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Live From Afghanistan: U.S. Forces on the Move in Tora Bora; Search for bin Laden Continues; Is Iraq the Next Target of War on Terror?

Aired December 28, 2001 - 20:00   ET



U.S. special forces on the move in the Tora Bora mountains, while Marines question al Qaeda prisoners in the hunt for bin Laden and prepare for a handover in Kandahar, the latest on the military campaign.

New reports on just where the world's most wanted man might be. Pressure from the inside on the head of Afghanistan's interim government, what tribal leaders are demanding from Hamid Karzai.

And targeting terror in Iraq. CNN's Mike Boettcher with the mounting evidence that could put Baghdad in the crosshairs of America's New War.


MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: CNN has learned that coalition intelligence agencies have tracked high level meetings between Iraq and al Qaeda operatives dating back seven years.



NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tonight "LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN" comes from the White Mountains near Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan, the last known hiding place of Osama bin Laden.

The search continues, but U.S. special forces move out of the area and divisions within Afghanistan's new ruling government, not only over the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, but on whether or not the U.S. military should continue its bombing campaigns.

But here on the mountainside, U.S. special forces have been seen moving away from the mountains, on vehicles, pickup vehicles and four- wheel all terrain motorbikes. They were seen moving away from the mountainsides, not clear whether or not their two-week long cave-to- cave search here is over, or whether they are moving to another area in these mountains.

But the signature of these special forces in this area, the nighttime helicopter flights, also appear to have ceased, and the daily flights by bombers and fighters in the skies above Tora Bora also seemed to have ended in the last 24 hours.

And, as Bill Hemmer reports from Kandahar City Airport, the Marines there are also preparing for change, that amidst the arrival of more al Qaeda detainees.


BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Another round of detainees were brought in early Friday morning, here to the airport in Kandahar, 25 in the latest round, bringing the total now to 62.

Agents on the ground working the case say some are willing to talk, but all are scared to death, in the words of one agent. Also when asked if there's progress or any sort of cooperation, we are told that the ultimate question, the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, still has not been answered.

On another front, the airport here continues to be built up for the U.S. military. Last night, Thursday night into Friday morning, 26 different planes landed here, bringing more supplies for the U.S. military operation.

We do anticipate some time in mid-January, the U.S. Marines will leave here and turn over jurisdiction for this airport to the U.S. Army and portions of the U.S. Air Force. That continues on a daily basis.

In addition to that, sometime in the month of January, it is also expected that more humanitarian aid will be brought in here, and eventually peacekeepers may show up as well. That's the story from Kandahar. Back now to Tora Bora and Nic Robertson -- Nic.


ROBERTSON: Now in Kabul, there appears to be growing signs that some sections of the new interim government want the U.S. bombing campaigns to search out al Qaeda and Taliban leaders to end.

As John Vause reports, this goes against recent statements by the head of the interim government, Hamid Karzai, that U.S. operations are necessary. However, it would be -- the campaign to stop the U.S. led bombing appears to be driven by concerns for safety of innocent civilians.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Concern continues among Afghan leaders over the continued U.S. bombing aimed at eliminating the terrorist network al Qaeda from Afghanistan.

On Friday, tribal elders from Patika Province in the southeast of the country traveled to the capitol Kabul to express their concern to the chairman of the new interim administration, Hamid Karzai. After the meeting, one of the Patika leaders, Kwasi Athidulla, told CNN that Karzai had informed the elders that he would contact the United States to try to stop the bombing.

The elders also said Karzai promised to invite into Afghanistan as many international peacekeeping forces as are needed to maintain security.

Off camera, the new administration's defense spokesman, Mohammed Albel, told CNN: "Possibly in three days' time after the complete elimination of all al Qaeda networks, American bombing will be stopped."

And on the latest developments on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, a leading Afghan intelligence official, Abdullah Twahiti, told CNN on Friday that he has reliable information that bin Laden paid a large amount of money to an independent Afghan military commander to secure his safe passage to Pakistan. There is no independent confirmation of Twahiti's claim.

John Vause, CNN, Kabul.


ROBERTSON: Now the reports from the intelligence officials also appear to correlate with what defense ministry officials have been saying in Kabul.

It is worth noting that both the interior ministry to whom the intelligence officials report, and the defense ministry, are both ministries held by Northern Alliance leaders.

And it has been interesting to note in the last few days and weeks that it has been these Northern Alliance leaders who have been keen to limit the size and scope of the international peacekeeping force inside Afghanistan, and now appear keen to limit the U.S. led air campaign that is now going on inside Afghanistan.

We are joined now from the Pentagon by Jonathan Aiken. Jonathan, what does the Pentagon read into this move by some elements in Afghanistan to limit the U.S. led air operations here?

