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Report Out of Afghanistan that Taliban Supreme Leader Getting Ready to Hand Over Kandahar; Discussion with Brother of Special Forces Soldier Killed in Afghanistan

Aired December 6, 2001 - 09:04   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: As we've been reporting all morning long, there is a report from the Islamic Press out of Afghanistan that the Taliban supreme leader is getting ready to hand over the last Taliban stronghold, Kandahar.

CNN's Nic Robertson is in Chaman, near Kandahar. He has the very latest for us this morning.

What can you confirm at this hour, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, at this time, we can't confirm that Mullah Omar has agreed to a surrender of Kandahar. What we do know, we called just recently to a senior Taliban commander in Kandahar, that negotiations are under way.

Now this commander told us that he did expect the outcome of the negotiations to be announced in the next few days, but what he said was that he didn't, in his estimation, expect that the negotiations would come to a surrender for the Taliban.

We also know that on the streets of Kandahar at this time, there's still a lot of Taliban fighters. We are told by our sources in the city there that they even just a few hours ago they were firing anti-aircraft guns at U.S. bombers that were flying overhead.

We also know from the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan that negotiations with Hamid Karzai, the new head of Afghanistan's interim government, are under way. In fact, tribal leaders here have been telling us for some time that Hamid Karzai has been negotiating with the Taliban.

However, there were no indications that anything momentous as a Taliban surrender in the works. Perhaps, the only other indication there is that something may be being negotiated at this time is that in recent days our sources are said inside Kandahar bombing very, very intense. But today, they tell us that the bombing -- in fact, they say there's no bombing inside Kandahar. Perhaps that is an indication that a letup in the bombing is to facilitate some type of negotiations that are going on. It does appear to be correct that negotiations are happening, but no outcome yet, and definitely no indication of any surrender as far as we know -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks you for that late report, Nic Robertson, appreciate it.

Now on to the U.S. military operations near Kandahar. If the southern Afghan city falls without a battle, what is the next for the troops in the region?

CNN military analyst, retired General Wesley Clark joins me from Little Rock, Arkansas.

Good to have you with us, sir.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, (RET.) CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Thanks. Good to be here, Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks. So once again, the U.S. government is quite kept skeptical of these reports coming from the Islamic press. They say they hope they are true. Let's assume for a minute they are true, then what happens next?

CLARK: Well, if they are true, then we have some very important unfinished business still on Afghanistan. First of all, we have got to continue to work for the reduction of that fortification complex in the White Mountains, so-called Tora Bora, and there are also reports that there's other complexes there not directly linked, where Osama bin Laden may have fled or other groups of Taliban.

We have to get not only the reduction of this fortification complex; we've got to get the key information that will allow the United States to take down the Al Qaeda network, not only in Afghanistan, but elsewhere around the world, and there's every reason to believe there's still a lot of information on the ground in Afghanistan, written information, maybe computer disks, and programs and other things, and the people who were involved in it need to be talked to, and give the information. We have a lot of work left to do, even if the Taliban regime is completely finished.

ZAHN: We know anti-Taliban forces have been quoted in the American newspapers, suggesting that in fact, they did see Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora at a certain point last week. What do you make of those reports, and what is your thought about the potential to get him?

CLARK: Well, I think that we've got a reasonable opportunity to get him. My guess would be that he's -- given temperament and personality, he's going to want to try to make enough of a stand to have some opportunity not only to kill soldiers of the Northern Alliance, but to try to bring Americans into the fight on the ground. He will want to try to inflict casualties on Americans, so he can claim personal victory, and then he'll try to slip out and allude us.

We have to tighten the net. I think we've been remarkably successful in encouraging the local people to take up the fight and be the first line of attack with the U.S. in support with airpower. But there's a lot left to do, and that mountain readout is very tough.

ZAHN: Some breaking news just come in as we continue to talk here, general Clark. Associated Press is now confirming those reports that Mullah Mohammed Omar has agreed to surrender Afghanistan as early as Friday.

CLARK: I think that's very encouraging news, Paula, but I also recall during a Kosovo campaign when we had the reports that Milosevic was willing to meet all of NATO's conditions. We were very clear that we wouldn't stop the military operation until he has, in fact, agreed in writing, and we saw tangible evidence on the ground. I think that's the case here what is pushing this agreement to surrender by Mullah Omar is the fact that he's losing, and the United States and its supporters in the region have to do everything possible to convince him that nothing will change that.

ZAHN: I know that we all are supposed to be balanced and fair in our treatment of the subjects, but I'm just curious what your reaction was to reports this morning that Mullah Mohammed Omar has actually gone to the head of this new transitional government and asked reportedly for amnesty?

CLARK: I'm not surprised. That's the traditional way of ending the fighting in Afghanistan. People switch sides, they change allegiances, they say they never really meant it in the first place, and it was all a misunderstanding, and we've got to work through this.

Whether he gets amnesty or not is -- it's first of all a responsibility for the leader in Afghanistan, but it's also a matter for us. He, after all, defied the will of the United States. He defied the request of the United States government to turn over Osama bin Laden early on. He may have critical information. He is also been adversary in what is, in essence, war. And so not only a matter for the Northern Alliance, it is also a matter for the United States government.

ZAHN: You are a man who has spent your life defending this country on a personal level. I know you said, matter of factly, this is what happens in war, this is what happened in Bosnia. Are you outraged?


ZAHN: That this man would ask for amnesty?

CLARK: Not at all. I'm not all surprised. This's exactly what he would ask for. This is a man, remember, who was calling for martyrdom only a few weeks ago. And It does show that when the United States is aroused and when the United States moves , the power of the United States and our forces and our legitimacy is just -- you cannot oppose it, and it completely runs over people like Mullah Omar, who want to call on resistance. He's not resisting now. So I think that's a good sign. I think it's a sign that he recognizes the inevitability of his defeat.

