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Osama bin Laden May be in Pakistan;

Aired December 19, 2001 - 23:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN, with Nic Robertson. Border insecurity, after al Qaeda prisoners escape in Pakistan. Plus, what's being done to keep Osama bin Laden from sneaking across the border?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's six foot five inches tall. It's going to be very difficult for him to blend in. At some point, if he has gone over to Pakistan, somebody will spot him and turn him in.


ANNOUNCER: What if he's still hiding in Afghanistan's caves? CNN's Amanda Kibel takes on the search.


AMANDA KIBEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Osama bin Laden, we are told, built this house specifically as a hideout, a place to shelter when he felt unsafe. And it's here that he came when U.S. bombings on Kandahar began.


ANNOUNCER: And as Afghanistan prepares for peace, Walter Rodgers on how war has become a way of life.


WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Afghanistan is both breathtakingly beautiful and brutally cruel.



NIC ROBERTSON, CNN HOST: Tonight, LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN comes from the White Mountains near Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan. As commanders here begin to wind down their search for Osama bin Laden in the mountains, and transfer their attentions to scavenging for the spoils of war in the caves left behind by the fleeing al Qaeda forces, they also fear that al Qaeda may have been, along with Osama bin Laden, going over the mountains and into Pakistan. Indeed, Pakistani authorities so far say they have arrested some 155 al Qaeda fighters, fleeing across their border. And during the day, they say that several buses transferring those al Qaeda prisoners to a prison deeper inside Pakistan, revolted on one bus, taking guns from their guards. There was a shoot-out.

The bus crashed into a ravine. And according to Pakistani government officials, seven al Qaeda fighters were killed. However, they also say that some Pakistani guards were killed and 21 al Qaeda fighters escaped or are on the run now in Pakistan.

But as David Ensor now reports in his investigations, fleeing to Pakistan may not be the safest option for Osama bin Laden.


DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tensions are high along the Pakistani border, after a group of about 100 mostly Arab al Qaeda fighters arrested trying to leave Afghanistan staged a revolt and a shoot-out with Pakistani security forces.

RASHIO QURESHI, MAJOR GENERAL, PAKISTANI ARMY SPOKESMAN: One civilian and five security personnel died. And six to seven of these non-Afghan fighters were also killed.

ENSOR: At the Chaman border crossing, guards man their heavy guns and incoming vehicles are carefully checked, as seven battalions, thousands of additional Pakistani troops are aided by intelligence officers on the ground and U.S. aircraft overhead, searching for additional al Qaeda stragglers, who might try to slip into Pakistan after their defeat in nearby Tora Bora.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The Pakistani army is doing a good job along the border of Afghanistan. They have captured a very large number, hundreds.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: We could not have asked for better support from the Pakistani government than we have been receiving.

ENSOR: Top of the most wanted list, of course, is Osama bin Laden. Pakistan's long border with Afghanistan could be crossed by the terrorist leader, analysts say, but he would not likely be safe there for long:

RICK INDERFURTH, FMR. ASST. SEC. OF STATE: First of all, he's six foot five inches tall. It's going to be very difficult for him to blend in. He's also a recognizable figure, even if he shaves off his beard. So I think that at some point, if he has gone over to Pakistan, somebody will spot him and turn him in.

AHMED RASHID, AUTHOR, "TALIBAN": I think they will immediately turn him over to the United States. I think nobody in Pakistan wants to hold onto bin Laden, you know, or to open up any kind of trial of bin Laden on Pakistani soil, certainly, because it would just open up a can of worms. ENSOR (on camera): Though there are bin Laden sympathizers in the tribal areas along the Pakistani-Afghan border, both U.S. and Pakistani officials argue that most Pakistanis would like to see an end to al Qaeda. And then there is that $25 million reward. So most analysts argue that despite the defeat in Tora Bora, bin Laden would likely survive a little longer, if he remains in the caves and mountains on the Afghan side.

David Ensor, CNN, Washington.


ROBERTSON: Well, on the Afghan side of the border, Eastern Alliance commanders have pulled back their majority of forces from the Tora Bora mountains. The fighters that are up there now are going cave to cave. They're retrieving what they can of the ammunition supplies that the al Qaeda forces left behind when they retreated.

In many cases, they're just rolling the ammunition boxes down the hillside, putting them into trucks and taking them potentially for their own use in further battles down the line from here. Also, they are digging on the mountainside, in areas where they think al Qaeda caves may have been blocked by bombing. They feel that perhaps more spoils of war hidden behind the rubble in these bombed out al Qaeda camps.

Now as Amanda Kibel now reports from Kandahar, some 400 miles south of here, more caves are being discovered there. And one if them may have been the home of Osama bin Laden.


