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Aired December 10, 2001 - 20:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN WITH CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: The bin Laden videotape and its damaging words. The U.S. says it holds credible evidence of bin Laden's involvement in the September 11 attacks.

From Tora Bora: Anti-Taliban forces box in the enemy. With the military gains CNN's Ben Wedeman.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hazrat Ali commands the forces from this zone, and claims his troops have seized four al Qaeda tunnels and two command centers.


ANNOUNCER: From the heart of Kabul: Reclaiming old turf. The U.S. embassy back in U.S. control after more than a decade. CNN's Harris Whitbeck tracks the historic move.

Exiled Afghans anxious to get back home however they can. CNN's Jim Clancy with one determined traveler.


JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not on the passenger list, he used his passport as collateral to slip by security.

Why do I need the a passport, he asked, I'm going home.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning from Kandahar, which once was the capital of a now vanquished regime, a movement whose ideology is now spent.

And now the new leaders of Kandahar have released all the political prisoners, some 1200 on Monday, who have been speaking of the unspeakable cruelty of the Taliban regime. Amongst the sites here, the results of the U.S. bombings. People in the street, a glimpse of a woman without a veil here, in what was the birthplace of the Taliban.

And a surreal sight, a pickup truck full of U.S. special forces with a decal: "I love New York" stuck on the back of that truck. It was the attack on New York which was the single worst terrorist attack in history, and now the U.S., which has always been convinced of Osama bin Laden's guilt, says that it has what amounts to a smoking gun.

After carefully considering the fallout, the Bush Administration says it is going to release a tape or part of a tape which Osama bin Laden is said to have been talking about the damage on the World Trade Centers, said to have said that he didn't believe that the damage would have been so great.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This man wants to destroy any semblance of civilization for his own power and his own good. He so evil that he is willing to send young men to commit suicide while he hides in caves. And, while we celebrate peace, and lightness (ph) , I fully understand, in order to make sure peace and lightness exists in the future, we must bring him to justice and we will. But for those who see the tape they will realize that not only is he guilty of incredible murder, he has no conscience and no soul. That he represents the worst of civilization.


AMANPOUR: Well, the coalition leaders, as I say, have always been convinced of Osama bin Laden's guilt. But the Muslim world, many, many people in this part of the world have always said that if Osama bin Laden is guilty he must be punished but let us see the evidence.

It appears they may now get that chance perhaps as early as Wednesday.

CNN's national security correspondent David Ensor is in Washington.

David, why was it such a difficult decision for the administration to release something that could help them in this campaign?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there were some questions about whether the tape would help them in all ways. There was concern, Christiane, that the tape might be looked upon as helping bin Laden in some way, that the fact that he is quite jovial and happy on the tape might give encouragement to his supporters, that people -- the networks having been asked by the United States, U.S. government, by the Bush Administration not to broadcast bin Laden tapes, that it might be seen by world that now the Bush Administration is putting out a tape and asking that it be run, it is kind of a mixed signal coming there.

But in the end officials say they most likely the Bush Administration is going to decide to release it, and the thing that officials I have spoken to today that have seen the tape are most struck by and say is really chilling, is the way bin Laden talks about the hijackers that he sent on this mission, that he says he sent on this mission.

He talks about how some of them didn't even know they were going on a suicide mission. Only learned in progress, that they were going to die that day. But Christiane, another person who has seen the tapes is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Shelby, and he had this comment.


SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: Basically what I saw was acknowledgement by Osama bin Laden in his own words and by his own gestures of his involvement in the planning and the knowledge -- foreknowledge -- of the attack on 9-11. It was a sad situation to look at that tape in a way, because they seemed to be happy, they seemed to be gloating of the events that brought death and destruction to the United States.


ENSOR: On the tape bin Laden talks about the attack on the World Trade Center towers and expresses surprise and pleasure that they did as much damage as they did. He says he was thinking beforehand that they would not completely destroy the buildings in the way that they did.

And he talks on tape also about knowing several days before the date that that would be the date of the big attack, and listening in on the radio beforehand to hear the reports come in. So, several examples, Christiane, of bin Laden saying that he knew beforehand these attacks were going to occur.

