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Live From Afghanistan: Lack of Office Supplies a Problem for Rebuilding the Country; Children Suffer Ravages of War; Is Yemen the Next Target of War on Terror?

Aired December 25, 2001 - 20:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN with Nic Robertson. Why have office supplies become such an important weapon in the battle to rebuild the government? We'll look at who's supplying paper clips in the name of peace.

Also, even as the Taliban disarm, the children of Afghanistan continue to suffer the ravages of war, as even playground games can have life or death results.

What is the next target in the war on terror? We'll go in-depth with a look at why Yemen may be a possible candidate.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Merry Christmas, baby.


ANNOUNCER: And those on the front lines of this fight take a few minutes to exchange high tech holiday greetings.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jenny, I was wondering, will you marry me?



NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tonight LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN comes from Jalalabad, 30 miles north of the Tora Bora mountains, the last known hiding place of Osama bin Laden. Local Eastern Alliance Commander Haji Mohammed Zaman has arrested a mid-level commander Awol Gul (ph). Gul (ph) is accused of siding and having close ties with al Qaeda and the Taliban. Gul (ph) has been transferred to jail in Kabul. And we are told by commanders here, others also may have been arrested for having close links with al Qaeda.

In Kabul, the Defense Ministry preparations are being made for a new national army. The army will take fighters away from under the command of local commanders in the field, and place them loyal to one central national army. A commission of the Defense Ministry is preparing a mandate for that new army.

And as Harris Whitbeck reports from the Agriculture Ministry, other ministers also are preparing a list of priorities to try and put the country back on track.


HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Outside the new Minister of Agriculture's office in Kabul, hangs a simple painting of what the fields of Afghanistan once looked like, a lush green valley with abundant water to cultivate wheat and nourish vineyards.

It is a reminder of what this country could look like, if it overcomes the effects of years of drought and decades of war. As the new government begins its work of rebuilding, there is hope that the painting might again become reality.

But the task is daunting for incoming officials, who in many cases, found offices empty of even the barest essentials.

MIRDAN PANJSHIR, AGRICULTURE MINISTRY OFFICIAL: Paperwork, machines, computers, many, many things. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). There's too little table. There's too little cardboard. Nothing remained.

WHITBECK: As part of its efforts to rebuild Afghanistan, the United Nations brokered donations to get basic tools to the new administration, literally office starter kits for Afghanistan's 30 government ministries.

ERIC HARTMANN, U.N. DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM: It's office equipment, computers, fax, printers, satellite phone and the furniture itself.

WHITBECK: The U.N. has pledged $20 million to get the new government through its first six months in power. And Afghan officials say they will take anything they can get.

"We have a lot of problems," says the new Agriculture Minister, "but we are going to do our best to improve things with the support of the international community. Without that support, we can nothing."

And they have begun looking ahead.

(on camera): They hope that many of the country's technical experts who fled during the Taliban regime will come back, now that Afghanistan has another chance. And now that they have the barest essentials to get back to work.

Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Kabul, Afghanistan.


ROBERTSON: In Kandahar, a group of eight injured, but armed al Qaeda fighters are holed up in the city's hospital. They've been under siege in the ward now for two days. The siege began when U.S. troops, backed by Afghan fighters, tricked one of the al Qaeda members into giving himself up and leaving the hospital. He has now been arrested.

However, the others are holding their position and are withstanding armed assaults by the Afghan troops and U.S. soldiers. The siege continues. But as Amanda Kibel reports from just north of Kandahar, not all battles and standoffs with Taliban and al Qaeda are ending in gun fights. There is one mujahideen commander who is touring the country, convincing them to lay down their weapons.


AMANDA KIBEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bullets fired into the air, the whistle of a rocket propelled grenade overhead, the sounds of welcome Afghan style and an audible reminder of the challenge facing Afghanistan's new interim government, as it tries to wrestle millions of weapons from the grips of men who have, for so long, known no other way to express themselves.

This man, Ishmael Gailani, a spiritual leader former mujahideen commander, an envoy of the Afghan King Zahir Shah, has come to the village of Kalat in Zabul province to begin that process.

The Taliban's former core commander in Jalalabad, Mullah Salem Rocketi (ph), also once a mujahideen commander, has agreed to hand over his weapons to Gailani. He trusts him, he says, as a spiritual leader, a former comrade in arms, and a neutral party beyond tribal and political affiliations.

Mullah Rocketi (ph) left Jalalabad in November when Kabul fell to the Northern Alliance. Since then, he has lived in Zabul province, once a Taliban stronghold. The men who came with him have agreed to follow his lead. So too have some of the former Taliban fighters in this area. But first, food and tea late into the night to seal the deal.