KIBEL (voice-over): We followed the road north out of Kandahar City in the mountains. Lining the way, shells of old Soviet tanks now well beyond use after U.S. bombing. Ten kilometers later on the edge of the Miyungku (ph) Mountains, we entered an area not seen by Westerners and by few Afghans since the Taliban took control of Kandahar six years ago.

This was the stronghold of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda fighters. Strangers were not welcome here. In a series of caves and underground bunkers built into the landscape, Osama bin Laden and hundreds of al Qaeda lived and worked.

In this cave, a stockpile of thousands of artillery shells, just some of which we could reach. The rest, we were told, hidden deep in tunnels which stretched for kilometers into the mountains. Anti- Taliban forces discovered this cave two days after Kandahar fell.

Not far from here, a solitary house where al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden once lived. Osama bin Laden, we are told, built this house specifically as a hideout, a place to shelter when he felt unsafe.

(on camera): And it's here that he came when U.S. bombings on Kandahar began. It is also from this house, we are told by locals, that Osama bin Laden finally fled Kandahar. (voice-over): In one room, piles of mortar bombs, about 30 rows high and five rows deep line the walls. A rough count totaled 4 to 5,000. In the grounds of the house, boxes of heavy machine gun bullets, Russian and Chinese made, some stacked almost six feet high, besides these wooden cases filled with the same. And then, still more piles of linked ammunition for heavy machine runs. Altogether another a rough count, many hundreds of thousands of these bullets.

mujahideen forces have began collecting the abandoned weapons and munitions. They will be held in a storage facility on the outskirts of Kandahar, and eventually handed over to Afghanistan's new interim government.

But Osama bin Laden was not only preparing for war here. He claimed this land, Afghan land, as his own and tried to turn its natural resources to profit. A large hole in the ground and a hole in the mountain, evidence of Osama bin Laden's attempts to mine for gold here. He was never very successful. The machinery and equipment he used were outdated, left over from 30 years ago, and just not up to the job.

Across the mountainside, rubble and craters, all that remain of what were once al Qaeda living quarters. Built underground, the bunkers were bombed in U.S. attacks. About 600 al Qaeda fighters lived here. A few hundred died here. Littering the ground, we found small paper leaflet's.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was coming from the planes from American.

KIBEL: Messages from the United States to Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. This one, instructions for surrender. Put your hands on your head, it reads. Face your weapons to the ground. Wait until we call you. Don't move. Slowly, slowly, walk towards us.

But there was no slow walk to surrender here. Most of the al Qaeda fighters who once held these mountains left suddenly. And by all accounts, very quickly.

Amanda Kibel, CNN, Kandahar, Afghanistan.


ROBERTSON: Al Qaeda fighters have been captured. Not only by the Northern Alliance, but more recently here in the Tora Bora area by the Eastern Alliance, fighting against the al Qaeda forces. Now some of those who have been captured have had pre-screening interviews. And a small handful have now transferred to a Marine prison facility at Kandahar Airport.

We are joined by Mike Chinoy, who is there at Kandahar Airport with the Marines. Mike, who exactly is being brought in for questioning so far?

MIKE CHINOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nic, all we know is that there are 50 fighters here, both from the al Qaeda and the Taliban, according to the U.S. Marines. The American government believes that these 15 are either senior operatives or may have significant information about past terrorist attacks or plans for future terrorist attacks. They were selected apparently from hundreds of prisoners who had been held in the Mazar-e-Sharif area, prisoners seized by the Northern Alliance during the past couple of months of fighting.

They are now in a detention center that the U.S. Marines have built here. And a team of FBI agents, six from Washington and two from New York, are here to question them.

But the process of questioning is not so simple. There are all kinds of issues. There are legal issues, there are bureaucratic issues, and there are cultural sensitivities and tactical consideration in terms of how to extract information.

The legal issues are that even though these detainees are technically called battlefield detainees, they're being given the privileges of prisoners in war, in terms of getting food, medical care, the right to practice their religion, access to the international committee of the Red Cross.

But the U.S. has not decided whether they will be handled under the military justice system, the civilian justice system, what kind of crimes that they'll be charged with. So that's one concern.

A second concern is that the needs of the U.S. military, of the U.S. intelligence community, and of the Justice Department in terms of what they need to know from these people, do not necessarily overlap.

And that leads to the third tactical issue of how best to extract information from these detainees. They are not likely to be eager to cooperate, eager to talk, given the long-standing defiance of al Qaeda and the Taliban, their attitude towards the United States.

So the FBI agents here that we've been talking to, say that this is going to involve the very delicate process in which cultural sensitivities will be very, very important, trying to device a tactic by which they can actually convince these men to talk.

