THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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ANNOUNCER: "LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN WITH NIC ROBERTSON."
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to get him. And it's just a matter of when.
Where are the members of the Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership? A new year begins with the same old questions and a possible hint about an answer.
And a new year brings a new peacekeeping force to Afghanistan. The British, and others, are here.
And in a land where televisions are once again legal, John Vause reports somebody has to do the job.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The lines were long, the hopes were high, but the jobs were few. Just 10 positions for news readers and announcers on Afghan radio and television.
UNIDENTIFIED AFGHAN MALE: It's very exciting for us to be on our television.
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ANNOUNCER: Live, from Afghanistan, Nic Robertson.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, this New Year's Eve, "LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN" comes from the White Mountains, near Tora Bora, in Eastern Afghanistan, the last known hiding place of Osama bin Laden. And as the trail for the al-Qaeda leader begins to grow cold in this area, U.S. Special Forces join the hunt for the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. He is believed to be about 120 miles Northwest of Kandahar, the Taliban's last stronghold.
He fled there three weeks ago with approximately several hundred or several thousand Taliban fighters. No one really knows for sure. He's hiding out in the mountains near a place called Baghran, between the provinces of Helmand and -- between the provinces of -- between the -- near the province of Helmand.
Sixty miles Southwest of Tora Bora, near the town of Gardez (ph), in a village called Qualla Nazai (ph), U.S. warplanes bombed a village.
Villagers say that there -- villagers say that a hundred people were killed.
U.S. investigators have been to the site to see what they can find in the remnants of the bombing. However, this is the third time in recent weeks that U.S. warplanes have targeted villages in Pantea (ph) province, and it is drawing the ire of local villagers, and some of the ministers in Kabul's new government.
The Defense Ministry has called for an end to U.S. bombings, however, the Foreign Minister and the head of Afghanistan's new interim government have said that the U.S. operations should continue.
And not far from here, near Tora Bora, U.S. Special Forces came under attack. Those forces were attacked -- they were attacked by an unknown group of armed men. One of the Special Forces was injured in the leg. It is not thought to be life-threatening. For more on these issues, we join CNN's Jeff Levine, at the Pentagon.
Jeff, are there any more details on who attacked these special forces near Tora Bora?
JEFF LEVINE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Nic, I think let's go back to the initial question of "what about Mullah Omar?" And according to Pentagon sources, troops are massing in the Baghran area, in their search for Mullah Omar. The idea is that he and his followers may be concentrated there, and that is about 100 miles, or so, Northwest of Kandahar.
Now, we understand that U.S. Special Forces that may be engaged in this operation, perhaps to provide targeting support for U.S. air strikes, and as you know, this is something that they have done throughout the Afghan war. As of there are no Marines that are involved in this operation.
Again, a number of the Taliban have disappeared since their regime collapsed, and that's created a bit of a vacuum. Now, we understand that one of the local anti-Taliban warlords is massing his troops in this Baghran area, possibly with the idea of moving against Mullah Omar in the near future. That's what we know about that one at the moment, Nic.
ROBERTSON: Well, Jeff, here around Tora Bora, we see the actions and the daily routines of the U.S. Special Forces searching for the al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden. They appear to be winding down. What is the Pentagon saying about the search for Osama bin Laden at this time?
LEVINE: Well, the Pentagon's view is that this is really job one. They want to get Osama bin Laden. Their focus, now that the war is largely complete on the ground, is to track bin Laden down, whether it be in Tora Bora, whether it be in Pakistan, or whether it be in one of another 60 countries. And U.S. special forces are a key part of this operation. As to anything beyond that at this point, we haven't got -- we haven?t got any additional information, except to say this is -- this is the priority, this is what they want to do, this is what they feel that they must do. They are obviously disappointed that they haven?t succeeded so far, and they are continuing their search on a most vigorous basis.
ROBERTSON: Jeff, over 1,000 marines at Kandahar airport, now, U.S. Special Forces on the ground. Apparently we are now into a more benign environment, yet some of these forces coming under attack. Are there concerns about force protection at this time?