JONATHAN AIKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think you hit it right, Nic, that the Pentagon sees that the Northern Alliance, which is making some of these statements and has been reluctant to see an extended and large presence of the United States or other international forces within the country, that they certainly have a role to play in trying to limit that situation.

But whether or not the new Afghan government is in any position to tell the United States to stop bombing or request a bombing halt, that's debatable, whether the Pentagon would let the new administration, Mr. KAGAN:, have his way with that.

It really depends on whether or not that would be to the Pentagon's best advantage. The word probably no doubt has gone out from Washington and has been received by the new Afghan leadership that they are running an interim government only because U.S. military power made a political solution feasible.

And in fact, the U.S. has made it quite clear from the beginning it doesn't really want the real estate, doesn't want the people of Afghanistan. It wants al Qaeda and Taliban and then when they have them, the U.S. considers its mission finished, and that was a role that was reemphasized today, Friday here in the United States.

In Crawford, Texas at the President's vacation home, Mr. Bush received a briefing from General Tommy Franks, who is the head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and both the President and General Franks made it quite clear that the United States will not be rushed through this commitment.


GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: It will take as long as it takes. Interesting to me, the fact that these young people standing at Kandahar Airport a few nights ago in the middle of the night watching a USO show, showed me absolutely no desire to leave their mission at all. And so, I think that it's best for all of us to recognize that we will not be hurried. We will not be pressed into doing something that does not represent our national objectives.


AIKEN: Just in case anybody forgot, Nic, about the president and General Franks reemphasized what those objectives were, namely to neutralize the threat to the United States by both al Qaeda and Taliban.

And also, not only to find Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar, but to impose some kind of justice on them. I should add that the whereabouts of both men here in the United States, officially unknown. Nic.

ROBERTSON: Jonathan, typically special forces operations very secretive, but is the Pentagon saying anything about scaling down its work here in Tora Bora, searching for clues on Osama bin Laden?

AIKEN: Nothing official when it comes to the video that we've been showing you, the exclusive video that you've seen all day here on CNN. In fact, I should tell you that the presence of that video certainly did peak some interest here in the building this morning.

When we talked to officials about it, having seen it, they were somewhat cryptic in their answer. They said "you're not really sure exactly what you're looking at. Are they U.S. Special Operations forces? Are they CIA operatives? Probably a mixture of both.

Are they simply engaging in a redeployment? Is it simply a troop rotation? That road out of Tora Bora leads about 30 miles south to Jalalabad. Did they stick on that road all the way down, or did they shift east toward Pakistan? They're not really telling us, Nic. ROBERTSON: Jonathan, we're hearing that there are an increasing number now of al Qaeda detainees arriving at Kandahar Airport, the facility patrolled by the Marines there. Just how many more detainees does the Pentagon expect to process there?

AIKEN: At Kandahar, not too many. There are 62 there now. There are another eight, including the American Taliban John Walker, who are on an assault ship, the USS Pelileu, which is out in the Arabian Sea. So, 62 at Kandahar itself.

That facility really is not that big. It's not really meant to hold any more than 100, maybe 200 tops. The Pentagon is looking to expand facilities elsewhere around the world for a variety of reasons, security being one of them.

In fact yesterday, Thursday here in the United States, the Pentagon issued what's called a warning order to the officials who run the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanimo Bay, Cuba which is on the southeastern tip of the Island.

A warning order, in Pentagon lingo, means draw up some plans, be prepared to carry them out when we tell you. And what we were told is that these plans were for Guantanimo to construct what's being described as a high security detention facility, capable of holding several hundred detainees.

And our sources also go on, Nic, to tell us that the people who will be at Guantanimo will probably be the big fish, the top al Qaeda and Taliban leaders that the U.S. really wants to talk to.

Within Afghanistan itself, the U.S. really wants to reduce its military footprint, doesn't want to be seen as an occupier or a prison force. The odds are pretty good the number of detainees being held at Kandahar will be small and that they won't be there all that long. Nic.

ROBERTSON: Well, Jonathan, briefly with that in mind there are now -- marines are going to be replaced by the army at Kandahar City Airport. We know that they're international peacekeepers, pretty much limited to Kabul and work around the airports in Kabul, helping humanitarian supplies. Just how will the U.S. Army troops differ in their role inside Afghanistan to these international peacekeepers?

AIKEN: In some ways, not much. We should remind people what the mission of the United States have been, the marines who have been holding the base at Kandahar.

Their job has traditionally been in United States history to secure territory in a hostile environment and hold that territory until relieved. And that's what's probably going to be happening maybe sometime the middle of next month, when elements of the 101st Airborne of the U.S. Army come in and take over operations at Kandahar Airport.

They will still, like the Marines, be on a defensive posture. This is a hostile territory. But they're also going to be facilitating humanitarian aid and probably have something to do with the dispersal of those peacekeepers. Kandahar's a big enough airport for them to move in and out of there. Nic.

