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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN

Aired December 18, 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.

The search for Osama bin Laden, or his body goes cave-to-cave in the mountains of Tora Bora.

And, answers from al Qaeda fighters, now held captive, may provide important clues to bin Laden's location.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIC ROBERTSON, HOST: It's true that many more Arabs could be on the run in these mountains.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Harris Whitbeck on how officials us the dogs of war to remove the risks from the battlefield.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The dogs are trained to sniff and immediately stop and sit when they detect explosives in the ground, letting their handlers come in to deactivate the mines.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: And, an American flag that once flew at the World Trade Center site is raised in Kandahar by U.S. Marines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this war on terrorism, I think it symbolized that we've taken the first step of many steps that need to be taken.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Afghanistan, Nic Robertson.

ROBERTSON: Tonight, LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN comes from the White Mountains near Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan. Eastern alliance commanders have pulled off the majority of their forces out of the Tora Bora Mountain area.

High winds and deep falling snow has made search of caves in the high peaks difficult. However, on the lower peaks there are still some cave-to-cave searches going ahead by Eastern Alliance fighters. President Bush has told Congressional leaders that more videotapes have been found at Taliban and al Qaeda headquarters and premises and caves. He says he doesn't know yet if they were as significant as the videotape released last week showing Osama bin Laden in conversation with other commanders, discussing the September the 11th attacks. The President says there will be experts looking at these videotapes.

Eastern Alliance commanders here have seized captive several dozen al Qaeda prisoners. This number falls far short of the 2,000 plus Arabs supporting Osama bin Laden who were thought to be hiding in these mountains.

However, when we talked to some of these prisoners, they denied being members of al Qaeda.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (voice over): Some moan in pain. Others read the Koran, and still others can only be seen when they roll over in their blankets on the crowded floor.

All were captured on the Tora Bora Mountains, but some claim not to be al Qaeda members.

DR. AYMAN SAID, PRISONER: Believe me, there are lots of people in the mountains. They don't even know the face of Osama bin Laden.

He is such a person, maybe he's here. Maybe he's out. No one knows.

ROBERTSON: He says he is a doctor and came here three months ago because he thought if there was a war, Afghans would need help. He describes fleeing the local hospital when the Afghans turned on him a month ago.

SAID: They asked me to escape and I saw the people surrounding the hospital with the guns and I saw some people was killed in front of me. So they forced me to escape and the only place only for us was the mountains.

ROBERTSON: He talks of the intense bombing in the mountains and of how they decided to flee four days ago.

SAID: Then they discovered us and started fighting us by the Apache. A lot of people killed, 25 for maximum, and plenty of people injured. I have injury to my back. I have blunt trauma to my flank, left flanks and it was by anti-aircraft guns.

ROBERTSON: Fourteen prisoners are crowded in a tiny room, a mixture of Arabs and Pakistanis. Few want to be identified and aside from Doctor Said, only this 18-year-old Kuwaiti was willing to talk. He says he came to Afghanistan to join the jihad six weeks ago.

"What's done is done" he says. "I don't have anything to say to my parents" but he does want to go home. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (on camera): Now true or false, these accounts are likely to be heard by investigators trying to ascertain the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. Now that prison facility we visited was just a few miles from here, and in the night we could hear helicopters coming from the direction of Kandahar in the south, flying to that prison facility and taking off again to the south.

Now at Kandahar itself, Marines have been building a detention center for captured al Qaeda members, and just last night, 15 al Qaeda members were brought in from a prison facility in the north of Afghanistan, near Mazar-e Sharif.

There are now eight FBI investigators on hand at Kandahar City Airport, where the Marines have built this prison facility, on hand to interrogate and investigate and question those al Qaeda members.

They have some quite extreme discretionary powers. They are able, we understand, to offer cash inducements, and in extreme cases, even offer sanctuary in the United States.

Now this prison facility is a tented facility. There are three layers of razor wire outside it. There are Marines guarding inside and outside the prison facility itself.

The extreme measures being taken here are designed to head off what happened in Mazar-e Sharif a month or so ago when there was a revolt by Taliban and al Qaeda members in a prison facility there.

Some of them were armed and it was a week long standoff in which many, many prisoners and other people, including one CIA official were killed.

Now the security measures at Kandahar now very, very tight for all arriving al Qaeda prisoners there. Also in Kandahar City, there is news from the police chief there that the governor and the police chief now know the whereabouts of the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar.

But as Mandy Kibel now reports, the searches for him have not yet begun.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMANDA KIBEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Traffic police back on Kandahar street, battle drivers who have for years been allowed to do what they want. The chaos of a carnival to mark the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan, everywhere signs of a city determined to turn away from a difficult and painful past.

But those responsible for engineering that past are not forgotten nor forgiven. Kandahar's new Intelligence Chief Haji Jul Alia says his people know where former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar is, just eight hours away west of Kandahar in Helmand Province, in the district of Bagran. Bagran is a mountainous cave-filled area and once was an al Qaeda stronghold. But Mullah Omar's capture and punishment must wait, says Jul Alia. Right now, there is urgent rebuilding to be done.