LEVINE: Well, we did have an episode earlier today, in which one member of the U.S. Special Forces was wounded. He was shot in the leg -- this is in the Jalalabad area. This occurred somehow, when an unknown group of assailants fired upon the vehicle in an ambush. The soldier did receive a wound, as I said, however, the wound is not considered to be life-threatening.
No one knows, here at the Pentagon, who is responsible, whether it was the Taliban, whether it was a disenchanted warlord. But as you say, I think the overall atmosphere has become a bit more benign, as far as the pentagon is concerned. That's not to say that it's a simple situation, or that it?s not non-threatening. But it's a situation where the Pentagon feels that they're a lot more in control and they can move about more freely.
And in a sense -- one aspect of this situation that's positive as far as the Pentagon is concerned is that there was a reactions force, which was right nearby when this shooting occurred. They responded and drove off the assailants. So yes, I guess you could say that the atmosphere, such as it is, is considered a bit more friendly on the ground.
ROBERTSON: Jeff Levine of the Pentagon, thank you very much for joining us.
From his ranch in Crawford -- near Crawford, in Texas, President Bush has appointed a new Special Envoy to Afghanistan, Dr. Zana Khaleelazad will be a special representative on the National Security Council, and in the words of President Bush and the White House, he is there to make sure the Afghan voices are heard during this reconstruction period inside Afghanistan. President Bush has also said that the search for Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar will continue.
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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to get him. And it's just a matter of when. You know, you hear all kinds of reports and all kinds of rumors. You know, you've got people saying he's in a cave, people saying he's dead, people saying he's in Pakistan. And all I know is that he's running. And any time you get a person running, it means you're going to get him pretty soon. And same with Mullah Omar. It's just a matter of time.
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ROBERTSON: In Kabul, British peacekeepers and representatives of the new administration in Afghanistan signed an agreement on a multi- national peacekeeping force. John Vause has the details.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're calling it a military technical agreement, and today it was initialized -- not signed, but initialized, by the British General John McCool, and the Afghan interior minister, Yunus Qanooni. It will later be signed by the two men once it's sent off to the 16 other nations who will make up the international security assistance force. They will review the document and then send it back here to Kabul for a formal signing sometime within the next 48 hours.
We now know that the I-Sec force will be made up of somewhere between 4,500 and 5,000 troops, and they will operate under "very robust rules of engagement. We also know that on January third, somewhere between 30 and 40 delegates from those 17 nations will be here in Kabul to assess the situation, to assess what forces they need to contribute to this peacekeeping mission.
We're also being told that Kabul airport could be open to limited military operations within a week. The main runway could be open within two weeks. Until now, international peacekeeping forces have been using the Baghran air base. It's a long way from Kabul. It's a good hour's drive North of the city.
We're also being told that support for the I-Sec within the interim administration is being described as overwhelming.
John Vause, CNN, Kabul.
ROBERTSON: We are joined now, by CNN military analyst and former NATO Chief, General Wesley Clark. General, it appears that the peacekeeping force will have somewhat -- a somewhat limited number of troops on the ground. How will this affect their work?
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think their work, Nic, is going to be confined initially to Kabul, perhaps Kandahar, and one or two of the other large cities. This is not the kind of force that's going to be able to patrol the highways and keep the countryside safe.
Compare it to the force in Kosovo, for example, where we?ve got over 40,000 troops in an area of perhaps one-eighth to one-tenth the size. So there's a much different purpose for this force. It?s purpose is political, it's to reassure Hamid Karzai and the community of nations that we?re going to keep a government in Kabul, and it's to represent the interest of that government to its own people.
ROBERTSON: One of the things that the people in Afghanistan see the peacekeepers coming to do is to disarm the warlords. Obviously that would take a large number of troops to achieve that. What are the implications for not disarming all the Afghans with guns?
CLARK: Nic, I think that until there is disarmament, no one can be sure that the situation in Afghanistan is really stable. Now, there'll never be a complete disarmament in a country like Afghanistan. People will hide weapons, bury them, carry them out and put them in a cave, or whatever.
