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Live From Afghanistan: New Videotape of bin Laden Surfaces; Afghanistan Experiences Refugee Crisis in Reverse; Will the War on Terror Spread to Somalia?

Aired December 26, 2001 - 20:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN WITH NIC ROBERTSON. A new videotape of Osama bin Laden emerges, the latest statement from the accused terrorist mastermind.

U.S. Marines on an unprecedented mission hundreds of miles from the nearest sea. Now, the game plan is changing again.

CNN's Harris Whitbeck on the refugee crisis in reverse.


HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After the U.S. bombings stopped and the Taliban left Kabul, Mohamed and his family decided to return home. They now face the challenge millions of refugees like them will have to overcome.


ANNOUNCER: We'll talk to a United Nations point man about what lies ahead. A former hotspot, revisited. Is the war on terror about to spread?


CATHERINE BOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on-camera): One indication the U.S. might soon set its sights on Somalia, plain clothed Americans who described themselves as U.S. military coming to remote and battered region in central Somalia.


ANNOUNCER: CNN's Catherine Bond reports from what could be the next front line. And...


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As bad as the postal system is, it's often the only option because the phone system is even worse.


ANNOUNCER: CNN's John Vause on Afghanistan's antiquated communication systems, and the man in charge of making them work.


NIC ROBERTSON, HOST: Tonight LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN comes from Jalalabad, 30 miles north of the Tora Bora Mountains, the last-known hiding place of Osama bin Laden. For two weeks, there was no information on Osama bin Laden, now a videotape of Osama bin Laden has surfaced with al Jazeera television in Qatar. The tape, they say, was posted to them from Pakistan. On it, there is no indication of when it was recorded other than some of the announcements indicating the bombings, perhaps it was recorded in early December, perhaps it was recorded in November for use in early December.

The location is hard to judge. A burlap sack on the wall behind Osama bin Laden obscures whether he's in a house or a cave and the al Qaeda leader appears gaunt and thin. He is in his customary military fatigues and he has a gun at his side. He says that "it was a blessed attack on the United States."


OSAMA BIN LADEN (through translator): They condemn terror. We say our terror against America is blessed terror in order to put an end to suppression. In order for the United States to stop its support to Israel.


ROBERTSON: Now, he said that this was a strike against the head of the snake, the -- he accuses the United States of waging a war against Islam.


BIN LADEN (through translator): After three months, since the attacks, the blessed attacks against -- that took place against the head of the snake, the United States and after two months since the crusader campaign started against Islam. We would like to speak on some of the implications of those incidents.


ROBERTSON: There's little to indicate how or whether Osama bin Laden was weathering the bombing campaign. He didn't use left arm in the videotape message, but there's little to show just how he was bearing up under the hunt to find him.

Now, that hunt still continues to find evidence of his whereabouts in the mountains, the Tora Bora Mountains. U.S. Special Forces have been seen on all-terrain vehicles in the last 24 hours, the four-wheel type motorbikes giving access to rugged terrain. The low-level caves have pretty much been searched.

There's access to the higher mountains now that is difficult for the U.S. Special Forces and the Eastern Alliance fighters who are assisting them. Villagers in the area tell us that U.S. Special Forces have told them not to bury al Qaeda bodies found on the mountainside. The villagers say there are two locations high in the mountains -- one where there are 28 bodies and one where there are 25 bodies and they plan not to bury them.

Eastern Alliance fighters say they have also now sent the last of their al Qaeda captures to Kabul.

Now, the Pentagon has said that Marines would come and assist the U.S. Special Forces in their quest to find -- track Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora Mountains. The Pentagon now says that it is unlikely that the Marines will join the U.S. Special Forces. They say the Special Forces will work with the Eastern Alliance fighters. And as Bill Hemmer now reports from the airport in Kandahar where the Marines are building a new base, they are moving their facility from a desert airstrip and amongst -- that amongst other things is keeping them very busy at this time.


BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Another sign the U.S. Marine operation continues to go forward. The initial camp set up 80 miles outside of Kandahar, known as Camp Rhino, will soon be shut down, possibly in a matter of days.