"We have no time to search for Mullah Omar right now" he says. "First we must take care of the internal situation in Kandahar Province. The city is destroyed. First we must make the city safe for the people living here, complete the government, provide clean water, food, jobs. There are no doctors here, no medical supplies and equipment, no schools, no education. We must demilitarize the city. These are our priorities. Mullah Omar will come later."

The intelligence community here insists Jul Alia is watching Mullah Omar's movements closely and waiting.

"We have special people watching him" he says. "They know every move he makes, even if he moves house, we will know. There is no place for him to run in the whole world. He is trapped, surrounded by his enemies."

That intelligence he shared freely, says Jul Alia, with U.S. Special Forces here, but the U.S. search for Mullah Omar is completely separate. So far, Jul Alia's forces have not been involved in U.S. operations.

And what of Osama bin Laden? Jul Alia says he has no recent information on bin Laden's movements, but there are some tantalizing hints.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera): Nic, Jul Alia says this information about Osama bin Laden came to him a while ago, since 15 or 20 days ago, in fact before Kandahar fell. What he tells us is this, he was told two local drivers were instructed by the Taliban corps commander here in Kandahar to drive some Arab passengers to the Helmand Province border. There the drivers were told to wait for what the commander described as some guests.

The drivers said they waited about 30 minutes and then a convoy of about 45 vehicles approached. The drivers claim Osama bin Laden was in that convoy. They say Osama bin Laden got out of his vehicle, made a satellite phone call in which he spoke in Arabic. Then he came over to their cars, spoke to their Arab passengers.

When that meeting was over, they say Osama bin Laden got back into his vehicle and the convoy drove away. Jul Alia says that is the last he heard of Osama bin Laden -- Nic.

ROBERTSON: Amanda, do you get the impression from the new authorities in Kandahar that they're going to leave the search for the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar entirely up to American forces?

KIBEL: Certainly at this stage, Nic, that is very much the impression that they're giving us. As I said earlier in my piece, their priority right now is to rebuild Kandahar, a city destroyed by years of war, years of Taliban abuse, and more recently by the U.S. bombings here.

So at the moment, there is no indication whatsoever that the authorities here on the ground intend to go after Mullah Omar and launch any kind of significant manhunt. I think at this stage it's quite clear that the U.S. Special Forces on the ground here have their work cut out for them. They certainly, as we know, are going after al Qaeda fighters, and we believe too that there are searches underway for Mullah Omar -- Nic.

ROBERTSON: Just a week ago in Kandahar, we were still hearing reports of tension between different tribal factions and the new Kandahar authorities. Is all that under control now?

KIBEL: I wouldn't say it's under control, Nic, but certainly there are attempts to get that under control. In fact, Tuesday we attended a meeting of local tribal commanders from all over Kandahar, from within the city and its surrounds.

They were called together basically to discuss the prospects for a future, a peaceful unified future in Afghanistan. The message sent to these commanders was "put down our weapons. The time for tribal difference is over. The only way forward for Afghanistan is in peace and unity."

And those commanders we spoke to, all of them of course still carrying their weapons, all of them still very much armed, told us that they were quite happy to put down their weapons. They were happy to see a future in Afghanistan, unified without tribal differences.

So certainly there are efforts underway, very, very, intense efforts right now to try and break down those tribal barriers -- Nic.

ROBERTSON: Amanda Kibel, live in Kandahar, thank you very much indeed.

In Bagram Air Base, just north of Kabul, another U.S. servicemen was injured by a land mine. That brings to a total of four U.S. service personnel injured by land mines in the last four days.

Twenty-two years of war in Afghanistan have left up to 10 million mines scattered throughout the country, and every day Afghans are injured by those mines, many times their children, just out collecting firewood.

Also there are now in Afghanistan well over several thousand men going out every day under the auspices of United Nations and other demining organizations to demine the country.

But as Harris Whitbeck now reports, even dogs are being pressed into that service.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Abdul Wahid trusts his dog, Dak, like he does few humans. Every day, Dak puts his life on the line for his master. ABDUL WAHID, MINESWEEPER: I can tell you that I trained these dogs, and I know that the dogs will not make mistakes.

WHITBECK: They are equal partners in a very dangerous enterprise, clearing thousands of mines from the battlefields of Afghanistan. Dak, a 3-year-old German Shepherd, is one of 187 dogs that make up one of the most effective mine-sweeping forces in the country.

WAHID: I think that the dog's work is more efficient than the miners work because mine detector can't find plastic mines under the land, but the dogs can find plastic mines under the land because they are smelling only the explosives.

WHITBECK: The dogs are trained to sniff and immediately stop and sit when they detect explosives in the ground, letting their handlers commence to deactivate the mines.

They respond to commands in English or German, and in Afghanistan, a country riddled with literally millions of hidden land mines, they have been used to clear thousands of areas.

(on camera): Amazingly only five of these dogs have been killed since the demining program started in 1989. Trainers say it's because of their uncanny sense of smell and way of perceiving danger.