And they're trying to figure out who they should talk to first, how best to approach them so that they can actually get useful information. It's just not as simple as walking in, sitting down, and starting to ask questions -- Nic.

ROBERTSON: Mike, as the search for Osama bin Laden is still underway, presumably as the questioners go in and talk to these people, that is at the top of their list, a priority to get times relevant information on al Qaeda. Are they giving you an indication that they're getting anything forthcoming?

CHINOY: Well, the notion of an immediate intelligence bonanza seems unrealistic. In fact, the serious question has not yet begun. At the moment, it's more simply an issue of processing these people and getting them settled in this detention center.

The FBI people here say this is not going to happen quickly. It is very complicated. It will take time. Clearly, they do believe that the people being held here do have potentially significant information. But the expectation is it will be a much more complex and drawn out process. And the notion that very speedily, they'll be able to get some information, they'll be able to act on in terms of finding bin Laden, that seems far-fetched -- Nic.

ROBERTSON: Mike Chinoy live in Kandahar. Thank you very much.

One of the most significant people questioned in the search for Osama bin Laden, and one of the most significant Taliban fighters so far to have been captured is the American John Walker. He was captured a month ago near Mazar-e-Sharif. He was held in a prison complex, the prison complex al Qaeda fighters tried to break out of. There was a weeklong fight. And John Walker survived and was brought out for questioning at one stage.

Now he is still being held by U.S. forces on the U.S.S Peleliu in the Arabian Gulf. He is right now, his fate is being considered. President Bush has been advised or recommended at this time that perhaps the best course of action to take is one of federal prosecution. That is, John Walker would be tried for assisting terrorists.

Now each charge there would carry a maximum prison penalty of 10 years. However, the treason charges have not yet been ruled out. And of course, those are far more serious. The death penalty is the maximum sentence there.

Now John Walker talked with CNN contributor Robert Young Pelton before he was taken away for further questioning. However, before he opened up and really talked freely, he took some persuading. But when CNN turned on its cameras, he did begin to open up, did begin to tell his story. And he told Robert Young Pelton of the days where they were being bombarded inside the prison complex near Mazar-e-Sharif.


JOHN WALKER: They had bombed us with airplanes. They had shot missiles. They had thrown grenades. They had shot us with all types of guns, poured gas on us and burned us many times. Yes, you can imagine. So the last (INAUDIBLE) -- they poured water -- and went to fill it up with water.

So when they filled it up, most of us were injured at that point anyway. Actually after maybe the first day, maybe about half of us and one-half of us were injured. And the last day, when they poured the water into the basement, I think the vast majority of us (INAUDIBLE). So that morning, and we were standing in the water, freezing water in the basement, for maybe 20 hours.


ROBERTSON: Well, CNN contributor Robert Young Pelton was on the CNN "NEWSNIGHT" show with Aaron Brown a little time ago. He was asked exactly how he had managed to get this interview with John Walker. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT YOUNG PELTON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I met him Monday, November 26 around midnight. I had been at the fort that day. And I was staying with General Dostum. So General Dostum actually brought the prisoners to me in Shebagon (ph), which is where the prison was.

There was one truck with a number of dead and dying and wounded Taliban covered by blue blankets. And I didn't actually see John at that time. Then one of his people ran back and said there's an American in the hospital. So I went upstairs, grabbed a special forces medic. And he took his kit bag and we ran down there and then began talking to him.


ROBERTSON: After the break, Northern Alliance commanders say that the security situation with international peace forces coming to Afghanistan is beginning to improve. One top official brings his family back home to Afghanistan.


ROBERTSON: Citing the imminent arrival of an international peacekeeping force as an indication that security and stability is returning to Afghanistan, the government, the interim government's foreign minister Dr. Abdullah, returned to Afghanistan with his family. His family has been in India for some time. They flew into Baghram air base, an air base patrolled by British troops.

Dr. Abdullah had been with Northern Alliance forces for the last several years, battling against the Taliban from its tiny stronghold in the northeast of the country. Under new arrangements that are still being fully negotiated, an interim peacekeeping force, the forward elements thereof, could be inside Afghanistan before the 22nd of December, when the interim government is inaugurated for the first time.

Now at the moment, about 3,000 peacekeeping troops will likely come to Afghanistan. They would be dispersed among the five main cities: Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Herat, and in the north, Mazar-e- Sharif.

But as Sheila Macvicar reports, there are still details that have to be worked out about the role and still the size of that force.