AMANPOUR: David, how did they find this tape? Where was it?

ENSOR: Well, it has been reported the tape was found in a private house in Jalalabad. Officials I have be spoken to say it isn't quite as simple as that. There is a somewhat more complicated story, and they simply don't want to tell us that story. They say that it would reveal sources and methods they may want to use again. But it is an amateur tape take on a small cam-corder, bad audio, but pretty good picture, I'm told. AMANPOUR: Did you say without audio?

ENSOR: No. The quality of the audio is not very good in some places and they have had to enhance it in order to hear what bin Laden was saying in some parts of the tape. They say it is definitely his voice.

AMANPOUR: Now, do you think they were handed this tape, or is it a question of, for instance, what we have seen in Kabul and other times where both journalists and U.S. special forces, intelligence operatives, in Afghanistan have gone through known al Qaeda houses and hideouts and found something, or do you think they have actually had a contact to have given them this?

ENSOR: They simply aren't saying. I guess I could just speculate, but it is likely that they were given some help by somebody and they don't want reveal who that was because they are quite adamant they don't want to say how they got this tape specifically. Apparently it was found in a private house, but how it was found, who led them to it, they won't say -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: David Ensor thank you very much indeed.

Of course Osama bin Laden is thought by some to be in the Jalalabad area still, along with his lieutenants, the al Qaeda network and some of his top, top people there, specifically in the Tora Bora Mountains, which has been the scene of fierce U.S. bombardment and also bombardment and attack by the anti-Taliban forces, now called the eastern alliance, in control of the Jalalabad area.

They now say that they believe they have Osama bin Laden and at least one of his main men holed up in an area that is about four- kilometers square. But they are meeting some resistance as CNN's Ben Wedeman reports.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A tank-gunner's view of the battle for Tora Bora. Tank round after deadly tank round slammed into the rugged hills. Eastern alliance troops are trying to take out al Qaeda mortar positions, but al Qaeda forces manning those positions are dug in deep, not giving any ground.

The alliance bombardment was unrelenting. All its antiquated firepower -- old Soviet T-55 tanks and anti-aircraft guns, and more than a week of heavy U.S. bombing, have failed to subdue al Qaeda fighters, who gave as good as they got, firing mortar rounds at the only road leading to the front.

(on camera): Eastern alliance commanders here at the front line say the tenacity of the al Qaeda fighters is an indication that they're making a last stand, and they're making a last stand, according to those commanders, with their leader, Osama bin Laden.

(voice-over): No one claims to have seen bin Laden, but there are secondhand accounts aplenty. Commander Abdel Malik says in recent days a farmer retrieving a stray cow spotted Osama bin Laden in these hills. Any creature straying up here would be in serious trouble.

Hazrat Ali commands the forces in this zone, and claims his troops have seized four al Qaeda tunnels and two command centers, along with this pickup truck, a coat, and a pair of shoes.

By late afternoon, the alliance moved some of its heaviest equipment forward. U.S. warplanes joined the battle, and the guns never went silent.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, in the Tora Bora region of eastern Afghanistan.


AMANPOUR: Now, the hunt for the Taliban's formal leader, Mullah Omar, is on as well. This city of Kandahar changed hands over the weekend and the new leaders here say they are committed to finding him, finding al Qaeda leaders, and what they call any Taliban who are involved in any criminal activities and bringing them to justice.

Now apart from that, apart from the war, apart from the focus on trying to wrap up the Osama bin Laden network, there is a massive humanitarian pipeline looming in the future, and CNN's Harris Whitbeck is in Kabul, the capital, to tell us about what efforts are underway and the success that they have had.

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christiane, there are several efforts underway. But on the diplomatic front, a U.S. contingent of Marines has been in Kabul for the last 24 hours trying to assess the security of what was the former U.S. embassy complex here. They have been accompanying an assessment team from the State Department.

And they are now saying that they not sure whether the U.S. embassy complex here will be opened or whether a new location for a U.S. mission would be found. But this does confirm what Secretary of State Colin Powell said a few days ago, in that there certainly will be some type of U.S. diplomatic presence in Afghanistan.

