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Aired December 16, 2001 - 22:00   ET



Tonight, the fall of Tora Bora.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN ANCHOR: Eighty al Qaeda dead, 21 Arabs and nine Afghans captured.


ANNOUNCER: But no sign of Osama bin Laden.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I'm going to wait and see where he is. We've received nothing that is discouraging.


ANNOUNCER: Danger in Kandahar.


MIKE CHINOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Armored vehicles raced to assist the Marines' first casualties since they captured Kandahar Airport.


ANNOUNCER: A new day in Kabul. The U.S. prepares to reopen diplomatic offices in Afghanistan.


ROBERTSON: LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN comes from the White Mountains near Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan.

And despite claims by mujahideen commanders, there was more intense bombing overnight. Those commanders say they have overrun al Qaeda positions. However, they say they did not find Osama bin Laden. One of the key commanders, Hazrat Ali, who leads the majority of mujahideen forces, who's been fighting al Qaeda in the mountains here, says he has captures some Arab and some Afghan fighters


(voice-over): Returning from mountaintop battles with al Qaeda forces near Tora Bora, leading mujahideen commander Hazrat Ali declared the war against Osama bin Laden's last stronghold over.

HAZRAT ALI, EASTERN ALLIANCE COMMANDER (through translator): Our victories today have been very decisive, very important. All the tunnels, all the caves of al Qaeda up on the mountain of Tora Bora have been captured by our forces. We have captured -- we have seized their ammunition. So for us it's a big victory.

ROBERTSON: Eighty al Qaeda dead, 21 Arabs and nine Afghans captured. But no sign of Osama bin Laden, he says.

ALI (through translator): I don't have any specific information about where being of (sic) Osama bin Laden. But I can tell you that right now we don't know any exact whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.

ROBERTSON (on camera): The details are scant, and as yet unconfirmed. It had been thought there were up to 1,000 al Qaeda fighters in the mountains. So far only 100 have been accounted for.

Commanders say many may have tried to escape south across the border into Pakistan. And even now U.S. warplanes can be heard circling in the night sky, followed by occasional bomb blasts.

(voice-over): Intense bombing in the last few weeks forced the al Qaeda fighters into an ever-smaller area. However, military analysts believe that checking the hidden network of caves for Osama bin Laden could take a long time, and suggest it may be too soon to have conclusive information about the fate of al Qaeda and its leader.


ROBERTSON: Now, the occasional bombing in the early part of the night picked up in intensity. The bombs appear to be striking ridges further the south than they have been in recent days. An indication, perhaps, that those al Qaeda forces are trying to make a run for the border with Pakistan.

Further south, Marines based at a desert airstrip 60 miles southwest of Kandahar city have been relocating to Kandahar city airport. However, they have sustained their first casualties. The air base at Kandahar city airport was once a Soviet Army stronghold during their 10-year occupation, and is littered with land mines and unexploded ordnance.

As Mike Chinoy reports, one -- three were injured when one stepped on a land mine.


CHINOY (voice-over): Armored vehicles race to assist the Marines' first casualty since they captured Kandahar Airport. Three soldiers injured, one seriously, in a land mine explosion just beyond the runway. The three were heading to clear a house. They were walking through a field they thought was free of mines when the blast went off. The wounded were put aboard a helicopter and medivaced to a field hospital at Camp Rhino, south of Kandahar. The incident highlighting the dangers the Marines face here.

No one knows for sure, but there are believed to be thousands of mines scattered in this area.

(on camera): The area around the airport was first mined at the time of the Soviet invasion in the 1980s. It was mined again during the Afghan civil war in the early '90s, and again by the Taliban.

As one Marine de-mining expert said: "We could dig here for an entire year and still find mines."

(voice-over): And not only mines.

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE: They found inside the buildings and around the actual airport. We've actually found land mines, ammunition, machine guns, artillery pieces, surface-to-air missiles, air-to-air missiles. Any sort of the ordnance you can imagine on a battlefield, we have found it here.

CHINOY: These machine guns, mortars and rockets are just a fraction of what Taliban and al Qaeda fighters left behind when they fled the airport.

Sergeant Michael Lareeny (ph) and Sergeant Michael Gattis (ph) are Marine explosive disposal experts. They found this cache next to the airport's medical clinic.

