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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN WITH NIC ROBERTSON

Aired December 6, 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.

A tense night at Camp Rhino: a threat reported against the U.S. Marine base near Kandahar as mortar and arms light up the sky. The latest on an unfolding situation.

The surrender of Kandahar: The Taliban agree to hand over their latest major city.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABDUL SALAM ZAEEF, FORMER TALIBAN AMBASSADOR TO PAKISTAN: This was the decision from within and for the welfare of the people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Details of the deal and what it means for the U.S. military campaign.

CNN's Brent Sadler on the hunt for bin Laden. As the noose tightens, opposition forces in close combat with the enemy remain optimistic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Al Qaeda is finished.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Plus, the right to read without rules.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If a banned book was found, the Taliban would burn it, and booksellers themselves risked jail terms.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: CNN's Jim Clancy with another freedom restored, post- Taliban.

Live from Afghanistan, Nic Robertson.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN from the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Dramatic announcements from the Taliban, they are to surrender their spiritual capital, Kandahar, 60 miles up the road from here. That after negotiations with the new head of Afghanistan's interim government, Hamid Karzai. Already, Kandahar airport has fallen from Taliban control to anti-Taliban tribal forces. And the key massive southern province of Helmand also falls from Taliban control to tribal forces.

The negotiation of the surrender, according to the Taliban, allows for the city to be hand over to elders, under the command of a former mujahedeen leader, Mullah Nakib Olar (ph). It also allows for the Taliban to lay down their weapons. It allows for Taliban fighters to go home and denies Hamid Karzai entrance to the city.

According to Mr. Karzai, he agrees there is an amnesty for the Taliban fighters, but says the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, must renounce terrorism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAMID KARZAI, CHAIRMAN, INTERIM AFGHAN GOVERNMENT: Right now, the announcement from the Taliban cabinet is that they have agreed to transfer power. Now that is something that will be honored from our side, that we will respect their decision and we will allow them to take up one or two days for the transfer of power. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) has not been made in the name of Mullah Omar. This announcement has been made by the Taliban movement, by the cabinet of the Taliban movement.

Now, Mullah Omar, whether he makes an announcement or not, has to distance himself from terrorism. First, clearly denounce terrorism, must make explicitly clear that terrorism has brutalized the Afghan society and destroyed our country. That is what he must do. Now I don't know if he will do that or not, but that is our demand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: Now, as the surrender terms stand now, there are about 600 Arab fighters believed to in and around the city of Kandahar. According to Mr. Karzai, they must leave the country. They are no longer welcome. He said they should exit the country and then they should face international justice.

Now, overnight in Kandahar, there was intense bombing for a period. That has now abated. Also, Taliban fighters were seen leaving the city and Arab fighters also seen on the streets of Kandahar. Sixty miles southwest of the city of Kandahar is Camp Rhino, the Marine forward base inside Afghanistan. Late last night, small arms fire erupted around that base.

Department of Defense pool reporter Allen Pizzey was there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN PIZZEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Flares lit the night sky and the sound of mortar rounds boomed across the dessert tonight as U.S. Marines went on to a heightened state of alert in response to what a spokesman called a credible threat against the base from which more than 1,300 Marines are operating.

A Huey helicopter crashed and burst into flames on the airstrip. Two Marines received minor injuries. The cause of the crash is being investigated, but it is believed to have been an accident, perhaps caused by dust. Overwhelming air power is one of the Marines biggest assets here, as both machines and men operate under brutal conditions.

(on camera): The principal function of this operation is support anti-Taliban forces trying to march on Kandahar from two different directions. U.S. troops won't be storming the city, but neither will they be allowing any Taliban or al Qaeda to escape to fight another day.

(voice-over): Marines have sent what they call hunter-killer teams deep into the desert to cut off Taliban supply and communications lines, and possible escape and attack routes. And with staying alive very much a part of the thinking of what is now known as Camp Rhino, the tradition of digging a foxhole is part of the day.

