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Bin Laden Appears Gaunt in Latest Video; Somalia: the Next Target?

Aired December 26, 2001 - 23:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN with Nic Robertson. A new tape from Osama bin Laden.


OSAMA BIN LADEN, TERRORIST (through translator): They condemn terror with a -- our terror against America is blessed terror.


ANNOUNCER: When was it made? Is he still alive?

Refugees no longer. Harris Whitbeck meets Afghanistan families returning to what's left of their homes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): "East, West, always best," he says. "We love our country. It seems like paradise to us."


ANNOUNCER: The little things that make life seem normal. John Vause takes us on a postman's increasingly busy rounds.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He delivers as many as 150 letters a day with a very personalized style of service.



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 those of you expecting to see "GREENFIELD AT LARGE," we apologize. He'll be back next seek. We hope you enjoy this program in its place.

For two weeks now, there has been no new information on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. But now a new Osama bin Laden videotape has surfaced with al Jazeera television in Qatar. It was mailed to them, they say, from somewhere in Pakistan. On it, Osama bin Laden looks tired and gaunt. There's no indication where it may have been shot, because there's a burlap sack on the wall. No indication of whether it was a tent, a house or a cave.

Also, no concrete indication of exactly when it was filmed either. The indications are that Osama bin Laden refers to the hitting of -- the bombing of a mosque near the town of Khost. That happened in mid-November. Also, he refers to three months since the September the 11th attacks. Again, an indication that perhaps it was recorded in mid-November, perhaps in the beginning of December.

Nevertheless, it's -- Osama bin Laden's statements in the 34- minute tape, much like his statements in the past. In this one, he says it was a blessed attack against the United States.


BIN LADEN (through translator): After three months since the attacks, the blessed attacks against -- 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.

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: Comparing Osama bin Laden's physical condition in this tape to his previous taped statements in November and October, he appears to be deteriorating, perhaps aging a little faster and also a little more gaunt.

Other than that, very difficult to tell just how he is weathering the efforts to hunt him down. And as Wolf Blitzer reports after two weeks of intensive hunting since the last known contact with Osama bin Laden, when his radio addresses -- radio transmissions were picked up in the Tora Bora mountains, despite those efforts, no one seems to know actually where he is now.


HAMID KARZAI, INTERIM AFGHAN GOVERNMENT CHAIRMAN: I don't know where he is. So we received reports now and then that he may be here or there.

PERVEZ MUSHARAFF, PRESIDENT, PAKISTAN: The bombardment of all the caves that have been conducted. There is a great possibility that he may have lost his life there. And if he does enter, if we identify him, he will be handed over.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": He's alive, he's dead, he's stuck in a cave. He got out by mule, by boat, by plane. He's in Afghanistan or maybe Pakistan or Chechnya. GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know where he is. I haven't heard from him recently. And -- you know, which means he could be in a cave that doesn't have an opening to it any more.

BLITZER: The truth is the world's most wanted man seems to have vanished. That hasn't stopped the speculation, especially in the Muslim world. Some theories from the Pakistani press.

"The Pakistan Observer" says bin Laden died of lung disease and was buried in mid-December in Tora Bora. Other reports say he had his own men shoot him, as U.S. forces closed in on the mountain stronghold.

Here in the United States, "The Washington Times" suggests he got out through the Arabian Sea on one of al Qaeda's merchant ships. Another report says he slipped into a sympathetic region of Pakistan, long before the bombs started falling on Tora Bora.

TOMMY FRANKS, GENERAL, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: If he is in fact in Pakistan, then it's only a matter of time until the Pakistanis will find him. That's my view. So it may be here. And it may be somewhere else, but it's only a matter of time before we find him.

BLITZER: Wolf Blitzer, CNN, Washington.


ROBERTSON: Well, U.S. special forces are still searching the Tora Bora mountains. They were spotted yesterday riding all-terrain vehicles, four-wheel-drive motor bikes, indicative of the fact that the terrain there is very tough, that a lot of the lower caves on the lower mountain slopes have been searched, only turning up ammunition, and that perhaps the real clues to Osama bin Laden's whereabouts is further up the mountains.

Villages there tell us that special forces have told them not to bury al Qaeda bodies found on the mountainside. The villagers say that there are two locations, one where there are 28 bodies, one where there are another 25 bodies.

And the Pentagon had previously said that it would send Marines to help the U.S. special forces on Tora Bora mountain. Now they say the Marines won't be going and the U.S. special forces will work with Eastern Alliance fighters.

However, Eastern Alliance say that they have now transferred the last of their al Qaeda prisoners to Kabul. They say those include Chechens, Pakistanis, Chinese, Bosnians, Saudis and Kuwaitis.

And as Bill Hemmer reports from Kandahar, where the Marines are now based, they are busy at this time, moving from their forward location in Camp Rhino in the desert into Kandahar City Airport.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 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.

