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Afghan Interim Government Assumes Rule

Aired December 21, 2001 - 23:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN, with Nic Robertson. A new day, a new government.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to confirm that the United States will officially recognize the interim administration as the government of Afghanistan.


ANNOUNCER: A new weapon in the war on terror.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's something that we clearly have a need for in Afghanistan. And they're on the way over there.


ANNOUNCER: Foe or friend? Conflicting accounts of a convoy attack.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we had was a convoy of people, about 10 to 12, that contained leadership. Those targets were attacked by AC- 130 gunships.


ANNOUNCER: And New York fire and police departments answer a call to Afghanistan.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a New York City firefighter. His brother, Tim, was too. Both responded to the attacks on the World Trade Center.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm here in memory of my brother, Tim.



NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN comes from Jalalabad, just north of the Tora Bora mountains in eastern Afghanistan, the last known hiding place for the al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden.

For those of you expecting to see GREENFIELD AT LARGE, we apologize. He's away and he'll be back on New Year's Eve. We hope you enjoy this program in its place. It's already Saturday here in Afghanistan. And in just a few hours, Afghanistan's new interim government will be initiated in Kabul, the capital.

The government will be composed of 30 members, headed by its new leader, Hamid Karzai. There will be six deputy first ministers drawn from the ethnic groups that make up Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai is a Pashtun, the main ethnic group here in Afghanistan. The main role of this government will be to provide security and stability in the country for the next six months, until a more broad based government can be found. That will be arrived at by the decision of a grand council, a loya jirga, hopefully in six months.

We are joined now by John Vause in Kabul.

John, what will be the priorities for this government once installed?

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nic, obviously, as you said, security and stability, but also the basics: reopening schools, ensuring water supply, trying to get seed to farmers, as well as providing health care, a massive task, estimated to cost almost $600 million over the next two years.

On top of that, there's $20 million just to provide office equipment to this new government. And then there's the rebuilding of Afghanistan's infrastructure, which is being decimated and shattered after so many years of infighting and civil war.

Now the other issue here, too, today, tight security around Kabul for this swearing in ceremony of the new interim of government. On the streets this morning around Kabul, troops lining every 30 feet, checking every single car, heavily armed troops with Kalashnikov rifles and rocket propelled grenades.

Also here today, there is a still a sense of optimism and hope that this new interim government can, in fact, deliver what it promises to do.

Now also on the streets today, there will be those British Royal Marines. They arrived at the British embassy last night. They spend the night there. They will take up positions across Kabul. They say it will be a low profile role. They're not -- they do not want to be visible. They're not as any kind of fighting force. They say they're merely here to offer assistance to that interim government, that interim administration, to provide stability.

Now yesterday, there was a security sweep across Kabul. Bomb sniffing dogs were brought in, all to ensure security for the visiting diplomats and U.N. officials who are here. Also returning to Afghanistan and to the major cities, thousands of refugees, hoping that that interim government can, in fact, provide the stability and the security which it is hoping to set out to do.

Now one of the issues, which reflects the growing optimism and the hope for the future for Afghanistan is being reflected in the local currency.


(voice-over): Security in the Afghan capital is extremely tight, ahead of the swearing in ceremony of the new interim government. Heavily armed, local Afghan troops are manning checkpoints hours ahead of the usual 10 p.m. curfew. And the road from Bagram Air Base to Kabul is lined with hundreds of Northern Alliance troops.

but not on duty, the British Royal Marines. 30 Marines have relocated to the British embassy. The other 30 remain at Bagram Air Base. They say they'll keep a low profile during the swearing in ceremony and they're only here if needed and to advise local Afghan forces. GUY RICHARDSON, MAJOR BRITISH FORCES SPOKESMAN: We're very much in a low profile. We've not come here to fight. We've come here to assist. And therefore, you will see soldiers on the ground tomorrow with berets on and in a low posture. They won't be wearing helmets. They're not here. We're not expecting any trouble tomorrow. But of course, it's not to be forgotten that we can step up if the situation requires us to do so.

VAUSE: And with the interim administration about to take power, the United States says it will formally recognize the new government of Afghanistan.

JAMES DOBBINS, U.S. ENVOY TO AFGHANISTAN: I want to confirm that the United States will, as of tomorrow, officially recognize the interim administration as the government of Afghanistan. We will turn over to them the Afghan embassy in Washington, invite them to name an ambassador to Washington, and deal with them in all matters as the government of Afghanistan.

VAUSE: And on the streets of the capital, some frantic last minute preparations. Workers have been trying to make this shattered city look its best for a ceremony, which virtually every Afghan is hoping will mark the end of 23 years of war.


So Nic, now just a few hours away before all the pomp and circumstance begins. But the party could be short-lived. The real work is yet to begin -- Nic.

