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Chaos in Kandahar; An American Fighting Alongside Taliban Transferred to Marine Base; U.S. Warplanes Target al Qaeda

Aired December 8, 2001 - 20:00   ET



Tonight, exclusive pictures on the road to Kandahar.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Close to Kandahar, bodies litter the side of the road, dead Arab fighters, according to anti- Taliban tribal forces.


ANNOUNCER: An American fighting with the Taliban: Where he is now.


RICK LEVENTHAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Camp Rhino is home to more than 1,300 Marines in the Afghanistan desert. It's also now the temporary home of John Walker.


ANNOUNCER: Targeting al Qaeda.


BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: An unbroken pattern of bombing, on the Tora Bora front. U.S. war planes hit al Qaeda fighters fighting in woods and countless caves.


ANNOUNCER: And refugees in their own lands.


HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: "We are like birds in a cage here," says Zemi Bula (ph). "We would like to go back to our homes and rebuild." And they are not alone.


ANNOUNCER: Now, live from Afghanistan, Christiane Amanpour.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. We are, in fact, in Chaman, which is on the Afghan- Pakistan border. With the Taliban era now over and the U.S. assault fully focused on hunting down Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the Pakistanis say that they are mounting both ground and aerial surveillance of this porous, long border, with Afghanistan. Now, Kandahar has been handed over, to a selection of tribal leaders, who, apparently, according to Nic Robertson, are now arguing over who should have final control of Kandahar -- Nic.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Close to Kandahar, bodies litter the site of the road. Dead Arab fighters, according to anti-Taliban tribal forces. And as we drive further, signs of recent battle also scattered along the highway. Vehicles hit by airstrikes, we were told. And at the airport, evidence of intense fighting, not yet over as 200 Arab fighters, our escorts say, are holed up in the terminal building.

The fight for the airport, led by tribal commander Gul Ali. His militia supported by U.S. special forces, seen here at their base cleaning weapons. Commanders say when they came to Kandahar, some Taliban had already fled. Others, they disarmed and let go. The issue now, Mullah Naquibullah, the man the Taliban surrendered the city to, is unsuitable to the tribal leaders.

GUL ALI, ANTI-TALIBAN AFGHAN (through translator): Mullah Naquibullah is not a commander. He's a member of al Qaeda. He belongs to the Taliban. He brought the Taliban to this country.

ROBERTSON: The tribal forces say they control 70 percent of Kandahar. They are backing Hamid Karzai, the head of the new interim government, in his negotiations with associates of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, trying to get Mullah Naquibullah to step down. But if the talks fail, he warns, there been could be fighting. He reserves his bitterest comments, however, for the Taliban leader.

ALI (through translator): He was involved in all the bloodshed of Afghanistan. He sold out all the Afghan land. He should be punished by the international law.

ROBERTSON: As for the whereabouts of Mullah Omar, the word among fighters here is that he recently fled Kandahar. Some even speculate Mullah Naquibullah may have helped.


ROBERTSON: Now, the anti-Taliban fighters here say they really don't want to fight. They say that they hope the talks can end peacefully. They also say that they believe that the new governor of Kandahar and the new police chief and the new military chief should all be determined by Afghanistan's new interim government -- Christiane. AMANPOUR: Nic, is there a time frame for these negotiations? Are the people, now in charge of Kandahar, saying how long they expect it to take, to actually get fully control of it?

ROBERTSON: The tribal commanders we are talking to have not -- do not talk about a deadline. They do talk about giving it the appropriate amount of time. In Afghanistan, often discussions can go on for quite a number of days, and they appear to be, in no indication -- no hurry, if you will, to try and take humble in acute forces. They definitely do give the appearance of wanting to give the talks the full amount of time it may take here to come to a positive conclusion. They don't seem to be in any hurry, at least to start a fight at this time -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Now, in terms of remaining Taliban officials, forces, Arab forces in the region, what can you tell us about how much of that remains in tact and where they may be?

ROBERTSON: Some Taliban fighters fled the city before the anti- Taliban forces arrived. When the anti-Taliban forces arrived, they disarmed other Taliban that they found here. Many senior Taliban officials, they tell us, have now fled to Pakistan. This includes the former Regional Military Commander here, Commander Usmani (ph). It includes the Justice Minister, Mullah Torabi (ph), and that includes various other senior ministers. They say they are now in Pakistan -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: And Mullah Omar, they're saying to you that they believe he's fled. What else are they saying? Where to? Where could he go?

ROBERTSON: Well, they told us he was here until Friday night. Saturday morning they said he was gone. The indications are, however, that he may be still close to the city. His top associates are talking with Hamid Karzai, the negotiator, for Mullah Naqibullah to stand down here, in Kandahar. And in the past, Mullah Omar has never relinquished too much power or control to any of his associates. So the fact that he would have them in negotiations just close to Kandahar is, perhaps, an indication that he still is close by here, to keep -- to keep a hand in control of those negotiations, Christiane, but it's not clear. It really isn't clear, at this time.