Many people felt the camp was an initial staging point, and a good one at the time. But since progress has been made at the Kandahar airport, and progress made on a daily basis, the Marines are saying now that Camp Rhino is no longer necessary. However, it did fit its purpose, to make sure the U.S. military had a strong footing in the southern part of Afghanistan.

Also, here at the airport, 17 detainees are continued to be watched on a 24-hour basis. However, just today, a second warehouse was opened. The Marines say they can handle hundreds more immediately if indeed, more detainees come here. Suspected al Qaeda prisoners are being held. So too are Taliban leaders, again, being watched on a 24- hour basis.

The other thing that continues here is the constant explosions of ammunition collected around the airport here. We are told you can search the airport every day for a year until you find all the munitions -- the land mines, the surface-to-air missiles -- and still the operation would continue. Just last year, a recent report indicated, more than 1,100 Afghans were either killed or injured by unexploded ordinates.

It continues to be a very dangerous country, but thus far, the U.S. Marines have been able to make this airstrip a bit safer by the day.

With the U.S. Marines, Bill Hemmer, CNN, Kandahar, Afghanistan.


ROBERTSON: Well, as the country becomes a little safer with the clear up of not only of munitions, but of the last pockets of Taliban and al Qaeda resistance, so too a sense of stability is returning to the country and encouraging some refugees to return. After September the 11th, several hundred thousand fled the country. They joined several millions who left during the Soviet occupation.

As Harris Whitbeck now reports from Kabul, refugees are beginning to see some stability and a possibility of a secure life and some are coming back.


WHITBECK (voice-over): Meos Mohammed (ph) gathers his family for morning tea and bread. They live in a borrowed house in Kabul and barely have enough to feed themselves, but the family is counting its blessings. A month ago, they lived as refugees in Pakistan.

"East, west, all is best," he says. "We love our country. It seems like paradise to us."

After the U.S. bombing stopped and the Taliban left Kabul, Mohammed and his family decided to return home. They now face the challenge millions of refugees like them will have to overcome, to try to re-establish their homes, and most importantly find work in an economy that is just beginning to emerge from years of war. The U.N. refugee agency calls it reintegration.

FELIPE CAMARGO, UNHCR: This is one of the key issues of reintegration; employment and how can the economy build up quickly.

WHITBECK: Mohamed's children all have high school diplomas. His eldest daughter, Naeda (ph), wants to be a teacher.

"I am looking for a job," she says. "I left an application at the Ministry of Education, but haven't heard from them yet."

(on camera): Naeda is not alone. The vast majority of the four million Afghan refugees are under the age of 18. That is a lot of young people who will need to find jobs to survive in a country of few opportunities.

(voice-over): The U.N. says, the growing sense of stability that is attracting returning refugees should also help improve the marketplace for those who will need jobs.

CAMARGO: The private sector needs to be encouraged to come back to Afghanistan, to re-establish manufacturing industries that can absorb the largest number of skilled Afghans that will come back.

WHITBECK: And the influx of donor agencies would also help stimulate the economy. But those who are already back and face immediate needs can't wait too long for the jobs that will help feed them.

Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Kabul, Afghanistan.


ROBERTSON: We are joined in Kabul now by Felipe Camargo from the refugee agency, The United Nations High Commission For The Refugees.

Felipe, what is it that's going to bring back the refugees who have been outside of country now for, in some cases, years and years, since the Soviet occupation?

CAMARGO: First of all, good morning, Nic. I think the peace will be the first thing to bring people back. There is already about 70,000 people that have returned, according to our records. We hope that by the end of winter, we can start an organizing repatriation. We estimate that around a million people will be returning next year.

UNHCR is establishing presence throughout the country. And we will be providing repatriation assistance packages, including shelter, tools and reintegration projects. So we hope that if stability comes, we will be able to undertake this repatriation.

ROBERTSON: Can the High Commission for the refugees cope with such a large number returning in the country here? The infrastructure is in a very poor situation.