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: One of the things the Marines are also doing there at the airport there is providing a detention facility for captured al Qaeda members. And overnight, another roughly 20 al Qaeda were flown into Kandahar Airport under Marine escort.

They were hooded. They were on the runway. And they're believed to be taken to that detention facility inside Kandahar Airport that the Marines have built. Now one of the key elements to tracking down al Qaeda, Taliban, and the whole campaign on terrorism inside Afghanistan, has been intelligence.

But as David Ensor reports, the intelligence still doesn't know exactly where Osama bin Laden is.


DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The precision munitions of the air war have gotten much of the credit, but it may have been the war in the shadows that made the most difference in Afghanistan. The part of the war run from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

FRANK ANDERSON, FMR. CIA OFFICIAL: This is almost certainly the most intelligence intensive war that we've ever fought.

ENSOR: Though hundreds of CIA officers are in the field, only once have they shown up on the world's TV screens, during the questioning of American al Qaeda fighter John Walker by two CIA men, just prior to the killing of one of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can only help those guys who want to talk to us. We can only get the Red Cross (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ENSOR: Within hours, during an uprising by Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners, CIA officer Mike Spann was killed.

ANDERSON: A tactical requirement in this war is to be a lot more careful about securing prisoners than we had to in the past.

ENSOR: The CIA had to bury one of its own but only one so far. And U.S. intelligence is winning plaudits for its work in Afghanistan.

SEN BOB GRAHAM (D), SELECT INTELLIGENCE CHMN.: Well, I think he's done an excellent job. And there are a couple of things they've done, which I think are harbingers of what we'll be doing in the future. One, the use of the Predator.

ENSOR: CIA-owned Predator drones, equipped with precision-guided missiles have been like watchful eagles over the ground for up to 24 hours at a time and have fired upon enemy convoys. And on the ground, CIA officers quickly built ties with anti-Taliban ground commanders, and Pakistani, Russian, and other intelligence operatives, ties that produced results.

ANDERSON: Right on in that they obtained the information that they needed as a basis for operations, but also right on in that they built the relationships upon which we were able to build a war in which only four Americans, so far, have been combat deaths.

ENSOR: In the wake of the September 11 attacks, a worried Congress voted a big increase for the U.S. intelligence budget. Critics fear some of the money could end up wasted.

REUL GERECHT, FMR. CIA OFFICER: You don to want to create hundreds of more positions back in Washington, D.C. You do not want to create hundreds or more positions, official positions, where agency officers are a fake diplomats living abroad. This is not the way to go.

ENSOR: But at the CIA, officials insist there are no plans to expand headquarters. Some of the new money will go, U.S. officials say for equipment, training, and incentives to get other nations to collect more intelligence against terrorists, to get them to help guard against another September 11.

ANDERSON: The successes are always quiet and the failures are spectacular. 9/11, obviously, you can't call it anything other than a failure.

ENSOR (on camera): The intelligence war against terrorism started well before September 11, It will remain in high gear in dozens of countries long after the bombing stops in Afghanistan.

David Ensor, CNN, Washington.


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


ROBERTSON: In the third of our series looking at countries that could become the focus of the U.S. war on terror, we focus on Somalia. Intelligence officials say Somalia has many ties with al Qaeda. And like Afghanistan, the country is famine ravaged and is run by warlords.

As Katherine Bond reports, U.S. officials are already focusing on one group there.


KATHERINE BOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT (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 Mahmoud (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 sheiks, 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: When we come back, some of Afghanistan's three million refugees begin returning home.


ROBERTSON: Mazar-e Sharif in the north of Afghanistan was seen as some of the bloodiest fights with the Taliban. They were deeply resented in that city. Now girls, who were banned by the Taliban from getting an education, are returning to school. Indeed, in some cases, to be taught English, something that even boys under the Taliban regime couldn't aspire to unless they went to private classes.

It is an indication for some of those in the north of Afghanistan, that the Taliban really are really are gone, that this is the beginning perhaps of a new life, a new existence for many of the people there.

As Hamid Karzai says, the head of Afghanistan's new interim government, he believes that the terrorists within Afghanistan are largely now a spent force.

And as Harris Whitbeck reports, that some of Afghanistan's several million refugees are now plucking up the courage to return home.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 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.

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 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: Coming up after the break, after years of war, the shattered communications of Afghanistan are being put back in place.


ROBERTSON: It was only a little over a year ago that the Taliban had reconnected Afghanistan to the international phone network. During the U.S.-led bombing campaign, that new Chinese digital exchange was destroyed, in efforts to isolate the Taliban. As John Vause reports, despite that bombing even before, due 22 years of war, communications in Afghanistan were reduced already from slow to almost nonexistent.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (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: Interestingly, those Afghans with enough money actually go as far as Pakistan to send e-mails. And with the number of computer classes that are advertised around the towns here, given international commitment, much money and a communications network, it may not be long until it's as common here to e-mail from Kandahar to Kabul as it is to drive a cow to market.

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




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