AMANPOUR: And the speculation and, obviously, the focus is entirely on Osama bin Laden. Any word, from the tribal commanders there, where he might be at this point?

ROBERTSON: Well, they say that there are many roadblocks around the city. They go out on patrols, from their positions around the city. They have a very tight noose around the airport, at the moment, where there's some 200 Arab fighters. They say, militarily, they're just going to squeeze those Arab fighters until they give up.

But as far as Mullah Omar or even Osama bin Laden goes, there seems to be very, very little information here in this city. The commanders say that they're doing their best to try to monitor, you know, the movements of forces not on their side, the Taliban forces, Taliban leaders, al Qaeda forces. They're doing their best to control their movement, but they just don't have the answers as to where the key people are, at this time.

AMANPOUR: Nic, thank you very much. And, of course, as we've been saying, the focus is on finding Osama bin Laden. The U.S. air strikes have been pummeling an area near Jalalabad, called Tora Bora, the mountainous, cave-like area there. And also, the Afghans, the anti-Taliban Afghans, are mounting an assault there, as well. But for the first time, those anti-Taliban fighters trying to find Osama bin Laden have come under some resistance, as CNN's Brent Sadler, now reports.


BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An unbroken pattern of bombing on the Tora Bora front. U.S. warplanes hit al Qaeda fighters hiding in woods and countless caves. But after what seemed a promising start to combined aerial and ground attacks, al Qaeda is striking back, firing a barrage of mortars from the high ground, cutting off a vital road leading to the mountaintops.

The bursts of shell fire were accurate and effective, sending jitters through the lightly armed Afghan tribal gunmen falling back to less exposed ground. It seems to sew confusion and impatience.

Gunmen order back journalists expecting to witness gains, not setbacks. Assessing al Qaeda's strength and deployment is difficult. But the Eastern Alliance is understood to have help on the ground, unidentified military advisers reportedly inside this vehicle, behind blackened glass.

SADLER (on camera): Even with sustained U.S. help, this is no rout. Al Qaeda's defenders are proving more than a match for what started out as a slow-moving assault, which now appears to have stalled.

(voice-over): Eastern Alliance commanders claim a fully coordinated attack is still on the way, but at sunset a despondent- looking fighter; while at dusk repositioning tanks, moving back to where they started.

Brent Sadler, CNN, in the White Mountains of Afghanistan.


AMANPOUR: Now, the U.S. Marines have been inside southern Afghanistan for about two weeks now. And they have been focusing on pressurizing Kandahar and also on the search for Osama bin Laden. U.S. Marines, we are told, have been trying to seal off any escape routes, from Kandahar, both on the ground and with attack helicopters. A pool reporter, traveling with the Marines, Rick Leventhal, filed this report, from Camp Rhino, the U.S. Marines base.


RICK LEVENTHAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Camp Rhino is home to more than 1,300 Marines in the Afghanistan desert. It's also now the temporary home of John Walker, the 20-year-old American who turned against his country and joined the Taliban, and was later involved in the prison revolt in Mazar-e-Sharif, that left hundreds dead, including CIA field officer Mike Spann the first U.S. battlefield casualty in this war.

DAVID RONLEY, CAPTAIN, MARINE SPOKESMAN: John Walker is being held here for his own protection. And he'll be transferred to U.S. civilian authorities as soon as possible.

LEVANTHAL: After the prison uprising, Walker told reporters he'd been a student in Pakistan studying Islam, and came in contact with people connected with the Taliban. He decided to join the cause, traveling across the border to help build a pure Islamic state. He says he received combat training at a camp in northern Afghanistan, run by supporters of Osama bin Laden, then joined the battle, before surrendering to Northern Alliance forces in Konduz on November 24th.

He was questioned by Spann the next day, just hours before joining in the bloody prison revolt that led to the agent's death. Walker's mother has described her son as a sweet, shy kid who went to Pakistan to help the poor. If that was his agenda, it clearly changed and he picked the wrong side in this war. Soon he'll have to answer for that fatal decision.

With the Marines in southern Afghanistan, I'm Rick Leventhal.


AMANPOUR: Here we go. Now, late last week, there was an errant bomb that struck around an area where U.S. Special Operations and anti-Taliban Afghan fighters were operating. There were three Americans killed and five Afghan. And there were many Americans and Afghans injured. Some of those Americans have been airlifted, for medical treatment, to their base in Germany, and they spoke about what happened that day on the ground in southern Afghanistan.