But the weapons have to go off the streets, and the warlords have to not only give their allegiance to the government, but they have to foreswear the use of force in their own terrain. You've got to have one government agency, a police force, let's say, or military police force that's authorized to use force. Not the individual militias of the warlords. And until that happens, things are still going to be risky and uncertain in Afghanistan.
ROBERTSON: Turning to the hunt for Osama bin Laden, we have a very limited window on operations here, at Tora Bora, but they do appear to be slowing down. What is your assessment of the hunt for Osama bin Laden?
CLARK: I believe the hunt has yielded less ready intelligence than what people had hoped for in the Tora Bora area. I think the trail is, as one member of the United States Senate said, growing cold up there. They?ve gotten some documents, they?ve gotten a lot of military equipment. But they haven't gotten the hot, fresh leads that would put them right on Osama's trail. And it's a risky area, as we saw with the instant of the sniping from the roadside against one of our Special Forces troops tonight.
And so I think it's a matter of the risk/reward ratio. The Pentagon has apparently decided that it's better to go slow -- be thorough, but go slow in this -- don't put a lot of U.S. troops in there that are going to raise the level of anxiety, the hostility, and most importantly, the risks for the American troops on the ground.
There are a lot of people in that area, and you're there, you must see it also, that really aren?t pro-West, they're not pro-U.S. They really want Afghanistan left to themselves, their own tribal groups, and even their own little area, they want to protect it. And so I think it's just a matter of risk versus rewards.
ROBERTSON: The risk appears to be going up in some ways. The bombing in Patea (ph) Province -- there've been three bombings recently, and in two of those, locals have complained that al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders haven't been at the locations that have been targeted. Obviously, the Pentagon working on good intelligence, there. But what are the implications of more bombing strikes in these areas?
CLARK: I think that as the bombing continues in Afghanistan -- as it surely will when we get targets -- that we're going to have to put together a very effective information program, and Hamid Karzai and the government and the local tribal chiefs are going to have to cooperate in this, that explains to the people why this bombing is occurring.
Now, I'm assuming that the Pentagon is acting on very good intelligence. We do own the ground. As you indicated earlier, patrols have been in these areas, they've looked at it, and hopefully the results of those investigations will be made public. Unlike the case in Kosovo, for example, where it wasn't possible for NATO forces to get on the ground to actually verify the incidents where friendlies were killed, here it is.
And so I think the publicity around the investigatory results is going to be very important, both internationally, and especially in Afghanistan. But I do see it as a continuing occurrence. We will continue to exploit the intelligence, and we've found that air power is a very effective weapon. So I think it's a matter of making it usable and keeping it usable in this country.
ROBERTSON: General Wesley Clark, thank you very much for joining us this New Year's Eve. Over 1,000 Marines have spent their New Year's inside Kandahar City Airport. From there, Bill Hemmer reports that despite the New Year's celebrations, they have been busy processing more al-Qaeda detainees arriving.
BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The list grows by the night. Last evening, 25 more came in, bringing the total, now, to 164, here in Kandahar. Sources close to that investigation indicate that many are still in poor health, and many, too, are scared for their lives. We can watch that facility on a daily basis, continue to grow and make improvements. We see more guards, more lights and more tents go up day to day.
Also, one other note. That Super Stallion helicopter, that suffered a hard landing on Saturday afternoon -- apparently engineers have been working on that helicopter. They say it will fly again, and possibly will return to the base sometime overnight tonight. With the U.S. Marines, Bill Hemmer, CNN, Kandahar, Afghanistan. Now, back to Nic Robertson, reporting live, in Tora Bora. Nic.
ROBERTSON: When we come back, the new faces on the new TV in Kabul.
ROBERTSON: It would have been doubly unimaginable a few months ago. Not only did the Taliban ban television, they also banned representations of the living image.
So when John Vause went along to auditions for the new anchor jobs at Kabul's new TV station, he discovered a lot of hopefuls for the new plum jobs.
UNIDENTIFIED AFGHAN MALE: Jamila, Zargona..
VAUSE (voice-over): The lines were long, the hopes were high, but the jobs were few. Just 10 positions for news readers and announcers on Afghan radio and television.
