's Walter Rodgers, on the ground with U.S. forces.

The hunt for Osama bin Laden in the mountains near Jalalabad. Anti-Taliban forces offering two options to al Qaeda: Surrender or die.

CNN's Brent Sadler reports from the newest frontline.

Excitement and hope in Bonn: CNN's Jim Bittermann on the deal reached for a temporary government to replace the Taliban.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we see here is -- are the beginnings, the signs of nation building again in Afghanistan after 23 years of conflict.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Plus, despite the deal, Nic Robertson reports that the man nominated to head the new government, continues to fight for Kandahar.

And CNN's Jim Clancy with a textbook example of one of the most noticeable changes in post-Taliban Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A chorus of eager voices rises up from a crowded classroom in Kabul. For the first time in almost five years, they are the voices of girls.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Live from Afghanistan, Nic Robertson.

NIC ROBERTSON, HOST: Tonight LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN comes from the Afghan-Pakistan border. As the U.S.-led campaign to oust the Taliban from their last stronghold of Kandahar intensifies. From this location we've been watching in the last few hours just across the border, bombing raids on the border town of Spin Boldak.

Also, from Kandahar, north of the city there, a U.S. bomb appears to miss its target. A 2,000-pound smart bomb drops on U.S. and anti- Taliban forces. Five green berets, three green berets are killed. five Afghan fighters also killed. Twenty of the special forces Are skilled five Afghan fighters killed. Twenty of the special forces are injured and 20 Afghan fighters are also injured. They are medevaced to Camp Rhino, a Marine base southwest of Kandahar city. There Walter Rodgers watched the injured come in.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Flights of U.S. Marine helicopters from this base in the southern Afghan desert shuttled back and forth, between here and the area north of Kandahar where a B-52 bomb went astray, killing Americans and wounding 20 others. An untold number of anti-Taliban forces were also killed.

Two Marine Cobra attack helicopters, flew escort for the medevac choppers. The helicopters brought both injured Americans and wounded Afghans to this Marine base, which has 10 Navy doctors on site. The American wounded were immediately transferred to a C-130 Hercules and medevaced to other U.S. military hospitals in the region for treatment.

The Afghan wounded are being treated here in their own country at this Marine forward post. We saw one with his arm in a sling being escorted to and from the base latrine. A Marine spokesman told the news media pool -- quote -- "We treat our allies the same way we treat ourselves, and certainly for anyone fighting along side us, we have made available all our medical facilities and staff.

Heavy B-52 bombers headed for Kandahar, like the one involved in the mishap are regular sights here above the Afghan desert. Walter Rodgers with the U.S. Marines in the southern Afghan desert.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: The Pentagon has now released the names of those three dead, special forces operatives. They are Master Sargent Jefferson Donald Davis, Sargent First Class Daniel Petithory and Staff Sargent Brian Prosser -- all from Fort Campbell.

To the north -- the north the U.S.-led air campaign has been augmented now by anti-Taliban Mujahedeen fighters on the ground. These forces have been moving in through the mountains, east of the city of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. They have been moving towards a cave complex in the mountains called Tora Bora. But in that cave complex al Qaeda fighters have been hiding out. There have also been reports that Osama bin Laden may be in the area. Reports also coming in, but as yet unconfirmed that one of Osama bin Laden's son may have been killed.

Brent Sadler has been moving in with the Mujahedeen forces on the ground.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tank fire into eastern Afghanistan's white mountains. U.S. friendly forces, anti- Taliban Afghan fighters, targeting an al Qaeda position on the main approach to Tora Bora, the mountain-top fortress, now partly covered with snow, built into rock with a complex of tunnels and caves. It's far from certain, but Osama bin Laden himself might be holding out here.

It will take brute force to find out. This is just the start of the ground assault.

As promised, the eastern alliance Mujahedeen have engaged al Qaeda at the foothills of Tora Bora. It is an assault, they say, that will continue until all the terrorists are eradicated.

As shell fire poured into hostile terrain, welcome support from the air, an American bomber attacks the same target, a series of strong explosions. But there's instant concern on the ground. They think the U.S. strikes might be too close for comfort, putting their own frontline at risk. Attacks may be launched in parallel, but according to ground commanders here there's no coordination with the U.S. military, creating a possibility of more casualties from friendly fire.