ROBERTSON: John, that interim government, three key positions: Interior Ministry, Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry, all going to the Northern Alliance, who took control of Kabul November the 13. How is that sitting with other Afghan leaders at this time? VAUSE: Well, this will be the challenge for to Hamid Karzai, as he takes a position as the interim chairman. There has been a number of rumblings that the key positions went to the Northern Alliance.

That one of the -- General Dostum, who in fact is Northern Alliance, but he said that he was going to boycott this ceremony. But what appears to be a good sign, he says that he now wants to attend. And he will try and make it down from Mazar-e Sharif.

That's a good sign for Hamid Karzai that he may be able to hold together that coalition of old friends and even older enemies.

ROBERTSON: John Vause in Kabul. Thank you very much for joining us. And at 1:30 a.m. Eastern time, the installation of that new government. CNN plans to bring it to you live.

Now as the installation goes ahead, also the cave to cave searching in the Tora Bora mountains continues. This time, U.S. special forces having the assistance of U.S. troops on the ground. They are going through the Tora Bora area. Now most of the bombing is over.

They're going through the caves, searching for evidence and information of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Many of those al Qaeda fighters have fled southwards to Pakistan. Pakistani authorities say they have arrested in the last two weeks 180 al Qaeda or Arab fighters fleeing southward through the Tora Bora mountains into Pakistan.

We are joined now by Kamal Hyder, who is just across the border inside Pakistan. Kamal, just how well prepared are the Pakistani defenses that pick up these al Qaeda trying to infiltrate into the country?

KAMAL HYDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't hear. Nic, I think there's some technical problems. Yes, Nic, I just wanted to tell you that here in the city of Parachinar, the government and paramilitary forces, along with the police and the Pakistan army have fanned out now, which is the first time in over 50 years that the Pakistani army has deployed in such a massive way in tribal areas of Pakistan, and are shielding all the ravines and the narrow passages to the mountains.

They are holding that border. And they're holding it tight. Nic, I'm sorry, I can't hear you.

ROBERTSON: Kamal, with all those -- Kamal Hyder in Parachinar, just across the border inside Pakistan. Thank you very much for joining us.

The bombing has resumed in Afghanistan after three days of aerial surveillance and also ground operations by U.S. special forces. A convoy leaving the town of host was targeted, the Pentagon says. They say they destroyed 10 to 12 vehicles. They say on board that convoy was senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders.

Now the Afghan Islamic press here says that that was not a convoy containing al Qaeda and Taliban figures, They say it was containing tribal elders on their way to Kabul for the installation of the new government. However the Pentagon says that it was operating under specific information from intelligence assets it has here.


PETER PACE, GENERAL, JOINT CHIEFS VICE CHMN.: I'd like not to address the specific indicators that caused us to strike that particular convoy, but the intelligence that we gathered at the time indicated to us that this was in fact leadership. And we struck the leadership, as we will do the next time we get that kind of intelligence.


ROBERTSON: The warplanes that dropped the bombs on the convoy took off from the U.S.S. Stennis. The U.S.S. Stennis only recently deployed to the Arabian Sea and arrived less than a week ago. Frank Buckley has an exclusive report of the moments after the warplanes returned to the ship following the bombing.


FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over); Attack aircraft from the U.S.S. John C. Stennis returned safely to the deck of the carrier, after dropping bombs in eastern Afghanistan. It was the first time aircraft from this Nimitz-class carrier launched munitions in the conflict.

Carrier Captain James Mcdonald breaking the news to the crew over the ship's public address system.

JAMES MCDONALD, CARRIER CAPTAIN: We had F-14 aircraft dropped laser guided bombs, and F-18s drop joint direct attack munitions or J- Dam weapons in eastern Afghanistan today.

BUCKLEY: The Stennis has been on station in the Arabian Sea since December 15. The first bombs to be dropped from its aircraft coming on the fourth day of combat operations from the carrier. Members of the crew have been eager to engage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After being deployed for about a month and a half, to hear somebody finally tell us that we did something positive, we're all excited about it. The crew and especially the people where I work, everybody was fired up and really excited to hear that we'd finally done part of the mission that we came out here to accomplish.

BUCKLEY: The U.S.S. John C. Stennis deployed to the region two months ahead of schedule after the September 11 attacks on the U.S., attacks that affected many members of this ship's crew, including the carrier's battlegroup commander personally.

JAMES ZORTMAN, REAR ADMIRAL, CMDR. CARRIER GROUP SEVEN: My last assignment before I came here was in the Pentagon, on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations. 21 of those people that were killed in the attack in the Pentagon worked directly for me. BUCKLEY (on camera): The U.S.S. John C. Stennis is now engaged. The carrier it replaced, the Carl Vinson, headed home. The crew of this U.S. Navy ship now in the fight.