It's just after sunrise and the weapons begin to arrive. Rifles, machine guns, mortars, rocket propelled grenades, mortars, ammunition and a number of surface-to-air missiles. Salem Khan delivered his personal armory.

"These are all my weapons," he says. "I have no more. I don't want weapons anymore. The fight is over. We have stopped the war. Now we have peace. We have the government we have always wanted."

Most of these weapons, Russian and Chinese made, some clearly well beyond their sell-by dates. But not these, still in their packing cases, three well maintained U.S. made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. Their checkout date, December 1986. Most likely, some of the leftovers from an estimated 2,000 Stingers supplied by the U.S. to the mujahideen fighting the Russians in the 1980s. Weapons capable of targeting and destroying most aircraft in the skies today. These have never been used, probably because their power sources have run down.

(on camera): The weapons handed over here today are only a small representation of the huge numbers that still flood Afghanistan. But their surrender does send a significant message: these Taliban are ready, at least for now, to try a different way of life. It's a small, symbolic gesture, but then right now Afghanistan is a country where small gestures could still make a difference.

(voice-over): Ishmael Gailani believes they can. "There are still Afghan-Taliban hiding in the mountains," he says. "When they hear that an important commander has like this one has handed over his weapons, I hope it will give them the confidence to do the same."

If this is not incentive enough, Gailani promises there will be no punishment or retribution for the rank and file of Afghan-Taliban. And then, there is the reality of Afghanistan today. For now, the Taliban are a spent force, under pressure on all sides. For many Taliban, that realization may be the most enticing incentive of all.

Amanda Kibel, CNN, Zabul province, Afghanistan.


ROBERTSON: The legacy of war permeates society here still. Poverty from a broken economy and lack of law and order and danger from mines and a multitude of discarded ammunition and ordnance from around the country. At the bottom of society are the children here, who suffer the most.


(voice-over): Hospital is no place to spend Christmas. Not that Kamin (ph) will notice. For one, he's a Muslim. And secondly, he is an Afghan child. Harder to be more forgotten at this time of Christian generosity.

Besides, he's rolling in agony this eve of celebration, because like so many Afghan children, he thought he could get away with playing around with live ammunition. With some persuasion on our part, he is taken away for surgery to more permanently staunch his bleeding wounds. Not far away in the mortuary, his friend was less fortunate, caught with the full force of the exploding bullet they'd been toying with.

Spinghar (ph) says at school "they teach us to leave bullets and mines alone." He adds, "my brother was injured by a mine." Indeed, they all seem to know what the dangers are. Somehow though, perhaps because children will be children, accidents do happen. Two dozen a week in this tiny town.

That's not to say children don't have fun. This dirt roadway could be anywhere in a developing world. Soccer seemingly every boy's favorite. "I want to be a footballer when I grow up," Suliman (ph) says. Although today, he sports an Osama bin Laden T-shirt.

When you ask if they know Manchester United, they all explain we don't have TV, so we don't know any stars. "Children are too busy to play too much," Haq Surila (ph) says. They have jobs in the market.

It seems to be true. Youngsters are a common sight, plying various trades, helping parents make ends meet. Childhood here does seem to end early. A visit to the toy store tells a tale too. "The children like to come and look," says Samsadeen (ph), the store keeper. Toys were forbidden inventory under the Taliban.

Everything less than $5, about one-third the monthly income of a doctor. Not an LED or computer game in sight. Low tech is just fine, if that's all you're used to. After all, every child does have a favorite play thing. Choosing here made simple. You can't play with what you don't have.


ROBERTSON: Perhaps by next Christmas, things may be a little better here with more toys to go around and the possibility of fewer accidents to happen. Much of that will probably be if it happens because of the help of international charity.

Coming up next, the second in our series of countries that may be coming under the international scrutiny for their close ties with terrorism.


ROBERTSON: In the second of our series of a look at countries that could find themselves at the center of the United States' focus in the war on terror, we look at Yemen. Yemen has just restored diplomatic ties with Afghanistan, but it is also the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden and also the country at who's port the U.S.S. Cole just last year suffered heavy damage at the hands at what is thought to be al Qaeda terrorists.

As Alphonso Van Marsh now reports, the government in Yemen is now prepared to support the United States in its quest against terrorism.


ALPHONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Troops on display for Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Salih in capital city Sana'a. Yemeni officials say they're stepping up to cooperate with the U.S.-led war on terrorism. When President Salih met with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in late November, he offered intelligence access to suspects and a handshake.

RASHAD AL ALIMI, YEMENI INTERIOR MINISTER: We gave them all the information. Now they can's say that we have no information about this or that. At least, according to the reality, according to the atmosphere between us and them is very nice.