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE: I'm not going to assume or specify what they were planning on doing with it, but they were storing munitions in the hospital.

CHINOY (on camera): Do you know where, exactly, in the hospital? Was it...

UNIDENTIFIED MARINE: On this area back here where they have all the medical supplies stored, and that's where we found those munitions.

CHINOY (voice-over): Even though the Marines are flying in and out of here, until the bulk of the ordnance and mines are identified and made safe, it will be hard for Kandahar airport to become fully operational. The chopper evacuating the Marines injured in this incident underscoring just how perilous that task will be.

Mike Chinoy, with U.S. Marines at Kandahar Airport.


ROBERTSON: At an airbase north of Kabul, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with the head of Afghanistan's interim government, Hamid Karzai. Mr. Rumsfeld also met, on his first trip to the front lines in Afghanistan, with some U.S. troops.

As Jamie McIntyre reports, his meeting with Karzai was the -- he is the most senior U.S. official to meet so far with Karzai.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In his first visit to the front lines, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told troops at a base near Afghanistan their air strikes have proven decisive in the battle of Tora Bora.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: There was one instance where a cave or a tunnel ended up with a plume, an explosion, that covered something like two kilometers, which suggests that they were doing much more than baking cookies in there.

MCINTYRE: Rumsfeld also credited the withering cannon fire delivered by AC-130 gunships, coordinated by U.S. special forces on the ground, for driving the al Qaeda forces out of their last stronghold.

CAPTAIN JASON, U.S. AIR FORCE AC-130 PILOT: It's very precise, very precise. We can put firepower where it needs to be when it needs to be there.

QUESTION: Are you getting good instruction from the ground?

JASON: Absolutely.

MCINTYRE: And a second stop at the decrepit Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld met with Hamid Karzai, the man set to become President of Afghanistan's interim government December 22nd.

Karzai thanked the United States for helping to liberate his country, and afterwards Rumsfeld shared with the soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division the optimistic assessment of Afghan commanders, who say al Qaeda forces have been routed in Tora Bora.

RUMSFELD: There is at the present time not a fierce battle taking place. There are people who are attempting to escape and are being run down.

MCINTYRE: At both bases, U.S. troops asked the visiting Pentagon Chief when they might be going home. It's a question Rumsfeld can't answer definitively.

RUMSFELD: And there is no way to know how long it's going to take to find Omar and to find Osama bin Laden and to find the senior al Qaeda leadership and to see that they're punished.

MCINTYRE: Despite the Spartan conditions, morale among the U.S. troops is sky high, largely because they believe they're defending America against a direct attack.

SERGEANT 1ST CLASS PERRY. U.S. ARMY: I think it's a great opportunity. Soldiers know when we got called to arms, means they ante up and kick in like me. This is an outstanding opportunity to do what we get paid to do.

CAPTAIN HOLLY, U.S. ARMY: With Christmas coming up, it's actually surprising. You'd think the morale, you know, would kind of get a little down but everyone joined together as a group and, you know, they're kind of looking forward to spending Christmas here, doing something.

MCINTYRE: While heaping praise on the troops, Rumsfeld also warned them their mission is far from over. When one soldier asked if Saddam Hussein might be their next target, Rumsfeld laughed, paused, and said "if I want to talk about Iraq, I'll bring it up."

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.


ROBERTSON: Now, a little over two weeks ago, when the U.N.-led talks in Bonn led to the forming of Afghanistan's interim government, another integral part of that was an allowance for a U.N.-led peacekeeping force to come to Afghanistan.

Now, intense efforts got underway in Kabul, led by major -- British Major General John McColl, to establish the role of that peacekeeping force and the size of that peacekeeping force. He met with senior Afghan officials, including the defense chief of the interim government, General Fahim.

General Fahim is part of the Northern Alliance. His view is that there should only be about 1,000 international troops placed inside Afghanistan. The international community at this time wants several thousand in place. General McColl wants to get an advance party of that new interim force inside Afghanistan before Afghanistan's interim government gets up and running on the 22nd of December -- those intense efforts now underway in Kabul.

And coming up after the break: U.S. diplomats return to Afghanistan.