CAPT. JEFF LEOPOLD, U.S. ARMY: All I remember is seeing a real quick flash, and then coming through. My face was buried into the sand. I rolled over, and the first person I saw was Sar. Musselman, and we were laying there, trying to figure out what was really going on, and there was another individual that was there with us who wasn't hurt. He stayed. He actually -- he stayed there, and he made sure we stayed down, because there was a lot of other stuff going on. We weren't sure if we were getting attacked by the Taliban or if it was friendly fire or what.

SGT. CHRIS PICKETT, U.S ARMY: Next thing I knew, something just hit me on the back of the head. I fell down. I wasn't quite sure at that time what it was, so I got down behind some cover.

STAFF SGT. CRAIG MUSSELMAN, U.S. AIR FORCE: I got a little bit of shrapnel in my leg and my bicep, and obviously took something to my face. But it's not near as bad as what it looks. And then, the damage to my left eardrum, but they say my hearing should come back soon.

CAPT. JASON AMERINE, U.S. ARMY: From that observation post, we're directing close air support strikes against Taliban positions located in caves, on a ridge, approximately three kilometers away from us. In the course of calling those strikes, this accident occurred.

Jefferson Davis (ph) was my team sergeant. He taught me how to be a detachment commander. His loss is more like leaving -- more like losing a father than even losing a brother. He was somebody I turned to throughout this war and before, for advice, and he pretty much taught me how to be a soldier.


AMANPOUR: U.S. military activities, the end of the Taliban, the future for Afghanistan. We'll talk about that, with our guest, when we return, after a break.


AMANPOUR: Now, to talk about the future political hope, if there is any for Afghanistan, is Peter Tomsen. He was the former U.S. special envoy to the Afghan mujahideen, after the Soviet Union pulled out back in 1989. He joins us now from the University of Nebraska, in Omaha.

Firstly, thank you for joining us. And secondly, what do you think of the prospects for a peaceful, stable political future for Afghanistan?

PETER TOMSEN, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY TO AFGHANISTAN: I think they're very good. Indeed, they're better than they have since the Soviets invaded, to put the Afghan communists in power in 1979.

The most important factor, Christiane, is the presence and the direct involvement of the international community, not only on the military side, but on the political side. The great majority of Afghans have opposed the Communists. They've opposed these extremists, as you see. The victories have been very quick, in Afghanistan, but they need outside support. The country's broken. It's fragmented. They need help. If the United States, especially, is there, but other countries, as well, that will give them the confidence to go ahead.

AMANPOUR: Your experience was at a period where the fractious nature of the various Mujahedin factions was in -- very much in evidence. Do you think that this is a special moment? That these people will be able to get over those kinds of sort of tribal, sort of differences and what they've fallen back to in the past, which has been warfare?

TOMSEN: Yes. I think there's two reasons why this is so. One, though, is the outside interference is at the lowest level it's been in years. Of course, you had the Soviet invasion, which was outside interference, but after that you had the construction of this Islamist infrastructure along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border by the Pakistani military intelligence, elements of the Pakistani military, Pakistani religious parties and religious elements from the Gulf.

There's over 10,000 Madrases (ph) that were turning out fighters to go into Afghanistan and join Taliban ranks. There were training camps inside Afghanistan, so this was a different type of foreign interference. There was interference from Iran, which attempted to build corridors of influence through radical Shia elements, in Afghanistan, to Kabul, and also through Mazar-e Shariff into central Asia.

That experience, in the '90s, I don't see today. I see, generally speaking, a consensus among the outside powers, to step back and let the Afghans implement their inter-Afghan settlement process and put together a government such as they had before the Soviet invasion, which was broad-based and multicultural. Christiane, I'd like

AMANPOUR: Pakistan, obviously is watching this extremely -- go ahead. What did you want to add?

TOMSEN: Well, I wanted to add, too, Christiane -- thank you -- that the Afghans also saw was factionalism did to them in the '80s. It not only caused more fighting and other conflict, but also, it opened the door to the outside influence of the extremist, in the form of the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Now, they're in the process of riding their country, with our great assistance, of that combination, and they now have a chance -- they know it's another crossroads. It's another window of opportunity for them -- and they know this -- to put together a government that truly represents the Afghan people and is not imposed from the outside.

AMANPOUR: You talked about outside interference and influence, but obviously, one of the biggest influences has been from Pakistan, this country here. How do you think this new government is going to sit with Pakistan, and do you believe the forces, soon to be in charge of Afghanistan, will come to a modus vivendi, if you like, with Pakistan?

TOMSEN: If they're smart, they will. As in Austria, in the Cold War period, in Switzerland, the Afghans have to realize that they need good relations with Pakistan -- indeed, all of their neighbors -- and that stability in Pakistan is just important, to the stability of the region, as is peace in Afghanistan.