VAN MARSH: But that same government hasn't always been so friendly. Take the investigation into the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole docked off the coast of Aidan (ph) last year. 17 U.S. sailors were killed in that attack. The United States blames al Qaeda.

Just days before the September 11 attacks, President Salih proudly told al Jazeera TV he was denying U.S. investigators direct access to Yemeni suspects in the Cole bombing. Another paradox for Yemen, rich in oil, but the Arabian Gulf's poor nation. U.S. diplomats say Yemen has one of the strongest organizational links to Osama bin Laden supporters, second only to Afghanistan before the U.S. bombing campaign there.

And it's in the mountains you can see from Yemen's capital, where's Western diplomats say thousands of Arabs, many who trained and fought in Afghanistan with al Qaeda, have settled. The lawless provinces there are beyond the reach of government authority. And they're also just over a porous border with southern Saudi Arabia, most of the September 11 suspects and Osama bin Laden grew up.

Though the government has long denied the existence of militant Islamist training camps within its borders, there are concerns that Yemenis, who fought with the Taliban, may be trying to return home.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, there are obviously a number of countries that have active al Qaeda cells. And Yemen is one.

VAN MARSH: Any U.S. campaign in Yemen would likely go after suspected al Qaeda leaders and the terror training camps the Yemeni government says don't exist. Nonetheless, the government is eager not to be next target on the war against terror.

Yemen says it's tightened visa requirements and increased security checks for those trying to enter the country. Officials say they're also deporting hundreds of non-Yemeni Afghan war veterans and freezing the bank accounts of Yemeni businesses allegedly connected to al Qaeda.

It's also beefing up this anti-terrorism military unit, filmed at graduation in late September. Last week, President Salih ordered the unit, created after the Cole attack to use an iron fist against what he called law breakers.

That fist is already coming down hard. Anti-terrorism units are searching for suspected al Qaeda members in Yemen's Shabwa and Modurb (ph) provinces in the mountains. Officials say in Modurb (ph), at least 22 people, 18 of them soldiers, died in gun battles with heavily armed tribesmen the government says harbors terrorists.

Officials say the helicopter and tank-backed troops will continue their search, arresting supporters and destroying their homes until the alleged bin Laden aides are in custody. And Washington may help. A proposed multimillion dollar aid package would include border security assistance from U.S. allies and training with the U.S. special forces. But political observers say Yemenis may eventually reject the government crackdown, if it's seen as an American dictate.

MURAD AL MURARI, FUTURE STUDIES CENTER: Things might really develop into sort of -- would range from demonstrations and riots. And it might get to a point where people do express their reactions in terms of violence.

VAN MARSH: And that is the greatest threat to any U.S. action in Yemen. President's Salih's 23-year grip on power has relied in part on a hands off approach to tribal rule in Yemen's remote areas. If the government suddenly interferes with military power, especially under the guise of the U.S.-led war on terror, experts fear that any Yemenis that haven't already sworn allegiance to al Qaeda, may join its anti-U.S. terrorism campaign.

Alphonso Van Marsh, CNN, Atlanta.


ROBERTSON: To find out more about Yemen, Wolf Blitzer talked with counter terrorism expert Paul Bremer.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Ambassador Bremer, let's talk about Yemen. There's a threat from Yemen. What's the nature of that threat?

PAUL BREMER, COUNTERTERRORISM EXPERT: Well, first we need to remember, we've had terrorism against America in Yemen. This is where the attack on the U.S.S. Cole took place last year, which killed 19 Americans. So it's an area where terrorism has operated in the past and bin Laden in particular. And the problem here is you've got a government that really don't control its whole country.

BLITZER: Let's take a look at the map of Yemen and give our viewers a sense of what we're talking about. Yemen, of course, has this huge coastline. And there are huge areas, especially as you point out in the North, along the border with Saudi Arabia, where the government doesn't necessarily control the situation.

BREMER: That's right. We have a government there which has, since September 11, offered to help work with us. And I think our government is rightly picking them up on that, saying let's do it. There have been some arrests there in the last 10 days, but it is a case that the government does not control, particularly the border with Saudi Arabia. There's a lot of this country which are essentially lawless. It's the area really where bin Laden's family originally came from.

BLITZER: So is it possible that he, if he's still alive, could wind up in Yemen?

BREMER: I think it's one of the places we would certainly want to look. There is, as you say, a long coastline. There are certainly sympathizers there. His family's originally from there. And if he gets himself into the up country there, up on the Saudi border, he's going to be very hard to find.

BLITZER: As you well remember, during the investigation after the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, there were suspicions FBI, law enforcement authorities wondered how much support they were getting -- cooperation from the government of Yemen. Is that government on board with the U.S. in the war against terrorism?