Ahead of the tanks, a light force of anti-Taliban infantry assembles on a ridge, facing organized resistance. Send more ammunition to us quickly, this commander is told from the battlefront.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The resistance is very hard, very tough, and they are resisting and they are firing, and our soldiers cannot go forward.

SADLER: Beyond the peaks lies Pakistan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This mountain is the border mountain.

SADLER: If the assault achieves its objective, al Qaeda might have nowhere to run. Confident looking truckloads of reinforcements are sent to join the fight. Drawn out combat is likely on the way.

Brent Sadler, CNN, Aduhm (ph), near Tora Bora.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROBERTSON: Now, while most of those tribal fighters on the ground, the most that they see of the U.S. fores is from bombing in the sky, there are -- there is a significant presence of U.S. forces on the ground southwest of Kandahar. And as Walter Rodgers reported earlier they are able and ready to provide aid when needed.

As Walter Rodgers reports now their main mission at this time is to be prepared and stay alert.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RODGERS (voice-over): Two U.S. Marines on a hillside in southern Afghanistan, as the sun sinks below the horizon. A Cobra attack helicopter flies northeast, toward Kandahar while Marine infantry beds down here. Those on post take up positions in their machine gun and mortar nests.

This is alpha company. Each Marine has night-vision goggles to scan the horizon. Kandahar is somewhere out there, though they are too far away to see the nightly bombing. Sergeant Jerry McPherson briefs his men.

SGT. JERRY MCPHERSON: The thing about the desert it's a lot of dead space out there that you don't really see just looking -- it's like real deceiving.

RODGERS: Another Marine checks out his .84-millimeter disposable anti-tank rocket, again under his sergeant's mothering.

MCPHERSON: At night time you really -- the sights are hard to see, and actually aiming effectively.

RODGERS: These marines are protecting the base from which other units have launched forth toward Kandahar. They have been left behind. Privately, they grumble they're being left out of the fight, because they say, the politicians in Washington don't want any Americans bloodied.

MCPHERSON: Kind of like a boxer, you know, trains for 20 years but never fights a fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE: We trained for this, and we want a piece of the action. That's what grunts are, that's what we've been known for, going in, fighting, kicking some butt, as you could say.

RODGERS: Instead, they stand under the constellation Plaidese, bond in trenches like soldiers have always done, and tell stories to keep their morale high.

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE: One guy thought he saw a puma, but what it is it's like a fox or some type of wild dog. And I always thought a puma was a cat, so I don't think he saw a puma.

RODGERS: In these pictures, taken only by starlight, they talk about what concerns them most. UNIDENTIFIED MARINE: One thing I can think about is making through this alive. If we do go take it, and go home and see my wife and kids.

RODGERS: By dawn's first light, other Marines closer to the air base are already shaking off the cold and vowing that they would never fall asleep at their posts.

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE: Staying awaking is a matter of discipline. If you fall asleep on watch, you're letting your buddies down.

RODGERS (on camera): These marines did have a full 100 percent alert last night, everyone scrambling in the dark to grab their M-16 arrivals and get to their fighting holes. It turned out to be a false alarm. Someone said it might have been one of the stray camels that wanders through this camp at night.

Walter Rodgers, with the U.S. Marines in the southern Afghan desert.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: Coming up after the break, after a week of intense negotiations, Afghans agree to a new government.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTSON: It has taken more than a week of talks in Bonn, Germany for Afghanistan's diverse ethnic leaders to agree a new government. That government will have 29 members. It will have one chairman and five deputy chairmen. It will rule the country for the next six months until a larger government can be formed.

But as Jim Bittermann reports, it has taken a lot of international pressure to get the Afghans to this point of agreement.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It took a deadline set by the German government and an all-night bargaining session to finalize an agreement. And not everyone picked for Afghanistan's interim administration is even known yet. But the country's short term political future is now at least on paper.

And those of us invited to witness the signing ceremonies at this exclusive mountain top guest house, saw not bleary eyes, but down right exuberance among the delegates, who clearly view themselves as the founding fathers of the new Afghanistan.