Allen Pizzey with U.S. forces in southern Afghanistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: At a Pentagon briefing, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told journalists that the key principle was making sure that al Qaeda and Taliban leaders were dealt with effectively.

We are joined now by our Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre. Jamie, before we get on to the details of the surrender, what is the latest from Camp Rhino?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, the United States says that the camp was on a high alert because it appeared, at one point, that someone might have been firing on the camp from outside. It wasn't clear whether it might have been Taliban forces or maybe even some bandits in the area, described by one Pentagon official. But the Marines at least thought they were taking fire and they returned fire with mortars and small arms. This was an hour or two before that helicopter accident. It's not clear whether the helicopter was part of the patrol to see what was going on on the outside perimeter.

Nevertheless, they haven't really determined exactly what was going on outside of the base. Everyone on the base is safe, of course, except for those two Marines who got injured in the incident -- Nic.

ROBERTSON: Jamie, back to the terms of a surrender, there are now some details public. Do these details, at this time, satisfy the Pentagon?

MCINTYRE: Well, the Pentagon is reserving judgment until they know exactly what the deal is. The Pentagon made it pretty clear today, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, that they do not want to have any sort of arrangement that would provide freedom, free passage or any kind of amnesty either for Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, or any of the top Taliban/al Qaeda leadership.

And a senior Pentagon official told me today that there were some deep concerns that despite the fact that the new leader of Afghanistan, Karzai -- Hamid Karzai -- was saying the right things publicly, there was some concern that there might be some private dealings that would perhaps strain the relationship between the United States and Afghanistan. But, publicly, the Pentagon continues to express confidence that when the deal is done at the end of day, it won't be anything that will cause the United States any heartburn.

ROBERTSON: Will the surrender make it easier for the apprehension of Osama bin Laden and Taliban leadership?

MCINTYRE: Well, each time one piece of the puzzle is put together, as the Pentagon put it, it does give the United States the ability to spend more attention on the other part of puzzle, which is to search for bin Laden.

But there is still a lot of work to be done across Afghanistan, according to Pentagon officials. Still other pockets of resistance, plenty of top al Qaeda and Taliban leaders who have not been apprehended in addition to bin Laden. The Pentagon has said all along that even if they got Osama bin Laden today, that would not solve the problem. So the Pentagon is taking the long view and say they still have a lot of work to be done even if Kandahar falls and goes into the hands of the opposition.

ROBERTSON: Jamie McIntyre of the Pentagon, thank you.

As Jamie reports, the search for Osama bin Laden is on. In the north of Afghanistan, 350 miles north of here, close to the eastern city of Jalalabad, mujahedeen fighters, thousands of them, have been out on the ground in the mountains near a base known as Tora Bora. This is an extensive mountain complex of tunnels. Those mujahedeen fighters have been working in conjunction with the U.S.-led bombing campaign.

Brent Sadler was among those mujahedeen fighters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anti-Taliban Afghan forces pour machine-gun fire into the nooks and crannies of a mountain fortress, attempting to turn up the heat in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, tank barrels blazing.

But it's proving a formidable challenge. Since the assault began, they have inched forward, claiming to have cleared low-level caves of al Qaeda terrorist fighters. They have had sustained American help. Big U.S. bombers pound hostile terrain. Smaller strike planes nip in for a quick kill. They seem to be effective: an upturned tank and more freedom of movement for tribal foot soldiers stalking bin Laden. (on camera): For this moment, at least, this is as far as we can get to Tora Bora's al Qaeda defenders. They are along the tree line there, according to the anti-Taliban forces, in well-entrenched positions. Fighting has reportedly fierce, with close-quarter combat.

(voice-over): Overrunning this ridge is but the first objective. And their enemy is using heavy weapons.

A translator explains.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anti-aircraft mounting have fired on that place. And they fired from there 14.5-millimeter cannon.

SADLER: Beyond the trees lies Tora Bora itself, an even greater challenge. But this tank crew, refueling their T-55, say they are confident of snaring bin Laden if he is Tora Bora, and destroying his band of terrorist cohorts, said to be mostly Arab.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Al Qaeda is finished.