In terms of the humanitarian mission that you referred to, that that has been ongoing. The World Food Programme has been distributing thousands of tons of food throughout Kabul, 200,000 people were fed yesterday. And they expect these distributions to go on in the coming days. Obviously, as winter sets in, it's becoming increasingly important to feed lots of hungry people, not only in the capital, but in the rest of the country -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Harris, were you able to go into the embassy when the U.S. Marines there were assessing it?

WHITBECK: No, we were not allowed inside. We got to the front gate. We were able to peek through that front gate and actually take a look at U.S. Marines unloading heavy weapons and supplies. We also saw the famous United States seal that had been over the door of the entrance of the embassy that had been -- attempts had been made to rip it off the wall of that during an attack by Afghan citizens on September 26.

Inside it, there was debris strewn all over. There were weeds overgrowing the grounds. And it looks like it needs a lot of work.

AMANPOUR: In terms of refugees, we know that the old Soviet embassy has been occupied, if you like, by something like 20,000 refugees over the years. Did it look like anybody had taken up temporary residence on the grounds of the U.S. embassy there?

WHITBECK: No, it didn't look like that had happened. It looked pretty much abandoned. As I said before, I mean, it's in really bad shape. But it looks like it had been, you know, basically closed up and shuttered down for years.

I mean, as you know, the U.S. embassy left Afghanistan back in 1989 after the Soviet forces withdrew from here and plunged the country into a civil war. And it really does look like it has been abandoned for 20 years.

AMANPOUR: Harris, thanks very much indeed from Kabul.

And, of course, the U.S. is pulling up the rear, if you like, in many of these diplomatic missions that are now trying to open up again in Kabul. Under the Taliban, there was no international recognization and so very, very few embassies there.

When we come back, we will interview Peter Bergen, expert on Osama bin Laden and find out does his cult still survive?


AMANPOUR: When it comes to talking to Osama bin Laden, only a handful of Westerners have done so, only a very small handful of journalists. Peter Bergen is one of them. He is our CNN analyst and has also written a book called "Holy War, Inc." about Osama bin Laden.

Peter, with all the debate that's going on about the pros or cons of releasing what may or may not be a smoking gun, do you not think that the net result of releasing this could be positive in favor of those trying to wage this campaign against Osama bin Laden?

PETER BERGEN, AUTHOR, "HOLY WAR, INC.": If the reports and David Ensor's reporting about what was on the tape and it seems that that would surely help. I mean, you know, the cynicism of laughing about the fact that you have sent people on a mission and they have unknowingly going to kill themselves in such a mission I think speaks for itself.

AMANPOUR: Well, indeed, because, you know, so many people and certainly in the Muslim world have often said, as we reported, that if he responsible, then he must be punished. And so many people have also said that Osama bin Laden, you know, is fighting for our principles, fighting for the oppressed Muslims. You've heard it all before. But clearly, if there is this sort of chilling cynicism and indeed glee on that about Muslims who are about to die, not to mention about to commit murder, it seems to me that would be a very damning indictment against him.

BERGEN: I would -- and, you know, Christiane, I mean we -- you know, he was interested in provoking a clash of civilizations which turned out to be a dud. I mean, the people who are going after by bin Laden right now are overwhelmingly Muslim. The countries around the Middle East are enthusiastically cooperating. And the demonstrations that we saw in the streets were tiny. So, his whole project is collapsing in ruins around him and this tape would, I think, add a final nail in the coffin of the whole project.

AMANPOUR: And do you think that not only the fact that everything is collapsing around him, but he has been denied access to the U.S. media by U.S. officials who have encouraged U.S. broadcast media not to run any tapes. And, also, he hasn't really been able to make any tapes in the last couple of months, at least none that we know of. Do you think that this is also contributing to an increased isolation and sort of marginalization of, if you like, the myth of the man?