(voice over): Training takes about 18 months at a kennel and training center outside of Kabul. The dogs are groomed from birth for their dangerous job. It's hard to identify the smell of explosives and to fetch a plastic ball as a reward. Their trainers say their reward for their country is much greater.

WAHID: These dogs help us very much and they found many mines under the land, and they clear for us many mined areas.

WHITBECK: They are some of Afghanistan's silent heroes and quite possibly it's best friends.

Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Kabul, Afghanistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (on camera): When we come back, a walk through the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. What was left after the years the diplomats were away?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTSON: Bombed and burned out but never destroyed, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is now open, offering hope to Afghans that after 12 years of absence, the United States is returning.

As John Vause discovered during a tour through the battle-scarred buildings, much of the compound survived the battles going on around it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A moment frozen in time, January 30, 1989, the day the U.S. Embassy was evacuated, windows and doors locked, bolted and welded shut. The building's been deserted ever since, except for a small workforce of Afghan guards and groundkeepers.

We were among the first allowed inside. What we found was a time capsule. On the tables in a staff canteen, newspapers and magazines from a different era. On the front page of "TIME", George Bush with Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.

The deputy chief missions office, like everywhere else, covered in a thick layer of dust. In the corner of the room, old reports on the Soviet Union, a reminder of the tensions of the Cold War.

The office of the charge d'affair, an old record player. What actually is it? The CDs go where?

A photo of then Secretary of State George Schultz. Everywhere throughout this building signs of a frantic departure. Filing cabinets left open. Documents scattered across desks.

In the conference room, a cigar left in an ashtray, bottles of Fanta left half full.

When you look at this room, what do you think when you come into a room like this?

JOHN KINCANNON, U.S. EMBASSY OFFICER: What I find interesting about is it that it seems to be just sort of a living time capsule of this embassy. I mean, it's clear that people, when they left this embassy, they left in a hurry.

It's not neat. It's not tidy. It shows, you know, sort of a nice, you know, touch of probably what was going through everybody's minds as they were, you know, rushing to hurry up and get out of the building.

VAUSE: The embassy was closed after the Soviet withdrawal. There were fears that U.S. staff would be caught in the crossfire of the civil war which followed.

The Taliban ransacked this building, taking the floor carpet and office equipment, but to the surprise of U.S. staff here, there was no major damage.

What do you think about the future? What's going to happen in this office? What's going to happen here, I guess is the question?

KINCANNON: Well this, of course, is you know a key building block, you know, for the, you know, future of American relations with Afghanistan, and I assume it will not be too long until we have another ambassador here and America's back in Afghanistan in a big way. VAUSE: There hasn't been an American ambassador here since 1979 when Spike Dobbs was assassinated. Lower level diplomats were left in charge. But now, the American flag is again flying over the compound, the very same flag which was flying almost 13 years ago. For many Afghans, a symbol of hope that this time the U.S. may be here for good.

John Vause, CNN, Kabul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (on camera): When we come back, the flag found in the rubble at Ground Zero travels to Kandahar and raises the spirits of the Marines.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTSON: At Kandahar Airport there was a solemn moment when the flag found in the rubble of the World Trade Center was raised by Marines. The flag had been signed by firemen, policemen, and families of victims of the September the 11th terrorist attack.

Department of Defense pool reporter, David Wright, reports the gift was a message of thanks and honor to the Marines.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID WRIGHT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): To the Marine Corps, the flag is an icon of freedom of its sacrifices made in the name of honor.

This flag has special significance. It was found in the rubble of Ground Zero, and is dedicated to civilians, the first casualties in this war.

It was inscribed at Ground Zero by family members of the victims, by firefighters, FBI agents, and police officers and by New Yorkers, brought together by a tragedy.

The stars carry the names of police officers who lost their lives September 11, as well as sailors who died on the USS Cole.

(on camera): The flag belongs to the New York Police Department's Emergency Services Unit, many of whose members are former Marines. They felt it important that the flag come to Afghanistan as a powerful reminder to these Marines of what they're fighting for.

(voice over): This morning in the courtyard of Kandahar Airport, the three Marines charged with raising the flag stood stock still for a good 15 minutes as the men gathered to reflect on its significance.

SERGEANT GERALD LANE, U.S. MARINE CORPS: To have this one signed by families of victims, police officers from New York City, to have flown in New York City, to be able to bring it out here, take this airfield and raise that flag, that means a lot to all the Marines and sailors that are here and all the armed forces, I'm sure. WRIGHT: The assembly saluted as the Stars & Stripes climbed slowly up the flagpole. It hung there for a moment, tentative and quiet before it found a gust of wind and unfurled in the morning sun.

David Wright with the U.S. Marines in Kandahar.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (on camera): It's almost dawn here in Afghanistan and the search for al Qaeda members continue in the mountains around here. We can see overhead lights belonging to U-2 spy planes flying. We can hear the sound of aircraft occasionally overhead, still pursuing the al Qaeda members.

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, "WORLD SPORT" is next.

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