Frank Buckley, CNN, aboard the U.S.S. John C. Stennis in the Arabian Sea.


ROBERTSON: Now there will soon be a new weapon joining the cave- busting munitions already in use here. And it's the BLU-18B. It's a thermo barrack device that is designed specifically for targeting caves.

What it does, like a bunker buster, it burrows into the ground and then sets off a tremendous high pressure and high temperature blast, thus destroying those cave structures.

Now we are joined by retired U.S. General Don Shepperd to discuss this and other issues.

General, just how will this device actually help catch Osama bin Laden?

DON SHEPPERD, RETIRED MAJOR GENERAL, U.S. AIR FORCE: Well Nic, I'm not sure it will catch him, but it might kill if he's in one of these caves that they go after. The idea behind this thermal barrack device is that it goes inside a cave, builds up pressure slowly, fills the cave with a fuel air explosive, and then ignites it, producing a huge explosion that incinerates things within the cave, and also draws air in and out of the cave.

It's not like the concussion weapon, the BLU-82 that we've being seeing before this. Indeed, it's designed to go in after caves. It's a new weapon. The testing was only completed on the 14th of December. And then it's rushed to Afghanistan for its first employment, Nic.

ROBERTSON: Now, we've seen a three-day hold off in the bombing. And there's been a lot of surveillance flights, U.S. special forces on the ground picking up information. What kind of picture would they have been building of what's going on here at the moment?

SHEPPERD: Well Nic, as you remember as Tora Bora fell, the al Qaeda left the Tora Bora. It was swarmed over by Eastern Alliance troops. So the air strikes had to stop in those regions, or we'd end up hitting the Eastern Alliance.

Now that they have left the area for the most part, new targets are being designated, if you will and found by intelligence, pockets remaining, areas that we didn't hit, that we now want to hit with air power. And of course a whole new intelligence picture is emerging over the country, as we use all of our sensors in new areas to look for the remaining al Qaeda and bin Laden and Mullah Omar as well, Nic.

ROBERTSON: And the rationale behind sending in more U.S. ground forces to join the U.S. special forces already there, what's the reasoning for that?

SHEPPERD: Well, remember Nic, that the Northern Alliance and the opposition forces, the Eastern Alliance and its opposition forces, have basically done what they want to do. The country is rid of the Taliban, not everywhere, not from guerrilla attacks and what have you, but they're rid of the Taliban leadership. They're also rid, for all practical purposes, of the al Qaeda.

So they figure that their job is finished. Now that doesn't mean that they won't assist U.S. forces. But if the U.S. forces want to go in and search tunnel by tunnel for remaining intelligence and to see if bin Laden perhaps is still there, it's up to the U.S. forces to do that with the assistance, of course, of Eastern Alliance. But it's basically our battle in these tunnel areas of Tora Bora now. And that's what's emerging, Nic.

ROBERTSON: You raise a key issue there, the possibility of guerrilla warfare. Of course, the Afghans really grew to prominence with those techniques during the Soviet occupation. What threat do you believe there is to the U.S. forces operating on the ground from those types of attacks?

SHEPPERD: Nic, I believe there's a tremendous threat in all sorts of ways. First of all, the caves that we'll be going into, you'll be going in there with concussion devices, with night vision devices in cave. Some of them will be booby-trapped. There will be mines on the floor. So it's extremely dangerous work.

And then, of course, Afghanistan is a dangerous place. Pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban have escaped, small pockets. They probably have gone to mountain redoubts, where they have other weapons and munitions, explosives stored. And they will be a danger probably for months, if not years to come with guerrilla type attacks.

So Afghanistan, to stabilize it, bring back the rule of law and rid it of all Taliban, all al Qaeda and all threats from previous warlords. And that type of thing is a big task and going to take a long time, Nic.

ROBERTSON: And in Tora Bora, the al Qaeda forced into Pakistan. Osama bin Laden still not captured. Is it a military success there?

SHEPPERD: Well, defining military success is difficult. From the Afghan standpoint, if the Taliban and al Qaeda are gone, they're successful.

From our standpoint, we want Mullah Omar. We want bin Laden. We want all al Qaeda, wherever they are. We want all al Qaeda in other countries. We want any terrorist organization anywhere. We want them gone, their finances depleted. We want anyone that shelters them, taken into custody. This is a much bigger task than just Afghanistan.

So it's going to be a long time before we can declare victory in the war on terrorism. In Afghanistan alone, the search for Mullah Omar and bin Laden will probably define whether a lot of people think it's successful, but a lot has been done. And we'll chase them to the end of the earth, Nic.

ROBERTSON: Somewhat of a controversy developing over the targeting of a convoy and host late last night. What are the possibilities there that this could be a mistake? What are the possibilities that the information is be accurate as well?