BERGEN: Well, it's possible, but even the tape that aired October 7 memorably during the first aerial assaults of the United States, even that tape did not really generate a huge outpowering of interest around the Muslim world to get out on the streets and join the jihad in Afghanistan. Bin Laden's message was not resonating after September 11, after October 7. And now, it's just -- the whole project has not worked the way he thought it might.

AMANPOUR: Now what do you think -- what do you make of him apparently allowing himself to be videotaped -- although we are told it's a bad quality and the sound isn't very good -- videotaped talking about apparently this September the 11th attack?

BERGEN: Well, what we do know is that, you know, he has this sort of media arm and there is a guy that basically videotapes a lot of his appearances and speeches. And, you know, it would be my guess that it is the same video arm that has been documenting a lot of his activities and in an informal moment, got this moment.

AMANPOUR: Do you think, Peter, still, that he's going to go down in one last blaze of glory, as I think you've said before, or do you think he's going to be dealt with in the Tora Bora bombings or just sort of fade away, if you like?

BERGEN: Well, It's hard to tell, you know, if he took a direct hit from a Daisy Cutter bomb, obviously he would be vaporized. But I think that in his view he would like to die, you know, when he spoke to Hamid Mir, the Pakistani journalist, he made a number of statements suggesting that he's looking forward to death. And I think that in his own mind, he would like to go out fighting.

AMANPOUR: On that note, we'll leave it there. Thank you, Peter Bergen, for joining us from Washington. And when we come back unbound joy, a stowaway's return home.


AMANPOUR: As the U.S. bombing decreases in most parts of Afghanistan, as the war on the ground appears to be coming to an end, more and more Afghans are coming home again. We've even heard stories of people trickling across the borders with barber chairs and all sorts of things that they need to start their life and their businesses up again. People are coming back, any way they can, as CNN's Jim Clancy reports in this story that begins in the Central Asian republic of Tajikistan.


JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a wind-swept runway in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, journalists waited with stacks of equipment for a scarce charter flight into Afghanistan. Without a ticket of his own, Abdul Salmandar could only circle plane and hope. A number of other Afghans had managed to get their names on the passenger list with the help of diplomats or local officials. They were going home, perhaps to a country of their own they had never seen, but it didn't look likely for Abdul Salmandar.

ABDUL SALMANDAR: I hope to fly to Afghanistan. But the plane -- have a bad chance.

CLANCY: More than 20 years ago, fearing for his life Abdul Salmandar fled Kabul, hiding first in the mountains and then fleeing to Germany, where he has live ever since. Last week when German newspapers were filled with reports about the Bonn conference that launch a new government, and held out hope of rebuilding Afghanistan's scarred landscape 64-year-old Abdul Salmandar knew he had to be a part of it.

Not on the passenger list he used his passport as collateral to slip by security. Why do I need the passport, he asked, I'm going home. When security officers came looking on board the plane, Abdul hid in the cockpit. And when the doors finally closed and locked he was officially a stowaway, but he was also officially on his way home.

Interviewed on the two hour flight he told every journalist that would listen of the emotions that were calling him home.

SALMANDAR: Every journalist, know here, when I -- when I put my foot in this plane, I thought, I'm a new refugee to Afghanistan. I hope that we have a chance to have peace in Afghanistan.

CLANCY: Other Afghans had similar hopes for peace and the journalists had their own hopes of reaching the story, after days of waiting in neighboring Tajikistan. But no one more than Abdul Salmandar. No sooner had the plane touched down that the exile, Abdul Salmandar, became a one-man welcoming committee.

SALMANDAR: Welcome -- in my home country, Afghanistan! Welcome in the peace, welcome in Afghanistan.

CLANCY: A few more moments, as the doors were opened passengers exited, and suddenly there was nothing between, Abdul Salmandar, the Afghan exile, and the treasured soil of his homeland.

Nothing either left to say.



AMANPOUR: That's our report, tonight, from Kandahar.

We'll be back again at the same time tomorrow night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern. And we'll talk to Hamid Karzai about his incredible experience fighting the Taliban, gathering the anti-Taliban alliance, and how he asked the United States for help with small arms, bed blankets and all sorts of equipment that he needed. That's tomorrow night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.




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