SHEILAH MACVICAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At Baghram Airfield, outside Kabul, the British forces already in place are getting ready. When the 3,000 to 5,000 members of the International Security Assistance Force do deploy, it will be through this base. And there's lots of work to be done and plenty of unexploded ordnance.

DUNCAN DEWAR, MAJOR, BRITISH ROYAL MARINE COMMANDO: The area itself is also heavily mined around there. And so, we did an amount of initial clearance so that we could improve that security of the area.

MACVICAR: 21 nations have offered troops to what will be a British-led mission. The force will be based around Kabul, still bristling with the weaponry of what amounts to the private armies of various warlords and factions.

These military forces are supposed to withdraw from the streets and retreat into barracks. British defense sources say the international force will carry only light arms, and travel in unarmored vehicles. Back up and heavier protection will be provided by the U.S. Announcing Britain's role on Wednesday afternoon, the Secretary of Defense said the purpose was to assist Afghans, not impose authority.

GEOFF HOON, BRITISH DEFENSE MINISTER: International security assistance force is a reflection of the strong international support for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. We'll go to Kabul with the backing of the wider international community.

MACVICAR: But it does not yet have the backing of the new Afghan government.

HAMID KARZAI, INTERIM AFGHAN LEADER DESIGNATE: New negotiations are taking place. And within those new negotiations that have already been conducted by the minister of defense, we will have a formula for the conduct of the force that is arriving.

MACVICAR: Any agreement with the Afghans is, at best, days away. One example of the problems faced by negotiators: there is no word in the local language that means "patrol." And so far, no common understanding of what the international force should do.

Sheila Macvicar, CNN, London.


ROBERTSON: Coming up after the break, the possible pitfalls befitting feudal Afghan society into more modern nation building.


ROBERTSON: 85 percent of people in Afghanistan live outside the major cities. Their rural ways of life have changed little over the centuries. Few of them care or even know who runs the neighboring city, never mind the neighboring government. For the most part their best aims are just to run their own lives.

And as Walter Rodgers now reports, perhaps this feudal way of life may bump against the best intentions of international diplomats.


WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Afghanistan, as Alexander the Great or Marco Polo may have seen it. Little has changed here in over two millennium. And it was among these people Osama bin Laden based his al Qaeda fighters. War has been a kind of commerce here. 20 years ago, it was the Soviets. Then bin Laden's Taliban, followed by U.S. bombs that decimated the Taliban.

This clan chief complained that the Taliban destroyed everything, although a younger generation here disputes this. Afghanistan is both breathtakingly beautiful and brutally cruel. Spilling blood, part of the rhythm of life. When vultures soar here, Afghans say the birds smell bin Laden's dead al Qaeda fighters killed by U.S. bombs. Before that, it was the Russians killed by the mujahideen in the 1980s.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We would like to come and sit and talk with you, but we never went near the Russians. We hated them. They would shoot us.

RODGERS: Villagers still hate the Soviets, claiming they even shot Afghan babies in their cribs. In return, this boy's father or grandfather may have played polo on ponies with the heads of captured Russian soldiers they decapitated.

(on camera): Well-intentioned diplomats and policymakers talk of modernization and nation building in Afghanistan. Out in these villages, however, those lofty intentions may have to squeeze through some ancient doorways and leapfrog centuries to achieve those goals.

(voice-over): Many Afghans still live without electricity in a world lit only by fire. Some children go shoeless all winter. Just as in Medieval Europe, livestock is often killed off before winter. Not enough fodder to feed the animals until spring.

Drinking water is lapped from polluted drainage ditches. Afghans still live in mud castles, fortresses in a faction-riddled society. Young girls are married by 14, bought and paid for by the groom's family, $500 and up.

Iza Toola (ph) does not know if he is 16 or 17. Dates are not important here. But he has an 8-month-old son. The baby wears bright blue beads to ward off the evil eye. These are Muslims. Fatalism is key to their faith, accepting what allah has mandated for them.

Allah has been generous with John Mohammed. He has three wives. His friends say the youngest is his favorite. Except for gathering firewood or crops, most Afghan women do not venture forth. Their world is the mud fortress. The world beyond is threatening.

So alien is our TV camera, this woman fears we have come to kidnap her son. Still as this war winds down, the sounds of a child's laughter is again heard in Afghan villages and hope again soars here that this generation may yet enjoy its childhood.

Walter Rodgers, CNN, Bombackel (ph), Afghanistan.


ROBERTSON: Only a few days ago, the mountains behind me was still resonating to the sounds of heavy and intense bombing. Now they're returning to their more peaceful, natural state. Al Qaeda members and Osama bin Laden may still be hiding out there. No one really knows.

Thank you for watching. I'm Nic Robertson. LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN will be back at the same time tomorrow.




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