The big question, though, is what the military leadership, in Pakistan, is really going to do. Pakistan has played the role of fireman and arsonist, in the last 30 years. Right now, they're playing the role of firemen, but you have noticed that a lot of the ministers from the Taliban and a lot of fighters, now, have come into this infrastructure along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. It's going to be very important to see how General Musharraf deals with those Taliban leaders and fighters who have come into Pakistan.

AMANPOUR: And in terms of maintaining the sort of status that has now been achieved in Afghanistan, the U.S. focus has been, obviously, incredibly important. Many in Afghanistan fear that the U.S. will turn away again. Do you believe that the U.S. might, or do you think, this time, it will keep engaged?

TOMSEN: My own opinion, Christiane, is it will keep engaged, but I think the Afghans are skeptical, after what happened in the past, and they're not -- they're not given to optimism, by examples like, for instance, we still haven't opened our embassy in Kabul, whereas the British and the Russians and the Ukrainians and others have opened their embassy.

Also, the Commander of CENTCOM mentioned, publicly, a week or so ago, that the United States did not support the creation of a stabilization force in Afghanistan -- international stabilization force to help the Afghans in the inter-Afghan settlement process until Osama bin Laden and Omar are hunted down. I think that's a mistake. The introduction of the stabilization force, now, to help this Afghan interim regime, would help, in the military struggle, against Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, because it would show U.S. and western interest in helping the Afghans through this difficult patch in their history.

AMANPOUR: Thank you very much, indeed, for joining us, Ambassador Tomsen, from Nebraska.

And indeed, U.N. scouts have arrived in Kabul, to try to assess the future of a multinational peacekeeping force. That and Harris Whitbeck, on refugees and their plight, when we return.


AMANPOUR: The U.N. and other agencies, who read signs in the migration of people, have been saying that, for the two weeks since the tide has turned here in Afghanistan, there have been far fewer Afghanistans leaving and far more coming in. That, they say, is a good sign, a sign that people have hope for the future of their country. But their plight is still not settled. There are many refugees, and they need a lot of assistance.

CNN's Harris Whitbeck reports from Kabul that thousands of those refugees have taken up residence, over the last decade, in what was the old Soviet embassy.


HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Old men sit by a wall, catching the last rays of a weak winter sun. Warmth from the sun is the only thing easy to get for these men, some of the 23,000 people living in the ruins of the former Soviet diplomatic compound in Kabul, as refugees in their own land.

They were all forced to leave their homes and fields during fighting between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance two years ago. All that is left of their fields, the twisted stumps of a once flourishing vineyard, were trucked in to provide fuel for heating and cooking. "We are like birds in a cage here," says Zemi Bula (ph). "We would like to go back to our homes and rebuild." And they are not alone.

(on camera): International aid agencies estimate that about 25 percent of the entire Afghan population is internally displaced, and about four million Afghans are living as refugees in Iran and Pakistan. With the political changes in the country, many of those people are now thinking about going back home.

(voice-over): They might soon be getting help to do just that. The U.N. High Commission for Refugees met with Afghanistan's new government to begin working out how to help the country's displaced back to their places of origin.

KAMEL MOURJANE, UNHCR: You'll see the level of destruction the country has gone through. It's certainly difficult to see thousands of people coming back without getting the minimum of assistance they need, but also minimum rehabilitation, especially when it comes to services and facilities. And this is what we want to do, and this is what we want to plan for, and this is why we are here.

WHITBECK: The U.N. has organized women into cottage industries, teaching them to sew and using their products, such as these book backs, to give to refugee children. And other agencies are trying to get enough food in country to feed millions of hungry people. Still, it is long-term aid that most returnees will need.

FILLIPO GRANDI, UNHCR AFGHANISTAN DIRECTOR: What humanitarian agencies can do is minimal. These can help people only in the first six months or one year after their return. But now, the new conflicts, the new environment may allow larger agencies and governments and other bilateral donors to start a larger program, which will allow people to remain and not just to go back and become refugees or internal displaced people again.

WHITBECK: Which is exactly what the displaced say they want.

Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Kabul, Afghanistan.


AMANPOUR: Now, neighboring Pakistan has long said since this crisis began that one of the key things that has to happen is for reconstruction of that country and especially to get the farmland, the arable land, back into an operating condition so that people can go back, work their land, have a future, have real roots and a home.

The U.N. says it must be able to transport assistance and much needed relief in security. And therefore, it wants an international peacekeeping force. To that end, as we mentioned, U.N. scouts, an assessment team, have now arrived in the capital Kabul to assess the possibilities and the deployment of a multinational force. Its composition is not yet known, but it will be, as one U.N. official said, a coalition of the willing.

I'm Christiane Amanpour. That's our report. We will be back again, at this same time, 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Good night.




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