QAYUM KARZAI, BROTHER OF NEW AFGHAN LEADER: This is the best thing that could happen, and we are hoping that we will go forward to the new mission of peace now. The war is behind us.

BITTERMANN: Lakhdar Brahimi, who worked thankless years to bring Afghans to exactly this point, challenged them never to back slide from the commitment made here. LAKHDAR BRAHIMI, U.N. SPECIAL ENVOY: To promote national reconciliation, protect human rights, establish the rule of law and maintain peaceful relations with your neighbors. Above all, you must serve your people in a democratic, transparent, and accountable manner.

BITTERMANN: It was a message the delegates all seem to have taken to heart. But they have all accepted as well the promise of the developed world that it will now stand by their sides and not, as in the past, abandon Afghanistan to sink to its worst inclinations.

YUNUS QANOONI, NEW INTERIOR MINISTER (through translator): The moral expectation of the people of Afghanistan is not only in implementing the provisions of this agreement, but also comprehensive rebuilding of the country, our country, the international community's is expected to have.

BITTERMANN: In the end, analysts said the delegates created a government that is not only an intricate ethnic and political mix, but which also includes a number of qualified professionals.

OMAR SAMAD, CNN ANALYST FOR AFGHAN TALKS: What we are seeing here are the beginnings, the signs of nation building again in Afghanistan, after 23 years of conflict. And that may be the strongest message that has been sent.

BITTERMANN (on camera): As difficult as it was to come to an agreement, implementing it may prove to be even more so. But just as the world community has overseen the process so far, there have been many promises here that it will continue to do so.

Jim Bittermann, CNN, Koenigswinter, Germany.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: Perhaps another problem on the horizon for that new interim government: The head of the government, Hamid Karzai, is currently fighting Taliban forces north of Kandahar. He was also reported possibly one of those injured by the errant 2,000 pound bomb north of the city. He is part of a massive tribal Pashtun effort underway at this time to oust the Taliban from their last stronghold of power.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): The body of Mohammed Alim (ph) is brought back into Pakistan by his father. He lost his life, relatives say, to an American bomb while driving his taxi from Kandahar to the border, a heavily targeted road.

As the battle for the Taliban's last stronghold heats up, fewer people are making the now dangerous journey to the border. And tribal fighters say the highway is littered with destroyed vehicles. With fear etched on his face, Fez Mohammad (ph) tells how he took a different route to get out of Kandahar.

He says he left because of the relentless bombing. "People are dying and we don't know who is in control," he says.

Not all are fleeing. This Taliban foot soldier called Hamdullah (ph) says he is going back to Afghanistan to fight, he says, because he isn't afraid. But who controls the road to Kandahar is hard to judge.

These pictures taken by Al-Jazeera television show Taliban fighters on the highway. Tribal commanders, however, claim they control parts of the road and say they are battling Taliban for control of Kandahar airport, the strategic gateway to the city. U.S. Defense Department video shows missiles impacting around the city and the ethnic Pashtun tribal fighters say they are working with special forces to direct the bombing. However, they say despite more than five days battling for control of the airport, they have pulled back to a new frontline.

(on camera): Tribal commanders say this is not a setback. But they are sending additional troops to join the frontline. For now, it appears the battle for Kandahar is underway in earnest. Pashtun tribal fighters of the Achakzai tribe attack from the southeast past the airport. And from the north, Hamid Karzai, a popular tribal leader from the Populzai tribe nominated to head the interim government, also tries to move in.

(voice-over): But not all the southern tribes are joining in. The Noorzai, for now, favor dialogue with the Taliban.

AQUIL SHAH, NOORZAI TRIBE (through translator): All the tribes support Hamid Karzai. He is a national leader. But we want him to talk to the Taliban and tell them not to destroy the country.

ROBERTSON: The Northern Alliance, too, while backing Hamid Karzai, will leave the fighting to others.

DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, NORTHERN ALLIANCE FOREIGN MINISTER: We have no intention of sending troops from here in Kabul or from northern Afghanistan to the south. There is no need for such a situation.

ROBERTSON: Most at this border fleeing the fighting hope peace will come soon. For now, that appears to depend on the balance of forces around Kandahar.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera): And tribal leaders here we talk to on a regular basis tell us they are absolutely committed at this time to ousting the Taliban. They say whatever setbacks they have on the ground, they will continue their fight.