CAMARGO: We will definitely not be the only ones involved in this repatriation and reintegration. We count with other U.N. agencies, the government of Afghanistan, the international community as whole. This is going to be a huge operation that the United Nations has -- is in the process of establishing a nation that will cover both humanitarian and developmental activities.

Without the support of the whole international community, including the non-government organizations, this would not be possible to do it by ourselves.

ROBERTSON: Felipe, is there a risk that as perhaps another global crisis emerges in six months time that Afghanistan could essentially become forgotten again and these refugees be left high and dry?

CAMARGO: Well, there could be other crisis. That's what we were appealing to the international community to ensure some sustainability of our intervention in Afghanistan. The UNHCR would be prepared to face other crisis throughout the world but we hope to count with resources necessary to ensure that the repatriation takes place normally and in an organized manner.

ROBERTSON: We talk about the rebuilding of Afghanistan, but in terms of refugees, what is it you prioritize first to encourage them to come back and giver them the ability to remain here?

CAMARGO: Well, first of all, this repatriation package is offered. The transportation to the places of origin and we include a package of repatriation, a basic package, which has shelter, water supply, and then immediately, we would move into reintegration activities that way we would be looking at establishing basic conditions in the health, education, agricultural sector.

As I said, these will not be only the task of UNHCR. We will make our contribution towards this reintegration, but we hope to see not only the international community but also the private sector coming into Afghanistan to improve the economy, to open markets and ensure that people have income in the country.

ROBERTSON: A massive project. Can you can give us idea of how many people will be involved, international groups on the ground, international staff and how much money will be needed and how much money will be put into this operation in the coming years?

CAMARGO: On the first year of operations, we will have five offers with 32 field -- small field offices through the country. Overall, we will about 500 people, of which the majority are Afghan nationals.

The initial requirements for the return of one million people for next year is over a US$100 million. This, of course, will continue. The plan for repatriations is for four years. We would be looking at hundreds of millions of dollars required both for repatriation and reintegration activities.

ROBERTSON: Felipe Camargo from the UNHCR in Kabul, thank you very much for joining us.

Coming up after the break, putting Afghans back in touch with each other again.


ROBERTSON: Now on Wednesday, after five days in power, Afghanistan's new interim government had its second cabinet meeting. The main topic: security. But as John Vause reports, for the Communications Ministry, security is not the country's only major headache, staying in touch with each other is a problem too.


VAUSE (voice-over): For two and a half years, through rain, sleet, snow, and Taliban, Aminullah Ameri has made his rounds. Since the bombing stopped, and with a new government in place, he says the amount of mail has tripled. Now he delivers as many as 150 letters a day, with a very personalized style of service.

But the mail is slow and unreliable. A letter from Kabul to Jalalabad, just a six-hour drive, can take a week to a month. Their equipment is old and in poor repair, the letters sorted by hand. Many roads around the country are still too dangerous, controlled by local bandits. And, like everything else here, the postal service is trying to rebuild after years of the Taliban.

"We lost a lot of professional people because they couldn't tolerate the Taliban. They emigrated to other countries," says Mohammad Yasin, who runs Afghanistan's postal service. "And about half the staff was banned from working, because they were women."

As bad as the postal service is, it's often the only option, because the phone system is even worse. In Kabul, a city of more than a million, there are just 47,000 phones. But the system can only process 15,000 calls at a time. And there is no international service, because the satellite equipment stopped working months ago.

(on camera): They've been using this telephone exchange for about 40 years, no one's sure knows exactly how long. It was bought second- hand, World War II surplus. They don't make them like this anymore, and that's the problem. There are no spare parts. So when something breaks, they either have to repair it themselves, and if they can't, well, it stays broken.

(voice-over): Abdul Rahim, a former career diplomat, is the new communications minister.

ABDUL RAHIM, AFGHAN COMMUNICATIONS MINISTER: One thing clearly we can say is that we are at the beginning.


VAUSE: It's not all bad news. About a year ago, the Taliban began installing fiber optics. Only a few miles were laid, connecting some local exchanges in the capital. The rest of the system remains in desperate need of repair.