But I think we have to also stand firmly, because this is fight not finished. We want to take the network apart and all of its supporters from top to bottom in 50-60 countries, so there's a lot left to be done.

ZAHN: We always appreciate your analysis, General Clark. Before we move on, just a quick reminder that the Islamic Press has been reporting that Kandahar was about to be surrendered. Now the Associated Press confirming the fact that Mullah Mohammed Omar has agreed to surrender Kandahar, perhaps as early as Friday.

Once again, the U.S. administration quite skeptical of these reports. They say, in the past, they found the Islamic press semireliable. They hope these reports to be true.

As soon as we have more information from the Pentagon, we will bring it live.

This morning, three members of the U.S. special forces killed in Afghanistan are being remembered as proud leaders who loved the Army and their country. The three Green Berets died in a friendly fire incident when a satellite-guided bomb from a U.S B-52 missed its target north of Kandahar. Sergeant first class Daniel Petithory was one of the victims. His brother, Michael, joins me now from Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts.

It is very generous of you to join us such a tough time for your family.


ZAHN: Tell us a little bit about your brother. I know you talked to the Associated Press. As a child, you always said you wanted to play baseball and he always wanted to play war.

PETITHORY: That's accurate. It's also fair to say, it's tough to say just a little bit about Danny. A lot to say about him. He lived life large. I've said this a couple of times. It seems to keeps popping into my mind, so forgive me. His stature certainly mirrored personality. My brother was 6'4", weighed about 220 pounds. My sister is 6'2". I'm only 6 feet, so I'm the midget.

Anyway, he lived life to the fullest. And my dad, mother and my myself, my whole family, one thing we want to get across to everybody is we're proud of him, very proud of him. We're also very proud of everybody that's over there right now in trying to get this job done.

He -- yes, he was very popular, very outgoing. Everybody loved him. Everybody that knew him loved him. They didn't like him; they loved him. I think that's the best way to put it.

ZAHN: Well, certainly you're family's pride and what he did has been so abundantly clear over the last 24 hours. Tell us a little bit more about where his sense of patriotism came from, why he was so committed to defending this country.

PETITHORY: I think General George Patton put it the best: "Real Americans love the sting of battle." He was born with it. I don't know where he got it from. Innate, I guess.

ZAHN: Can you share with us how he reacted to the tragedy of September 11th, and how that might even have reinforced his drive to defend this country?

PETITHORY: Well, unfortunately, I didn't have any communication with him at all, save for a few scant e-mails. I wrote him a letter. He didn't correspondent to that. I'm not sure if he got the letter. That was about 2-3 weeks ago. He did respond back in e-mail. Very, very short, very brief and to the point. He didn't respond to me.

I have to my readjust earpiece.

ZAHN: I will let you do that. I know that is extremely disturbing, when you're getting feedback in your ear.

Michael, can you hear me now?

PETITHORY: Yes, I can.

ZAHN: OK. Does your family know because of the lack of communication, did you know much about Danielle's mission in Afghanistan, what he was doing, where he was stationed?

PETITHORY: Absolutely not. It was top secret. Our feeling on that was he had a job to do. I understand -- I don't know much about it. I'm not a soldier. I was never a military person, but my understanding is in times of war, you have a mission to do, you do it, no questions asked, carry out your task the best you can, so we certainly didn't know at all where he was. We -- my dad has been very good over the news reports. He listened all the time, as do myself. We could speculate from the news reports as to his ability, his unit, where he would be roughly. Of course we never had any confirmation. That's really not our business. Our business was to worry about him and make sure he made home safely.

ZAHN: Mike, what has the government told you family about what went wrong?

PETITHORY: Well, I don't think anybody knows right now. I've been assured by the government that we will know. We will find out. That right now is not our concern really. I've been talking to my dad about this. We're just -- we're concerned about it, let me take that back. But our -- we're just overwhelmed right now with our loss. That's the big thing. We're not really too concerned with that at the moment.

We are going to miss him. He's the only brother I have, and sorry to get personal here, but I hope we get this done, and I hope we bring those responsible for all the horror that this country has had to endure over the past couple months, we bring them to justice, and they get dealt a swift and severe punishment. That's my feeling.

ZAHN: Well, as you know, all of America is on your side. We salute the commitment your brother made to this country and our thoughts with you as you deal with your horrendous sense of grief.

PETITHORY: Thank you very much.

ZAHN: Thank you for your time, Michael Petithory. PETITHORY: Yes, ma'am.

ZAHN: As Michael and I were speaking, I was handed something that indicates there's actually more breaking news to report. We have been reporting that initially this morning the Islamic Press said Kandahar about to fall. The Associated Press now confirming that Mullah Mohammed Omar has agreed to turn over Kandahar as early as Friday.

There seems to be a little bit of a twist in this story. Abdul Saleem Zahif is now saying that Taliban leaders have specifically decided not to hand over their weapons to Hamid Karzai, the U.S. backed head of a new interim government to rule a country. Instead, they will surrender their weapons to Mullah Najeed Ullah (ph), who is a former guerrilla commander against Soviet occupation troops, indicating once again that they wanted to turn their weapons over not to Hamid Karzai, but to tribal leaders.

Once again, the Pentagon not even confirming this is a possibility. They say they've heard these reports before, that the sources out of the Islamic press are semi-reliable, but they hope these reports are true. In the meantime, Allen Pizzey, our reporter on the ground, indicates the military campaign in Kandahar proceeds.




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