ROBERTSON: For a month now, the most of the people of this deeply religious Muslim country have been observing the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. That has meant abstaining from food from down to dusk, it has meant abstaining from smoking and other pleasures during daylight hours. On Saturday night, that ended. And on Sunday, the country celebrated with traditional festivals. Harris Whitbeck has a report from one family in Kabul.


HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kabul lights up with tracer fire, gunshots piercing its night sky. These guns, however, are not being fired in anger, but in happiness.

Prayers also are heard, signaling the end of the holy month of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid al-Fitr, the three-day feast that this year seems truly joyous.

Prayer services continued throughout the morning, and Midiyan Zavisiar (ph) is there with his brother and cousin.

They greet old friends, some of them back from Pakistan to where they had fled during the Taliban regime. Midiyan (ph) invites his friends to the family home where a feast is laid out, and where talk is of the changes taking place in their country.

"This year, we can celebrate with true happiness," he says, "the Taliban has gone, and with it all of the restrictions we were forced to endure."

Midiyan's (ph) father Abdul (ph) agrees.

"A happy heart is required to celebrate a feast," he says. "Before, we were not in the right frame of mind to celebrate."

So, we all share a meal, listening to the music and the television that last year were banned. The boys dreaming of going back to school and getting proper jobs. Their father is talking of an Afghanistan freed of the strict impositions of the recent past.

Across the way, we were invited to another feast, where women also spoke excitedly of the changes sweeping their country. Favia (ph) and her mother no longer wear their burkahs in the presence of men they don't know. As they share tea and sweets, they too say this year's celebration is very different from the past.

"We are all very happy," she says. "As women, we can now live in freedom. Soon, we will be able to work again, and no longer be locked away in a corner of the house."

And they all say they expect the celebration of the next Eid (ph), a year from now, will be even better.

Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Kabul, Afghanistan.


ROBERTSON: Coming up after the break, after an absence for more than a decade from Afghanistan, U.S. diplomats are preparing to return.


ROBERTSON: During their grip on power, the Taliban banned any representation of the living form. In the cultural city of Herat, they beheaded some statues of horses, and in the center of Afghanistan they destroyed centuries-old Buddhas, again because of their Islamic interpretations that they were un-Islamic.

As Patty Sabga now reports, one man did his best during the Taliban regime to protect the country's art heritage from the Taliban excesses.


PATRICIA SABGA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An impersonal landscape gives way to humanity. These paintings in Kabul's National Art Gallery would have been destroyed by the Taliban, who outlawed images of people and animals as idolatry. But they were saved by this man, Dr. Mohammed Yousef Assafi (ph), a medical doctor and artist who risked imprisonment to rescue these canvasses from oblivion.

"I am very happy I'm here and uncovering these pictures," he says.

Dr. Assafi (ph) salvaged more than 80 oil canvasses by using water-based paints to obscure outlawed subjects. Paints he is now washing off to reveal the original work. He applied the technique to rescue this painting of Afghanistan's Salong Valley (ph), painted by Dr. Assafi (ph) himself eight years ago.

Dr. Assafi (ph) eluded Taliban officials by offering to restore paintings at his own expense that did not have images deemed offensive.

"They did not know the value of these paintings, and they threw them everywhere," he says, "they were all torn."

When he got inside, he grabbed everything he could, but he could not save the entire collection. More than 400 works of art were destroyed in this museum alone.

(on camera): The destruction of art was just one of many horrors committed by the Taliban, but it's a horror that will live well beyond their reign, because they destroyed part of Afghanistan's history.

(voice-over): The destruction of Afghanistan's ancient Bamiyan Buddha earlier this year launched a devastating campaign by the Taliban.

"When the Bamiyan Buddha was destroyed, we lost our history, a long history," he says. "We lost our biggest cultural treasure."

The cultural pogrom extended to the capital. The Taliban destroyed hundreds of sculptures in the Kabul National Museum and then targeted paintings.

"When I heard about this plan, I decided to tell them I would just restore the paintings in the gallery," he says. Dr. Assafi (ph) humbly dismisses any personal danger he may have faced, choosing instead to focus on the bigger picture.

"A country without culture, without knowledge and without history is nothing."

Patricia Sabga, CNN, Kabul.