SHEPPERD: There's always a possibility that it could be a mistake. When you hit a convoy, a moving convoy, information, intelligence has been passed to you. And you want to be very sure that that intelligence is correct, before you just hit a moving convoy. We are normally very careful about that.

Information from the intelligence sources, from our own, from the Eastern Alliance, from the CIA, whoever is there and our sensors will be passed to ground forward air controllers who operate under rules of engagement. And then there's a targeting approval process within Syncom (ph). Syncom (ph) made a decision basically to say yes under its rules of engagement. We all hope there wasn't a mistake, but there could have been, Nic.

ROBERTSON: Is it possible to get drawn into tribal fights here by being drawn in by one side against the other? Is that a possibility?

SHEPPERD: Of course it is. There's always the possibility of being duped, of being tricked. Again, we are very, very careful. We have rules of engagement that are very well set. We have a targeting process that requires approval for certain levels of targeting. And therefore, we're very careful. And the Secretary of Defense says he was convinced at the time, the reports he's heard, that these were not tribal elders, but rather senior al Qaeda or Taliban. So we're going to have to wait to see at how this sorts out, but it's always a danger of being duped. And you have to be careful all the time.

ROBERTSON: General Don Shepperd, thank you very much for joining us.

When we come back, New York firefighters and policemen who worked at the World Trade Center on September the 11 to save all the people that died there, travel to Kabul to raise hopes and spirits in that city.


ROBERTSON: As part of the global effort to thwart terrorism worldwide, British anti-terrorist police boarded a vessel in the English Channel. It was in international waters. They boarded the boat, along with Customs officials and are now searching the boat. It was coming from Mauritius, near Africa. It had on board a cargo of sugar and was due to dock in Britain on Saturday. The British police say that all those onboard are now assisting with their inquiries.

Now it is just over 100 days since the September 11 attack. Three New York firefighters and two New York policemen who worked at the World Trade Center to save people under the rubble as the building collapsed have traveled to Kabul. And as Harris Whitbeck reports, they hope to bring hope to the people there and also a level of understanding for themselves about what it all meant.


HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Joe Higgins is in Afghanistan for six hours, just long enough to complete a deeply personal mission. He's a New York City firefighter. His brother Tim was, too. Both responded to the attacks on the World Trade Center.

JOE HIGGINS, NYC FIREFIGHTER: I'm here in memory of my brother, Tim, who was killed in the World Trade Center as a firefighter. Five other firemen in my firehouse were also killed in the tragedy there. Those were some heroic guys that day. I'll tell you, man, it was the most unbelievable thing you ever witnessed.

WHITBECK: Joe is sharing his story with the men he also considers heroes, some of the U.S. Army Rangers and members of the special forces who have been in Afghanistan helping hunt down Osama bin Laden.

HIGGINS: : You know it's Christmas, you know. These guys are away from home. 20 years ago, I was in this region in the Persian Gulf as a Marine. So even as a young fellow, you know, you kind of -- you get a little distraught being away from home during the holidays. And these guys could use a morale boost to let them know we're proud of them and that they're sticking up for us.

WHITBECK: Helping others helps him too, he says. Joe, three other New York firefighters and two policemen brought nearly a ton of humanitarian aid to be distributed to the victims of Afghanistan's latest war.

HIGGINS: I got a pocket full of candy for the kids. We want them to see what it's like to have a Dum Dum lollipop and be able to fool around with their friends, you know? That's what it's all about.

WHITBECK: It's also for remembering the reason for the U.S. military operation in the country. He brought with him a piece of one of the jetliners that slammed into the World Trade Center.

HIGGINS: Well, I want some soldier to take that piece and put in his pocket and think about it while he's here and make sure he knows he's here for a good reason. And I know you know that already.

WHITBECK: Joe buried a piece of the destroyed Twin Towers in Afghan soil. He says the rubble of two tragedies melded together symbolizes what needs to happen next. Two peoples working together to erase the horrors of the past.

[child singing]

WHITBECK: Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Bagram, Afghanistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROBERTSON: When we come back, U.S. troops in Kandahar get some special visitors.


ROBERTSON: The Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders led a host of U.S. entertainment stars in a mission to raise the spirits, raise morale of the troops at Kandahar Airport. The Marines there have been based out in the desert now for three weeks, many of them hunkering down against the cold wind and against the dust in the air.

Now they were joined by Drew Carey and singer Wayne Newton, and also by the Central Command leader, General Tommy Franks. It was a mission to raise the morale of the troops. There were jokes told, songs sung, but it ended up a rendition of "America the Beautiful."

Thank you for watching. I'm Nic Robertson, live from Afghanistan. We'll be back at the same time tomorrow.




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