ROBERTSON: Jonathan Aiken at the Pentagon, thank you very much for joining us. Coming up, the fifth in our series this week of countries coming under international scrutiny for their ties to terrorism.


ROBERTSON: In the fifth of our series this week, looking at countries that could become the focus of the U.S. War on Terror, we focus on Iraq. As Mike Boettcher reports, despite much international pressure since the Gulf War ten years ago, many international intelligence experts believe Iraq is still training terrorists.


BOETTCHER (voice over): Viewed from this satellite image, this patch of land inside a river bend, south of Baghdad seems like an odd place for a jetliner to be parked. There's no passenger airport around. But anti-terror coalition intelligence analysts familiar with this place, a few miles southeast of Baghdad say it's not so odd.

They tell CNN they strongly suspect that this old Boeing 707 fuselage, highlighted here, is part of a terrorist training camp called Salman Pac, a place where among other things, terrorists practice hijacking techniques.

Ten years after the end of the Gulf War, Salman Pac is a major piece of evidence for those who want to make Saddam Hussein's Iraq the next target in the War Against Terror.

Iraq claims the fuselage is used for anti-terror training.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They ought to let the inspectors back in.

BOETTCHER: But President Bush talked tough when asked what would happen if United Nations weapons inspectors aren't allowed back in Iraq to examine such sites.

QUESTION: If he does not do that, what will be the consequences?

BUSH: That's up for him -- he'll find out.

BOETTCHER: Former CIA Director James Woolsey is the leading voice for those calling for Iraq to be targeted. He has the ear of the White House, and was even sent by the Pentagon to Europe to investigate possible links between Iraq and the September 11th attacks.

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: And there's more than a little bit of smoke here. Is there material that would prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Saddam has been involved in specific terrorist acts against the United States, other than the attempt to kill President Bush in '93? Perhaps not, but we're still learning things and we, I think, need to stay tuned.

BOETTCHER: Suspicions about Iraq were heightened after the September 11th attacks, when Czech intelligence revealed that Mohammed Atta, considered a ringleader in the hijackings, met at least twice with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague, in June, 2000 before he came to the United States to begin flight training.

Iraq denies such meetings ever took place. Czech authorities claim they weren't meeting to plan attacks on New York's Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

MILOS ZEMAN, CZECH PRIME MINISTER: At first, Atta contact some Iraq agent, not to prepare the terrorist attack on Twins, but to prepare terroristic attack on just the building of Radio Free Europe.

BOETTCHER: But that was not the extent of the alleged contact between al Qaeda and Iraq. CNN has learned that coalition intelligence agencies have tracked high level meetings between Iraq and al Qaeda operatives, dating back seven years.

The first meeting, according to intelligence sources, occurred in the Sudan in 1994, when Osama bin Laden received an Iraqi delegation led by Iraqi Intelligence Chief Faruk Kajazi.

Those same intelligence sources say another key meeting occurred in 1998, in Baghdad, between Ayman Al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's top adviser and Iraqi Vice President Taha Ramadan.

That same year, more meetings during Saddam Hussein's birthday celebration. Iraq strenuously denies it supports terrorism and any connection to al Qaeda.

TARIQ AZIZ, IRAQI DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: They are using everything. For instance, in the beginning they said Iraq might have a connection with them, which is not true you see.

Then they didn't find -- or they found the truth that Iraq was not involved in this matter.

BOETTCHER: And the question of Iraq's biological and chemical weapons capability, which it maintains was destroyed by U.N. inspectors after the Gulf War, is also an issue. There are new accusations from an Iraqi defector reported in the New York Times, alleging that Saddam Hussein is using his scientists to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons capability.

AZIZ: Are we to cut the heads off (UNINTELLIGIBLE). They can be used for civilian purposes. All this knowledge could be used for civilian purposes in all the fields, the nuclear field, the chemical field, the biological field.

WOOLSEY: We know that he murdered some of his own people, using chemical weapons back in the early '90s. We know that he used weapons of mass destruction against the Iranians in the Iran-Iraq War.

This is a regime that would really stop at nothing in order to dominate its region and to terrorize its neighbors.

BOETTCHER: A repeat of the 1991 Gulf War appears to be the least likely option, if the Bush Administration decides Iraq should be the next target in the War Against Terrorism.

Instead, the model of success in Afghanistan, is being pushed by proponents of action against Iraq, give military backing to Iraqi opposition groups. However, key figures in the Bush Administration have doubts.

COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We're talking about two different countries, two different situations, and two different kids of military forces.

The Northern Alliance was a force that was in being, that owned a part of Afghanistan and was a competent military force but needed the support of American air power. The Iraqi opposition does not yet rise to that level.