UNIDENTIFIED AFGHAN MALE: It's very exciting for us to be on our television. VAUSE: Hundreds answered the call for auditions, like 20-year- old Sultan Achmed Kreos (ph), unemployed, and hoping for a break. Like everyone else, he was called to the stage to read for a panel of judges. He left feeling good that he was in with a chance.
"It wasn't too difficult," he told me. "It wasn't a difficult text." Others, like Habib Zawie (ph), a student, he came here with dreams of being a Kabul star.
"Everyone wants to be a star," he says, "to be the top of their profession in any job."
For Halla Rakim (ph), a job on television would fulfill her childhood dream. "I always wanted to be an announcer, but if you didn't have relatives or friends in this industry, you couldn't get a job. So now I have a chance."
One of those making the final decision is Muhammed Semi Sheen (ph). He's in charge of the station's anchors. At seven o'clock each night, the people of Afghanistan gather around the estimated 100,000 television sets in the country and watch the news of the day.
I asked him what he was looking for among the hundreds of hopefuls. "It's not important to be a highly-qualified, educated person," he says. "We have people who have just finished high school who do good work. But the job will be hard," he warns. "The equipment is old, the satellite dish destroyed by a missile. And right now, the station broadcasts just four hours a day, so the jobs are only part-time."
(on camera): The starting salary is just $15 a month, and that's bad, even by Afghan standards. Still, it's considered to be a prestigious job. Even here, it seems there is still the glamour of television.
(voice-over): For now, at least, they're guaranteed a captive audience. There's only one television station in the entire country.
John Vause, CNN, Kabul.
ROBERTSON: When we come back, pop music makes a comeback on the Afghan streets again.
ROBERTSON: Not only was television banned by the Taliban, but music was, too. As Patty Sabga reports now, Taliban poem recitals and chants are now being replaced at the top of the pops with music, some of it even familiar, if a little old.
PATRICIA SABGA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's no mega- store, but it's definitely virgin territory. With music banned by the Taliban, these kiosk owners in Kabul's Jumhareead (ph) markets sold an average of 40 cassettes a week.
(on camera): What did you sell before you could sell music?
(voice-over): "Cassettes without music. Taliban cassettes, Koranic verses."
It took less than a month to kick the Taliban out of the Top 40, which is definitely proven good for business.
"I sell more than 5,000 to 10,000 a week, now," he says. "Whenever I get them, we sell out."
With that kind of volume, we wondered who's in the top ten.
(on camera): They don't have billboard charts here, in Kabul, but according to the shopkeeper, what all the kids are asking for is Fehrhad Jahria.
(voice-over): The Afghan artist certainly proved popular in our random poll. We wondered how western artists were faring against the local favorites.
(on camera): Have you ever heard of Britney Spears? If you saw a picture of Britney Spears, I bet you, you would love her.
(voice-over): But even Britney's album covers may have a tough time standing out on these shelves.
(on camera): Is this a big seller here in Afghanistan?
UNIDENTIFIED AFGHAN MALE (through translator): A lot.
SABGA: I think this sells a lot because of the picture.
(voice-over): We continued our cross-cultural quest.
(on camera): Now, you can find some western music here. For example, this gentleman just bought a Supertramp cassette from 1985. But my favorite, the 1986 disco mix.
(voice-over): In fact, when it comes to western artists, the '80s reign supreme.
UNIDENTIFIED AFGHAN MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and Michael Jackson.
SABGA: Michael Jackson.
UNIDENTIFIED AFGHAN MALE: Michael Jackson.
SABGA (voice-over): We asked him to hum a few bars. He sold a hundred Michael Jackson tapes this week, but it's not the best seller. How many Fehrhad Dahria cassettes have you sold this week?
AFGHAN SHOP OWNER (through translator): Five hundred.
SABGA: But there's another Afghan burning up the charts. "There's a new artist. Nozzi John. I've sold more than 1,000 cassettes in a day."
At that rate, it won't be long before they're dancing in the streets.
Patricia Sabga, CNN, Kabul.
ROBERTSON: From all the CNN teams in the region, Happy New Year, and thank you for watching. I'm Nic Robertson. "LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN" will be back 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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