BREMER: I think there's more to be done. It seems to me, one of the things we should be saying to the Yemeni government now is, we want to know absolutely everything you found out in your investigation of the Cole, because I think there is some indication they haven't told us everything. It's part of the general thrust. You're either with us or against us in this war on terrorism. And the Yemeni government's got a choice to make now.

BLITZER: And so, what is the likely U.S. role going to be in dealing with the terrorist threat from Yemen?

BREMER: I think unless we find bin Laden is there and the Yemeni government refuses to hand him over, our effort is going to be largely diplomatic. And to the extent we're allowed to do that, to help them share some intelligence about what we may be learning.

BLITZER: Ambassador Bremer, thank you very much.

BREMER: Nice to be with you.


ROBERTSON: When come back, British and American troops celebrate Christmas a long way from home. And the soldiers have a few surprises for each other.


ROBERTSON: For international peacekeepers now arriving in this region, there is little to remind them of home this holiday season.

However, as Tim Rogers reports, for the American and British troops stationed at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, there were some celebrations, particularly for the British.


TIM ROGERS, ITN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For some of the men of 40 commando, Christmas Day began with a street patrol and another opportunity to continue the effort to win over hearts and minds.

Generally, British troops are being well received. They're not here in big numbers, but early impressions are good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As soon as you smile to them and wave, they wave back. And I think that bridge will be built more and indeed it will grow.

ROGERS: Work aside, there was also time for Christmas. And back at their base at the Bagram Airfield, the Marines and other members of the British contingent were making the most of it, joining the Americans for the traditional lunch.

(on camera): It might not be the way that most of these men would prefer to spend Christmas. And many thoughts will doubtless be turning to home, but it is an attempt at least to maintain morale.

(voice-over): While calls to their families on satellite telephones were limited, everyone wanted to pass on seasons greetings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy Christmas, everyone back home who knows me. Not to worry. I'm all right. It's going well here. And hopefully, I'll be back soon.

I'm missing my little baby daughter. She's only 21 weeks old. And of course, I'm missing my wife and all my family, missing all the family and a partner and everything, but you know, we're obviously coming here down to have the Americans -- it's reminded us that's why we're here, I suppose.

ROGERS: Morale is generally high, but for the British it even improved when they took on the U.S. Marines American football and won.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the guys behind, you know, a great bunch. The guys of 40 Commando. And they do us proud playing the game, but also doing the job they're doing here.

ROGERS: Tomorrow, it'll be back to business.

Tim Rogers, ITN, Kabul.


ROBERTSON: In military speak, the Marines at Kandahar Airport in the south of Afghanistan are the most forward deployed of all U.S. troops, making them perhaps the furthest from home this holiday season.

But as Bill Hemmer reports, having spent time with the Marines, it's like being with one big family.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, everybody's fine here. We're doing all right. We're eating fine. We're sleeping well. As you can imagine, everything is fine. I love you all and miss you very much. And merry Christmas!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Love you too. Miss you, too.

BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sheila, one last comment from you or maybe if one of the kids want to jump in here with Dad before we have to say good-bye, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Merry Christmas, baby. I love you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Merry Christmas, Daddy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Merry Christmas, baby. I love you, miss you. I'm doing good. It's cold. I'm just worried about you and the baby. How's the baby?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's doing really well. She got transferred to the neonatal transitional nursery yesterday. And starting today, I get to stay with her all the time. So that's really good. And she ate three-fourths of an ounce by herself yesterday. And so, I'm real happy. She's three pounds and 11 ounces. And she's staying right there. And hopefully she will gain weight really soon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love the pictures. She's beautiful. She looks like you, thank God.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I could not do this without you. And I appreciation it. And it makes it a lot easier knowing you're back there and Amber's there. Makes this thing easy. This is my third conflict and this is the best of the bunch. Great support from the States, the Navy, even the damn Air Force is kicking in. So great support. But most importantly, you're back there and I appreciate it. And you can see me say it. I appreciate it and I love you. Talk to me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you too, honey. And I am here for you and will always be here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you, Rick. I miss you come home safe. I can't wait to see you again. Take care.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you know I love you. And it's only little bit longer now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got some letters and some packages from you today. And I thank you for sending all that, but the one thing I wanted to Christmas can't come in a package. Jenny, I was wondering, will you marry me?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I definitely will. [laughter] Oh, my God.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you, too. I can't believe you arranged this. [laughter] Oh, my gosh. Do you know how many people are seeing this right now?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I'm OK. I'm just really happy right now.


ROBERTSON: For those two at least clearly a Christmas to remember. And from wherever you're watching, from all the teams here at CNN and the region and in Afghanistan, a merry Christmas. Thank you for watching. I'm Nic Robertson. LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN will be back at 11:00 p.m. Eastern and again at same time tomorrow.




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