BOETTCHER: Still, Washington is in agreement on one point. President Bush is faced with this father's problem, a full ten years after the Gulf War, what to do with Saddam Hussein. Mike Boettcher, CNN, Atlanta.


ROBERTSON: For more insights on Iraq, Wolf Blitzer talked with former State Department official and counter-terrorism expert, Paul Bremer.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ambassador Bremer, Iraq, the U.S. went to war against Iraq 11 years ago. There could be another war there, couldn't there?

PAUL BREMER, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think so. I think it's pretty well recognized we didn't finish the job in 1991. We left Saddam standing. We then went through about a half a decade of desultory inspections by U.N. to get at his weapons of mass destruction.

He's still in power. He's put down several coup attempts and uprisings. He still has biological, chemical and nuclear capabilities of some sort. He really is the major threat to stability in the Middle East.

BLITZER: But is there a direct connection between Iraq, the government of President Saddam Hussein, and al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden?

BREMER: There are connections. How direct they are and how significant they are is another matter. We know that one of the hijackers met at least once and maybe twice with senior Iraqi intelligence officials in Europe in the last 18 months. It's a curious thing, because there's no reason why a senior Iraqi intelligence official would waste his time with somebody unless there was an important operation.

It doesn't show that Iraq was necessarily involved in September 11th, but even if you wash away all of the question about Iraq's involvement in terrorism, you are left with him threatening regional stability.

BLITZER: Is the model that the U.S. used in overthrowing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan applicable in trying to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime?

BREMER: You get different views on that. It seems to me to be plausible to explore it as a model, using either the Kurds in the north or the Shiite population in the south, both of which have been effective in rebellion against Saddam on and off for 20 years.

And it's possible that you could, with the mixture of overt and covert support with a military air operation against Saddam's major security forces, you could effect a change in Iraq.

BLITZER: Let's take a look at the map of Iraq, because it's a very interesting picture that our viewers will see, many familiar with, of course, Baghdad, the capitol.

But as you point out in the north, the Kurds just south of Turkey, which is over here, in the south Shiites by and large just north of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. For a campaign against Iraq, you really do need bases in Turkey. You do need bases in Saudi Arabia or in Kuwait, don't you?

BREMER: I'm not a military man. You certainly would want at least the active cooperation of the Turks, and the passive cooperation of some kind with the Saudis.

We've got a lot of naval force in the area now. I'm not sure how much of that, in fact, would have to be land-based. Again, this is a question for the military.

It seems to me that the President does need to get a campaign plan for Iraq. I think myself sooner or later we are going to have to confront Saddam and overthrow him irrespective of the terrorism question, because he is the threat to security in the region.

BLITZER: Ambassador Bremer, thank you very much.



ROBERTSON: When we come back, a game of horsemanship like no other, Afghans compete to carry a dead calf.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROBERTSON: In northern Afghanistan where horse riding is a heritage and something to be proud of, they play a game called Bizkatchi (ph), literally translated means goat grabbing.

As John Vause reports, this game that looks from a distance, or could be mistaken from a distance a less than gentlemanly game of polo, was banned by the Taliban, but is now being revived.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): When Afghans play, they play fast, furious, and hard. The game is Bizkatchi, the literal translation, take away the goat, a traditional Afghan game and this is the first match played in Kabul since sport was outlawed by the Taliban.

"During the Taliban, people forgot about Bizkatchi because of their problems" says Mohammed Shefi (ph). "Today, we're all feeling happy."

In a city deprived of fun for so many years, this afternoon match drew thousands to a dusty field. There are virtually no rules in Bizkatchi, both sides fight over the body of a headless goat. Today, they were using a calf. To score a point, they must carry it around a flag and then drop it in a circle.

Their arm was whipped, beating whoever has the calf's body while his teammates try to run defense. Whoever scores the point, wins not only admiration but also hard cash. It is chaotic and confusing, especially for those who crowd the field and must dodge the galloping horses.

This really is a sport where you do not want front row seats. There are no boundary lines here, so these horses can often charge into the crowd. Quite often the spectators have a better chance of being hurt than the players on the field. Like right now, here they come again.

Playing today a team from Puwan, a nearby province and the Kabul National Olympic Team. No one knows where the Olympic part came from. The game ended in a draw, nine all, but for the British ambassador who's been in and out of Afghanistan for more than 20 years, and a devoted Bizkatchi fan, this was more than just a game.

ANDREW TESORIERE, BRITISH AMBASSADOR: I think it reflects the spirit of the people here. Well, I was thinking of sending a short cable or telegram to Herlingham Polo Club to see if they would like to come along and shave their skills.

VAUSE: It's unlikely Bizkatchi will ever catch on anywhere else. After all, they've been playing it in this part of the world for 500 years.

John Vause, CNN, Kabul.


ROBERTSON: 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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