ROBERTSON: In the 12 years since U.S. diplomats used their embassy in Kabul, it has gathered much dust, been hit by bombs, and most recently since September the 11th set on fire by a Taliban-led crowd. Now U.S. diplomats are preparing to return.

Jim Clancy now joins us live from Kabul. Jim, is the embassy ready for the diplomats to move in?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is, and I would say that the ambassador, James Dobbins, has a real fixer-upper on his hands, because there are obviously some shortcomings within the embassy. This embassy is one that has seen a lot of history here in Afghanistan. In 1979, Ambassador Adolph Dubbs was kidnapped and in an ensuing shoot-out he was killed. Through the years then, it was lowered in diplomatic status. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) represented the United States here. It has had somewhat of a difficult time, Nic.


CLANCY (voice-over): Through the years, the U.S. embassy has been hit by rocket fire, one of its annexes burnt by an anti-U.S. mob. But the embassy itself still stands, largely intact, on almost 20 acres of land in the heart of the capital. When the flag is raised Monday, the acting ambassador says Washington will be sending a message.

JAMES DOBBINS, ACTING U.S. AMBASSADOR: It demonstrates that we are determined to play continuing diplomatic, political and economic role here in assisting Afghanistan to make the transition from war to peace.

CLANCY: Many people in Kabul welcome the news. For them, the reopening of the U.S. compound that has been shut down for 12 years is a signal of a long-term commitment to the reconstruction of their country and support for democracy and human rights. In Ambassador Dobbins' view, all sides have paid for past mistakes.

DOBBINS: In the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, a lot of the world turned its back on Afghanistan, and both the Afghans and we ultimately paid a price for that.

CLANCY: Monday's flag raising here will add to the sharply increased presence of international diplomats in the capital. Britain, France, Germany and Italy already have embassies or missions opened, joining Russia, India and Iran. Turkey will also open its embassy on Monday.

It is a far cry from the five years of Taliban rule, when Afghanistan went unrecognized by all but three states.


CLANCY: With Tora Bora's al Qaeda fighters apparently defeated on the ground there where you are, Nic, it is more than ever a priority to look forward in this country's future, to try to look toward that reconstruction. The commitment not only of the United States but all of these Western nations really gives hope that there will be a long-term commitment, that the reconstruction aid, that the support for democracy and human rights will be there -- Nic.

ROBERTSON: Jim, one of those components will be the international stabilizing force coming to Afghanistan, and earlier on we were talking about Major General John McColl, the British general who may be heading up that force, was in Kabul yesterday for some key meetings. Do you know what progress he made, Jim?

CLANCY: Well, the progress is really going to depend on the negotiations that are going on behind the scenes, and the problem here is once again trying to get the government here, the interim government, to be able to speak with one voice. Of course, that government hasn't yet taken power. That happens on the 22nd of December, but the international community wanted this sorted out well in advance.

What we have are some of the players on the periphery that are unwilling or unable to commit themselves to any major-size peacekeeping force. In talking with some diplomats here in Kabul, it's very clear that they envision a larger force that goes beyond Kabul. They want to see that implemented. They also want to make sure that this is the force that is coming in with Chapter 7 U.N. mandate, one that gives them the authorization to use force if necessary -- Nic.

ROBERTSON: Jim, here on the ground in Tora Bora, the commanders here are telling us they defer all their military decisions to General Fahim, the interim defense chief. Now, according to them here, any al Qaeda captured here would go to General Fahim in Kabul. What are you hearing there about what will happen to captured al Qaeda members?

CLANCY: We had heard that they were going to be taken to Camp Rhino, or rather to the Kandahar Air Base there to be interrogated by U.S. special forces or other representatives, perhaps the CIA of the U.S. to try to sort out who is who. The developments here, the organization here as you can mainly is not such that we are able to really define what somebody intends to do. This is a government that's in very many ways still taking shape, still making its decisions.

Clearly, there are consultations going on with the U.S. So, Nic, that's going to be something that we are going to have to wait and see, perhaps it's a mixed bag with some of them coming here and others being investigated, interrogated, if you will, by the U.S.

ROBERTSON: Jim Clancy, live in Kabul, thank you very much for joining us at this early hour in the morning. LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN will be back at the same time tomorrow. Thank you very much for watching once again.




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