Coming up, how the humanitarian aid effort will be given a boost when an airport is readied for more incoming relief. And how girls in Afghanistan can once again get an education.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROBERTSON: For years many Afghans thought the international aid community had given up on them. Scarce relieve resources got through strict Taliban restrictions, but now U.S. forces are working with Afghans to repair an air base to bring in more humanitarian relief. And as Harris Whitbeck reports, the refurbishment must happen before winter sets in.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This old Soviet-era hangar at an abandoned air base north of Kabul, used to house MiG fighter aircraft. They have now been rolled away and the hangar cleaned up, courtesy of the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army.

MAJ. VIC HARRIS, U.S. ARMY: The purpose of the mission is for the 10th Mountain is to secure this facility, improve the infrastructure so they can ready this airfield for humanitarian aid.

WHITBECK: Army Rangers began arriving at the abandoned airstrip several weeks ago, and have been working with the Northern Alliance soldiers that took it from the Taliban.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're both fighting the Taliban, so that's one of the common bonds we have. We communicate about that. They give us all the information about where they were and what most of them looked like, because they know most of the people here in this area, so they help us out.

WHITBECK: But U.S. soldiers here say their primary mission is to help people.

(on camera): Opening the airport is crucial to the humanitarian aid effort. The war here has destroyed much of the country's infrastructure, including the main roads and bridges.

(voice-over): Severe winter weather is close at hand, getting enough food in to feed Afghanistan's six million Afghans in danger of starvation is a top priority.

"WES," CIVILIAN AFFAIRS OFFICER: We're still laying in the infrastructure with the major providers, like the U.N. and some of the larger organizations. When that happens, then we'll start to see a significant flow.

WHITBECK: And once the food starts flowing in, these U.S. soldiers insist they will start flowing out.

HARRIS: We are not intending to be here for a permanent presence. We're planning on succeeding in this humanitarian mission and then leaving. WHITBECK: But they have made themselves at home. They've set out pictures of loved ones in improvised barracks. And some brought reading material, such as this book -- whose title, they say, is not prophetic. Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Bagram, Afghanistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: Another area of neglect on the Taliban rule was girl's education. They banned it. They said they were too busy fighting a war to educate the both boys and girls. The only education girls could find were clandestine schools tucked away in secret compounds. Only a handful could be educated at a time. But now, with Taliban gone all that is changing.

Jim Clancy reports there is some hope returning for girls.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CLANCY (voice-over): A chorus of eager voices rise up from a crowded classroom in Kabul. For the first time in five years they are the voices of girls. Bright eyes look forward to a future that will be utterly changed from one they saw only a few months ago, when the Draconian rules of the Taliban barred women and girls from any formal education.

The desks are jammed now, but with help of funding from the European commission. The 185 girls of the Ashiana (ph) will get more classrooms to serve the different ages and level of skill. Most come from poor families. Threadbare clothes on some do little to shelter them from the harsh cold outside, or even the chill inside their unheated classroom, but the opportunity of learning has ignited new fires within.

POUL NIELSON, EUROPEAN COMMISSIONER: It was a liberation for them. Even these young small girls I asked how many of you want to be teachers? Everybody raised their hand, so they have made up their mind. They have done some thinking, also, these girls who have been totally kicked out. Now they see there is a chance of doing something which was prohibited before.

CLANCY: Three of girls we met couldn't agree more.

"We are very happy to be back in school," says Rita, who dreams of being a doctor some day. "We want to learn. We have learned nothing in past five years."

"The school is better than studying at home," Perwin (ph) added.

And the heat, as Shyly told us, some day she would like to write not just stories, but myths.

Bari Dod (ph) , their teacher told us, I feel like I'm watering trees that will some day bear fruit. Most of the children studying here, he said, live by begging on street, shinning shoes, or collecting firewood for their families. They are unable to buy books, pencils or paper. We are showing them a new way of life and some day these will be the ones who rebuild Afghanistan.

Jim Clancy, CNN, Kabul. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: Thank you for watching LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN. We will be back at same time tomorrow. Up next, "THE POINT WITH GRETA VAN SUSTEREN." And for our international viewers, "WORLD SPORT."

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