SADLER: They have clearly made some progress, capturing mud- camouflaged pickup trucks. This one contains a book with reference to a group called "Free Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman," convicted of involvement in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

At the end of this day, a sign of fatigue: Fighters fall back from exposed positions with talk of a possible al Qaeda counterattack. Their missions is to conquer Tora Bora. They could be in a for a long wait.

Brent Sadler, CNN, Agam (ph), in the White Mountains of Eastern Afghanistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: As bombing raids continue all over Kandahar province targeting Taliban, one of the most dangerous highways is the road behind me leading to Kandahar. Some of those unfortunate enough to be hit by bombs can make it out and into hospitals in Pakistan. Some of those don't want to be identified as Taliban.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): A picture of confusion, but a picture nonetheless. Injured men being moved out of a Pakistani hospital. Earlier, we'd been forbidden from videotaping those injured in an overnight bombing raid across the border in Afghanistan.

The man who brought the wounded to the hospital claims they are not Taliban. Discretely, however, hospital officials disclose he and the young men with him are.

Hamdullah (ph), who has all the appearance of a young Taliban fighter, says last night at 7:00, the planes came and bombed our car. There were no Taliban and no Osama supporters. Some people were injured and one was killed. The others with him say they were traveling to the border when hit by the bomb.

From his hospital bed, Mirza Khan (ph) says he is not a Taliban, but he, too, was traveling to the border in a car when it was bombed. Many were injured, he says. Taliban or not, U.S. bombing raids are getting closer to the Pakistan border, apparently increasing pressure on the last Taliban strongholds in southeastern Afghanistan. For security reasons, Islamic relief officials are the only ones able to help refugees on the Afghan side of the border. They confirm the proximity of bombing, but they add...

AHMAD MANIN, REFUGEE CAMP MANAGER: Everything seems to be normal. And the camps are running fine and well. And the whole status is calm, I think.

ROBERTSON: On the Pakistan side of the border, Western relief officials, waiting for security to improve before they can cross in to Afghanistan, fear that bombing now will make their job harder later.

ARTSEN ZONDER GRENZEN, DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: These bombings not only have severe causalities amongst the population, but it will also seriously hamper all aid efforts that will come from by international organizations.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: Well, even if a surrender is underway, it's unlikely to be -- international aid agencies are unlikely to be rushing into Kandahar province before they read the situation on the ground. There's certainly a lot of opportunity for intertribal fighting, for Taliban resistance. So those aid workers will not be rushing over the border at this stage.

At Ramstein Air Base in Germany, the bodies of three U.S. servicemen were flown back, two of them Green Berets who died when a 2,000-pound smart bomb missed its target and hit their positions just north of Kandahar city. Also, the other dead serviceman from aboard the USS Kitty Hawk. He had received fatal head injuries when he fell from his bunk onboard. An investigation is underway into his death. A service will be held for the servicemen before their bodies are handed over to mortuary officials.

Coming up after the break, what to expect next: a discussion with CNN's military analyst.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTSON: Welcome back.

We are joined now by CNN's military analyst, retired General David Grange. General Grange, you have heard the terms of the surrender. Do they meet the international criteria for the war on terrorism?

RETIRED GENERAL DAVID GRANGE, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I believe, Nic, we are going to have a few problems. First of all, we don't have all the details yet. I think there's some things that have been agreed upon that have not been put out to the media or through our Department of Defense or even any other international ally on this effort. And I think the issue is if there is a deal made with someone like Omar who is direct and a main supporter of bin Laden in this sanctuary of Afghanistan, it's hard for the United States of America or any other country in the international coalition to accept, I think, those terms. And we have to careful how we work that with the leader, the future leaders here of Afghanistan since it's their country and what demands we put on them.

But part of the criteria is people like Omar being either captured or killed, and if captured, then tried somehow. It's the same with these other terrorists, the mercenaries, for instance. If they just leave the country -- the deal is they leave the country and then international -- some kind of international organization takes care of that issue, how do they get them to too that? I mean, how do they move somewhere and then how are they then herded up and then dealt with? And I think that that is an issue. Now taking Kandahar in a peaceful manner is a great thing that happened, or is happening right now. But there is some spilloff on that on our objectives in the international community.