RAHIM: This is going to be the nerve of the society, I mean for our national unity, for the development, for our relation with the international community, for our reconstruction.

VAUSE: For now though, Aminullah Ameri needn't worry about losing his job to e-mail. An Afghan Internet service isn't a high priority.

John Vause, CNN, Kabul.


ROBERTSON: When we come back, the third in our series of countries coming international scrutiny for their ties to terrorism.


ROBERTSON: In the third of our series this week, focusing on countries that could find themselves at the center of the U.S. war on terror, we focus on Somalia. Intelligence officials say there are many links between al Qaeda and Somalia and like Afghanistan, Somalia has been racked by famine and fighting between warlords. As Catherine Bond now reports, U.S. officials are following some groups there already.


BOND (voice-over): One indication the U.S. might soon set its sites on Somalia, plain clothed Americans who described themselves as U.S. military coming to this remote and battered region in central Somalia.

(on-camera): This is the Somali town the group of Americans visited. Here, they met members of an opposition alliance.

ABDULLAHI SHEIKH ISMAIL, OPPOSITION POLITICIAN: They were gathering some sorts of information, make an assessment about the al Qaeda network presence in Somalia.

BOND (voice-over): The al Qaeda links, say regional security sources, are to a hard-line Islamic fundamentalist group called Al- Ittihad. The Americans say locals went away with a list of names, a list said to be much like this one.

A former Al-Ittihad militant himself, Ishmael Mamood (ph) says American officials were interested in what he had to say, though it goes back some years.

Ishmael says he was one of about 600 Al-Ittihad fighters in the early 1990s when the group took control of a region of Somalia called Gedo. Men from countries like the Sudan, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Chechnya used to come and go, he says, usually in pairs.

"Those people were al Qaeda," he says, "because I was among them and I used to work with them."

But in the late 1990s, troops from the Christian dominated neighboring state of Ethiopia crossed the border into Somalia and attacked Al-Ittihad spaces. This Ethiopian state television footage proves Ethiopia says the terrorists from elsewhere.

But some say that was not the end of Al-Ittihad.

ISMAIL: They have been pushed back from the border areas, but they have melted into the real areas, the in-depth of Somalia, along the seacoast. That's way long.

BOND: This group of men, the group the Americans met within Baidoa, are leaders of various Somali clans. They accused of fledgling government in the Somali capital of Mogadishu known as the TNG, the Transitional National Government, of making Al-Ittihad fighters its militias. The government rejects that accusation, saying Al-Ittihad is dead.

HASSAN ABSHIR FARAH, PRIME MINISTER, TRANSITIONAL NATIONAL GOVERNMENT: So today I tell you, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) no comes, no trading comes, no group army, Al-Ittihad in Somalia.

BOND: The government weak, but recognized by the international community, says it's willing to cooperate with the U.S. war on terror. That presents a challenge to the U.S. -- a weak government that denies terrorism exists and an opposition that insists the government supports it and the recent history of chaos and the failed intervention of the mid 1990s.

The government's opponents claim that since September the 11th, Al-Ittihad ex-leaders and sympathizers, businessmen, war moguls and sheikhs, some of them individuals suspected of links to al Qaeda, have gone underground or fled, making the U.S. task against terrorism in Somalia, say analysts, more of a manhunt than military campaign.

Catherine Bond, CNN, Baidoa, Somalia.


ROBERTSON: The northern city of Mazar-e Sharif was once of scene of the some bloodiest fighting with the Taliban and they were deeply resented by the residents of the city. Now, girls are returning to school there again, once banned by the Taliban from education, indeed to be taught English, again something that even in Taliban schools for boys was impossible. Private education was the only way to learn English under Taliban rule. The return to school for girls perhaps another indication, but the population of Afghanistan still hesitant to believe that the Taliban are gone, that things are returning to some sort of normality.

Thank you for watching. I'm Nic Robertson. LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN will be back at 11:00 p.m. Eastern and again at the same time tomorrow. Up next, "THE POINT WITH GRETA VAN SUSTEREN" and for our international viewers, please stay tuned for "WORLD SPORT."




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