ROBERTSON: General Grange, while our audience was able to hear you, I'm listening to you via satellite telephone and I must apologize, I couldn't hear you everything you said.

But let me ask you this: How do you expect this surrender to play out? What are the potential pitfalls here?

GRANGE: The pitfalls be what to do with some leaders like Omar, what to do with some of the foreign mercenaries from outside of Afghanistan that the new government of Pakistan, the anti-Taliban, wants out, but what to do with them or any pockets of resistance with some of these hard-core fighters still holding out in places like Tora Bora, outside of Mazar-e Sharif and northwest of Kabul. We have several thousand fighters still there, entrenched or still capable of doing harm. How do you handle that?

ROBERTSON: Does the surrender make it easier to apprehend Osama bin Laden? Does it demarcate a smaller zone for him to move around in?

GRANGE: I believe so. Kandahar is the last big city. But, again, you still have many small villages or areas like Tora Bora that are formidable objectives either run by a warlord that refuses to cooperate, or still supports bin Laden. And those forces still have to be dealt with.

Now, looking at some of the footage that you have shown earlier of the Tora Bora attack on the outer perimeter -- in other words, the approach zone up to Tora Bora -- the fighting doesn't look that aggressive. It doesn't look that determined. And I don't know if that is very -- just a sign of a half-hearted attempt to support the international community or, in fact, they really want to get rid of bin Laden there. It's hard to tell from the way the pictures you see of the soldiers fighting. So I think there is going to be an issue on who actually deals with some of the tougher fighters that support bin Laden. Someone has to do that.

ROBERTSON: General Grange, thank you very much for your insights.

Coming up next, how literature is returning to the streets of Kabul.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTSON: Of all the Taliban's rules, it was often -- of all their harsh rules, it was often their smallest regulations that had the deepest impact on the people.

As Jim Clancy reports, the Taliban banned hundreds of books from history to theology. Now Kabul's book traders can sell what they like.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a well-worn street corner of the capital, the stalls of booksellers beckon passersby with collections of books. It's not that they were shut down during the Taliban years. It's that they were never able to sell everything that was published.

"This was the list issued by the ministry of information and culture," this bookseller told us. A list that included 380 volumes on subjects ranging from history and literature to theology.

The booksellers in these stalls say they were subject to routine searches by the Taliban and were forced to hide all those volumes they knew were on the list or would meet with disapproval. If a banned book was found, the Taliban would burn it and booksellers themselves risked jail terms. Pictures of anything were taboo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was enough for Taliban to tear the book or to burn the book, as they did burn a lot of my books.

CLANCY: Shah Mohammed (ph) has collected more than 8,000 books on Afghanistan over the last 30 years, perhaps another 20,000 newspaper and magazine articles. A back stairwell in his shop in a Kabul hotel leads to the place where some of his valuable collection was hidden away during the last 10 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not only Taliban were very tough with my business, also communists and also during Mujahedeen times, we suffered a lot.

CLANCY: To escape Taliban book burnings and the fires of rockets that blasted Kabul, Shah Mohammed hid the books with family, with friends, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, wherever they might be safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never found such a book on the birds of Afghanistan. This was printed in Denmark in 1959, and this was in French.

CLANCY: In French, English, Russian, all languages, but all about Afghanistan. "I do it for my country," he told us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As much as I suffered from my business was burned, I never became ready to sell these things. Keep them, yes, because I wished to have something for my country.

CLANCY: If peace comes, Shah Mohammed says he may make a kind of public library of these books, so Afghans and people from far away can come and study this nation's history and culture, it's religion and people. All of that, hidden away for far too long.

(on camera): But for the moment, the lifting of the Taliban restrictions has been a mixed blessing at best for the booksellers. In these difficult economic times, people simply are not buying books. As one man lamented, what they are buying is television sets and satellite dishes.

Jim Clancy, CNN, Kabul.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

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